Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
A Light of Methodism
By Abel Stevens (18151897)
[Born in Philadelphia, Penn., 1815. Died, 1897. History of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States of America. 186467.]
GEORGE PICKERING was a rare man in all respects. Any just delineation of him must comprehend the whole man, for it was not his distinction to be marked by a few extraordinary traits, but by general excellence. In person he was tall, slight, and perfectly erect. His countenance was expressive of energy, shrewdness, self-command, and benignity; and in advanced life his silvered locks, combed precisely behind his ears, gave him a strikingly venerable appearance. The exactitude of his mind extended to all his physical habits. In pastoral labors, exercise, diet, sleep, and dress, he followed a fixed course, which scarcely admitted of deviation. In the last respect he was peculiarly neat, holding, with an old divine, that cleanliness comes next to holiness. He continued to the last to wear the plain Quaker-like dress of the first Methodist ministry, and none could be more congruous with the bearing of his person and his venerable aspect. His voice was clear and powerful, and his step firm to the end.
His intellectual traits were not of the highest, but of the most useful order. Method was perhaps his strongest mental habit, and it comprehended nearly every detail of his daily life. His sermons were thoroughly skeletonized. His personal habits had the mechanical regularity of clock-work. During his itinerant life he devoted to his family, residing permanently at one place, a definite portion of his time; but even these domestic visits were subjected to the most stringent regularity. During fifty years of married life he spent, upon an average, but about one fifth of his time at home, an aggregate of ten years out of fifty. This rigor may indeed have been too severe. It reminds us of the noble but defective virtue of the old Roman character. If business called him to the town of his family residence at other times than those appropriated to his domestic visits, he returned to his post of labor without crossing the threshold of his home. In that terrible calamity which spread gloom over the landthe burning of the steamer Lexington by night on Long Island Soundhe lost a beloved daughter. The intensity of the affliction was not capable of enhancement, yet he stood firmly on his ministerial watch-tower, though with a bleeding heart, while his family, but a few miles distant, were frantic with anguish. Not till the due time did he return to them. When it arrived he entered the house with a sorrow-smitten spirit, pressed in silence the hand of his wife, and, without uttering a word, retired to an adjacent room, where he spent some hours in solitude and unutterable grief. Such a man reminds us of Brutus, and, in the heroic times, would have been commemorated as superhuman.
He pretended to no subtlety, and was seldom, if ever, known to preach a metaphysical discourse. The literal import of the Scriptures, and its obvious applications to experimental and practical religion, formed the substance of his sermons. Perspicuity of style resulted from this perspicacity of thought. The most unlettered listener could have no difficulty in comprehending his meaning, and the children of his audience generally shared the interest of his adult hearers. Bombast and metaphysical elaborateness in the pulpit be silently but profoundly contemned as indicating a lack both of good sense and disinterested purpose in the preacher. It has been said that a man of few words is either a sage or a fool. George Pickering was seldom, if ever, known to occupy three minutes at a time in the discussions (usually so diffuse) of the Annual Conferences, and the directness of his sentences and the pertinence of his counsels always indicated the practical sage.
Almost unerring prudence marked his life. If not sagacious at seizing new opportunities, he was almost infallibly perfect in that negative prudence which attains safety and confidence. No man who knew him would have apprehended surprise or defeat in any measure undertaken by him after his usual deliberation. His character was full of energy, but it was the energy of the highest order of minds, never wavering, never impulsive. He would have excelled in any department of public life which requires chiefly wisdom and virtue. As a statesman, he would always have been secure, if not successful; as a military commander, his whole character would have guaranteed that confidence, energy, discipline, and foresight which win victory more effectually than hosts.
In combination with these characteristics, and forming no unfavorable contrast with them, was his well-known humor. I have already attempted to account for the prevalence of this trait among the early Methodist itinerants. It seemed natural to the constitution of Pickerings mind. In him, however, it was always benevolent. It seldom or never took the form of satire. It was that sanctified wit, as it has been called, which pervades the writings of Henry, Fuller, and other old religious authors in our literature, and the smile excited by it in the hearer was caused more by an odd and surprising appositeness in his remarks or illustrations than by any play of words or pungency of sentiment.