Project Canterbury

The Life and Work of William Augustus Muhlenberg
Doctor in Divinity

By Anne Ayres

New York: T. Whittaker, 1889.

CHAPTER XI. 1843-1844.

Fifteen Years of unbroken Service.--Onerous Labors.--A Holiday.--Tractarianism.--Its Impression on him.--Notes from Journals.--Voyage to Europe.--Arnold Buffam.--Sight-seeing.--A Breakfast at Oriel.--John Henry Newman.--Dr. Pusey.--Ravished with Oxford.--In Paris.--The Wesleyan Chapel.--The Saintly Professor.--Preparations for Return.--A Sincere Prayer answered.--His Ecclesiastical Position

THE prime of Dr. Muhlenberg's life was spent in the toilful seclusion of his school and college; and without any more remission, during fifteen years, than the ordinary school vacation. He went on, session after session, throwing himself with sincerest interest into the present concerns, and future welfare, of his young charge; making a parent's allowances for failure, yet never relaxing the standard of excellence at which they were to aim, always looking steadily at the end set before him, amidst the continual heedlessness, perverse ness, and unthankfulness incident to the task.

Did he never weary all this while, his courage never flag, nor his spirits droop? Sometimes. His strong faith never faltered, nor was he ever left without that which he esteemed his greatest reward--namely, tokens of God's grace working in the hearts of some of his scholars; but the secular cares inseparable from his position often pressed heavily upon him, and so many continuous years of school routine, sensibly crushed down the natural elasticity of his mind.

After being in harness nine years, he had written: "I feel 'stale,' as the boys say, and need freshening. ... At fifty I shall be superannuated, unless I have a little play-spell.....School, school, school! Boys! Servants!--I fear I shall be an irritable old man if I remain surrounded by these vexations, without a chance of rallying my strength."

Nature and Common Sense, as well as Christian Prudence cried "stop awhile," and, thus impelled, he made those plans for a two years' sojourn abroad, which were so painfully set aside by the death of his only brother.

In the year 1843, the long-sought opportunity of absence came, but only as a summer holiday. Questions were, at that time, agitating the church on both sides of the Atlantic, which on his part gave heightened interest to a visit to England. Tractarianism was at its height. Dr. Pusey and John Henry Newman were on every one's lips. The earnestness of these leading minds, and of the Oxford men generally, had greatly impressed Dr. Muhlenberg. He read their works, and felt their subtle power, while by no means prepared to accept their fundamental church principles. "Like all great movements, this of the Tractarians had its mingled elements, and while in reality, it was based on dogmatic and ecclesiastical claims, which made it most uncatholic, there were at the outset, certain features that won the sympathy of many devout minds. To them it seemed the awakening of the sleeping forces of the church of Christ. Who does not remember how it kindled Christian art and poetry, created new plans of charity, built free chapels and threw off the cold formalism of the service? With men of the large spirit of Dr. Muhlenberg, it was impossible to regard it without appreciation of such true features."

He was, for some three years, more or less positively, under the influence of these sentiments. He read Newman's and Manning's Sermons in the College chapel, and the Instructors became faster scholars in the essential teachings of those writers than himself. We do not find any sermons from his own pen, at this period, and his journals make only slight allusions to the new ecclesiastical element, germinating in the Institution. These memoranda are more broken and fragmentary than formerly, but they are filled, as heretofore, with minutes of his engrossing daily cares, and the old, never-ceasing strivings for the salvation of his boys. Now and then, appear jottings, glancing at "Puseyism," and which as incidentally showing us something of the workings of his mind on that subject are worth transcribing. After one of the voluntary meetings, he writes:

"We might have a genuine revival of-religion, for the boys are ready for it, but I am left so much alone. The Instructors are excellent men, but do not feel called upon to make special efforts for the conversion of individual boys. Our present state is certainly unfavorable to zeal."

". . . . Read one of Bishop Bull's sermons in the chapel. I must pay more attention to these sound English divines.--They say Oxford divinity puts Christ out of sight--not in my soul. Blessed Jesus, thou knowest from first to last,--Thou art my only hope. My own righteousness? I abhor it."

". . . . Went to see Morse's telegraph--wonderful invention. With democracy and the advancement of physical science, man will be Lord, instead of God. I see another antichrist than that of Rome."

". . . . Bought Watts' Divine Songs for Children at the American Tract Society, and some engravings, at the Sunday School Union. Somehow I have a remaining affection for these 'Schismatical Shops.'"

". . . . Called on Dr. ------. Told him I agreed to his article in the Churchman on Toleration of the Romanizers, but that it must be extended equally in the other direction. 'No, no,' he exclaimed, 'in that quarter there must be extermination.' 'Then,' said I, 'We part company,' and part company we must in church matters, for I shall not fall into his ranks.--I told him he failed in being a great man, just where so many have failed: 'To party gave up what was meant for mankind.'"

