Theodore Clapp.

Autobiographical sketches and recollections : during a thirty-five years' residence in New Orleans online

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tinguished orators of Kentucky then living, whose
son is now vice president of the United States. He
remarked, on coming out of church, " That was a
burst of natural eloquence infinitely superior to any
thing I ever heard before, either in the pulpit, forum,
legislative hall, or popular assembly."

No doubt Mr. Larned's sermons were indebted for
much of their impressiveness to the striking superi-
ority of his personal charms and accomplishments.
A head of the most perfect outline ; the fire of ge-
nius flashing from large, prominent blue eyes ;
the fine features kindled up with intelligence ; a
symmetrical and Apollo-like form ; a deep-toned, mu-
sical, penetrating voice, whose whisper could be heard
through the largest audience; and. a general mien
unembarrassed, easy, and natural, at once graceful
and dignified, — conspired to bestow on him a com-
bination of natural advantages for speaking impres-
sively which very few of our race have ever pos-
sessed. A distinguished statesman, who for many
years was a member of Congress, and familiar with
the first of American orators, remarked that " un-
til he had seen Mr. Larned he had never beheld in
the human form a perfect union of the sublime and
beautiful. His statue, if chiselled by the hand of a
Powers, would be pronounced, by all competent
judges, to deserve a place among the finest models
in the galleries of either ancient or modern sculp-
ture."



EEV, THEODOEE CLAPP. 49

Again, his eloquence Tvas characterized by the
easy, simple, unstudied manner in which he deliv-
ered his thoughts. There were no marks of art and
labor either in what he said or in his mode of say-
ing it. He did not appear before an audience in the
air of an erudite, authoritative, pompous divine,
a formal, ex cathedra sermonizer, but as an earnest,
affectionate, loving friend, pouring forth the rich,
glowing, unpremeditated effusions of his heart with
the fulness and rapidity of a torrent, and with the
apparent artlessness and simplicity of a cliild. His
language was indeed rich and "Singularly appropriate.
He was full of metaphors, lively images, and pleas-
ing allusions; but they flowed from him without
effort, and he seemed to speak as he did, in obedi-
ence to an irresistible impulse, because he could not
help it. Every one knows that simplicity is the
crowning ornament of the most effective eloquence.
It is that dress of nature without which all beauties
are imperfect, and fail of making a full and complete
impression.

The sermons of Mr. Larned were free from the
parade and dry technicalities of theological science.
He never manufactured a discourse out of general
and speculative propositions. He never couched the
truths of Jesus in abstract metaphysical terms.
Any child could comprehend his subject, words, ar-
guments, and illustrations. It is universally admit-
ted that no trait of good writing or speaking is more
important than perspicuity. Of what avail the eru-
dition and reasoning of the preacher, unless he be
clearly understood ? No ornaments can give lustre
5



60 AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF

and beauty to a sermon when its language is ambig-
uous and its arguments are obscure.

Mr. Larned had studied the volumes of the human
heart and human life more attentively than the sombre
tomes of school divinity. Hence, though so young,
he was enabled, in the happiest manner, to accom-
modate instructions to the different ages, conditions,
and characters of the diversified classes composing a
large, promiscuous audience. Bach of those who
listened to him heard something that seemed par-
ticularly addressed to himself — exactly suited to his
trials, temptations, waifts, sins, or sorrows. Those ser-
mons are not only most interesting, — most power-
fully occupy the imagination, — but also the most use-
ful, which advance what touches a person's habitual
conduct and cherished principles in every-day life.
They discover a sinner to himself in a light in
which he never saw his character before, and which
awakens within him the strongest desires to be deliv-
ered from bondage, and raised to a new and better
state. The object of every sermon should be to
persuade men to become good ; not to discuss some
abstruse theory ; to make a display of ingenuity and
acquirements ; nor to put forth startling novelties,
but to make the hearers better, to give them clearer
views, and more profound impressions of divine,
eternal truths.

