Edward Lewis Curtis.

George Edward Day. 1815-1905 online

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George Edward Day.

(Seorcje JEbwarb 2>a\>.


Memorial Address by Prof. Edward L. Curtis at the Yale Divinity School, December

17, IQ05.

ON Sunday evening, July second of this present year, fell
asleep the Rev. George Edward Day, D. D., Professor-
emeritus of the Hebrew Language and Literature in the Yale
Divinity School, in whose memory and to whose honor we are
assembled here this afternoon. Prof. Day was born March nine-
teenth, 1815, and thus over ninety years of life were allotted to
him, audit is a pleasure to relate that until the painful accident
of breaking a limb, whereby he was confined to his room during
the last fifteen months of his life, that his strength and vigor re-
mained almost unimpaired. Of him it might have been said
up to that time, as of the great lawgiver of Israel, that his eye
was not dim nor his natural force abated, for, on the day of his
mishap he read a paper before the New Haven Association of
Congregational Ministers.

His boyhood and college and seminary life were passed in
New Haven, and also his last thirty-nine years ; hence it might
seem more fitting that one who was to the manor born should
speak of him on this occasion and not one who had known him
only during the fourteen years preceding his death : but Presi-
dent Dwight has already published a beautiful tribute to his
worth, and my colleagues in the faculty thought it proper that
one of the younger generation should honor his memory, and
asked this service of me, and I confess a real pleasure in my
task, because I had a strong affection for Prof. Day. He drew
me to him by his kind and genuine spirit and by his profound
loyalty to me, his successor in the chair of Hebrew.


Prof. Day was the son of Gad Day and Roxanna Rice. He
was born in Pittsfield, Mass., but the family moved, in his early
youth, to New Haven. His father was a descendant of Thomas
Day, the son of Robert Day who emigrated from Ipswich, Eng-
land, in 1643 and was one of the first settlers of Hartford. I
mention these genealogical facts because of Prof. Day's interest in
them. When a young man he compiled a list of the descendants
in the male line of his ancestor, Robert Day, which was printed
in 1840 and then again in 1848. President Jeremiah Day of Yale
College belonged to the same family.

As a boy Prof. Day seems to have been, if not singularly
precocious, yet a lad of more than usual promise and aptitude for
study. He entered Yale College at the early age of fourteen. It
is true that the requirements for entrance in 1829 were far less
than at the present time. In Latin only were they approxi-
mately the same as now ; in Greek much less ; while nothing in
the modern languages and in mathematics beyond arithmetic ;
and nothing in English except composition and grammar, were
required. The college course of study was also meagre compared
with that of the present, and the young student Day felt its
meagreness ; and, since no German was taught in college, having
found some one in New Haven competent to give instruction in
that language, he persuaded some of his classmates, among them
the late Prof. Dana, to join with him in its pursuit, and thus
while a lad he laid the foundation for his later studies in German
theological literature and revealed the linguistic bent of his

After his graduation from colleges came to Prof. Day what
he told me was one of the greatest disappointments of his life.
He had expected to teach in a classical school in Utica, New
York, when, if I remember his statement correctly, the school
for some reason was given up and he was obliged to look else-
where for employment. This led him to take a position in the
New York Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb,
where he remained two years and became much interested in this
work. The confidence which he inspired at that time, when
only little more than a mere youth under twenty-one, is a high
testimonial to his ability and character ; for although he remained
in the institution only two years, yet when he was visiting Ger-


many some ten years later, he was delegated by the board of di-
rectors of the institution to examine the schools of Germany for
deaf mutes and to make a report upon their principles and meth-
ods of instruction, with a view especially of determining whether
pupils should be taught to communicate by articulation or by
signs. He did his work most thoroughly and well, sending back
a report of some 140 octavo printed pages, which was so valua-
ble and highly approved that when again, in later life, in 1859
Prof. Day was going abroad, he was asked again to study, in a
similar way, schools in Holland and Paris. A printed report
of over forty pages gives the result of these second investiga-

