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The Life and Work of William Augustus Muhlenberg
Doctor in Divinity

By Anne Ayres

New York: T. Whittaker, 1889.

CHAPTER XXII. 1865-1866.

Keeps up with the Christian Thought of the Day--Literary Ability--Christ and the Bible--"The Woman and Her Accusers"--Ten years without Verse-making--Later Compositions in Music and Poetry.--Talent for Improvising.--Muhlenbergianæ.--Satire and Mimicry.--Old Quin.--Tact in Reproving.--"Deliver us from Evil."--Permission to go to the Theatre.--Ingenious Argument.--The Requiem Mass.--Fluctuations of Temper.--Portrait by Huntington.--Mr. Minturn's Death.--"The Poor Man's Friend and Mine."--Mr. Minturn's Distinguishing Traits.--Anecdote by Bishop Potter.--A Short Funeral Sermon.--The Hospital Burial Plot.

WHILE Dr. Muhlenberg's sympathies were thus keenly and practically alive to every issue of the time, vital to his fellow-men, his mind and intellect kept thoroughly up with the Christian thought of the day. The personal cares and duties with which he burdened himself in developing his benevolent enterprises, allowed him nothing of the scholar's seclusion and literary absorption. Nor, if he had possessed the leisure, was such his bent. Yet he read much and rapidly; not passing by probably any new publication worth reading on the subjects dearest to his heart, that is to say, which touched "the faith, the manhood, the freedom, the charity, of Christ's kingdom." He read very quickly, possessing himself almost intuitively of the mind of his author, and marking numerous passages for re-perusal, before it would seem possible he could have glanced at them. The activity of his pen through the busy years of the Church of the Holy Communion and St. Luke's Hospital is also striking, though he never elaborated continuous volumes. His prose writings throughout consist of thoughtful essays, or discourses bearing upon the religious, moral, or social questions of the day; and more particularly those comprehended in the Memorial to the House of Bishops. A lighter production was his "Retro-prospectus," or, as it is sometimes called, "Dream of St. Johnland," in 1864, wherein his latent graphic and dramatic power has, in a simple way, a very congenial field, admirably and charmingly occupied.

"As an accomplished man of letters," writes one, whose beautiful portraiture of his revered friend has been more than once referred to in these pages, "he stands in the best ranks of our clergy. His writings show a clearness of thought, as well as a simple grace of style, rarely surpassed. Yet his was not properly the mind of the theologian or the scholar. He had, indeed, a living interest in the scriptural and doctrinal inquiries which employ the intellect of our time. I can give no better example than his essay on inspiration, published under the title "Christ and the Bible," where he maintained what has been called the dynamic view, instead of the mechanical one of our past theology. His position is abreast of the most scientific thought on that hard question; but the practical tone of his reasoning, clear as a brook, so that the simplest can read it, and yet more, his glowing faith in Christ, show his mental quality. There was, as in all such minds, a wonderful insight .... a moral vision that grasped at once the conclusions which the logician reaches by long marches. . . . His intellect was bathed in the love of Christ; and withal so honest, so straightforward, so free from sophistry or dogmatic narrowness, that his listeners rose always with enlarged thought and with a sweeter spirit. Nor was he, again, a giant in the pulpit, like a Bossuet or Lacordaire. He had the inspiration that is greater than art, and often rises to eloquence. Many will recall his sermons, brimming with fresh thought, with the tenderness of Christ's heart, and that quaint yet reverent humor so akin to his cheerful nature. What better model have we of chaste power than his discourse on the woman amid the Pharisees? . . . . ."

This last, a remarkable sermon entitled "The Woman and her Accusers," was originally preached to a congregation of men only, in the Church of the Holy Communion, to aid, by means of a subsequent collection, the pioneer efforts of the late Mrs. Sarah Richmond for the rescue of fallen women. It was afterwards modified somewhat, and delivered to the usual mixed congregations of several of the churches of New York and Brooklyn, for the benefit of the Midnight Mission, to which it brought considerable revenue. A lecture on Congregational Singing, "a specimen of his delightful humor and delicate irony," wherein he expresses his abhorrence of a quartette, did not accomplish as much as he hoped for, in that towards which it was directed.

In the Christmas Ballad to his school-sons on the occasion of their gift of the picture, described in a previous chapter, he tells them that he had scarcely penned a rhyme since they were boys at school; and it is rather a remarkable fact that, from his surrender of St. Paul's College to the opening of St. Luke's Hospital, an interval of more than ten years, there was an almost entire suspension of his accustomed verse-making, and of the correspondent musical compositions; but in the year 1859, the gift seemed to possess him anew, and with superior force, both as to poesy and music, some of his strongest verses and best musical productions being composed within the next decade.

