Part 2 out of 3
of a great church that he raised from nothingness.
He is the most popular lecturer in the world and
yearly speaks to many thousands. He is, so to
speak, the discoverer of ``Acres of Diamonds,''
through which thousands of men and women have
achieved success out of failure. He is the head
of two hospitals, one of them founded by himself,
that have cared for a host of patients, both the
poor and the rich, irrespective of race or creed.
He is the founder and head of a university that
has already had tens of thousands of students.
His home is in Philadelphia; but he is known in
every corner of every state in the Union, and
everywhere he has hosts of friends. All of his life
he has helped and inspired others.
Quite by chance, and only yesterday, literally
yesterday and by chance, and with no thought at
the moment of Conwell although he had been
much in my mind for some time past, I picked up
a thin little book of description by William Dean
Howells, and, turning the pages of a chapter on
Lexington, old Lexington of the Revolution,
written, so Howells had set down, in 1882, I
noticed, after he had written of the town itself,
and of the long-past fight there, and of the present-
day aspect, that he mentioned the church life
of the place and remarked on the striking
advances made by the Baptists, who had lately, as
he expressed it, been reconstituted out of very
perishing fragments and made strong and flourishing,
under the ministrations of a lay preacher,
formerly a colonel in the Union army. And it
was only a few days before I chanced upon this
description that Dr. Conwell, the former colonel
and former lay preacher, had told me of his
experiences in that little old Revolutionary town.
Howells went on to say that, so he was told,
the colonel's success was principally due to his
making the church attractive to young people.
Howells says no more of him; apparently he did
not go to hear him; and one wonders if he has
ever associated that lay preacher of Lexington
with the famous Russell H. Conwell of these recent
``Attractive to young people.'' Yes, one can
recognize that to-day, just as it was recognized
in Lexington. And it may be added that he at
the same time attracts older people, too! In this,
indeed, lies his power. He makes his church
interesting, his sermons interesting, his lectures
interesting. He is himself interesting! Because of
his being interesting, he gains attention. The
attention gained, he inspires.
Biography is more than dates. Dates, after all,
are but mile-stones along the road of life. And
the most important fact of Conwell's life is that
he lived to be eighty-two, working sixteen hours
every day for the good of his fellow-men. He was
born on February 15, 1843--born of poor parents,
in a low-roofed cottage in the eastern Berkshires,
``I was born in this room,'' he said to me,
simply, as we sat together recently in front of the
old fireplace in the principal room of the little
cottage; for he has bought back the rocky farm
of his father, and has retained and restored the
little old home. ``I was born in this room. It
was bedroom and kitchen. It was poverty.'' And
his voice sank with a kind of grimness into silence.
 _This interview took place at the old Conwell farm in the
summer of 1915_.
Then he spoke a little of the struggles of those
long-past years; and we went out on the porch,
as the evening shadows fell, and looked out over
the valley and stream and hills of his youth, and
he told of his grandmother, and of a young
Marylander who had come to the region on a visit;
it was a tale of the impetuous love of those two,
of rash marriage, of the interference of parents,
of the fierce rivalry of another suitor, of an attack
on the Marylander's life, of passionate hastiness,
of unforgivable words, of separation, of lifelong
sorrow. ``Why does grandmother cry so often?''
he remembers asking when he was a little boy.
And he was told that it was for the husband of
We went back into the little house, and he
showed me the room in which he first saw John
Brown. ``I came down early one morning, and
saw a huge, hairy man sprawled upon the bed
there--and I was frightened,'' he says.
But John Brown did not long frighten him!
For he was much at their house after that, and was
so friendly with Russell and his brother that there
was no chance for awe; and it gives a curious side-
light on the character of the stern abolitionist
that he actually, with infinite patience, taught the
old horse of the Conwells to go home alone with
the wagon after leaving the boys at school, a mile
or more away, and at school-closing time to trot
gently off for them without a driver when merely
faced in that direction and told to go! Conwell
remembers how John Brown, in training it, used
patiently to walk beside the horse, and control
its going and its turnings, until it was quite ready
to go and turn entirely by itself.
