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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

John and Roger: or New England Intolerance

By Jeremy Belknap (1744–1798)

[The Forresters. 1796.]

JOHN’S family grew, and he settled his sons, as fast as they became of age, to live by themselves; and when any of his old acquaintance came to see him, he bade them welcome, and was their very good friend, as long as they continued to be of his mind, and no longer; for he was a very pragmatical sort of a fellow, and loved to have his own way in everything. This was the cause of a quarrel between him and Roger Carrier; for it happened that Roger had taken a fancy to dip his head into water, as the most effectual way of washing his face, and thought it could not be made so clean in any other way. John, who used the common way of taking water in his hand to wash his face, was displeased with Roger’s innovation, and remonstrated against it. The remonstrance had no other effect than to fix Roger’s opinion more firmly; and as a farther improvement on his new plan, he pretended that no person ought to have his face washed till he was capable of doing it himself, without any assistance from his parents. John was out of patience with this addition, and plumply told him that, if he did not reform his principles and practice, he would fine him, or flog him, or kick him out of doors. These threats put Roger on inventing other odd and whimsical opinions. He took offence at the letter X, and would have had it expunged from the alphabet, because it was the shape of a cross, and had a tendency to introduce Popery. He would not do his duty at a military muster, because there was an X in the colors. After a while he began to scruple the lawfulness of bearing arms and killing wild beasts. But, poor fellow! the worst of all was, that being seized with a shaking-palsy which affected every limb and joint of him, his speech was so altered that he was unable to pronounce certain letters and syllables as he had been used to do. These oddities and defects rendered him more and more disagreeable to his old friend, who, however, kept his temper as well as he could, till one day, as John was saying a long grace over his meat, Roger kept his hat on the whole time. As soon as the ceremony was over, John took up a case-knife from the table, and gave Roger a blow on the ear with the broad side of it; then with a quick, rising stroke, turned off his hat. Roger said nothing, but, taking up his hat, put it on again; at which John broke out into such a passionate speech as this: “You impudent scoundrel! is it come to this? Have I not borne with your whims and fidgets these many years, and yet they grow upon you? Have I not talked with you time after time, and proved to you as plain as the nose in your face, that your notions are wrong? Have I not ordered you to leave them off, and warned you of the consequences; and yet you have gone on from bad to worse? You began with dipping your head into water, and would have all the family do the same, pretending there was no other way of washing the face. You would have had the children go dirty all their days, under pretence that they were not able to wash their own faces, and so they must have been as filthy as the pigs till they were grown up. Then you would talk your own balderdash lingo ‘thee’ and ‘thou,’ and ‘nan’ forsooth; and now you must keep your hat on when I am at my devotions, and I suppose would be glad to have the whole family do the same! There is no bearing with you any longer; so now, hear me, I give you fair warning: if you don’t mend your manners, and retract your errors, and promise reformation, I’ll kick you out of the house. I’ll have no such refractory fellows here. I came into this forest for reformation, and reformation I will have.”

“Friend John,” said Roger, “dost not thou remember, when thou and I lived together in friend Bull’s family, how hard thou didst think it to be compelled to look on thy book all the time that the hooded chaplain was reading the prayers, and how many knocks and thumps thou and I had for offering to use our liberty, which we thought we had a right to do? Didst thou not come hitherunto for the sake of enjoying thy liberty? and did not I come to enjoy mine? Wherefore, then, dost thou assume to deprive me of the right which thou claimest for thyself?”

“Don’t tell me,” answered John, “of right and of liberty; you have as much liberty as any man ought to have. You have liberty to do right, and no man ought to have liberty to do wrong.”

“Who is to be judge?” replied Roger, “of what is right or what is wrong? Ought not I to judge for myself? Or thinkest thou it is thy place to judge for me?”

“Who is to be judge?” said John, “why, the book is to be judge; and I have proved by the book, over and over again, that you are wrong; and therefore you are wrong, and you have no liberty to do anything but what is right.”

“But, friend John,” said Roger, “who is to judge whether thou hast proved my opinions or conduct to be wrong——thou or I?”

“Come, come,” said John, “not so close, neither; none of your idle distinctions. I say you are in the wrong; I have proved it, and you know it. You have sinned against your own conscience, and therefore you deserve to be cut off as an incorrigible heretic.”

“How dost thou know,” said Roger, “that I have sinned against my own conscience? Canst thou search the heart?”

At this John was so enraged that he gave him a smart kick, and bade him begone out of his house, and off his lands, and called after him to tell him, that, if ever he should catch him there again, he would knock his brains out.