In a little published collection of his verses, there are five pieces in succession dated 1859. The most interesting of these are: "Lines to a dear friend recently deprived of her sight," "Come follow me," and a "Letter paternal to two school-sons about to become church fathers," that is, to Bishop Bedell and Bishop Odenheimer, who were consecrated on the same day. About the same time he composed his fine congregational Te Deum; and a sweet tune which he called "St. Bernard," designing it for the words "Jesus, the very thought of thee." Of his compositions of this period, of music and words combined, the following are the chief: "The Republican Battle Hymn and Choral March," the "President's Hymn," the "Advent Choral," the "St. Johnland Vespers, or Shades of Evening," and the "Christmas Choral, or Glorious Birthday."

Next, in the order of time, to this last, was his evangelized version of "I would not live alway," described in the history of the original hymn. It was written in the year 1871. The evangelized version is given in fac-simile, on the opposite page.

He was always addicted to impromptu rhyming. Verses and couplets, epigrammatic or proverbial, were constantly improvised on some passing occurrence, or in connection with the subject of conversation at the moment. Here is one penned for a brother clergyman, in a conversation on the opposition of Science to Revelation.


"Jesus Christ was here below.
He died--he rose--and that to know,
Tho' nothing more, would be enow
For faith to live upon and grow--
Our Gospel minimum doth so
More than your maximum bestow."

The various circumstances giving rise to the following are easily imagined:

"O take thee heed, and never say,
I have too much to do to pray,
Lest half thy work be thrown away,
And thou at last lose all thy pay."

"Poverty's mite
With the Lord is all right,
For 'tis poverty's might;
But when wealth gives a mite,
It is vile in his sight."

"When an editor's shears
Clip bits from another,
And no credit appears,
Sheer theft, ain't it, brother?"

"I guess it will all come right;
Remember we don't walk by sight;
In small things as well as in great
With the patience of faith we most wait."

"Gathered round the plenteous table,
While we own how blest we are,
Make us glad, as we are able,
With the poor our loaves to share."

"Saith Pauper to Dives, 'I fear that too great
Is the bulk of your gold for the needle-eyed gate.'
Said Dives to Pauper, 'And you, with your pride,
Tho' ragged, too swollen for getting inside.'"

"As straight to her harbor the steam vessel glides,
Tho' dead in her face beat the winds and the tides;
So, duty-ward bound, in yourself have the force,
'Gainst all forces without), for your right onward course."

"In seeking favor, Lord, with thee,
This is my only, only plea:
Thou art well pleased with thy Son,
And I, by faith, with him am one."

Many pages might be filled with these disjecta membra. Dr. Muhlenberg used to laugh at the friend who, when she could catch them, never failed to jot them down for future application, calling them her Muhlenbergianæ. The matter so preserved often proved useful in filling chinks in the columns of the Evangelical Catholic, and Brotherly Words.

His mirthful nature and bright, sportive ways added many a charm to the intrinsic value of his companionship. He had, also, no small power for satire and mimicry; the first of these he kept in severe control, carefully avoiding every use of it that might wound or irritate; and constantly chiding himself when he found he had fallen into too sarcastic a vein; the latter, mimicry, he never deliberately indulged in. Occasionally an exhibition would involuntarily flash out, revealing the hidden talent One day, at a meeting in his house, of a benevolent society of the Church of the Holy Communion, some one asked about "Old Quin." Said "Quin" was a curious, wizen-faced old pensioner, with ragged hair, shaggy eyebrows, and a strange dactyl and spondee gait that threw first one shoulder up to his ears and then the other. "He was here this morning," said Dr. M-----, and in an instant "Old Quin" crossed the floor in front of the company--"Old Quin" to the life,--nothing of Dr. Muhlenberg remained. It was a complete metamorphosis, and, appreciating the physical contrast between the personifier and the personified, marvellous. "A loud smile" from those present and "Old Quin" vanished. The pastor, with unusual gravity, resumed business, adding something possibly to the old man's next gratuity by way of atonement.

He had much delicate tact in the difficult duty of Christian reproof, though he invariably dreaded the exercise of it. Sometimes the interview with one, whom he had desired to see for this purpose, would be so interesting and pleasant that none but agreeable emotions were excited while in his presence. Afterwards, and revolving what had passed, as few would find themselves able to avoid doing after such a conversation, the other party would see plainly that he had been helped to sift himself thoroughly, and was unmistakably rebuked.

A little farther on than the time of which we are speaking, that is, on the day when the arrest of the arch-peculator Tweed, at Vigo, was cabled to New York, while seated at tea with the Sisters, one of the family entered, who told the rest of the capture. A ripple of laughter went round the table and was followed by more of talk about certain malfeasances than was at all common to that company.

He looked uneasy, and hurrying the conclusion of the meal, added emphatically, after the usual thanks for the repast: "And may the Lord deliver us from evil!"

Not another word was said, but every Sister present understood and heeded the reproof.

