Project Canterbury

The Life and Work of William Augustus Muhlenberg
Doctor in Divinity

By Anne Ayres

New York: T. Whittaker, 1889.

CHAPTER III. 1811-1815.

College Life.--A True Friend.--Youthful Sports.--Confirmation.--Retiring yet Courageous.--The Juniors and the Provost.--Studies.--Church Observances.--Philomathean Society.--College Classmates.--Life-long Friends.--An Impenitent Boy Friend.--Public Affairs.--Closing Events of War of 1812.--A Day of Military Service.--The Treaty of Ghent.--Peace joyfully Welcomed.--Graduated with Honors

HE entered upon his collegiate course when fifteen. This period of life, the period of feeling and passion, had its dangers for him as for most youths. That he passed through it unsullied may be attributed, among other causes, to the watchful affection of a young man in the University, who, though older than William, seems to have been magnetically attracted to him in an ardent and equal friendship which the latter always looked back upon, with gratitude to God, as one of the best blessings of his life. We have some recollections of these days from his own lips.

"While I was at the Grammar School, I became intimate with several of my schoolmates with whom, for two or three years, I spent the summer vacation, at a Quaker farmer's in the country. From these companions I learned no good, and, through all my life, have regretted my acquaintance with them. And here I must make grateful mention of Mr. Joseph P. Engles, who was a tutor in the college while I was in the Grammar School Although seven years older than myself, we became warm friends. To no one in my youth was I more attached; and to no one individual in all my life, do I owe more of personal religious influence. He first became interested in me, from seeing my danger from the evil companions alluded to. ......Engles and I used to have violent disputes together in religion and politics, as he was a strict Presbyterian, a covenanter, and a democrat, while I was a stout Episcopalian and a federalist; but we often went to each other's churches. Engles thought I made too much of the forms of religion, and was particularly offended at my wearing a cross inside my dress; it was a large silver cross, the first thing I ever had made. I recollect how relieved he was, when, on asking me what hymn I best loved, I answered:

"'I'm not ashamed to own my Lord,
Or to defend his cause,
Maintain the honor of his word,
The glory of his cross.'"

In a portion of Mr. Engles's journal of this date, we find frequent allusions to his youthful friend. At first as though studying his character; later as delighting in his society. In one place he says, "I have a very high opinion of Muhlenberg." In another, "Muhlenberg seems to have escaped the gross corruption of his age." Once when they had passed a whole evening together, arguing upon predestination and kindred subjects, Mr. E., unwilling to part from his companion, prevented him, by a ruse, from hearing the hour cried by the watchman, and so kept him long past his usual time for returning home.

Napoleon, then playing his wonderful role in the drama of nations, was another topic of animated discussion between the two. Muhlenberg always detested the character of. the mighty soldier, while Engles was blinded to its enormities by the glamor of military glory. A letter of rebuke to the latter on his gratulations at Bonaparte's resumption of power after his escape from Elba, is curiously illustrative, not only of the young Muhlenberg's anti-Napoleonic sentiments, but of the fire underlying his gentleness, and how he sometimes manifested it. The epistle begins without any of the usual terms of endearment, thus,-

"JOSEPH! You rejoice at the present news! What; shall I say? One who professes to adore the Prince of peace, and who has been admitted to the privilege of his kingdom by the holy rite of Baptism rejoices at the elevation of a blood-thirsty, a hellish tyrant! Christendom reposed in peace.....The nations of the earth appeared to be uniting under the banner of the Cross. .... The blessed time when peace shall be universal seemed to be approaching-But alas! again the monster rises! The enemy of the Church, the proud and blasphemous persecutor of the saints, the disturber of nations again appears, and-a Christian rejoices! Blessed Jesus, can it be?

"Will the plea of patriotism be urged as the cause of your present joy? Cursed be that patriotism which is kindled by the view of rivers of blood. What! Would even a rational being, not to say a Christian, desire the political interests of his country when they are to be purchased by the tears of thousands of widows and orphans? True patriotism never destroys philanthropy. No! Joseph, take your Bible and read the peaceful, the heavenly doctrines of Jesus, and be glad, if you dare, at the exaltation of Napoleon...... Until you can prove that the Spirit of God delights in wars, I will not believe that a follower of the Lamb can rejoice in the present news."

