Project Canterbury

The Life and Work of William Augustus Muhlenberg
Doctor in Divinity

By Anne Ayres

New York: T. Whittaker, 1889.

CHAPTER X. 1839-1843.

Exclusion of Emulation as an Incentive.--How it worked.--No Tolerance of Inferior Scholarship.--Examination of 1839.--Instructors educated in Institution.--The Faculty.--Dimensions of Buildings.--Other Statistics.--Dr. Muhlenberg's Proprietorship.--Physical Culture of Students.--Boating,--A Summer Evening Scene.--Impressiveness of the Place.--Noon-tide Chapel Service.--Religious Efforts beyond the College.--Chapel Services on the Great Festivals.--Aesthetic not Ritualistic.--Music and Song.--The Wreath-makers' Ballad.--Ode for the Ashburton Dinner.--Unresting Originating Power.--Numerous Educational Plans.--An Order of Christian Teachers for the Church.--Cadets' Hall.--Prose Compositions.--A Birthday in Retirement.--Spiritual Exercises.--His Christian Watchfulness

As important and distinguishing feature of Dr. Muhlenberg's plan of education, it has been seen, was the substitution of Christian endeavor for emulation, as an incentive to study. No other stimulants for learning were sought than those furnished by motives of duty, with such rewards and punishments as seemed, naturally and equitably, consequent on the performance or neglect of duty, and thus every task that was mastered strengthened the moral principle. This was distinct from the religious character of the Institution, which might have been sustained in connection with a mode of discipline, based on the usual system of rewards and punishments. It would be interesting to compare the results of this method, as to scholarship, with those of contemporary seminaries of learning, where the ordinary prize system was employed. At this distance of time, any such comparison is of course impossible, but at the outset Dr. Muhlenberg had said: "Religion is the basis of the School, but Religion shall not be taken into account for inferior scholarship," and he eminently carried out his resolution.

For the sake of the great principle involved in the incentives employed, a passage from a letter relating to the examination of 1839, is of interest. It is from one of the visitors of the occasion, who, speaking of the exercises of the classical department says:

"The examination was far beyond any thing of the kind to which we have been accustomed. . . . Passages taken at random from the Medea of Euripides, Homer, Demosthenes, Horace, etc., were translated accurately, neatly, and often beautifully; then analyzed and parsed. Portions were also recited memoriter in the original. Suddenly the professor would call for the remainder of the passage in English, then go back to the original, and the students would, without hesitation, fulfil the required task. Nothing but the most thorough training and very great diligence could have effected such results. . . ." The professor referred to, the Rev. J. G. Barton, was educated in the Institute, and at that time, with the exception of three of the older professors, all the instructors in the academical department were men educated by Dr. Muhlenberg.

The range of buildings constituting St. Paul's College and Grammar School, as completed in 1840, measured two hundred and thirty-two feet in front, with a depth in the wings of one hundred and twenty-five feet. In a letter addressed to the Regents of the University of New York, for the purpose of obtaining the right to confer degrees, dated St. Paul's College, January 13th, 1840, and signed by the chief of the faculty of the Institution, the following statistics are given: "Number of students, 105; Volumes in Libraries, 7,000; value of property, $70,000; annual cost of salaries of Professors and Instructors, $9,000." All this was the result of Dr. Muhlenberg's. individual effort, and he remained the proprietor to the end; though not without repeated and earnest endeavors to transfer the whole to some competent body, such, as might insure its permanence as a church college and literary institution.

Amid such abundant care for the moral and intellectual training of the students, it may be assumed that physical culture was not overlooked. Very large provision was made for it. In their gardens;--each boy who fancied horticulture having one of his own;--their gymnasium; their healthful, manly, out-door sports of all kinds; in the wide rural range, beautiful and secluded, for pedestrian feats, and the ample stretch of shore for swimming and boating, better facilities for the acquisition of physical vigor could not exist. Sailboats were peremptorily excluded, but rowing within bounds, each boat with its own captain and crew, was a never-failing enjoyment. The bay allotted to such exercise, presented an animated and pleasing scene on a summer evening. The water all astir with boys and boats, colors streaming, oars flashing, young voices and young hearts all in merriest accord, illustrating the school-father's own words in the Eosy June song that he wrote for them--

"The blue waves are breaking
With mirth on the strand
Wild music is waking
O'er river and land,

Jocund breezes are blowing
Joy flushes the scene,
In the tide health is flowing,
Life bounds in the green."

