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Ward Beecher, Edwin Chapin, and Theodore Parker. At
various times during my college course I visited Boston,
and was taken by my classmate and old friend George
Washburn Smalley to hear Parker. He drew immense
crowds of thoughtful people. The music-hall, where he
spoke, contained about four thousand seats, and at each
visit of mine every seat, so far as I could see, was filled.
Both Parker's prayers and sermons were inspiring. He
was a deeply religious man ; probably the most thorough
American scholar, orthodox or unorthodox, of his time;
devoted to the public good and an intense hater of slavery.
His influence over my thinking was, I believe, excellent;
his books, and those of Channing which I read at this
time, did me great good by checking all inclination
to cynicism and scoffing; more than any other person he
strengthened my theistic ideas and stopped any tendency
to atheism; the intense conviction with which men like
Channing, Parker, and May spoke of a God in the uni-
verse gave a direction to my thinking which has never
been lost.

As to Beecher, nothing could exceed his bold brilliancy.
He was a man of genius ; even more a poet than an orator ;
in sympathy with every noble cause ; and utterly without
fear of the pew-holders inside his church or of the mob


outside. Heresy-hunters did not daunt him. Humor
played over much of his sermonizing; wit coruscated
through it; but there was at times a pathos which per-
vaded the deep places of the human heart. By virtue of
his poetic insight he sounded depths of thought and feel-
ing which no mere theological reasoning could ever reach.
He was a man, indeed, a great man, but to the end
of his life he retained the freshness of youth. Gen-
eral Grant, who greatly admired him, once said to me,
' * Beecher is a boy a glorious boy. ' '

Beecher 's love of nature was a passion. During one of
his visits to Cornell University, I was driving through the
woods with him, and he was in the full tide of brilliant dis-
course when, suddenly, he grasped my hand which held
the reins and said peremptorily, ' * Stop ! " I obeyed, and
all was still save the note of a bird in the neighboring
thicket. Our stop and silence lasted perhaps five minutes,

when he said, "Did you hear that bird? That is the

(giving a name I have forgotten). You are lucky to have
him here; I would give a hundred dollars to have him
nest as near me. ' '

During this visit of his to my house, I remember find-
ing, one morning, that he had been out of doors since day-
light ; and on my expressing surprise at his rising so early
after sitting up so late, he said, "I wanted to enjoy the
squirrels in your trees. ' '

Wonderful, too, was his facility, not merely in preach-
ing, but in thinking. When, on another visit, he stayed
with me, he took no thought regarding his sermon at the
university chapel, so far as one could see. Every waking
moment was filled with things which apparently made
preparation for preaching impossible. I became some-
what nervous over this neglect; for, so far as I could
learn, he had nothing written, he never spoke from mem-
ory, and not only the students, but the people from the
whole country round about, were crowding toward the

Up to the last moment before leaving my house for the


morning service, he discussed the best shrubs for planting
throughout our groves and woods, and the best grasses to
use in getting a good turf upon the university grounds.
But, on leaving the house, he became silent and walked
slowly, his eyes fixed steadily on the ground ; and as I took
it for granted that he was collecting his thoughts for his
sermon, I was careful not to disturb him. As we reached
the chapel porch, a vast crowd in waiting and the organ
pealing, he suddenly stopped, turned round, lifted his eyes
from the ground, and said, "I have been studying your
lawn all the way down here; what you need is to sow
Kentucky blue-grass. ' ' Then he entered the chapel, and
shortly was in the midst of a sermon evidently suggested
by the occasion, his whole manuscript being a few pencil-
ings on a sheet or two of note-paper, all the rest being ex-
temporized in his best vein, both as to matter and manner.

Chapin, too, was brilliant and gifted, but very dif-
ferent in every respect from Beecher. His way was to
read from manuscript, and then, from time to time, to rise
out of it and soar above it, speaking always forcibly and
often eloquently. His gift of presenting figures of speech
so that they became vivid realities to his audience was be-
yond that of any other preacher I ever heard. Giving
once a temperance address, and answering the argument
as to the loss of property involved in the confiscation of
intoxicants, he suddenly pictured a balance let down from
the hand of the Almighty, in one scale all the lucre lost, in
the other all the crimes, the wrecks, the miseries, the sor-
rows, the griefs, the widows' groans and orphans' tears,
until we absolutely seemed to have the whole vast, terrific
mass swaying in mid-air before us.

