Alexander V. G. (Alexander Viets Griswold) Allen.

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he followed the rule to accept them in the order in which he opened
the letters, not allowing himself to choose which he would prefer.
It was a principle with him never to decline an invitation to
preach unless prevented by some previous engagement.

He was particular in the matter of correspondence, in the later
years always answering letters so promptly that one hesitated to
write to him for fear of increasing his burden. It was of no
avail to tell him that a letter required no answer. He wrote his
letters with his own hand, and in his most beautiful handwriting,
seeming to take pride in their appearance. He was severe in
his strictures upon illegible or even ungraceful handwriting, think-
ing there was no necessity for it. He became very skilful in
turning out letters. In the case of his call to Harvard he wrote

350 PHILLIPS BROOKS [1859-93

two hundred. But he repeated himself and did not seek to vary
his responses. He had a large number of formulas for different
occasions, which made it easy for him to meet them, and this ex-
plains his boast that he could write a letter in three minutes.
But this was not the case with letters of friendship.

He liked to have things beautiful around him ; he enjoyed a
woman's beautiful dress as he did a poem. He hesitated about
buying for his study some convenient arrangement for holding
books, on the ground that as a jjiece of furniture it was ugly.
His admiration for precious stones was noticeable, as shown in his
sermons, where the simile of the jewel often occurs, and becomes
the occasion of beautiful description. The ground of his admira-
tion was the intrinsic beauty of the precious stone, which no com-
monness would reduce.

I was impressed with the circumstance [says one who often
stayed at his house overnight] that from the earliest moment
when I heard him stirring in the morning, he was singing to him-
self, not exactly a tune, but the effort at one; he continued it
during his bath, and until the breakfast hour.

His hours were regular in the later y ears ; he rose at seven, and
breakfasted at eight ; then followed a short interval of work be-
fore the crowd of callers came. He would have no office hours,
nor would he refuse to see any one who called. Lunch was at one.
In later years he might fall asleep afterwards for a moment over
his cigar, but quickly recovered. After lunch came calls on the
sick, or meetings of various kinds. He made few parochial calls.
Six was the dinner hour. He sometimes found it hard to go out
in the evening. Often there were callers. At ten o'clock the
house was shut, and at eleven he was in bed.

He worked hard in the mornings and seemed to be wonderfully
free from moods or depression. He could drop his work and
take it up again, without suffering from any interruption. He la-
bored most diligently on his sermons, and on every address he
was to make.

In the evenings, when he did not go out, and there were no
callers, he was most delightful. He used me as a sort of con-
science, taking the opportunity of any casual remarks I made to
deliver his thoughts at some length. He would lecture me on my
delinquencies; he was not in the habit of paying compliments to
any one. It was easy to rouse him to tremendous explosions of
wrath. Once as he sat taking a survey of the things in his study,
he said they did n't amount to much, or were of no great value,
but he should miss them if they were not there.

The portrait which he liked most was the drawing of the head


of Christ, by Leonardo. William Blake's pictures he admired.
He greatly liked Kipling, especially the India stories. Talking
once about Bryce's ''American Commonwealth, " he admitted that
the republican form of government could not produce the highest
result, but that it had, on the other hand, great advantages. He
had no exalted opinion of the Mugwump movement in politics,
and refused to follow it. The best Englishmen, he said, were
better than the best in any other countiy, and the rest were poorer
than the poorest elsewhere. He was very loyal to his friends.
One of them said to him once, "Phillips, if you like a man you
swallow him whole."

He advised me never to go to the theatre. In speaking of the
histrionic art, he said that it demanded for success weakness
rather than strength of character. The occasion which led him
to speak on the subject was an effort he was making to prevent a
young girl from going on the stage.

He preached a sermon at Trinity Church one Sunday, in which
he guardedly intimated that prohibition might not be the best
way of dealing with intemperance. Then there came at once sev-
eral letters on the subject, from good men who complained of hia
attitude. In one of the letters the writer said, "You have sold
yourself to a rich congregation. Your Christianity is spurious."
"They won't allow me," he said, "the courtesies of ordinary
politeness. It is a matter of indifference to Trinity Church which
attitude I took."

