J. B. SAVAGE, PRINTER, FRANKFORT STREET,
AN OPEN LETTER.
Cleveland, November 22, 1879.
MY DEAR DR. BROWN:
Among the subjects which have recently occupied the attention of the Church Congress, (the Congress in Albany, of 1879,) one was called "Memorial Art." I do not find from the newspaper reports that any definition was given of the meaning of "Memorial Art," nor, perhaps, was any necessary; for we all understand what is meant by art and what by memorial. But as comprehending the highest art and the best and most sacred memorial, all the writers and speakers concentrated their thoughts upon that kind of art which most faithfully and usefully and permanently memorializes the dead. The Rev. Dr. Powers, who read the first paper, deplored "the custom of lavishing money on expensive grave-stones," and said, "better, far better, that such money be invested in hospital beds, where the indigent sick may be bettered by it." The Rev. C. A. L. Richards concluded his interesting paper as follows: "On account of sanitary causes the church and the church-yard are separate from each other; but we deplore the loss to the church of the fellowship of the memories of its dead.....If we can any way lessen the costly waste of our great cemeteries, and enrich our dull streets, and somewhat humanize and consecrate our hard city and harder village lives; if we can impart some meaning and dignity and honesty to [3/4] memorial structures; if we can persuade people it is poor economy to bury out of their sight in remote cemeteries the inspiration of the memory of their dead; if we can only get men to think about their "Memorial Art" with something more than conventional indifference; if they will take counsel of architect and artist rather than the undertaker and stonemason, when love and death demand their lavish service, this mortuary discussion, this talk about grave-stones, will be worth while."
But, to my mind, the most important paper read was that of the Rev. Dr. Potter, President of Union College. After contrasting the "root-principle of heathen memorial art" with the Christian; the one as founded in "selfishness,"' and the other in the enthronement of self-sacrifice, "the consecration of all we have and are to the worship of God and the good of man;" and then referring to the fact that we still cling to the heathen, retaining "the modus of the catacombs" whilst we have lost the spirit, the question is then raised, "What is the remedy for the evil?" to which we have the reply--"Christian Education," and then follows:
"I grieve to be confronted by the suggestion that in this good State of New York alone a hundred millions of dollars have in recent years been squandered upon cemetery monuments---a glaring crime against true memorial art, and against the spirit of Christianity. To what purpose is this waste? To no purpose; to none of comparative worth and endurance. This cemeterial disease is taking such hold of the popular heart, ministering so much to mere emulation or vanity, and yielding comparatively so little return in consolation or help to art, or in succor to humanity, that it should be denounced, not simply in the name of memorial art, but in the name of Christ. When a memorial takes the form of benefaction in a useful building or its furniture or true adornment, art can be furthered; and when charitable gift or endowment, be it large or small, formed the memorial, or is connected with it, Christ may thus be led down from heaven to live on earth again. We [4/5] need not merely Papal bulls for the benefit of the poor fulminated against the multitude of carriages at funerals, but Catholic and Protestant denunciation of the mortuary madness, which, taking possession of the American masses, sucks the life-blood from the heart of Christian charity and art. If Christian art ever replaces heathen art it will be because of education elevating human conceptions, and charity softening asperities, and the Spirit of Christ uniting Christians, not nominally merely, but really, in one body."
After the reading of the paper of the Rev. Dr. Potter, several speeches were made; but the only one which I have seen reported was that of the Rev. Frank L. Norton, from which I extract the following:
"The best form, unquestionably, of memorial art is the building of a church or chapel outright, 'in memoriam.' In employing memorial art for the commemoration of the dead, endeavor to do something for the benefit of the living, which, at the same time, will constantly keep in mind and in blessed remembrance the good examples of those who, having finished their course in faith, do now rest from their labors. A memorial window, next to a church or hospital or orphanage, is the most Christian use of memorial art. It is one of the sweetest memorials of a Christian's life. "We have become accustomed to a weak and maudlin sentiment, which finds its expression in our cemeteries and church-yards, which is not only bad taste, but absolutely wicked, in that it teaches false doctrine, and expresses heathenish ideas in the place of a Christian hope. The stately halls of our colleges and libraries are the true shrine wherein are embalmed the sacred memorials of a Seabury, a Griswold, and a Hobart. The cost of a single block of granite, lost in the seclusion of a cemetery, would fill an alcove with the books which unite, with grateful remembrance of the founder's name, the past and the present, while he, though dead, yet speaketh, and will speak to generations of scholars yet unborn. In the words of a very good and wise man: 'Let the rich who can, and the wise who know, make it their business to forbid the cemetery's pomp, and to prepare memorials for themselves in ways which shall not tarnish the [5/6] fair fame of precious lives, or crown the folly of thoughtless lives with a useless cenotaph.'"