On another occasion, preaching from the text, ' ' Now we
see through a glass darkly, but then face to face," he
presented the picture of a man in his last illness, seeing
dimly, through a half -transparent medium, the faint, dim
outline of the Divinity whom he was so rapidly nearing ;
and then, suddenly, death, the shattering of the glass,
and the man, on the instant, standing before his Maker


and seeing him "face to face." It all seems poor when
put upon paper ; but, as he gave it, nothing could be more
vivid. We seemed to hear the sudden crash of the trans-
lucent sheet, and to look full into the face of the Almighty
looming up before us.

Chapin was a Universalist, and his most interesting
parishioner was Horace Greeley, whose humanitarian
ideas naturally inclined him to a very mild creed. As
young men, strangers to the congregation, were usually
shown to seats just in front of the pulpit, I could easily see
Mr. Greeley in his pew on a side aisle, just behind the
front row. He generally stalked in rather early, the
pockets of his long white coat filled with newspapers, and,
immediately on taking his seat, went to sleep. As soon as
service began he awoke, looked first to see how many va-
cant places were in the pew, and then, without a word, put
out his long arm into the aisle and with one or two vigor-
ous scoops pulled in a sufficient number of strangers stand-
ing there to fill all the vacancies; then he slept again.
Indeed, he slept through most of the written parts of Dr.
Chapin 's sermons; but whenever there came anything
eloquent or especially thoughtful, Greeley 's eyes were
wide open and fixed upon the preacher.

Greeley 's humanitarianism was not always proof
against the irritations of life. In his not infrequent out-
bursts of wrath he was very likely to consign people who
vexed him to a region which, according to his creed, had
no existence.

A story told of him in those days seemed to show that
his creed did not entirely satisfy him ; for one day, when
he was trying, in spite of numberless interruptions, to
write a ' * Tribune ' ' leader, he became aware that some one
was standing behind his chair. Turning around suddenly,
he saw a missionary well known in the city slums, the
Rev. Mr. Pease, and asked in his highest, shrillest, most
complaining falsetto, "Well, what do you want I" Mr.
Pease, a kindly, gentle, apologetic man, said deprecat-
ingly, "Well, Mr. Greeley, I have come for a little help.


We are still trying to save souls in the Five Points."
"Oh," said Mr. Greeley, "go along! go along! In my
opinion, there ain't half so many men damned as there
ought to be. ' '

But though Chapin 's influence did not restrain Greeley
at all times, it undoubtedly did much for him, and it did
much for us of the younger generation; for it not only
broadened our views, but did something to better our
hearts and raise our aims.

In this mention of the forces which acted upon my reli-
gious feelings I ought to include one of a somewhat dif-
ferent sort. There was one clergyman whose orthodoxy,
though not of an extreme type, was undoubted, and who
exercised a good and powerful influence upon me. This
was the Rev. Dr. Leonard Bacon, pastor of the First Con-
gregational church in New Haven. He was a man of
great intellectual power, a lover of right and hater of
wrong, a born fighter on the side of every good cause,
at times pungent, witty, sarcastic, but always deeply in
earnest. There was a general feeling among his friends
that, had he not gone into the church, he would have been
eminent in political life ; and that is my belief, for he was
by far the most powerful debater of his time in the coun-
cils of his church, and his way of looking at great ques-
tions showed the characteristics of a really broad-minded
statesman. His sermons on special occasions, as at
Thanksgiving and on public anniversaries, were noted for
their directness and power in dealing with the greater
moral questions before the people. On the other hand,
there was a saying then current, ' ' Dull as Dr. Bacon when
he 's nothing but the Gospel to preach ' ' ; but this, like so
many other smart sayings, was more epigrammatic than
true: even when I heard him preach religious doctrines
in which I did not at all believe, he seemed to me to show
his full power.

