Andrew Dickson White.

Autobiography of Andrew Dickson White (Volume 2) online

. (page 44 of 54)
Online LibraryAndrew Dickson WhiteAutobiography of Andrew Dickson White (Volume 2) → online text (page 44 of 54)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

other countries. It has been a building period, a period
of reforms necessitated by the rapid growth of our nation
out of earlier conditions and limitations. Every thinking
man who has felt any responsibility has necessarily been
obliged to take part in many enterprises of various sorts :
necessary work has abounded and has been absolutely
forced upon him. It has been a period in which a man
could not well devote himself entirely to the dative case.
Besides this, so far as concerns myself, I had much practi-
cal administrative work to do, was plunged into the midst
of it at two universities and at various posts in the diplo-
matic service, to say nothing of many other duties, so that
my plans were constantly interfered with. Like many
others during the latter half of the nineteenth century, I
have been obliged to obey the injunction, "Do the work
which lieth nearest thee." It has happened more than
once that when all has been ready for some work which I
greatly desired to do, and which I hoped might be of use, I
have been suddenly drawn off to official duties by virtually
an absolute command. Take two examples out of many :
I had brought my lectures on German history together,
had collected a mass of material for putting them into
final shape as a * ' History of the Building of the New Ger-
many," and had written two chapters, when suddenly
came the summons from President Cleveland to take part
in the Venezuela Commission, a summons which it was
impossible to decline. For a year this new work forbade
a continuance of the old; and just as I was again free
came the Bryan effort to capture the Presidency, which,
in my opinion, would have resulted in wide-spread misery
at home and in dishonor to the American name through-
out the world. Most reluctantly then I threw down my
chosen work and devoted my time to what seemed to me

PLANS AND PROJECTS-1838-1905 509

to be a political duty. Then followed my appointment to
the Berlin Embassy, which could not be declined; and,
just at the period when I hoped to secure leisure at Berlin
for continuing the preparation of my book on Germany,
there came duties at The Hague Conference which took
my time for nearly a year. It is, perhaps, unwise for me
thus to make a clean breast of it, "qui s 'excuse, s 'ac-
cuse ' ' ; but I have something other than excuses to make :
I may honestly plead before my old friends and students
who shall read this book that my life has been mainly de-
voted to worthy work; that I can look back upon the
leading things in it with satisfaction; that, whether as
regards religion, politics, education, or the public service
in general, it will be found not a matter of unrelated
shreds and patches, but to have been developed in obedi-
ence to a well-defined line of purpose. I review the main
things along this line with thankfulness : First, my work
at the University of Michigan, which enabled me to do
something toward preparing the way for a better system
of higher education in the United States ; next, my work
in the New York State Senate, which enabled me to aid
effectively in developing the school system in the State,
in establishing a health department in its metropolis, in
promoting good legislation in various fields; and in se-
curing the charter of Cornell University; next, my part
in founding Cornell University and in maintaining it for
more than twenty years ; next, the preparation of a book
which, whatever its shortcomings and however depre-
cated by many good men, has, as I believe, done service
to science, to education, and to religion; next, many
speeches, articles, pamphlets, which have aided in the
development of right reason on political, financial, and
social questions; and, finally, the opportunity given me
at a critical period to aid in restoring and maintaining
good relations between the United States and Germany,
and in establishing the international arbitration tribunal
of The Hague. I say these things not boastingly, but
reverently. I have sought to fight the good fight; I have


sought to keep the faith, faith in a Power in the uni-
verse good enough to make truth-seeking wise, and strong
enough to make truth-telling effective, faith in the rise
of man rather than in the fall of man, faith in the grad-
ual evolution and ultimate prevalence of right reason
among men. So much I hope to be pardoned for giving
as an apologia pro vita mea.




WHEN the colonists from New England came into
central and western New York, at the end of the
eighteenth century, they wrote their main ideas large
upon the towns they founded. Especially was this evi-
dent at my birthplace on the head waters of the Susque-
hanna. In the heart of the little village they laid out,
largely and liberally, "the Green"; across the middle of
this there gradually rose a line of wooden structures as
stately as they knew how to make them, the orthodox
Congregational church standing at the center; close be-
side this church stood the "academy"; and then, on
either side, the churches of the Baptists, Methodists, and
Episcopalians. Thus were represented religion, educa-
tion, and church equality.