The Conwell house was a station on the
Underground Railway, and Russell Conwell remembers,
when a lad, seeing the escaping slaves that
his father had driven across country and temporarily
hidden. ``Those were heroic days,'' he says,
quietly. ``And once in a while my father let me
go with him. They were wonderful night drives--
the cowering slaves, the darkness of the road,
the caution and the silence and dread of it all.''
This underground route, he remembers, was from
Philadelphia to New Haven, thence to Springfield,
where Conwell's father would take his charge,
and onward to Bellows Falls and Canada.
Conwell tells, too, of meeting Frederick
Douglass, the colored orator, in that little cottage in
the hills. `` `I never saw my father,' Douglass said
one day--his father was a white man--`and I
remember little of my mother except that once
she tried to keep an overseer from whipping me,
and the lash cut across her own face, and her
blood fell over me.'
``When John Brown was captured,'' Conwell
went on, ``my father tried to sell this place to
get a little money to send to help his defense.
But he couldn't sell it, and on the day of the execu-
tion we knelt solemnly here, from eleven to twelve,
just praying, praying in silence for the passing
soul of John Brown. And as we prayed we knew
that others were also praying, for a church-bell
tolled during that entire hour, and its awesome
boom went sadly sounding over these hills.''
Conwell believes that his real life dates from a
happening of the time of the Civil War--a happening
that still looms vivid and intense before
him, and which undoubtedly did deepen and
strengthen his strong and deep nature. Yet the
real Conwell was always essentially the same.
Neighborhood tradition still tells of his bravery
as a boy and a youth, of his reckless coasting, his
skill as a swimmer and his saving of lives, his
strength and endurance, his plunging out into the
darkness of a wild winter night to save a neighbor's
cattle. His soldiers came home with tales
of his devotion to them, and of how he shared
his rations and his blankets and bravely risked his
life; of how he crept off into a swamp, at imminent
peril, to rescue one of his men lost or mired
there. The present Conwell was always Conwell;
in fact, he may be traced through his ancestry, too,
for in him are the sturdy virtues, the bravery, the
grim determination, the practicality, of his father;
and romanticism, that comes from his grandmother;
and the dreamy qualities of his mother,
who, practical and hardworking New England
woman that she was, was at the same time influenced
by an almost startling mysticism.
And Conwell himself is a dreamer: first of all
he is a dreamer; it is the most important fact
in regard to him! It is because he is a dreamer
and visualizes his dreams that he can plan the
great things that to other men would seem
impossibilities; and then his intensely practical
side his intense efficiency, his power, his skill,
his patience, his fine earnestness, his mastery
over others, develop his dreams into realities.
He dreams dreams and sees visions--but his
visions are never visionary and his dreams
The rocky hills which meant a dogged struggle
for very existence, the fugitive slaves, John Brown
--what a school for youth! And the literal school
was a tiny one-room school-house where young
Conwell came under the care of a teacher who
realized the boy's unusual capabilities and was
able to give him broad and unusual help. Then
a wise country preacher also recognized the
unusual, and urged the parents to give still more
education, whereupon supreme effort was made
and young Russell was sent to Wilbraham Academy.
He likes to tell of his life there, and of the
hardships, of which he makes light; and of the
joy with which week-end pies and cakes were
received from home!
He tells of how he went out on the roads selling
books from house to house, and of how eagerly
he devoured the contents of the sample books that
he carried. ``They were a foundation of learning
for me,'' he says, soberly. ``And they gave me a
broad idea of the world.''
He went to Yale in 1860, but the outbreak of
the war interfered with college, and he enlisted in
1861. But he was only eighteen, and his father
objected, and he went back to Yale. But next
year he again enlisted, and men of his Berkshire
neighborhood, likewise enlisting, insisted that he
be their captain; and Governor Andrews, appealed
to, consented to commission the nineteen-year-
old youth who was so evidently a natural leader;
and the men gave freely of their scant money to
get for him a sword, all gay and splendid with
gilt, and upon the sword was the declaration in
stately Latin that, ``True friendship is eternal.''
