Charles Carleton Coffin Part 11
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Religious music was his favorite, but he delighted in all sweet melodies. He loved the Boston Symphony concerts and the grand opera.
Among his best pieces of writing were the accounts of Wagner's Parsifal at Bayreuth, and the great Peace Jubilee after our civil war.
At most of the great musical events in Boston, he was present.
Shawmut Church had for many years one of the very best quartette choirs in the city, supported at the instrument by such organists as Dudley Buck, George Harris, Samuel Carr, H. E. Parkhurst, and Henry M.
Dunham. In Carleton, both voice and instrument found so appreciative a hearer, and one who so often personally commended or appraised their renderings of a great composer's thought, or a heart-touching song, that "as well the singers as the players on instruments" were always glad to know how he received their art and work. In Europe, this lover of sweet sound enjoyed hearing the greatest vocalists, and those mightiest of the ma.s.ses of harmony known on earth, and possible only in European capitals. Before going to some n.o.ble feast for ear and soul, as, for example, Wagner's rendition of his operas at Bayreuth, Carleton would study carefully the literary history, the ideas sought to be expressed in sound, and the score of the composer. In his grand description and interpretation of Parsifal, he likened it among operas to the Jungfrau amid the Bernese Alps. "In its sweep of vision, beauty, greatness, whiteness, glory, and grandeur, it stands alone ...
to show the greatness, the ideal of Wagner, including the conflict of all time,--the upbuilding of individual character,--and reaching on to eternity."
Carleton, being a real Christian, necessarily believed in, and heartily supported, foreign missionary work. He saw in his Master, Christ, the greatest of all missionaries, and in the twelve missionaries, whom he chose to carry on his work, the true order and line of the kingdom. "Apostolical" succession is, literally, and in Christ's intent, missionary succession. He read in Paul's account of the organization of the Christian Church, that, among its orders and dignities, its officers and personnel, were "first missionaries." To him the only "orders" and "succession" were those which propagated the Gospel. He had seen the work of the modern apostles, sent forth by American Christians, west of the Alleghanies first, west of the Mississippi. He had later beheld the true apostles at work, in India, China, and j.a.pan. It was on account of his seeing that he became a still more enthusiastic upholder of missionary, or apostolic, work. He gave many addresses and lectures in New England, in loyalty to the mind of the Master. As he had been a friend of the black man, slave or free, so also was he ever a faithful defender of the Asiatic stranger within our gates. Against the bill which practically excluded the Chinamen from the United States, in defiance of the spirit and letter of the Burlingame treaty, Carleton spoke vigorously, at the meeting held in Tremont Temple, in Boston, to protest against the infamous Exclusion bill, which committed the nation to perjury. Carleton could never see the justice of stealing black men from Africa to enslave them, of murdering red men in order to steal their hunting-grounds, or of inviting yellow men across the sea to do our work, and then kicking them out when they were no longer needed.
Carleton was instrumental in giving impetus to the movement to found that mission in j.a.pan which has since borne fruit in the creation of the largest and most influential body of Christian churches, and the great Dos.h.i.+sha University, in Kioto. These churches are called k.u.mi-ai, or a.s.sociated independent churches, and out of them have come, in remarkable numbers, preachers, pastors, editors, authors, political leaders, and influential men in every department of the new modern life in j.a.pan. It was at the meeting of the American Board, held in Pittsburg, in the Third Presbyterian Church edifice, October 7-8, 1869, that the mission to j.a.pan was proposed. A paper by Secretary Treat was read, and reported on favorably, and Rev. David Greene, who had volunteered to be the apostle to the Sunrise Empire, made an address. The speech of Carleton, who had just returned from Dai Nippon, capped the climax of enthusiasm, and the meeting closed by singing the hymn, "Nearer, my G.o.d, to Thee."
At one of the later meetings of the Board, at Rutland, Vermont, the j.a.panese student Neesima pleaded effectually that a university be founded, the history of which, under the name of the One Endeavor, or Dos.h.i.+sha, is well known. In the same year that Neesima was graduated from Amherst College, Carleton received from this inst.i.tution the honorary degree of Master of Arts.
