« AnteriorContinuar »
"Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast."
"Lift thee to heaven with a dome more vast,"
It was a ruinous change, no doubt; but Mr. Longfellow was not going to have anybody shut out from heaven. Better spoil a hundred stanzas than allow a hint of that! Yes, if necessary; but he was not obliged to use the stanza, and, besides, his thought was housed in it, as Holmes had written it, as safely as the nautilus in its shell. For all his poetry and ideality, our dear friend had a streak of literalism in his composition which sometimes marred his mending of the hymns he loved.
There was great pride and comfort in the new home,"New Chapel" Mr. Longfellow always called it, and much satisfaction with the vesper service arranged by Mr. Longfellow, the first in use among our churches, and more simple and more beautiful than any since arranged. The hymns written expressly for the book were the product of a singularly happy inspiration, especially "Now, on land and sea descending," and "Again, as evening's shadow falls." They have all had the widest currency. Their lines have gone out through all the earth and their words to the end of the world. But Mr. Longfellow was depressed by failing health and by the cowardice of some who did not like his "preaching politics," and so went off to safer churches, while some who stayed were full of weak regrets. June 24, 1860, he preached his farewell sermon from Deut. xv. I, "At the end of seven years thou shalt make a release." It was a noble exposition of his views and feelings on the greatest themes, God, Human Nature, Jesus, Immortality, the Bible, and the Nature of Religion. Then they were the views and feelings of a little company, now of a great and ever greatening host. It had been a ministry of wonderful refinement, beauty, tenderness, and spiritual grace. You will remember that in defining the church, in his first sermon after his installation, he said it was "a society of men,
women, and children.”
When, in 1876, we celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of our beginning, Mr. O. B. Frothingham was with us; and in speaking of Mr. Longfellow and his ministry, he said :
He was a man of men, one of ten thousand,— a man the like of whom for infusing a pure and liberal spirit into a church has never been surpassed; full of enthusiasm of the quiet, deep, interior kind; worshipful, devout, reverent; a deep believer in the human heart, in its affections; having a perfect faith in the majesty of conscience, a supreme trust in God and in the laws of the world; a man thoroughly well instructed, used to the best people, used to the best books and the best music, with the soul of a poet in him and the heart of a saint; a man of a deeply, earnestly consecrated will; simple as a little child, with the heart of a child; perpetually singing little ditties as he went about in the world, humming his little heart songs as he went about in the street, wherever you met him. . . . He was one of the rarest men,— in intellect free as light, having no fear in any direction, able to read any book, able to appreciate any thought, able to draw alongside any opinion; hating nobody, not even with a theological, not even with a speculative, not even with a most abstract hatred; he did not know in his heart what hatred meant: he loved God, his fellow-men.. He was always in an attitude of belief, always in an attitude of hope, brave as a lion, but never boasting, never saying what he meant to do or what he wished he could do, but keeping his own counsel and going a straight path, ploughing a very straight furrow through a very crooked world. He was as immovable as adamant and as playful as a sunbeam. He wrought here, as the oldest of you know, with a singleness of purpose and a singleness of feeling that knew no change from the beginning to the end.
Surely, the man of whom such things could be said with truth and soberness was one whom it was good to know as pastor or as friend; and when I think of these things, and of how I had his spirit to appeal to in so many hearts, and that of Staples, too, I wonder that my toilsome years have brought
to me so little gain, and question what the secret flaw can be in my own life that has so marred my work.
It was, I think, a testimony to Mr. Longfellow's attachment to this society that after leaving Brooklyn he did not assume another charge till 1878, when he went to Germantown, Pa., and remained five years, making the same beautiful impression that he made in our own city. The eighteen intervening years, less two or three in Europe, were spent in Cambridge, in his brother Henry's house. And it was in Cambridge that I saw him first, going across the college. campus with three little girls, "grave Alice and laughing Allegra and Edith with golden hair," motherless girls since July, 1861, when first their father felt upon his breast that cross of snow," which, like the western mountain, from that time he always wore. Samuel Longfellow had an affectionate interest in the divinity students; and, moreover, Samuel Johnson was my friend, and sent him to see me, and even after he had gone my poor old room, where Theodore Parker had "toiled terribly" in school-days, seemed strangely brightened up. often saw him there, and in the fine old house, where I could make my boast that my own great-grandsire had, as one of the Marblehead regiment, been established before any of the Longfellows; and at last there came a day, in May, 1864, when I went there to show him a letter I had received from Mr. Mills, asking me to come to Brooklyn and preach for three months. If I could come with Samuel Longfellow's blessing and God-speed, I felt the battle was almost already won. He gave them heartily; and, when I was ordained the following December, he came and gave me the charge, and no charge of infantry or cavalry ever went with a more lively rush. It was an astonishment to those who had known Mr. Longfellow as one of the quietest of speakers, sometimes too quiet for the best effect. Perhaps no one was more astonished than Mr. Longfellow himself. The fact was that in the graduation sermon to my class Dr. Hedge had come down pretty heavily on "Anti-supernatu
his divinity After that I
ralism in the Pulpit," and, while Mr. Longfellow's temper was not controversial, he could not allow opinions dear to him to be depreciated without rebuke. Seeing that Dr. Hedge had sent me here, it was embarrassing to have him punished at my ordination; but it was evident that Mr. Longfellow had no choice. His task was set for him; and how was he straightened until it was accomplished! It was December 21st, and it was inevitable that the ringing charge should end with Lowell's summons to the endless way:
"New occasions teach new duties; Time makes ancient good uncouth;
Nor attempt the Future's portal with the Past's blood-rusted key."
From that time to this there has been no occasion of special interest to our society to which Mr. Longfellow has not contributed some hymn or letter or address. At my own twenty-fifth anniversary in 1889 he spoke as if he knew he should not speak to us again. He sang the swan-song of his beautiful and earnest life. He expressed the essence of his life-long aspiration, hope, and dream. He pleaded for a religion of humanity, of righteousness, of piety; a glorious trinity, three and yet one. "May this religion," he said, "continue to be taught and enforced here,- a religion free, yet reverent; bold, yet not audacious; advancing, yet not rash; earnest, deep, sincere, using no words of mere use and custom; consoling, bracing, cheering,— a religion at one with all knowledge, all science, all that is beautiful, true, generous, and helpful to man; which, if it gives new meanings, also gives new emphasis to the great words God, Duty, Immortality." There is the mark of our high calling. Just in proportion as we attain to that it will be well with us.
"We shall sail securely, and safely reach
In 1876 we celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of our first organization; and at that time Mr. Longfellow not only
wrote us a good letter, but a brave hymn, its theme the motto of our society, which he set in golden letters on the portal of our house," The truth shall make you free."
"We sowed a seed of faith and hope
Now, rooted deep and spreading fair,
Nor strife nor cry has marked its growth;
Each bough that sways in sunshine says,
"Its leaves have for our healing been
We in the shade of God have walked,
Whom our own hearts could see;
"From outward rule to inward law
From form to life and deed!
Our confidence is He;
From fear of man or church's ban
And now let us, to the music of this noble hymn, pass to the consideration of a phase of Mr. Longfellow's activity to which, so far, I have made only incidental reference,— to the hymns he wrote and the collections of hymns he made alone or with another's help. He wrote the life of his brother Henry and that of his friend Samuel Johnson, both with perfect sympathy and delicate reserve; and he contributed many articles of sterling worth to the Index and the Radical, though, because of some physical or intellectual inertia, he always had to goad himself to do such things. But his best literary work was that of a hymn-writer, editor, and compiler. Too often dubbed "the brother of the poet," an