The speeches subsequently delivered in the Congress on the same subject are not reported; indeed all the records of that Congress were destroyed by fire. But there can be no doubt they were equally pointed and eloquent.
Now, my dear brother, you can scarcely imagine the delight with which such sentiments have been read by me; for the subject is one which I have often brought before the good people of Cleveland, once in a printed address about seven years ago, and then it constituted the subject of a published correspondence with the Rev. Dr. Starkey, the newly elected Bishop of Northern New Jersey, with whom I was in full accord; and nothing could be more heart-rending than the utter want of interest and sympathy with which my best and dearest friends have met me, on that subject.
A little of what was said in the printed address referred to, I will here transcribe, as perhaps you may never have seen it:
We have the special and peculiar blessing of laying the foundation of a monumental church, a kind of Westminster Abbey, at least in embryo--destined to grow as Cleveland grows, to which any number of cloisters and chapels may be added, full of sacred memories and monumental legacies. Why not? For such an achievement of sacred art, am I in advance of the age? God forbid!
Oar dead must be buried yonder, in that blessed cemetery, and yet too far for the sacrifices of daily love--nor should any expense be spared to beautify the place in which their bodies are reposing to await the resurrection morn. But why not have a monumental church of sacred memories, every stone and arch and window of which shall awaken the memory of the departed, and stimulate the virtues of generations to come to renewed energy and devotion, in the great battle of life?
"What comfort in our woe,
What joy to grief it lends,
With the church militant to know
The church triumphant blends."
 Such a comfort, such a joy, such a blending of the church militant with the church triumphant, would be the erection of a monumental church in this beautiful city, nor should any time be lost, for all around us are the holy dead:
"Their very voices call;
They witnessed our baptismal vow,
They mourn a brother's fall.
When faith grows dim and hope seems gone,
The dead in Christ shall cheer us on."
O! what a blessing, when we kneel down to say our prayers in the consecrated church, could we but realize the presence of the innumerable company of witnesses; and how could it be otherwise, when we see the memorials and monuments of their love standing before us, and speaking to us.
Correspondence with the Rev. Dr. Starkey, now the Bishop of Northern New Jersey, from which I make the following extracts, asking you to excuse, for love's sake, the personal references:
Possibly you may know that some years ago I had a serious bereavement, constraining me to mourn the loss of all my children, and the beloved wife of my youth. Sorrowful and broken-hearted, I sought relief in travel, to change the current of my thoughts. But in whatever town or city I stopped, the first place to which I wended my way, as by irresistible impulse, was the cemetery, living among the tombs, and gradually learning to feel a strange and almost delightful companionship with the dead; and finding what before was only a hope or a sentiment--that communion with the faithful departed is a great and blessed reality. But after a while I ascertained that the cemeteries were not at all essential to the cultivation of this companionship, and on some accounts were most unsatisfactory, as separated from those appointed rites and sacraments by which alone we can commune with the church invisible; and that oftentimes their decayed and dilapidated tombstones and monuments were suggestive rather of an "eternal sleep" than of living fellowship with the departed. And not until some [7/8] years afterwards, when I went into Westminster Abbey, could I understand the ineffable blessedness of the worship of God in that consecrated temple where there is so much to remind us of the presence of the "innumerable cloud of witnesses," and that
"Angels, and living saints, and dead,
But one communion make."
Nor is it essential to the blessedness of the worship that "the corruptible bodies of those who sleep in Him," should be buried in the place over which or around which the memorials are erected. On the contrary, the thought, the feeling, the conviction, the actual communion, may be all the more vivid and impressive when "the speaking monument" is divested of everything gloomy, repulsive and earthly, and when the place of worship is crowded only with those emblems and evidences of saintly joy and blessedness which must be always associated with that part of "the place of departed spirits" which is called "The Paradise of God."
