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Doctor Tucker, Priest-Musician:
A Sketch which Concerns the Doings and Thinkings of
the Rev. John Ireland Tucker, S.T.D.
Including a Brief Converse about the Rise and Progress of Church Music in America.

By Christopher W. Knauff, M.A.

New York: A.D.F. Randolph, 1897.

Chapter II. The Boy at School

There must be preparation for days to come. Accordingly, judicious courses of study are prescribed. For a time the lad crosses the East River, day by day, as he attends the Columbia Grammar School, then under the direction of the Rev. Dr. Ogilby.

When near thirteen years of age he is sent to Flushing, L. I., that he may be entered as pupil under the charge of William Augustus Muhlenberg, prince of philanthropists, who made an early start in his career of blessing, when he gathered about him a band of young disciples that they might be trained in knowledge and religion. By means of this, as well as later agencies, the head of the Flushing Institute inscribed an indelible mark upon his generation. Even at this late day Dr. Muhlenberg's school is not forgotten. Not infrequently one hears a reference to it, made in conversation, whereby it becomes apparent that the influences flowing thence have not yet passed away.

From the contents of letters--to which access has been kindly granted--we may gain a glimpse of the daily life at Flushing. The young student stands well in his classes; he exercises good judgment in the choice of his companions; he gains the express approval of the venerated instructor. From another source comes the further information that already a strong musical talent begins to manifest its presence in the youthful mind.

The mother, who loves as mothers do, opens her heart to the boy; she writes about the burden laid upon her by his recent departure from home.

BROOKLYN, Dec. 6, [1832.]


Your letter to your aunt gave us all a great deal of pleasure; I say us, for she was in the city.

Thank you for the compliment you pay my letter. I should, my son, write much oftener; but to be candid, I don't feel quite as well after writing to you. The sacrifice I have made seems greater than I at first thought, and I almost shrink from the idea of our separation. Yes, my love, this is indeed the first birthday you have ever passed from home.

You were born a few months after the death of your eldest brother. He was everything that was good and estimable. When he died, I was afflicted, greatly so; but when you came, the void in my affection caused by his loss was filled up. With his name you appeared to inherit his amiable disposition, and I hope, also his talents. You will think I am dull.

We look forward with pleasure to the Holidays, when we hope to see you with your friend. I am sure I shall like him. Young as you are, you have always shown great discernment in the choice of your companions.

Don't, my love, expose yourself; your health is by no means robust.

God bless you, my dear John, and may you ever be the delight and comfort of your parents and friends as you are at present, is the prayer of your mother


As we read and ponder the fervent messages, perchance the reflection may arise: "He could not help being a good boy when he had a mother like that--so loving, so trustful, and so sensible in her advice." Verily blessed are the sons that have a mother of the like capability, manifesting force and clearness of mind as well as enduring strength of heart!

The words now transcribed were written for private reading; but as both mother and son lie in their graves, it may not be accounted a breach of confidence to unveil their little conferences, immortal by virtue of heartful charm, and affording lessons of benefit for them that shall come after.

In the letter next following there is an especial trait of downright motherliness, in the passage where the writer refers to an article of clothing as having been made according to a style worn by the father, and this she knows will go straight to the heart of any boy.

BROOKLYN, June 1st. [1832]


I have been prevented answering your last letter by an indisposition, which though slight, still from the unpleasantness of the weather I found some difficulty in getting rid of. This is the first day in two weeks that I have been able to write a line. I had flattered myself to have seen you before this; several days have been named for our family, with Mr. Carter's, to have paid you a visit, but something always turns up to disappoint us; then I was sick, then it rained, and then the gentlemen were engaged--thus has hope been deferred till I have lost all patience.

Today is to be your examination, I am told. I am confident of your doing your best, therefore am determined to be satisfied, whatever your grade may be. Don't think I wish you to relax your exertion to gain an honorable rank; but should you fail, don't think mamma and the rest of us will be mortified. Let me repeat it again, we know you will do your best.

It is really provoking that your bundles so often are detained. I always prefer Saturday as being the day when you are most at leisure, and the papers etc. will be acceptable. I have sent you this week the Monthly Repository. Fanning continues as much pleased as ever with his school. He hurt his hand, which will account for his not having written lately. The little girls are confined home with bad colds.