Carleton could turn his nimble pen to rhyme, when his friends required verses, and best when his own emotions struggled for utterance in poetry. Several very creditable hymns were composed for anniversary occasions and for the Easter Festivals of Shawmut Church.
Indeed, the first money ever paid him by a publisher was for a poem,--"The Old Man's Meditations," which was copied into "Littell's Living Age." The pre-natal life, birth, and growth of this first-born child of Carleton's brain and heart, which inherited a "double portion," in both fame and pelf, is worth noting. In 1852, an aged uncle of Mrs. Coffin, who dwelt in thoughts that had not yet become the commonplace property of our day, being at home in the immensities of geology and the infinities of astronomy, made a visit to the home in Boscawen, spending some days. Carleton was richly fed in spirit, and, conceiving the idea of the poem, on going out to plough, put paper and pencil in his pocket. As he thought out line upon line, or stanza by stanza, he penned each in open air. At the end of the furrow, or even in the middle of it, he would stop his team, lay the paper on the back of the oxen, and write down the thought or line.
Finished at home in the evenings, the poem was read to a friend, who persuaded the author to test its editorial and mercantile value.
"I shall never forget," wrote Mrs. Coffin, October 13, 1896, "with what joy he came to me and showed me the poetry in the magazine, and a check for $5.00."
The last three stanzas are:
"He sails once more the sea of years So wide and vast and deep!
He lives anew old hopes and fears-- Sweet tales of love again he hears, While flow afresh the scalding tears, For one long since asleep.
"He sees the wrecks upon the sh.o.r.e, And everything is drear; The rolling waves around him roar, The angry clouds their torrents pour, His friends are gone forevermore, And he alone is here.
"Yet through the gloom of gathering night, A glory from afar Streams ever on his fading sight, With Orient beams that grow more bright, The dawn of heaven's supernal light From Bethlehem's radiant star."
During the evenings of 1892, Carleton guided a Reading Club of young ladies who met at his house. I remember, one evening, with what effect he read Lowell's "Biglow Papers," his eyes twinkling with the fun which none enjoyed more than he. On another evening, after reading from Longfellow's "The Poet's Tale," "Lady Wentworth," and other poems, Carleton, before retiring, wrote a "Sequel to Lady Wentworth."
It is full of drollery, suggesting also what might possibly have ensued if "the judge" had married "Maud Muller." Carleton's poem tells of the risks and dangers to marital happiness which the old magistrate runs who weds a gay young girl.
Carleton was ever a lover and student of poetry, and among poets, Whittier was from the first his favorite. As a boy he committed to memory many of the Quaker poet's trumpet-like calls to duty. As a man he always turned for inspiration to this sweet singer of freedom. What attracted Carleton was not only the intense moral earnestness of the Friend, his beautiful images and grand simplicity, but the seer's perfect familiarity with the New Hamps.h.i.+re landscape, its mountains, its watercourses, the ways and customs of the people, the local legends and poetical a.s.sociations, the sympathy with the Indian, and the seraphic delight which he took in the play of light upon the New Hamps.h.i.+re hills. Not more did Daniel Webster study with eager eyes the glowing and the paling of the light on the hilltops, no more rapturously did Rembrandt unweave the mazes of darkness, conjure the shadows, and win by study the mysteries of light and shade, than did Whittier. To Carleton, a true son of New Hamps.h.i.+re, who had himself so often in boyhood watched and discriminated the mystery-play of light in its variant forms at dawn, midday, and sunset, by moon and star and zodiac, at the equinoxes and solstices, the imagery of his favorite poet was a perennial delight.