He sailed for England in the ship Siddons, the end of April, 1843, taking with him two of his graduated pupils as travelling companions. The College was loft in the hands of a competent corps of professors and instructors, with the Rev. Dr. Wainwright, afterwards Bishop of New York, in the rector's place, as its responsible head; the secular affairs of the institution, meanwhile, devolving upon the Rev. Libertus Van Bokkelen, one of his church sons, and for many years his most efficient business associate, as secretary of the Institute and College.

The letters and journals of this holiday show the joyous rebound of his spirits, let loose from their long pressure. His first letter to ------, at College Point, written at sea, illustrates pleasingly his merry humor and other features of his character. The following is an extract:

"We shot off from Sandy Hook with a stiff northwester that carried away two of our sails during the night. The motion made me sick, but I was well again by the next night, and so have continued with a good appetite and excellent spirits ever since. I have read a great deal, and written two sermons, preaching yesterday, and "the Sunday preceding. On the first Sunday we were out, I read only the service; so many of the passengers were sick, any thing more was not desirable. . . . You would be gratified to see what an American I show myself, already. There is an Old Hickory Quaker abolitionist on board, who, in his zeal against slavery, abuses his own country so outrageously, before a number of Englishmen, that I can not help telling him my mind on some points, even at the expense of being thought a slavery man by the passengers. He is a very sharp old fellow, and has all his facts ready, so that I do not venture to encounter him in argument. We have often wished you were here, and then we should have rare sport. He is quite a spouter, and is going to the 'World's Convention' to be held in London on slavery, where I dare say he will make a figure. Perhaps you have heard of him--Arnold Buffam. He is the most conspicuous character among us, and has contributed not a little to relieve the monotony of the voyage. A German gentleman on board seriously observed to P-----, whom by the way the old abolitionist vexes exceedingly by breaking down P-----'s regular logic with his facts (Alas! that he has so many facts)--'that we must look after that old fellow in England, or he will do our country a great deal of harm.'--So you see, we are going to look after him, and are devising what we shall do to keep him from going to the 'World's Convention'--for only think of the tall, gray-headed, gold-spectacled patriarch standing in his place at Exeter Hall, and telling the thousands there, that 'for the last forty years the American Congress has not passed one act except for the benefit of the Southern States, so much does the slave-holding interest predominate over every other in the country'--and that 'the object of the Southerners in the last war was only that the English might destroy the Northern cities and towns'--and similar speeches that he has made to us. It will never do--we must contrive some measures for gagging him, for P----- vows he's a regular traitor. Accordingly, should you hear of our getting into difficulty, by an attempt on the old gentleman, you must set it to the account of my amor patriae. After all, to tell you the truth, I consider 'Friend Buffam' a genuine American--that is, he carries out our American principles, as they are held in the abstract, to their legitimate consequences. In. politics, religion, and his utilitarian philosophy, he is a genuine Democrat."

The trip was an enjoyable one. He kept lively running notes of the journey throughout, which show that while he did his duty diligently in sight-seeing, according to the guide-books, he acquainted himself besides with many persons and places, more interesting to the philanthropist than to the ordinary tourist. He looked into the English factories and visited a colliery, descending a shaft to the mine for the purpose; informing himself, as opportunity served, of the inside of things, and looking, with the eye of the Christian philosopher, upon much that escapes the common gaze.

His letters of introduction gave him access to the chief dignitaries, and others of the English Church, who treated him with marked kindness; though he complains that Mr. Newman, the one above all others with whom he desired to converse at length, afforded him no opportunity to do so, albeit otherwise sufficiently kind and polite. What he records of his impressions as to the latter is a testimony to his penetration and sagacity, justified by succeeding events.

"June 26th, 1843. We breakfasted according to invitation with Mr. Newman, in the common room at Oriel College. Mr. N. talked a great deal, continually introducing new and indifferent topics, apparently with the view of preventing my introducing any. He was exceedingly polite, but did not seem altogether at ease: He was as gracious as possible, but gave no encouragement to intimacy. He said nothing which could be repeated to his disadvantage, or which he might not have said to any one the most hostile to his sentiments. The simplicity of his manner did not strike me as altogether real. He is not transparent, yet seems to be artless. If he were an accomplished Jesuit (which God forbid I should say he is) his manner would be, I fancy, just what it is. I do not believe that he is in any secret understanding with Rome--but I have no doubt that he and his immediate friends and followers have more sympathy with the Romanists than with any class of the clergy in his own church. He made tea for us, put the butter on our plates before we sat down, and got up from the table several times to do little matters while we were at breakfast."

