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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 XVIII. A Glance Backward

The celebration of a fiftieth anniversary is always suggestive of a retrospect. Naturally one looks back and recalls separated factors which help to make up the life in its entirety.

Doctor Tucker's sphere of activity went out beyond parish limits. Forgetting that he was a busy man, occupied week-days and Sundays in school and Church, he started a mission in South Troy, now St. Luke's Church. In those days there were no street cars, and he used to accomplish the long distance on foot, going every Sunday evening after he had finished his services at the Holy Cross.

In the Diocese he was always an interested and industrious worker. The estimate of his associates in the Standing Committee will be found elsewhere.

His Bishop once made the remark, "Doctor Tucker is faithful and helpful in every way." In truth, such a priest is a fortunate right arm for his Diocesan. From the beginning of the Cathedral he was connected with its General Chapter, an active participant in all that pertained to its prosperity.

His relations with St. Stephen's College, and his personal service, will not be forgotten. About this, Dr. Fairbairn writes: "He was one of the original trustees who were named in the charter which the Legislature granted in 1860. His interest in the institution never flagged. Pie has proved it by the valuable gift which he has made to the College. The second item of his will is the bequeathing of his valuable library to the institution. It was not the last item, as if now he was at a loss to know what to do with his books, but the second one, as if the College were uppermost in his mind."

Time and again he was elected a deputy to the General Convention. Of the Church at large he was a servant through the instrumentality of his hymnals; so he was kept in touch with the wants of a continent.

In his adopted city he maintained a lively interest in public matters. Since 1869 he had been a trustee of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. So late as June, 1894, he preached the Baccalaureate Sermon to the Graduating Class of that institution, when, speaking to scientists, he chose as his theme "The Imperfection of Human Knowledge."

When a city armory was erected in 1884, at the laying of the corner-stone Doctor Tucker appeared upon the stage, pronouncing a Benediction. At the "Troy Centennial," in 1889, he was chosen a member of the committee of one hundred representative citizens in charge of affairs.

He was a philanthropist in private as well as public. His acts of beneficence, of practical assistance offered to those in need, were judicious but almost measureless--of them no one knows the extent--and the sphere of their application was never limited by creed. In the Troy Daily Times, issued on the day of his death, a leading editorial gave utterance:

Dr. Tucker was a man of boundless charity in thought and act. No one ever heard him speak ill of others, though he may have had his differences of opinion, as was inevitable with his strong personality. But he was tolerant, patient, forbearing. Deeds without number indicating his generous, unselfish regard for his fellow-men might be recounted by those who were his beneficiaries. They were never revealed through his telling of them. How many a saddened soul has been ministered to by him, what gifts most helpful and timely he has given, what aid to the young and struggling he has extended, only the Keeper of all secrets knows. Dr. Tucker, with his modesty and quiet bearing, was one of those who do good by stealth, and blush to find it fame."

In like manner, his priestly service rendered to the sick was unrestricted. A physician, who had known him long, testifies as follows:

November 26, 1896.

I was brought in contact with the good Rev. Ireland Tucker many times in visits to the sick, and admired his tender devotion to them, notably during the cholera epidemics of the '40s & '50s. I found him at early morning hours and at midnight giving consolation and administering the Sacrament to the dying, whose screams and suffering were painful to witness; and this he did in a deliberate, sympathetic and faithful manner that betrayed no fear or timidity. At his Jubilee 50 years later, as I was with the multitude congratulating him, he detained me, holding my hand, and said: "Do you remember those cases of cholera at night down in those wretched tenements?" "Yes," I replied, "and you were brave!" "Well, Bontecou," he said, "I went with fear and trembling, for I had a mortal dread of the disease."

[Signed] R. B. BONTECOU.

So there was an abundant performance of pastoral duty having no connection with school or Church, especially in summer time, when the one parson who stayed at home was pastor for Christians of every name.

Indeed, at any time of year he would be called upon. In his early ministry he happened to be summoned to bury a Roman Catholic, very indigent. When he entered the room he found evidences of the wake just ended. The Rector read the service, and then helped the undertaker to carry the dead.