He was very generous in his Christmas presents, spending much
time and thought over what he was to give, and careful that no
one should be omitted whom he wished to remember.

The career of Phillips Brooks always looked to those about
him as one line of unbroken prosperity. There had been no
check to his success, no halt in his triumphs. " Perennial
sunniness," says one who crossed the ocean with him, was his
characteristic. He was accustomed to say of himself that his
life had been one of the happiest. In the later years, and
after the death of his mother, the sense of loneliness in-
creased. He begran to realize how the course of his life con-
demned him to increasing loneliness for the remainder of his
days. He yearned and hungered for human affection. This
was the royal avenue to his soul for those who knew how to
take it. To Bishop McVickar he admitted that it had been
the mistake of his life not to have married. Sometimes, in


the happy homes of his younger friends, he seemed to resent
their happiness, as though they taunted him in his greatness
with the inability he had shown for human love. More than
once he is known to have said, "The trouble with you mar-
ried men is that you think no one has been in love but your-
selves ; I know what love is ; I have been in love myself."
He wanted to enter every great human experience. Life
grew sad in the retrospect when he thought that he had been
shut out from the greatest of all experiences, — marriage and
wife and children. But he forced himself to look upon the
brighter side of things. Out of his loneliness there came con-
solation to himself and others. Thus in one of his sermons
he says : —

Sometimes life grows so lonely. The strongest men crave a
relationship to things more deep than ordinary intercourse in-
volves. They want something profounder to rest upon, — some-
thing which they can reverence as well as love; and then comes

Call ye life lonely ? Oh, the myriad sounds
Which haunt it, proving how its oviter bounds
Join with eternity, where God abounds !

Then the sense of something which they cannot know, of some
one greater, infinitely greater than themselves, surrounds their life,
and there is strength and peace, as when the ocean takes the ship
in its embrace, as when the rich, warm atmosphere enfolds the

A statement regarding the name of Phillips Brooks, that
he was called after his uncle John Phillips, may be corrected
on his father's authority, who writes in his journal : " Phil-
lips was born in High Street, December 13, 1835, — a stormy,
cold, icy night. His name was taken from the surname of
his mother's family."

His love of clear and simple humor was marked and emphatic,
and he had a rippling way of describing ludicrous scenes which
was like nothing so much as a bubbling, gurgling brook, laughing
its way over rock and stone and moss.^

When I think of Phillips Brooks, I recall the remark of Dr.
Johnson, that "the size of a man's understanding may be justly

1 Cf. The Child and the Bishop, by Rev. W. W. Newton.


measured by his mirth." Mr. Brooks seemed to me to have what
has been called "the deep wisdom of fine fooling;" he had
attained what so few possess, — the dignity of joyousness.

These are some of the stories told by those who knew him
personally : —

Once, at a marriage service at Trinity Church, the gentleman
who was to give away the bride became confused, and asked what
he should do. "Anything you please; nobody will care."

He had his version of the "Jonah " narrative, but whether it is
original I do not know. When some one was wondering at the
possibility of Jonah being swallowed by the whale, he said, "There
was no difficulty. Jonah was one of the Minor Prophets."

A poor woman, whose business was to scrub the floors of Trin-
ity Church, came to him about the marriage of her daughter, ask-
ing the use of the chapel. "Why not take the church? " "But
that is not for the likes of me." "Oh yes, it is, for the likes
of you, and the likes of 7ne, and the likes of every one. The rich
people, when they get married, want to fling their money about;
but that is not necessary in order to be married at Trinity Church."
And so the marriage took place in Trinity Church, and the great
organ was played as if it were the wedding of a daughter of the

His reticence about his methods of work is shown by this anec-
dote. A clerical friend entering his study took up from the table
the plan of a sermon just finished. "Oh, is this the way you do
it? " "Put that paper down," said Mr. Brooks sternly. "No,
I've got the chance and I'm going to know how it's done."
"Pm^ t/iat down or leave the room."

To a young man in his congregation who, out of awkwardness,
had got into the habit of saying to him, "Mr. Brooks, that was
a fine sermon you gave us this morning, " he replied, after endur-
ing it as long as he could, "Young man, if you say that again to
me, I '11 slap your face."