"Sept. 16. Took a fly with K. to Littlemore . . . Newman again very gracious. Had heard of me, he said, from Mozely and by letter from Dr. Seabury. Appeared very glad to see me, invited K. and myself right off to dine with him to-morrow at Oriel In ten minutes we were in our fly again. . ."

"Sunday, Sept. 17. Heard Mr. Newman at St. Mary's from. Isaiah--'All things new.' (Completely himself.) . . . . Dined with him in the common room at Oriel. ... He asked questions about the American Church--said 'that as so many of our clergymen came over from the Dissenters he thought they might be likely to go further, i. e., to Rome.' He bade us good-by, very kindly. Welcomes the coming, speeds the parting guest K------ thinks I am too suspicious of Newman."

He had a more satisfactory interview with Dr. Pusey, which he thus describes:

"Called on Dr. Pusey at Christ Church College. He sent word by his servant woman that he was sick, but that he would see me. I hesitated at first, but went in--found him lying on his sofa, his room rather in confusion, filled with books, papers; etc. I had sent in my general letters from the bishops, and after sitting a little while gave my letter from Dr. Seabury, with the American edition of his letter to the Bishop of Oxford, with the marginal notes of the Florida popish priest. Thinking I had come on a begging expedition, Dr. P. said he feared I would find them so much oppressed by their own objects, that I could not do much, but I soon relieved him of his mistake. He then talked freely and very kindly. He dwelt upon the want of men--men of plain, good sense and warm hearts--to labor among the common people, for which they would be qualified without a university education. I told him that in America we felt the same want, and that some of our bishops would be glad to have provision made for ordaining men, as deacons, to advance no further in the ministry. He thought they would have to come to that in England. 'Such men,' he observed, 'might be more useful in certain situations than better-educated men. They could enter more into the feelings of plain people, and use their plain language, often more expressive and affecting than our Latinized English both in conversation and preaching.' He said he noticed a great increase of seriousness among the young men of the university, and on this and other subjects connected with the prospects of the church spoke as a devout man full of faith in God."

In relation to this interview with Dr. Pusey a little incident of seven years later date, may be mentioned. Dr. P., in inquiring of some American guests about Dr. Muhlenberg, said: "He was the most interesting visitor we ever had from the other side." When this was repeated to Dr. M-----, he instantly disclaimed it, saying--"Dr. Pusey has forgotten, or makes a mistake; he meant some one else; Dr.-----, probably." But the mistake was Dr. Muhlenberg's. He was ravished with Oxford itself: "Oh the surpassing beauty of those academic shades! The sweet gardens of St. John's College, can I ever forget that Eden--Magdalene College--The beautiful cloisters, the velvet sward, Addison's walk! What shall I say of my emotions on first seeing these venerable seats of religion and learning. Their hallowed air--their sombre elegance--their exquisite architecture!"

The month of August was spent in Paris, visiting all the usual points and places of interest, getting a glimpse of the glittering shows, and seeing more than one specimen of the morals, of that centre of civilization. If he did not say, with one of his lay friends, passing through the gay metropolis, "I should be afraid of myself to stay here any length of time," he did say: "Often I ask myself, 'What am I doing here?' How much am I out of my element. I long to be at home again!"

On a certain Sunday, instead of dining, as his travelling companions did, with the chaplain of the British Embassy where he had attended church in the morning, he writes: "Dined at the Ordinary at half-past five; at seven o'clock went to a Wesleyan Methodist chapel in Rue Royale. I can not help saying that I enjoyed myself. To pass from the gayety and dissipation of the Place de la Concorde, amusement and frolic on every side, into a little assembly of devout worshippers, where every thing was plain, quiet, and solemn, was a grateful relief. I joined heartily in the hymns in which all united--the tunes Devizes and St. Ann's. The sermon, on the bliss of Heaven, was a plain and earnest discourse, and pleased me as well, with one or two exceptions, as any I have heard abroad--I can not say as much for the extemporary prayers which were too familiar. The preacher seemed to be a good man. A collection was made for the extension of pure religion on the Continent, to which I could not refrain from giving a five-franc piece. . . . If I had passed the evening at the chaplain's, talking about the amusements of Paris, etc., it would have been 'all right' with some of my friends, but spending an hour as I did, was 'grievously wrong," they thought. I fear my heart will always be Low Church. . . ."

While in Paris, he fell much in love with a saintly French Roman Catholic, M. Meynier, whom he had engaged to give him a lesson in the language at seven o'clock every morning--"I am delighted with my French teacher," he writes, "one of God's elect. Little use in my attempting to learn much of French, but I am glad to know such a man. Here are some of the professor's sentiments: 'We are looking out for something. The divine element in many is breathing night and day for the Holy Spirit. This element is publicly absent from the whole church, but stirring in the hearts of individuals crying unceasingly for his coming. We are in a transition state, waiting for a new dispensation that shall restore and harmonize the church. I read the Bible. St. Paul and St. John are better than all the doctors.'"