One New Year's day he was interrupted in the midst of his reception and asked to visit a man at the Pest-house, then filled with patients suffering from black small-pox. Pie hesitated not, and found that the victim was one who had been a boy in his own Sunday-school.

Soon after the celebration of the Jubilee the Rector said, "All these good people are making a mistake. If I have done any good work in the world it has been as a teacher of the young, not as a Priest."

He had a real passion for teaching; otherwise he never would have kept up his five or six hours a day in the school to the very end. Herein, as in other matters, he showed himself the successor of Dr. Muhlenberg. Said Bishop Coxe, in his printed tribute: "To say that the beloved old instructor of his school-days left a deep impression on his mind and his life is not the whole story: to him Dr. Muhlenberg seems to have left his mantle. Dr. Tucker accepted it and bound it about his spirit, and so continued the labors of that saintly presbyter."

It was his pleasure to make real the connection between school and Church. Pupils of the Mary Warren Institute form the choir of the Church of the Holy Cross. So it was planned from the beginning that they should be taught in religion and in music.

In the early days the department of music was included merely as a part of the general scheme, which came under the supervision of the directing head and active principal. Mr. Hopkins, when organist, drilled the girls only in the music which was to be sung on Sundays; in his time there were no exercises in Solfege. But after the death of the first organist, Doctor Tucker took upon himself the entire duty of instruction in the department, enlarging its scope and sphere. Here he found use for the technical training which he had received from Italian and French masters. We are not surprised to find that he introduces the "Exercises by Concone."

Wednesday afternoon was the Doctor's especial period devoted to the training of his pet music class. On other days he would interest the less advanced children in singing, principally by the practice of hymn-tunes.

There lies before me a series of books once blank, now containing manuscript closely written, the pages of which display an assortment of different chirographies. The little volumes are of especial interest because they contain a story original with Doctor Tucker.

The Rector was accustomed, in the performance of his school duties, to devote an hour now and then to "dictation." Somewhere about the year 1869 he varied his programme, as he gave a "story "to be written down by the pupils. It seems likely that the narrative was improvised at the time; for the copy here preserved is in the varied and pencilled handwriting of different scholars.

Surely it will be worth our while to examine the only story from the hand of the priest-musician. We are not surprised to find it simple and childlike. It contains many touches characteristic of the author. One of these is a quality of happy playfulness, very familiar to those who knew him well. A niece of his once made remark: "He was full of life, full of fun. We children were in great glee whenever we heard that Uncle John was coming."

The same characteristic of gentle sportiveness, of the sort of merriment that gives pleasure, wells up and overflows in certain sections of the story.

It is a tale about "the day and not the night before Christmas." At breakfast Mrs. Cobham tells her daughter Bessie that the sleigh will be at the door soon after luncheon, when they will go out with their Christmas baskets. They make a tour, in which the Lady Bountiful distributes benefactions in the pleasant guise of holiday remembrances. One of the places of stopping was "The Snells."

Mr. Snell, a tall reverend-looking man with his white cravat and long black coat, was seated by the stove, apparently much interested in looking over the pages of the Church Almanac. As he afterwards informed Mrs. Cob-ham, it seems that he could not leave off his old professional habits, and was looking out the "lessons" for the Nativity.

For many years he had fulfilled the duties of sexton, in the Church which Mrs. Cobham had attended as a child. That was in the days of big square pews, high "reading-desks'" and higher pulpits. Mrs. C. well remembers the care with which the sexton, "Poppy Snell "as the boys somewhat irreverently called him, provided during the cold, wintry weather, the warm coals for her mother's Dutch foot-stove. And this perhaps may be one reason why her heart now warms up to the strange and rather crabbed old man. I am not at all sure in my own mind that the duties of the sexton's vocation in any remarkable way conduce to sweetness of disposition and gentleness of manners.

He was not partial to Deacons or Assistant Ministers, and once was heard to say that "one parson could- give enough trouble, and two were much more than any ordinary sexton could comfortably get along with." As he saw himself getting crowded by the special observance of Saints' Days and the introduction of the Daily Service, he became more and more conscious of his need of additional help, and accordingly sent the following petition to the Rector and Vestry:

Saint Philip and St. James's Day.

