Project Canterbury

The Life and Work of William Augustus Muhlenberg
Doctor in Divinity

By Anne Ayres

New York: T. Whittaker, 1889.

CHAPTER XIV. 1849-1851.

Impetus given to Hospital Project.--A Day in the Annals of the Church.--Public Plea for a Church Hospital.--St. Luke's Incorporated.--A Hundred Thousand Dollars asked.--Large Subscriptions.--Robert B. Minturn and the Anonymous Five Thousand.--First Idea as to Names of Donors.--Review of Cholera Summer.--Death of Choir Boy.--Labors during Epidemic.--Visiting Cholera Hospital.--Another Chorister taken.--Music of the Church of the Holy Communion.--Boy Choirs.--Mode of Supporting a Free Church.--The Weekly Eucharist and Daily Service.--A Missionary Meeting.--Rubrics not Choke-Strings of the Heart.--The Friday Evening Lecture.--The Sacramental System.--Bishop Ives's Submission to Rome.--Would like to wear coarser Clothes.--Devoted filial Love.--His Mother's last Illness and Death.--The Funeral.--Tender Sentiment.

THE cholera visitation of 1849 gave an impetus both to the Hospital project and to the Sisterhood. In Dr. Muhlenberg's mind, these two organizations were never dissociated, whatever the apprehensions of others. Without an assured prospect of such voluntary nurses, he never would have attempted the formation of a church hospital, often uttering as an axiom, "No Sisters, no St. Luke's." So when, in the imminence of the pestilence, a Sister, and a companion like-minded, made their initiatory experience in one of the hospitals improvised by the city for that exigency, he saw in it a promise for the future which inspired him with new encouragement to prosecute his Hospital idea.

'There had been an addition to the original nest-egg on each successive festival of St. Luke's since 1846, and a few good women had formed themselves into a little hospital circle, for the contribution, through some needle-work, of their mite, "in token of their faith that what required thousands would one day come to pass"; but Dr. Muhlenberg made no particular exertion for the advancement of his plan until the autumn of this year, 1849, when St. Luke's Day was observed by his congregation as an especial "Thanksgiving" for deliverance from cholera, two only of its members having succumbed to the disease. A number of clergymen took part in the occasion, and the usual offertory, waa converted into a general thank-offering to be applied to the Hospital fund, and was so considerable in amount as to warrant, with other signs of encouragement, an immediate effort to give practical shape to the project

Before retiring that night, Dr. Muhlenberg made the following entry in his journal: "Oct. 18, 1849. Blessed be God for this good and happy day. The seed is planted, and I trust by the hand of Him who will not let it die. This St. Luke's Day may be remembered in the annals of the church!"--A prophetic hope which he lived to see realized far beyond his anticipations; not only in the singular success of St. Luke's Hospital, but in the influence of that institution in raising the character of such provision for the sick generally, and in the multitude of fine, well-ordered hospitals erected after its pattern.

In the following winter his earnest and eloquent "Plea for a Church Hospital" was written, consisting; of two lectures, which were delivered, first before his own congregation, and afterwards in St. Paul's, St. John's, and, perhaps, some other of the city churches. With the actual St. Luke's before us, it is well to carry the mind back to those days of trembling hope and endeavor, and so see something of the cost, whereby, on the Founder's part, the church came into possession of so fair a jewel. He had no confidence aside from persistent prayer in any thing that he undertook, nor did he venture to seat himself to write these "Hospital Lectures" without first pouring out his heart in supplication for divine approval and assistance. Some of his recorded petitions on this subject are transcribed, as essential to the illustration of the spirit and manner in which this important undertaking was begun:

"O Lord, I set about this work praying for thy guidance and direction from the beginning. . . . Ought there not to be a House of Refuge for our suffering brethren? Hast thou not put it into my heart to stir up the people to the work? Shall I Dot fail in my duty, if I do not perform what I trust thou hast called me to do--unworthy as I am, of myself, to undertake the least service for thee? O give me thy Holy Spirit. O purify me, dear Lord, in attempting this labor of love.....O my blessed Jesus, who didst pass so much of thy time in healing the sick, giving of thy spirit! Be with me in showing thy disciples the offices of love they owe to their poor and suffering brethren. I would begin and carry on the work wholly in thy name. Purge me from all vanity and self-consequence; strengthen me; give me necessary health. Guide me. I consecrate myself to thee anew in this service which I pray thee to accept at my hands. O Jesus, make it thine own--thine own work from beginning to end!"