As he ripened in years, Carleton loved poetry more and more. He delighted in Lowell, and enjoyed the mysticism of Emerson. He had read Tennyson earlier in life without much pleasure, but in ripened years, and with refined tastes, his soul of music responded to the English bard's marvellous numbers. He became unspeakably happy over the tender melody of Tennyson's smaller pieces, and the grand harmony of "In Memoriam," which he thought the greatest poem ever written, and the high-water mark of intellect in the nineteenth century. Carleton was not only a lover of music, but a composer. When some especially tender sentiment in a hymn impressed him, or the re-reading of an old sacred song kindled his imagination by its thought, or moved his sensibilities by its smooth rhythm, then Carleton was not likely to rest until he had made a tune of his own with which to express his feelings. Of the scores which he composed and sang at home, or had sung in the churches, a number were printed, and have had happy use.
To the end of his life, he seemed to present, in his carriage and person, some of that New Hamps.h.i.+re ruggedness, and even rustic simplicity, that attracted and lured, while it foiled and disgusted those hunters of human prey who, in every large city, wait to take in the wayfaring man, whether he be fool or wise. Because he wore comfortable shoes, and cared next to nothing about conformity to the last new freak of fas.h.i.+on, the bunco man was very apt to make a fool of himself, and find that he, and not the stranger, was the victim. In Boston, which of late years has been so far captured by the Irishman that even St. Patrick's is celebrated under the guise of "Evacuation Day," matters were not very different from those in New York.
Carleton, while often conducting parties of young friends around Copp's Hill, and the more interesting historical, but now uncanny houses of the North End, was often remarked. Occasionally he was recognized by the policeman, who would inform suspicious or inquiring fellow foreigners or adopted sons of the Commonwealth, that "the old fellow was only a countryman in town, and wouldn't do any harm."
Lest some might get a false idea, I need only state that Mr. Coffin was a man of dignified dress, and scrupulously neat. He was a gentleman whose engaging presence might suggest the older and more altruistic, rather than the newer and perhaps brusquer style of manners. His was a "mild and magnificent" blue eye in which so many, who loved him so, liked to dwell, and he had no need to wear gla.s.ses.
The only sign of ornament about him was his gold watch-chain and cross-bar in his black vest b.u.t.tonhole.
Shawmut Church, in Boston, stands at the corner of Tremont and Brookline Streets. Its history is one of unique interest. Its very name connects the old and new world together. A Saxon monk, named Botolph, after completing his Christian studies in Germany, founded, A. D. 654, a monastery in Lincolns.h.i.+re, on the Witham, near the sea, and made it a centre of holy light and knowledge. He was the friend of sailors and boat-folk. The houses which grew up around the monastery became Botolph's Town, or Boston. "Botolph" is itself but another form of boat-help, and the famous tower of this English parish church, finer than many cathedrals, is crowned by an octagon lantern, nearly three hundred feet above the ground. It serves as a beacon-light, being visible forty miles distant, and, as of old, is the boat-help of Saint Botolph's Town. This ecclesiastical lighthouse is familiarly called "Boston Stump," and overlooks Lincolns.h.i.+re, the cradle of Ma.s.sachusetts history. At Scrooby, a few miles to the west, lived and wors.h.i.+pped the Pilgrim Fathers and Mothers. From this s.h.i.+re, also, came the English people who settled at Shawmut on the 17th of September, 1630.
The Indian name, Shawmut, was that of the "place near the neck,"
probably the present Haymarket Square. The three-hilled peninsula called Tremont, or Boston, by the white settlers, was connected with the main land at Roxbury by a long, narrow neck or causeway. The future "South End" was then under the waves. After about two centuries of use as a wagon road, this narrow strip between Boston and Roxbury--so narrow that, at high tide, boys were able to leap from the foam of the South Bay to the spray of the waters of the Charles River--was widened. Suffolk Street, which was one of the first highways west of Was.h.i.+ngton Street to be made into hard ground, was named Shawmut Avenue. About the middle of the nineteenth century, much land was reclaimed from the salt mud and marshes and made ready for the pile-driver, mason, and builder. Two splendid districts, the first called the "South End," and the second the "Back Bay," were created. Where, in the Revolutionary War, British frigates lay at anchor, are now Beacon Street and Commonwealth and Ma.s.sachusetts Avenues. Where the redcoats stepped into their boats for disembarkation at the foot of Bunker Hill, stretch the lovely Public Gardens. The streets running east and west in the new districts, beginning with Dover and ending with Lenox, are named after towns in the Bay State. About midway among these, as to order and distance, are Brookline and Canton Streets.
