The Parson And The Bluestocking


“What attentions?” asked MacWhorter. He vehemently denied that he had courted Delia Bacon. He would not have his friends think him such a fool, he told Forbes. There had been no sentiment on his side, “not a thimbleful.” He had lent himself to the affair only to help Delia save face. She had shown a preference for him. She had actually proposed to him. In the circumstances he had behaved exactly as he ought.

Alexander MacWhorter defies interpretation. There is really no explaining him. If Delia had proposed to him on one occasion, why did he not thank her for the offer and be off? And if, as he now told Roger Baldwin, the ex-governor of Connecticut, she proposed not once but five separate times, he must have been insatiable for punishment to have remained in Brattleboro for ten weeks, conspicuously devoting himself to her, while perfectly able to leave town. Baldwin, who had submitted to MacWhorter’s disclosures with reluctance, thought the fellow a rare fool and said as much.

The gossip in New Haven had by now, thanks to the misprized Robert Forbes and the Clapps, reached scurrilous proportions. Delia was totally compromised. Either she had been caught in a serious breach of decorum, or she was the victim of a shameless intrigue at the hands of that “clerical Lothario,” Alexander MacWhorter. The Bacon family began to buckle on the armor of righteousness, and Leonard Bacon raised his hatchet-head like a tomahawk for the scalp of the licentiate. The young man was guilty of slander, libel, and conduct unbecoming a clergyman and a gentleman and should therefore be declared unfit to preach.

It was not to be supposed that MacWhorter and his friends would accede to this solution to Delia’s vexations. He announced that he could produce evidence that Delia had been the active party throughout the whole affair and that if the Bacon family did not refrain from its persecutions, he would be forced to defend himself by making Delia’s correspondence public. Robert Forbes and his cousin, Jane Fitch, claimed to have seen it already. In that case, argued Leonard Bacon, an investigation was imperative. Either a man was fit to be a minister or he was not, and if MacWhorter was innocent of the conduct imputed to him by Delia and her friends he must prove it.

No, said MacWhorter and his partisans. The licentiate would prove nothing. Let the Bacons prove their case.

Delia at first had hoped to close the chapter in the classic manner with the burning of letters and the remission of gifts. When she failed to receive her letters and learned that they had fallen into the hands of Forbes, Clapp, and such girls as the satirical Henrietta Blake and the despised Forbes’ cousin, malicious little Jane Fitch, she rose to a falcon’s fury that momentarily shook even MacWhorter’s leaden poise. Her ultimatum to him announced that she had seen the whites of his eyes and was prepared to shoot.

You certainly cannot but be aware … that the representations which are generally made here with regard to my relations to you are wholly and basely untrue. … You know that my regard for you was one which such a devotion as yours could hardly fail to inspire in a heart not wholly insensible to kindness. Need I remind you of that devotion? … The whole vocabulary of poetic feeling has been exhausted to convey it to me; not in writing indeed for you have been quite careful not to commit yourself in this way. … You have read my letters to your friends. Did you read them all? Were there no suppressed passages? Did you tell them of the circumstances that originated them? Did you tell them of those professions of impassioned sentiment without which they would not have been written? Did you tell them that I had distinctly declined the honor to which I am represented as having aspired? … Representations, the most humiliating to me, the most degrading that were ever fastened on a woman of reputation are referred to you as their author. … You have made it necessary for me to make statements on this subject in my own defense. … I had once some influence here and weakened and wasted as it has been, such as it is I will use it to the utmost. You may read [this letter] to as many of your acquaintances as you please. I do not wish for any answer … All I ask of you is to send me my letters .

The beleaguered MacWhorter received this letter at the house of Nathaniel Taylor, where he was staying. When his reply to it was returned to him unopened he glimpsed an alarming threat to his career. The Bacons were implacable, and if Nathaniel Taylor should take their part impeachment was virtually certain. In desperation he threw himself on the mercy of Mrs. Taylor and her daughter, Mrs. Noah Porter. He must have had stupendous powers of persuasion. In spite of their long friendship with the Bacons, which included Delia, and notwithstanding their undisguised disapproval of MacWhorter’s protracted sojourn in Brattleboro, his protestations of innocence won them over. They promised to warn him of any impending crisis, by crisis meaning the moment when the business should come to the attention of his friend and patron, Dr. Taylor.

The crisis came that afternoon in the interval between tea and dinner, and gallantly MacWhorter met it, shielded by the crinolines of the Taylor ladies.