Again: one of the young men employed in the Hospital, asking permission of Dr. Muhlenberg to go to Booth's Theatre, received rather a stern refusal. Some time later, .probably after informing himself what the performance of the evening was to be, Dr. Muhlenberg said to him, "You can go and see Booth to-night, but say nothing about it in the house."

"Returning towards midnight," said the young man, "the Doctor himself opened the door to me. He had waited up two hours beyond his usual time of retiring that the circumstance might not be known, and this so impressed me, that I never again wished for the theatre."

He had an innocently artful way of pushing home an argument, sometimes without any discussion of it. An old friend and much respected brother clergyman, whose exclusive church views had in past times been the subject of many a friendly brush between the two, after visiting a parishioner at the Hospital, stopped to say good-by to the Pastor. The latter, with a cordial grasp of the hand, referring to a conversation of some time back, said, "Doctor, what is your idea now of our church's place in the great gathering above?"

"Why," replied the good man, "I believe it will be this way: Episcopalians in the first circle around the throne, and Presbyterians next, and so on."

"Then you do expect other Christians to be there too, only not in so much honor."


"Well, then, since after all there's a possibility of so much closeness in heaven, wouldn't it be well to become a little acquainted on earth?"

Again: one of his former pupils, seceding to Rome, had joined the Paulist Fathers. He was a lovely, saintly man, and for some time the regular visitor to St. Luke's when Roman Catholic patients desired the ministrations of their church. At his death, the fraternity invited Dr. Muhlenberg, as an old friend, to attend a requiem mass for the repose of his soul. Dr. Muhlenberg, in declining the invitation, assured the superior of the house that he was so satisfied the soul of the departed was in repose in Paradise that there would be no meaning in his uniting with them on the occasion named.

With such a temperament as Dr. Muhlenberg's, some fluctuation of spirits was unavoidable. A high-tide of feeling one day, inevitably brought an ebb-tide later, and sometimes he disappointed people by a certain variableness of humor, or perhaps simply that he was not so delightful in a certain interview as on some previous occasion. He had his moods of abstraction too. Pre-occupation with some nascent scheme might occasionally have explained them, particularly as regarded his manner to strangers, but not always. Like other sons of Adam, the dust of his native clod would now and again settle on the sunshiny sweetness of his ordinary temper.

This change of mood or gathering up within himself, so to name it, was, whether an infirmity or not, often a help and protection to him, in his intercourse with the vast number and variety of persons with whom, in the course of his Christian and benevolent enterprises, he was brought in contact. His sympathetic and enthusiastic nature, would, not unfrequently, throw itself into the wishes and feelings of one seeking his aid or counsel, to a degree, which, on after reflection, seemed unwise. At the next interview there would be a cloudiness or distance, perhaps, and the other party, thrown back upon himself, would feel some disappointment; but wherever there were earnestness, reality, and strength of purpose enough to prompt an endurance of his apparent coolness, and to persevere in the genuine purpose for which the interview was sought, there would come a reaction, unlimited in its kind encouragement. On the other hand, if there was nothing stable in the person who at first so interested him, it thus became apparent. Thus, whether voluntary or involuntary on Dr. Muhlenberg's part, this "way" of his was often very serviceable; notwithstanding he was, by reason of it, sometimes charged with changeableness. In the year 1865, Mr. Cyrus Curtiss, one of the Vice Presidents of St Luke's, proposed to Mr. Minturn, to present a portrait of Dr. Muhlenberg, by Huntington, to the Trustees for the Hospital. Mr. Minturn, m the name of his peers, accepted the agreeable and valuable gift, and Dr. Muhlenberg was prevailed upon to sit for his likeness, but stipulated that during his lifetime Mr. Curtiss should keep the painting in his own house; an arrangement which was not set aside until the Pastor reached his eightieth birthday. A few months after this negotiation respecting Dr. Muhlenberg's portrait, Mr. Minturn was taken suddenly away. On the 9th of January, 1866, he was seized with apoplexy, and expired in a few hours. Dr. Muhlenberg did not know of his illness until he was dead. It was a great shock, for the two men loved each other. There were many sympathies in common between the Evangelical Catholic Doctor and the princely Christian merchant, and the essential tie that bound them to each other was beautifully indicated in the dedicatory words of the first St. Johnland pamphlet (1864) thus: "To Robert B. Minturn, the Poor Man's Friend and Mine."

The death of Mr. Minturn took a joy out of the Hospital Pastor's life. In the initiation of St. Luke's the two had grown closer together, and Dr. Muhlenberg often found it a refreshment, after his earliest morning duties, to "run down," as he would phrase it, to Twelfth St. and Fifth Avenue, for a word with his friend on some of those many schemes for the good of their fellow-men, in which they were mutually interested. Mr. Minturn, though actively engaged in commercial business, never wearied in works of practical benevolence. His thoughtful head and large heart were given to such, with the greatest earnestness and sincerity, even in his hours of relaxation from the counting-house, and he was extensively occupied in helping forward or governing a vast variety of agencies for the benefit of the poor and afflicted.

