Project Canterbury

Life of the Reverend James de Koven, D. D.,
Sometime Warden of Racine College.

by William C. Pope, M.A.

New York: James Pott & Company, 1899.

VIII. The Valley of the Shadow of Death.

AS an introduction to an account of the last four years of Dr. de Koven's life, Dr. Locke's Memorial sermon will once more be quoted.

"I know that an all pure God sees folly in His very angels. I know how full of self-will and sin the holiest heart is. I know that James de Koven felt a terrible sense of sin, and lamented his shortcomings before God. I know how hidden may be the evil tenants of the heart; but with all that, I feel that if ever man could be held up to his fellows as an example of the power of the Gospel, this man could. He had a strong nature, a man's nature, with all a man's feelings and passions. Sin attacked him as it does every child of Adam, and that he was enabled to trample upon it and subdue it to the will of Christ was no triumph of unaided nature, but the miracle of redeeming grace. He said so. He felt so. 'Not unto us, but unto Thy name be glory.' The first trait of his Christian character, suggested first by the festival of to-day in honor of the Virgin Mother of Jesus, is his purity. His life was like some beautiful block of snowy marble, or rather (for that is too cold and lifeless) like some stainless flower which throws its perfume on the air. No man ever dared breathe before him an allusion that was not chaste. You felt that his holy purity was to be respected like that of a young girl. It was the purity that sprang from the soil of deep principle, of a nearness to the life of Christ. Then there was the most perfect submission to the will of God. 'Do you not feel anxious?' I said on the eve of his election to the episcopate. 'Not at all,' he said. 'I have tried to submit every act of my life since I was a conscious agent to the will of God, and thanks to His holy name, I am able to do so, and it is a wonderful relief in any time of trial. I accept every turn of fortune as the will of God.' These were his express words, and when a man can say them as he did, beyond suspicion of hypocrisy, they betoken a very far advancement along the road to holiness. Several times a day, it was his wont to retire and commune in prayer with his God. Devotional reading, holy meditation, occupied him greatly. Then we must remember his great charity of soul. He had to bear in his life, many unjust accusations, many unwarranted attacks;l but no one ever heard him use uncharitable language against his adversaries. And some of them going to him were humiliated beyond measure to see how he took the blame, how he more than met their advances, how thoroughly he accepted their reparation. Then there was ever in his life the exhibition of the deepest spirituality. As the light behind a statue seems to struggle through the veil of flesh and blood, and illumine his whole frame. He convinced you without a word of his living with God. And lastly, his humility. Who ever heard him boast of his honors, his acquirements, his influence? All was offered on the altar of God, and buried under his sense of the measureless humility of Jesus."

In General Convention, 1877, he offered in behalf of the diocese of Wisconsin, a resolution requesting the appointment of a commission of the change of name of the Church. Only two persons voted with him for the change. Nine years later two-thirds of the clergy voted to have the words Protestant Episcopal omitted on the title-page of the Prayer Book. Few, if any, love the present name of the Church, and the change is sure to come.

"Remember," wrote the Rev. Fayette Durlin, "we did not know him, never should have known him, excepting for his defeat, and defeat, and defeat." He was a leader because he went before. Those might follow who chose. If few accepted his teaching during his lifetime, the number now is rapidly on the increase who acknowledge him as the preacher of forgotten truths.

He was one of the brilliant and devout set of men. Another of the clique was Dr. John Henry Hopkins. At the time of the Convention of 1877 these two men walked together from their hospitable quarters to its meeting. "He would take my arm (says Dr. Hopkins) and now and then, notwithstanding his smiling face and cheerful talk, I felt an uncontrollable nervous twitch in his arm. On speaking to him about it he said he could not help it; and then, in language I can never forget, he said that no one could realize the weight of the burden that was perpetually on his mind and conscience. The entire work of Racine College rested upon him--education, religious, disciplinary and financial. And besides this was the share he had been driven to take in the affairs of the diocese and the general controversies of the Church. 'God alone knows how long I shall be able to stand it.' It was not long; this was his last General Convention."

He was called to Trinity Parish, New York, to fill a position of honor, made particularly for him. He declined the call, as also one to the Church of the Advent, Boston, and also to the first parish in Cincinnati. For several years he had known that he was threatened with apoplexy. The question he then discussed with his most intimate friends, wrote Bishop Clarkson, was, "Whether it was not a man's duty to stand in the lot where God has placed him, even though he might soon and suddenly fall." The conclusion at which he had arrived appears from what he wrote to Dr. Dix, after declining the call to Trinity: " I have no doubt as to my duty in this matter, nor do I write thus, as if regretting what I felt I must do."