"On my remarking," wrote Dr. M., "that Paris is a very bad place, the professor said, 'It is the worst and the best place in the world. Here are a great many charities and six thousand young men who devote themselves to works of piety and mercy.'"

He made proposals to M. Meynier to return with him, probably with a view to his engagement in St. Paul's College. The idea was entertained a little while, but then given up. After their final lesson, he thus wrote: "M. M----- declines going to the United States at present. He is looking for some manifestation of the church in France, and thinks it must soon appear--wants to see Rome again. I felt sorry in parting with him. He gave me an affectionate kiss on each cheek."

Dr. Muhlenberg had arranged to make the passage home with Captain Nye in the Independence, which was to sail from Liverpool, Sept. 25th. In order to spend a few more weeks in England, he left Paris on the 30th of August. On the point of departure he writes: "Spent the greater part of the morning in packing up. What an employment for a traveller in Paris, at such a time of day! Why was I not in the Louvre again? Really, I believe I am homesick, and there was a kind of comfort in communing with my portmanteau. Boys! I forgive your annual disobedience, in getting down your trunks a week before vacation."

He was back again among his boys, in October, soon after the beginning of the session. He returned neither confirmed nor disenchanted as to Tractarianism, but in a state of vibration, ecclesiastically, with undoubtedly a preponderance towards Oxford. In a subsequent entry in his journal, after noting several Anglican writers whose works he had been studying, he adds: "May God show me my error if I am wrong in thinking that these men, in the main, are right!"

This sincere prayer was granted. In what manner can be most authentically told in his own words, as contained in a brief statement of his ecclesiastical position, made for a specific purpose, in the year 1872, as follows:

"I was never a High Churchman. Receiving my theology from Bishop White, the Apostolic Succession and Sacramentarian doctrine were alike foreign to my system,--if I ever had a system; but I have been aimed by High Churchmen because of my Liturgic, or what would be now called Ritualistic, propensities, or, to use another word--aesthetic.

"As for the demonstrations of my religion, they were a combination of the dramatic, the devout, and the reverential elements in my nature, sanctified more or less, I trust, by divine grace. I have never been an actor, nor cared for spectators, yet, I delighted in the scenic, which, as far as church performances were concerned, was, I always flattered myself, imagination consecrated by religion.

"My church school at Flushing and College Point, so many of the pupils of which are of the High Church party, was not such in theory; which was, that religious instruction, to be effective, must be according to some one existing system. Christianity can not be inculcated in the abstract. As an Episcopalian, of course, I could only train my pupils as Episcopalians. On the-same principle as a Presbyterian could only train his is Presbyterians. At the beginning of the Institute it Flushing, Bishop Hobart saw this, and said it was defective in churchmanship, as my pupils would be taught that the Episcopal was not the one church, but one of the Protestant churches. Afterwards, however, seeing there was so much of church order in the school, be commended it to his diocese and once administered the rite of confirmation to a class from among the pupils.

"When the 'Tracts for the Times' appeared, I was much interested in them, and still more in Mr. Newman's sermons. These, I must confess, captivated me. I read them frequently in the chapel of St. Paul's College, and frankly acknowledge that for some three years, I might have been classed among the Puseyites. Yet, how radically wanting I was in their system, may be judged from the fact that I never received the doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration.

"But the Instructors caught the infection, and 'Puseyism,' not however to the degree attributed to us, prevailed in the religious sentiment of the College; Then, I began to see that its logical results were Romanism; and from that, if it were the truth, I would not shrink.

"Mr. Newman's 'Doctrine of Development,' fully opened my eyes. I well remember, how, having read half through the book, I tossed it from me, exclaiming, 'My soul is escaped as a bird from the snare of the fowler,' and some of my then pupils, now in the ministry, will recollect the emphasis with which I repeated to them these words: 'I was far out on the bridge, so to speak, that crosses the gulf between us and Rome. I had passed through the mists of vulgar Protestant prejudices, when I saw before me "The Mystery of Abomination." I flew back, not to rest on the pier of High Churchism, from which this bridge of Puseyism springs, but on the solid rock of Evangelical truth, as published by the Reformers."

"When I began the Church of the Holy Communion, as I have often said, I was in the Penumbra of Puseyism which had its effect in giving the style to the architecture of the church, and particularly to the canopy with its decorations, over the Holy Table. In defence of the latter, it must be remembered that it is the Open Bible and not the Host that is there enshrined. But though it is no more than what we see in many a Lutheran church, I could wish it had less the appearance of a Roman altar, considering the imitations of the Roman mass, now so often seen in our churches."

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