After his connection with the New York Institution for the
Instruction for the Deaf and Dumb, Prof. Day entered upon his
theological studies, spending three years in our Divinity School.
So fine was his scholarship that immediately upon his gradua-
tion in 1838 he was appointed an instructor in Biblical Literature
in the School. It was at this time that in his ever present
Christian zeal and desire to help the unfortunate, he taught the
Amistad captives, a company of African slaves, who on a Span-
ish slave trader had successfully revolted against their captors
and [brought the vessel to the United States, and pending the
negotiations between Spain and this country for their return to
Africa, were detained for some time in New Haven. Forty
years later Prof. Day had the pleasure of welcoming a Christian
African lad on his way to Fisk University whose mother had
been taught by one of his old African pupils.

After completing his term of service as instructor in the Di-
vinity School on December second, 184.0, Prof. Day was ordained
to the Christian ministry as pastor of the Union Church and {So-
ciety of Marlboro, Massachusetts. The sermon on that occasion
was preached by Dr. Leonard Bacon, and the young man, only
twenty- five years old, was consecrated, after the prayer, with the
old hymn which reads :

O touch his lips with living fire,
L,et holy love prompt each desire,
Around him shed the light of truth
That he may guide both age and youth.


Grant him to soothe the widow's grief,
To mourning orphans give relief,
To bind and cheer each broken heart,
To every soul thy love impart.

Long may his life be spared to guide
Thy flock the living stream beside ;
And when we all life's vale have trod
May priest and people rest with God.

And the admonition of this hymn Dr. Day realized for the term
of seven years at Marlboro. His people never forgot his fidelity
as a Christian pastor and when some fifty years later the church
received from him a handsome copy of the Revised Bible, the
moistened e5'es of the aged members gave testimony to the large
and warm place he ever held in the affections of his people.

His pastorate was signalized by no extraordinary events.
Only two seem to have made a deep impression upon the present
clerk of the church. These were two days of fasting and prayer,
one occasioned by the death of President William Henry
Harrison, and the other voted on account of the low state of
spirituality in the church as evinced by the lack of the revival of
religion that neighboring churches were enjoying. This latter
appears to have done much good, since quite a large number
shortly after united with the church on confession. A sermon
preached also upon the day of the annual state fast in 1842 was
published by the request of the congregation. In this Prof. Day
gave expression in no uncertain terms to his abhorrence of Afri-
can slavery.

From Marlboro he was called to the Edwards Church at
Northampton, Mass., where he had a delightful ministry for three
years and is today held in tender remembrance by the few of his
old parishioners now living. One of these writes of him under
recent date : ' ' He was dearly beloved by the Edwards Church as
a spiritual, faithful, devoted pastor and preacher. He was one of
the most genial of men, sympathetic and won the love of old and
young and entered into the home life of us all as an old friend.
After he left and as long as he lived he kept up his real interest
in our welfare, and he left with a love which followed him all his


During the days of the ministry at Northampton the gold
fields of California were discovered and we have a printed copy of
an address of Prof. Day's to a mining company that went from
Northampton to California, who, before they left home, "desired
that the counsels of God's Word be brought before them and the
protection and blessing of heaven be invoked on their behalf."
This was the temper of the life of New England fifty years ago.
Religion was a concern of every home and household. Prayer
was invoked upon every enterprise. Man's eternal destiny was
a subject of no less thought than his temporal welfare.

