Project Canterbury

Essays in Appreciation
by George William Douglas, D.D., S.T.D.

New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1913.

William Croswell Doane

[This tribute appeared as an editorial in the Churchman, May 24th, 1913.]

A MASTER in Israel has been taken from our midst. By common consent William Croswell Doane was a person of commanding influence in the councils and operations of our Church. It is proverbial that the sons of great men seldom enhance the position which they inherit, but the younger Doane was his father's peer. As pastor, preacher, educator, civil servant, statesman, bishop, and as a man among men, he kept "the heritage of those that fear God's name."

Like Dr. Muhlenberg (though of a different school), in his earlier years he was supposed to be a partisan, so vigorously did he uphold certain views of doctrine and ecclesiasticism which at that time were regarded as peculiar to one party in our Church. But in process of time throughout our Communion there was a leveling up and a broadening out in such matters, so that Bishop Doane's attitude wore less appearance of partisanship; while at the same time there went on in his own mind a mellowing process which rendered him more generally genial than perhaps he was at first. He always magnified his office; but more and more the personality adorned the office, as the office sanctioned the personality.

Already the newspapers have mentioned some of his most important work; but in this article, written on the eve of going to press, there is neither space nor time to attempt an appraisal of Bishop Doane's services to the Church he loved so well. That can be better done hereafter. On occasion he was a great debater. None who heard the debate at Baltimore on the marriage question can forget how Doane and Paret crossed swords in valiant argument; and the vote showed that honors were about even. Nor can those who had the privilege of overhearing the four great bishops--Williams of Connecticut, Clark of Rhode Island, H. C. Potter of New York, and Doane of Albany--in familiar intercourse, fail to recollect the scintillations of their friendly strife of tongues.

With all this manliness there was in him a certain feminine quality--a very personal way of looking at things, and of influencing people. Though always courteous, and even courtly, in manner, the personal pronoun was frequent in his utterances; and if excessive in youth, when advancing years secured for him the deference which old age usually obtains from self-respecting youth, there was a St. John-like quality in his speech for the very reason that both he and his hearers felt that the natural barriers to entire affection were breaking down. By this time, if some were still aware in him of a note of "narrowness," they were nevertheless moved to ask themselves whether, when they too grew old, they might not come to recognize in such "narrowness" more truth of ultimate insight than youth is able to perceive. For, after all, did not the Master say that "straight is the gate, and narrow the way that leadeth unto life"?

Like his father and Dr. Croswell, he had in him much "unwritten poetry"; and, in spite of burdensome avocations, he contrived to compose a few fine poems, and at least one memorable hymn. In churches of all denominations there are many to be grateful always to our bishop when they join in singing "Ancient of Days."

He was a constant letter-writer, and the missives from his pen--pungent in controversy, in personal trouble exquisitely sympathetic--were winged, influential words to men, women, and children, clergymen and laymen, prominent and obscure, throughout our country and abroad--though it cannot be denied that the invention of the typewriter was, in his case, a boon to all concerned, as this left illegible in the bishop's missives only the signature.

To the writer of this article Bishop Doane was on the whole most unique and greatest as an extempore preacher. When he was at his best, expressing himself after due preparation but in impromptu words, few preachers could equal him in spiritual power--in apt and vivid illustrations, in intellectual suggestiveness, in practical persuasion, "piercing to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, of the joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intents of the heart." The best proof of this was the audience which for years he drew to the little church at Northeast Harbor, where the worship and the whole appearance and atmosphere of the place were singularly expressive of the man.

In his recent touching tribute, in the columns of the Churchman, to Mr. Pierpont Morgan, Bishop Doane counted his great friend happy in being spared the disabilities of a lingering old age. The great Bishop of Albany had to bear them; so we are sure that, when at last his call came, he was glad to go. May he rest in peace, and may perpetual light shine on him!

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