Although the subject of these remarks was en-
dowed with the strongest sensibilities of soul and
loftiest powers of expression, he never allowed the
impetuosity of his feelings to transport him beyond
proper limits. The ardor of his genius never divert-



REV. THEODORE CliAPP. 51

ed his attention from the point of discussion, nor
betrayed him into any improprieties of look, man-
ner, or expression. His friends never had occasion
to remark, after leaving the church, that their pastor
in the unconscious fervor of the moment, had ut-
tered some imprudences, which an enemy or stranger
might turn to his personal disadvantage, or to the
detriment of the glorious cause which he espoused.
This close attention to argument and propriety of
words, this self-command, this supremacy of rea-
son, this imdeviating attention to the decorums of
time, place, and character, amidst the loftiest strains
of eloquence, was one of the most captivating and
persuasive charms of his pulpit exercises.

The manner of speaking, whose most prominent
traits have just been specified, is, in the strictest
sense of the phrase, a gift of nature. One could no
more acquire it by art and study than he could raise
the dead, or arrest the planets in their course. He
on whom it has been conferred speaks with the same
ease with which he walks the ground or breathes the
air.

" Some beauties yet no precepts can declare,
For there's a happiness as well as care.
Preaching resembles poetry ; in each
Are nameless graces which no methods teach,
And which a master hand alone can reach."

A perfectly correct, graceful, impassioned orator
is a phenomenon which the world seldom sees, since
so many extraordinary natural talents must concur
in his formation. But most public speakers might
be instructive and interesting, if they would only



52 AUTOBIOGRAPHY OP

follow nature, speak in public as they do in private,
and only when they have proper materials for a dis-
course, and have previously considered and digested
the subject.

"We read that " the righteous perisheth and is for-
gotten." Why? Because moral greatness is too
plain, quiet, and unostentatious to become the theme
and wonder, the gaze and admiration,'of those who
live only for the evanescent possessions and pleas-
ures of time and sense. The exploits of the soldier,
though degraded as to moral character, may be bla-
zoned all over the civilized world, and go down on a
wave of glory to future times. The pens of learned
historians, the tuneful measures of the poet, the
eloquence of orators, the finest creations of the
pencil and the chisel, have often been employed to
perpetuate the name and achievements of bad men,
— oppressors and robbers, — whose lives appear only
hateful and infamous in the sight of the Christian
and philanthropist. But after all, clergymen have
no just cause to be dissatisfied with their peculiar
condition and allotments. If a minister of the gos-
pel be sincere and faithful, no matter how poor, op-
posed, persecuted, or despised he may be, yet he is,
in reality, among the happiest of our race. His lot
is preeminently glorious. Amidst the severest trials
he breathes the atmosphere of an immortal world.
The " soul's calm sunshine," nobleness of heart,
large attainments of wisdom, conscious peace and
virtue pure, open to him the sources of perennial,
sacred, and constantly increasing bliss. A clergy-
man who has no taste for his profession must lead a



EBV. THEODORE CLAPP. 53

life of degradation and wretchedness. Of all men
living, a hypocrite in the pulpit is, perhaps, the most
mean, odious, and unhappy.

I remember my intercourse with Mr. Larned with
peculiar satisfaction. I was personally and inti-
mately acquainted with him. We were classmates
at the university for one quarter. Our rooms were
adjacent, and I saw him every day under all the var
rious phases which a collegiate life presents. There
was a correspondence between us during his resi-
dence in New Orleans. The last letter which I re-
ceived from him was written but a few days previous
to his death. These circumstances, with a deep
sense of the wonderful superiority of his native ge-
nius, make me anxious, if possible, by this brief
notice, to rescue his name from absolute oblivion.

No man was ever more agreeable in the social
circle. Though he was a great talker, yet no one
ever felt in his company that he talked to gratify
pride or pedantry, or for vain show of any kind. He
would often charm the listeners who hung on his
words, and even move them to tears, when he seemed
quite as unconscious of the power he was exercising,
as a child engaged in thoughtless prattle with sur-
rounding playmates. It was often said that he was
as affable and social among the vulgar, illiterate, and
profane, as when conversing with more congenial spir-
its. Yet his conversation was always unexceptiona-
ble in a moral point of view. A gentleman, travelling
with him on a steamboat, observed that he conversed
often with the crew, the deck passengers, and even
with certain persons who were known to be professed
5*



54 AUTOBIOGKAPHT OP

gamblers. Some present thought this freedom was
very improper in a clergyman. He excused himself
by saying that all men are equal in the sight of God ;
that he felt bound to be civil and kind to every per-
son within his reach, irrespective of character ; that
the most humble and ignorant individual on board
might communicate to him, if an opportunity were
offered, some fact or item of experience which would
suggest useful thoughts for the discourse which he
expected to preach the next morning. It was a noble
observation, and the practice that it implied doubt-
less contributed materially to increase his knowledge
of human nature, and the uncommon skill which he
displayed in touching the sensibilities of those whom
he addressed. How often are the piety and learn-
ing of clergymen absolutely inefficient from their
want of a thorough knowledge of men, and a more
extensive acquaintance with the world !