The Episcopal church, as belonging to the least numer-
ous congregation, was at the extreme left, and the smallest
building of all. It was easily recognized. All the others
were in a sort of quasi-Italian style of the seventeenth
century, like those commonly found in New England ; but
this was in a kind of "carpenter's Gothic" which had
grown out of vague recollections of the mother-country.
To this building I was taken for baptism, and with it are
connected my first recollections of public worship. My
parents were very devoted members of the Protestant
Episcopal Church. With a small number of others of like
mind, they had taken refuge in it from the storms of
fanaticism which swept through western New York dur-

U.-33 513


ing the early years of the nineteenth century. For that
was the time of great "revivals." The tremendous as-
sertions of Jonathan Edwards regarding the tyranny of
God, having been taken up by a multitude of men who
were infinitely Edwards 's inferiors in everything save
lung-power, were spread with much din through many
churches: pictures of an angry Moloch holding over
the infernal fires the creatures whom he had pre-
destined to rebel, and the statement that "hell is filled
with infants not a span long," were among the choice
oratorical outgrowths of this period. With these loud
and lurid utterances went strivings after sacerdotal rule.
The presbyter "old priest writ large" took high
ground in all these villages : the simplest and most harm-
less amusements were denounced, and church members
guilty of taking part in them were obliged to stand in
the broad aisle and be publicly reprimanded from the

My mother was thoughtful, gentle, and kindly; in the
midst of all this froth and fury some one lent her a
prayer-book; this led her to join in the devotions of a
little knot of people who had been brought up to use it;
and among these she found peace. My father, who was
a man of great energy and vigor, was attracted to this
little company; and not long afterward rose the little
church on the Green, served at first by such clergymen as
chanced to be in that part of the State.

Among these was a recent graduate of the Episcopal
College at Geneva on Seneca Lake Henry Gregory.
His seemed to be a soul which by some mistake had es-
caped out of the thirteenth century into the nineteenth.
He was slight in build, delicate in health, and ascetic in
habits, his one interest in the world being the upbuilding
of the kingdom of God as he understood it. It was the
time when Pusey, Newman, Keble, and their compeers
were reviving mediaeval Christianity; their ideas took
strong hold upon many earnest men in the western world,
and among these no one absorbed them more fully than


this young missionary. He was honest, fearless, self-
sacrificing, and these qualities soon gave him a strong
hold upon his flock, the hold of a mediaeval saint upon
pilgrims seeking refuge from a world cruel and perverse.

Seeing this, sundry clergymen and influential laymen
of what were known as the "evangelical denominations"
attempted to refute his arguments and discredit his prac-
tices. That was the very thing which he and his congre-
gation most needed: under this opposition his fervor
deepened, his mediaeval characteristics developed, his
little band of the faithful increased, and more and more
they adored him; but this adoration did not in the least
injure him: he remained the same gentle, fearless, nar-
row, uncompromising man throughout his long life.

My first recollections of religious worship in the little
old church take me back to my fourth year; and I can
remember well, at the age of five, standing between my
father and mother, reading the Psalter with them as best
I could, joining in the chants and looking with great awe
on the service as it went on before my admiring eyes. So
much did it impress me that from my sixth to my twelfth
year I always looked forward to Sunday morning with
longing. The prayers, the chants, the hymns, all had a
great attraction for me, and this although I was some-
what severely held to the proper observance of worship.
I remember well that at the age of six years, if I faltered
in the public reading of the Psalter, a gentle rap on the
side of my head from my father's knuckles reminded me
of my duty.