[Footnote 1: Other good authorities interpret Shawmut as meaning "living waters."]
On a chance s.p.a.ce of hard soil around Canton and Dedham Streets, in this marshy region, a suburban village of frame houses had gathered, and here a Sunday school was started as early as 1836. In January, 1842, a weekly prayer-meeting began at the house of Mr. Samuel C.
Wilkins. On November 20, 1845, a church was formed, with fifty members. In the newly filled up land, the pile-driver was already busy in planting forests of full-grown trees head downward. All around were rising blocks of elegant houses, with promise of imposing civic and ecclesiastical edifices of various kinds. In the wider streets were gardens, parks, or ample strips of flower-beds. This was the land of promise, and into it pressed married couples by the hundreds, creating lovely homes, rearing families, and making this the choicest part of the young city. For, though "Boston town" is as old as Mother Goose's rhymes, the munic.i.p.ality of Boston was, in 1852, but thirty years old. The congregation of Christian people which, on April 14, 1849, took the name, as parish, of The Shawmut Congregational Society, and, as a church, one month later, the name of the Shawmut Congregational Church, occupied as a meeting-house first a hall, then a frame building, and finally a handsome edifice of brick, which was dedicated on the 18th of November, 1852. This building is now occupied by the Every Day Church, of the Universalist denomination. The tide of prosperity kept steadily rising. The throng of wors.h.i.+ppers increased, until, in the very midst of the great Civil War, it was necessary to have more room. The present grand edifice on Tremont Street was erected and dedicated February 11, 1864; the Rev. Edwin Bonaparte Webb, who had been called from Augusta, Maine, being the popular and successful pastor.
Boston was not then noted, as she certainly is now, for grandeur or loveliness in church edifices. Neither excellence nor taste in ecclesiastical architecture was, before the war, a striking trait of the city or the people. To-day her church spires and towers are not only numerous, but are famed for their variety and beauty.
Fortunately for the future of Boston, the people of Shawmut Church found a good architect, who led the van of improvement in church architecture. The new edifice was the first one in the city on the early Lombardy style of architecture, and did much to educate the taste of the people of the newer and the older town, and especially those in the fraternity of churches called Congregational.
Both its architecture and decoration have been imitated and improved upon in the city wherein it was a pioneer of beauty and the herald of a new order of church architecture. It is a n.o.ble vehicle of the faith and feelings of devout wors.h.i.+ppers.
The equipment of Shawmut Church edifice made it a very homelike place of wors.h.i.+p, and here, for a generation or more of Carleton's life, a n.o.ble company of Christians wors.h.i.+pped. The Shawmut people were noted for their enterprise, sociability, generosity, and unity of purpose.
In this "South End" of Boston was reared a large proportion of the generation which to-day furnishes the brain and social and religious force of the city and suburbs. In Shawmut Church, gathered, week by week, hundreds of those who, in the glow of prosperity, held common ambitions, interests, and hopes. They were proud of their city, their neighborhood, and their church, yet were ever ready to extend their well-laden hands in gifts to the needy at home, and to send to those far off, within our own borders, and in lands beyond sea.
The great fire in Boston, of which Carleton wrote so brilliant a description, which, beginning November 9, 1872, within a few hours burned over sixty-five acres and reduced seventy-five millions of property to smoke and ashes, gave the first great blow to the material prosperity of Shawmut Church. Later came the filling up, the reclamation, and building of the Back Bay district. About 1878, the tide of movement set to the westward, progressing so rapidly and steadily as to almost entirely change, within a decade, the character of the South End, from a region of homes to one largely of business and boarding houses. Still later, about 1890, with the marvellous development of the electric motor and trolley cars, making horse traction by rail obsolete, the suburbs of Boston became one great garden and a semicircle of homes. Then Brookline, Newton, and Dorchester churches flourished at the expense of the city congregations. Shawmut Church, having graduated hundreds of families, had, in 1893, to be reorganized.
