Imágenes de páginas

whose mutual friendship was the most rare and perfect satis faction of their lives. Longfellow's was the blonde complexion, Johnson's a swarthy hue. Longfellow was as desultory in his work as Johnson was strenuous and direct, and as spontaneous in his opinions as Johnson was resolved at every step to give a reason for the faith that was in him.

Mr. Longfellow was born in Portland, Me., June 13, 1819, the same year that gave us Lowell and George Eliot; and he died, October 3, in the same pleasant city, which he always loved and with which he always had a bond of brotherly affection. Graduated at Harvard College in 1839, he engaged in private teaching until 1842, when he entered the Divinity School at Cambridge, from which he graduated in 1846, he and Johnson each having taken a year off, and so graduating with the next class to that with which they began. For that graduation Johnson wrote the noble hymn "God of the earnest heart," and Frothingham his "unum, sed


"Thou Lord of hosts, whose guiding hand
Hast brought us here before thy face."

If his own contribution to such a songful time has been preseryed, it must have been “In the beginning was the Word," used for his Brooklyn installation, but, I think, written earlier. He entered almost immediately on the work of his first parish at Fall River, Mass., where he remained until he came to Brooklyn, in the spring of 1853. The faintest echoes of his preaching there are sweet with the habitual tenor of its lifelong way. Mr. Bryant of our congregation recalls him there in 1848, upon the threshold of his work.

Our own society was organized in April, 1851. In the two following years the now venerable Dr. Peabody was called to be our minister, next James Freeman Clarke, then Horatio Stebbins,- just forty years ago,— and finally Starr King. It cannot be said of our society, as then constituted, that it "did not know what it wanted, and wasn't satisfied when it got it." It was perfectly satisfied when it got Mr. Longfellow. He preached for the first time April 16, 1853,

in the Brooklyn Athenæum, then a brand-new building, and the handsomest in Brooklyn, not a church. His friend Johnson had sounded a trumpet before him as the hypocrites don't. When some approved his own preaching and others heard it with alarm, he said, "There is my classmate, Longfellow you must hear him"; and they did, and printed his first sermon, "The Word Preached," a vindication of the preacher's office from the standpoint of rational religion. "The pulpit,” he said, “must not present a theology which contradicts clear facts of science or of human nature. It must not teach a bibliolatry which shuts its eyes to the plainest dictates of common sense and puts itself in antagonism to reason and conscience, to the living word of God in the soul." Tolerably familiar now that manner of speech, but in 1851 it was extremely rare. In accordance with the habit of the society, Mr. Longfellow was not called till after some months' trial; and this morning brings us as nearly as possible, for a Sunday, to the anniversary of his installation, Oct. 26, 1851. The Sunday following the new minister took for his subject “A Spiritual and Working Church,” and made a noble exposition of his idea of his own work and that of the society. Defining a church as "a society of men, women, and children, associated together by a religious spirit for a religious work," he made it clear how little faith he had in ritual or creed as an ecclesiastical bond, how much in fellow-service and a common love of truth. Accepting the designation Christian, he declared it must mean religious, or it was sectarian; but to the designation Unitarian he objected, as seeming to found the church upon a theological doctrine. He sketched a comprehensive plan of work, some features of which have been preserved unto this day; for example, our system of monthly collections for charitable purposes. Another feature of his plan, wholly original, "the printing and distributing of books and tracts," was not carried out in his own time. It was first made practical by Mr. Frothingham; and we took it up in 1875, and since then have scattered at least 200,000 of our sermons up and down the

land, and many other churches have engaged in a like work. Mr. Longfellow's idea was not, I think, to print merely his own sermons. His modesty, if I may say so without an injurious reflection on my own, would not have permitted that. But, whereas Andrew Jackson "took the responsi bility," I do not.

Once fairly settled to his work, Mr. Longfellow's individuality gave form to everything he touched. He had a way of his own, a very tender, gracious way of doing everything. Never was a man less hackneyed in his methods of church work and speech and ceremonial. Did he baptize or marry people or speak beside the dead some word of comfort to the living or administer the communion service, the baptism, the marriage, the comfort, the communion, was without a prototpye. The baptism was a tender jubilee; the marriage was no ceremony, but an inspiration; the comfort was no service, but a psalm; the communion was indeed that, as the minister moved about among the people, carrying the ele ments in his own hands and breathing tender phrases of the Scriptures and his own unwritten word. And who should say which was the more inspired? He was a thoroughgoing rationalist in his theology, allowing inspiration to the Bible in no special sense, and insisting on the pure humanity of Jesus as essential to his best effect upon our lives.

