Agnes Rush Burr.

Russell H. Conwell and his work, one man's interpretation of life online

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Copyright, 1917, by
The John C. Winston Co.

. • i * « • •/ »' * - »•

• * * * '

• * •

The Baptist Temple


November 27, 1916.

In the preparation of this biography-
Miss Burr has had the advantage of intimate
acquaintance with me and my work for many
years, I have given her full access to every
kind of information that I possess, and
have talked with her freely as to the aims
and purposes I had in view. I have repeated
to her conversations which I have had with
representative men whom I have met in my
travels both in this country and in Europe.

The estimate which Miss Burr has placed
upon me and my work is of course entirely
her own. She has written with the eyes and
heart of a friend, and that must color more
or less the account in my favor.

While of course I cannot accept respon-
sibility for the opinions of the author, I
believe that her narrative of the facts of
my life is correct and it goes forth with my
entire approval.

Fraternally yours,

To The John C. Winston Company


THE biggest problem that confronts a man is
life. It includes all problems. To find a sat-
isfactory solution is every man's earnest desire
and persistent quest.

How others have solved the problem is often enlight-
ening. Particularly do the records of those whose lives
have been greatly useful to the world have much in
them of help, especially when they began life with none
of the aids considered necessary to achievement, yet
have achieved.

Such is the career of Russell H. Conwell. He started
life as a penniless boy on a rocky New England farm.
He had neither mone}^ nor influence to help toward
success. Yet he has achieved success in great
measure — a success that ranks higher than the gain-
ing of wealth or fame, though these have been won —
in that its finest flower is great service to his fellow-

The road he hewed for himself may prove both inter-
esting and helpful to trace. This record of it is offered
with the hope that the sign-posts along the way may
be of use to others in faring toward their goal.




I. The Story of the Sword.

Doctor Con well's Favorite Occupation. He Tells
the Cause of His Unceasing Work 19

II. The Man as He is Today.

His Life Harvest. His Wide Activities — His
Many Charities — His Aims in Life 26

III. Doctor Conwell's Ancestry.

The Conwell Family Tree. Doctor Conwell Tells
His Views on Ancestry 29

IV. The Conwell Home Without and


Doctor Conwell Describes the Daily Life of His
Boyhood. The Mental and Spiritual Atmosphere
of the Home 32

V. The Friends that Came and Went.

Doctor Conwell Gives Personal Recollections of
John Brown, Frederick Douglas, William Cullen
Bryant and Other Distinguished People Who
Influenced Him in His Boyhood 45

VI. Early Years.

Formative Influences of Nature. Traits Developed
by the Hard Work of the Farm. The Literature
of the Home and Its Influence upon His Life .... 59


VII. The Runaway.

Doctor Conwell Tells of His First Escapade. Run-
ning Away a Second Time and Going to Europe . . 67

VIII. School Days.

Doctor Conwell Describes His Early School Days.
He Shows How One can Get a Practical and
Useful Education Right at Home 75




IX. The Place of Music in Education.

Doctor Conwell Tells the Value of Music in a
Child's Education and How He was Able to
Secure It. The Benefit It has Been to His Life.
He Makes Some Suggestions for Musical Programs 83

X. School Days at Wilbraham.

Earning the Money to Go. Working His Way-
Through. His Studies. Doctor Conwell Describes
His First Public Debate There, Its Ignominious
Failure and the Value of Debating Societies. His
Work as a Book Canvasser 90

XL College Days at Yale.

His Struggle to Get Through College. The
Humiliation of those Days. A Dip into Atheism 101

XII. The Outbreak of the War.

A Visit to New York. Doctor Conwell Gives His
First Impressions of Henry Ward Beecher and
Lincoln. Speeches for Enlistment 106

XIII. Going to War.

Enlisting. Raising Troops. His Election as
Captain and Presentation of Sword. Doctor
Conwell' s Letter Home Describing His First
Engagement 112

XIV. The Second Enlistment.

Captain of Company D. Accompanied by John
Ring. In Charge of Newport Barracks. Attack
of Pickett's Corps. Defeat of Conwell's Men.
Death of John Ring. Appointment on General
McPherson's Staff. Wounded at Kenesaw Moun-
tain. Conversion 125

XV. New Ventures.

Admitted to the Bar. Marriage. Removal West.
Life in Minneapolis. Mrs. Conwell's Progressive
Editorial as to Woman's Place and Interests.
Loss of Home and Illness. Immigration Agent
to Germany. Given up to Die in Paris. Health
Restored. Reporter on Boston Traveller. Trip
Around World as Correspondent 135