To the Very Reverend the Rector of St. Stephen's Church, the much respected Wardens and the worthy gentlemen of the Vestry.

Although "I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than dwell in the tents of ungodliness," and although I devoutly trust that my heart may never fail to respond to the sentiment of the Royal Psalmist "I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord," yet notwithstanding what the wise man declares and therefore must be true, that "there is a time for all things," I must own that I can neither find time nor strength to get the Church ready for Daily Service, for early Celebrations, look after the gas and furnaces, to seat strangers, and discharge with apostolic order and decency my chancel functions on the Holy Day. I therefore respectfully, and with due regard to those in authority over me, as the inspired Paul enjoins in his Epistle, ask the favor of your considering whether among the things that are not only "lawful" but also "expedient" may be reckoned the furnishing your humble servant with a coworker, assistant or "helpmeet," if I may be allowed to use a word familiar to all readers of Sacred Writ.

Wishing you much of the grace you need, and many of the virtues which belong to the names of the chosen saints which our holy mother the Church "throughout all the world" this day commemorates in her Table of Lessons for Holy Days,

Your much favored and obligated Servant of the Sanctuary

It is scarcely necessary to add that the petition was granted. Under the new arrangement, things worked pleasantly enough for years, until Mr. Snell, like many other persons at least as knowing and intelligent as himself, got obfuscated in the mysteries of Ritualism. He could not for the life of him keep clearly in his mind the distinction of colors--ecclesiastically speaking he was color blind--and as if he was uncertain which rule to follow, that of Sarum or of Rome, he would sometimes put on the wrong altar cloth, the purple frontal or super-frontal when green or red would be more fitting to the season, and would offer the Rector and the Curate a plain black when they expected a white and embroidered stole. He could not tell an alb from a chasuble, nor a chasuble from a vestibule, and never had been taught the difference between "ablutions "and "absolutions," "confessionals "and "processionals."

From sheer mortification, as I believe, he resigned his situation as sexton of St. Stephen's, another unfortunate victim of Ritualism, and as a "retired officer," was living at the time of our story a pensioner of the parish.

When the manuscript volumes containing the story were forwarded, there came with them an explanatory letter as follows:

All through the story the Doctor seems to have woven his own character, full of love and charity and joyfulness. His picture of the old-time sexton is so good, and the description of the family, joining on Christmas eve in the hymn "While shepherds watched their flocks by night" sung to old "Antioch," in which the voices take up the last line "And glory shone around, round, round "is excellent. My wife and I can never forget his reading it to us--this part especially--and as he repeated "And glory shone around, round, round," he would burst out with the merriest Christmas laugh, his very face illumined with that glory which he now shares.

Again to the story-book. Later, on Christmas eve, there was a household assemblage in front of a cavern carved in wood; at the back of the cavern appeared a stable, and in front a Cradle and the Holy Family. It was a piece of Swiss mechanism, and the figures acted their part. The Magi knelt, then camels and asses, then the shepherds and the sheep. While the action was in progress distant music was heard--Adeste Fideles, a chime as from fairy bells, then John Henry Hopkins' Carol.

"Bethlehem does not now seem so far away as it used to," said Miss Bessie.

"Come, Mrs. Ayscough, what do you say for 'While shepherds watched their flocks by night ' to the old tune 'Antioch'?"

"Who can pitch it? "asked, in a loud and animated voice, Mr. Cobham. "Why I, to be sure," replied Uncle John. "Didn't I go to singing school in my younger days along with Sally Dorson, and sing out of the same Psalm-book? What is the use of learning without also 'practising as they know,' as Tate and Brady have it:

'Who know what's right; nor only so, But always practise what they know'?

Now mind, Bessie, you and Carrie and grandma must pitch in with me on the air; your father of course will take care of the Bass; your mother may choose between Tenor and Alto--one part is about as "easy to her as another; our friend Thomas, the butler, may double on the Bass. And no 'shining,' sir. It is s-h-o-n-e--not 'shyned' around."

By the time they reached the fourth line, "And glory shone around," the choristers were in full swing. The Bass were tremendous on the "round, round, round, round, round" in the repeat. When Thomas got the hang of the tune, he kept shouting "round, round, round, round" until he almost got dizzy.

