Robert Collyer.

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is called to a direct personal communion with

But our young apostle soon found that Liver-
pool, apart from our churches, three all told,
was a hornet's nest, — a stronghold of the most
conservative orthodoxy. Her ministers sounded
the alarm we have heard so often in this century;
the church was in danger, and the faith once de-
livered to the saints. These three men must be
answered, and silenced, — John Hamilton Thorn,
Henry Giles and James Martineau !

Thirteen ministers of the orthodox faith and
order challenged them to the battle, — thirteen to
three, — and they took the odds gladly. Marti-
neau answered them on his part in five lectures : —
The Bible, What it is, and What it is not; The
Dogma that Christ is God proven to be false from
the Bible ; The Scheme of Vicarious Redemption
Inconsistent with itself, and with the Christian Idea
of Salvation; The Christian View of Moral Evil;


and Christianity without Priest and without

The lectures were printed, and Channing writes
to his sister : " I have read all your broth-
er's lectures ; they seem to me to be among
the noblest efforts of our time; they have quick-
ened and instructed me; indeed, these and Mr.
Thom's give me a new hope for the cause of truth
in England." And all we know beside is this, that
while no doubt the champions of the old faith felt
sure they had won the day, no challenge to an-
other combat has ever been given in Liverpool
from that side, and I need hardly say, none has
been given from ours, save in the steadfast preach-
ing of our gospel by the noble lives of men who
succeeded Dr. Martineau in the Hope Street
church and the sister churches in that city.

An eminent minister in this city said some years
ago that he thought short pastorates are a provi-
dential arrangement for the relief of sorely tried
congregations, while we know it was not true of
men like Henry Bellows, James Freeman Clark,
Cyrus Bartol, or, in all the long pastorates of
those we have known and loved, that of my dear
Father Furness, a ministry of seventy-two years
all told. And it was not true of our " James, a
servant of God," whose ministry in the church in
Liverpool clasped twenty-five years to its heart,
and was still sweet and welcome as the flowers in
May, when he must needs leave them, to take
charge of our college in London, and also of a


church. Their sorrow, when he must leave them,
is not to be told. The elder members would speak
of it to me fourteen years after, when I preached
there the first time, and so far as I remember have
never failed to do this on any visit since then to
my mother land, nor can I do better here than
to cite his own words to them in a sermon, preached
at the close of sixteen years, for evidence of its

" Nothing has been nearer my heart," he says,
" than to substitute among you the religion of
consciousness for the religion of custom. And it
is a truth too plain to miss, that it is the business
of religion to preside over our inner world, to
rule the thoughts, to quiet the passions and to
elevate the will. It is also true that the condi-
tion of the inner world and life itself determines
our religion, and as the affections are pure and
deep, the conscience clear and strong, and the
mind familiar with great and beautiful examples,
are the heavenly realities discerned, while in the
mind barren with selfishness the very roots are
withered from which the blossoms of holy hope
must spring. And until the soul attains some
loftiness, by the free and faithful activity of her
best powers, faith is not possible; but when she
has come to this spirit and temper, misgivings
will trouble her no more. Men rise then into the
truth of God, as into a vision denied to the lower
level and the sluggish soul. They must lift their
feet upon the mountains, make them feel the wing


of the upland air, and pass the cloud-belt that
floats between earth and heaven ; then they will dis-
cern the palace of the Infinite and feel the silence
of the Eternal."

Again, when the cornerstone of the noble new
church was laid, nine years before he left them,
he said : " This structure is not destined to in-
terpose between the soul and God, but to bring
them into intimate personal communion. We
build a place, not for the high altar, but for the
humble heart, where the worship will not be for
the people, but hy them ; a place where the min-
ister comes as a man among men, conscious of
their frailties, their sorrows, their aspirations, and
only through his partnership in these is he able to
help them in preaching, and acknowledge them
without pretense in prayer, by the sympathy of
mind with mind, and of heart to heart."