In May, 1850, St. Luke's Hospital became an Incorporation in law, with Mr. Robert B. Minturn as President of the Board of Managers. The idea of a hospital on a scale worthy of the communion whose ornament and pride it now is, was received with such general favor, that it was resolved the scheme should be developed beyond its first thought, which was that of simply a parochial institution, and the Board of Managers passed a resolution to solicit for it the sum of one hundred thousand dollars. "In pursuance of this," wrote Dr. Muhlenberg in his sketch of the "History and Progress of St. Luke's," a meeting of churchmen was held in the Stuyvesant Institute, at which, after addresses by several of the clergy, of different schools or parties, but one in the charity which stills even theological polemics, committees of collection were appointed, and the work was put fairly afloat."

A large number of subscriptions were speedily obtained, and for the most part in sums far exceeding any thing to which people were accustomed in those days, in the way of charitable benefactions. 'There was one subscription of twenty thousand dollars, another of ten thousand, two of five thousand, and so on.

It was a gift of ten thousand dollars, privately put into Dr. Muhlenberg's hand by Mr. Robert B. Minturn as a personal thank-offering for an especial favor, which gave the first impulse towards soliciting the hundred thousand dollars. Later, there came, in the ordinary Sunday morning offertory, five bills of one thousand each, labelled, "For St. Luke's Hospital," without any clew to the donor. Mr. Minturn was one with Dr. Muhlenberg in desiring that no names should be affixed to the subscriptions and donations for this object. He happened to be in the vestry when the five one thousand dollar bills alluded to were' brought in among the usual offerings. "Doctor, let me hold those bills, let me hold them a moment," he said in his quick way. "I want to touch such money." But it was soon manifest that so high and blessed a way of giving could not generally prevail under modern business arrangements, and the ordinary method of recording and acknowledging donations and subscriptions obtained. It is observable, however, that in the list of subscribers to the building, appended to the printed report, only the names are given, the amounts severally contributed are not published.

The cholera plague had, it is true, fallen very lightly upon the congregation of the Holy Communion, yet one of its two victims was a lovely boy-chorister, so dear to the pastor, that his sudden removal was a severe blow. He was playing on the sidewalk in the moonlight before he went to bed; the next day, after morning prayer, an older brother ran over to the church, saying that Fred was very ill with cholera. Hastening to his bedside, Dr. Muhlenberg found the child already in the hopeless stage of the disease, but the little fellow knew his loving pastor's voice, as he bent over him in prayer, and with a last effort threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. A little after he was gone.

Dr. Muhlenberg was unusually affected by this boy's death. The same tender melancholy that had absorbed him in his youth when-the good old Provost of the University of Philadelphia died so suddenly, and also in two other succeeding bereavements, again possessed him powerfully, and this to his own surprise.

"Strange that I should be thus affected," he writes. "I could not have believed it of my old heart Perhaps, mingled with my feelings, is a little self-reproach that I have not said much to Fred of late. Oh that I had known he was so soon to be taken from us! "

Again, later: "It is now three weeks since Fred's death, and yet my mind lingers on thoughts of the boy. I can not pass his flower-bed in my yard without a sweet melancholy--Is it morbid feeling? I can recollect but three other occasions in my life when I experienced the same kind of pensive grief--though grief it is not ... In those cases it seemed natural enough, but it is strange here. ... I see the good that I trust will come of it--my attachment to boys will be more wholly spiritual. I will try to lead hia older brothers to God. There shall be more perfect order in the choir," etc., etc.