"Why is it," said a friend to him, "that some of these men
who call themselves atheists seem to lead such moral lives ? "
"They have to; they have no God to forgive them if they don't."

His power of repartee was great, but it would be difficult
to illustrate. Here, however, is an instance which may bear
relating : —

A clergj'man who was going abroad to study said in jest that
when he came back he might bring a new religion with him. A


354 PHILLIPS BROOKS [1859-93

person who was present said, "You may have some diflficulty in
getting it through the custom house." "No," said Mr. Brooks,
"we may take it for granted that a new religion will have no
duties attached."

He once contrasted the ancient church with the modern to the
effect that then they tried to save their young men from being
thrown to the lions ; now we are glad if we can save them from
going to the dogs.

One element of his humor consisted in assuming that he
was identified with the world and carried it with him, so that
all the world must be aware of his environment, and be
thinking of the things which he was thinking about. From
this point of view, it was possible to express surprise and to
call things " queer " which differed from what he was ac-
customed to. Thus on revisiting a place in Europe, where
he had once passed some delightful days with friends, he
writes : " It seemed so strange to find the people doing the
same things, the same guides and porters and landlords that
we left. I kind of felt they must have stopped it all when
we came away."

The use of the word " queer " is common in his " Letters of
Travel." He is astonished, on reaching Berlin, that he hears
nothing about the squabbles of a certain church at home. When
he was asked what the Queen of England said to him in the in-
terview she granted, he replied that her first remark was, "How
is Toody? " [his little niece]. "Not that she said it in so many
words, but that was what was in her mind." He represents the
letter-carrier approaching him when he was abroad and shouting
so that all could hear, awakening the interest of everybody on the
street, "A letter from Tood! A letter from Tood! " The hu-
mor of his letters to children is something rare and exquisite.
It consisted in putting himself in their place and talking as if he
were one of them, using their language, keeping within the circle
of their ideas. ^

Many of his references to smoking should be humorously con-
strued. He was not a great smoker, although this impression
might be gained from his allusions to the subject. The cigar was
a symbol of social enjoyment ; he did not smoke when he was

1 Cf . TTie Century, August, 1893, for an article entitled " Phillips Brooks and
his Letters to Children."


Phillips Brooks always retained a vivid impression of the call
he made on Dr. Vinton, just after his failure in the Boston
Latin School, and when in doubt as to what should be his work
in life. He and Dr. Vinton would occasionally revert to the
subject in later years, trying to straighten out each other's recol-
lections. Dr. Vinton would insist that Brooks while in college
had avoided him, in order to prevent any conversation on the sub-
ject of personal religion. When, therefore. Dr. Vinton got the
chance he improved it to the utmost. Brooks had resented at the
time this attempt to introduce religion as if it were an affront,
and, grateful as he was for what Dr. Vinton had done for him,
could never recall the circumstance without the memory of that
sense of injury done to his personality. He would say to Dr.
Vinton whenever the subject came up, "All the same, it was
mean in you to get a fellow in a corner and throw his soul at
him." Dr. Vinton was fond of recalling that when he tried to
get from Brooks some idea of what he would like to do in life,
Brooks had replied, "I cannot express myself very clearly about
it, but I feel as if I should like to talk."

Dr. Vinton was not afraid of his young prot^gd, and did not
hesitate, if occasion demanded, to rebuke him. Once, when
Brooks had been talking with a lady at an evening party in Dr.
Vinton's house, he turned his chair around and sat with his back
to her. Dr. Vinton, seeing the situation, came up to him.
"Brooks, get up a moment." Then, turning the chair around,
"Now, sit down again. That is the proper position."

Brooks was very much at home at Dr. Vinton's house. Some-
times he displayed strange moods. He had remained talking
with the doctor in his study one night till it got to be twelve
o'clock, when he displayed an unaccountable aversion to going
back to his house. Dr. Vinton at once proposed that he should
spend the night, and a room was made ready for him. But after
waiting for some two hours longer, he rose, and saying he wouldn't
make a fool of himself he went home.

