There was a humorous side to Dr. Mells character that came to the surface at times to the great amusement and entertainment of his friends. Meeting with people in all walks of life many opportunities were presented for the display of this trait, and his keen sense of the ludicrous was often aroused by the striking oddities and peculiarities of human nature. He was as ready to laugh at a good joke on himself as at the expense of another. However, he never permitted this propensity to carry him to extremes. He knew when to laugh at his friend so as not to give offense and when to suppress his risibles. Nevertheless he never forgot a good joke, and could tell an anecdote with great relish.
Play upon words was a great power with him also, and some of his puns were greatly appreciated by his friends and acquaintances.* In illustration of this side of his character the following few incidents are given among many that might be related.
It was the custom with Professor Mell to take summer trips with some members of the college classes under his charge to points of interest in northern Georgia, and some times with friends to the sea coast to spend several weeks in fishing. On a trip of this character through the wire grass regions of Georgia and in company with a friend, he stopped one evening at a small cabin to seek shelter for the night. The woman who met them at the door refused for a time to take them in on the plea that her husband was absent and she was unwilling to take in strangers. But she was assured that they would be content to take the fare she was able to give them, without putting her to extra trouble, provided they could find shelter for themselves and horses. There was only one room to the house and the woman was compelled, therefore, to stretch a sheet across a corner of the room behind which she put down a pallet for the men. In the preparation of the supper she used but one cooking utensil, and that a frying-pan, for cooking the meat, then the bread and afterwards the coffee. When they had eaten their supper and the gentlemen had smoked their pipes, the woman warmed some water in the frying-pan and asked the travelers if they wished to wash their feet before retiring; but they declining she remarked that she could not rest well without bathing her feet, and began immediately to wash them in the pan to the great horror and disgust of the gentlemen. This revelation was quite unpleasant to them and next morning they breakfasted only on roasted potatoes and water.
At one time Professor Mell formed a party consisting of his family, several ladies and gentlemen friends and took a trip to the mountains of North Georgia by private conveyance. On the way up they passed through a fashionable watering place. The ladies of the party insisted upon having the curtains of the wagon pulled down so that they would not be seen in their dust-stained apparel by the people of the village.
Professor Mell was walking by the side of the wagons as they drove along the main street in front. of the hotel, and some well dressed young men standing on the porch, seeing the cavalcade, decided to have some fun out of the green Countryman, as they were pleased to call Professor Mell. They walked up to him in a swaggering manner, and one among their number called out so that everybody could distinctly hear: “Look here, old fellow, whats this youve got in these wagons, whiskey?” “No, sir,” said Professor Men, assuming as far as possible the role of a countryman because he had overheard the remark made by the young men on the hotel porch, “It is live stock.” “Is it for sale?” responded the young man. Yes, sir, if you will pay me my price for it.” “Let me see it,” said the young fellow, and going to the nearest wagon, he lifted the curtain and thrust his head in among the ladies, who were blissfully ignorant of what was going on outside. As the curtain was raised and the strange face appeared, a chorus of shrieks greeted the inquisitive young man and he jumped back as if he had been shot, with amazement and consternation depicted on countenance and attitude. A burst of laughter pealed forth from the porch as the full situation dawned upon the crowd assembled there. The young men walked off crestfallen. Professor Mell called after them: “Wont you buy some of my live stock, gentlemen?” The tables were so well turned on the young men that they became satisfied the “old fellow” was not so green as he pretended to be; so they interviewed one of the drivers who was feeding his horses while the party were eating their dinners and he informed them that the apparent countryman was Prof. P. H. Mell, of Mercer University. They were so much ashamed of their conduct to one so well known and respected as Professor Mell that they sought him out and apologized for what they had done. He laughed at them heartily and forgave them. Professor Mell was full of humor and enjoyed a joke to the fullest extent, yet at the same time he knew when to stop so as not to hurt the sensitive feelings of any one. Throughout his life he was kind and considerate to all. He had the faculty of placing himself in perfect sympathy with the company around him provided their views did not conflict with his opinions of what was right and proper. Young men, therefore, became very much attached to him and often came to him for advice. His house was frequently visited by people from the more humble walks of life who were made to feel at perfect ease in his presence because he adapted himself to their circumstances and understanding. Some of his warmest friends were men who were ill at ease in what is commonly called fashionable circles. At the same time his dignified bearing, great learning, affability and genial character made him scores of strong friends among the great men of the South. The following may be given as an interesting illustration of his ability to adapt himself to his company.
One of the most successful pastoral visits he ever made was during a rabbit hunt. Some little distance from a church at which he was preaching there was a community in which the young people refused to attend religious services. There were grown persons who had never been inside of a church. One of Mr. Mells deacons lived just on the edge of this community, and he was requested to organize a rabbit hunt and get all the young men of the settlement to join it, and to have a gun ready for his pastor, but not to let any one know that he was coming so as to make it appear that his arrival was accidental. The deacon demurred to this plan at first but when Mr. Mell informed him what he intended to do the deacon entered heartily into his plans. The hunt was organized and proved to be a great success. Mr. Mell came on at the proper time and a little persuasion was used before he consented to go with the party. He became thoroughly acquainted with the young men, and his success in shooting rabbits was so fine, because he was a good marksman, that the boys admired him and soon became quite intimate with him. He made himself thoroughly agreeable and pleasant to them all. There was not a word said, however, concerning religion. Every body returned from the hunt delighted, and on the following Sabbath a number of these people, for the first time, came to hear Mr. Mell preach. They came regularly after that and before the year was out more than two-thirds of the young people of this settlement had been baptized.
