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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 V. Society--Vocation

When the traveller returned from his two years of wandering, a leading impression produced upon his friends was that of commanding good looks. Once and again I have heard the matter referred to by the few yet surviving who knew him at the time. There was an air of distinction and culture, natural to him, which had developed; there were a graceful bearing, a gentleness embodied, also a winning smile and a clear, trustful eye which betokened an admirable example of humanity. His erect figure was always faultlessly attired in quiet, perfect taste; its every movement was unaffected but elegant.

As it had been at home, so it was his custom abroad--he fell naturally into the society of cultivated associates. Wherever he went, whether in Scotland, England or on the Continent, it was usual for him to meet with a cordial, at times an effusive, reception.

When he came back to his own land--"Yes, he was the idol of his family," said one closely related. But the admiration spread abroad throughout a larger circle. lie possessed many characteristics which make captives of willing hearts. Is it any wonder, then, that the young man entered into the whirl of social living, that he became the centre of a sphere which in sober truth was adorned by his presence? Therein he shone, bright light of many a festive scene. A relative tells me that the young Mr. Tucker was the cynosure of many eyes; that he was "run after, the pet of social circles," that he "went everywhere, sang delightfully, and danced elegantly."

Soon after the day when the Church began to mourn the loss of Doctor Tucker, the writer had a conversation with Bishop Coxe, his early friend and comrade. The subject of our talk was this early section of the life recently completed. "Yes," said Bishop Coxe, "I remember what a regular spark in society Tucker was when a young man here in New York. He was in everything. When the Italian opera came to town he took advantage of the presence of the company and received lessons from a prominent artist-member. He sang delightfully." Here the Bishop uttered the words with enthusiasm, as if he enjoyed the very memory. "Tucker was in demand everywhere for his social qualities as well as his music, but wherever he went he was sure to be called upon to sing. And oh! how handsome he was, how handsome!"

The good Bishop confided to me a plan cherished by him for some time. He hoped to write a series of papers, under the general heading of "The Men that I Have Known." Dr. Tucker was one of these, about whom he intended to record his own complete reminiscence. He expected that the paper would be ready in the autumn, and kindly offered the use of it for the incorporation of its facts into the present story. Unfortunately the grim messenger came soon to the Bishop himself, and interfered with the carrying out of his plan. Not long before the date of present writing, the news came, unexpected as sad, that the Bishop of Western New York had been called away from earthly scene. The Church will never know all that he had to tell about his younger days, and about the lives of those associated with him. All the more thankful are we for the fact that the one short conversation upon the topic now considered was set down at the time; that we possess the testimony of the Bishop about the junior days of his intimate companion.

So the young man passed happy hours among his friends during a twelvemonth or so after his return from abroad. Amid the whirl of daily engagements, doubtless there were times when he thought about the possibilities of the future, when he wondered what he should take up as his life-work. At first it would appear that he cherished no especial inclination toward the ministry. He looked upon it as a distinct renunciation of the world. If he entered into that, he must give up this pleasant mode of life to which he had become accustomed. After a while, when he did reach a decision, he adhered to the same view. When he entered Holy Orders he gave up much, and he renounced it of his own free will. The familiar and attractive "fashion of this world" became unknown to him. His graceful form faded away from the scene of the dance. Thereafter he was never known even to sing a secular air, except occasionally in a part-song when lie revisited his first home. In Troy it came to be an understood thing that he would not accept invitations for a Friday, not even to the harmless assemblage at a family tea table. It was a serious business with him; when he did come to a determination he took up his cross with a full perception of the fact that it was a burden. So far as he himself was concerned, in some respects, he became an ascetic, although no one was more considerate in behalf of the worldly happiness of other people.

But I anticipate. As yet he thought little of these things. Then it happened that friends intervened, bringing a message, a call.

Said Bishop Coxe, upon the occasion referred to: "One day Hobart (son of Bishop Hobart) said to me, 'We must get that young man to study for the ministry.' We agreed to broach the subject to him. In the meantime we would, each one, make it a subject of prayer. We did so. To Tucker we gave Newman's sermons to read; you know we young men were all enthusiastic about Newman in those days."