In such a state of society and religious feeling Prof. Day filled
the ideal of a pastor and preacher : but his larger life work was to
be found in the sphere of theological teaching. By instinct Prof.
Day was a scholar. The real passion of his soul was for learn-
ing and he never flagged in its pursuit while either at Marlboro
or Northampton. During his service in the former place he spent
some months abroad in theological study ; and at the latter this
vivid picture in printed reminiscences has been left of him in his
study : " There he sits by the hour patiently plodding, with care-
ful fingers removing daintily the earth from around some Hebrew
root of verb or noun to find a priceless gem, the exact shade of
sense and beauty to enrich his sermon and his people next Sab-
bath." No wonder then that Prof. Day the scholar was dis-
covered and that the call in 1851 came to him to be the Professor
of Biblical Learning and Literature in the Lane Theological Sem-
inary of the Presbyterian Church at Cincinnati, Ohio. There he
was the successor of the Rev. Calvin E. Stowe, D. D., the hus-
band of the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin. Prof. Day was then
in his prime, just 36 years of age, and entered at once with en-
thusiasm upon his work. The field of his instruction was a
broad one : the exegesis of both Old and the New Testament ;
the drill of students in both Greek and Hebrew. But while he
thus was obliged to perform the work now ordinarily assigned
to two or more professors, he filled his position so well and won
such distinction as a teacher and scholar that after a professor-
ship of fifteen years he was called to the chair of Hebrew Lan-
guage and Literature at Yale. Marietta College also worthily
conferred upon him in 1856 the degree of Doctor of Divinity.
In this connection it may be well to speak of Prof. Day as a


teacher, giving the testimony of one of his old pupils at Lane*,
who says :

' ' The first impression he made upon his students was that of
one who had carefully, patiently, skillfully and thoroughly
studied the lesson assigned, and had obtained a knowledge of
every fact, even of the minutest detail, which ample time and the
best employment of all available sources of information and helps
could furnish. His pupils at once reached the conviction that
the best mental labor of which they were capable would be ex-
pected of them in every task assigned. All hasty, inadequate,
and slipshod methods of study were to be avoided. Christian
earnestness and honesty, as well as all possible skill, niust char-
acterize them as students of God's Word.

For success in instruction Prof. Day made appeal to the or-
dinary rewards of scholarship, but relied ultimately upon the
higher spiritual motive of being true prophets. The message of
God to men, which his pupils were to proclaim, was set forth in
the signs and symbols of the original languages of the Scriptures.
Hence there was a sacredness in the material of their work which
attached to no other subject of human investigation and which
demanded thorough and reverent study.

Stores of knowledge and skill in speech, however, were not
all that one needed. Genuine piety was shown to be absolutely
essential to the minister. In morals he must be faultless, in man-
ner also he must be attractive, and his personal appearance must
be carefully attended to. In their immaturity students sometimes
failed to see the necessity of Prof. Day's thorough and minute
attention to their habits and were disposed to regard him as un-
duly particular and fastidious, but in riper years they came to a
fuller and more grateful recognition and approbation of his
Christian fidelity and kindness."

All of these traits of fidelity and competency thus so well
described Prof, Day maintained in his later instruction in New

At Cincinnati, apart from his teaching, he rendered much
general service both in the theological seminary and in the com-
munity at large. In 1859 he went abroad with a special com-

*Rev. A. S. Dudley, Morrow, Ohio.


mission to purchase books for the seminary library, and he also
founded ' ' The General Theological Religious Library of Cincin-
nati," which started with a subscription of $11,000, and is now
incorporated in the public library of the city. In 1863 he
founded the Theological Eclectic, a magazine designed to furnish
the American clergy with selections from the best foreign period-
ical literature at the lowest possible cost. This valuable publi-
cation, finally merged into the Bibliotheca Sacra, was continued
for seven years and represented much self-sacrificing editorial
work on the part of Prof. Day ; and as one now looks over its
pages and observes the stimulating and interesting character of
material selected by Prof. Day, one cannot refrain from wishing
that the periodical might have been continued to the present
time. Even to-day the old numbers have much value to the
student of theology in showing how many theological questions
once live and burning have ceased to be of interest, and how
many of the views of the Church, especially those respecting the
form of the inspiration of the Scriptures, have changed. Stu-
dents of a more recent date at Yale were inclined to smile some-
times at the cautions and warnings of Prof. Day. The wonder,
however, in view of the drift and conclusions of the thought
with which these students were confronted compared with the
orthodoxy of forty years ago, is not that Prof. Day uttered words
of caution and warning, but that he did not strenously oppose
teachers of the new views, and that he did not, reveals his beau-
tiful irenic temper and disposition.