Toward the end of my college course I was subjected to
the influence of two very powerful men, outside of the uni-
versity, who presented entirely new trains of thought to


me. The first of these was Dr. Alonzo Potter, Bishop of
Pennsylvania, who had been the leading professor at
Union College, Schenectady, before his elevation to the
bishopric, and who, both as professor and as bishop, had
exercised a very wide influence. He was physically, in-
tellectually, and morally of a very large pattern. There
was something very grand and impressive about him. He
had happened to come to Syracuse during one of my vaca-
tions ; on a Saturday evening he gave a lecture upon the
tendencies to loose supernaturalism as shown in what were
known as " spiritualistic" phenomena; and on the follow-
ing day he preached a simple, plain, straightforward ser-
mon on Christian morals. Both these utterances im-
pressed me and strengthened my conviction that every
thinking young man and woman ought to maintain rela-
tions with some good form of religious organization just
as long as possible.

Toward the end of my Yale course came an influence of
a very different sort. It was at the consecration of a Ko-
man Catholic church at Saratoga. The mass was sung
by an Italian prelate, Bedini, who as governor and arch-
bishop at Bologna had, a few years before, made himself
detested throughout the length and breadth of Italy by the
execution of the priest patriot Ugo Bassi; and he was
now, as papal nuncio to Brazil, environed by all the pomp
possible. The mass did not greatly impress me, but the
sermon, by Archbishop Hughes of New York, I shall al-
ways remember. His subject was the doctrine of transub-
stantiation, and, standing upon the altar steps, he de-
veloped an argument most striking and persuasive. He
spoke entirely without notes, in a straightforward way,
and at times with eloquence, though never with any show
of rhetoric: voice and bearing were perfect; and how
any one accepting his premises could avoid his conclusions
I could not see then and cannot see now. I was proof
against his argument, for the simple reason that I felt the
story of the temptation of Jesus by Satan, which he took
for his text, to be simply a legend such as appears in
various religions; still, the whole was wonderfully pre-


sented; and, on my return to the hotel, my father was
greatly encouraged as to my religious development when
I gave to him a synopsis of the whole sermon from end to

Next day there resulted a curious episode. Notices
were posted throughout Saratoga that Father Gavazzi, the
Italian patriot and heretic, famous for his oratory, would
hold a meeting in the grove back of Congress Hall Hotel,
at three in the afternoon, and would answer the arch-
bishop's argument. When the hour arrived an immense
crowd was assembled, and among them many Catholics,
some of whom I knew well, one of them a young priest
to whom I had become strongly attached at school. Soon
appeared the orator. He was of most striking presence
tall, handsome, with piercing black eyes and black hair,
and clad in a long semi-monastic cloak. His first line of
argument was of little effect, though given with impas-
sioned gestures and a most sympathetic voice ; but soon he
paused and spoke gently and simply as follows: "When
I was a priest in Italy I daily took part in the mass. On
festivals I often saw the fasting priest fill the chalice
as full as he dared with strong wine; I saw him pro-
nounce the sacred words and make the sacred sign over it ;
and I saw, as everybody standing round him clearly saw,
before the end of the service, that it flushed his face,
thickened his voice, and enlivened his manner. My fel-
low-Christians" (and here his voice rang out like a trum-
pet), "who is the infidel, who is the blasphemer, I who
say that no change took place in the wine before the priest
drank it, and that no miracle was performed, or the man
who says that his fellow-man can be made drunk on the
blood of the blessed Son of God?"

The effect was startling, even on Protestants: but on
the Roman Catholics present it was most thrilling ; and I
remember that an old Irishwoman, seated on the steps of
the platform as these words were uttered, clapped her
hands to her ears and ran from the place screaming. I
must confess that my sympathies were with her rather
than with the iconoclast, despite his gifts and graces.



EAVING Yale in 1853, I passed nearly three years
in Europe ; and observation of the effects resulting
from the various orthodoxies in England, France, Ger-
many, Russia, and Italy developed my opinions in various
ways. I was deeply susceptible to religious architecture,
music, and, indeed, to the nobler forms of ceremonial.
I doubt whether any man ever entered Westminster Ab-
bey and the various cathedrals of Great Britain and
I have visited every one of them of any note with a
more reverent feeling than that which animated me ; but
some features of the Anglican service as practised at
that time repelled me; above all, I disliked the intoning
of the prayers, as I then heard it for the first time. A
manly, straightforward petition made by a man stand-
ing or kneeling before his Maker, in a natural, earnest
voice, has always greatly impressed me; but the sort of
whining, drawling, falsetto in which the Anglican
prayers were then usually intoned simply drove out
all religious thoughts from my mind. I had a feeling
that the Almighty must turn with contempt from a man
who presumed thus to address him. Some prayers in
the church service had from a very early period taken
a deep place in my heart: the prayer of St. Chrys-
ostom in the morning service, the first prayer in the
ante-communion service, the prayer "for the whole state
of Christ's church militant," and some of the collects
had become, as it were, part of me; so much the more



