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Collection of Chicogoono


The University Library



BORN AUGUST 23, 1830

Chicago Literary Club

THIS MEMORIAL of our late fellow-
member, David Swing, was read at
the meeting of the Chicago Literary Club
on Monday evening, October 29, 1894, and
ordered printed and copies sent to the mem-
bers of the Club.

Frederick W. Gookin,

Recording Secretary.

Digitized by the Internet Arciiive

in 2010 with funding from

CARLI: Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois


SIXTY-FOUR years ago, in the city of
Cincinnati, David Swing was born. His
father died soon after, and when David was
five years old, his mother having married
again, the family settled on a farm near Wil-
liamsburg, on the Ohio river. Until he was
eighteen years of age he lived upon the farm
and did the ordinary work of a farmer's boy,
attending the village school and academy
during the winter months. In the academy
Greek and Latin were taught, and when he
was eighteen years old, by his work at the
academy and at home, he was fitted for col-
lege and entered the Miami University at
Oxford, Ohio, from which he was graduated in
1852. In most departments of college work
he was a student of simply average ability,
but was at the very front in literary work
and the classical languages. After his grad-
uation he studied law for a year in the office

of an uncle in Cincinnati, but, becoming sat-
isfied that the work of a clergyman was his
proper vocation, he exchanged the study of
law for that of theology, and in due time was
graduated from the Lane Theological Semi-
nary. He then returned to Oxford, and for
the next twelve years taught the Greek and
Latin languages, and preached every second
Sunday in a small country church near Ox-
ford, and frequently in the village churches.
In this early day his sermons had many of
the characteristics of the work of his maturer
years — the breadth of view, the profound
scholarship, the exquisite mastery of lan-
guage, the literary touch, the dainty wit and
sarcasm and the sovereign poetic fancy which
irradiated all. Four years before he came to
Chicago he received and accepted a call to a
Chicago church, but two or three weeks later
he withdrew his acceptance, stating that he
felt himself unqualified to permanently inter-
est a city audience. He received three or
four subsequent calls to Chicago, which were
declined from the same distrust in his own
abilities, but in 1866 came his final accept-
ance from the insistence of some of his

early friends, who more correctly gauged
his powers. His first church was presently
consolidated with another, forming the
Fourth Presbyterian, for which he preached
with constantly growing success until 1875.
Meantime the church had been burned in the
great fire, and until it was rebuilt services
were held in Standard Hall and McVicker's
Theatre. Charges of heresy were preferred
against him, upon which he was tried and
acquitted by the local Presbytery, but when
an appeal was taken to the General Assem-
bly, he severed his connection with the
denomination rather than to be embroiled in
a controversy, which to him seemed infi-
nitely distasteful and profitless. Central
Music Hall was built by those sympathizing
with his views, and from its platform he
preached to great and appreciative audiences
until the end of his labors.

Such, in brief, is the outline of the life
and work of the man who is to-day so widely
and profoundly mourned. From boyhood
he seemed to have a special facility in the
acquisition of languages, and mastered the
Italian tongue for the purpose of reading the

poems of Dante. His knowledge of the
classical languages was phenomenal ; his
study and teaching of these languages made
them seemingly as familiar to him as his
mother tongue. His library contained the
works of nearly all the Greek and Latin
authors, and he usually read several pages
daily in each of these languages. This
familiarity with the classical authors gave him
an inexhaustible fund of anecdote and illus-
tration for the work of his life.

His first national recognition came with
his trial for heresy. As we look at this inci-
dent after a lapse of twenty years, when the
smoke of conflict is cleared away, we can see
clearly and without prejudice the merits of
the issue between Professor Swing and his
principal prosecutor. The Church had a
confession of faith, formulated more than two
hundred years before, which was supposed
at its date to embody the teachings of the
New Testament, points, however, which
many of the Church members had come to
question or quietly to ignore.

Professor Swing formulated his dissent
from these certain points upon the ground

that they did not truly represent the teachings
of Christ. Dr. Patton's position, in substance,
was, that the Presbyterian Church was organ-
ized upon this confession of faith ; that the
question was not whether Professor Swing
was right or wrong in his interpretation of the
New Testament teachings, but whether he
could remain the pastor of a church founded
upon formulae which he in part disbelieved.
From a purely technical standpoint, we may
concede that Dr. Patton's position was cor-
rect, although this position makes the rea-
soning of past centuries absolutely final in
matters of theology, and cuts oif all possibil-
ity of growth, progress or development, re-
garding the most vital question pertaining to
human life.

The decision of Professor Swing to sever
his relations with his chosen denomination
was for him the beginning of a fuller and
freer life. He bore no feeling of bitterness
toward his former associates, but held them
ever in cherished and loving remembrance.
He felt, however, that disputes upon ques-
tions of doctrine were worse than a waste of
time and brain ; were, as a rule, regarding

questions outside the domain of human
knowledge and tended to keep apart millions
of the good and pure, who should work in
harmony for the salvation of men.