The associations of these college haunts do not linger alone with those who grew up amongst them. Some visiting the Institution, as relatives of the boys, or friends of the Principal, can never forget how they felt the inspiration, the unworldliness of the place, as something unlike any other. The sweet simple chapel, looking out upon "the green pastures and still waters" where it was so refreshing to repair, not only morning and evening daily, but every day at noon-tide too, for a brief hallowed interval; to hear the rector read, with a force and reality all his own, a few verses from the Book of Life, followed by the chanting of a portion of the 19th Psalm, "The law of the Lord is an undefiled law," which never, thenceforth, to their ears could be separated from the music there wedded to it; and all closing with a moment of silent prayer, a few collects, and the benediction;--not more than ten minutes occupied by the whole.

There was nothing obligatory in the call to this noon service for any one. Only those boys came who were inclined to do so, but there were always a number to whom the noon-bell for this purpose, came with welcome summons; always a number, larger or smaller, of devout boys in the ranks. And how courteous and gentlemanly, with the manner of sons at home, were those young College Pointers.

Some of the more distinctive characteristics of Dr. Muhlenberg's educational work have been felicitously touched by the pen of one familiar, through an alumnus of the College, both with its methods and their results. The following is an extract: "Without the objectionable features of the great English schools, it yet most happily reproduced their leading excellencies. The whole system of teaching was brought into healthful subordination to sound principles of Christian nurture. The College chapel, that bugbear of most youths in our ordinary American institutions, was made at once the centre of the whole school life, and a place of genuine attractiveness. The Church Year, which has so much in its beautiful order to appeal to the young mind, was made practically, the school year; and today, among hundreds of men, in all ranks of life, some of them wearing the bishop's lawn, and others the judge's ermine, who have gone forth from College Point, there is scarce one who does not date his first appreciation of the church's feasts and fasts from the solemn and glowing services in its chapel. Wisely coupled with this Christian nurture, was a healthful and manly physical culture. The legends of the boyish sports at College Point, as narrated by those who shared them, reads like a chapter out of Tom Brown at Rugby, and there is little doubt that they have given an impulse to reforms in similar institutions, in the remotest corners of the land. But the secret of this success was not any system, however excellent, nor any skill, however thorough. It was in the rare and happy qualities of the presiding mind. That mind possessed the magnetism of Arnold without his impatience; the religious earnestness of Arnold, without his tendency to speculation. And the boys caught and reflected the master's spirit They are scattered to-day, from one end of the continent to the other; but they can no more forget, no matter what distances of time or space separates them from their boyhood scenes, that they were once the Doctor's boys, than they could forget their own existence.' Such memories are verily a part of their existence, even as the influences in which they have their roots are a part of their characters. The principles of College Point have taken shape in many other schools since then, and its pupils have, in more than one instance, risen to be among the most successful educators of our day; but there is not one of them that would not gladly and gratefully own his indebtedness to the venerable friend and father whose loving wisdom and patient labors inaugurated a new era in the Christian nurture of our youth, and lifted the church, in that matter to a higher level, both of effort and of aspiration." [Rev. Henry C. Potter, D.B.]

It would be for some of those who came personally tinder Dr. Muhlenberg's remarkable power as a Christian educator to do justice to this period of his life; one of these thus writes: "A thorough scholar himself, the standard of scholarship in his schools was always high. But education, with him, meant something more than Greek and Latin and mathematics. The boy's soul was of greater value than his mind, and we think we may say that, without exception, of the hundreds upon hundreds of boys who have been at various times under Dr. Muhlenberg's charge, there was not one whom he did not strive to benefit spiritually. He thoroughly understood a boy's nature, and knew the way to his heart, and religions was ever presented as a thing to be loved, not to be dreaded and shunned. It was a real thing. There was nothing in the discipline or the whole system of the school that presented the appearance of being in conflict with the teachings of the chapel Lent, without being made repulsive, was sombre; it made itself felt through all departments. Holy Week was quiet, and Good Friday like a day of mourning. Profane boys were not, knowingly, retained in the school. Irreligious boys, no matter what their other qualifications, could not be in the chapel choir; and wrong-doing, according to its degree, was followed by suspension from the choir. None but boys who gave some evidence of piety, were allowed to be about the chapel in decorating it. Many instances might be mentioned as going to show how, everywhere and in all departments, the influence of religion penetrated. It was the man acting out what he believed and felt, and this consistency and earnestness of his was the great secret of his influence in whatever he was engaged." [Rev. W. A. Matson, D.D.]