"Once more the same verse," shouted Mr. Cobham who had not much faith in his own memory. "And you, Mr. Thomas Plumer, please to keep a little closer to the tune in the last line, where it repeats; and observe the ' crescendo,' all of you."

With fresh courage and renewed zeal, they all--grandma just like the little girls--sprang at the hymn, increasing the speed at the first word of every line, like a stone going down hill.

The repeat was redoubled ad libitum, and with increased rate and energy.

"They may say what they may, Mrs. Ayscough, about Mendelssohn and Rossini," quoth Mr. Cobham, "and brag of their new-fangled Hymnals with their stiff white notes like a row of parsons in their surplices, and tunes with unpronounceable names of very orthodox saints--no doubt!--as if we hadn't now more saints of our own in the Calendar than we exactly know what to do with; but give me good, old, solid Psalmody which you can tackle at with ail your might and make a merry noise. When I sing I like to pull out all my stops, and put both feet on the pedals. None of your wishy-washy lullaby ditties for me, when I rise to praise my God! I would sweep them all away like chaff before the wind."

And there he stood like a war-horse that "paweth in the valley and rejoiceth in his strength," and "smelleth the battle afar off."

School, choir, and Church were all different manifestations of the same one fact. The way it worked is illustrated in the devotedness of Mrs. Pollock, for many years the leading contralto. She was one of the little girls gathered and taught by Mrs. Mary Warren at old St. Paul's, and had been brought to the Holy Cross when ten years of age. She became a pupil of the Mary Warren Institute, and was brought up under the care and supervision of the saintly Rector. She had a beautiful voice, much admired by Prof. Hopkins and by all.

A self-sacrificing chorister, she fulfilled her duties twice on a very stormy Sunday. Thereafter she took sick. Concerning the time, one writes: "Our dear Dr. Tucker came every morning before school and towards evening. He made every suggestion and provided everything he could think of. In two Weeks she left us, just as the chimes were ringing for ten o'clock. She had asked the Sunday before to have the window raised, that she might hear the bells. I opened it again. Dr. Tucker thought, and we all thought, that she heard. She would always recognize him when he first came in. That morning she looked so happy and said, 'I will sing "Rock of Ages."' He helped her, but had to finish it alone." She was only thirty-one years of age when called away, leaving a sorrowing community at the Holy Cross.

The Rector made all preparations, providing things needful for the burial. lie placed the body in the ante-chapel, to remain there all night before the funeral. Again the letter: "I went over Tuesday morning. People were going in and out. Mr. S. stood at the head of the casket. I heard people remarking, 'It is a Church rite; he is chief mourner.' I remember hearing that he stood there all through the service."

The gifted contralto was at the same time a faithful Christian, type of the sort of culture resulting from the labors of Doctor Tucker in his school. So it happened time and again. Acts of direct benevolence were associated with the administration of school affairs. Another instance may be adduced.

During a considerable length of time the Rector had been visiting a sick parishioner. He called regularly once each day. He would drop in at the noon hour, and then hurry back to his school. In the last period of the sickness the pastor called twice in each twenty-four hours.

Just when the patient had been given up by the physicians his wife became dangerously ill. A lawyer was sent for. Doctor Tucker was present; there was likewise in attendance a little daughter of the house. After the will had been executed, the father turned to Doctor Tucker, asking him in case the wife should not recover whether he would see that arrangements were made for their child to go to boarding-school; there had been talk between the parents of a project to send the daughter, when she should have grown old enough, to St. Agnes' School at Albany. The father stated that there would be money enough to give his child a good education, and that after such a course she would be able to look out for herself. The Doctor put his arms around the little one, at once promising that the request should be remembered, and making himself responsible for her education.

The little one, now grown to womanhood, tells me: "My father died and my mother recovered; but, nevertheless, he (Dr. Tucker) watched over me with a father's care until death claimed him.As he himself expressed it, the parsonage was ever to me a second home."

The child was placed in the Mary Warren Institute, where she developed such capabilities for music that she was given opportunities for advanced study. In truth the parsonage was made a second home for her; there she was accustomed to play upon the piano on certain afternoons of each week. After a while a new grand piano made its appearance at the Rectory, which was serviceable for these musical days. When the ward was married the Doctor gave her away, acting in loco parentis. So the pastor's vow was fulfilled. After his death it was found that the grand piano was bequeathed to the ward whose education he had promised to supervise.