disappointed and disgusted was I, then, to hear prayer
made in what seemed to me a sickly, unmanly whine.

Although the feelings thus aroused by religious ob-
servances in England and other parts of Europe were
frequently unedifying, there was one happy exception
to the rule. Both in the Church of England and in the
Koman Catholic churches of the Continent I always
greatly enjoyed the antiphonal chanting of the Psalter.
To me this has always been the imprecatory psalms ex-
cepted by far the noblest feature in Christian worship,
as worship; for, coming down as it does from the Jew-
ish Church through the whole history of the Christian
Church, and being practised by all the great bodies of
Jews and Christians, it had, and still has, to me a great
significance, both religious and historic. In the cathe-
drals of the continent of Europe and I have visited
every one of note except those of Spain I cared little
for what Browning's bishop calls "the blessed mutter
of the mass, ' ' but the chanting of the Psalter always at-
tracted me. Many were the hours during which I sat at
vespers in abbeys and cathedrals, listening to the Latin
psalms until they became almost as familiar to me as the
English Psalter. On the other hand, I was at times greatly
repelled by perfunctory performances of the service,
both Protestant and Catholic. The "Te Deum" which
I once heard recited by an Anglican clergyman in the
chapel at the castle of Homburg dwells in my memory
as one of the worst things of its kind I ever heard, and
especially there remains a vivid remembrance of the
invocation, which ran as follows:

"Ha-a-ow-ly, Ha-a-a-ow-ly, Ha-a-ow-ly: La-a-rd Gawd
of Sabbith!"

But this was not the only thing of the kind, for I have
heard utterances nearly, if not quite, as bad in various
English cathedrals, as bad, indeed, as the famous
reading, "He that hath yeahs to yeah, let him yeah."

As to more important religious influences, I had, dur-
ing my first visit to Oxford in 1853, a chance to under-


stand something of the two currents of thought then show-
ing themselves in the English Church. On a Sunday
morning I went to Christ Church Cathedral to hear the
regius professor of Hebrew, Dr. Jacobson, whom, years
afterward, I saw enthroned as bishop in the cathedral at
Chester. It is a church beautiful in itself, and conse-
crated not only by the relics of mediaeval saints, but by
the devotions of many generations of scholars, statesmen,
and poets; and in front of the pulpit were a body of
young men, the most promising in Great Britain; yet
a more dull, mechanical discourse could not be imagined.
The preacher maundered on like a Tartar praying-mill;
every hearer clearly regarding his discourse as an Arab
regards a sand-storm.

In the afternoon I went to St. Mary's, and heard the
regular university sermon, before a similar audience,
by Fraser, a fellow of Oriel College. It was not orator-
ical, but straightforward, earnest, and in a line of thought
which enlisted my sympathies. The young preacher es-
pecially warned his audience that if the Church of Eng-
land was to remain the Church of England, she must put
forth greater efforts than any she had made for many
years; and he went on to point out some of the lines
on which these exertions should be made, lines which,
I am happy to say, have since been taken by great num-
bers of excellent men of the Anglican communion.

During the evening, in the dining-room of the Mitre
Inn, I happened to be seated at table with an old country
clergyman who had just entered his son at Oxford and
was evidently a rural parson of the good old high-and-dry
sort; but as I happened to speak of the sermons of the
day, he burst out in a voice gruff with theological con-
tempt and hot toddy : * ' Did you hear that young upstart
this afternoon ? Did you ever hear such nonsense ? Why
could n't he mind his own business, as Dr. Jacobson did?"