From that time to the present I have longed and prayed for some such church building in every important city of our own beloved country. Not altogether like Westminster Abbey, originally an assemblage of houses for the devotional purposes of the monastic life, and then an actual place of burial for England's illustrious dead; but divested of its sad history of monasticism and of its sepulchral associations, and erected expressly, in subordination to the grand object of worship, for memorials and monuments; not to commemorate the virtues and exploits of some renowned poets, orators, statesmen, philosophers and warriors, scattered over the world's history, few and far between," but "in memoriam" of the faithful departed whose names are enshrined in the hearts of even a single city or parish, and a thousand times more sacred to the thoughts and feeling of the worshipers than could be the largest and most magnificent cathedral. Speaking of the cathedral of Milan, Mr. Hillard says: "It is not merely [8/9] size and height, or elaborate details, or shrines blazing with gold and silver, or windows that arrest and fix all the changing hues of sunset, that give to these structures their power and significance. The impression which they make cannot be communicated by description or transferred to picture. A spirit hangs over them which illumines what is dark and raises what is low." And who can doubt that such a spirit would hang over the kind of edifice or church of holy memorials to which I refer, even though the emblems, tablets, shrines, mementoes, statues and monuments gathered upon its walls and within its sanctuaries, might be only of those who have walked the same streets and worshiped in the same building with ourselves; and all the more because we have been related to them either by the blessed associations of the Christian life or by the ties of kindred and of blood. Nor can I imagine any human instrumentality better calculated to obliterate the worldly distinction of wealth, to destroy envy and jealousy, and gather into one all the different members of the great family and household of faith.
* * * * * * * *
But the question arises, is such a kind of building practicable in this worldly age? Undoubtedly it is, so far at least as laying the foundation and erecting the skeleton, and this is all that we propose to do or can do at present; nor would this require a very great outlay of money--not more than for the building of any suitable edifice for the worship of God in a city like Cleveland. The lot should be ample for the growth of the building, and the skeleton, expressive of the design, allowing of cloisters, and chapels, and niches, and of all sorts of adornments, as well without as within.
Geneva, N. Y., July 5th, 1873.
My Dear Dr. Bolles: I thank you very cordially for fulfilling in such good time the promise you were kind enough to make in one of our brief but pleasant conversations during "Commencement Week" in Geneva, that you would inform me more in detail of your plans for a new church in Cleveland. You will remember that I expressed my entire sympathy with the general outline which our brief interview enabled you at that time to give; and it affords me great pleasure now to say how entirely the more full development which your letter affords of what was before barely suggested, meets my own views, and awakens my ardent hopes for the successful accomplishment of the work you have in hand.
Your church is to be a "Church of Holy Memorials," a sanctuary consecrated to holy worship, and which in every part shall perpetuate the memory of God's loving and faithful children. The design strikes me as being eminently appropriate, And at the same time fitted to call out a general interest. This subject of the relation of the faithful departed to the militant Church of Christ, of the reality and closeness of the tie which binds them together; of the outward expression of that relationship, as well as the calling out of it in tenderness And strength by such a Memorial as that which you propose, is one which should awaken deep interest in every devout heart; And I cannot but think that this effort of yours to guide back into the right path a powerful instinct of our nature which has "been led astray, will commend itself to all those in whom an experience of life's sorrow has served to invest with new significance the Church's doctrine of "the Communion of Saints."
It is, indeed, my dear Doctor, something very wonderful that this truth, in itself so full of consolation, and at the same time so in harmony with the entire structure of our religion, [10/11] should have become so obscured in the minds if not the hearts of our faithful people, even to the point of being at times lost sight of and forgotten. One would suppose that the blessed teachings of God's word, equally convincing and consolatory, would even in the recoil from an ancient superstition, have been effectual for the thankful preservation of the truth of the oneness of the living and the departed in Christ Jesus; that the scene of the Transfiguration and the assurance of the apostle that "we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses," would of themselves be sufficient to establish the intimacy of the relationship subsisting between them; and while the Catholic Church has always, even from the earliest days, borne her testimony to this truth, so dear, so full of comfort to the surviving, has claimed her departed ones as her own still; has remembered them in her prayers, and especially in her Eucharistic service, and enshrined their memorials in her holy places: too many even of her own children have in these sad days, in fear of an old superstition and abuse, denied themselves the grandest consolation of the Gospel. They have come to think of the holy dead as borne away from the region of their sympathies, and this cold and shuddering stoicism has usurped the place of the Church's ancient love and tenderness.