This is the keynote of his ministry through
these twenty-five years, and then through all the
years to the end, while to my own mind and heart,
the volumes entitled " Endeavors after the Chris-
tian Life," and " Hours of Thought on Sacred
Things," contain the finest essence of his purely
religious teaching, of which it has been well said:
" In these sermons nothing repels you or divides.
The appeal is to the deepest within us and springs
from a spiritual confidence in which we too con-
fide. We do not question; we receive. The heal-
ing influence steals on us like the salt breath of
the sea. We say this man knows our needs, spirit


speaks to spirit, while at the same time he is manly
and healthy, and in perfect harmony with human
reason." And " England will be likely to see
another Gladstone, Tennyson, Ruskin or Arnold
before she sees another Martineau." When he
left Liverpool for London, he said to his old
friends and his flock : " Gain does not tempt me,
for I go to a poorer life ; or ambition, for I retire
to one less conspicuous ; or ease, for I commit my-
self to unsparing labor. And of the unbounded
freedom and confidence you have so nobly given
me here, it is no secret to me that I must expect
less, even though I should deserve more. But
none of these things move me from the feeling
that the work proposed to me is of all things
that which I can best fulfill, and that in being hu-
manly off'ered, it is also providentially arranged."
And this was true ; the old chapel, where he min-
istered through fourteen years, is hardly equal,
as some of you know, to a New England meeting-
house of the old tenor in a third-rate country
town, while the church he must leave is one of the
finest in Liverpool of any name. There, Longfel-
low says in 1864, " I went to hear Martineau ;
he is refined and agreeable, and there is no great
show of carriages at the door." This is all our
good poet says, and the absence of carriages may
be explained in part by a saying current among
our people over there, that when Unitarian fami-
lies rise in the world and grow rich, the third
generation is very apt to turn the heads of their


carriage horses toward the doors of the Episcopal

It was a small chapel, and, as I have been told,
seldom full.

Frances Power Cobbe, a noble woman, as you
know, and constant hearer, speaking of his min-
istry in London, says : " People, to our wonder,
would come once or twice, and then no more.
They expected, I think, to hear a sermon which
would chime in with their own ideas, and went
away sorrowful, for they had great ^r^-posses-
sions. This was my own case for a time. We
did not, of course, expect sermons like those of
which Tennyson's Farmer Old Style says : ' I
thowt a said what a owt to a said an' I coomed
awaay.' We expected a later Luther, a soldier
priest, a reformer, whose work was to sweep away
old errors like the sands of Egypt and reveal a
temple on the rock below. Dr. Martineau never
seemed to want to win us to repeat any shibboleth
after him, or to forswear those of any other man
or of any church. Sometimes we even imagined
that he read us an old sermon without remember-
ing to bring its theology up-to-date — the dear,
good hearers ! But by degrees those of us who
remained put aside our expectations of a teacher
whose lessons could be formulated in a catechism,
and then we found a companion like Bunyan's
Great Heart for the celestial way, one with whose
mind it was a joy and benediction to come into
contact even for an hour, and returning home


from such sermons the home and the daily life fell
into their true place. Care was minified, Duty
magnified, and Affection strengthened and en-
nobled by a sympathy we felt to be divine and
deathless. It was only when these sermons came
to a sudden ending, that we knew how much they
had counted for us in our life. A window in
our house was closed, like the window in the
House Beautiful, and it looked toward the sun ris-

And so, as you read these sermons, and listen
to this testimony from one of the noblest women of
our time, you may well ask how it was that the
small chapel in a by-street could hold his hearers
through those fourteen years. To be sure, he
was a branded heretic, but no such sermons had
been heard in London since the times of Jeremy
Taylor, nor do I think that even those of " the
Shakespeare of divines " can match them in " the
beauty of order, the nobihty of tone, the chastened
enthusiasm, and the charm of sincerity " — I cite
again from a secular journal.

And as the magnet to the pole star, they are
true to the stand he takes in Liverpool, in his first
sermon there, that the soul is the supreme seat of
authority in religious truth.

And now " James, a servant of God," is no more,
but humanly speaking these sermons are for ever-
more, and I will not leave those out in which the
theology seemed to be not quite up-to-date, to be
perhaps of the day before yesterday, and not as


Israel gathered the manna pearled with the dew
of that morning.