We purpose should the weather be fine, to have the little boys baptized next Wednesday morning at II o'clock. Do you think it would be possible for you to come down on this interesting occasion? They have both had colds, but have recovered.

Your Aunt M. has gone over to see little John. You never mention your nephews; their Mammas take it quite as a slight. I have a new stock for you, and have had a new shirt made for you to try, full-bosomed like your Papa's. I don't send them up, as I wish to see them tried on.

Here is a delightful bit of nature, the unfolding of a homelike affection; but the interest ends not with that. Here one may gain a view of the customs and manners of the second decade of the century. Would that a. portrait were available, showing the youth, just waking to manly view of things, and clad in stock and ruffled shirt front! What luxury to him to come so close to the appearing of his ideal of human dignity!

But after the delivery of the message, of high import to the lad at school, the handwriting of the letter changes, and the father adds a postscript:

You see, my dear boy, that I am occasionally obliged to give your letters a finishing stroke. Your mother, as the day is fine, has gone to take a short ride. I think it uncertain if the children are baptized on Wednesday, as they both have colds. We had papers &c. put up for you, but have not an opportunity of sending them to the city; this you will receive through the Post Office.

Fanning went yesterday to Fort Hamilton, with the Kings County Sunday-school in the steamboat and safety barge. There were upwards of 5000 children. They passed a happy, delightful day. They had the Navy Yard band. Major G-----received them at the fort, had seats prepared for them, and every thing in handsome style.

Your letter, my dear boy, I received. This I do not consider as an answer, but intend writing you again shortly. All join in much love.

The matter of the student's standing receives attention in more than one epistle. Here, for example:


Your report has at length reached us, and a brilliant one it is, far, far above what I expected, though your last letter led me to anticipate something clever--but first rank, first grade, it is too much! If it had not been in Mr. Muhlenberg's own hand, I should have thought there might have been a mistake. Don't you think, Jackey; Lent has had something to do with your success? I shall really begin to be an advocate for simple diet (particularly when we have an object to attain.)

I am happy to find that all the days prescribed by our Church, are so strictly kept at the Institute. You are right too, in changing the day of writing home; it has always been a matter of surprise why you should have selected Sunday.

I have nothing new to tell nor interesting to send you. Your sister Sarah has a periodical paper called the Casket, which she intends sending you, perhaps on Saturday. My respects to Mr. Muhlenberg and Mr. Seabury, and may you continue as now to be the delight of your parents and friends, is the prayer of your affectionate mother


I intended sending this by the stage with your clothes, but it rains so hard; have therefore concluded on this by mail. Tomorrow you may expect a bundle. All the family desire their affectionate regards to you.

The art of music already conies into prominence. In a letter dated February 12 the good mother writes:

I think if you could without interfering with your more important studies learn the Pianoforte sufficiently to play an accompaniment, you would find it a source of great amusement. This, with the little knowledge you already possess and your great fondness for it, you will be enabled to do without much labor. And if Mr. Muhlenberg should not be able to obtain a teacher, why, during the vacation Mr. Boyle can give you lessons. I am quite anxious to hear how you make out with chanting.

The matter of chanting--even in regard to plain canticles or psalms--was then somewhat of a novelty in America.

The date was not far removed from the time when chanting was altogether unknown among us. The pre-revolutionary incompleteness of ritual had been perpetuated. Canticles as well as Psalter were read in ordinary voice. The issue of the Prayer Book in 1789 was framed to fit the use, or lack of use; hence the American rubric in the Post-communion allowing a metrical hymn to be sung in place of the Gloria in Excelsis. It was felt that some musical utterance was demanded in a service of high thanksgiving, but the whole American Church could sing nothing other than metrical psalm. It was not until many years later that Peter Erben, the organ-builder, played the accompaniment to the first singing of the Venite in the City of New York.

As in every case of reform or restoration, the subject became more or less a quaestio vexata. There was agitation among the Church folk about the innovation which had disturbed their peace.