Another says: "His was the first idea and achievement of the church's Christian school; with high genuine learning, with free thought and hearty faith, with gentle, refining culture, conjoined with honest, sturdy scriptural morals and devotion, the love of the Saviour wedded to manly honor and truthfulness, all inspiring this pastor and preceptor's very self into the inner life of his young disciples." [Bishop Kerfoot.]

The benefits of the chapel were not confined to the collegiate family. Neighbors and visitors from outside loved to resort thither; and Dr. Muhlenberg's godly zeal and energy diffused a powerful religious influence far beyond the College precincts. The instructors who were candidates for the ministry were encouraged to serve as missionaries at appointed stations, others were sent as lay-readers to untaught places; and the rector himself, in the first years of the Institute, held Cottage-meetings from house to house. A wonderful worker he was, unremittingly impelled by his sense of Christian responsibility as to the use of time and opportunity; and with a wonderful, though almost unconscious, power for inspiring those around him with similar action.

All his pupils, whatever their maturer ecclesiastical opinions, agree as to the impressiveness of the religious services of the school--

"Its chapel, prayer, and praise,
With songs and rites that made them love
The church's festal days."

The word ritualism was not in vogue then, nor for long after, as applied to worship imitative of, or "advanced" towards, Romish ceremonial; and, however abounding in material expression the observance of fast and festival in St. Paul's College may have been, it would not, in the present technical sense of the word, be called "ritualistic." There was nothing in it of ecclesiology or mere prescription,--it was original with Dr. Muhlenberg. Said one who for fifteen years was tinder its influence, first as a pupil and later as teacher, "It was the poetry, of which evangelical truth was the concrete. The chapel was brilliant on the great festivals with candles and emblems. At the Christmas services a picture of the Virgin and Holy Child, was placed above the altar, wreathed with holly. On Good Friday, a picture of the crucifixion, with drapery of black. On Easter, oh how glorious the service which began with the rising sun! There were the bright lights and the fragrant flowers; among these always the Calla lily and the hyacinth. . . In that chapel many young hearts made the resolve which led on to the holy ministry, of which, in its highest type, the loving teacher, and eloquent preacher, was so perfect an exponent." [Rev. Dr. L. Van Bokkelen.]

In some late words of Dr. Muhlenberg's regarding the peculiar services of the College chapel, he says: "If we practised more or less of ritualism, it was certainly not of the Romish type, but the product of imagination in accordance with the verities of our religion. As educational means, I believe these services had only a happy effect on the minds of the young, though some of my brethren in the ministry, formerly try pupils, say that they were the germs of their present taste for churchly ceremonial and ornamented (?) services."

He made carols, songs, and hymns, and the tunes for them. Among these double compositions at this time, were "Jesus' name shall ever be," "Jerusalem, Jerusalem," "The mellow eve is gliding," and the well-known Christmas piece, "Carol, brothers, carol."

In 1842 he wrote a pendant to this last, with the same tune and chorus, which he called the "Wreath-makers' Ballad." The production of this little piece was made the occasion of one of those sweet, homelike condescensions, common to St. Paul's College. Dr. Muhlenberg kept the composition a secret, except towards a few chosen singers and musicians, whose aid he needed, and when these were well practised for a performance, he led them--they and their instruments decked with evergreens--into the room where the wreath-makers were at work for the Christmas decorations of the chapel. Then came the full burst of harmony and song, to the surprised delight of the boys. The following is the first verse of the ballad,

"Go ye to the woodland,
Where the laurel grows,
Where the running vine is
Green beneath the snows,
Bring ye goodly branches,
Cedar, box, and pine,
To make the chapel beauteous,
Wreath on wreath we'll twine."

He often led the young choristers himself, both on the organ and in singing, having a surpassingly fine baritone voice, which--his scholars say--carried all before him.

The above-mentioned lyric was of course designed to be sung by those engaged in arraying the chapel for Christmas. It is an illustration of the graceful, hallowed sentiment with which, in the least particulars, he sought to invest any service of the sanctuary; and again, of his genuine delight in beautifying the house of the Lord, independently of any traditional or ecclesiastical prescription; reminding one here of St. Jerome, in his panegyric on his friend Nepotian, where he makes it a part of the "commendable character "of the latter, that he "took care to have every thing neat and clean about the church, and made flowers, and leaves, and branches of trees contribute to the beauty and order of the holy place." . . . "These were but small things," says St. Jerome, ' but a pious mind, devoted to Christ, is intent upon things, great and small, and neglects nothing that may deserve the name of the very meanest office in the church." [Bingham's Antiquities of the Christian Church.]