The living soul of the man is hidden in their
heart, and I doubt not at all that if we could
gather into one congregation, on some one Sun-
day, those that hold them among their choicest
treasures in this kind, and not alone of our own
faith, but from the whole church of the living God
on the earth, there would be no temple built with
hands ample enough to hold them.

But his ministry in the chapel was only one
chapter in the life of our servant of God in Lon-
don. The college we glanced at in York, with the
small band of students, was moved to Manchester,
and thence in the course of time to the metropolis,
and there he must teach as he had been taught.
So we must glance for a moment at his work as the
head of the college, which, like the church, so far
as you count heads, was also of kin to the day of
small things, — so small, indeed, that it gave birth
one day to a gleam of humor, rather rare, as I
guess, in Dr. Martineau. When reading in Plato
the passage where Socrates speaks of having spent
his life talking philosophy to two or three boys
in a corner, he remarked : " This must have been
written with a pre-vision of our college." His
students also remember gleams of wit and humor,
when they brought their " efforts " for the mas-
ter's judgment, and he said of one: " The whole
duty of man in twenty minutes " ; of another, in
which the student had wandered away from his


theme, " Very good, but I was waiting for the
sermon " ; and compared another to a Diorana,
which moved very fast, but had nobody to explain
it; while another student said of the master,
" He is a bad lecturer, for he makes you feel he
is always right, but it stands to reason that he
can't be always .^^

A small college, I said, but a peerless teacher,
who won the hearts of the students, and then held
them close to his own. My dear friend, Brooke
Herford, who won and held such an eminent place
in Boston, says that in his first student's year in
Manchester he would often walk half way to the
town for a good look at the master's face, as he
came to the college in the morning, and then turn
into a side street and run ahead for another look,
— there was such an uplifting in that pure and
noble countenance, and that strong confidence in
the religion of the spirit, which the face alike and
the word expressed. While many years after this
Jowett says : " I met Martineau, a noble face
that might have been worn by some mediaeval

Mr. Herford has paid a lovely tribute to his
beloved master in a sermon you may have seen,
and Mr. Cuckson, who succeeded Mr. Her-
ford as minister of the eminent church in Bos-
ton, says : " Do you wonder that we reverenced
and loved him? He helped us to understand
the reality of God. He enabled us to find the
rich deposit of truth in human nature, and led


us to trust in our faculties as the appointed re-
Yealers of the truth and right. We welcomed
with a deep gladness the teachings of one who
clothed the essential truths of religion with a new
power, established morality on no shifting basis,
but on the immutable will of God, and harmonized
Christianity with science and philosophy. His
face never lost the upward look. He had the eye
of a prophet, and the inspiration of a poet, and
his profound reverence for Jesus Christ was strik-
ing as it was beautiful."

But I must hasten to a close. The great books
which hold the living soul of the man for us down
here went out to the ends of the earth. The mas-
ters in science, in philosophy, and in religious
teaching, found in them a master, who must be
heard and heeded. I can only mention this be-
cause I have no fitness to enter into the story of
the grand debate reaching through the many
years, but a word from his pen in his last great
book touches, as I think, the marrow of the truth,
when he says : " Who could ever have imagined
that religion could be hurt by the discoveries of
science, had not Christianity been bound up in the
physics of Moses and Paul, and, looking with fresh
eyes at the reality, who would not own that we
live in a more glorious universe than they, that we
live environed in a sublimer nature, are conscious
of a more sacred humanity, and own a wider prov-
idence in human history than was opened to our
forefathers. Who would demand of a Darwin, blot


out your geologic time and take us home again to
the easy limits of 6000 years? And in the very
hour of midnight prayer, who would wish to look
into heavens less deep or be near a God whose pres-
ence was the living chain of fewer ages ? "

