I ought not to close this narrative without referring to another incident growing out of my St. Thomas adventures, that I look back upon with great satisfaction for many reasons, not the least important of which was the additional evidence it furnished that in all this West Indian excursion a wiser than I was directing my steps; that I was even then all unconsciously fulfilling the prediction of the prophet, "I will bring you into the wilderness . . . and there will I plead with you face to face. (Ezekiel 20:35.)
Just before sailing for Haiti, I received some letters of introduction from Mr. B. C. Clark, of Boston, who held the commission of Consul from the Haitian government for that city. I was not personally known to Mr. Clark, but he was doubtless prompted to this courtesy by Mr. Simones, an agent of the Haitian government, residing in New York, whom I had consulted about my trip to his country. Among these letters was one to Mr. P. B. Hunt, a merchant at Port au Prince. On our arrival at that port and before we had moored, an elderly gentleman came out to us in a boat, and after briefly saluting the captain, was presented to me. He gave me his name as Mr. Hunt; said that Mr. Clark had advised him of my contemplated visit to the island, and if he could be of any service to me during my stay there he wished to place himself at my disposal. I thanked him, handed him my letter of introduction, and after a brief conversation - it was then near sunset - he asked me where I proposed to take my lodgings in Port au Prince. I said I did not yet know, that I should remain on board until morning, and then go on ashore and look up the best quarters I could find in the town. He said promptly that that would not do, that it was as much as my life was worth to sleep on the vessel in that harbor until morning; he added that there was not a hotel or boarding house in Port au Prince that I would be content to pass a night in, and that I must go home with him. After satisfying myself that it would be imprudent to decline Mr. Hunt's hospitality, I accompanied him to his quarters, where I remained during my sojourn at Port au Prince, every successive hour of which he made me feel more and more grateful for the circumstances which had inspired him to invite me.
In due time it transpired that Mr. Hunt was a graduate of Harvard College, in the same class with Ralph Waldo Emerson, of whom he had many interesting things to tell me, that without any literary pretensions, he was a man of varied and extensive reading; that he knew more about Haiti, its public men and people, and the books written by or about them, than any one else I ever met there or elsewhere; more, probably, than any other man then living, and with an admirable faculty of communicating his information in conversation. He was a native of Massachusetts, and seemed eminently qualified in every way for a successful career in his native land. For reasons which I never ventured to enquire into, but which I had some reason to suspect had their origin in domestic troubles of some kind, he went out to Haiti, traveled over the inland for a year or two, and finally contracted a partnership in a commercial house in Port au Prince, where he had been reasonably prosperous for some thirteen years previous to my making his acquaintance. Aside from the gratitude which I owed him for taking me into his house, without which I probably would have been in the cemetery with most of my recent shipmates within a week after my arrival, I acquired a sincere esteem for the man, an esteem which I think was cordially reciprocated. Mr. Hunt had pretty decided opinions upon most of the great problems of life, and was tolerably familiar, much more than I was then, with what the most eminent writers had written about them. I found his religious opinions, however, even more unsettled if possible than mine. He was a rationalist, without much faith in any future state of existence or in the Divine origin of the Word. He had a well stocked library of books, with the contents of which he was quite familiar. When I returned to New York, I felt moved to send him an account of the revolution some of my opinions had undergone since we parted, and the circumstances which led to it. I also sent him, with some other books, two or three volumes of Swedenborg which I recommended to his notice. In the course of a few weeks I received from him a letter in which he thus alluded to my envoi:
PORT AU PRINCE, April 25, 1854.
My Dear Mr. Bigelow:
I have received your letters of March 14 and 23, with Evening Post, Swedenborg, Humboldt, Colonial Sal Trade, 7th Census, Medicine Chest and Homoeopathic Physician, Magazines and Riding Whip, for all of which accept my most sincere thanks, and most particularly for Swedenborg. He seems to have established a "raw" in your mind which I little expected, and I little expected it because in some casual conversation we had about ghosts and the "supernatural" so called, which is perhaps only the natural unexplored, I found you an unbeliever. Swedenborg is not entirely a new acquaintance. About eighteen years ago I had his Heaven and Hell and Apocalypse Revealed in a former collection of books and they then made a strong impression on my mind which the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of trying to get "riches" have not wholly effaced, and which your kindness has enabled me to renew. On Sunday last when I got these books I read them, and have been looking into them by snatches ever since, if not with pleasure at least with great interest, for now, as earlier in life, they disturb me. I have not time to say the tithe of what I have to say of this matter, but during these eighteen years, I have considered Swedenborg the father of all those who, in modern times (since Jesus and the prophets) have been able to see spirits, who have given us glimpses (very imperfect) of the spiritual world, and who, in short, have been, and now are, gifted with second sight, animal magnetism and cognate phenomena. I never sought the acquaintance of a Swedenborgian, but when I have casually met them, to the number of half a dozen at long intervals - scholars, ladies, seamstresses, shoemakers, apprentices - I have left their conversation with the impression that I have been talking to a person pure, elevated, spiritual, and in certain departments of the mind, tho' not strong, highly intellectual. In 1841 I asked James Faxon, a shoemaker apprentice in Boston, what was the difference between a good man religious and a good man not religious. He said "Great. The one is good from Love of God, the other from love of himself," and he sent me away sorrowful, like the lawyer in the Bible.