"Fred was thirteen years of age--a bright and lovely boy, fond of the House of God, in whose services for more than a year he had constantly assisted"--so it read in the published notice of his death, signed with the pastor's initials. The sentiment of the simple funeral indicated the same tender hand as having arranged it all A note remains of this: "Thursday, Aug. 30th, 1849. My dear Fred's funeral. Eight of his boy companions were pall-bearers. The whole service was in the church; in the 'committal," at the words, 'looking for the general resurrection,' the boys cast flowers on the coffin, some of which had been planted by Fred in his little garden in my yard. The body was carried on the bier, by the boys, to St. Mark's vault for interment. Nearly all who came to the church followed to the burial-place, including women and girls, contrary to the custom here, but obeying the impulse of their feelings. Fred was greatly beloved in the neighborhood. It was a large funeral for a boy under any circumstances, but particularly so in these cholera times."

That cholera summer was one of incessant work for Dr. Muhlenberg, and also for his especial assistants and the few wealthier of the parishioners, who remained in town. Perhaps that the congregation, so many of; whose members were of the poorer class, were visited no more severely by the scourge is in good measure attributable to the care the pastor took of them. He went constantly in and out among these humble Ones, cheering them and helping them physically as well as spiritually. He sent them, as we have seen, on "Fresh Air" excursions, and drew up a code of very plain instructions, which he caused to be printed in large type, to teach them what best to do to keep, well, and how to act under the premonitory symptoms of the epidemic, as, also, where to obtain the necessary remedies, medicine, etc., not omitting, in conclusion, to exhort them against being afraid to help each other if any were taken ill, and fortifying them kindly for this duty by an explanation that the cholera was not in the ordinary sense of the term "catching."

In addition to this, he was unremitting in his visits to the Cholera Hospital in West Thirteenth Street, which by proximity he considered one of his fields of duty, and where he did not work without encouraging results. At the beginning of his Cholera Hospital ministrations which some thought an uncalled-for risk, he wrote: "Let me make allowance for my brother clergymen who do not see it their duty; but if it is only a kind word to the sufferers, it is something for Christ's sake,--it is the 'cxip of cold water.' To pass by such an hospital on your way to church, without ever entering it, seems to me is to play the priest'and the Levito of the parable." Nevertheless, he was constitutionally timid about sickness.

This memorable year was not to close without the loss of yet another beloved boy-singer. A leaf from the pastor's own note-book again gives the particulars. "Monday, Dec. 17th, 1849. This morning, at four o'clock, a messenger came for me, from Dr. Coxe to see his son. I rose, hastened to the house through the thick fog, and found the dear child dying--the family kneeling around the bed. 'There, Doctor, is your little chorister,' said his mother. I prayed as I could with the distracted family--ere I was done the boy was no more. I stayed some time trying to comfort them. About ten days before, at the Ladies' Employment Society, I had said to his mother, 'Willie is now ready to take Fred's place. He must go into the upper choir.' She asked me if I remembered how she received what I said. I did. She sighed, and a sad expression passed over her face. 'Your words,' she said, 'seemed prophetic--"the upper choir."' William Augustine Coxe was a lovely, beautiful boy, the very ideal of a chorister. [A nephew of Bishop Coxe, of Western New York.] His voice was coming out finely in the alto, and we calculated on having him for a long while, he being but ten years old. He was to have sung the alto in 'Arise and shine' on Twelfth Night--just as Fred began last year. Down-stairs too "(with the lower choir by the chancel), "he had been sitting precisely in Fred's place. So God takes my boys--I trust to himself. I have often talked of dressing them in surplices, but he arrays them in his own white robes."

Dr. Muhlenberg's character and position, with his-fine musical taste, enabled him to make the worship of his church, with regard to the music, exceptionally perfect The benefit to a boy of such an association soon became understood; so that he had always his choice of singing boys, and rarely sweet were the voices of some thus chosen. On the other hand, his own love of music, and the holy joy he found in praising God, naturally led him to take great pleasure in these young choristers. But he failed not to watch himself jealously in this particular; and when, in a certain instance, a pre-eminently beautiful voice was likely to be no longer available, he exclaimed to an enthusiastic musical friend sympathizing with him in the case, "Ah! my dear E-----, I fear we have taken a carnal delight in C-----'s singing."

