Project Canterbury

The Life and Work of William Augustus Muhlenberg
Doctor in Divinity

By Anne Ayres

New York: T. Whittaker, 1889.

CHAPTER XVII. 1855-1856.

A Summer in Europe.--St. Bartholomew's Hospital.--St. Barnabas, Pimlico.--An Hour with Maurice.--Working Men's Bible Class.--A quiet old Town.--Ely Cathedral.--The House of Peers.--The Lords Spiritual.--Home Thoughts.--Switzerland.--The Silber Horn.--A Sunday at Strasburg.--The Lord's Day in Paris.--Refined Godlessness.--Hubner's Painting.--Delight in his Christmas Gift.--A Reunion.--His Sixtieth Birthday

WITH the Memorial and the Hospital building fully under way, Dr. Muhlenberg, in the summer of 1855, allowed himself the refreshment of another few months in Europe. He left in April, and returned at the end of the October following. The trip had not the charm of novelty and freshness attaching to that of twelve years before, but a stay of some weeks in, England was found very agreeable, especially in its opportunities of intercourse with some of the leading minds of the day, on subjects of the deepest interest to him. The Memorial Movement and the growing interest in Sisterhoods embraced questions for the mother as well as the daughter church, and of hospitals, he had in London, a noble field of study, no city in the world being so largely supplied with the best institutions of the kind. Some passages from his frequent letters to ---- during this absence will best give the more interesting particulars of his holiday:

".... I spent several hours in St. Bartholomew's Hospital. One of the chaplains, a most excellent and earnest man, accompanied me through every part of it. He complained of Dickens, in his otherwise admirable description of the institution, ignoring the religious provisions of the same; and well might he complain. There are four chaplains, two of them in residence attending on the sick. Service is read every day in each of the wards. Suitable prayers in large print on a card are hung over the bed of each patient. Apt and consolatory texts of Scripture are painted on the walls. All the Sisters but one are communicants of the church, and those I spoke to seemed to be good women. The Christian character of the place is evident at a glance, and if all the chaplains are like the one who went about with us, nothing on that score is wanting. The most ample space is allowed for the beds; there not being more than twenty-two or twenty-four in each ward, which is divided into two compartments, leaving to each ten or twelve patients, in a room some forty feet long by twenty-five in width. Each ward has the service of four nurses including the Sister. The atmosphere was as fresh as in our little Infirmary, and the cleanliness' everywhere is beautiful. If the other hospitals of London are in like condition, and I am told they are, London has more to boast of than I imagined." [St. Bartholomew's is the oldest hospital in the city. It was originally founded in 1102. It has at present accommodation for about nix hundred patients, who are all supported by the funds of the institution, which yield a yearly income of £32,000. Its yearly average of in-patients is about six thousand, out-patients twenty thousand, and casualties forty to fifty thousand.

". . . . Was at a Sunday service at St. Barnabas Church, but found no poor people there, the same at St. Matthias, another church of the same stamp. Puseyism has made no impression upon the masses, nor will the church in any of her parties, with her present system. On this subject, which is to me one of constant observation and thought, I have more to say than I can put in a letter. . . ."

"I have just come from breakfast with the Bishop of Oxford where I met Trench, author of the 'Parables,' etc. The Bishop is much interested in the Memorial."

". . . . Spent a pleasant hour with Maurice. He talks as he writes. They tell me his eyes resemble mine, perhaps there is a likeness. I went on Sunday evening to his Bible class for working men. He explained to them the third chapter of St. John's First Epistle, having gone through the Gospel; he evidently felt at home in the writings of the beloved disciple, and in an easy and familiar manner brought out the sense with great beauty. Afterwards, the men asked him any questions they pleased, and I was surprised at the intelligence and discrimination evinced. Maurice readily answered them all with the meekness of wisdom. I accepted an invitation to breakfast with him next morning, when I saw his family, but had not much opportunity for conversation. He is a lovely man, and just such an one as you would fancy from his books.