Whilst in New Orleans, Mr. L. was in the habit of
receiving visitors as guests at the breakfast or dinner
table. This was done to save time. In this manner
he formed an acquaintance with a large circle of gen-
tlemen, both Americans and Creoles, belonging to
other denominations. On one occasion the Cathohc
clergy of New Orleans, in a body, partook of his
hospitalities. It is thought by many that his out-
door influence did more good than all his labors in
the pulpit. Although his susceptible and finely attem-
pered constitution was so social in its tendencies, —
although he was so youthful, buoyant in spirits, full
of the sallies of wit, humor, and anecdote, — yet he
always maintained inviolate the dignity and propri-



EEV. THEODORE CLAPP. 65

eties of the clerical vocation. No one ever accused
him of saying or doing any thing unbecoming the
character of a clergyman.

When Mr. Lamed was only eighteen years of age,
he had occasion to journey from Pittsfield, Massa-
chusetts, his native town, to Albany, New York, in
the stage. On the way, a lively conversation was
kept up among the passengers, on a great variety of
topics. At the hotel where they stopped for the
night, an English traveller of the highest intelligence,
inquiring the name and profession of Mr. L., ob-
served, " Among the persons of all countries whom
I have seen, that young man shines most in conver-
sation, and possesses the greatest powers of elo-
quence." Such was the impression which he uni-
versally made on educated men of every name and
nation, who came within the reach of his fascinating
powers.

One of the attendant physicians of the Charity
Hospital, who was Kving when I first went to New
Orleans, told me that during the awful epidemic of
1820, Mr. Larned almost daily visited that institu-
tion, up to the very week of his death. He passed
much of his time in the abodes of sorrow, want, and
bereavement. In him the widow and orphan, the
sick and forsaken, the destitute stranger and seaman,
the tenant of the hospital, and the criminal chained
down in his dungeon under sentence of death, found
a warm-hearted, efficient friend. In thc'epidemic of
which he was a victim, August 31, 1820, he called
on the church treasurer one morning for pecuniary
assistance, saying that his^means were exhausted,



56 AUTOBIOGRAPHY OP

and nothing appeared to him more inconsistent than
to pray for the sick and dying, without furnishing
them with the supplies which their physical wants
demanded. To a physician who urged him to flee
from the destructive pestilence, he said, " I may lose
my life by staying here this summer, but I cannot
leave without violating my most imperative convic-
tions of duty. Death does not seem so great an
evil as that of deserting my post to escape the yellow
fever." Was there ever a more beautiful offering
laid on the altar of benevolence, religion, or patri-
otism ?

When I reflect upon the charms of the character
but faintly sketched in the above remarks, its unsul-
lied honor, unswerving tnith, and unflinching faith-
fulness, its noble, self-sacrificing, disinterested, and
magnanimous spirit, I feel how unfounded and un-
just is the sneering, disparaging insinuation of the
sceptic, that there is no reaUty in virtue ; that it is but
a pleasing fiction, a poetic dream. I thank Heaven
that the light of heroism and religion has shone
more or less brightly on all the preceding genera-
tions of men. It is my happiness to believe that
goodness exists in every latitude and longitude;
that every where throughout the wide field of hu-
manity, the roses of virtue bloom ; that in every
community are those who are good because they love
goodness ; good in the inmost recesses of their hearts,
good in their most retired and secluded hours, when
no eye but that of the Omniscient beholds them.
Yes, there are hearts in the worst neighborhoods on
the banks of the Mississippi, and among the rufiians



REV. THEODORE CLAPP. 67

(to use the parlance of the day) on our border set-
tlements, whose sympathies are warm, generous, and
noble. In every class of my fellow-beings, for the
last forty years, I have met persons enamoured of the
charms of moral excellence. I have found those
who, though poor and illiterate, born and reared
beyond the sphere of church influences, manifested
in their daily deportment the forgiving spirit of the
gospel, (the sublimest form of holiness ;) who, amid
scorn, insult, injuries, and misrepresentation, ex-
pressed neither in the countenance, nor by words,
nor by actions, the principles of scorn, hatred, or
retaliation. I have seen mothers grow more kind,
gentle, subdued, and forbearing, in proportion to the
unfaithfulness, the cruel neglect, and unthankfulness
with which they were treated by the members of their
own households, partners and children. Every day
have I been struck with the proofs, not of man's nar
tive corruption, but of his original rectitude and
glory. God made human nature. If it does not
work out the results which he intended, must he not
look upon mankind with feelings of sorrow and dis-
appointment ?