The Psalter was chanted antiphonally, the boys of the lower choir leading the congregation. The Pointed Psalter which they used was arranged from a larger work on Church Music prepared by Dr. Muhlenberg in conjunction with Dr. Wainwright On Friday evenings, after the weekly lecture, the members of the church generally were practised in congregational singing. There were no hired singers except the precentor, or leader as he was there called. '

Looking back many years later upon some of the distinctive features of his church, Dr. Muhlenberg said: "I never thought myself much of a musician. Had I been more of one, I might not have been satisfied with the kind of music I have been mostly concerned for as suitable for the worship of the church. I have always desired the chorus of the congregation, not however to the exclusion of more elaborate music by a trained choir. My abhorrence of a quartette is sufficiently recorded in my 'Lecture on Congregational Singing.' I was the first to introduce boy choirs in New York, but I reflect upon that with less pleasure when I see how they have since been used, not to lead, but to be heard alone; their voices too often shrill and unpleasant from the want of culture. I fear also the effect upon the poor boys themselves. I am glad I have written some things that have met with general acceptance, such as the Christmas Carol, the Advent Choral, etc., and I wish that as in some other things the clergy have followed the customs of the Church of the Holy Communion, they had also done so in gathering their congregations together for the practice of congregational singing."

The "Weekly Eucharist, the Offertory, and the Daily Service, also passed under review by him in connection with the foregoing. The weekly celebration of the Lord's Supper, in the Church of the Holy Communion, did not begin with the beginning of the church. It was not entered on until the pastor knew something of his congregation, and then very carefully, and with a distinct instruction that in establishing such, it was not expected that every communicant should receive every Lord's day. Heads of families, more especially among the poor and where there were young children requiring oversight, and other responsible members of much-occupied households, domestic servants and the like, by means of a weekly communion, could divide partake one on this Sunday and another on the next Again: the Holy Table, found spread each Lord's day, often offered in seasons of especial personal sorrow, or joy, very acceptable comfort, at the time most needed, and which would have passed away perhaps before the recurrence of the monthly administration. These, among others, were reasons why a free church, in particular, might profit greatly by a weekly opportunity for communing, and on these and many similar points, the congregation were very plainly taught; they were further presented with a Pastoral Tract, treating of the Weekly Eucharist on its higher ground.

In connection with the foregoing, it should be observed that the weekly communion in this church was a distinct service. The regular morning prayer with the psalter and lessons was at nine o'clock, and the litany, ante-communion service, sermon and offertory at half-past ten, at the close of which there was an interval of some fifteen minutes, in which the clergyman and others retired from the church to re-assemble upon the bell striking twelve--the appointed hour for the communion service. There were always a number at this last service, who had not been present at the earlier ones, and, on the other hand, many communicants who had recently partaken did not return. '

Asking Dr. Muhlenberg for his latest thoughts on this point, he said: "I still adhere in the main to the views of my tract on the subject of the weekly communion, but I would, in another edition of the tract, enlarge more upon its dangers as a custom. We need extraordinary acts of devotion, and the communion ceases to be such when it is weekly or oftener. Then, again, the good old practice of special preparation, the need of which is seen in the abundance of books for the purpose by the best of men, I fear is almost necessarily laid aside by those who partake of the communion whenever they happen to be present at its celebration. To speak in homely phrase, the quantity, does not, I fear, improve the quality. I don't know that those who receive every day, are proportionally greater saints, unless 'there be saintliness in the practice itself, which they may be in some danger of assuming. It seems hard to say it, but I fear there is a class in our church, to be found in none other, who go to the Holy Communion with little or no preparation."

Concerning the support of free churches he said: "Although the free Church of the Holy Communion has always been maintained by the weekly offertory, I have never thought that that should be exclusively the means of support for such churches. The offertory should give the opportunity for all to contribute according to their ability, but, in addition, the more wealthy members of the congregation should subscribe towards an annual reliable income. I say wealthy members, because I have always repudiated the notion that free churches should be exclusively for the poor. Their fundamental idea is the rich and the poor, meeting together in the house of the Lord. They are practical demonstrations of the Christian church as the divine brotherhood. The objection to free churches, that families can not sit together, could be removed by some agreement among the members of the congregation, whereby the rich and the poor have an equal opportunity of securing regular seats."

