[This notice of Dr. Coit's funeral was originally published in a letter to the New York Evening Post of February 9, 1895.]
IF any man in America deserved a public funeral, it was the late rector of St. Paul's School. And yet I cannot but feel that there was something singularly appropriate in the privacy and loneliness with which, from sheer stress of weather, so far as friends from a distance were concerned, his remains were laid to rest. The three hundred school-boys on the spot must, indeed, with their teachers, have formed an imposing retinue at the burial; yet these were but a part of the vastly larger number that, under ordinary circumstances, would have thronged about the bier. Very many of us older boys found it to be simply impossible to reach Concord in the blinding, drifting blizzard that prevailed last Friday, blocking all roads and delaying railway trains. Nevertheless, as my mind goes back to the old days when I was a school-boy there, it seems, I say, quite in keeping with the character of our dear dead master that his burial should be thus apart and lonely, hidden by the snow. For was there ever a great man who more instinctively shrunk from publicity than Dr. Coit? Never, from start to finish, was it he that put himself forward; it was his work that thrust him into prominence. Never once, in any way, did he advertise either the school or himself. Nay, he recoiled from everything that savored of notoriety with the simple delicacy of a girl. He hated to show himself in strange places, to speak or write in them. The only place where he was thoroughly himself was at his own school, among his own boys,--there he was at home. It was his boys and under-masters, as far and wide they scattered to their homes, that advertised him; as St. Paul said of his disciples, "Ye are my epistle."
There is hardly time, as yet, to measure Dr. Coit's position among our great educators and administrators, or to tell the whole story of his distinguished career. His high position is incontestable,--so great that we can only appreciate it properly after the lapse of years, and by contrast with others who have worked in the same field. Just now, in the shock of his unexpected death, his old boys dwell naturally upon the more distinctively spiritual aspects of his character. I find recurring again and again to my memory a verse of the Psalmist: "They shall go from strength to strength, until unto the God of gods appeareth every one of them in Sion." This was one of his favorite texts. As my mind runs back to the little chapel,--the first one of the earliest days,--I recollect how that text used to crop out again and again in his sermons. I did not care much for sermons in those days, but somehow there was hardly ever a Sunday, if "the Doctor" preached, that some sentence of his did not fasten on me. Though he often repeated himself, the connections of his thought were so various and suggestive that I did not find the repetitions tiresome; and I well remember how surprised and interested I used to be when Sunday after Sunday this same text would once more slip into his thoughts: "They shall go from strength to strength." This was the very-thing that he wanted us to do: it was what he had done himself.
Beginning with the three boys in the carriage that brought him to Dr. Shattuck's country-house, bit by bit, he had built up that great school, and had built up himself with it,--himself the stronger as his school waxed strong,--all the poetry and the sentiment of his rarely gifted nature broadening down into the fine virility of the tested man. We used to think him narrow sometimes, but I am not sure that, as we ourselves grow older, we are not coming to perceive that what we then esteemed "narrowness" was ultimate truth of insight. It is not given to many men to be thoroughly religious from the outset to the end of their lives. The heart of most men roams restlessly for a long time before it rests at last in God. But Dr. Coit was religious always. There was no humbug about him. That is why he had such power over us, in spite of ourselves. From classroom and playground to the Thursday evening talks and the daily chapel, that is the sort of a man he was,--the religious man. Here, in very truth, was a man who was "alive unto God." It seemed as if he never opened a book nor touched a topic, nor met a boy or man, without having "God in all his thoughts." And somehow he never bored us. Other men bored us boys with their religiousness, but "the Doctor" never did. Rather, it appeared as if he had merely gotten on ahead of us, and that very likely we should try to catch up with him by and by. The pathos, the beauty, the risks, the awfulness and the joy, the prospects and the power of the sincere religious life of the human soul,--they have been realized in our lifetime by this man whom we have known, whom we have called our master. It rests with us to follow, or to repudiate, the "secret of Jesus," for which he lived and died. This, I think, is the final impression which every St. Paul's boy, whether of the older time or to-day, has derived from intercourse with that great schoolmaster whose earthly remains were laid to rest last Friday, in the pure New Hampshire snows.