From the broad platform of the Central
Church thenceforth doctrinal dogma and the
religion of despair were banished, and a faith
was taught full of love and gentleness and
charity ; full of a serene and tranquil belief
that the history of man is ever the history of
progress ; that goodness and virtue will ever
rise triumphant in the end.

From his pulpit, too, he reached the
widest audience yet accorded to any Ameri-
can preacher. His Sunday's discourse was
printed in full the following Monday in one
or more of our most widely circulated jour-
nals, was copied wholly or in part into other
newspapers in every part of the country, and
his weekly audience was thus numbered by
the hundreds of thousands. The effect of
these discourses cannot be over-estimated.
The thinking world was ripe for the modifi-
cation of the earlier and sterner tenets of
theology, as it emerged more and more into
the light of modern civilization ; was hungry

for the teaching of one who should dwell
more upon the love and less upon the rigid
justice of the Supreme Father of us all ; of
one who should bring us more into touch
with the life of the world in which we Uve,
and less into the discussions of those abstract,
dogmatical questions, which have been de-
bated from the dawn of the historic period,
and which, from this very fact, are seen to be
incapable of solution by the human intellect,
or they would have been settled long ago.

All persons who have reached middle life
realize the marvelous change which has come
over the teachings of our pulpits within the
last thirty years, the most notable change
since the Reformation ; see the broader
charity in matters of abstract belief, the
wider recognition of the fact that all the
great religious faiths of the world are based
upon certain common, fundamental princi-
ples, but which, by long processes of growth
and evolution, are specially adapted to the
varied needs of the widely separated and
differently constituted peoples. No one in
our country has done more to promote this
kindly change than Professor Swing. No one

so grandly paved the way for the great Parlia-
ment of Religions, which met in our city in
1893 — a gathering which would have been
impossible a generation ago — and the benefi-
cent consequences of which will be more
and more appreciated as the years go by.
He was ever ready and eager to recognize
the truth, wherever found. Early he had
realized fully, as Whittier phrases it, that

" In Vedic verse in dull Koran
Are messages of love to man.
The prophets of that early day,
The slant-eyed sages of Cathay,
Read not the riddle all amiss
Of higher life evolved from this.

Wherever through the ages rise
The altars of self-sacrifice,
Where love its arms has opened wide,
Or man for man has calmly died,
I see the same white wings outspread
That hovered o'er the Master's head."

Born in the Presbyterian Church, his work
bore the abiding fruits of wisdom, of a gra-
cious and tolerant spirit, and a beautiful and
intellectual life in all the Churches. He was
a herald of the dawn, and to him all men

were brothers, who aided in ways however
diverse, in the bringing of the better day.

In the great movement of the religious
thought of the nation in the direction of
charity and toleration toward those who see
not the truth as we see it, the quiet and
unassuming preacher of the Central Church,
utterly devoid of the graces of oratory, but
with a heart full of love and tenderness, with
the poet's grasp and the prophet's vision, and
with his glowing sentences, which linger in
our memories like an exquisite melody, was
perhaps the most potent factor.

His sermons abound in paragraphs, epi-
grammatic in their concentrated wit and wis-
dom — pure and sparkling gems of thought,
from which some loving hand will some time
compile an anthology rivaling that of Shakes-
peare, Franklin or Emerson ; phrases musical
with the majestic resonance of the psalms;
pages where the orator may seek for meta-
phors and the poet may find his inspiration ;
and maxims which the eloquence of genera-
tions yet unborn will crystallize into the
common and permanent speech of people to
whom his very name may be unknown. He

held his vast audience, not by the rheto-
rician's art, but because he had a message to
deliver for which the world was waiting and
had waited long.

Outside his pulpit work, the most valuable
literary efforts of Professor Swing were his
papers read before this club, of which he has
long been the most loved and honored mem-
ber. Of late these papers have been largely
relative to the leading men of Greece and
Rome : Socrates, Cicero, Demosthenes, Pliny
and others. From his familiarity with classi-
cal literature, these papers have been most
graphic and admirable pictures of these
antique heroes, bringing them before us from
the mists of time with the picturesque vivid-
ness of the portraiture of a man of to-day.
A volume of these essays was published some
years since, and enough others are extant to
make two more similar volumes, which it is
hoped may soon be published and thus made
accessible to his wide audience.

