Project Canterbury

The Life and Work of William Augustus Muhlenberg
Doctor in Divinity

By Anne Ayres

New York: T. Whittaker, 1889.

CHAPTER XXV. 1872-1873.

A summer Holiday.--The Peasantry of Europe and St. Johnland.--London.--Essay on Potentiality of the English Bishops. A Birthday abroad.--Home.--A Sea-Song.--The Bells of St. Thomas's Church.--Unimpaired Sensibility and Sportiveness.--Characteristics of early Manhood unchanged.--Extract from Letter.--The freshest of the Party

THE summer months of the year 1872 were spent in Europe, in company with two friends, and a young man as an attendant. The venerable head of the party proved himself fresh enough thoroughly to enjoy the holiday, and to be a most amiable and accommodating travelling companion.

He carried his dear St. Johnland in his thoughts throughout the trip, longing to transport thither many of the ill-fed and oppressed peasant families of the Continent, with whom he sought and made acquaintance. Sometimes he went a little farther with them in talks to this end than there was a probability of being able so to serve them.

He always enjoyed London. Besides its inexhaustible objects of interest, the repose of the vast city, notwithstanding its many millions of inhabitants, was very agreeable to him, and, at this time, seemed to invite him anew to the use of his pen. During his stay of some three weeks there, he sketched his Essay on the Potentiality of the English Bishops, mentioned in describing the Memorial Movement. It was his design to re-write this paper, and to put it in proper shape for presentation to the archbishop of Canterbury, but the pressure of engagements on his return home, and various subsequent hindrances, prevented any further attention to the manuscript.

The essay, though crude and incomplete, contains much that should not be lost, and written thus, when entering his seventy-seventh year, is an interesting witness of the grand old hero's unceasing battle for unity, and equally of his genuine reverence for the historic episcopate.

The argument of the paper is very much that of one part of the Memorial to the House of Bishops, offered nearly twenty years before, or of his "Hints on Catholic Union," nearly twice as far back (1835); but with a special application to the English episcopate, and the peculiar vantage-ground that it occupies in the premises.

The following extract will serve as an example of the leading thought, which he earned out with his usual clearness, making many strong points:

". . . . The Bishops of the Church of England from their ecclesiastical position--the historic prestige of their office; the moral weight of their character; their influence as the chief pastors of the church of Christ in a mighty nation, the centre of civilization; their diversity of theological sentiment, consistent with the orthodox faith; and other like, advantages, have more power to turn the essential oneness of Evangelic Protestantism to practical account, than any other body of men in the world.

"Suppose that they saw this themselves,--that their disposition was equal to their ability in the matter; and, consequently, that they, or any number of them, however small, would combine to use that power, no one could suppose it would be only an impotent attempt. . . . Some of the different ways in which the bishops could use their power for the desired end would be, for example: By making more a reality than it now is their office as bishops of their respective dioceses; by looking upon all the Christian congregations, of whatever names therein, as, more or less, having a claim upon their care as shepherds of the flock of Christ, and accordingly visiting those who, though not owning their official jurisdiction, would kindly receive them--they not coming to assert their authority, but to speak to fellow Christians of the Common Salvation; thus taking opportunity to exercise the highest primary function of their office (for church commission to the first bishops was to preach the Gospel; government later fell into their hands), they might even be glad, as apostolic bishops, so far to acquit themselves of their duty, in preaching Christ to whoever would hear, whether those hearers acknowledged their jurisdiction or not. ... Or again, the bishops might encourage their clergy to distinguish among 'Dissenting' ministers between the sound and the unsound in the faith; to hold fellowship with the former as preachers of the Gospel, though deeming them wanting in valid orders for the Christian priesthood, if such priesthood there be. ..."

His birthday, this year, was spent in London. He attended morning service at St. Paul's Cathedral, where he enjoyed particularly the anthem, "Teach me, O Lord, the way of thy statutes, and I shall keep it unto the end." The last words, his spiritual and poetic mind accepted as a personal promise. As the congregation dispersed, he had the pleasure to meet Bishop Whittingham, and two other clerical friends accompanying the bishop as chaplain and secretary for his attendance, by special invitation, at the conference of the "Old Catholics" at Cologne, whither they were on their way. A visit of Christian sympathy to some of the poorest patients in St. Bartholomew's Hospital, and a dinner at his lodgings, gladdened by the presence of two of his "boys," accidentally in London, carried him happily past another mile-stone in his life's journey.

He sailed for New York on the 10th of October, in the steamer which had brought him out The principal incident of the voyage was subsequently made the subject of a communication by one of the passengers, which we borrow.

"Most persons who have traversed the great deep, know something of the dreariness of a Sunday at sea--the religious services, if there are any, often dull and tame, from their want of adaptation to the peculiar circumstances of the worshippers. But a delightful exception to the common experience fell to the lot of us, of the steamship Cuba, last Sunday morning. It was our good fortune to have as a fellow-passenger, the venerable Dr. Muhlenberg, of New York, who, with an energy and freshness of feeling, remarkable at his age and under the disadvantages of a sea voyage, made the day one to be long remembered by those who spent it with him.

"During the week we had had a good deal of heavy sea, and some rather rough going; most of us were sighing for land and home. Possibly the minister was too, for he took this home-longing as the keynote of the day, and a very beautiful use he made of it. After an impressive reading of the lessons, and the grand old prayers of our church, he preached a sermon, written on board, from the words: 'In my Father's house are many mansions, if it were not so, I would have told you;' dwelling, first, on the love of home, as a world-wide instinct of our social nature, and thence leading our aspirations to the home everlasting, with a power and unction which found a warm response in the hearers, as shown in the hearty singing of the concluding hymn, an original composition, written by himself for the purpose. It was an ocean born 'Sweet Home,' having for its chorus:

''Home, sweet home,
Earth's holiest love,
Then, the one Home above!'