Of this church Charles Carleton Coffin, though not one of the founders, was certainly one of the makers. As a member, a hearer, a wors.h.i.+pper, a teacher, an officer, a counsellor, a giver of money, power, and influence, his name is inseparably a.s.sociated with the life of Shawmut Church.
When Carleton's seat was vacant, the chief servant of the church knew that his faithful ally was serving his Master elsewhere. After one of his trips to Europe, out West, or down South over the old battle-fields, to refresh his memory, or to make notes and photographs for his books, the welcome given to him, on his return, was always warm and lively.
First of all, Mr. Coffin was a good listener. This man, so fluent in speech, so ready with his pen, so richly furnished by long and wide reading, and by habitual meditation and deep thinking, by unique experience of times that tried men's souls, knew also the moments when silence, that is golden, was better than speech, even though silvern.
These were not as the "brilliant flashes of silence," such as Sidney Smith noted as delightful improvements in his friend "Tom" Macaulay; for Carleton was never a monopolist in conversation. Rather, with the prompting of a generous nature, and as studied courtesy made into fine art, he could listen even to a child. If Carleton was present, the preacher had an audience. His face, while beaming with encouragement, was one of singular responsiveness. His patience, the patience of one to whom concealment of feeling was as difficult as for a crystal to shut out light, rarely failed.
In j.a.pan there are temples, built _in memoriam_ to heroes fallen in war. These are named Shrines for the Welcome of Spirits. They are lighted at sunset. Like one of these that I remember, called the Soul-beckoning Rest, was this listener, Carleton, who begat eloquence by his kindly gaze. Nor was this power to lift up and cheer--this winged help of a great soul, like that of a mother bird under her fledgling making first trial of the air--given only to the professional speaker in the pulpit. This ten-talent layman was ever kindly helpful, with ear and tongue, to his fellow holder-in-trust of the one, or of the five, talents; yes, even to the little children in Christ's kingdom.
The young people loved Carleton because he heard and loved them. To have his great, kindly eyes fixed on some poor soldier, or neighbor in distress, was in itself a lightening of the load of trouble. Unlike those professional or volunteer comforters, who overwhelm by dumping a whole cart-load of condolence upon the sufferer, who is unable to resist or reply, Carleton was often great in his power of encouraging silence, and of gentle sympathy.
Bacon, as no other Englishman, has compressed in very few words a recipe for making a "full," a "ready," and an "exact" man. Carleton was all these in one. He was ever full. In the Shawmut prayer-meeting, his deep, rich voice was the admirable vehicle of his strong and helpful thoughts. Being a man of intense conviction, there was earnestness in every tone. A stalwart in faith, he was necessarily optimistic. A prophet, he was always sure that out of present darkness was to break forth grander light than former days knew. This world is governed by our Father, and G.o.d makes no mistakes.
That rhetorical instrument, the historical present, which makes the pages of his books tell such vivid stories, he often used with admirable effect in the prayer-room, impressing and thrilling all hearts. No little one ever believed more confidently the promises of its parent than did this little child in humility who was yet a man in understanding. Yet his was not blind credulity. He always faced the facts. He was willing to get to the bottom of reality, even though it might cause much drilling of the strata, with revelation of things at first unpleasant to know. I never knew a man whose piety rested less on traditions, inst.i.tutions, persons, things, or reputations taken for granted. To keen intuitions, he was able to add the riches of experience, and his experience ever wrought hope. Hence the tonic of his thought and words. He dwelt on the mountain-top of vision, and yet he had that combination, so rare, yet so indispensable in the prophet,--vision and patience, even the patience of service.
Naturally his themes and his ill.u.s.trations, so pertinent and illuminating, were taken largely from history. It is because he saw so far and so clearly down the perspective of the past, that he read the future so surely. "That which hath been, is that which shall be,"--but more. "G.o.d fulfils himself in many ways." To our friend, history, of which the cross of Christ was the centre, was the Heavenly Father's fullest revelation. Many are the ways of theophany,--"at sundry times, and in divers manners,"--to one the burning bush, to another the Urim and Thummin, to another the dew on the fleece, to one this, to another that. To our man of the Spirit, as to the sage of Patmos, human history, because moved from above, was the visible presence of G.o.d.