His first printed verses, "An Ode to Spring," appeared at this time in the "Portfolio," a periodical of the day, and he began to throw off poetical effusions freely at the desire of his friends. He found more pleasure in literary occupations than in athletic exercises, except it were walking; his genial disposition led him to take part with his young companions, in boating, fishing, swimming, and even gunning, but he did not excel in these sports. Of gunning, a very few expeditions sufficed. The last time he went, he shot a dove, and then vowed never again to engage in the pastime. He was so dull at dancing-school, that the master often pulled his ears, and when on a certain occasion he understood the direction "turn out your toes" to mean that he was to spread those members within his dancing-slippers, he was pronounced incapable of learning. Nevertheless, he much enjoyed the practising balls, which, in those days, were very innocent things, always ending at nine in the evening. Throughout these days, and always, his heart was strong in its home affections; he was ever his widowed mother's fond and true knight, and the loving admirer of his only sister. Such words as "Mary played well," or "Sister looked very pretty to-night," come in, from time to time, with his mention of an evening entertainment.

In the second year of his college course, he was confirmed. The Rev. Jackson Kemper was then one of the assistant ministers of the united churches and a very popular young preacher. He was popular in a good sense of the word, for he was the means of a genuine revival of religion. Young and old were moved by his preaching, and among them William A. Muhlenberg, who makes frequent allusion to the subject, in his journal of this period.

Notice being given of the confirmation which was to take place in the approaching Passion Week, he went to see his "beloved minister," as he then termed Mr. Kemper, though without any personal acquaintance with him, in reference to his acceptance as a candidate for the rite. He said, in relation to this: "Overcoming the extreme diffidence I felt, I introduced myself to him, and his kind manner soon put me so much at ease that I asked him some questions on the subject of Baptismal Regeneration, about which my mind had been perplexed. All I recollect is that he assured me that regeneration did not mean a change of heart. He invited me to come and see him again, and thus began an acquaintance which lasted with unabated esteem and affection to the day of his death. . . ...

"On Easter Even of this year (1813), I was confirmed at St. James's Church, in company with a hundred and eighty others, most of whom were adults, and some quite old people. Such a time had never before been known, in the church in Philadelphia, and greatly it gladdened the heart of Bishop White, as he expressed himself in a sermon on the occasion. It was not the custom at that time in Philadelphia, for any but communicants to kneel at the prayers, and I well remember the effort it cost me to do so, in the prayers, at the preparatory lectures, in our large square pew, where one could be seen by every body. It was at the time of my confirmation, too, that I resolved to give up going to the theatre, of which I had been rather fond, considering that as one of 'the pomps and vanities of the world,' of course to be renounced; unobjectionable as the stage then was, compared with its present depravity."

In taking this step, William had to endure some loneliness and occasionally a little raillery from his companions; but shy and diffident as he was in a high degree where duty was not at stake, he was strong in moral courage wherever there was need for it. An instance of this which is not unworthy of mention, appears in an episode of his college life while he was a junior. There were unruly and turbulent spirits in the University of Pennsylvania in those times, as in other colleges nowadays, and the majority of this class of juniors found their sport in systematically tormenting a venerable member of the faculty, the Provost, Dr. Andrews, to whom they recited in several branches. There was not the least provocation for this bad behavior, and William is at once indignant. He does not hesitate to call the conduct of the boys "shameful," and with three of the better-minded ones takes sides boldly with the master. The insubordinate ones taunt Muhlenberg and his allies as "curries," which they take as a matter of course. The contest runs through several months, Muhlenberg and his friends defeating the tricks of the others against Dr. Andrews, and standing up for him in various ways.

The matter ended appallingly in the sudden death of the Provost. He heard the nine o'clock recitations, one morning, and at a quarter past ten was no more. The unruly juniors were awed, and Muhlenberg's affectionate heart greatly moved. School being at once dismissed he went home, and, shutting himself up with his journal, filled four pages with a monody on the event. These pages are double-ruled around their edges, and filled in, by his own hand, with a broad, black border. In his lament he says: "How sweet was his disposition! How kindly he labored to make us understand Homer, Cicero, Juvenal!-a perfect master of the classics," etc., etc.

As regards his college studies, Greek, Latin, Belles Lettres, and Natural and Moral Philosophy were the most congenial. Mathematics went hard with him; nevertheless, he would not at any time allow himself to be behind here, in the recitations. If not a very close student, he had so much quickness of apprehension and so manly an ambition and conscientiousness in doing his duty, that he was always well up in any study that was before the class.

In addition to the regular college course, he took lessons between hours and of an evening in music, the .piano and flute, in drawing, elocution, and chemistry, with botanical and mineralogical expeditions for recreation. Amidst all this work, he finds much fault with himself for his unstudious habits: "Lazy, lazy! I must study more," is a frequent item, of this date, in his diary. In one place he adds to this complaint: "If I do not attain mediocrity, it is not Nature's fault, for I feel able to learn any thing I take in hand." In another place he complains of the time he has to give to some studies (Euclid for instance) not, to his youthful judgment, necessary or useful for a clergyman, and expresses his weariness of the college routine, adding, as though solacing himself with the thought, "But religion is my delight." "We may well believe this, since to all his other engagements at this time, he added a weekly attendance at the "Prayer Society" instituted by Mr. Kemper, and an observance of all church days and church occasions, so far as his hours with his tutors would permit. He makes full notes in his diary of his Sundays, with ordinarily, their three services, giving the gist of the sermons often with some striking criticism. Even at this early day he is thoughtful for the poor, and observes with regret the small collections after charity sermons, exclaiming in one instance, "O Benevolentia Temporum, O Charitas Christianorum!"