Another and very different composition of this period was the Ode sung at the dinner given to Lord Ashburton by the merchants of New York on the conclusion of the treaty (Aug., 1842), which settled the northeastern boundary, and other questions of long dispute between Great Britain and the United States. Dr. Muhlenberg had greatly at heart the amity of the two countries. In the year 1838, Jan. 4th, he had written in his journal: "Trouble on the border. The Canadians have burned an American steamboat. ' O God, who makest wars to cease, interpose with thy Spirit and let not war disturb our land. Avert from us its horrors, nor let the unnatural sight be seen of sister nations engaged in strife and bloodshed.'" He had so painfully appreciated the dangerous position of affairs that the sealing of peace through the Ashburton treaty was a pure joy to his heart; and although making it a rule to decline all invitations to dinner-parties, and, certainly, never attending public dinners, the cause of the present festivity so exhilarated him, that almost spontaneously, he threw off the first stanza of this gratulatory ode. Then he hesitated, questioning if it were consistent in a clergyman to indite a song for a convivial occasion. He was encouraged by his friend Dr. Wainwright to complete the composition, and did so. It was forthwith set to music, and sung by Mr. Horn at the dinner, as follows:


All hail to Brittannia! henceforth we are one!
And hail to our guest, her American Son.
[So called from his American relations. Lord Ashburton married a Miss Bingham of Philadelphia, and their son William, who succeeded his father in the title, was born in that city.]
O'er the Lion and Eagle, now hovers the dove:
To-day, there's a banquet of national love.


O long live their glory, united and free,
The Imperial West, and the Queen of the Sea.

The Cross of St. George, and Columbia's Stars,
Oh! ne'er be they stained in unnatural wars;
With the olive entwine them--a sign to the world
Of freedom and peace, wherever unfurled;


O long live their glory, united and free,
The Imperial West, and the Queen of the Sea.

By our ancestors' blood--by the spirit they breathed;
By their time-honored laws--by the rights they bequeathed
By the muses, the sages, of soul-ruling powers;
By a Burke and a Chatham, though Britain's yet ours:


O long live their glory, united and free,
The Imperial West, and the Queen of the Sea.

By Letters, by Science, by all that can bind
In links never broke, heart to heart, mind to mind;
More than all by our FAITH--that bulwark of might,
To the Ruler and ruled--Magna Charta of right;


O long live their glory, united and free,
The Imperial West, and the Queen of the Sea.

Bright day for the earth when her two freest lands,
In concord anew have plighted their hands,
One more to the compact of Liberty sealed;
For the sake of mankind to be never repealed;


Then long live their glory, united and free,
The Imperial West, and the Queen of the Sea.

With Dr. Muhlenberg's unresting originating power, numerous projects in the interest of Christian education floated through his mind in these days, and not all of them wholly abortive, though of too remote or transient a character to claim attention here. Two of the number may be excepted, which took so much of substantial form as to clothe themselves in a printed prospectus, in connection with his existing work. The one, "A Fund for the Education of Teachers in the Protestant Episcopal Church," was a development of his deep conviction of the necessity of an order of trained teachers, in the church, who should choose the office as a vocation, on the same high and self-sacrificing principle, as a choice for the ministry is assumed to imply. An organization was formed; a responsible body of trustees created, and some funds raised which inured to the support of a number of prospective teachers, under the auspices of St. Paul's College, but was no further extended.

Some words of Dr. Muhlenberg's, in urging this design, ought not to be lost. "The education of en-' lightened Christian teachers," he wrote, "is second only to the education of the clergy, and is equally the proper business of the church. Provision for it should be permanent and large. Christianity, in order to retain her ascendency in the land, must train up capable and conscientious instructors, as well as learned and faithful ministers. The pastor and the school-master should go hand in hand. It is the policy of infidelity to sever them. Let it be the wisdom and the patriotism of Christianity to unite them, until everywhere, the Church, the College, and the School be regarded as a common cause."

The other project grew out of the ardent desire, which was ever present with him, to do more for poorer boys. He had always a number of free scholars in the Institute and College; one tenth of the whole was his rule, and these were always youths supposed to show some fitness for the sacred ministry, or for teaching. But the remaining nine-tenths, in order to his making ends meet, had to be students able to pay three hundred dollars a year for their board and tuition, and with his deep sympathy for the poor of Christ's flock, he grudged giving himself so largely to the sons of the rich. In this feeling he planned a distinct establishment on the College grounds, which he proposed should be called "Cadets' Hall," for the training of young soldiers of the church militant from among another class than that of most of his scholars. There were to be plainer accommodations and a plainer education, at a cost not exceeding one hundred dollars a year, taking into account certain labors to be performed by the boys as a compensation in part for their maintenance; a plan approximately carried out, it may be added, thirty years later at St. Johnland.