"It afterwards appeared that during one of the previous days of discomfort, the good Doctor had occupied himself in writing this Christian 'Home, sweet Home,' and three or four friends among the passengers had made a score or so of copies for the Sunday service. Nothing of the kind could have been more successful,--the tender, encouraging words, the old tune, the time and circumstances, were all in happiest accord. Many eyes moistened, many hearts were touched, every one feeling a proprietorship in the piece. In the after part of the day, little groups might be seen in different parts of the ship, making copies for themselves or their friends, as mementoes of the occasion....."

His facility for rhyming increased rather than diminished with years. The next summer, when a chime of bells was under consideration for St. Thomas's Church (Fifty-third St. and Fifth Ave., N. Y.), some correspondence on the subject passed between the rector of the same and the Pastor of the Hospital, the latter strenuously urging the disturbing effect, which, from their close proximity, the chime was likely to have upon the sicker patients. His deep sympathy with his suffering charge made him unusually tenacious in his objections, so much so, that some one in the parish intimated to him that if St. Luke's Hospital did not like St. Thomas's bells, perhaps she had better betake herself elsewhere. A suggestion indeed had before this been made more than once in other quarters, that so magnificent a location as Fifty-fourth Street and Fifth Ave. (a rude enough one when St. Luke's was founded, however) should not be occupied by a Hospital for the sick poor, and fabulous amounts were talked of as likely to be offered for the removal of the Institution into a less aristocratic neighborhood. But the good Pastor never lent his mind for a moment to the thought, always assuring himself the building would remain where, with so much faith and prayer, it was originally planted. Still he felt the intimation in connection with the forthcoming bells of St. Thomas's, and having occasion to reply to a friendly note of the rector's (July 12, 1873), wherein the bells were touched upon, he appended, by way of postscript, and as the conclusion of his argument, the following lines to the bell-founder.


"Master-workman, ply your skill,
Never mind how large the bill,
Bells for hallowed use alone
Metal need of choicest tone--
Silvery notes so clear and sweet
As the ear may love to greet,
With no clanging, deafening sound
Let them peal the air around;
Soft ethereal harmonies
Raising spirits to the skies,
And when fullest, still so mellow
That our sickest, on his pillow,
Of the peal will ne'er complain--
Lolling, not increasing pain.

"Dear Meneely, heed my rhyme,
Do your best in loveliest chime,
Then St. Thomas from St. Luke,
Ne'er shall hear a cross rebuke;
Nor St. Thomas ever say,
Good St. Luke, prithee away--
Since my noise disturbs your ear
Better go, where you'll not hear;
For, in fact, with all your grace
Not, exactly, you're in place'--
Thus, on you how much depends,
Neighbors, still to keep us friends."--W. A. M.

It is given to few to retain, in prolonged age, the sensibility, tenderness, and sportiveness, which, to the last, distinguished Dr. Muhlenberg. His heart never grew chill under the accumulated snows of his many winters. At seventy-seven he thus gracefully begins a birthday letter to the friend and handmaid of his labors:--"A dismal atmosphere for your birthday, my dear Sister, but it would have to be a thousand times dismaler, to keep me from gladness in it. ...."

Possibly rarely any have continued as much the same in ways and manners from the beginning to the end of life as he. His individuality is marked throughout In most youthful diaries, one sees very little of the essential future man, but in Dr. Muhlenberg's boy journals, however immature, the personality is unmistakable. Take a few pages written at fifteen, and another few at fifty, and the identity of the writer could not be mistaken. A pleasing and more direct illustration of this particular, exists in a recent letter from a venerable gentleman, who was his Sunday scholar, as far back as the days of his early diaconate in St James's Church, Philadelphia (1816). [Mr. James Aertsen, Germantown, Pa., to the writer, Oct 12th, 1878.]

"Dr. Muhlenberg was my friend," he writes, "and a very dear one, in early boyhood. His first sermon, I shall never forget, impressed me most deeply, and I well remember the firm resolve then made that I should follow him into the ministry--a resolve made, I suppose, by hundreds of other lads, to be broken or frustrated as mine was in after years. We were then all at St. James's, and he undertook the task of training some boys in church music, intending them for the choir.....However, this effort of our dear Doctor's did not avail much. His prophetic mind, no doubt, then conceived what a boy choir would be, at some future day, but the time had not come. Perhaps he had poor material--at least, in one case I know he had, .... The impress of his character was never wholly effaced. We met often in after years, and it was always a joy to me that he had not forgotten the past .... Clouds and showers, and storm and sunshine following each other, have left only the feeling which has never been lost, that Dr. Muhlenberg was the friend of my boyhood. Those who, like yourself, knew him in his green old age, found him the same genial, loving friend, whose cheery voice attracted our young hearts so long ago. I never knew one who seemed to change so little. The last time I met him, a few years before his death, I thought I saw in him almost all those traits of his very early manhood which captivated me at first"

Dr. Muhlenberg's wonderful buoyancy of spirit possibly made him, not unfrequently, the younger in such meetings with his "boys," younger as to feeling. Somewhere in the fall of this year or early spring of the year following, it occurred to him, circumstances furthering the thought, to invite to a little reunion at St. Luke's Hospital, his two first boys, now themselves fathers and grandfathers, together with a German youth who was his last boy, or "grace-son," as he then phrased it The meeting took place, but was not attended with the pleasurable excitement he had anticipated. Lapse of years and the cares of life had greatly erased early memories, except in his own large heart, and whatever of sentiment or enthusiasm illumined the reminiscences of the hour, was all from himself.

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