In the course of the following year Mr. Hunt's health, always delicate, compelled him to return to the United States to secure the benefit of a higher grade of medical advice than was accessible in Haiti. He took up his residence in Philadelphia.
Knowing how completely he was engrossed by his business when I left him, how little there was in his environment to stimulate such a curiosity as the writings of Swedenborg were likely to satisfy, and the many prejudices which any book that takes the Divine origin and plenary inspiration of the Bible as its point of departure, has to contend with in trying to penetrate the mind of an agnostic of his age and temperament. I was not surprised, though disappointed, by the tone of his letter; nor was I surprised, though disappointed, at hearing nothing more from him about Swedenborg for many years.
In the spring of 1864 I was equally surprised and proportionately gratified by the receipt of a letter from him, most of which was consecrated to Swedenborg and revealed the changes in his views, which can be best described in his own language.
PHILADELPHIA, March 18, 1864.
My dear Mr. Bigelow:
* * * Since these small matters have made it necessary for me to trouble you with this letter, I cannot omit the opportunity of mentioning another and quite different subject.
You may remember that ten years ago this month you sent me at Port au Prince volumes of the works of Swedenborg, accompanied by a letter which at the time I thought rather remarkable. The volumes in question were the True Christian Religion, Heaven and Hell, and Documents Relating to the life of Swedenborg. I looked into those books at the time they were received and later, with awakened curiosity (for earlier in life I had seen them), and sometimes with a more direct interest, but only at intervals, and these often long. The impression these readings made seemed to remain, however, for invariably, during the first three or four years, whenever I have thought of a future state, I have found myself looking at it from Swedenborg's point of view. This winter my chronic complaint, co-operating with choice, has kept me at home a great deal, and after reading in this and that direction for sometime I, without any fixed purpose of doing so at the commencement, took up these books, and one after another went carefully through them. There are some things in them which I have not been fully able to appropriate. I do not find a satisfactory account of foreknowledge in its bearing on foreordination, and the persons whose condition in the spiritual world is described are too strictly confined to the theological class. But on the whole, the premise once granted that Swedenborg was the appointed servant of the Lord, the entire system presents the most logical, rational and natural account of man's spiritual nature and future life which I have any knowledge of. In fact it is the only theology which has ever at all commended itself to my acceptance. Besides, the personal character and life of the man have great weight with me as collateral evidence of the truth. Swedenborg did not, like all other, even good founders of sects, Wesley included, seek personal power. He never thought of being at the head of a new organization. He did not seek to make proselytes. He contented himself with simply placing on record the revelations he had been commanded to make, and left it to the Lord to establish His visible Church in His own way and time. He nevertheless speaks as one having authority, and does not argue or beg the question, and this I like for I am weary of conjecture. I am seeking for more of his works, and must find out whether Dr. Bush's lectures were ever published except in the Evening Post. Meantime I must thank you anew for these volumes, which it has taken me ten years to find the full value of. "Good seed, it seems, will keep" . . . .
In looking back over the series of incidents culminating in the restoration of my faith in the Word, which I have roughly outlined, how can I hesitate to believe that I was led - should I not say driven - every step by the Master? Why did I go to Haiti at all, when there were so many other places more interesting to visit and more accessible, that I had never seen? Why was Mr. Clark, whom I did not know, inspired to give me a letter of introduction to Mr. Hunt, of whom I had never heard? Why did the fever drive me on to another place I had no curiosity to see, and which I omitted no effort to avoid; and why did I happen there just when the disabled French steamer bound for New York, and the cholera left me no alternative but to remain two or three weeks instead of as many hours? Why was Mr. Kjerulff the only guest at the hotel with whom I could enter into any social relations? Why did I stumble upon a chapter in the Bible in a morning's reading that provoked me to reveal my agnosticism to this comparative stranger? Why had I been for nearly two months separated from all business cares and preoccupations, and even from books and newspapers, my mind meantime lying fallow, until it had grown hungry and thirsty for something to feed upon, before Mr. Kjerulff placed Swedenborg's books into my hand? Why were we to be fellow passengers and dependent upon each other exclusively for society for most of the succeeding month? Why, I ask, all these incidents, none of which would have occurred to me if I could have had my own way, unless it was necessary to make me lie down to sleep like Jacob, upon a pillow of stone, that when I should awake I might be ready to exclaim: "Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it," Any one of the incidents from the time I left New York, not to speak of these which decided me to go, failing, and I was constantly struggling to make them fail, I might still be without the Bible, if not without a God, in the world. What an unexpected significance my experience has given me to the words of the prophet, "It is not in man to direct his way, nor in man that walketh to direct his steps."
I waited patiently for the Lord; And He inclined unto me and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, And set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings, And He hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God
- Psalm 40:1-3.