He said once in a public speech : " The man
who is a Unitarian and dare not say so is a cow-
ard and a sneak," and the faith which was only
budding forth in the chapel and the home, when
he was born, came to its blossom and fruitage in
his life, so far prolonged ; and his fame had gone
out so far and wide, that on his eighty-third
birthday an address was presented to him, signed
by six hundred representative men in England,
Ireland, Scotland, Germany, France, Holland and
America. And in the list you find Tennyson,
Browning, Jowett, Renan, Phillips Brooks, Max
Muller, Lecky, Lowell, Lubbock, with many more,
together with bishops of the Episcopal church in
England, eminent Scotch Presbyterians, and
sound English Nonconformists, a noble address,
of which these are in part the words : —

" We desire to express to you on this birthday
the reverence and affection entertained toward
you, not only by your own communion, but by
members of other Christian churches, who are ac-
quainted with your character and works, and by
many workers in other spheres than that to which
your life has been devoted. You have taught
your generation that there are truths above party,
which cannot be overthrown, for their foundations


are in the heart of man ; you have shown that there
may be an inward unity transcending the divi-
sions of the Christian world, and that the charity
and sympathy of Christians are not to be Hmited
to those who bear the name of Christ."

This was the man with whom I sat for the space
of half an hour in the summer before last, when
his long day's work as " James, a servant of God,"
was done, and he was waiting in his Beulah until
the shining ones came to bid him home. While I
am so glad of the memory, as he was of the youth
time, when he would leave the city with the living
word in his heai-t for those who were waiting in
the cottages to hear him, and so clasp in his happy
remembrance for me the ministry of all the years !


It has been finely said that whatever may be
our ancestry, we are all proud of Scotland; but
because we are men, we love Robert Burns, and
I think it may be said with equal truth that no
man beside has done so much to make us proud
of Scotland as this peasant-poet, born of its
blood and nursed at its breast. Some now here
will remember how the heart of our Anglo-Saxon
race was stirred when a hundred years had come
and gone since he was born, and what hosts came
together then to think of him and sing of him
and recall the story of his life. It was about a
dozen years after this that they celebrated the
hundred years since the birthday of Scott, the
one Scottish man of genius we name in the same
breath. I was in Scotland that summer, and no-
ticed what endeavor was made to bring forth
something of an equal significance, and the sig-
nificance was there, but it took another meaning,
even in Edinboro', where the traditions of Scott
are at their best. The radiance resting on Ab-
botsford burnt low and pale in the light that
rested on the " auld clay biggin " in Ayrshire,
and the poet of feudalism could command no
such homage as the poet of freedom. The man

who, as our Emerson says, " has endeared the


farmhouse and cottage with their patches and
poverty, and who stood so high that no man
could look down on him," — we could look down
on the sky more easily!

It is of Robert Burns I am to speak to you,
and I will begin by saying that when this century
came in, in the churchyard of St. Michael's at
Dumfries, in Scotland, we should have found a
grave all set about with thistles, but should have
seen at a glance they had not been left to grow
there by a worthless sexton, because they stood
like the plants in a garden, separate and clean,
And while in St. Michael's Church the minister
would tell you on a Sunday that the thistle is for
a sign that a curse came once upon the world,
just there outdoors you would notice these this-
tles were as tenderly cared for as if they were
so many slips from the Rose of Sharon. That
was the grave of Robert Burns. They laid him
there in what should have been the full, fair prime
of his days, to the music of the " Dead March in
Saul," and as the sounds went sobbing back into
his home, they met the wail of a babe just entering
the world its father had left. There were five
little children in the home and hardly a sixpence
to buy a pound of meal and a bowl of milk to feed
them; while if death had not taken their father,
the sheriff wanted him for debt, and the grave
would have been his only refuge from the jail,
but for a small sum sent him by a friend in an-
swer to his pitiful cry. Englishmen and Scotch-


men of that day were voting vast sums in pen-
sions and salaries to no end of people because
they were descended from the bastard of Charles
II, and for equally delectable reasons, while that
royal person, Wellington, — spoken of once as the
finest gentleman in Europe for about four hours
in each day, and the greatest blackguard in Eu-
rope for the other twenty, — this man was draw-
ing over half a million dollars a year for being
a great deal meaner and more stupid than his
father, your friend George III, of blessed memory.
They had made Burns a ganger on a salary of
about fifty pounds a year, with some twenty more
if he could pick it up among the smugglers, and
for all this he had to travel about 200 miles a
week on horseback, in all sorts of weather and on
all sorts of ways, and when he got sick and could
not attend to the business, they would have re-
duced his salary by one half, had not another
man done his work for love's sake and pity. His
name was Stobie. It falls no more musically on
the ear, you will notice, than Smith or Collyer;
but if we should ever meet a Stobie and a Douglas
together, let us take off our hats to Stobie.