The life of Prof. Day after he came to New Haven in 1866
was bound up in that of our Divinity School. He entered at once
as a co-laborer with President D wight, Professors Fisher,
Hoppin, and later Professor Harris and acting Professor Bacon,
into the great work of rejuvenating and upbuilding the Divinity
School. Shortly following his advent, its growth in students
and material resources was very marked. The school in 1867,
at the close of Prof. Day's first year of service, graduated a class
of only five, while eight years later it graduated the largest class
in its history, numbering forty-five, and during these years also
its present handsome and commodious buildings were erected and
its endowment funds were largely increased ; and in all this work
Prof. Dav contributed his share of labor. As President


Dwight has gracefully said : ' ' The call to the Professorship of
Hebrew in our Theological School was given to him at a critical
period in its history, when the change from the old life of the
school to the new was not fully realized, and when special gifts
and forces were needed in its officers, not only in their appropriate
sphere of instruction, but equally in other lines of effort. A re-
newed creation of the School was demanded and men who were
adequate to the work were required. In the review of the years
the associates with Professor Day most gratefully acknowledge
the value, as well as the generous and self-sacrificing devotion
of his service to the cause which was so interesting to them all.
No one who knew him at that period could question his ability,
his wisdom or his faithfulness in the work which fell to him to
do. The Divinity School of the future will owe in all future a
debt of gratitude to him a debt not fully to be recognized by
those who are in its membership because it pertains to a part be-
hind their own experience, but which will nevertheless be meas-
ured in no inconsiderable degree by the privileges which they

No less heartily did Prof. Day enter likewise into the life of
the community of New Haven, his old home,, and into that of
the Congregational Churches of Connecticut. He strove to bring
these latter into close fellowship with the Divinity School and he
set before him the goal to preach in every Congregational pulpit
in the state and thus to deepen the interest in the Divinity
School. This labor was fruitful in attracting to the school one
or more of its most princely benefactors. Prof. Day was also al-
ways an active member of one of the Congregational Ministerial
Associations of New Haven and his last public service as already
indicated was that of reading a paper before the New Haven As-
sociation .

It was also during the period of his connection with Yale
that he performed his most notable literary labors, contributing
articles to Smith's Bible Dictionary, translating a portion of the
Lange Commentary on the New Testament and Van Osterzee's
Biblical Theology of the New Testament, and editing Oehler's
Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, and especially contri-
buting to the American revision of the English Bible. He not
only was a member of the American Committee of Revisers from


the time of its organization in 1871, but served as the Secretary
of the Old Testament section during its entire existence.

Another beautiful piece of work by Prof. Day deserves also
special mention. He was greatly interested in tracing the
landmarks of the Pilgrim settlers of New England in their former
homes in England and Holland, and it was largely through his
influence that the tablet in commemoration of John Robinson,
the pastor of the Pilgrim church in Holland, was set up in his
old church in Ley den by the Congregational Church of this

In 1886, when Prof. Day was already seventy years of age, it
was felt that he should be relieved of some of the burden of
work in the class room and his classes in Hebrew were assigned
to Prof. W. R. Harper, who had just been called to the Woolsey
Professorship in Yale College : but Prof. Day, though freed
from one line of toil, almost immediately entered at his own initia-
tive into another. Although continuing to give some instruc-
tion and being the presiding Dean of the Divinity School, he
founded in 1891 the Historical Library of Foreign Missions and
proceeded to devote himself to its upbuilding, and gathered for it
and catalogued at his own expense some eight thousand volumes,
and made provision for its housing and maintenance in his will.
This library will be his most permanent memorial and illustrates
his clear-sighted sagacity in seeing the need of just such a special
collection of books for the future historian of missions, and his
generosity in providing for its foundation at his own initiative
and his intense interest in foreign missions, because his earnest
hope was that through the influence of this library many young
men would be drawn to the foreign field.