Tuesday succeeding the Sabbath on which Mr.
Larned delivered the discourse which- has been al-
ready described, I rode with him from Lexington to
Frankfort, the capital of the state. After our arri-
val, he was invited to preach the same evening, at
seven o'clock, before the legislature of Kentucky.
In this body were several gentlemen whose names
had been famous throughout the tJnion, and who
had been representatives and senators iu Congress.



58 AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF

The news of his successful effort at Lexington had
reached the place before him, and raised high expec-
tations. When Mr. Lamed arose to read the hymn,
a person who sat near me said, " If that boy can
utter any thing about religion to enchain the atten-
tion of this thoughtless, ungodly crowd, I shall con-
fess indeed that he is a prodigy of eloquence."

When Mr. Lamed announced his subject, it
seemed to me most unsuited to the place, hearers,
and occasion. These words were his text : " He
that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in
himself." The topic discussed was, the evidences of
Christianity — a topic presenting a vast, boundless
field of thought. How could he even enter upon it,
I said to myself, in the short space of a single ser-
mon ? After I went to my room, I made the follow-
ing memoranda in my note book, giving not so much
the exact words of the discourse as its leading
thoughts. " Not one person in a hundred thousand,"
said the orator, " has the mind and means, books
and leisure, requisite to investigate the truth of the
Bible upon logical principles. But there is one way
by which all, however weak and imlettered, may
arrive at satisfying convictions on this subject, with-
out examining the external proofs, documents, and
objections appertaining to the divinity of the Scrip-
tures.

" Is there one in this audience who has doubts as to
the heavenly origin of Christianity ? Act upon the
platform of the text, and your unbelief will grad-
ually and imperceptibly give way, as the bright and
balmy eflfiilgence of morn dispels the mist and dark-



REV. THEODORE CLAPP. 59

ness of night. When you rise from your bed to-
morrow morning, read a few verses of the Sermon
on the Mount, or some devotional part of tlie Old
Testament ; then, kneeling down, offer to Heaven a
sincere prayer that you may be guided throiigh the
trials, duties, and perils of the day by the spirit and
principles of what you have just read in his word.
Go forth, and act as nearly as you can in conformity
with your matin orisons. Do this with all your soul
every day forward, and before the expiration of the
present year you will have imbibed unconsciously
the elements of a triie religious faith. You will feel
the divinity of the Bible, though you may not be
able to argue the question with the sceptic. ' With
the heart man believeth unto salvation.' Praying
sincerely, and acting accordingly, will cause your
soul to be warmed with the beams of a Creator's
love.

" You will then ' have the witness in your own
bosoms,' that revealed religion is a celestial, refresh-
ing stream from the inexhaustible Fountain of life.
In this way, you may acquire a faith of a more ada^
mantine firmness, a more intimate and unwavering
conviction, than any variety or amount of reading,
study, and scholastic attainments could inspire, un-
accompanied by prayer and a good life. There is
no royal road to heaven. The king and his sub-
jects, the noble and ignoble, the wise and the ig-
norant, the master and the slave, can commune
with Grod, and feel his inspiration, only as they lead
prayerful, humble, just, pure, and conscientious lives.
As to the unspeakably important subject of personal



60 AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF

religion, the decisive questioii is not, What are your
thoughts, researches, philosophy, or creeds ? but.
What are your lives ? Only those who do the will
of God can have true faith in him. This evening,
you have, perhaps, youth, bloom, friends, opulence,
power, and all that a worldly taste most covets. But
reflect, I beseech you, how soon these shadows must
vanish. When the days of darkness shall arrive,
when affliction and bereavement shall sink down like
an incubus upon your hearts, when the stern reali-
ties of life shall have scattered your visionary hopes,
— and that time must soon come, — you will be the
victims of unrelieved gloom, misgiving, and despair,
unless sustained and soothed by an unfaltering trust
in that almighty, infinite, eternal, and unchanging
love, revealed in the person, mission, teachings, mir-
acles, death, and resurrection of the Son of God."