And with that sword is associated the most
vivid, the most momentous experience of Russell
That sword hangs at the head of Conwell's
bed in his home in Philadelphia. Man of peace
that he is, and minister of peace, that symbol of
war has for over half a century been of infinite
importance to him.
He told me the story as we stood together before
that sword. And as he told the story, speaking
with quiet repression, but seeing it all and living
it all just as vividly as if it had occurred but
yesterday, ``That sword has meant so much to me,''
he murmured; and then he began the tale:
``A boy up there in the Berkshires, a neighbor's
son, was John Ring; I call him a boy, for we all
called him a boy, and we looked upon him as a
boy, for he was under-sized and under-developed--
so much so that he could not enlist.
``But for some reason he was devoted to me,
and he not only wanted to enlist, but he also
wanted to be in the artillery company of which I
was captain; and I could only take him along as
my servant. I didn't want a servant, but it was
the only way to take poor little Johnnie Ring.
``Johnnie was deeply religious, and would read
the Bible every evening before turning in. In
those days I was an atheist, or at least thought I
was, and I used to laugh at Ring, and after a while
he took to reading the Bible outside the tent on
account of my laughing at him! But he did not
stop reading it, and his faithfulness to me remained
``The scabbard of the sword was too glittering
for the regulations''--the ghost of a smile hovered
on Conwell's lips--``and I could not wear it, and
could only wear a plain one for service and keep
this hanging in my tent on the tent-pole. John
Ring used to handle it adoringly, and kept it
polished to brilliancy.--It's dull enough these
many years,'' he added, somberly. ``To Ring
it represented not only his captain, but the very
glory and pomp of war.
``One day the Confederates suddenly stormed
our position near New Berne and swept through
the camp, driving our entire force before them;
and all, including my company, retreated hurriedly
across the river, setting fire to a long wooden
bridge as we went over. It soon blazed up furiously,
making a barrier that the Confederates
could not pass.
``But, unknown to everybody, and unnoticed,
John Ring had dashed back to my tent. I think
he was able to make his way back because he just
looked like a mere boy; but however that was, he
got past the Confederates into my tent and took
down, from where it was hanging on the tent-
pole, my bright, gold-scabbarded sword.
``John Ring seized the sword that had long been
so precious to him. He dodged here and there,
and actually managed to gain the bridge just as it
was beginning to blaze. He started across. The
flames were every moment getting fiercer, the
smoke denser, and now and then, as he crawled
and staggered on, he leaned for a few seconds far
over the edge of the bridge in an effort to get air.
Both sides saw him; both sides watched his
terrible progress, even while firing was fiercely
kept up from each side of the river. And then
a Confederate officer--he was one of General
Pickett's officers--ran to the water's edge
and waved a white handkerchief and the firing
`` `Tell that boy to come back here!' he cried.
`Tell him to come back here and we will let him
``He called this out just as Ring was about to
enter upon the worst part of the bridge--the cov-
ered part, where there were top and bottom and
sides of blazing wood. The roar of the flames
was so close to Ring that he could not hear the
calls from either side of the river, and he pushed
desperately on and disappeared in the covered
``There was dead silence except for the crackling
of the fire. Not a man cried out. All waited in
hopeless expectancy. And then came a mighty
yell from Northerner and Southerner alike, for
Johnnie came crawling out of the end of the covered
way--he had actually passed through that
frightful place--and his clothes were ablaze, and
he toppled over and fell into shallow water; and
in a few moments he was dragged out, unconscious,
and hurried to a hospital.
``He lingered for a day or so, still unconscious,
and then came to himself and smiled a little as
he found that the sword for which he had given
his life had been left beside him. He took it in
his arms. He hugged it to his breast. He gave
a few words of final message for me. And that
Conwell's voice had gone thrillingly low as he
neared the end, for it was all so very, very vivid to
him, and his eyes had grown tender and his lips
more strong and firm. And he fell silent, thinking
of that long-ago happening, and though he looked
down upon the thronging traffic of Broad Street,
it was clear that he did not see it, and that if
the rumbling hubbub of sound meant anything to
him it was the rumbling of the guns of the distant
past. When he spoke again it was with a still
tenser tone of feeling.
