I suppose I shall come in under the head of "sinners at large" - but I don't mind that; I am no better than any other sinner and I am not entitled to especial consideration. They pray for the congregation first, you know - and with considerable vim; then they pray mildly for other denominations; then for the near relations of the congregation; then for their distant relatives; then for the surrounding community; then for the State; then for the Government officers; then for the United States; then for North America; then for the whole Continent; then for England, Ireland and Scotland; France, Germany and Italy; Russia, Prussia and Austria; then for the inhabitants of Norway, Sweden and Timbuctoo; and those of Saturn, Jupiter and New Jersey; and then they give the niggers a lift, and the Hindoos a lift, and the Turks a lift, and the Chinese a lift; and then, after they have got the fountain of mercy baled out as dry as an ash-hopper, they be-speak the sediment left in the bottom of it for us poor "sinners at large."
It ain't just exactly fair, is it? Sometimes, (being a sort of a Presbyterian in a general way, and a brevet member of one of the principal churches of that denomination,) I stand up in devout attitude, with downcast eyes, and hands clasped upon the back of the pew before me, and listen attentively and expectantly for awhile; and then rest upon one foot for a season; and then upon the other; and then insert my hands under my coat-tails and stand erect and look solemn; and then fold my arms and droop forward and look dejected; and then cast my eye furtively at the minister; and then at the congregation; and then grow absent-minded, and catch myself counting the lace bonnets; and marking the drowsy members; and noting the wide-awake ones; and averaging the bald heads; and afterwards descend to indolent conjectures as to whether the buzzing fly that keeps stumbling up the window-pane and sliding down backwards again will ever accomplish his object to his satisfaction; and, finally, I give up and relapse into a dreary reverie - and about this time the minister reaches my department, and brings me back to hope and consciousness with a kind word for the poor "sinners at large."
Sometimes we are even forgotten altogether and left out in the cold - and then I call to mind the vulgar little boy who was fond of hot biscuits, and whose mother promised him that he should have all that were left if he would stay away and keep quiet and be a good little boy while the strange guest ate his breakfast; and who watched that voracious guest till the growing apprehension in his young bosom gave place to demonstrated ruin and then sung out: "There! I know'd how it was goin' to be - I know'd how it was goin' to be, from the start! Blamed if he hain't gobbled the last biscuit!"
I do not complain, though, because it is very seldom that the Hindoos
and the Turks and the Chinese get all the atoning biscuits and leave us
sinners at large to go hungry. They do remain at the board a long time,
though, and we often get a little tired waiting for our turn. How would
it do to be less diffuse? How would it do to ask a blessing upon the specialities
- I mean the congregation and the immediate community - and then include
the whole broad universe in one glowing fervent appeal? How would it answer
to adopt the simplicity and the beauty and the brevity and the comprehensiveness
of the Lord's Prayer as a model? But perhaps I am wandering out of my
I am old now, & once was a sinner. I often think of it with a kind of soft
regret. I trust my days are numbered; I would not have that detail overlooked.
- Mark Twain: A Biography by Albert Bigelow Paine, p. 1514
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