He took an active part in the "Philomathean," a literary society still existing, of which his class were the founders, and he himself a first mover in its formation and one of its first moderators. This, while under seventeen, was the earliest effort of that originating and organizing power which he possessed so strongly and always so earnestly directed to the highest and noblest ends. In his journal of these days, there are scattered notices of "Philo." in her infancy which show him guiding and shaping her course with something of the Christian wisdom, ability, and tact which he brought so effectually to bear upon more important foundations in riper years. The following, among others, is an example. The Philomatheans had asked and obtained a room in the college for their exclusive use; Muhlenberg soon observed that the members congregated there on Sundays, to the desecration of the Lord's day. Not wishing to appear as acting in the matter, he made a communication to the society over the signature "Mentor Residens" with a motion which was carried unanimously, that the doors of the society room should be henceforth kept locked on Sunday. The society continues prosperous and useful.

Mr. Joseph P. Engles has been mentioned as the choice friend of William Augustus Muhlenberg's youth. There were several others to whom he was strongly attached. In this connection he says:

"Besides this good Presbyterian, I was intimate with Christian F. Crusé, a Lutheran, with Geo. B. Wood, a Quaker, and, though less so, with James Keating, a Roman Catholic; I ought to add that I took occasional opportunities of going to the Roman Church, and for several years made a point of attending early Christmas mass in the old Roman Catholic church on the corner of Sixth and Spruce Streets, Philadelphia. 'Venite adoremus, Venite adoremus!' how it rang in my ears, and I can not tell how much its echoes have had to do with the early Christmas services, in which so many have rejoiced with me in the course of my ministry."

It is a testimony alike to his discrimination and to the fidelity of his nature, that the college friendships here alluded to (Keating's only excepted, of whom we hear no more) lasted through life. Of Christian F. Crusé, he made the following entry in his college diary: "Christian Frederick Cruse I highly esteem. His genius is accompanied with the greatest modesty; his manners are mild and without the least offence. In all his essays, he discovers much depth of thought He is very religious, and is studying theology to take orders in the Lutheran Church. His mother is very poor and he is educated by the German Society; nevertheless he has been always respected in the class and in the society, the Philomathean. I think he will be a profound theologian. I know not any young man for whom I have more respect."

This sketch is one of a series of acute and graphic moral and mental portraitures of the entire class, made in the last year of the course for the purpose of reference in after times. Appended to each is his college sobriquet Among the sketches, we find this of himself-"William Augustus Muhlenberg, with as many faults as any of them; but I fear he does not know them." His Quaker friend, Geo. B. Wood, he describes as "the best scholar of the class."

In addition to those here named, there were several among his college associates for whom he entertained much regard for the time; and others, again, for whose welfare he became deeply concerned, though they were not his particular friends. To one such, who needed it, he writes an anonymous letter on Dissipation; for another he reminds himself to pray regularly, the beginning, possibly, of that peculiar sympathy for the young of his own sex which throughout life distinguished him.

Some memoranda of this period which he made on the death of a youth whom he had once ardently loved, reveal both, his own remarkable powers of attraction and the character of much of his intercourse with his boy friends. The earlier attachment of the two had greatly waned before the end of their college career; they grew to differ so essentially in opinions, morals, and habits, it could not be otherwise. But when Muhlenberg heard that the lad had come to an untimely end,-he died at seventeen, under very distressing circumstances,-all the tenderness of his affectionate heart was moved, and he reviewed at length the incidents of their intimacy; largely, it would appear, to see whether he had done all he might for the other's salvation:

"The amiable, beautiful K------is dead.

"'There cracked the cordage of a noble heart.'