At various times since I have been present at the most
gorgeous services of the Anglican, Latin, Russian, and
Oriental churches; have heard the Pope, surrounded by
his cardinals, sing mass at the high altar of St. Peter's;
have seen the Metropolitan Archbishop of Moscow, sur-
rounded by prelates of the Russian Empire, conduct
the burial of a czar ; have seen the highest Lutheran dig-
nitaries solemnize the marriage of a German kaiser;
have sat under the ministrations of sundry archbishops


of Canterbury; have been present at high mass per-
formed by the Archbishop of Athens under the shadow
of Mars Hill and the Parthenon; and, though I am sin-
gularly susceptible to the influence of such pageants,
especially if they are accompanied by noble music, no one
of these has ever made so great an impression upon me
as that simple Anglo-American service performed by a
surpliced clergyman with a country choir and devout as-
semblage in this little village church. Curiously enough,
one custom, which high-churchmen long ago discarded as
beneath the proper dignity of the service, was perhaps
the thing which impressed me most, and I have since
learned that it generally thus impressed new-comers to
the Episcopal Church: this was the retirement of the
clergyman, at the close of the regular morning prayer,
to the vestry, where he left his surplice, and whence he
emerged in a black Geneva gown, in which he then
preached the sermon. This simple feature in the cere-
monial greatly impressed me, and led me to ask the rea-
son for it : at which answer was made that the clergyman
wore his white surplice as long as he was using God's
words, but that he wore his black gown whenever he used
his own.

Though comparatively little was said by Episcopalians
regarding religious experiences or pious states of mind,
there was an atmosphere of orderly decency during the
whole service which could hardly fail to make an im-
pression on all thinking children brought into it. I re-
member that when, on one or two occasions, I was taken
to the Congregational church by my grandmother, I was
much shocked at what seemed to me the unfit dress and
conduct of the clergyman, in a cutaway coat, lounging
upon a sofa, and at the irreverent ways of the sturdy
farmers, who made ready to leave the church during the
final prayer, and even while they should have been re-
ceiving the benediction.

I thus became a devotee. Of the sermons I retained
little, except a few striking assertions or large words;


one of my amusements, on returning home, was conduct-
ing a sort of service, on my own account, with those of the
household who were willing to take part in it ; and, from
some traditions preserved in the family regarding my
utterances on such occasions, a droll sort of service it
must have been.

In my seventh year the family removed to Syracuse,
the "Central City" of the State, already beginning a
wonderful career, although at that time of less than six
thousand inhabitants. My experience in the new city
was prefaced by an excursion, with my father and mother
and younger brother, to Buffalo and Niagara; and as
the railways through central New York were then unfin-
ished, and, indeed, but few of them begun, we made the
journey almost entirely on a canal-packet. Perhaps my
most vivid remembrance of this voyage is that of the
fervid prayers I then put up against shipwreck.

At Syracuse was a much larger and more influential
Protestant Episcopal church than that which we had
left, next, indeed, in importance to the Presbyterian
body. That church St. Paul's has since become the
mother of a large number of others, and has been made
the cathedral of a new diocese. In this my father, by vir-
tue of his vigor in everything he undertook, was soon made
a vestryman, and finally senior warden ; and, the rector-
ate happening to fall vacant, he recommended for the
place our former clergyman, Henry Gregory. He came,
and his work in the new place was soon even more effec-
tive than in the old.

His first influence made me a most determined little
bigot, and I remember well my battles in behalf of high-
church ideas with various Presbyterian boys, and espe-
cially with the son of the Presbyterian pastor. In those
days went on a famous controversy provoked by a
speech at a New England dinner in the city of New York
which had set by the ears two eminent divines the Rev.
Dr. Wainwright, Episcopalian, and the Rev. Dr. Potts,
Presbyterian. Dr. Potts had insisted that the Puritans


had founded a "church without a bishop and a state
without a king"; Dr. Wainwright insisted that there
could be no church without a bishop ; and on this the two
champions joined issue. Armed with the weapons fur-
nished me in the church catechism, in sundry sermons,
and in pious reading, I took up the cudgels, and the battles
then waged were many and severe.