These lines occurred to me, and I sent them to him in an envelope anonymously. He can only guess where they come from--

"'Lowliest in heart, 'mid those he taught--
In mind, 'with richest treasure fraught,
His deep and loving thoughts flowed on--
A John himself expounding John."

". . . . Went out to Clewer and had a long talk with the 'Sister Superior,' as she is styled. . . . They are doing great good, I am sure; but their religious system lacks in the Evangelical element. . . . They depend too much upon training. Every penitent, unless dismissed, becomes a communicant of course. The Sisters go to confession, not however compulsorily. They keep the canonical hours, thus meeting for prayer six times a day. On the whole it is too much a copying of the Roman Sisterhood..........

"I have often said I should like to live awhile in one of the old towns of England. Well, this town of Ely is one in perfection. In our walk of a mile from the railroad to the Cathedral we scarce met a dozen persons, and they evidently showed they were not used to the sight of strangers. The low, antique houses, I suppose were tenanted, but they gave no signs of animation, and yet there were shops of all kinds. I wondered who bought at them, until I learned there were market days and fairs. . . The huge rich pile of the Cathedral stands in solitary grandeur; of course it was that I came to see. It is one of the oldest in the kingdom, and in some of its interior architecture the finest. It suffered severely from the Cromwell men; but now they are restoring it to its original beauty at a great outlay of money, at least half a million of dollars, and that by voluntary contributions, largely by the dean and chapter, who, indeed, from their rich livings, with little work, ought to spare liberally for the glory of the sanctuary which so munificently supports them. There is certainly a great deal of zeal, all over England, in church restoration and decoration; a sign I would hope of a genuine revival of religion--but--but--the temple at Jerusalem was restored with surpassing grandeur, and was still being adorned, when it was about to be destroyed, not one stone to be left upon another. With all the good that is doing in the Church of England I can't help fearing for her, so long as she is so little the poor man's church.--But this old town of Ely! I don't think I could ,be tempted by its sweet quietude to stop here for the winter. I fear I might go to sleep, despite the choral service of the Cathedral. On the whole, I believe I should thrive better, body and soul, amid the rattle and clatter of Sixth Avenue and Twentieth Street!--What a nice dinner we had at the silent little inn! what a gently treading waitress! and how sweetly the mistress of the house thanked us, as we paid our bill!...."

He visited all the principal hospitals of London and Paris, with his accustomed grasp of their character and methods. Through the kindness of the Bishop of Oxford, he obtained admission for himself and friend to the House of Peers when the Earl of Shaftesbury made one of his characteristic speeches and was replied to by the Archbishop of Canterbury and Bishop of London. Concluding a description of all this, he adds:

"The Bishops come forward only when something touching their rights or the rights of the church is on the carpet. They don't stand up for truth and righteousness in great political questions......If they keep their seats in the House, they should be prophets of the Lord, declaring his will in the high places of the land. . . ."

His first letter from the Continent is mainly subjective, but highly characteristic.

". . . . What have I to tell you that will be as. good as any thing you give me from Home, Sweet Home? I am not going to stay the winter--no. Don't tell my sister, and I'll confess to you that she knew me a little better than I knew myself when she said it was impossible I could prolong my stay for a year. Occupation--Occupation with which my heart and conscience are satisfied is necessary for my happiness. As to having nothing to do but to enjoy the scenes of day after day, whatever they were, would be intolerable for much less time than a twelvemonth. What an episode in my life is this strolling about Paris. I hope it is not altogether wrong, but I can't help asking myself what do I here? . . . What should I do without my New Testament--without the sweet thoughts that thence arise in my mind and prompt to blessed communion with my Lord. . . . Never have I remembered you all more earnestly in my intercession. . ." In another place he adds: "My thoughts, when they turn homeward, which is not seldom, linger much in the scenes of the Sisterhood. Give my love, one by one, to the patients of the Infirmary,--little B-----, I see her now, and D------, dear boy--I wish I could give him a kiss for what you tell me of him. . . . What would I give for a sight of you all!"