To his sister, Mrs. Casey, who had her home with him, and who was rehearsing to him the benefits that would accrue to him--in health and strength--by accepting the call to Trinity Church, New York, he said, "I am not thinking so much of what is good for myself, as I am as to what is my duty in the eyes of Him, with whom nothing is small--nothing is great, but to do His will," and then, later, he said to her, "Much as I should like to accept, I shall never leave Racine. My duty is here."

In his conversation with Dr. Hopkins, he had referred to the affairs of the Diocese of Wisconsin. Bishop Kemper had been elected in 1835, to be bishop of Missouri and Indiana, his jurisdiction including the present states of Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota. In spirit he was a missionary bishop to the end of his day. He lived in a little frame house half a mile from Nashotah, far away from any city. Meanwhile his son-in-law, Dr. Adams, the great scholar, was teaching the students of Nashotah about the See System of the primitive Church, according to which, there was a bishop in every city, whose cathedral was the centre of his work. The Wisconsin clergy, consequently, as a body, looked forward with longing anticipation to the time when a bishop in Milwaukee would restore the customs of the church in the days of her pristine purity.

Bishop Armitage was consecrated the assistant of Bishop Kemper, and in his first convention address said: "It was not the least attraction to your diocese to know that the 'See principle' in regard to Episcopal work was expected to be put in operation."

"It may well be," wrote Dr. de Koven, "that he did not realize all the difficulties of that which he undertook; he did not understand that against him was arrayed the wearied tradition of over 250 years. It mattered not that the primitive Church had practiced it; that the Church of England had approved it; that the heart of the Church in this country had begun to demand it; he was called to stand forth and fight against an abuse of immemorial age and rooted far down in the system of the Church. God, who called him, mercifully suffered him not to see it all, and in the strength of God he strobe to accomplish the word." He died, and Bishop Welles inherited the quarrel in which he had become involved. The city rectors imagine that their prerogatives were endangered, and that an attempt would be made to reduce them to the state of the presbyters of the primitive church who were simply the Bishop's lieutenants. The Rectors of three parishes issued a pamphlet entitled "The See Principle and the Cathedral Church in the Diocese of Wisconsin," arraigning the Cathedral movement and its supporters, chief of whom was the Bishop. A letter received from Dr. Adams, in 1890, says, "de Koven, myself and four more worked for four months over the Cathedral Canon." (How joyful a thing it is for brethren to work together in unity.) It fell to Dr. de Koven to defend the Canon and the Bishop, but in so doing he was laying down his life. In his speech he maintained the principle that a Cathedral must be diocesan in character, and not merely urban. The next morning early he knocked at the Bishop's chamber door, and on being told to come in, said, "Bishop, I did not close my eyes last night. The strain and worry is more than I am able to bear. I must go home. I do not believe that I shall come to the council again." He was expecting the coming of the time of which he had preached: "Then shall they who have sought Him and found Him in His Eucharists, rest forever in that presence, where the provoking of all men comes no longer, and where there is rest for the weary from the strife of tongues."

His health during the winter improved so that he was able to go to Fond du Lac, where in Bishop Brown's Cathedral he preached his last sermon. His subject was the Victory of Faith, from the text "This is the victory which overcometh the world, even our faith."

"Do you ask me, my brethren," questioned he, "what will be the attitude of such a faith as this toward our complicated civilization, toward this marvelous result of time and Providence which is found in our modern life? I cannot answer. I have not ruled which can specifically meet the varying responsibilities of different stations, and apparently conflicting duties. But there are certain things which I am confident, if they do not already, will soon make the dividing line between the life of faith and the life of the world more distinct than it is now. I believe the time is soon to come when Christian people will have to practice a plainer mode of living, a simpler style of dress, a sterner rule, a more austere life, a greater curbing of what they accept in amusements, in fashion, in attire, in equipage, in tone of thought.

"To amass a huge fortune, and then hoard it meanly or spend it coarsely, can scarcely be regarded as the end and aim of an immortal soul. There are mutterings in the air; there are signs and portents, if men will only heed them. Why are the intellectual and the high-minded, the grave gentleman and true patriots of a generation scarcely gone, so rarely to be found in the halls of Legislation? What meant those mutterings of communism which only the other day burst forth in what had seemed to be a time of unexampled prosperity? What mean these stories of sin and shame which we scarcely dreamed that we could ever hear of in this land of freedom and education? Are not our children, my brethren--our children, fair and gentle, brave and innocent--are they not inheriting too often enfeebled bodies and weakened wills and irresolute purposes, and, guided by the poorest examples, sent forth to fight a battle, never so terrible as it is to-day, with the curse of our guilt added to their own frail weakness?