One little outgrowth of my religious intolerance was
quickly nipped in the bud. As I was returning home one
evening with a group of scampish boys, one of them
pointed out the "Jew store," in those days a new
thing, and reminded us that the proprietor worshiped
on Saturday and, doubtless, committed other abomina-
tions. At this, with one accord, we did what we could to
mete out the Old Testament punishment for blasphemy
we threw stones at his door. My father, hearing of this,
dealt with me sharply and shortly, and taught me most
effectually to leave dealing with the Jewish religion to
the Almighty. I have never since been tempted to join
in any anti-Semitic movement whatever.

Meanwhile Mr. Gregory or, as he afterward became,
Dr. Gregory was fighting the battles of the church in
many ways, and some of his sermons made a great im-
pression upon me. Of these one was entitled ' * The Church
not a Sect, ' ' the text being, ' ' For as to this sect, we know
that it is everywhere spoken against. ' ' Another sermon
showed, especially, his uncompromising spirit and took
yet stronger hold upon me ; it was given on an occasion
when Presbyterians, Methodists, and Baptists were drawn
in large numbers to his church ; but, disdaining all efforts
to propitiate them, he took as his subject "The Sin of
Korah," who set himself up against the regularly or-
dained priesthood, and was, with all his adherents, fear-
fully punished. The conclusion was easily drawn by all
the "dissenters" present. On another occasion of the
same sort, when his church was filled with people from
other congregations, he took as his subject the story of
Naaman the Syrian, his text being, * * Are not Abana and


Pharphar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the rivers
of Israel 1 May I not wash in them and be clean ? ' ' The
good rector's answer was, in effect, ''No, you may not.
The Almighty designated the river Jordan as the means
for securing health and safety; and so in these times he
has designated for a similar purpose the church which
is the Protestant Episcopal Church : outside of that as
the one appointed by him you have no hope. ' '

But gradually there came in my mind a reaction ; and,
curiously, it started from my love for my grandmother
my mother's mother. Among all the women whom I re-
member in my early life, she was the kindest and most
lovely. She had been brought as a young girl, by her
parents, from Old Gruilford in Connecticut; and in
her later life she often told me cheerily of the days
of privation and toil, of wolves howling about the cot-
tages of the little New York settlement in winter, of jour-
neys twenty miles to church, of riding on horseback from
early morning until late in the evening, through the for-
ests, to bring flour from the mill. She was quietly reli-
gious, reading every day from her New Testament, but
remaining in the old Congregational Church which my
mother had left. I remember once asking her why she
did not go with the rest of us to the Episcopal Church.
Her answer was, ' ' Well, dear child, the Episcopal Church
is just the church for your father and mother and for you
children ; you are all young and active, but I am getting
old and rather stout, and there is a little too much getting
up and sitting down in your church for me. ' ' To the harsh
Calvinism of her creed she seemed to pay no attention,
and, if hard pressed by me, used to say, "Well, sonny,
there is, of course, some merciful way out of it all. ' ' Her
religion took every kindly form. She loved every person
worth loving, and some not worth loving, and her bene-
factions were extended to people of every creed; espe-
cially was she a sort of Providence to the poor Catholic
Irish of the lower part of the town. To us children she
was especially devoted reconciling us in our quarrels,


soothing us in our sorrows, comforting us in our disap-
pointments, and carrying us through our sicknesses. She
used great common sense in her care of us ; kindly and
gentle to the last degree, there was one thing she would
never allow, and this was that the children, even when
they became quite large, should be out of the house, in
the streets or public places, after dark, without an elderly
and trusty companion. Though my brother and I used
to regard this as her one fault, it was really a great ser-
vice to us; for, as soon as dusk came on, if we were
tempted to linger in the streets or in public places, we
returned home, since we knew that if we did not we
should soon see her coming to remind us, and this was,
of course, a serious blow to our pride.

When, then, I sat in church and heard our mediaeval
saint preach with ardor and unction, Sunday after Sun-
day, that the promises were made to the church alone;
that those outside it had virtually no part in God's good-
ness ; that they were probably lost, I thought of this dear,
sweet old lady, and my heart rose in rebellion. She
was certainly the best Christian I knew, and the idea that
she should be punished for saying her prayers in the
Presbyterian Church was abhorrent to me. I made up
my mind that, if she was to be lost, I would be lost with
her ; and soon, under the influence of thoughts like these,
I became a religious rebel.