After a while the mother's prayers were recalled, the grandmother's hopes prevailed. The way of the Cross seemed more sweet and alluring. The fashionable young man, whom to look upon was to admire, turned toward his Saviour and said, "Send me."

Two letters are at hand which will indicate the course of events. In the first the subject of our memoir writes to his friend:

NEW YORK, Nov. 25th, 1841.


I intended to have got the start of you by sending two letters for your one, when quite unexpectedly I received your welcome letter. I cannot give you a better idea of my mode of life, feelings, etc., than by describing my situation when your letter found its way upstairs to my snug little retreat in the third story, which may now be called cither my study or bedroom, as I study more than I used to do and sleep less, being up at 6 o'c. every morning, reaping all or rather some of the advantages promised to those who are "early to bed and early to rise." If you had been nicely smuggled in the folds of your letter and had as suddenly come down upon me, I think you would have been startled.

I was standing up (another improvement by the way) with a grammar, Chrestomathy, Hebrew Bible and Lexicon before me, and was deeply engaged in translating the 5th chap, of Genesis.

The fact is, dear Hobart, I have at last arisen from my state of apathy, and begin to feel and act like a man. The chaos of the little world within begins to assume form, and I trust will soon produce. The clouds which so long have been brooding over my mind, mystifying it, tormenting it with doubts, depressing it, leaving me in that horrid state of uncertainty where the feelings either stagnate, or rudely burst forth making a channel for themselves-- these clouds have been graciously dispelled. I at last see my proper course. I have accordingly notified the Bishop of my intention of becoming a Candidate for Holy Orders. To you, dear Hobart, mediately as a human agent, will I feel for ever indebted for the benefits and honors, temporal and spiritual, which prospectively I view as a faithful minister of Christ. Never can I forget your unwearied endeavors on my behalf; nor can I remember them without a feeling of mortification that they did not operate more actively upon me. Again, when I call to mind how often I was cold and dead, drawing into myself, repulsive by my vague indifference and indecision, it is to regret my carelessness and to admire your perseverance in welldoing. But, my dear friend, you must not for a moment imagine that I was ever in reality so indifferent and spiritless, as I appeared to be. No one, except those similarly situated, can appreciate the state of feeling I have been in for the last year. As I have said before, my mind was in a state of chaos; my feelings did not run in any one current, and I could not hear any allusion to the life I was leading without exciting regrets, and at that time painful reminiscences. How one's thoughts and feeling color things around us! those reminiscences which then gnawed the heart, now wreathe themselves like crouds of sweet-smelling incense around that image of my affections, whose fondest wishes I now hope to fulfil.

I do not regret, that I did not immediately on my return home select my profession. Many things urged me to that course. I utterly detest an inactive life, and was then anxious to devote myself to some pursuit. I was willing to do anything rather than nothing. If I had then selected a profession, I could have connected myself with no pursuit, except as a means of doing something. With such views I could not have studied theology, not being so unpolitic as to purchase damnation at the miserable price the devil might offer in the shape of a minister's paltry salary. As it is, I trust that my motives are pure. All that remains to be done, is to devote the rest of my life solely to the active duties of my profession. I can't now say anything more of myself, but must tell you something about our mutual friends.

Mr. William J. has taken Mr. Gibson's house for the winter; it is a small two-story house nearly opposite Mr. Fields'. The family have not yet come in town, but Miss M----- and L-----are here making the necessary preparations for their arrival. Miss E. was in town two or three weeks since; she had two beaux in the shape of two friends of Mr. Balch. Don't be agitated: she is as sensible as pretty, and she will be very careful to whom she commits her heart. She will demand nothing short of perfection, will be very deliberate, in the end be governed by her good reason and sound judgment, and decide as she ought. This she ought to do, but we cannot philosophize on anything connected with woman or love, but are forced to make every allowance for woman's caprice and love's blindness. John has just given birth to an essay on money, full of clever bits of satire, but a little too foppish in classical quotations; he has managed to smuggle in that contraband article, slavery, with much adroitness.