There is no doubt as to the stand taken by Mr. Muhlenberg. An "Evangelical Catholic"--to use his own phraseology--he was keenly alive to the aesthetic side of religion, recognizing poetry, music, and painting as pertaining to the "beauty of holiness." Years before, during his diaconate, when he served as assistant to Bishop White at St. James' in Philadelphia, we are told that he formed a choir and published a collection of chants for their use.

When the "Institute" came into being, music was assigned a commanding position as a powerful auxiliary working toward the devotional mood. The wise Head-master lived out the Church year after a fashion before unknown in the experiences of the new land. He marked days and seasons, upon occasion by sunrise services, by emblems and lighted candles, by evergreens and flowers, but in particular by hymns and carols and by appropriate chantings.

Dr. L. Van liokkelen had been for fifteen years connected with the Institute and St. Paul's College, first as pupil and then as teacher. Afterward he writes:

It was the poetry of which evangelical truth was the concrete. The Chapel was brilliant on the great festivals with candles and emblems. At the Christmas services a picture of the Virgin and Holy Child was placed above the altar, wreathed with holly. On Good Friday, a picture of the Crucifixion, with drapery of black. On Easter, O how glorious the service which began with the rising sun! There were the bright lights and the fragrant flowers; among these always the calla lily and the hyacinth.

Anne Ayres in her biography, referring to the "peculiar services "of the College Chapel, quotes Dr. Muhlenberg in one of his later utterances: "If we practised more or less of ritualism, it was certainly not of the Romish type, but the product of imagination in accordance with the verities of our religion. As educational means, I believe these services had only a happy effect on the minds of the young, though some of my brethren in the ministry, formerly my pupils, say that they were the germs of their present taste for Churchly ceremonial and ornamented services."

John I. Tucker was all ready for the impressions which moved so many other young minds. Is it any wonder that he should follow in the footsteps of the saint who went before?

According to the testimony of the same Sister Anne, there was a "Choir of the School," appointed and drilled for leadership in Psalmody. Long after the period of which we speak, reference was made to the fact in a Convention Address delivered by Bishop Bedell, himself an alumnus of Flushing Institute. The Bishop is paying a tribute to his "dear old Master," and to the educational work accomplished by him:

During these years Dr. Muhlenberg laid the impress of his character upon some eight hundred boys. Those who survive are now men, most of them in positions where they touch the very springs of society, and direct the forces that are moving this age. One has played his part well in diplomacy, and still is yielding political influence. [Here a footnote gives the name John Jay, ex-Minister to Austria.] . . . Another, the sweet boy-singer, leader of the school choir, is now heard through his hymnal in hundreds of our churches and leads the devotion of thousands of souls as he learned to do when we were boys together at Flushing.

Here, again, a footnote identifies the reference this time recording the name "John Ireland Tucker, D.D., of Troy."

One can imagine the fresh avidity with which the youthful disciple would enter into this new garden of delight. He found himself in an atmosphere made glorious by tone and color. The tendency to which he surrendered himself fitted in with his natural temperament, his inborn love of music, and his lifelong devotion to the ideal majesty of that act which attempts to offer adoration to the high God. Gladly did he journey along the prescribed path. Aesthetics were never foreign to him, and he received his Catholic training from the Evangelical Master. As said Bishop Coxe, when the writer was conversing with him about the boyhood of Dr. Tucker: "Yes, Dr. Muhlenberg ' made ' him." In the Flushing days the bent was set which lasted to and through the end of the earthly life.

It has been written of the Monastery of Bee, school of Lanfranc and St. Anselm, that the enduring quality of its influence, and the brilliancy of its fame, were out of all proportion with the short term of its existence. So it may be said of the Flushing Institute during the brief period which covered its original condition. The effect seems incommensurable with the cause. Yet the reasons are not far to seek: the one man, the exceptional mind and heart, at the head of the establishment; also the wise methods adopted for the accomplishment of Iris ends.

Again, it is said of the same school at Bee, that it got its influence from the moral training there bestowed. It assigned a place of preeminent importance to moral and religious culture, while it did not forget the training of the intellect. Nowadays the tendency of systems of education is to drop out the moral. Not so with the Institute, where the Principal cared first of all for the religion of Christ, and defined that as including morals and sound learning.

