John d'Entremont, Southern Emancipator: Moncure Conway, The American Years 1832-1865 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), xii.
D'Entremont, John. Southern Emancipator: Moncure Conway, The American Years 1832-1865. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.
Moncure Conway, to borrow a phrase from Walt Whitman, contained multitudes. He was successively Methodist Minister, Unitarian minister, Theistic minister, freethought minister, no minister at all. He was a Southerner who left the South, an American who left America, a citizen of the world who belonged everywhere and nowhere. He seemed equally at home - and detached - on the Australian frontier (which he visited in 1883) and in a London drawing room. He was both a platform polemicist and a serious scholar whose biography of Thomas Paine is in many ways still the best. He was respectable and Bohemian, gentleman and radical. He had a genius for friendship and a talent for provocation. "I never yet have heard him speak that he did not have something ... worth saying." said Thomas Wentworth Higginson, "nor did I ever hear him speak, I may add, that he did not say something worth differing from."
John d'Entremont, Southern Emancipator: Moncure Conway, The American Years 1832-1865 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 222.
By 1897, at the end of a four-year return engagement at South Place, Conway's philosophy had undergone a striking change from what it had looked like at the end of the American years. Much of his adult career had been spent proclaiming the Emersonian creed that evil is only "good in the making," that the direction of the world was inexorably toward the better, that "progress" could never long be retarded. That faith had supported his break with Virginia. It also had helped provoke his departure from war-torn America and the lessons the war might otherwise have taught, when he adandoned the darkening, guilty New World to find innocence and sunlight in the Old. During his first South Place ministry he had always proclaimed the glory of evolution, ever onward and upward, and the illusory nature of evil, wrong, and pain - things that only "helped" us by alerting us to what was good. Personal and political events in the 1880s made that increasingly hard to believe. By 1897 it was impossible.
John d'Entremont, Souther Emancipator: Moncure Conway, The American Years 1832-1865 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 171.
The resettling of the freedmen had a startling and drastic effect on Conway's flagging spirits. The episode could not have been better timed. At the point when he was feeling most ineffectual and helpless, Conway found a means of accomplishing something concrete for the antislavery cause: he could not save four million slaves, but he could save thirty-three. More than that, the perilous journey through Baltimore must have served to assuage any lingering suspicions Conway (or anyone else) might have had about the connection between his noncombatant status and his courage. In June a beaten man, in August he was a crusader reborn.