Some Wild Visions: Autobiographies by Female Itinerant Evangelists in Nineteenth-Century America

By Elizabeth Elkin Grammer | Go to book overview

3
Nothing Succeeds Like Failure
Singularity and the Uses of Opposition

In the day of this book hungry hearted people found the experience and went into their homes, work, and churches to witness often under severe opposition. This opposition made glowing, powerful, exemplary characters of the grace of full salvation.

Henry Shilling, 1955 preface to Forty Witnesses (1888)

Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.

2 Timothy 3:12

I have made thee this day a defenced city, and an iron pillar and brasen walls against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, against the priests thereof, and against the people of the land. And they shall fight against thee; but they shall not prevail against thee; for I am with thee, saith the Lord, to deliver thee.

Jeremiah 1:18–19

For a short period in her career as an itinerant minister in the 1820s, having abandoned the comforts of home, family, and community, Nancy Towle enjoyed the company of Elizabeth Venner. Venner was a young woman whom she had met and befriended in Canada and who subsequently became her traveling companion. But after several years, Venner, weary of the unpredictable itinerant life led by her friend, tearfully parted with Towle and returned home with her brother. “Here I was called, ” Towle writes, “to the most bitter trial, as I thought, that I had ever experienced: i.e. the parting with my Elizabeth” (83). In the Vicissitudes Towle confesses that Venner's departure left her so lonely that she decided to overtake her former companion and even traveled with her again for a time, unable to endure the pain of parting with the only close friend mentioned in her autobiography. Ultimately, however, their paths did diverge, and from then on, Towle reports, she traveled for the most part alone: “I therefore now saw myself again a lonely traveller in the earth; and that, let others do as they would—to me 'no cross on earth, would be no crown in Heaven'” (83). Indeed, she concludes her narrative by announcing her intention to continue flying solo: “I can seldom find a female that has courage sufficient, —or, if she has that qualification, she has not grace proportionate” (239).

Towle's decision to reveal her strong feelings for another human being is nearly unique in the autobiographies under study here: these itinerants rarely write about feeling lonely,

-83-

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