It failed to come to pass at College Point, when every thing promised well for its initiation, mainly, it would seem, through the withdrawal of the young clergyman upon whom Dr. Muhlenberg had relied to take the internal headship of the Institution. He was always more concerned for the right sort of workers than for pecuniary means, largely as his projects demanded of the latter; and had a regal way of saying, "What is money? Only let us have the man!" Again "Money will not make the man for the work, but the right man will, in time, secure the money."

Numerous prose compositions, longer or shorter, were produced during this educational period, principally for the use or benefit of the School and College, but some for the church at large. Among the latter may be named Hints on Catholic Union, in 1835; Claims of the Holy Week, 1840, and Devotions for Holy Week, with the Litany of the Passion, in 1842. The Collects of this Litany, so beautiful in their chaste fervor and primitive simplicity, were afterwards incorporated in the Directory of St. Johnland.

On the 16th of September, 1842, Dr. Muhlenberg completed his forty-sixth year. It was vacation time, and his journal shows that, with a slight interruption, he spent the whole day in retirement and devotion. His personal religion was no child's play, but the wrestlings of a giant for victory, or rather a meek saint's ceaseless agonizing in "perfecting holiness." His enlightened and delicate conscience induced an exalted ideal; and then he took the Gospel precepts as he found them, in their native force and directness, not weakening, or attempting to explain away, as some do, the passages, "Be ye perfect," "If any shall smite thee on the one cheek," "Give to him that asketh of thee," and the like, but making such his standard of Christian duty in their plain and obvious meaning.

In all that appears in his diary of these spiritual conflicts, it is remarkable that the antagonist he most strenuously and persistently does battle with, is what he calls his "constitutional indolence." In the face of his pre-eminence in good works, and the laboriousness of his service for the church, this sounds like an affectation or distortion of conscientiousness. But not so. He was too real to affect any thing, and too sensible to be mistaken. Moreover, beyond most, he understood himself. .

There were strong opposites in his nature. He had an excitable imagination, lively sensibility, and great mental activity, yet, was undoubtedly, all along, tormented by a physical vis inertias, which was only conquered through very vigorous and unremitting effort. "Mr. Supine," he would sometimes, half-sadly, half-playfully call himself; or again: "I feel like a log floating on the sluggish stream of life; but a divine breath stirs the air, and I resuscitate." In his boyhood he had written, "I should be the happiest of mortals if I could be industrious," and in the first year of his ministry in Lancaster, we find him saying, "Once more I have determined to keep a diary, to record my experience, and how I spend my time, hoping through God' grace, it will be a check on my indolence."

It is said "we are most that, of which we are least conscious." It was eminently so here. Dr Muhlenberg never seemed aware how great a worker he was, nor could he understand any chance compliment paid him to that effect. To "him that overcometh," is the seven-fold promise; this may explain the paradox of a naturally indolent temperament, with an abundantly fruitful life. The higher the house is, the deeper must be the foundation, and the conflict was probably all the more severe, that it was so little apparent; though those nearest to him were always well aware of his jealousy in "redeeming the time." With St. Paul the habitual sentiment of his life was, "Not as though I had already attained." Were it proper to transcribe the more secret exercises of his soul, what has been feebly said above would be very powerfully and encouragingly illustrated; making it evident that his superior growth in holiness was less the result of any extraordinary spiritual gifts, than of the ordinary grace of God, most persistently and earnestly used.

A single leaf from these Sacra Privata, may be given as exhibiting his Christian watchfulness in another direction: "I have just read M------'s reply to B-----. I have no doubt of the correctness of his representations. B----- is an intolerant man--save me, O God, from a similar spirit In thy providence I have many persons and things under my control, but grant I may never set up undue claims. May I always recognize the rights of others; may I never expect a mean dependence and servile compliance from those whom I have benefited, or laid under obligations. Let me be always patient, condescending, and forbearing. O give me the mind of Jesus Christ. I know the danger I am in of looking for too much deference from those about me. But O save me. Guide and direct me always. Preserve me from personal vanity. I would hide myself wholly behind my Saviour. Take me as an instrument, O my God, and use me for thy glory!"

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