We intended to have gone out last Thursday to pay Coxe a visit. We had given him a hint of our intentions. By agreement, James Constable and myself met at Mr. Fields' at one o'clock, when we were informed that Coxe and his wife had got the start of us, and in person had informed Mrs. J., that we must postpone our visit because they had neither cook nor waiter--they, like most young housekeepers imagining that their guests intended their visit for the domestics rather than the lord and lady. As yet we have had no little "reunions" at Mr. Fields'; we may have no more of those pleasant little gatherings, which we all so heartily enjoyed. Whether we do or not, they are bright spots to look back upon.

Miss Elizabeth O'Key is now Mrs. G. W. Costar. Miss A----- hopes to be Mrs. P----- on the 1st of December; your brother Dayton is to be one of the groomsmen--there are 5 others, Stephen Williams, Benjamin Silliman, etc. The Prince de Joinville is to be entertained on Friday night by Mrs. Dr. Mott. The people are crazy about lectures. The lecturers at present in the field are: "The Learned Blacksmith," "Sparks, the Biographer" and "The Notorious Dr. Lardner." I may add that the Dr. Ned Spring Sparks' course is the best attended, but I believe the majority of his audience are disappointed in him as a lecturer--his manner is decidedly bad.

John Jay is preparing an attack upon you for the uncivil manner in which you speak of the godly Calvinists who dealt harshly with poor Servetus.

N. B. Your letters generally go the round of your intimate friends.

Write soon and believe me ever
Yr attached friend


In this bright letter certain parts come into prominence, offering corroboration of statements already made. One of these refers to the unfailing influence of the loved mother, gone before, who is still the monitress of her boy; another to the busy routine of social affairs in which the young student is interested, and which demand time and attention. For his voluntary renunciation the hour has not yet come.

Fifteen days were required--to say nothing of a postal charge of twenty-five cents--for the transmission of the letter, first to Milwaukee and thence by forwarding to Prairie Village, where it found the Rev. Mr. Hobart.

The way that Mr. Hobart happened to be in Wisconsin was this. About the year 1840 Bishop Kemper had returned to New York from the mysterious wilderness--the Western Territory--and preached about it to the students at the Seminary. Their enthusiasm was aroused. Some offered themselves for the untried duty. They were ready for a crusade or any other service. Eventually three young deacons, under the leadership of James Lloyd Breck, started out to establish an associate mission having monastic characteristics.

Mr. Hobart was one of the three who commenced work at Prairieville. It was during the period of his short residence in the place that he wrote the letter now quoted. As he pens the name of the locality it has not yet attained to the dignity of a "ville."

The friend's reply was sent without delay:

10th Dec. 1841.


Tho' this is Saturday night, and I have yet some labor before me in preparation for the morrow, I cannot refrain from immediately writing an answer, tho' only a few hasty words, to your letter dated 25 Nov. I read it, walking up from the Post Office hither, with emotions of most sincere gratitude to GOD, and heartfelt joy for you. You will never know the nearness to my heart, of my wish that you and I might be brothers in the ministry; and my persuasion, that so far as I could judge, it was your duty,--and the strong certainty that it would be your unspeakable gain. So far as I properly could, I tried to influence you this way; and when I found how you seemed to hesitate, I began to fear that the end would be different from what I hoped. Looking back on what I had done, it appeared evident that I had relied too much on my own ability to urge reasons, suggest motives, etc. I had not enough remembered that a Christian's most powerful means of influencing his brother, was prayer, fervent and intercessory. It seemed to me I had thought too much of my own agency, and not enough of GOD'S. So when I found I was to be separated from you, so far and so long, and that but one mode was possible to be used in behalf, as I thought, of your best interests, I resolved to betake myself to that, and since I have been here have been continually praying GOD, that He would show you what was the right way. Pardon me if in any respect I had (unconsciously) dealt untruly with you.