"The loss," wrote Dr. Muhlenberg, "seems irreparable. Who can repair it? Who now will be our foremost man in enterprises of good? To whom now shall we go first in any new project of humanity? Who now shall be the head to grace the Hospital (St. Luke's), to which his munificence was the first pledge of its success, and of which he has ever been the potential friend? Who now will see that the funds never fail of that vast organization, 'The Society for Improving the Condition of the Poor,' spreading its network of discriminating charity over the whole of the metropolis? Who will be his successor, with his adamantine integrity, in places where, alas, such virtue is rare?"

There was a brimming-over pitifulness in Mr. Minturn's nature. Dr. Muhlenberg related that, on one occasion, walking "down town" with him, in earnest conversation, he said abruptly, in his rapid, eager manner, "Stop, Doctor! Stop a minute." At a short distance, was a poor little calf, apparently but a day or two old, tottering and staggering .between the vehicles that thronged the street in the vain attempt to keep up with its mother; she, poor thing, being also urged beyond her natural speed by a cruel driver. Dr. Muhlenberg watched Mr. Minturn cross to the corner of the street where stood a wagon fit to carry the little animal. The good man had it gently lifted in, put some money into the cartman's hand, and then returning, without comment to Dr. Muhlenberg, resumed their talk.

Dr. Muhlenberg would sometimes descant warmly on Mr. Minturn's remarkable, even painful, sense of the responsibility of wealth, largely and munificently as he gave of his, in all benevolent ways. "'How hardly shall they that have riches enter the kingdom of heaven' he thought a fearful text"

Again: "Bishop Potter related to me," said Dr. Muhlenberg, "as we rode home together from the funeral, that on one occasion when he was on a visit at Mr. Minturn's house in the country, he happened, at family prayer, to open the Bible at the parable of Dives and Lazarus, which he accordingly read. 'After dinner on that day,' said the bishop, 'when we were alone, Mr. Minturn recurred to it, observing it was a passage of Scripture which often alarmed him. "A very solemn one, indeed," I replied, and in explaining the true import of it, remarked that it was not a terror to the rich who give as they should of their riches. "Ah," he at once rejoined, "what do any of us give but 'the crumbs,' bishop?"

Dr. Muhlenberg, who took part with the bishop in the funeral of his friend, gave out as his text for a sermon on the occasion, these words from the Prophet Micah (vi. 8)--"He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" The sermon was doubtless one of the shortest on record, consisting of simply three words, emphatically uttered, "SO DID HE." Nothing more.

Mr. Minturn had lived to see St. Luke's an acknowledged success. It stood eminently before the church and the world, and in virtue of the high medical and surgical talent sedulously secured for it, achieved, in its main office and capacity, distinguished results. But among the thousands upon thousands sheltered and succored by its charities, have been hundreds who were taken in, only that they might have a comfortable and Christian place to die in; and a "God's acre" for the burial of such was from the beginning an appendage of the Institution.

There remain some striking reflections of Dr. Muhlenberg's with regard to this. He writes: "Some time ago I had occasion to visit St. Michael's graveyard, the cemetery beyond Astoria, where the remains of some two hundred of our departed lie interred. As I stood on the Hospital plot, it was a time for searchings of heart; all here in these rows of hillocks had been under my ministerial charge. Conscience asked--How had I fulfilled it? And did conscience answer as my heart then wished? There were whispers within of reproach for opportunities always at hand but not always used. They were accusations of the spirit not to be silenced. What could they awaken but humility and regrets, painful, yet I hope not unfruitful, and the same prayer for pardon that had come from the lips of the poorest sinner, whose dust and ashes were beneath my feet? Still--still there was the consolation that every one of these had heard the Gospel message as clearly as I knew how to utter it. In the Scripture readings and exhortations, in words that all could understand, and be heard by all in their beds as well us by those before me, morning after morning, in the wards, besides the familiar sermons in the Chapel, in the texts constantly before their eyes, and in the books at their side, in the words of evangelic love from their Sister attendants--if in these they did not learn the way of salvation, and lay hold of the hope set before them, it was because their instructed ears were not the avenues to their hearts. With all the short-comings of its ministers, St. Luke's has been a Bethesda, not to the outer man alone. While I feel, my Master knows, far more of humiliation at what I have left undone in the Hospital than of complacency at aught I have done for it or in it; while I am sure this is the feeling, more or less, of all my associates in spiritual labor, it would be wronging the grace of God, not to acknowledge the many signs of his blessing, and thankfully to rejoice in what he has enabled us to do. The Hospital has not ignored its motto: 'Corpus Sanare Animam Salvare.'"

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