Music is referred to yet further in the correspondence dating from the Flushing days. Says the father, writing on June 5, 1832: "I long to have a sing with you and Mr. Muhlenberg, and shall surely come and spend a Sunday with you for that purpose, as well as to ascertain whether you have gone ahead of St. Ann's choir in chanting the Church services." Was it possible that the example of the Institute had extended to Brooklyn, by way of the pupil and his musical father?

Again, on the 24th of December, 1833, the same writer speaks first of the child sisters at home who are "one, two, threeing at the piano." He incorporates a message: "Mr. Taylor, our organist, has politely said that he will yield the organ to you for a Voluntary, or a Psalm or so, when you come among us at next vacation." The musical programme for the Christmas services is mentioned as a matter of mutual interest. "Our music tomorrow, besides the ordinary portions, will be in the morning Kent's Jubilate and the Gloria in Excelsis of Mozart, introduced by the recitative, 'There were Shepherds'; in the evening, 'Go forth to the Mount,' to words composed by my friend Mrs. Embury, expressly for the occasion."

It is likely that the youthful singer was identified, not only with the choir of his school, but with that of St. George's parish in Flushing, of which Mr. Muhlenberg was Rector for a while. There, by an act far in advance of his period, the latter had introduced the singing of boys. So it would appear from a letter written recently by James S. Bidelle, Esq., of Philadelphia, who in his youth was a pupil of the Institute. He says:

Flushing has a peculiar interest for me as I was confirmed more than 60 years ago in the old St. George's Church which is now in the rear of the new Church. And, writing to a musician, I must also confess that I was tried for a while in the choir and was not a success.

There is every likelihood that the "sweet boy singer, leader of the school choir," was a participant in the new venture at St. George's Church.

Mr. Bidelle gives his remembrances of the old school-days as he writes, on February 5, 1896:

I was at the Flushing Institute under Dr. Muhlenberg from 1829 to 1833. Dr. Tucker was there with me, but I find that his name is not on the Catalogue of January 1st, 1831. He came probably in '31 or '32.

He was a very interesting and lovable boy, bright and handsome in appearance and a general favorite. Dr. Muhlenberg always tested the musical capabilities of a new pupil and of course soon discovered those of "Jack Tucker "as we always called him.

After leaving school, our paths led different ways, and I met him only two or three times during the sixty years before his death.

* * * * *

In 1889 I revisited the Flushing Institute after an absence of 53 years.

Yet another glimpse of youthful days, having to do with a momentous topic. The father writes to his "dear son" from New York, on the 9th of January, 1834. After a reciprocation of New Year's wishes, he continues:

I see that the Bishop is to administer the rite of Confirmation in the Chapel on Ash Wednesday, and you desire my opinion as to the propriety of your presenting yourself on the occasion. You are doubtless aware of the true character of the ordinance, and I myself should be willing to leave the subject to the exercise of your own judgment. I think you have attained sufficient age and discretion and cannot see any objection to your being confirmed. Yet if you have doubts which Mr. Muhlenberg cannot remove, then defer it, for it is neither necessary nor proper to be hasty in such matters. Upon the whole I hope you will prepare yourself and with a safe conscience be able to present yourself to the Bishop. From your affecte father
F. C. T.

P. S. I cannot but be delighted with your standing.

But the time draws nigh when the student must be promoted. The step is prefigured in one of the few letters at hand, written by himself:

April 27th, 1834.


On my last visit, you mentioned that I had not said anything concerning that part of your last letter which had reference to the sentiments of Messrs. Muhlenberg and Seabury, respecting Columbia College and University. I have not yet spoken to either of the gentlemen, but will do so in due time.

Mr. Muhlenberg has informed me, since my return, that it is his intention to relinquish his present institution, on the first of August. He says he wishes it to be understood, that he does not then retire altogether from the instruction of youth; but that, after 18 months or two years, he will commence his contemplated St. Paul's College. In the meantime he will collect funds, and in other ways prepare for the establishment of his aforesaid college.

I hear that your horses still continue to please as much as ever. When you come to Flushing, I shall not be ashamed to own you.

A person is now singing to the pianoforte. Therefore excuse the business faults of this epistle of your attached son


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