You will understand now what has been the frame of mind which, when I read of your most blessed decision, made me exclaim at once and aloud, and most naturally "Thanks be to GOD who giveth us the victory." I looked to you as a conqueror who had overcome the enemy in the first struggle; and as we were brothers in Christ, and in affection, your cause was mine, so that the victory seemed ours. Then, how naturally, and as it seemed providentially, did the next words of the Apostle come to my mind, with express application to you: Therefore, my beloved brother, be thou steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as thou knowest that thy labour is not in vain in the Lord.

Is it indeed to be so, dear Jack? Is it possible then that you and I may yet stand side by side at the Altar, and there, have all the remembrances of our past friendship, all that mutual knowledge of each other which makes men in old age turn to their friends as parts of themselves, all our mutual relations, hallowed and strengthened, and deepened and made eternal, by communion with our eternal Lord in His Church, at His Altar, in His Ministry? From the ground of my heart,--GOD be thanked for it!--I do not realize it yet, but I begin to sec what Christian fellowship is; and in view of that intense perception of it, as a thing more real than ties of blood, more tender than mere human affection, more close than anything we call the mingling of hearts and souls in sympathy, more ineffable than, in our unspiritual state, we can find any image to liken it to--in view of all this, as attainable by you and me, I could run on in what the world would call the ravings of mysticism and fanatic phrensy, were I not afraid it would be irreverent to use words so freely about a matter I as yet dimly sec, but would ardently long for--and would be strong to attain.

It has strengthened me already to know that you will soon be sworn to pursue the same object, in the same way. Think of you, and me, and Cleve--friends on earth indeed, but better and more! friends taken out of the rest of men, to stand as it were in the very court and presence of the Great King, and be sacramental channels of His grace, His Spirit, His Flesh and Blood, Himself, to our fellowmen, to each other, to ourselves!

Things may so come round, perhaps, that we shall all be together, or in near neighborhood, before many years. How we will joy to give each other sensible marks of this glorious communion, by words and acts, of assistance, kindness and love! It will be more than mortal joy. What a putting of shoulder to shoulder there will be, and interlocking of arms when there is special need of standing fast for Christ and His Church! And we have a share in the struggle!

I long doubly now to see you again. I am dashing off my words, not writing them; and when I can calmly think over what is in prospect for you and me, and estimate the particulars of our gain by this step you have taken, I will send you a more sober epistle. But, believe me, you have given me the most joyful news, and sent a deeper satisfaction into my heart than I had thought of experiencing in my solitariness here. Jay is sure to me in the Church, you and Cleve doubly sure in the ministry. Now, all four of us have an object, Heaven: all four of us a position, contra mundum! Love and Christian greeting to my brother, and all blessing, and added grace and new strength day by day, be upon you--is the earnest prayer of your affec'te

J. H. H.

In a diocesan paper Bishop Coxe printed a brief note, in which he spoke thus of the young manhood of Dr. Tucker: "He was a noble youth in New York, reared in luxury and endowed with qualities of character and graces of person which made him an idol in the fashionable circle of New York society, while as yet the old Knickerbocker respectability and the predominance of Church influence were undiluted. 'Chancellor Livingston, Dr. Hosack, and Bishop Hobart,' said a contemporary, ' were the tripod on which "society "was based in New York.' It was the wonder of such a monde when Mr. Tucker, 'the favorite of all circles and the pride of his own,' deliberately threw aside his 'prospects in life' and entered the General Theological Seminary as a candidate for the diaconate. When he accepted the Rectorship in the parish at Troy, it was supposed that this was a mere stepping-stone to rapid and brilliant preferment. But he took it for life, and devoted himself to the most self-denying features of missionary work."

While yet a resident of New York the musical abilities possessed by Mr. Tucker came into use, in a way of which many know not. For a considerable period he was organist of St. Thomas' Church. It is as relating- to this time that he used to tell a story. One Sunday morning the young organist had performed a "voluntary," probably at the offertory, which was more elaborate and showy than usual. After the service the venerable Rector called him into the rectory and made the suggestion that these tours de force would better be discontinued, as in that Church the clergyman intended that the pulpit should be the chief attraction.