With regard to the daily service, which also he was the first to introduce amongst us, he thus expressed himself: "If there were no other argument for the constant morning and evening prayer in our churches (and we confess that its expediency in all cases is a question), there is one which should weigh with Protestants, viz., that the Holy Scriptures are thus publicly read, in. course, for the benefit of all who choose to hear. This is a great office, for which our church has provided, and which we believe is peculiar to her among the churches in Christendom. She is thus a perpetual preacher of the pure word of God. Though there be but a solitary few to listen, she acquits herself of her duty in proclaiming the whole counsel of her Lord. The thought is indeed sublime, that from year to year, from age to age, her voice as God's prophet, keeps sounding on, in the same old words of Holy Writ, ceaseless and constant in its utterance, as the rising and setting of the sun.9 *

Dr. Muhlenberg's note-books of 1849 and 1850, contain some characteristic entries, glancing at church questions. Thus: "Finished reading Dr. Arnold's Life. A noble fellow, whatever were his faults. How much my own thoughts and feelings in the school have been like his--and in his views of the church I have more sympathy than orthodoxy would allow. It is refreshing to commune with a man of no party, yet full of zeal."

Here is his minute of a special service at the departure of a young clergyman, a former scholar, as a missionary to Wisconsin where a colony of the Church of the Holy Communion, and bearing the same name, had been planted. It was on a Sunday, Sept. 16th, the pastor's fifty-third birthday. There had been the regular services, morning and afternoon: "In the evening," he wrote, "we had a missionary meeting in the church. We began with the Lord's Prayer, all kneeling, then the versicles. The choir sang the Benedic to the anthem. For the lesson, the 35th of Isaiah; after which I made some remarks about our colony, the Church of the Holy Communion. Bishop Kemper followed in an extemporary address about Wisconsin, and thanking the congregation for their interest in his diocese. I said a few parting words to the missionary, and we sang 'Go forth, ye heralds, in his name.' Then prayer, several collects with that in the Institution Office, used in the third person.. The bishop gave the benediction. Many of the people came up to bid the missionary good-by, so it was a kind of farewell meeting. Besides Bishop Kemper, Bishop-----, and Dr.-----, and a number of the city clergy were present. They made no remarks. It may be they were not very well pleased with such an irregularity, as perhaps they regarded it But I am sure the meeting did good. The people will feel pledged to support the mission in a degree that would not otherwise have been. Can we do nothing except we begin, 'Dearly beloved brethren'? Are rubrics to be the choke-strings of the heart? Bishop Kemper was much pleased with the congregation. The church was quite full. Thank God for so pleasant a birthday. May he hear the prayers I put up at the Holy Communion, which it was grateful to me to receive from the hand of the pastor of my youth. Bishop Kemper has done a vast amount of good--He is the Father of Missions in our church."

Nov. 16th, 1849, he notes: "Read for the lecture in church this evening Newman's sermon on the Individuality of the Soul." It was not his custom in these weekly lectures to deliver an original composition unless during Passion Week, or at other special seasons. He would almost invariably avail himself of the rich garnered thoughts of some superior writer (openly, of course, the book before him or in his hand), but with a remarkable appropriation of the subject matter, and with gesture and tone, the omission of a word or passage here, and the substitution of one there, that made the teaching wholly his own. Whether the author who did duty for him were Anglican or Evangelical,--Newman of Oxford or Robertson of Brighton,--it always seemed to be none other than himself who preached, and always with edification and enjoyment to his hearers. These lectures were read from the desk. In the pulpit he never delivered other than original discourses.

Later, we find: "My old pupil, O-----, called upon me. Very warm in his expressions of attachment Insists I am more of a churchman than I think myself to be."

Several of the clergy were at this time interested in endeavoring to dissuade the rector of one of the large city churches from his purpose to secede to Rome, but with small success. Of one of these, Dr. Muhlenberg wrote: "W------, can say little to the purpose against this intention, as he is not far from the same thing himself. So it will be. The sacramental system can never be carried out in our church. I have long since been convinced of it. Bishop Ives will have either to retrace his steps, or advance to Rome--God give me grace to be able to do something to open the eyes of my dear M------ (another old pupil). He is so purely intellectual I doubt my power." [Two years later, Bishop Ives sent in his resignation to the House of Bishops, preparatory to his "Submission to the Church of Rome."]