I never will forget him. One more generous and affectionate could not be......When I recollect how sincerely he was attached to me, the thought of not having seen him in his illness occasions me much pain. . . . One of his expressions I particularly remember. He said, 'I wish I were religious, that you might think better of me, and that our friendship might exist beyond the present world.' How often has he pressed my hand with tenderest affection with that hand now frozen in death! How quickly did his heart beat in unison with my feelings, on any occasion, whether of joy or grief. .... I remember he once told me he had a dream, in which he thought the judgment had come: that he was to enter heaven, but that I was doomed to hell. He thought he told the judge that either I must come up with him or he go down with me; but if that could not be, I should take his place and he mine. I considered this an evidence of the sincerity of his affection for me. Again, I was one evening with him at St. Paul's Church, at an oratorio. Being engaged with the music, I paid little attention to him. Some time after, he told me that the coldness which I displayed towards him that evening prevented him from sleeping through the night.....I have conversed hours with him upon the importance of religion. He listened attentively. I recollect that he was much impressed, for several days, with a sermon on Repentance which we heard together. He said: 'I perceive the necessity of repentance, but I also see the total change which must be effected in the dispositions of my heart; and so I despair of ever becoming religious.' I mentioned the omnipotency of God's grace. He returned, 'I hope to be better before I die.' .....If my prayers have availed any thing, he has made a happy exchange of worlds. For a month past, I have addressed the throne of grace thrice daily in his behalf. . . . . ."

The year 1814 was an eventful period in pub Ho affairs, both at home and abroad. In Europe, the deposition of the great Napoleon. At home, the concluding struggles of the war with Great Britain. The thoughtful and Christian mind of young Muhlenberg pondered these events as they transpired. He greatly deplored the contest between the United States and England. An enlightened patriotism was his heritage, and "Our Washington's Birthday," as often as the year brought it round, was observed with honor and joy to the end of his days: but war was abhorrent to him, and his mind was fully impressed that the existing one was unnecessary. He had a strong bias towards the Quaker doctrine of non-resistance, and in order to confirm himself in this theory, if tenable, or to correct his prepossessions if he were wrong, he wrote an essay on the subject, and persuaded a young friend, of that time, whom he dearly loved, Benjamin Rush Rhees, to say in a similar manner all that he could on the opposite side. This was his wont in any doubtful matter, and no one could yield a point with more candor and grace than himself, where reason demanded it. In the present case, all his pains did not settle the vexed question. Non-resistance and public protection could not be made compatible. Feeling and judgment remained at issue. On the capture of the capital by the British under General Ross, on the 24th of August, the youth of all the principal cities sprang to arms and there was a possibility that Muhlenberg might himself be forced into the conflict. In his diary of this date, he says: "All is military. Companies everywhere forming. I am just eighteen-what ought I to do?" On Sept. 13, he wrote: 'The British have been repulsed at Baltimore: General Boss killed. Querie-Is it Christian-like to rejoice in the death of an enemy? New Testament says, 'Love your enemies.'"

Philadelphia was ordered to strengthen her defences, and the University of Pennsylvania offered its services to the committee charged with the business. On Sept. 23, Muhlenberg makes this entry: "The classes of the college worked to-day at the fortifications. I carried sods. Hard work. I put a handkerchief over my shoulders and tied it to the handle of the barrow. We ate our dinners out like workmen. We worked by ourselves in finishing a defence at the entrance of the forts."

The approach of peace filled his soul with almost rapturous thanksgiving. Those were not the days of cable or steamer, and the signing of the preliminaries by the commissioners at Ghent on the 24th of December, 1814, was not known in the United States until seven weeks after. A frigate brought the good tidings to Philadelphia on Sunday, Feb. 12, 1815. On this date, William writes in his diary: "After morning service, I heard the joyous news of peace, that a treaty has been concluded and signed by the Prince Regent-waits only for ratification by the President, The whole city seems in a tumult of joy. Every body congratulates whom he meets. But to God-to God alone-be the honor and glory and praise of this unmerited mercy, this greatest of human blessings. Manama was overcome with the unexpected joy, and burst into tears. How shall we thank thee, O God! Let thy Church sing anthems aloud to thy name."

The next day, he writes: "I can think of nothing but the peace;" and later: "Though it is not known whether the President will ratify the treaty, the city, this evening, is brilliantly illuminated. I filled the panes of my windows with colored transparent paper, and put a candle behind each. They had the appearance of colored lamps at a distance."

His college course ended with the close of the year 1814. The commencement took place on the 10th of January, 1815, when he received his degree of A.B., with what are called "third honors"; Christian F. Crusé receiving the first, and George B. Wood the second, and these two friends were with himself the first moderators of the Philomathean Society.

He had eagerly anticipated his liberation from college, more especially that he might be free to pursue those studies only in which he could take delight; but it was not in his nature to terminate the associations of those days without emotion. "With a tender sadness, he indulged at some length in a retrospect of his university life, even the disagreeables of which he then found had their pleasant side; characteristically adding: "Now, I almost love Euclid"-"I am even attached to poor------," an unfortunate youth whom every body disliked. One morning, a day or two later, he notes that he went to the chapel and "listened at the door, to the old prayers." He is able to say as this chapter of his life closes, "I have never had any quarrel with any one, and I leave college on good terms with each person in it."

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