The knowledge of the organ possessed by our student, as well as the cultivation of his fine bass voice, both fitted him the better for the peculiar and life-long service to religion which he was about to render.

In a catalogue of the General Theological Seminary of appropriate date, among the graduates of the year 1841, I read the names John H. Hobart and "Arthur C. Coxe." The career of the latter is well known.

It may, however, be fitting to interject a remark about recent occurrences taking place at the Seminary Commencement of 1896--as it turned out the last attended by the late Bishop of Western New York. Then Bishop Coxe presented the diplomas to the graduating class, some forty-five in number, and spoke touchingly of a period long gone, even fifty-five years before, when he, "in that very place, stood with Breck and others of his class to receive his diploma from the hands of the sainted De Lancey."

The son of Bishop Hobart took tip labor in the Western Territory, in the jurisdiction of "the Missionary Bishop." While yet a deacon he came back to New York, in July, 1844, to take charge of St. Paul's, Red Hook, in Dutchess County--doubtless in time to witness the ordination of his friend.

In the year 1842 J. Carpenter Smith graduated from the Seminary--whose recollection about the Brooklyn life has already been set down. Arthur Carey, whose name became well known, was a classmate. It was in the same year, 1842, that John I. Tucker entered the institution as a member of the middle class. Robert B. Fairbairn was a Seminary mate during' a part of the course, graduating in 1843. He had further association with the Rector of the Holy Cross, and remained the close friend of the other, at times his companion, until death called one of the two.

According to the initials given in the Seminary Catalogue, "John I. Tucker "was graduated in the year 1844. From the New York Churchman (Dr. Seabury's), bearing date July 6, 1844, we derive information, given after an explicit fashion:

The 21st Annual Commencement of the General Theological Seminary of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States was celebrated in St. John's Chapel in this city on Friday, June 28th. Morning Prayer was read by the Rev. Wm. Shelton, D.D., of Western New York, assisted by the Rev'd. Robert W. Harris of N. Y. who read the lessons, alumni of the Seminary. The Ante-Communion Service was read by the Right Rev. Benjamin T. Onderdonk, D.D., of New York (the Right Rev. Thomas C. Brownell, D.D., LL.D., of Connecticut the Senior Bishop present, being prevented by diseased eyes) assisted by the Right Rev. George W. Doane, D.D., LL.D., of New Jersey, who read the Epistle, and the Right Rev. John II. Hopkins, D.D., of Vermont, who read the Gospel. The Commencement Sermon was preached by the Right Rev. Manton Eastburn, D.D., of Massachusetts.

The Reverend, the Dean of the Faculty [Dr. Samuel H. Turner] in the name and behalf of that body, then presented to the Bishop of Connecticut--for receiving the testimonials awarded by the Trustees and Professors to students who have acceptably prosecuted the full course of study, and faithfully discharged their duties--the following young gentlemen, composing the Senior Class:--

Henry B. Bartow of New York, . . . etc., including John I. Tucker of New York.

The testimonials were, delivered accordingly, with a short but interesting and solemn address to the class by the Bishop of Connecticut.

The Bishop of New York then proceeded to the administration of the Lord's Supper, in which he was assisted by the Bishops of Connecticut, Vermont and New Jersey, the Missionary Bishop and the Bishop of Western New York. There were also present the Bishops of Maryland and Delaware. The Faculty and students of the Seminary, a large body of Alumni and other clergy, and many other Christians--all probably amounting to between three and four hundred--united with the Bishops in this very solemn and interesting Communion. The Blessing was pronounced by the Bishop of Connecticut.

It remains yet to be noted that within a few weeks after his graduation from the Seminary, that is, in July, 1844, our candidate was admitted to the order of deacons by the Rt. Rev. Benjamin T. Onderdonk, Bishop of New York.

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