XVI. Busy Days in Boston.

Doctor Conwell Tells about Meeting Tennyson,
Gladstone, Garibaldi, Henry Ward Beecher,
Whittier, and Many Other Famous People. His
Work as a Lawyer. Free Legal Advice to the
Poor. The Boston Young Men's Congress. His
Tremont Temple Sunday-school Class 151

XVII. His Entry into the Ministry.

The Death of Mrs. Conwell. Increasing Interest
in Religious Work. Doctor Conwell's Second
Marriage. The Lexington Church. His Decision
to Enter the Ministry 166

XVIII. His First Pastorate.

Doctor Conwell Tells Why He did not Earlier
Enter the Ministry. His Advice upon Choosing a
Life- Work. The Condition of the Church at
Lexington. The First Service. Building a New
Church. His First Church Fair. The Activities
and Growth of the Lexington Church. His Help
in Developing Lexington. His Ordination. The
Call to Philadelphia 170

XIX. The Early Days of the Philadelphia

The Beginning of Grace Baptist Church. A
Letter Describing a Church Service. John Wana-
maker's Tribute to Doctor Conwell's "Different"
Methods. The Growth of the Church 185

XX. A Child's Legacy.

The Beginning of the Building Fund of The Baptist
Temple 197

XXI. Building The Temple.

How a Poor Congregation Built One of the Finest
Church Edifices in the Country. Doctor Conwell's
Ideas as to What a Church Edifice Should be Like.
His Ovn Plans for The Temple. His Warnings
Against the Perils of Success 199



XXII. How The Temple Works.

Doctor Conwell Discusses the Church Work and
Tells the Underlying Principles which He Believes
should Govern. The Various Organizations. The
Temple Fairs and their Purpose. Doctor Conwell
Gives His Ideas of a Church Fair. The Various
Entertainments. How they are Planned and
Managed 209

XXIII. The Business Management.

Doctor Conwell Tells how the Business Affairs of
The Temple are Conducted. The System of
Handling the Church Finances 227

XXIV. The Music of The Temple.

The Chorus of The Temple and Its Organization
and First Leader, Professor David D. Wood.
Professor Wood's Views on Choir Organization
and Work. The Business Management of The
Temple Chorus. The Special Organ 233

XXV. Temple Services.

The Sunday Routine. The Children's Chuich.
The Sunday-school and Sunday Prayer-Meetings.
Baptismal Services. The Dedication of Infants.
Special Services. Watch Meeting 243

XXVI. Temple Prayer-Meetings.

Doctor Conwell Tells the Purpose a Prayer-
Meeting Serves. The Various Prayer-Meetings
of The Temple. The Method of Conducting Them 255

XXVII. How Temple University Transforms

The Reason Instruction at Temple University
Means More than in Many Institutions. Doctor
Conwell Tells How it Came to Be. Rev. Forest
Dager Shows the Need of It 261

XXVIII. A University for the People.

Obtaining the Charter. Laying Mie Corner-Stone.
The Ultimate Development that is Hoped will
Come 274



XXIX. A Democratic Institution.

What the Opportunities it Offers Mean. Its
Adaptable Curriculum. Its Willingness to Meet
Needs. The Various Departments. Many Unique
Special Courses. Its Small Tuition Fees 282

XXX. Helping the Sick Poor.

The Samaritan and Garretson Hospitals. Doctor
Conwell Tells How the Samaritan Hospital
Started. He Gives His Ideas of True Charity.
The Unique Beginning of Garretson Hospital.
The Work it Does at Present 294

XXXI. Spreading Visions.

How the Lecture "Acres of Diamonds" has
Brought Fuller Life to Many. How it Helped a
Salesman. How it has Built up Towns. Its
Voice Within Prison Walls. The Message it
has for All 302

XXXII. The History of " Acres of Diamonds."

The First Time "Acres of Diamonds" was
Delivered. Its Present Great Popularity. What
it has Earned. The Number of Students Helped.
Doctor Conwell Tells How He Came to Give the
Proceeds of the Lecture to Poor Students. Inci-
dents of Lecture Trips 313

XXXIII. Ten Million Hearers.

Unique Lecturing Places. Lecture Topics. Doc-
tor Conwell Discusses Audiences. Tells How to
Keep the Voice in Good Condition. Mentions
the Best Ways to Study for Public Speaking and
Speaks of His Early Efforts. What Others Say
of His Lectures. His Chautauqua Work and
what He Thinks of the Chautauqua Movement. 324