And when they had laid Burns under the green-
sward, it seemed not unlikely he would be presently
forgotten. They did not think it worth their
while to mark the spot then with a stone. The
thistles were the only gravestones, until out of her
poor living, his widow — Bonnie Jean — put up
a small headstone with his name on it and the


days of his birth and death. The truth is that
his last years were woven of trouble and shame.
He died of a cold caught when he was drunk, and
the drink had slain the stamina to fight the cold
long before this, while there was shame, also, and
sin of another sort, — more than I shall stop to
tell; and so they thought, no doubt, it was better
he should be buried with all his belongings and
forgotten in a level grave.

But there was something, still, about this man
which could not be buried any more than you
can bury all the sunshine, or all the daisies, or
all the birds that sing under the blue arches of

Noblemen and gentlemen had subscribed for
one or more books he had printed, and put them,
probably, where we put ours in such a case. But
plowmen and milkmaids had spared to buy their
winter coats and comforters that they might buy
these books, and as an old man told me once,
what his father had told him, they had hid them
in haymows and other unco' places for fear of the
wrath of the ministers and elders, if it should
be known they read such wicked books. Then
in no long time he began to be heard of far and
wide. He went where the Bible went, and Bun-
yan, and Shakespeare, among the men of our
race ; and then, at the end of the hundred years,
we gathered to celebrate his name hundreds of
thousands strong all round the world. And when
the question was asked of an eminent old book-


seller in New York, a good many years ago, —
Mr. McGowan, I believe, on Nassau Street — " Of
what poet do you sell the most copies ? " he an-
swered, " Of Burns, beyond all comparison, of
Burns — more than all the rest put together."
And so the sins and shames of him might be
buried, let us hope, and their sepulcher be lost as
his was who was buried over against Beth-peor
in Moab ; but never what makes him so dear to
the great human heart — the songs that enter
as intimately into the heart of a mouse as of a
hero, and the psalms such as no man has sung
beside about the grace and beauty which belongs
to the life of the rank and file. Burns, to my
mind, touched a chord nearer to the common
heart and truer to it than any man who has ever
felt after its music of our Saxon stock. How
then could we let him vanish out of our life like
a candle burnt down to the snuff .^^ It is as nat-
ural that he should be so near to us, and dear,
as that the grass should grow in the meadows.

And touching his life first of all. He was born
in what we should call a shanty, and as he says, " a
blast o' Janwar win' blew hansel in on Robin " to
such a purpose, that the place was like to come
down on them, and they had to run with him to
another house for safety and shelter.

His father was a farmer in a small way, and his
mother was a poet in this one thing, — she could
sing the old ballads of Scotland so that, as we
used to say in the north, " they would fetch a


duck out of the water " to hear her. It is told
of Robert, also, that as he grew up he was rather
stupid and backward at his books, which was a
great comfort to another Robert many years ago.
And old Murdock, the Scotch schoolmaster, used
to say it was " Gilbert Burns and no' Robert
that was the boy to make his mark." Yes, and
Gilbert could make poems in those days, when
Robert found it hard to make pot-hooks ; " and hoo
Robert cam to be a poet and Gilbert just nae-
body by compareeson with Robert was mair than
even a schoolmaster could tell ye." And Robert
knew no more about it than old Murdock, and
no more than Will Shakespeare, the Stratford
black sheep. There he was, the handsome black-
eyed boy eating his pariich and his kail, and
tugging at his books and chores, with the mither
to cosset him and call him " my bonnie laddie,"
and his father, who could tell him all about thistles

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Online LibraryRobert CollyerClear grit; → online text (page 13 of 19)