The matter was little helped when our good rector
preached upon retribution for sin. He held the most ex-
treme views regarding future punishment ; and the more
he developed them, the more my mind rejected the idea
that so many good people about me, especially the one
whom I loved so much, could be subjected to such tortures,
and the more my heart rebelled against the Moloch who
had established and was administering so horrible a sys-
tem. I must have been about twelve years old when it
thus occurred to me to question the whole sacred theory ;
and this questioning was started into vigorous life after
visiting, with some other school-boys, the Presbyterian


church when a "revival" was going on. As I entered, a
very unspiritual-looking preacher was laying down the
most severe doctrines of divine retribution. In front of
him were several of our neighbors' daughters, many of
them my schoolmates, whom I regarded as thoroughly
sweet and good; and they were in tears, apparently
broken-hearted under the storm of wrath which poured
over them from the mouth of the revival preacher. At
this I revolted entirely, and from that moment I disbe-
lieved in the whole doctrine, utterly and totally. I felt
that these kindly girls, to whom I had looked with so much
admiration in the classes at school and in our various little
gatherings, were infinitely more worthy of the divine fa-
vor than was the big, fleshly creature storming and raging
and claiming to announce a divine message.

Some influence on my youthful thinking had also been
exercised by sundry occurrences in our own parish. Our
good rector was especially fond of preaching upon "bap-
tismal regeneration"; taking the extreme high-church
view and thereby driving out some of the best "evangeli-
cals" from his congregation. One of these I remember
especially a serene, dignified old man, Mr. John Durn-
f ord. After he left our church he took his place among the
Presbyterians, and I remember, despite my broad-church
tendencies, thinking that he was incurring serious danger
by such apostasy ; but as I noted him, year after year, de-
voting himself to the newly founded orphan-asylum, giv-
ing all his spare time to the care of the children gathered
there, even going into the market and thence bearing pro-
visions to them in a basket, I began to feel that perhaps
his soul was safe, after all. I bethought myself that, with
all my reading of the Bible, I had never found any text
which required a man to believe in the doctrines of the
Protestant Episcopal Church; but that I had found, in
the words of Jesus himself, as well as in the text of St.
James regarding "pure religion and undefiled," declara-
tions which seemed to commend, especially, labors for the
poor, fatherless, and afflicted, like those of Mr. Durnford.


But still more marked was the influence on my thinking
of a painful clash in the parish. It came on this wise.
Our rector was one day called to attend the funeral of a
little child but a few weeks old, the daughter of neighbors
of ours. The father was a big-bodied, big-hearted, big-
voiced, successful man of business, well liked for his bluff
cordiality and generosity, who went to church because his
wife went. The mother was a sweet, kindly, delicate
woman, the daughter of a clergyman, and devoted to the

It happened that, for various reasons, and more es-
pecially on account of the absence of the father from home
on business, the baptism of the child had been delayed
until its sudden death prevented the rite forever.

The family and neighbors being assembled at the house,
and the service about to begin, an old maiden lady, who
had deeply absorbed the teachings of Dr. Gregory and
wished to impress them on those present, said to the

father, audibly and with a groan, "Oh, Mr. , what

a pity that the baby was not baptized ! " to which the rector
responded, with a deep sigh and in a most plaintive voice,
"Yes!" Thereupon the mother of the child burst into
loud and passionate weeping, and at this the father, big
and impulsive as he was, lost all control of himself.
Rising from his chair, he strode to the side of the rector
and said, ' ' That is a slander on the Almighty ; none but a
devil could, for my negligence, punish this lovely little
child by ages of torture. Take it back take it back, sir ;
or, by the God that made us, I will take you by the neck
and throw you into the street ! " At this the gentle rector
faltered out that he did not presume to limit the mercy
of God, and after a time the service went on ; but sermons
on baptismal regeneration from our pulpit were never
afterward frequent or cogent.

Online LibraryAndrew Dickson WhiteAutobiography of Andrew Dickson White (Volume 2) → online text (page 44 of 54)