". . . . From my last letter to you from Paris, you concluded I was rather dull and tired. I was--of that city of vanity and sin. But I have had much enjoyment since. How could it be otherwise in Switzerland with its glorious scenery; the beautiful ever relieving the eye wearied with the grand. It exceeded all I had ever pictured to my mind. Chamouni, Mt. Blanc, Mer de Glace, Tete Noir, Martigny, Grindelwald, etc., etc.,--in these places we spent two weeks of the finest weather imaginable. Never could the Alps have looked more magnificent. The Silber Horn of the Bernese range--how it charmed my eye! But instead of attempting a description, I will read your journal in Switzerland when I get home, to see again what I have seen. . . . Here at Strasburg, on Sunday we found no English service, but I spent the day profitably, I hope, by the reflections excited in what I saw of the Roman worship in the great cathedral, and in the Lutheran service of the afternoon. I allowed myself to sympathize with the former in feeling and imagination, as a grand superstition enclosing the great verities of the Gospel; but the latter, moved my heart. The German choral, from a full congregation, was just what I wanted to hear, and most devoutly did I join in it. It was a missionary occasion, and the burden of the speaker was the necessity of the Word as well as the Sacraments. The church was adorned with pictures, and on the altar before the minister stood a small silver crucifix. . . ."

"'At Paris again?' you exclaim. Even so. How I came here again, and so soon, never mind now. It would be too long a story and one I would rather tell when I get home than fill my sheet with writing it. You know what a Sunday in Paris is. As you passed through the gay and busy throngs, I dare say your reflections were much the same as my own. I am no Puritan--I have no affection for a Jewish Sabbath--but surely this Sunday here is not 'the day which the Lord hath made.' It is not the Lord's day, but, of all the seven, the day of the God of this world, devoted to his service in all the pomps and vanities with which he can be worshipped. And how happy the devotees all seem!--how light-hearted!--how good-natured and kind one to another! No fighting or quarrelling; no drunkenness or gross dissipation,--all, apparently, pure mirth and enjoyment. So it is that godlessness, even utter godlessness, need not, necessarily, make men coarse and brutal. It may be beautiful, refined, and fascinating. Its Elysium may seem indeed the regions of felicity, to satisfy nature, for the while, at least.

"This is one of the things exemplified in Parisian life. We see to what perfection the animal man can be carried. What a heaven he can make for himself--What an Eden without God, and where, since there is no forbidden fruit, the serpent need never show himself. But ah. without showing himself, how many does he beguile! with what subtlety is his power diffused everywhere. Visitors, and those who come to reside here, how soon are they reconciled to the fair and winsome godlessness. Even vice by 'losing all its grossness' loses in their eyes 'half its evil' 'Why,' they ask, 'should not Sunday be the happiest day of the week, as it is to these merry thousands on the Champs Elysees and the Boulevards? Does not God delight in the happiness of his creatures? So yon will hear Americans talk in the new light with which they look back on the days of their ignorance. This is one of the enlightening effects of travel. Well would it have been for many, had they stayed at home and remained in their darkness. . . ."

The last of these letters, mailed immediately before his embarkation for home, thus concludes:

"I look forward to the joyful Sunday, the 28th, in the firm hope that God will give it to us, but nothing doubting that, if he order otherwise, that will be best for us. He is our Father, that is enough. . . . Farewell, until our happy greeting, whether on this or on the other side of Jordan. ..."

In the year 1856 he passed an especially delightful Christmas. The festival of the Nativity was always greatly enjoyed by him. The contemplation of the immeasurable love to the race, of the Incarnation, the Divine Son made our Elder Brother, and the universal peace and good-will thence diffused, enraptured his heart. This was manifest in his boyhood. In the chapels of the Institute and of St Paul's College, he carried out some of his earliest visions of a right joyous celebration of the stupendous fact, and these sweet customs, so far as practicable, were in due time transferred to the Church of the Holy Communion.