XXXIV. Fifty Years on the American Platform.

Doctor Conwell Discusses Lecturing as a Career
and Gives Reminiscences from His Many Years'
Experience 337

XXXV. Doctor Conwell as a Writer.

His Biographical Work. Lives of the Presidents.
How He Wrote His Successful Life of Spurgeom
Books that Have Helped Him. His Favorite
Authors and Characters 346



XXXVI. Marginalia.

A Favorite Motto. Home Life. Family Bereave-
ment. Public Honors 353

XXXVII. The Message of a Life.

The Secret of Doctor Conwell's Success. He
Emphasizes the Power of Right Thinking and
Tells How to Use It Intelligently. The Develop-
ment of Personality — a Process of Education. Doc-
tor Conwell's Search for Knowledge and How He
Found It. What True Living is. In Tune with
the Infinite. Doctor Conwell's Life — a Mighty
Inspiration to Everybody 358


Doctor Conwell's View of a Menace to Our
Democracy 365

"The Battlefields of the Rebellion" 378

Whittier's Poem " Memories" 390

Outline of Early Sermons 393

Service Used in the Dedication of Infants 401

" Acres of Diamonds" 405


Russell H. Conwell, D.D Frontispiece


Martin Conwell 29

The Birthplace of Russell H. Conwell 32

Miranda Conwell 40

Russell H. Conwell at the Age of Twelve 66

The Old Door-step, Wilbraham Academy 95

The Campus, Wilbraham Academy 95

Russell H. Conwell when Elected Captain 112

Lieutenant-Colonel Conwell 132

Mrs. Jennie Conwell 138

Russell H. Conwell when He Entered the Ministry 172
The First " Church Home" of Grace Baptist

Church 186

The Baptist Temple 203

Professor David D. Wood 234

Temple University 278

The Samaritan Hospital 296

Mrs. Sarah F. Conwell 355



The Story of the Sword

Doctor ConwelVs Favorite Occupation. He Tells
the Cause of His Unceasing Work.

RUSSELL H. CON WELL was once asked, "What
is your favorite occupation?"
L "Living," was the prompt and hearty re-

His career proves his words.

No one can meet him; feel his hearty handclasp;
hear his deep, vibrant voice, or see his cordial smile,
without knowing he enjoys living.

No one can come in touch with his work — the big
church, with its membership of more than three thousand ;
the great university for busy people, with a roll call in
its twenty-seven years of ninety thousand students;
the two hospitals, with their thousands of patients
annually; his lecture trips from the Atlantic to the
Pacific, in the course of which he speaks to hundreds
of thousands of people — without realizing that he gives
to this occupation of living all of his time and energy.
He throws himself wholly into it.

But, though his pleasure in living and working is
keen, he has still another and greater incentive for his
wealth of achievement.

Over Doctor ConwelPs bed, in his Philadelphia home,
hangs a sword. Back of this sword is a story. It is
the tragedy of this story that is the chief cause of the
unceasing activity which fills his days. He is a man
who would undoubtedly have accomplished much with



his life. But this disaster made it imperative that he
do so.

He is induced sometimes to tell the story of the
sword. He related it once to a little group of friends
in his home. As they were admiring its beautiful,
gold-chased scabbard, his face saddened. He was
silent for a moment. Then, in the simple, direct and
unaffected way characteristic of him, he told what
this sword meant to his life.

" During the Civil War," he said, "when I re-
enlisted at Readville, Massachusetts, a boy came to
me who wanted to go to the war with me. His father
had consented. His mother was dead.

"I said to him, 'John, you should not go to war.
You will be killed/ I tried to frighten him, but he
was determined to go. I told him then that he could
not go. But his father insisted, and I finally permitted
him to go with me.

"I went to war from Yale College. I had been
there a little over a year and naturally knew every-
thing that anybody could possibly know. I remem-
ber coming home the previous vacation and while
digging potatoes my devout Methodist father said
to me, 'My son, I notice that you do not go to church.'
I said, ' No, father. And I am not going to church any
more. I don't believe the Bible anyhow.' 'My son,'
he continued, ' are you getting away from your father's
God; from your mother's God?' 'No, father,' I
replied, 'you ought to consider that I have been to
college and know all these things. You have never
been to college and you are not expected to know.
I am an agnostic. I have learned that I don't know
anything about religion.'

