New York: James Pott & Company, 1899.
I. Birth to Ordination.
JAMES DE KOVEN was born in Middletown, Conn., September 19, 1831. By his father's side, he was of German origin. His maternal grandmother was Elizabeth Winthrop, a lineal descendant of the great governor.
When twelve years of age, he wrote an Epiphany hymn, which was sung by the children of Grace Church, Brooklyn Heights. At fifteen he published a small book of poems. An unpublished poem made satirical reference to a certain old gentleman, who on hearing of it, requested the author to read it to him. This was done, the offensive verse being suppressed. The old gentleman saw nothing amiss, and the matter might have ended there, had not the author's sense of truth required him to acknowledge the omission, and to read, must to the wrath of the subject of his poesy, what he had omitted.
After reaching manhood's years he retained his youthful appearance for a long time. He used to tell a story of himself, as being introduced at Dr. Shelton's, in Buffalo, as "Mr. de Koven, of Racine College." At parting, he was wished success in his studies, the person whose acquaintance he had made mistaking the warden for an undergraduate. Beneath his fragile form, there was the soul of a lion, and his lips, when compressed, revealed an iron determination. "I have never seen," wrote Dr. Ashley, "feminine tenderness and gentleness so sweetly compounded with masculine strength and force and courage as they were in him."
At his graduation at Columbia College, July 30, 1851, he delivered a poem on "The Inner Life."
At the General Theological Seminary he was a classmate of Bishop Seymour, Brown, and Knight, of Dr. Hodges, of Baltimore, Dr. Parker, his successor at Racine, and Dr. Richey, now professor at the General Theological Seminary. "From the day of his entering the seminary (wrote Dr. Dix) to the hour of his death the work of teaching was always in his thoughts. With him it was a controlling desire, a passion, to inculcate that fear of the Lord which is the beginning of wisdom, and without which mere intellectual culture must prove a failure. While yet a student in the Seminary, he aided in establishing what was known as a 'Ragged School,' and in that school no teacher was more zealous or successful than he. I well remember it, for I was in the Seminary with him; and a more unpromising set of boys could hardly have been collected from the streets of New York. Among us seminary graduates there are traditions of that school and of the dreadful time the men had with the swarm of uncouth ragamuffins whom they gathered together on Sunday, in the 'Long Room.' But how lovingly did James de Koven work with those poor outcasts! Nor, indeed without result; for years afterward, at one of our General Conventions, a clergyman requested to be presented to him, and told him that he was one of the very boys whom he had taught in that Ragged School! What a reward for the great heart, the loving soul!"
He was ordained deacon at Middletown, August 6, 1854, by the Right Rev. John Williams. He declined a call to a charming parish in Brooklyn, and another to an attractive work at Lower Red Hook, on the Hudson, and accepted the Chair of Ecclesiastical History, at Nashotah. He arrived there September 15, 1854.