``When I stood beside the body of John Ring
and realized that he had died for love of me, I
made a vow that has formed my life. I vowed
that from that moment I would live not only my
own life, but that I would also live the life of John
Ring. And from that moment I have worked sixteen
hours every day--eight for John Ring's work
and eight hours for my own.''
A curious note had come into his voice, as of
one who had run the race and neared the goal,
fought the good fight and neared the end.
``Every morning when I rise I look at this sword,
or if I am away from home I think of the sword,
and vow anew that another day shall see sixteen
hours of work from me.'' And when one comes
to know Russell Conwell one realizes that never
did a man work more hard and constantly,
``It was through John Ring and his giving his
life through devotion to me that I became a
Christian,'' he went on. ``This did not come
about immediately, but it came before the war
was over, and it came through faithful Johnnie
There is a little lonely cemetery in the
Berkshires, a tiny burying-ground on a wind-swept
hill, a few miles from Conwell's old home. In
this isolated burying-ground bushes and vines and
grass grow in profusion, and a few trees cast a
gentle shade; and tree-clad hills go billowing off
for miles and miles in wild and lonely beauty.
And in that lonely little graveyard I found the
plain stone that marks the resting-place of John
THE BEGINNING AT OLD LEXINGTON
IT is not because he is a minister that Russell
Conwell is such a force in the world. He
went into the ministry because he was sincerely
and profoundly a Christian, and because he felt
that as a minister he could do more good in the
world than in any other capacity. But being a
minister is but an incident, so to speak. The
important thing is not that he is a minister, but that
he is himself!
Recently I heard a New-Yorker, the head of
a great corporation, say: ``I believe that Russell
Conwell is doing more good in the world than any
man who has lived since Jesus Christ.'' And
he said this in serious and unexaggerated earnest.
Yet Conwell did not get readily into his life-
work. He might have seemed almost a failure
until he was well on toward forty, for although he
kept making successes they were not permanent
successes, and he did not settle himself into a
definite line. He restlessly went westward to
make his home, and then restlessly returned to
the East. After the war was over he was a lawyer,
he was a lecturer, he was an editor, he went around
the world as a correspondent, he wrote books.
He kept making money, and kept losing it; he lost
it through fire, through investments, through aiding
his friends. It is probable that the unsettledness
of the years following the war was due to the
unsettling effect of the war itself, which thus, in
its influence, broke into his mature life after
breaking into his years at Yale. But however that
may be, those seething, changing, stirring years
were years of vital importance to him, for in the
myriad experiences of that time he was building
the foundation of the Conwell that was to come.
Abroad he met the notables of the earth. At
home he made hosts of friends and loyal admirers.
It is worth while noting that as a lawyer he
would never take a case, either civil or criminal,
that he considered wrong. It was basic with him
that he could not and would not fight on what
he thought was the wrong side. Only when his
client was right would he go ahead!
Yet he laughs, his quiet, infectious, characteristic
laugh, as he tells of how once he was deceived,
for he defended a man, charged with stealing a
watch, who was so obviously innocent that he
took the case in a blaze of indignation and had
the young fellow proudly exonerated. The next
day the wrongly accused one came to his office
and shamefacedly took out the watch that he
had been charged with stealing. ``I want you to
send it to the man I took it from,'' he said. And
he told with a sort of shamefaced pride of how
he had got a good old deacon to give, in all
sincerity, the evidence that exculpated him. ``And,
say, Mr. Conwell--I want to thank you for
getting me off--and I hope you'll excuse my
deceiving you--and--I won't be any worse for not
going to jail.'' And Conwell likes to remember
that thereafter the young man lived up to the
pride of exoneration; and, though Conwell does
not say it or think it, one knows that it was the
Conwell influence that inspired to honesty--for
always he is an inspirer.
Conwell even kept certain hours for consultation
with those too poor to pay any fee; and at
one time, while still an active lawyer, he was
guardian for over sixty children! The man has
always been a marvel, and always one is coming
upon such romantic facts as these.