These thoughts were recommended by all the
charms of a natural, easy, graceful, dignified, and
solemn manner, pronounced with tones and varia-
tions of voice clear, full, and melodious as the
strains of the richest music.

Tliis sermon was but twenty-five minutes in length.
It is impossible to describe the effect it produced. It
was a universal observation, " We never heard any
thing like that from the pulpit before." The remark
was strictly applicable to my own feelings. Indeed,
Mr. Lamed gave me new ideas about the best mode
of preaching. I learned from him the utter worth-
lessness of mere doctrinal, controversial sermons.
He delivered two addresses on topics concerning
which there is the greatest diversity of opinion in



REV. THEODORE CLAPP. 61

tlie Christian -world; yet in these sermons he did
not so much as allude to any of the popular dogmas
of the day. One could not have divined, from any
thing which he said, to what particular sect he
belonged. His appeals embraced only truths that
are undisputed and indisputable — truths that strike
a chord which God has strung in every human heart.

I have been a traveller in the old world. It left
upon my soul an impression of mighty things, which
will forever remain in my mind — the ineffaceable
images of grandeur. I have crossed the Alps, and
looked down upon those lovely vales that derive an
increased beauty from the stupendous objects around
them. I have seen the glories of Europe — its cities,
palaces, castles, cathedrals, gardens, and galleries of
art. But none of these objects do I remember with
as deep emotions of wonder, admiration, and delight,
as the preeminent genius, and the noble, disin-
terested conduct, of that yoimg, fearless missionary,
who laid down his life to add another church to the
temples of the living God in New Orleans.

Mr. Larned entered Williams College, in his na-
tive state, when only fourteen years of age. He
studied theology at the seminaries of Andover and
Princeton, and commenced his professional life in
the spring of 1817, being about twenty years of age.
He died on the 31st of August, 1820, — a victim of
the yellow fever, — in the morning of life, and to
human view, just entering upon a brilliant and use-
ful career.



62 AUTOBIOGRAPHY OP



CHAPTER IV.

FIRST TRIP DOWN THE MISSISSIPPI. WALNUT HILLS. —

GENERAL APPEARANCE OP THE COAST. CHARACTER

OP STEPHEN POTDRAS, ESQ., THE PHILANTHROPIST. —
ARRIVAL AT NEW ORLEANS.

In the winter of 1821, I left Louisville for New
Orleans, to preach a few weeks, as I have before
mentioned, in the pulpit of the First Presbyterian
Church, which had been vacated by the death of Mr.
Lamed. The waters were high, and the steamboat
on which I embarked moved with great speed. In
less than a week I was wafted beyond regions where
the ice and snow still held dominion, into the tem-
perature, verdure, fragrance, and beauty of spring.
The efifect of such a sudden transition was enchant-
ing. On the borders of the river we saw but one
small town, (New Madrid,) between the mouth of
the Ohio and Warrenton, in the State of Mississippi.
Just before reaching this place we were cheered with
the green tops of the Walnut Hills, where Vicksburg
now' stands. They were then beautiful and rich
eminences, covered with an abundance of those trees
whose name they bear. It was not till some years
afterwards that the first house was erected on these
bluffs. To-day it is the site of a large commercial
city, from which vast quantities of cotton are shipped ;
whose broad streets, handsome public buildings, and



EEV. THEODORE CLAPP. 68

numerous churches, show that its inhabitants are
intelligent, refined, opulent, and liberal.

In the rear of this city, the country is rich and
beautiful, the hills crowned with neat houses, the
valleys and plains presenting a landscape of almost
continuous and highly-cultivated plantations. In
New England, many persons tMnk that this part of
the south has a -population almost semi-barbarous
— characterized by lawlessness, profanity, desecra-
tion of the Sabbath, gambling, intemperance, and
deeds of sanguinary violence. This impression arose
from the setting up of a few isolated instances of dis-
order and bloodshed, which found their way into the
newspapers, and sent a thrill of horror throughout
the Union. I have travelled extensively in the



Online LibraryTheodore ClappAutobiographical sketches and recollections : during a thirty-five years' residence in New Orleans → online text (page 4 of 28)