"My father was broken-hearted. He said to me,
'Don't go to school any more. I would rather you


would hold on to the love of God than go to school
and learn everything. My son, I would rather see
your body going into the grave than to hear that you
had joined the atheists and infidels/

"I said, 'I will have to tell you the truth. I have
joined the free-thinkers' club. 7

"My classmates 7 autograph books still bear the
record with my name as ' Atheist.' I was known as
a disbeliever in the Bible and I used everything I
could find to prove that it was untrue.

"But the first night that John Ring came into my
tent, he took out his Bible and read it by the candle-
light. I said, 'John, you can't do that in my tent.
I don't believe in it and everyone will laugh at me if
I permit you to do that.' The next night I found him
reading it again and I said to the boy, ' You can't read
that Bible in my tent!' 'Why,' he said, 'what is the
matter, Captain? This is my mother's Bible and
father told me to read it in memory of mother.' I
said, 'You ought to remember your mother, but you
can't read that book in this tent.' He answered with
tears, 'I love you, Captain, but you are a very wicked
man.' After that night John went into my orderly-
sergeant's tent to read his Bible.

"One day, when I was called away on duty, there
came an attack upon our fort in North Carolina, below
Newbern, at the Newport River. Pickett's celebrated
corps drove our men from the camp. My troops fled
across the river and set the long trestle bridge on fire.
When some had gotten across, John ran up to the
orderly-sergeant there and said, 'Where is the Cap-
tain's sword?' He answered, 'He has it on. Get
out of the way.' But John meant this gold-sheathed
sword that was presented to me at Springfield, Massa-
chusetts, when I first went to war. It always hung


on the center-pole of my tent, and it was John's especial
delight to polish it and keep it bright. Fearful now
that it had been left behind, he ran back across the
bridge, in among the Confederate soldiers, into my
tent and pulled down this gold-sheathed sword that
I had promised, when it was presented to me, to give
my life to preserve.

"He managed to get about half-way back across the
burning bridge when a Confederate captain saw him
and did one of the noblest deeds of the war. He came
out in full view and swung his white handkerchief.
The fire on both sides ceased and the Confederate cap-
tain shouted, 'Tell the boy to jump into the river!
Jump on either side. We will save him!'

"They shouted, but they could not make him hear.
When he came near our end of the bridge his clothes
were blazing high. He ran through the smoke and
flung himself out on the end of the abutment of the
bridge, and my sword fell from his hands to the bank
of the river. They rolled him into the water and washed
out the fire, but he was insensible.

"They put him on a gun carriage and took him down
to the hospital at Beaufort. There he lay for three
days. With the return of consciousness, one night, he
asked the nurse, 'Where am I? Where is the Cap-
tain's sword? Won't you bring it in, so I can put
my hand on it? Is the Captain coming to see me?'
The nurse told him that I was coming to see him soon.
The next night he awoke and said, 'Hasn't the Captain
come yet? I want to give him the sword myself, for
then he will know how much I love him.'

"A little later the surgeon came along and said,
'That boy isn't going to live.' He called the nurse
and asked, 'Are you a Christian woman?'

" 'Yes.'


" 'Then tell the boy he is going to die, for he won't
live till morning.'

"The nurse sat down beside him; took his hand and
said, 'John, you are going to see your mother.'

" 'What?'
'You are going to see your mother/ she repeated.
Do you think I am going to die?' he questioned.

" 'Yes/ said the nurse. 'I will have to tell you
the truth. You will probably not live more than
twenty-four hours. Do you want some one to pray
with you?'

"He didn't answer her question but put up his hands
and began to move his lips in prayer. She sent for
the chaplain but did not find him. A short time
afterward John took hold of the sword and whispered,
'Will you tell the Captain that I saved his sword?'

"She answered, 'Yes, I will tell him; but I hope
he will be able to get here before you go.'

"He turned his face upward; peace came to his
features and my John went into the Shining. When
they sent me word that he was dead, no man can
describe the horror that came into my soul.

"Six months afterward I was left for dead on the
field of battle at Kenesaw Mountain, in Georgia.
I came to myself in the hospital tent and asked my
nurse if I was living.

"She said, 'Do you w T ant something to eat?'

" 'No/ I said, 'I want the chaplain.'

"She sent for him; he came and sat beside me and
said, 'What do you wish?'