Dr. Vinton did not understand Brooks's rapidity of utterance,
and once asked him to preach slowly, that he might form some
judgment of the effect. His advice, after hearing this attempt,
was, "You had better go it your own gait, two-forty, or what-
ever it may be."

I took Mr. Gardner, the head master of the Latin School,
to hear Mr. Brooks preach at Trinity Church. He made no
comment on the sermon, but called attention to the ungrammati-
cal construction of a sentence.

While Mr. Brooks was in Philadelphia, at the Church of the

356 PHILLIPS BROOKS [1859-93

Holy Trinity, a study of his character was made from his hand.
These were some of the inferences: "The line of heart shows
a nature more susceptible through the imagination than through
sentiment. . . . The line of life is steady and unbroken, but
does not indicate longevity. . . . The balance between the mate-
rial and the spiritual is remarkably even. The man is devotional
from principle rather than from sentiment; but is of a pure and
truthful nature, honest and generous, and kindly in all his in-

As illustrating his preference for city over country life, I am
particularly fond of this : " The Bible shows how the world pro-
gresses. It begins with a garden, but ends with a holy city. "

To a lady on shipboard who was nervous in a storm, he said
there was no better way of dying than to go down in a shipwreck.

Commenting upon a meeting of the Church Congress, from
which he had just returned, he said the speeches were like towing
ideas out to sea and then escaping by small boats in the fog.

Talking with an American gentleman one clear evening in
Japan, about some late discoveries in astronomy and the enor-
mous number of the stars, the gentleman, who was engaged in a
study of Buddhism, said, "If we have a life to live in each one
of the three hundred and fifty millions we have quite a row to
hoe." "Ah, well," said Mr. Brooks, "if they are as beautiful
as this I am willing."

One of his closest and oldest friends, when explaining to some
one how he should ever have been admitted to his friendship,
said, "He allowed us to crawl up on him a little way, where we
might better look up to see him."

You felt you did not get into the inner citadel of his soul in
any conversation, said one who knew him better than most.
But you got there when you made no effort, and were there some-
times when you did not realize it.

It was because he felt it to be great to live, and had such an
abounding sense of life, that he walked the earth like a king and
seemed to fill every day with the grandeur and fulness of eter-
nity. In the words of Shelley : —

All familiar things he touched,

All common words he spoke, became

Like forms and sounds of a diviner world.

The same charm which he exerted in the pulpit was felt In the
consciousness of his presence in social festivities, or in the private
room. No one else seemed to be present when he was there. He
filled the room.


I can remember (writes an English bishop) with highest plea-
sure a visit with which he honored me in my room at the Divinity
School, Cambridge. His genial presence seemed to fill it, and
spread around an atmosphere of energetic life.

An English lady, an authoress and highly cultivated, spoke
of him as the " enchanter of souls."

He possessed that "mysterious gift of charm which, like magic,
gives to some men and women a wholly unexplained influence
and ascendency over their kind. We now and again come across
some persons to whom all things are forgiven because they possess
this extraordinary charm. No one can say in what it consists.
It neither belongs especially to beauty, nor yet to talent, nor to
goodness in life. It is impossible to get behind the secret of

Mr. Brooks would have nothing to do with so-called psycho-
logical investigations, whose object was to communicate with the
departed. "Why is it," he once said to me, "that mediums
always live at the South End ? "

A lady told him that her grandfather said that Bishop Bass,
who was an ancestor, looked in his picture like a judge who had
just given a wrong decision. "He is the first person," said Mr.
Brooks, "that found any expression whatever in Bishop Bass's

Speaking once of High Churchmen, he remarked, "What they
lack is a sense of humor."