Yes, Christian hands have sought to hang an impenetrable veil of separation between that small portion of God's Host who in any single generation are found upon the earth, and that "great multitude which no man can number"--members with them in the same body--who enjoy the vision of Christ in Paradise. Thus it is that while sad hearts are uttering their silent protest against a prevailing sentiment that does outrage to the truest, tenderest and most Christian instincts, whilst mournful pilgrimages are made to the cemetery or the graveyard, bringing no comfort, all the while these sad souls are repeating in the Creed, "I believe in the Communion of Saints," are joining, whenever the Holy Oblation is to be offered, in the prayer that [11/12] they and the faithful departed may together be partakers of God's Heavenly Kingdom.
Surely they must and do feel the incongruity. They must and do feel that their loves, their hopes, their sacred memories, their sense of oneness with those who have only "gone before" can find no real exponent in the modern necropolis, where the broken column, the inverted torch, the funeral urn, express by symbol the idea of the Heathen "Extinctus"--not the Holy Best of Paradise.
I do, then, my dear brother, most cordially wish you success, and invoke our dear Lord's blessing on your effort to build up in Cleveland a church which shall be for all time to come "The Church of Holy Memorials." It is quite within the memory of even the middle-aged among us, when Christian Churchmen first began to turn to the consecrated Church as the most fitting place for the memorials of departed friends. And in the last twenty years the good practice has so grown that windows, altars, fonts, even whole churches, are often erected under the influence of this pious feeling. Your plan has, however, a more generous scope. It is to provide "sermons in stones," which age after age shall preach comfort to the bereaved, hope to the despondent, and courage to the faltering. And although each generation of worshipers must be more sensibly affected by the memorials of those with whom they had been familiar in life, and with whom "they had labored together for the faith of the Gospel," yet it cannot be doubted that the influence of a building where everything upon which the eye rested was a sacred memento of some one who in other years had worshiped within its walls, would be most salutary. It would inspire with a feeling of tender and holy awe the hearts even of those who could claim ho part in its peculiar associations.
You have been pleased, my dear Doctor, to refer in most kindly terms to my former residence in Cleveland, and to the regard still felt for me by many friends to whom it was my [12/13] privilege then to minister in holy things. The memory of those days is, with me, a very loving and a very tender one, and I bear it in my heart with some such jealousy as that of the bird that stands guard over her nestlings. When I think, as I often do, how busy Death has been with that old flock of mine, from the time when I became its Pastor to this present day, I cannot but feel that it would be something most desirable that) the memories of many I could name should be enshrined in a church of Holy Memorials, where in the appointed place of sacrifice and prayer, their witness for Christ and His Church might be preserved as a sacred heritage, and still incite to new ventures of faith the generations that succeed to their privileges and labors.
With my earnest wishes for the furtherance of your good work in the Gospel, I am, my dear Doctor,
Your affectionate Friend and Brother in Christ,
T. A. STARKEY.
To The Rev. James A. Bolles, D.D.
Now, my dear Dr. Brown, as will be seen by the date of this most friendly letter, a little more than two years has elapsed since it was commenced, and all, but what was then in print, was read to you, with the intention on my part of completing, in some way, to show my interest in the object which you then had in view--the building of a new edifice for the grand old parish of Trinity Church.
Indeed, I supposed that the lot was secured, and that a chapel would at once be erected in which the members of St. Peter's Parish could assemble for worship; nor had I any idea of the disbandment of that most interesting mission of Trinity Church. However, in all this, as in many other of the most [13/14] fondly cherished hopes of my life, I am most deeply afflicted; nor have I any doubt that you feel, with me, the painful disappointment. My last days are clouded with the deepest gloom and sadness on account of this utter failure to lay even the foundations of the Church of Holy Memorials.
"Open thy gate of mercy, Gracious God!
My soul flies through these wounds
To seek out Thee."
Yes, what else bat "wounds," deep and festering, are such trials and disappointments? And to whom else can we go? What other refuge? God grant that what I hare prayed and longed for, in my day, may be accomplished in yours, or in that of some who will come after us.
With the assurance of my love, sympathy and prayers in all the duties of your most arduous office, I am
Your Friend and Brother in Christ,
JAMES A. BOLLES.
To The Rev. Dr. J. W. Brown,
Rector of Trinity Church.