Project Canterbury

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

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

Bishop Doane--The Poet

IN this issue the Churchman contains a letter expressive of the sincere sympathy which all friends of the Bishop of Albany are feeling at this time--sympathy which surely is shared by church people generally, for Bishop Doane is known and honoured throughout our country, and far beyond. This is neither the place nor the time to say more on that intimate theme; but I think that even here and now something can be said which will not be out of harmony with what so many of us are thinking in our hearts.

More than a generation ago the first Bishop Doane, of New Jersey, in one of the valuable footnotes to his (first) American edition of Keble's Christian Year, in quoting one of Dr. Croswell's fugitive poems, said of that notable Boston clergyman, "He has more unwritten poetry in him than any man I know." That remark might well be applied to the second Bishop Doane, and I have so thought of it lately. Standing before us, as he now does, in noble loneliness, bereaved of his last child, the many friends of the Bishop of Albany are thinking of him not so much as the Pastor, the Bishop, the statesman, the fearless leader of men--in all which characters he has been distinguished during his long career--but rather in a more pathetic guise, which appeals directly to our most human sympathies; and it is in this connection that Bishop Doane's poetic gift has been recalled to me. If he had not spent himself in countless other ways, for the Church and for the world at large, there can be little doubt that he would have been widely recognized as a true poet; whereas in the stress and complexity of his regular duties he has been, for the most part, obliged to live "with all the music in him still unsung." Now and then, indeed, fugitive verses from his pen have got before the public, but they were inadequate samples of his unwritten store; although in his sermons and letters, and above all in his remarkable extempore addresses, there were abundant signs of his poetic cast of mind. Once or twice he has accomplished the difficult feat of composing a really great hymn, such as "Ancient of Days," which has a permanent place, not only in our own Hymnal, but in collections of sacred song put forth by other Christian denominations, both here and abroad. I recollected this hymn when, in a private letter, I was told of the touching appearance of the aged Bishop as Celebrant at Holy Communion in his little church at Northeast Harbor, about the time when the funeral car was bearing the remains of his beloved child to her distant grave.

Since then I have called to mind another poem of his, less widely known--a very human document, bearing also characteristic marks of the devout divine. Bishop Doane has always been as fond of animals as of mankind; and those who are familiar with Dr. Brown's "Rab and his Friends" and Matthew Arnold's "Geist" will find much of the fine feeling and poetry of the Scotch physician and the English man-of-letters condensed in these beautiful verses of our American Bishop, along with notes that are quite his own. For years I have had these verses on a card that stands on my study mantelpiece, to catch my eye in vacant moments. I reproduce them here as a fair example of the wealth of "unwritten poetry" that is, and always has been, in the Bishop of Albany. Possibly in this hour of deep sorrow, when his closest friends can but offer him the mute condolence of clasped hands and wistful eyes, he will not refuse to accept, from one less intimate, this earlier utterance of himself to himself, which expresses much that he has been used to say to others in like case; for here he says all that can be said, and better than others could say it:


"I am quite sure he thinks that I am God--
Since he is God on whom each one depends
For life, and all things that his bounty sends--
My dear old dog, most constant of all friends;
Not quick to mind, but quicker far than I
To Him whom God I know and own: his eye
Deep brown and liquid, watches for my nod;
He is more patient underneath the rod
Than I, when God His wise corrections sends.
He looks love at me deep as words e'er spake:
And from me never crumb nor sup will take
But he wags thanks with his most vocal tail:
And when some crashing noise wakes all his fear,
He is content and quiet if I am near,
Secure that my protection will prevail.
So, faithful, mindful, thankful, trustful, he
Tells me what I unto my God should be."

Project Canterbury