He was present once at a Justice Court, and while waiting for the appearance of the Justice he was standing under the shade of a tree near where a group of men were drinking from a jug of whiskey. They asked him to drink with them but he politely declined. Another man coming up just at this time he was also asked to indulge, and taking the jug he responded: “Certainly, I will, and Ive got Scripture for it, too. Dont the Bible say, Be temperate in all things? and whiskey being something how can I be temperate in it unless I drink some?” Saying this he looked at the Doctor with a triumphant air and a wink at the “boys.” Dr. Mell, good naturedly said: “I suppose, gentlemen, that was intended for me, as I was the only one to refuse the drink. Now, I have just two objections to that doctrine. In the first place there is no such passage in the Bible. And in the second place suppose the Apostle had said, Be ye temperate in all things, are you going to construe it in the way just given? If you do you will have to bite a piece out of that jug as well as drink some of the whiskey, for jug-biting is just as much a thing” as whiskey-drinking. And then, see what a chapter of accidents you will be in. You will have to go through life biting a piece out of every hedge you come to; nibbling the bark of every tree you go by; drinking some out of every mud puddle you pass; and, finally, my dear sir, you will have to bite a piece out of every little dogs tail you pass on the road.” The laugh was turned on the would-be Bible scholar.
Reverence for the Sabbath was a strong feature in Dr. Mells character, and he avoided, as far as possible, any inclination to violate its sacred prerogatives. The following incident furnishes a striking illustration of this fact.
A number of years ago, before there was a railroad between Chattanooga and Nashville, the Southern Baptist Convention convened in the latter city. On Saturday night, before the meeting of the Convention, a number of delegates, among them Dr. Mell, were consulting on the train, just before it reached Chattanooga, concerning the advisability of taking the Sunday morning stage, or remaining in Chattanooga until Monday morning. If they stayed until Monday morning there was a strong probability of arriving in Nashville too late for the opening exercises of the Convention. It was decided by all, except Dr. Mell and one other delegate, that it would be best to take the Sunday morning s stage. These two concluded not to travel on the Sabbath.
Sunday opened clear and beautiful and the party started off in the highest spirits, with the brightest prospects of a quick and successful journey. They had not been gone many hours, however, before it began raining and continued until late at night. Early next morning a special conveyance drove up to the door of the hotel in Chattanooga at which Dr. Mell and his friend were stopping, and put out a passenger and his baggage. This carriage was from Nashville and the driver expected to return immediately with it empty. Learning of this fact, Dr. Mell contracted with him to take them for a small sum, and they left some time before the regular stage started. A little over half way between the cities they passed the Sundays stage, broken down, with the passengers out in the mud in a deplorable condition. These unfortunate men did not reach Nashville until Dr. Mell and his friend had succeeded in obtaining comfortable quarters and the Convention had been organized.
One Saturday morning he intended to meet an engagement at one of his churches; his watch was out of fix and it was considerably later than the watch indicated. He started to walk to the depot, one mile distant, as was his custom; and proceeding in a leisurely manner he had gone about half the distance when he heard the engine whistle blow. This made him uneasy but his watch still reassured him. He, however, quickened his pace, and, as he was moving hurriedly along he met an old negro man who said:
“Sho, Marster, yer aint gwine to take der train?”
“Yes,” said Dr. Mell, “I expect to do so if possible. Why do you ask?”
“Why, Lord, Marster, hit done gone; look yonder.”
Looking in the direction indicated by the negros hand, sure enough the train was fast moving out of sight. Dr. Mell involuntarily quickened his steps and actually ran a few feet before recollecting himself, when he turned with much dignity and slowly walked home. While walking off, to his amusement, he heard the darky exclaim:
“My Gord-a-mighty! tryin to run down er train er kyars an hit done got two miles de start er im!”
He used to travel on this same road to his churches frequently in company with a Methodist minister who also preached to a church near Antioch. This minister was a widower and Dr. Mell often teased him about the ladies. One Saturday, as they were going down together, and in the presence of several other gentlemen, he requested him to preach the next day from the text: “This widow troubleth me.” The following Monday, returning to Athens, some one asked the Methodist divine if he preached from the text furnished him by Dr. Mell. “Oh no,” said he, “I took the text: How long halt ye between two opinions.” “Ah,” said Dr. Mell, “I did not know there were two of them.”
* A friend writing of him in the Religious Herald says: “He is regarded as the prince of good fellows, making the youngest and humblest of his brethren feel perfectly at home in his company, and is the very life of our ministerial gatherings at associations. His fondness of interesting and laughable anecdotes exceeds that Of any ministers I have ever known, and his manner of relating them is Illimitable.”