That is a curious thing about him--how much
there is of romance in his life! Worshiped to the
end by John Ring; left for dead all night at
Kenesaw Mountain; calmly singing ``Nearer, my
God, to Thee,'' to quiet the passengers on a
supposedly sinking ship; saving lives even when a
boy; never disappointing a single audience of the
thousands of audiences he has arranged to address
during all his years of lecturing! He himself takes
a little pride in this last point, and it is characteristic
of him that he has actually forgotten that
just once he did fail to appear: he has quite
forgotten that one evening, on his way to a lecture,
he stopped a runaway horse to save two
women's lives, and went in consequence to a hospital
instead of to the platform! And it is typical
of him to forget that sort of thing.
The emotional temperament of Conwell has always
made him responsive to the great, the striking,
the patriotic. He was deeply influenced by
knowing John Brown, and his brief memories of
Lincoln are intense, though he saw him but three
times in all.
The first time he saw Lincoln was on the night
when the future President delivered the address,
which afterward became so famous, in Cooper
Union, New York. The name of Lincoln was then
scarcely known, and it was by mere chance that
young Conwell happened to be in New York on
that day. But being there, and learning that
Abraham Lincoln from the West was going to
make an address, he went to hear him.
He tells how uncouthly Lincoln was dressed,
even with one trousers-leg higher than the other,
and of how awkward he was, and of how poorly,
at first, he spoke and with what apparent
embarrassment. The chairman of the meeting got
Lincoln a glass of water, and Conwell thought
that it was from a personal desire to help him and
keep him from breaking down. But he loves to
tell how Lincoln became a changed man as he
spoke; how he seemed to feel ashamed of his brief
embarrassment and, pulling himself together and
putting aside the written speech which he had
prepared, spoke freely and powerfully, with splendid
conviction, as only a born orator speaks. To
Conwell it was a tremendous experience.
The second time he saw Lincoln was when
he went to Washington to plead for the life of one
of his men who had been condemned to death
for sleeping on post. He was still but a captain
(his promotion to a colonelcy was still to come),
a youth, and was awed by going into the presence
of the man he worshiped. And his voice trembles
a little, even now, as he tells of how pleasantly
Lincoln looked up from his desk, and how cheerfully
he asked his business with him, and of how
absorbedly Lincoln then listened to his tale,
although, so it appeared, he already knew of the
``It will be all right,'' said Lincoln, when
Conwell finished. But Conwell was still frightened.
He feared that in the multiplicity of public matters
this mere matter of the life of a mountain
boy, a private soldier, might be forgotten till too
late. ``It is almost the time set--'' he faltered.
And Conwell's voice almost breaks, man of emotion
that he is, as he tells of how Lincoln said,
with stern gravity: ``Go and telegraph that soldier's
mother that Abraham Lincoln never signed
a warrant to shoot a boy under twenty, and never
will.'' That was the one and only time that he
spoke with Lincoln, and it remains an indelible
The third time he saw Lincoln was when, as
officer of the day, he stood for hours beside the
dead body of the President as it lay in state in
Washington. In those hours, as he stood rigidly
as the throng went shuffling sorrowfully through,
an immense impression came to Colonel Conwell
of the work and worth of the man who there lay
dead, and that impression has never departed.
John Brown, Abraham Lincoln, old Revolutionary
Lexington--how Conwell's life is associated
with famous men and places!--and it was
actually at Lexington that he made the crucial
decision as to the course of his life! And it seems
to me that it was, although quite unconsciously,
because of the very fact that it was Lexington that
Conwell was influenced to decide and to act as
he did. Had it been in some other kind of place,
some merely ordinary place, some quite usual
place, he might not have taken the important
step. But it was Lexington, it was brave old
Lexington, inspiring Lexington; and he was
inspired by it, for the man who himself inspires
nobly is always the one who is himself open to
noble inspiration. Lexington inspired him.