He walked across Green Park behind three English bishops,
and was inwardly chuckling over their gestures. When they
came to a fence, they put their hands on the top and jumped
over, while he meekly went round, not despising the aprons so

He burst out once when we talked of a person with rather
affected manners, "If only people would be simple! " Very
reserved people he did not get on well with, — he was too
reserved himself at once, and too sensitive to atmosphere. "If
they would only once express themselves," he said. He loved
people as people, and always wanted to "hear about folks." In
one of his sermons he speaks of what I know he felt about the
city streets. "To prosperous men, full of activity, full of life,
the city streets, overrunning with human vitality, are full of a
sympathy, a sense of human fellowship, a comforting companion-
ship in all that mass of unknown and, as it were, generic men and
women, which no utterance of special friendship or pity from the
best known lips can bring. The live and active man takes his

358 PHILLIPS BROOKS [1859-93

trouble out on the crowded streets, and finds it comforted by the
mysterious consolation of his race. He takes his perplexity out
there, and its darkness grows bright in the diffused, unconscious
light of human life."

Did you ever hear how his carriage failed to come one day till
it was too late to get him to a meeting, that he expressed him-
self with considerable impatience, and then the next morning
went over to the livery stable office at the Brunswick and apolo-
gized for his hastiness?

His impatience was sometimes quite evident in the way he
touched the bell in the Sunday-school if there wasn't silence at
the first ring.

He was sometimes bitterly deceived in people, but it was not
from lack of discernment, — he was very discerning, I think, —
but because, like that old friend of God, "through grace he re-
garded them not as they now were, but as they might well be-
come." When he finally made up his mind, he was capable of
much righteous indignation. Besides, every one showed him their
"star side."

Some one accused him once of always addressing men in his
sermons, and adding women and mothers and girls as an after-
thought ; and I remember our laughing at him once because, after
admiring the beauty of a fancy ball, he added that "ordinary
parties were all black." It was evident what part of the party
he was thinking of.

Once here at tea, where he was the only man, he spoke of the
strange willingness Englishmen showed to change their names,
forgetting, as some one told him, that "all the ladies present
either had or intended to change theirs."

Little children turned to him like flowers to sunshine, and I
think his expression when he looked down at them, or held a
baby in his arms, was the most tender thing I ever saw.

And manhood fused with female grace

In such a sort, a child would twine

A trustful hand, unmasked in thine,
And find his comfort in thy face.

"In Memoriam " is full of him, and how fond he was of it I
He used to talk to us a great deal about Tennyson, and about
"our set," as we called them, — Maurice, and Stanley, and
Kingsley. I remember his saying Coleridge was one of the most
interesting and puzzling of men, but Newman, "after all, was
only a second-class mind." He agreed with Lowell's remark
that Newman made the great mistake of thinking that God was


the great "I Was" rather than the great "I Am." He laughed
over a photograph in which Maurice, in an ill-fitting coat, hangs
on big Tom Hughes's arm: "No matter how spiritual a man is
if his coat sleeves are too long ! "

On hearing that Esther Maurice was accused of destroying
some of the Hare family letters, he said, "If even more had been
lost to the world, I think I could have forgiven her."

He impressed me as having the gift for administration. He
was to Trinity Church what a good housekeeper is in a family.
He had his eye on everything, knew all that was going on, and
seemed to be everywhere. He was very positive, but the people
liked it. When anybody wanted to do anything, he would make
himself master of the situation in five minutes. Any one could
get hold of him, if only there was earnestness and he saw that he
was really wanted and needed. But he dreaded machinery in
a parish, and was fearful that organization might tyrannize over
parishes. He did not at first welcome the St. Andrew's Brother-
hood. He had already his Bible class, and thought that was
enough. It was the same with the Woman's Auxiliary. Some
thought he was opposed to "churchly" ways; but that was not
the reason.

He was the most sensitive of men if he was not approached in
the right way. He told me once that he did n't like being fifty.
He said he did n't want to be left behind. Some one had re-
marked to him, "Your generation was occupied with slavery;
ours has taken up sociology." "And so," he remarked, "the
inference is that I am to be thrown out."

He never could be alone except when he was travelling.
"Travelling is the only place on this footstool where I can be by
myself." "Why don't you have a prophet's chamber?" He
said he did want one sometimes, but that his mission was to see
people. That was what he was here for. After he had been two
weeks by himself, he hungered for people. It was the possibilities

Online LibraryAlexander V. G. (Alexander Viets Griswold) AllenLife and letters of Phillips Brooks (Volume 3) → online text (page 34 of 52)