There, at a service, some time before sunrise, the whole congregation assembled to sing the Angels' Song and receive their pastor's Christmas greeting. The church would be ablaze with light, and the fresh evergreens emitted their sweet, resinous breath like fragrant incense. "Venite Adoremus" was given forth in a concourse of glad strains by choir and organ; not in the old Latin, but as rendered into free English by Dr. Muhlenberg himself, and incorporated with the Doxologies of our Prayer Book and Hymnal, thus:

"Come let us adore him, come bow at his feet;
Oh! give him the glory, the praise that is meet;
Let joyful hosannas unceasing arise,
And join the fall chorus that gladdens the skies."

After prayer and praise were over, the pastor would come to the front of the chancel, alms-basin in hand, to exchange personal congratulations with his people. All who chose, and rarely any omitted the graceful act, came forward to shake hands with him, and as they wished him Christmas joy, dropped a gift for the poor into the alms-basin which he held throughout in his left hand. Goodly amounts were thence derived for winter comforts for the needier members, many of whom deposited their own mite in the plate as they came with the rest for a word of blessing--"Coppers," Dr. Muhlenberg used to say, "which weigh as gold in the balances of the sanctuary."

On Christmas Day, of the year of which we are speaking, after these devotions were over, and before the hour for the regular morning service came, there was gathered in the church another Christmas congregation, the meeting with whom filled the fatherly heart of the pastor to overflowing. It was an assemblage composed wholly of the sons of other days,--his former pupils of the Institute and St. Paul's College, assembled there, from far and near, partly to receive his acknowledgment of a united Christmas gift which they had sent him the night before, but more particularly for a reunion with him once again in the hallowed Christmas strains which he had taught them in their boyhood.

The occasion came about as follows: among a collection of pictures on exhibition which Dr. Muhlenberg visited, was one by "Hubner, the first artist of the Protestant branch of the Dusseldorf school," which strongly excited his admiration. He thus describes it:

"The painting, three feet by two, represents the interior of a, German cottage, with the rustic family engaged with the Holy Scriptures. A boy reading from the Bible forms the centre of the group. His grand-parents are listening--the mother lighted up with joy in believing; the father pondering what he hears with a more reasoning faith; the sister of the boy, with half-absent looks, is patiently waiting with folded arms until he is done, leaning on the back of the chair which he occupies as the seat of honor for the time in consideration of his office. In the foreground is apparently the widowed mother of the children, who has returned with them to the old home. She listens with the composure of calm reverence and attention. Light through an opening in the roof hints at illumination from above."

He named this beautiful work of art "The Gospel at Home." One of his former pupils, then resident in New York, learning the impression made upon Dr. Muhlenberg's mind by this picture, conceived the happy idea of uniting with his former schoolmates in the purchase of it, as a joint Christmas gift to their beloved school-father. The suggestion was eagerly seized by those to whom it was mentioned; a Committee was appointed, and communication had with as many of the old scholars as could be reached. There was but one sentiment on the subject. The painting was secured and duly sent to the Parsonage of the Holy Communion on Christmas Eve.

Dr. Muhlenberg had been informed, a few days previous, of what he was to expect, a request being added, that he would unite in signalizing the occasion by a "church service" with his "boys" after the pattern of the Christmas devotions of old times. It was so arranged. The school-father, and as many of his school-sons as were able to be present--and they were not few in number--met in the church as proposed, and after uniting once more in the prayers and hymns they learned so long ago, Dr. Muhlenberg expressed his thanks for their gift in a carol of thirty-six stanzas, prepared by him for the purpose, and which he recited to them, not without emotion.

The verses convey tenderly and gracefully the particulars of the occasion, with very much more that only their author could say. He told them he found himself unable to make his acknowledgments in the ordinary way:

'Tye tried--my heart won't go in prose,
'Twill only sing its joy.
"Seldom since ye were boys at school,
I've penned a rhyming strain;
The genius of your presence 'tis
That wakes my muse again.