I have thus brought into review before you in brief outline
the long and busy life of Prof. Day. We see in him first and
greatest of all and no higher praise can be given to any one
the embodiment of a good man. Whether he is toiling as a
youth in instructing the afflicted deaf and dumb, or whether
serving as a pastor in a New England town, or professor in a the-
ological seminary, he is always conspicuous through his pains-
taking service for others. This was his constant thought to be
of use in the world. Toil for self-advancement or promotion
never seems to have entered his mind. His labors were always


altruistic. He sought out neglected fields of work and in this
spirit, as well as through his scholarly instincts, he familiarized
himself with the languages of Holland and Scandinavia. He
took upon himself much of the drudgery of life. He served
as a librarian both at Lane Theological Seminary and also here.
He undertook the dull and toilsome work of compiling the cata-
logue of the Alumni of the Yale Divinity School and laboriously
prepared for the printer catalogues of the missionary library
which he founded.

Some have thought that he should have published more
writings of his own. He might thus have increased his reputa-
tion as a scholar and won a certain local fame, but he felt that
English readers would really be better served if he translated the
work of master minds instead of making his own contributions,
and thus, as already shown, his literary efforts were mostly of
that character.

In his self-sacrificing labors he was drawn especially toward
the work of assisting the need} 7 , and thus sought to provide funds
both at the Lane Theological Seminary and here for worthy
young men of limited means. He encouraged also promising
youth in general to seek an education. He met the late Pro-
fessor W. D. Whitney when a young man in Northampton and
counseled him to devote himself to the study of Sanscrit
in which he became so distinguished. Prof Day's heart
ever beat in sympathy for the young, and even in his nine-
tieth year, when confined to his chair and couch, he won the
admiration of a lad of sixteen from his friendly discussion with
him "on points of literary style." His loving-kindness im-
pressed itself upon his pupils. This, as one wrote, never flagged,
and another truly said, in summing up his character, that his own
gentleness had made him great This beauty of character was
radiant in his own home where he was so beloved, and where with
the co-operation of Mrs. Day so much of hospitality was shown
to clergymen, missionaries and students.

But more than all else Prof. Day left upon one the impres-
sion of being a man of God. His mind in early years was
moulded by Christian influences and forms of thought which at
the present time have in a large measure passed away . Their spirit
lives, but their letter is different. His youth and early manhood


were passed before modern science had given a general knowledge
of secondary causes. Hence to him God was in very direct con-
trol of all things of life, and Prof. Day walked with God. The
pious phrase upon his lips was no species of cant but an expres-
sion of a heartfelt reality. ' Enjoy God and God alone," wrote
an old pupil to him. " I used to see this in your countenance
and it clearly showed you found enjoyment in God." And this
was true : Prof. Day communed with God and had a deep and
genuine love for his Saviour. His resignation during his last
sickness was wonderful. No complaint ever passed his lips that
he was helpless, unable to leave his room. With cheery smile
he used to refer to his condition, using the phrase in reference to
his Heavenly Father, " What Thou wilt, when Thou wilt and as
Thou wilt," and thus he was full of contentment and brave unto
the end ; and so one Sunday evening with scarcely a struggle he
passed away.

A noble, dear old man ! It will be long before we see his
like again, his erect carriage, his sprightly step, his cheery
word, his pleasant smile, in spite of the weight of fourscore and
ten years, and his warm and loving heart which never left him.
We do well to honor him and we can think of a -great com-
pany that unite with us in this service, invisible beings of the
land beyond : those whose ears were stopped and tongues tied, but
who hear and speak now to tell us of his faithful instruction to
them in signs seventy years ago : an assembly gathered of souls
redeemed who learned of a Saviour's love from him at Marlboro
and Northampton : and in spirit with us are a long line of Pres-
byterian ministers, both living and dead, whom he taught at Cin-
cinnati, Ohio ; and of Congregational and other ministers whom
he taught at Yale. All these gladly join with us in honoring his


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