The war, which dissolved the old world of slavery, sectional bigotry, and narrow ideals, and out of the mother liquid of a new chaos shot forth fresh axes of moral reconstruction, furnished this soldier of righteousness with endless themes, incidents, ill.u.s.trations, and suggestions. Yet the emphasis, both as to light and shading, was put upon things Christian and G.o.dlike, the phenomena of spiritual courage and enterprise, rather than upon details of blood or slaughter.
Neither years nor distance seemed to dim our fellow patriot's grat.i.tude to the brave men who sacrificed limb and life for their country. The soldierly virtues, so vital to the Christian, were brought home to heart and conscience. He showed the incarnation of truth and life to be possible even in the camp and field.
Having been a skilled traveller in the Holy Land, Carleton frequently opened this "Fifth Gospel" to delighted listeners. There hung on the wall of the "vestry," or social prayer-room, above the leader's chair, a steel-plate picture of modern Jerusalem, showing especially the walls, gates, and roadways leading out from the city. Carleton often declared that this print was "an inspiration" to him. It recalled not only personal experiences of his own journeys, but also the stirring incidents in Scripture, especially of the life of Christ. Having studied on the soil of Syria, the background of the parables, and possessing a genius for topography, he was able to unshackle our minds from too close bondage to the English phrase or letter, from childhood's imperfect imaginations, and from our crude Occidental fancies. Many a pa.s.sage of Scripture, long held in our minds as the hand holds an unlighted lantern, was often turned into an immediately helpful lamp to our path by one touch of his light-giving torch.
For many years, Carleton was a Bible-cla.s.s teacher, excelling in understanding, insight, explanation, and application of the divine Word. Many to-day remember his teaching powers and their enjoyment at Malden; but it was in Boston, at Shawmut Church, that Mr. Coffin gave to this work the fullness of his strength and the ripeness of his powers.
Counting it one of the n.o.blest ambitions of a man's life to be a good teacher, I used to admire Carleton's way of getting at the heart of the lesson. His talent lay in first drawing out the various views of the readers, and then of harmonizing them,--even as the lens draws all rays to a burning-point, making fire where before was only scattered heat. Carleton was one of those superb teachers who believe that education is not only putting in, but also drawing out. In his cla.s.s were lawyers, physicians, doctors of divinity, princ.i.p.als of schools, heads of families, besides various specimens of average humanity.
Somehow, he contrived, within the scant hour afforded him, often within a half hour, to bestow not only his own thought, but, by powerful spiritual induction, to kindle in others a transforming force. After the teaching had well begun, there set in an alternating current of intensity that wrought mightily for the destruction of dead prejudices, and the building up of character.
In his use of helps and commentaries he had a profound contempt of those peddlers of pedantry who try to make the words of eternal truth become merely the lingo of things local and temporary. He was fond of utilizing all that the spade has cast up and out from the earth, as well as of consulting what the pen of genius has made so plain. He believed heartily in that interpretive, or higher criticism, which has done so much in our days to open the riches of holy Scripture. From the very first, instead of fearing that truth might be injured by an examination of the dress in which it was clothed, or the packages in which it was wrapped, Carleton was in hearty sympathy with those scholars and investigators who, by the application of literary canons to the Hebrew and Greek writings, have put illuminating difference between traditions and the original message. He believed that, in the popular understanding of many portions of the Bible, there was much confusion, owing to the webs which have been spun over the text by men who lived centuries and ages after the original writers of the inspired word. Though he never called himself a scholar, he knew only too well that Flavius Josephus and John Milton were the makers of much popular tradition which ascribed to the Bible a good deal which it does not contain, and that there was often difficulty among the plain people in distinguis.h.i.+ng between the ancient treasure and the wrapping and strings within which it is now enclosed. Hence his diligent use of some of the strong books in his pastor's and other libraries.
Charles Carleton Coffin Part 11
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