Speaking of his reception of the picture he says:

"That Christmas gift of yours last eye--
Greater no child's delight,
With glistening eyes at Santa Gems,
Than mine was at the sight.

"Thanks for a gift of costly price,
A noble work of art,
More precious for the argument
Its grapic forms impart

"Grand the idea that canvas shows:
The open Word of God,
Enlightening, blessing, comforting
Souls freed from priestly rod.

"A youth the priest--a peasant's cot
The hallowed house of prayer--
No jewelled altar, yet full sweet
The incense rising there.

"No mediator save the ONE
To man before his Lord:
He for himself the pardon reads,
The great High-Priest's own word.

"That Gospel faith (to set it forth,
The artist's high design),
That faith your gift a pledge shall be,
Forever yours and mine.

"And more, I trow, your present means:
That ye've remembered
How young and old, from first to last.
The Bible lesson said."

This last was even so. Not a few in response to the communication of the Committee regarding the proposed gift, expressed just such an appreciation and application of the subject of the painting. Some time later the entire correspondence of this interesting tribute was sent to Dr. Muhlenberg, among whose private papers it was found after his death. The following extracts, gleaned from a large number of letters written by those who could not be personally present on the occasion, will serve to illustrate the whole.

One of his earliest pupils, after thanking the Committee for inviting him to share in the grateful offering adds: "The painting I have never seen; but the subject and its title are singularly suitable for a gift to one who has studied the Scriptures, and lived and walked in them for a lifetime. . ."

Another writes: "The subject of the painting--reading the Scriptures--'invests the gift with a peculiar appropriateness, when we call to mind how eminently Christian was the educational system pursued by the Doctor, and how interpenetrated were all his instructions with the pure and holy teachings of the Inspired Volume. The familiar names of your Committee fill my heart with pleasant recollections of academic life at the Institute: the present seems to be obliterated and the days of boyhood to re-appear,--'Forsan et haec olim meminisse juvabit.' There is the old Study, with the wished-for, yet formidable, scenes of Examination Day; there is the Hippodrome, with its well-worn circle, telling of many a good-natured struggle; there is the Dormitory with its tidy alcoves, the envy of youngsters doomed to unambitious cots; and all these associated with the beloved and welcome presence--the faithful, fatherly care of the good Doctor."

Another in the same retrospective strain says: "Nothing could be more delightful to me than the opportunity of affording pleasure to him. to whom I owe so much. The happiest time of my life was spent at the Old Point, and often do I sit dreaming of the hours passed there. Yes, all comes before me like a dream,--The school-rooms, the alcoves, the dormitories, the forum; and then the skating, the bathing and boating, etc. Those were pleasant days! The Doctor's happy face beams through all these memories, and at times I could weep, that I am not, now, as I was then; for he is not near to guide and direct me. . . ."

Another says: "To him I owe much gratitude. He not only taught me to read the Scriptures, but to feel the efficacy of their divine truth."

Another: "If there is any good in me, I owe it to his counsels."

Another: "In doing honor to one who is in advance of his age, we are but doing honor to ourselves."

On the 16th of September of this year, he had completed his sixtieth year. The anniversary, as usual, had its especial exercises. Among its minutes, were the following:

"To-day I am sixty years old. Penitence or thanksgiving--which shall prevail? 'Every day will I give thanks unto thee and praise thy Name for ever and ever.1 I can hardly feel it a fact that I am threescore--yet the time past does not seem short; and I feel as if I should live a few years yet to finish the works which I humbly trust have been given me to do......Read over the pages of my mother's illness and death--a melancholy pleasure, opportune for my birthday. .... How much do I owe her!"

He notes the several engagements of the day thus: "Had prayers in the Infirmary, in both wards. Went with ---- to look at the Hospital building. Entered C. F." (a lad who had been his attendant) "at the New York University; he has been a good and faithful boy. . . . Read to my sister. Dr. Crusé took tea with us. We rejoiced together at the prospect of a favorable report of the Commission on the Memorial . . ."

To what extent this last anticipation was realized has been intimated in a previous chapter.

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