"Ah, beloved, as the battle still rages around us, I call you not so much to a contest with that or that evil, this or that fault of character. This indeed is a part of each man's necessary and daily struggle, but in the midst of it we sometimes forget the divine method of gaining the victory. Many a man goes toiling and failing all his life, working at everything else save in the appointed path of conquest. To surrender the will, to humble the pride, to become like a little child; to believe in the unseen; to know that there is another world than that about us, to enter it by Baptism, to live in it by the Holy Communion; to be guided by the voice and hand of an invisible Master; to be drawn nearer and nearer to that blessed Home of which death is only the portal; to see the solemn pageant of the world's great activities go marching by as in a spectacle; to be in it, yet far above it; to despise none of its beauty or goodness or excellence, and yet to have the life hid with Christ in God; above its din and noise, to hear celestial harmonies; in the midst of its hurry and bustle, to be at peace; to care neither for its honors nor its persecutions; sober in prosperity, patient and resigned in adversity, at rest in life, at rest in death, one with Christ forever--this is the Victory that overcometh the world, even our faith!"

Late in the winter he went to Milwaukee to a Diocesan meeting, and slipped on the icy sidewalk, breaking his leg. On returning to Racine, he was confined to his room for the remainder of his days. When bidding his sister, Mrs. D., good-bye, the last time she ever saw him; and when she expressed her grief at parting from him, he said, "Partings, my dear sister, make up the sum of life; they are a part of our daily existence. It is God's will for us. Should we meet again, we must be grateful to God for the blessing; should it be His divine will that we should never meet again on earth, then we must look forward to the joyful reunion in the Paradise of God." These were his last words to her, as they never met again. In speaking to this same sister of the illness of her son, Robert, he said, "You have always wished that your dear son should serve God in His Temple on earth, but should He see hit to take him, in his early youth, to serve Him in His Temple on High, you must not murmur, but go forth from your own sorrow, to comfort others."

He was wont to open his Friday lecture with a review of the students' shortcomings, which had been reported to him on the previous week. On Friday, March 14th, he said: "My dear boys, for the first time that I can recall, I have no reports against any of you. Oh, that I might never be obliged to present such reports to you again!" He never did.

Bishop Seymour's Episcopal ring was given to him by Dr. de Koven. In his address to his Diocesan Council, 1879, the Bishop dwells on it at length, describing it as worthy of the munificence of the donor,--a large amethyst heavily set in gold.

Dr. de Koven wrote of the ring as follows:


"The ring has arrived, and is beautiful. I have sent it to-day to Bp. Seymour. I thank you for the trouble. Please thank Mrs. W. for her message. I can sympathize with her. It is slow work, and when I can use my foot, rheumatism stands ready to seize hold of every muscle. With love to your sisters and to your Mother.

"I am affectly. yours

"J. DE K--."

In one and the same hour Bishop Seymour received the ring and the announcement of the death of the giver.

On Tuesday, March 18th, he wrote the following letter:

"March 18th, 1879.




"The call extended to me by the parish of St. Mark's Church, Philadelphia, through you, was duly received by me. I cannot, in words, adequately express the gratitude I feel for the confidence reposed in me, in calling me to such an important post. I think I appreciate the influence for good possessed by St. Mark's parish,--the opportunity it affords the Rector for working earnestly and successfully for the good of the Church and the salvation of souls. The condition of matters in the Diocese, no doubt affords to the right person, an especial opportunity, which, wisely used, would result in great good. All this weighs with me. I feel it to be a grievous thing to refuse such a call. I should feel, equally, the deep responsibility of accepting it. Yet, were it possible for me to do the latter, how gladly would I endeavor to do, all that God would give me grace and power to do, in such a field. But, I cannot even ask for fuller information, or allow myself even any delay in informing you of what is a grief to me--that I cannot accept the call. It is due to you that I should state the reasons which actuate me, and which place both honor and duty on the side of declining. It is less than a year, since I refused a call to Trinity Parish,--not, as is commonly stated--to succeed Dr. Ogilby--but in a place especially made for me. There were reasons--into which it is needless that I should enter--some personal, some connected with dearest friendship, some of family ties and connections, and briefly, some especial and peculiar opportunities of influence and of doing good,--that made me anxious to accept it. I could not, however, do so. The ties that bound me here, the responsibilities gathered during twenty-five years of labor--the especial needs of my College--my associations with the Bishop of the Diocese, and other matters equally imperative, compelled me to decline this call. I did it with much sorrow, and only from a sense of gravest duty. Perhaps these reasons are not quite as imperative, to-day, as a year ago, but they are not materially altered, and both my regard for the enforced nature of my refusal then, and the sorrow it caused to some whose love is very dear to me--and the character of my duty and position here--make me feel that both honor and duty would compel me to reuse (and not even to weary you with delay and consideration), the important call you have extended to me. If it causes disappointment, I shall indeed be grieved--that I cannot help in so great a work is a source of profound regret to me--and that, in spite of this, I may retain the confidence and regard you have shown me--is my sincere hope. I am, gentlemen, with profound respect, most truly your

"friend & servant,






Wardens & Vestrymen,"

High honors and more important duties than St. Mark's had to offer, awaited him.