Descending from church themes to common affairs, we have another jotting down, equally illustrative in its way, since even prophets must be clad,--"Called at my sister's. My mother gave me money to pay my tailor's bill. I would wear coarser clothes if my mother would let me."

On the 26th of June, 1851, this best of mothers was taken from him. His suffering at the separation was acute. For almost half a century these two had been more to each other than to any one else upon earth. Mrs. Muhlenberg's early widowhood, and her son's unmarried life, had excluded any nearer tie and endeared them, mutually, the more-closely.

It is difficult to do justice to the tenderness of his rich nature without lifting a little the curtain of his domestic privacy at this supreme moment, for such to him it was. Often he had said to his beloved parent, "Oh, mother, I can never look upon you in your coffin." But the inevitable hour for that sight came. What it brought to his heart is not to be told here. In his private diary there are twenty large pages filled with the particulars of her illness and death, and how the oppressive hours passed with him. He dwells on her-Christian faith, and what he owed her; her excellence as a mother and his own shortcomings as a son. A very remarkable and affecting record.

He ministered to his parent, spiritually as well as bodily, side by side with his only sister. Mrs. Muhlenberg was seventy-seven years old, and of great weight; "A load of flesh," her son wrote, "on the skeleton of a bird." She had a most distressing malady, and suffered intensely. Fainting nature panted for release. Towards the last, the physician, a dear friend of the family, sat holding her hand, his finger upon the fluttering pulse. The, sufferer scanned his countenance anxiously. "How much longer, doctor," she whispered. "Mother," urged her son, "you will have faith and patience to the end?" "I have, I have," she instantly replied. Almost his next words were, "God be praised, my mother is at rest!"

With his deep affection, and tender, delicate sensibility, will be readily conceived that every thing connected with the last duties to his mother's remains was the subject of very jealous care. No hired persons should be employed. None but loving Christian hands might touch his dead, make the grave-clothes, and watch with the precious body, during the nights intervening between the decease and interment. Mrs. Muhlenberg died at about half past two o'clock in the afternoon. At the evening prayer of that day the bereaved pastor, took his place at the lecturn, for the usual service of the church. The second lesson, from the third of Ephesians, came with beautiful appropriateness. "Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named. .... That we may be able to comprehend with all saints, what is the length, and depth, and breadth, and height of the love of God, that passeth knowledge."

In the morning, he had left his dying mother for a brief space, at the summons of a sick man, one of the poorest of the congregation. "Are you able for this?" it was asked by one who announced the call. Why not let Mr. ----- (the assistant) go?"

"No!" he said. "I can not help my mother. I think I can help poor J-----. So there is all the more reason for my going when he sends for me."

The funeral was a singularly plain and simple one. Dr. Muhlenberg always entertained a very strong feeling on this point. Any thing like a pageant, or at all ornamental or complimentary, he thought not only unreal and out of place, but almost a mockery of the sad and solemn reality--the humiliation of death.

He allowed no eye but his own to gaze upon his mother's face when it was closed, for tine, last time, from mortal view. Motioning every one from the room, including the undertakers, his sister having previously withdrawn, he remained some time alone with the dead, and then, with his own hands, put down the coffin lid, and called the men to fasten it.

One or two other touches of character are worthy of note. Like most literary men, he was apt to have rather a book-strewn and disarranged study. His mother was punctiliously neat and orderly. When it was found desirable, from the construction of the house and other circumstances, to convey the remains into the church through this room, before the hour for the removal came, he occupied himself and an attendant in adjusting every thing just as she used to desire he should keep it, that there might be nothing other than she would have liked, as her corpse was borne through.

After his return from the funeral, he sat in his study for hours of that day amid this lifeless-looking order, reading, from time to time, in a Bible of his mother's, which she had used daily. "How do you feel?" inquired a sympathizing Christian friend, finding him so engaged. "More like a man than a saint," was the reply.

It was some time before he became used to having no mother. Several days after her death, having received an unexpected five-thousand-dollar subscription for St. Luke's he hastened as of old to share his joy with her, and only slowly recollected that nothing but dreary vacancy remained in the room towards which he was bending his steps.

Project Canterbury