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Bishop Clarkson.

By George L. Miller.

Lincoln: Nebraska State Historical Society, 1885.

The Rt. Rev. Robert H. Clarkson, Episcopal Bishop of Nebraska, died at his home on St. Mary's Avenue, Omaha, Monday, March 10, 1884.

The following biography of Bishop Clarkson was an editorial in the Omaha Herald, written by Dr. Geo. L. Miller, editor.

"This morning's sun looks down upon a stricken city, and its grief brings a whole state to the ground in woe.

"At the hour of twelve-thirty of the clock yesterday miming, Bishop Clarkson breathed his last breath of mortal life. In the midst of this great calamity, could we be left to our own hearts we would sit with our personal grief in silence. But a few words must be written for the public record.

“ROBERT HARPER CLARKSON, was born at Gettysburg, in Pennsylvania, on the 19th of November, 1826. He was of an old and honored family. His grandfather, the Rev. Joseph Clarkson, D.D., was the first clergyman ordained by Bishop White. He was rector of St. James' church, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, until he reached a great age, and he now lies in the church yard there. The Bishop's father was, during his son's boyhood, a man of extensive business and of great public esteem. Afterwards he lived in retirement. Many people in Omaha remember him, a genial, hearty, good old man. He died here several years ago.

"The Bishop's academic education was received at Pennsylvania College in the town of his birth, where he was graduated B.A. in [106/107] 1844. Shortly afterwards he became tutor at the college of St. James, in Hagerstown, Maryland. The head of this interesting institution was the Rev. Dr. Kerfoot, afterwards bishop of Pittsburg. While there, young Clarkson studied theology under Dr. Kerfoot, and was ordained deacon, June, 1848.

“In some of its circumstances his early life was most happy. Far beyond what falls to the lot of most young men, he enjoyed the advantage of love and care and association of very rare men. While at the college of St. James, he learned to love, and was in turn greatly loved. by the Rev. Dr. Mulenburg, whose memory still lives and will always live in St. Luke's hospital, New York, which he founded, and in the lines of the hymn, 'I would not live alway,' which he wrote. He was the immediate successor of the elder Dr. Clarkson as rector of the church in Lancaster; a tie which bound him to the young man, and in his long life of many labors our bishop was to him as a son. Dr. Bowen, also rector of the same church, and afterward Bishop of Pennsylvania, was his uncle. For his piety, learning, and great labor, his name is a treasure in the Church to this day. He gave his kinsman his solicitous affection and assistance. Dr. Kerfoot lavished upon him the vast stores of his great learning, and made known to him not only the beauty of godliness, but the power and joy of exquisite literary graces. His cousins, the Passmores, were nearly of his age, and their poetic and highly spiritual natures quickened his own. And there were others who cannot here be named. And so it was that, by inheritance and education both, he was made for such a life as now on earth is ended.

“While at Hagerstown, in 1849, he won the hand of a daughter of the house of McPherson--a great name in those parts--and ever since she has shed on his pathway the raidiance of wife's affection and the help of wife's care. On the day of their marriage, before the sounds of festivity were over, the young couple took up their long and weary way to Chicago; he to be the rector of St. James church, and both to be to their death the most cherished objects of the affection of the people there. It was a great venture. With little knowledge of men, and no experience in affairs, they came to the new, raw western city. Almost children, they were to be as leaders of the aggressive and vigorous manhood that was impatient of weakness and heedless of failures. But they proved themselves worthy son and [107/108] daughter of their great inheritance. Hardly were they settled in their new home than the cholera came to mercilessly scourge the city. Others in the sacred office fled before the terrors of the plague; they were steadfast through the whole period of its ravages. Day and night the young deacon held his way among the stricken, nursing the sick, helping the poor, holding up the hearts of the afflicted, holding the cross before the eyes of the dying, and burying the forsaken dead. Stricken down himself, he conquered the disease by his indomitable spirit, and weak and weary as he was, he went out again to the utter misery all about, never stopping to rest, never heeding the cries of fear. The record of Christian heroism tells no more affecting tale of devotion and self-sacrifice. He came out of the ordeal a conquerer, for he had conquered a city. Known of all for what he had been in the hour of agony, as ever afterwards he went in the streets and the houses there, all men paid him a loving, and almost worshipful homage.

"He was ordained priest January 5, 1851. Seventeen years he lived among that people. He built a great church, in its beauty surpassing all others in that city. He gathered a great congregation from all conditions of men. He set on foot, and nursed, and made secure many charities. Every young man coming there, of whom he could hear, was sought out and helped, and encouraged, and put in the good way. Every poor, or sick, or afflicted, or friendless person found a hand stretched out, a heart open wide for him, and the more he needed of any sort of help, the more was pressed upon him. The whole was a life of arduous work a joy and a blessing to everybody. The friendships then formed still live--their strength unrelaxed and the gratitude to-day all it was when the service was rendered. And now the city of his first love mourns, and mourns with the city where he rests forever.