On Wednesday, March 19, 1879, a little while after the work of the day had commenced, a whisper passed through the halls and class-rooms that the Warden was dead. It seemed incredible to none more so than to those who a few moments before had left him in good spirits. That morning, as his visitor, Mrs. Casey, who was with him at the time of his death says, he had called Charles his coachman to push his wheeled chair into the Library: "Bring me my Chariot." He little thought the angels, God's chariot, were waiting to carry him to Paradise.

After going into the Library he combined exercise, assisted by Charles, with instruction for Confirmation given to that faithful man.

Afterward, while talking with Du Pont Parker, he threw back his head, and became unconscious. He revived after a few minutes, put his hand to his heart and again relapsed into unconsciousness. He was dead from apoplexy of the heart in twenty minutes from the time when he was first attacked.

The funeral took place March 22, on which day there were three celebrations of the Holy Eucharist. During the interval between the third celebration and the burial service, those who loved him--young men and boys, sobbing as if they had lost a father, older men and priests weeping as if a brother were gone from them, were allowed last glance at those loved and venerated features, as he lay vested with alb and chasuble and white stole, with a rarely beautiful crucifix upon his breast. Among the flowers was a cross of roses intertwined with large thorns, with the legend: "Such sorrows come to teach one patience and penitence; and very sharp thorns always have roses of a celestial bloom somewhere behind them." He had written the words a few days before to a friend, injured by a fall. Sorrows and pain, patience and penitence has been his, and now he had the celestial roses. Eight bishops attended his funeral. A committee of the Senate of Illinois bore the unanimous resolutions of that body passed in his honor. The Legislature of Wisconsin passed similar resolutions. The Mayor and City Council of Racine attended the funeral in a body, the day being made one of mourning, and the stores closed by proclamation of the Mayor. The pallbearers were Dr. de Koven's seminary classmates, Bishop Browne, Doctors Hodges, Locke, Parker, Richey and Rev. C. L. Lance. At the conclusion of the funeral they lingered at the grave and sang "Brief life is here our portion," "Jesus lover of my Soul," "Jerusalem the golden," and other hymns. The hymn "For all Thy Saints" sung at the funeral, could not be sung, so long as the students of that time remained at the college, because they were unable to control their emotions. His grave is on the south side of the chapel, as near as possible to the stall he occupied during his life. Here on the 19th of March in each year, a Memorial Eucharist having been offered in the morning, after Evensong, the hymns sung at his funeral are sung over again.

In 1886 the General Convention met in Chicago. On the 16th of October, eighteen bishops and a large number of others visited Racine College. In welcoming them, Dr. Gray, the warden, said: "And lastly there is another welcome--let me speak it with bowed head and reverent breath. I welcome you in the name of him, beneath whose portrait I stand; in the name of one who loved you all, and the dear Church which you represent; in the name of one who labored with you, as he labored for us, and died in the holy cause of Catholic education; in the name of one whose remains sleep in peace beneath the shadow of our chancel; in the sainted name of James de Koven, I welcome you to his loved Racine."

Bishop Scarborough in replying, said: "There are two shrines--one on this side, one on the other side of the water--which always appeal to the hearts of churchmen. One is the shrine of John Keble in England; and the other is the shrine of James de Koven in America."

The story of a saintly and heroic life has been told. In the name of those who have contributed to it, as well as in his own name, the present writer concludes with an expression of his affection for


O excellent master, honored, father, thou incarnation of wit and eloquence; clothed with elegance and dignity; prince of story-tellers; so true, so pure, so brave; rich and yet ascetic, using thy abundance for the glory of God and mankind's good; with heart devoted to the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, and receiving from the Eucharistic Presence, in which though delightest, a spiritual glory, like that of Moses descended from the mount; thee whom in the days of thy flesh, I obeyed, now in paradise, I revere; to have been loved by thee is a joy of my inmost soul, and I praise God, for the legacy of love, which in thy last will and testament thou hast left us: "To my old boys and students, and to all my beloved professors and teachers, I leave the assurance of my love and prayers, and ask of them the same."

Requiescat in pace.

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