In thought and aim he was in perfect sympathy with Theodore Parker, while differing widely from him in his methods, uniting with his religious affirmation much less of theological negation, feeling that Parker did not sufficiently revere the reverences of other men. Parker was not so much his spiritual father as his elder brother, holding the same relation to Johnson and Higginson and Weiss and Wasson. With all these he-Longfellow - had drunk deep at transcendental fountains: of Coleridge and Carlyle and Emerson. He was a natural mystic, a high-priest, or rather poet, after the order of Thomas à Kempis and William Law and John Tauler and the Theologia Germanica, but with an all-pervading and controlling common sense, keeping

his feet well upon the ground, however with his forehead he might brush the stars, and able to use the language Parker attributed to Jesus,-"words so deep that a child could understand them." One can see from the church records how his own sort of people, men and women, gravitated to him, how they loved him and stood by him with unalterable devotion while others fell away. But for as many as received him what a power he was of moral inspiration and of spiritual enlightenment and strength and joy! What peace he brought into their homes, what consolation to their sorrow, what conscience to their business and politics, and "the narrow things of home"! Life as interpreted by him was something altogether sweet and holy, tender and divine. God was not away off there outside the universe. He was its present immanent Life. He was not away off there in Judea even he was right here in our own America,— his word not exhausted by the Bible, nor by Jesus and the apostles, but very near us, even in our hearts. There are standards of success tried by which Mr. Longfellow's preaching would not be called successful. It attracted no crowds, it built up no great society. Tried by the highest standards, it was a success but seldom paralleled in the history of our Unitarian churches or any others. Bulk does not measure quality and force, else were a panorama more than Raphael's Madonna, and the Pyramids more than the Parthenon, and Pollok's "Course of Time" more than the "Lycidas" of Milton, or than Keats's "Nightingale."

I find no evidence that our society was originally conceived in a more liberal spirit than the Unitarian churches round about. But the evidences of such a spirit soon began to multiply after the settlement of Mr. Longfellow. Immediately after, the American Unitarian Association having smuggled some sort of creed or creedlet into its annual report, the society adopted a series of resolutions declaring that the fundamental principle of Unitarianism was character unmeasured by belief, and that any creed adopted by the Association could only express the creed of individuals vot

ing for its adoption. From this time, moreover, there was no distinction between "the church" of the New England polity and the congregation, the first article of the amended by-laws reading, "The pastor and congregation constitute the society, and no subscription or assent to any formula of faith shall be required as a qualification for church membership."

Mr. Longfellow had but little strength to spare, and too much of it went to the building of this church, which coincided with the financial crash of 1857: hence, perhaps, a lower roof and bigger debt than were intended at the start. The enterprise was watched over by Mr. Longfellow with affectionate solicitude. Here, as elsewhere, he broke with the tradition; and, if not so successfully as in his pulpit ministrations, it must be remembered that neither his plans nor the architect's were carried out. Whatever may be said of the building, the dedication sermon was entirely perfect and complete, wanting nothing. I never miss an opportunity to tell the story of that sermon as it came to me in Bridgewater, Mass., where I was then at school. It was sent by Mr. Plimpton to the good lady with whom I was boarding at the time. I remember well its lilac-tinted covers, but better still the freshness as of lilacs and all spring-like things which breathed from every line. Coming to me at a time when I was singularly sensitive to such impressions I doubt not that it had a great determining influence on my thought and life. It braced me to resist the great revival of that year, which was then upon us like a flood, and swept away nearly all my schoolmates into the orthodox church. No better sermon has ever been preached in this church, and it is just as good to-day as it was then. It was an expansion and an illustration of the glorious text, "One God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in you all." The end was very characteristic of the man. It was the last stanza of Holmes's "Chambered Nautilus," then one of the latest inspirations of the most high God; and for the line,

« AnteriorContinuar »