Professor Swing, notwithstanding he was
never a man of robust health — being for the
greater part of his life a partial invalid — yet
led an exceptionally sunny and happy life. He


appreciated and keenly enjoyed the good and
beautiful things of this world. Beautiful
scenery, flowers, pictures, music, the drama,
and, above all, the society of his countless
friends, were to him sources of perpetual
delight. Dining with a friend on the after-
noon of the last Sunday on which he preached,
in speaking of his summer's vacation, he said :
" The rest, the pure air, the trees, the lake, the
birds and flowers were delightful, but men and
women are more than all else ; all those
things were as nothing when compared with
the welcoming faces of my congregation and
the greetings of the friends of my soul." His
sympathetic nature brought him many
friends. To him came those who were bowed
down under the burden of their sorrows, who
were weary and heavy laden, for words of
encouragement, of cheer and of consolation,
which were never wanting. He was an opti-
mist in his views of the future of his country-
men, whom he believed would be the manly
and heroic citizens of the ideal common-
wealth which was to come in the fulness of
time, and which was to be the realization of
the dreams of our civilization. Especially

was he hopeful of the growth of the religious
idea by the garnering of all that was good in
the foregone times and the addition of new
truth from our better knowledge of the laws
which govern the universe. He quoted the
words of Emerson :

" The word by seers or sybils told
In groves of oak or fanes of gold,
Still floats upon the morning wind,
Still whispers to the willing mind.
One accent of the Holy Ghost
The heedless world has never lost."

The approach of old age caused him no
unhappiness. To one who recently offered
him birthday greetings he said : "As age
comes upon us we must console ourselves
with the words of Browning :

Grow old along with me,
The best is yet to be,

The last of life for which the first was made.
Our times are in His hand.
Who saith a whole I planned.

Youth shows but half. Trust God, see all,
nor be afraid."

Few more impressive scenes have been wit-
nessed in our city than on the occasion of


Professor Swing's funeral. His audience room
was filled with those who had long listened
to his teachings. With none of the heralding
of a public burial, the body of the great
preacher was borne to the platform of Central
Music Hall, and everywhere surrounded with
the flowers which he loved. In the beautiful
autumnal afternoon, from all parts of the
great city, the saddened multitudes gathered
in reverent silence until the streets were filled
with the mourning thousands, who, with low-
ered voices, tremulous with tender feeling,
spoke of the graces and virtues of the de-
parted, and of the city's remediless loss.
Most impressive, however, was the scene
upon the platform within, where sat some
seventy clergymen, representing nearly every
sect and denomination finding a home in our
city. There sat the priest of that church
which, among the Christian sects, in point of
time is the oldest, in point of numbers in
the nation is the greatest, and as a business
corporation, the most ably managed in church
history. There sat the representative of the
extreme liberalism of the modern days, reck-
less of all the ancient landmarks, side by side

with those who feel that the ancient land-
marks are as the laws of the Medes and
Persians, which alter not. There were those
representing the various Christian sects,
divided upon questions of technical construc-
tion of some passage of Holy Writ, or some
point of church government, and whose
points of difference the great divine had by
his teachings lovingly sought to obliterate,
side by side with the learned Jewish Rabbi,
representing the nation from which Chris-
tianity itself had sprung, and which Christian-
ity had since ceaselessly persecuted. There
sat many of those who, twenty years before,
in his time of trial, had criticised his course,
and spoken of him words of bitterness, but
who, in the intervening time, had in great
measure reached the point where he then
stood, their views modified largely by his
pure and sinless life, his wisdom and loving
kindness, his gentleness and abounding char-
ity. All these were met together, bound by
the ties of a common sorrow, to testify by
their presence, by their reverent bearing, by
their hardly subdued grief, their realization
of the nation's loss, and of the lovable

qualities of him whose death to our vision
seemed so sudden and untimely.

To the large circle of his closest friends,
great as was their admiration for his intel-
lectual endowment, it was his heart that was
greatest. These knew most the breadth of
his love and charity, the purity of his thought
and life. They saw most of the genial wit
and sarcasm, exquisite and unique as that of
Charles Lamb, but ever without sting or bit-
terness. For them a great light has gone
out, and the world which has been enriched
and made beautiful by this benignant pres-
ence can to them be never more the same.
How many have applied to him within the
last few saddened weeks the lines of Tenny-
son's In Memoriam :

" Yet in these ears till hearing dies,
One set, slow bell will seem to toll
The passing of the sweetest soul
That ever looked with human eyes.
* * * *

Whereof the man that with me trod
This planet was a noble type,
Appearing, ere the times were ripe,

That friend of mine who lives in God."


One of the tenderest and most apprecia-
tive tributes to the memory of Professor
Swing was that of his and our friend, Dr.
Gunsaulus, from which, in conclusion, we
quote a stanza :

" Our poet preacher in his words of prose
Made hfe a lyric and its dreams subUme
Far from his musing and his hope there goes
Eternal music for the sons of time."

Franklin H. Head,
Abram M. Pence,
John H. Barrows,

Chicago, October 29, 1894.





Online LibraryAmelia (Anderson) 1769-1853 OpieValentine's eve → online text (page 1 of 1)