Nor did sermons from Anglican bishops which I heard
at that period greatly move me. The primate of that
day, Dr. Sumner, impressed me by his wig, but not other-


wise. He was, I think, the last archbishop of Canterbury
who used this means of enhancing his dignity. Wilber-
force, Bishop of Oxford, was far better; but, after all,
though his preaching showed decided ability, it was not
of the sort to impress one deeply, from either the reli-
gious or the intellectual point of view.

Then, and at various times since, I have obtained more
from simpler forms of worship and less pretentious
expositions of the Gospel.

As to religious influence in France, there was little.
I lived in the family of a French professor, a devout
Catholic, but Gallican in his ideas, so much so that he
often said that if he could wake up some morning and
hear that the Pope had been dispossessed of his tem-
poral power, it would be the happiest day of his life, since
he was persuaded that nothing had so hampered the
church and, indeed, debased it as the limits imposed
upon the papacy by its sovereignty over the Eoman

A happy impression was made upon me by the simple,
philanthropic character of the Archbishop of Paris at
that period Sibour. Visiting a technical school which
he had established for artisans in the Faubourg St. An-
toine, I derived thence a great respect for him as a man
who was really something more than a " solemnly con-
stituted impostor"; but, like the archbishops of Paris
who preceded and followed him, he met a violent death,
and I have more than once visited and reflected over the
simple tablet which marks the spot in the Church of St.
Etienne du Mont where a wretched, unfrocked priest as-
sassinated this gentle, kindly, affectionate prelate, who,
judging from his appearance and life, never cherished
an unkind feeling toward any human being.

The touching monuments at Notre Dame to his prede-
cessor, Affre, shot on the barricades in 1848 when im-
ploring a cessation of bloodshed, and to his successor,
Darboy, shot by the Communards in the act of blessing
his murderers, also became, at a later period, places of

II. 35


pilgrimage for me, and did much to keep alive my faith
that, despite all efforts to erect barriers of hatred be-
tween Christians, there is, already, "one fold and one
shepherd. ' '

As to my life on the Continent in general, German
Protestantism seemed to me simple and dignified ; but its
main influence upon me was exercised through its music,
the "Gloria in Excelsis" of the morning service at the
Berlin Cathedral being the most beautiful music by a
choir I had ever heard, far superior, indeed, to the fin-
est choirs of the Sistine or Pauline chapel at Rome;
and a still deeper impression was made upon me by the
congregational singing. Often, after the first notes given
by the organ, I have heard a vast congregation, without
book of any kind, joining in the choral, King Frederick
William IV and his court standing and singing earnestly
with the rest. It was a vast uprolling storm of sound.
Standing in the midst of it, one understands the Lutheran

The most impressive Roman Catholic ceremonies which
I saw in Europe were in Germany, and they were im-
pressive because simple and reverential; those most so
being at Wiirzburg and Fulda, where, in the great
churches, large bodies of the peasantry joined simply and
naturally in the singing at the mass and at vespers.

In Russia I had the opportunity to study a religion
of a very different sort the Russo-Greek Church. While
this church no doubt contains many devoted Christian
men and women, it is, on the whole, a fossilized system ;
the vast body of the people being brought up to rely
mainly on fetishes of various sorts. The services were,
many of them, magnificent, and the music most beautiful ;
but it was discouraging to reflect that the condition of
the Russian peasantry, ignorant, besotted, and debased,
was the outcome of so many centuries of complete con-
trol by this great branch of the Christian Church. It
had for ages possessed the fullest power for developing
the intellect, the morals, and the religion of the people,


and here was the result. Experience of Russian life is
hardly calculated to increase, in any thinking man, con-
fidence in its divine origin or guidance. One bears in
mind at such times the words of the blessed Founder of
Christianity himself, "By their fruits ye shall know

But the most unfavorable impression was made upon
me in Italy. It was the palmy period of reactionary
despotism. Hapsburgs in the north, Neapolitan Bour-
bons in the south, petty tyrants scattered through the
country, all practically doing their worst; and, in their
midst, Pius IX, maintained in the temporal power by
French bayonets. It was the time when the little Jewish
child Mortara was taken from his parents, in spite of
their agonizing appeals to all Europe; when the Madiai

Online LibraryAndrew Dickson WhiteAutobiography of Andrew Dickson White (Volume 2) → online text (page 46 of 54)