" 'I want to be forgiven/ I replied; 'I want to find
my Lord. I feel that I must. Will you pray for me? '

"He made one of those formal prayers that we hear
sometimes. It didn't do me any good and I was
angry. I said, 'I want to be prayed out of my sins
somehow or other.'



He got cross and went out, but soon he came back
and said, 'I am sorry that I was impatient.'

"I told him that I wanted him to read the Bible to
me; that I had disbelieved in it and now I wanted to
believe in it. I told him about John Ring and how he
had once read the fourteenth chapter of John. He
read it, and then the twelfth chapter of Romans, but
I couldn't see anything then. I felt there was no
help for me in the Bible. I told him so and he said,
'The only thing for you to do, Colonel, is to go to
God yourself.'

"I said, 'It looks as though I must. I don't see
that I am getting any help from you; but come in

" Sometime during the night I felt a strange sense
of dying — a fading, falling out of life — and I said, 'I
am going to my God if there is one; to the Saviour
whom I have scoffed at and despised; going to meet
John and his God.' An awful sense of sinking came
over me and I called upon the unknown God for for-
giveness, and asked Him to reveal Himself to me if
there was any revelation possible. A little later I
asked the nurse to read a prayer. A few minutes
after that my heart was opened. I cannot describe
it — no one can — that instinctive need for the love of
God, and that warming of the heart which came to
me. But the sense of final forgiveness seemed to fill
my soul with light.

"John Ring's life and his adherence to what he
believed to be right had its influence in leading me to
God. His death made me feel a solemn obligation to
repay the world for his loss. I keep hanging on the
wall, over the head of my bed, the sword that John
saved. Every morning, before I kneel to pray, I say,
'Lord, if Thou wilt help me today, I will do John


Ring's work and my work/ I have been trying to
do two men's work — John's and my own — in order
that when I go home to heaven I may say, 'John,
your life went out early but I did the best that I could
to make up for it.' If there is any special reason for
the amount of work that I have done, it is this: I
want to be able to say honestly each night, 'I have
done your work today, John, as well as my own.' "


The Man as He is Today

His Life Harvest His Wide Activities. His
Many Charities. His Aims in Life.

THE milestones of the years are many since the
tragic death of John Ring and the vow taken
then by the boy of nineteen to do two men's

How has the vow been kept? What is the fruitage
of these years? Russell Conwell has today passed
the threescore-and-ten mark. One might be justified
in saying that his life-work has come to its harvest.
What, then, is this harvest? What does Russell Con-
well represent in the eyes of his fellowmen, and what
is he, now that he has come to those years when one
is supposed to rest from his labors?

Though far past seventy, Russell Conwell is still
a driving force — a resistless energy. He impresses at
once with a sense of power and vitality. He is tall,
broad-shouldered and deep-chested. His features are
rugged and strong; his glance, penetrating but kindly.
He is keen to see and quick to do. His vision is
still toward the future. When a work to which he has
put his hand is accomplished, he does not stop. He
does the next thing — and he does it at once.

Russell Conwell has built up from almost nothing
the largest Protestant Church in America, and has
baptized there more than six thousand adults.
Through the University which he has founded, life
has been broadened and enriched for almost a hun-



dred thousand men and women who otherwise might
not have had the opportunity for this greater measure
of living. Through the two hospitals which have
grown out of his work, health and healing have been
brought to the sick poor. His lectures have given
material aid to thousands of poor students, and
inspiration that has meant success and happiness to
literally millions of hearers.

Yet these accomplishments do not satisfy Russell
Conwell. They are but landmarks that are passed.
They were things to be done and he did them. His
gaze is now forward to other work that waits.

Although he has established for working men and
women a university that annually enrolls four thou-
sand students, he now foresees the possibilities of branch
universities in every ward of Philadelphia, where those
who earn their living can, when working hours are
over, quickly reach classrooms near their homes. He
is pressing toward this goal.

Through his close touch with educational matters
and because of his own struggles as a boy to secure
an education, Russell Conwell recently discerned in
certain legislation an attempt to shut the poor boy
out of the professions. He not only felt the injustice
of this, but he saw what it would mean to the American
people if not prevented. He immediately raised his
voice in protest. Wherever he spoke he gave a stir-
ring warning of this danger to democracy, with the
result that newspapers and magazines took the matter
up and the evil is likely to be scotched in its inception.

Online LibraryAgnes Rush BurrRussell H. Conwell and his work, one man's interpretation of life → online text (page 1 of 29)