In 1857 he received his doctorate in Divinity from his alma mater and also from Racine College. And there, in that young school, he had his place. It was he who named the sainted DeKoven for its head, and by much persuasion, secured the appointment. And his unswerving devotion and unremitting service did much to make the college the great Rugby of America. In 1872 our own university honored itself by conferring upon him the very first of all the degrees of doctor of laws.

[109] Eighteen years ago the general convention of his church elected him missionary bishop of Nebraska and Dakota. On the 15th of November, 1865, he was consecrated in his own church. The services of that occasion are a memory still. The Rt. Rev. John Henry Hopkins, the presiding bishop of the church, was consecrator, assisted by Bishops Kemper, McCoskey, Lee, Whipple, and Talbot. In 1870 Nebraska was erected into a diocese, and he was unanimously elected its first bishop. He retained jurisdiction in Dakota for Some years, when the western part of that territory was detached and made a separate district with a bishop of its own. Last fall he was, at his request, relieved of his missionary jurisdiction, the work having outgrown his strength. And he now looked forward to years of labor to be given wholly to Nebraska.

He repeated in his higher office of bishop his work as priest. He came again to a new, raw land, whose prairies stretched out a vast waste with a few little towns where little churches had been built, and a sparse and poor population. It was as untoward a prospect as a Christian bishop ever looked upon. But he was no more dismayed than when he first left the home of his fathers. With what heedlessness of self; with what buoyancy of spirit; with what resolute patience, despite great discouragement; with what abundant, trying, exhausting labors, he has gone on and carried on the work none know or ever will know, who were not admitted to his inmost heart! He has built fifty churches. He has carried to good success his two schools. He has been the head and moving spirit, and source of strength to all the work of his Church. He has not kept himself to the places of ease, nor even to his own home, but has gone up and down all the country, preaching in school-houses as well as churches to a few disciples wherever they could be gathered. No journey has been too long or too hard for him to travel in all seasons, so that he could reach and help and encourage any servant of the Lord. He has preached such sermons that men who cared little for such things have said they never heard him but they longed to be better, and he has taught multitudes the very rudiments of our divine religion.

His work has been before our eyes, although we have not seen it all. The poor missionary has cried to him in his utter poverty; the young man has craved his aid; the afflicted and sorely sinning have sought his counsel and comfort. And so it is that his true work, his [109/110] great work has been abundant and distressing where men could have no thought of it. And its fruits have been on every hand. They are that love that now makes so many, many men and women he has helped to a better life rise up and call him blessed.

His last great works are in our midst. The child's hospital was his child, and he loved it with a father's love. That is one. But the joy of his last days was the cathedral. He toiled and was full of anxious fears for it. There was no detail of the work he did not know, and follow, and care for. And when the work was completed and he looked upon its fair beauty, and he came to consecrate it on that lovely November day with his brethren of the episcopate about him, and his clergy around him, and his people of the goodly company he rejoiced with a great joy. His last act there he entered into with his best delight--the marriage of the daughter of one he dearly loved. And now, after that, comes the end in the holy precincts. While yet in health he spoke again and again of his wish to be laid beneath the shadow of his cathedral, and even pointed out the spot. And when he saw the time was coming fast, he repeated his request that there he should be laid. The solemn promise then was given him, and he rested on it.

And so it is to be that two days hence he is to be carried from his home, which he filled full with the affection of his great heart and the light of his happy spirit, by the hands of his own clergy to his cathedral amidst a whole people weeping and mourning, and then, his dearest friends and the prelates coming from afar to honor him, he is to be laid in the place he had chosen for himself. And it shall be from generation to generation a holy shrine for men to come to pay homage to a sainted name.


On Thursday morning at, eleven o'clock the holy communion will be celebrated at the cathedral.

At one o'clock in the afternoon the body of Bishop Clarkson will be carried by his clergy to the cathedral.

At two o'clock the services at the cathedral will begin. The burial will be in the cathedral yard under the window of the south transept.

It was the desire of the deceased prelate to be buried on Sunday afternoon, in order that laboring people of all classes might witness [110/111] the services. This has been impracticable, but it is earnestly hoped that all classes of our citizens will be present, if not within the cathedral, at least in the yard when he is laid at rest. Large numbers of his friends and of the clergy from abroad, among them several of the bishops, have signified their intention to be present.

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