Was there ever such a principal who had the ability and the will to make his pupils happy to such a degree as this? Doctor Tucker used to retain for the season a box at Music Hall, as well as seats in the balcony. Here he would take a considerable number of girls to attend upon public performances. Often he would send away--at his expense--one or more of his pupils to enjoy a vacation. He would frequently provide private lessons upon the piano.

For a time, each summer he gave a picnic for all, but as the weather was uncertain he changed that to an evening dance at the school-room, for which cards of invitation were distributed to pupils, to be issued by them. Doctor Tucker himself was present. Moreover, the supper was of the very best. Near the close of his career he started a string quartet among pupils, furnishing instruments where needed.

At Christmas the gifts from the head of the school to the individual members were such as friend would give to friend. Indeed, his holiday greetings in concrete form extended to a wide circle, including young and old; just before the festive season his study would be changed into a storehouse of packages of all sorts and sizes.

In the history of the school St. John's Day has always been a feast of high esteem. Long ago patron and Rector invented a plan which should afford an outing to the scholars under circumstances which would make the occasion a thing of itself. Summer having arrived, on the day of the Nativity of St. John Baptist there were two morning services at the Church. In the afternoon teachers and pupils would march in procession, one carrying the school banner. I have heard it said that formerly there used to be a band of music. Until within the last four or five years Doctor Tucker was accustomed to march at the head of the line. When all had arrived at Mount Ida, the day was passed en fete about the cottage. Here many such festival occasions have been made memorable by dramatic or musical performances.

Dr. Warren writes concerning the permanent connection between the Holy Cross and the grounds or park about his home: "The Church and this place seem to be twin institutions. I broke ground here in 1839 by planting a cabbage garden, the same year that the day school originated at St. Paul's. The two institutions advanced side by side, even as the cabbage plant which has "progressed into a cauliflower."

The unfailing interest of the principal is further witnessed by his voluntary expenditure in behalf of school and choir. He furnished all the music for the school. Similarly, he paid a large proportion of the expenses pertaining to the musical department of service. The considerable proceeds derived from the sale of his first Church Hymnal were devoted to the needs of the choir.

Take it altogether, is there aught of marvel in the fact that when one meets anywhere a former pupil of the Warren Free Institute he finds a woman who is enthusiastic in her praises of its ecclesiastical head?

And yet with most people the position would have been counted of small moment, possessing only a temporary influence. At the beginning the new pastor was elected only for one year. Thereafter nobody thought of the formality of a renewal, and the appointment simply held over. But think what he made of the place! Think what a rolling stream of undying influence went out from this post, of what men would consider an uncertain tenure! One reason for this, no doubt, is to be found in the simple-mindedness and straightforwardness of his aim. He never changed; he never lost the spirituality of his beginning. Many young men who enter the ministry start out with motives as religious as those cherished by the youthful Tucker; but after a while they find that the practice varies from the theory, that to serve God through wardens and vestries is a very different thing, more secular, more political, and timeserving than the simple self-consecration, the devotion of soul and body to the direct service of the Lord with which they commence.

Doctor Tucker had neither warden nor vestry, but he knew troubles not few nor feigned. Nevertheless he kept up his purity and sincerity of intention all through. His motives were fair and clear at the end as at the beginning.

Reference has been made to a New Year's reception at the parsonage. On this one day the Rector recalled the customs of his youth; in so far did he perpetuate the fashion of his New York circle. Then he received; he kept open house for all. Friends came from far, and not merely parishioners of the Holy Cross. There was an ample and substantial spread, and there was an unfailing hospitality manifested at all times in private, but on New Year's day in a brilliant and more public assembling. The celibate showed that he had a home and that he knew how to entertain.

As to the question of celibacy in connection with the Rector, Dr. Warren writes again: "I think that our Missionary enterprise of the Holy Cross depended much on the fact of there being three old bachelors concerned in it; for I am sure that if any one of them had ever married, it would have been disastrous to the others and to the enterprise."

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