``When I was a lawyer in Boston and almost
thirty-seven years old,'' he told me, thinking
slowly back into the years, ``I was consulted by
a woman who asked my advice in regard to
disposing of a little church in Lexington whose
congregation had become unable to support it. I
went out and looked at the place, and I told her
how the property could be sold. But it seemed a
pity to me that the little church should be given
up. However, I advised a meeting of the church
members, and I attended the meeting. I put the
case to them--it was only a handful of men and
women--and there was silence for a little. Then
an old man rose and, in a quavering voice, said
the matter was quite clear; that there evidently
was nothing to do but to sell, and that he would
agree with the others in the necessity; but as
the church had been his church home from boyhood,
so he quavered and quivered on, he begged
that they would excuse him from actually taking
part in disposing of it; and in a deep silence he
went haltingly from the room.
``The men and the women looked at one another,
still silent, sadly impressed, but not knowing
what to do. And I said to them: `Why not start
over again, and go on with the church, after all!' ''
Typical Conwellism, that! First, the impulse
to help those who need helping, then the inspiration
`` `But the building is entirely too tumble-
down to use,' said one of the men, sadly; and I
knew he was right, for I had examined it; but I
`` `Let us meet there to-morrow morning and
get to work on that building ourselves and put
it in shape for a service next Sunday.'
``It made them seem so pleased and encouraged,
and so confident that a new possibility was
opening that I never doubted that each one of
those present, and many friends besides, would
be at the building in the morning. I was there
early with a hammer and ax and crowbar that I
had secured, ready to go to work--but no one else
He has a rueful appreciation of the humor of
it, as he pictured the scene; and one knows also
that, in that little town of Lexington, where
Americans had so bravely faced the impossible,
Russell Conwell also braced himself to face the
impossible. A pettier man would instantly have
given up the entire matter when those who were
most interested failed to respond, but one of the
strongest features in Conwell's character is his
ability to draw even doubters and weaklings into
line, his ability to stir even those who have
``I looked over that building,'' he goes on,
whimsically, ``and I saw that repair really seemed
out of the question. Nothing but a new church
would do! So I took the ax that I had brought
with me and began chopping the place down.
In a little while a man, not one of the church
members, came along, and he watched me for a
time and said, `What are you going to do there?'
``And I instantly replied, `Tear down this old
building and build a new church here!'
``He looked at me. `But the people won't
do that,' he said.
`` `Yes, they will,' I said, cheerfully, keeping at
my work. Whereupon he watched me a few minutes
longer and said:
`` `Well, you can put me down for one hundred
dollars for the new building. Come up to my
livery-stable and get it this evening.'
`` `All right; I'll surely be there,' I replied.
``In a little while another man came along and
stopped and looked, and he rather gibed at the
idea of a new church, and when I told him of the
livery-stable man contributing one hundred dollars,
he said, `But you haven't got the money yet!'
`` `No,' I said; `but I am going to get it to-night.'
`` `You'll never get it,' he said. `He's not that
sort of a man. He's not even a church man!'
``But I just went quietly on with the work,
without answering, and after quite a while he
left; but he called back, as he went off, `Well, if
he does give you that hundred dollars, come to
me and I'll give you another hundred.' ''
Conwell smiles in genial reminiscence and without
any apparent sense that he is telling of a great
personal triumph, and goes on:
``Those two men both paid the money, and of
course the church people themselves, who at first
had not quite understood that I could be in earnest,
joined in and helped, with work and money,
and as, while the new church was building, it was
peculiarly important to get and keep the congregation
together, and as they had ceased to have
a minister of their own, I used to run out from
Boston and preach for them, in a room we hired.
``And it was there in Lexington, in 1879, that
I determined to become a minister. I had a good
law practice, but I determined to give it up. For
many years I had felt more or less of a call to
the ministry, and here at length was the definite
time to begin.
``Week by week I preached there''--how
strange, now, to think of William Dean Howells
and the colonel-preacher!--``and after a while
the church was completed, and in that very
church, there in Lexington, I was ordained a
A marvelous thing, all this, even without
considering the marvelous heights that Conwell has
since attained--a marvelous thing, an achievement
of positive romance! That little church
stood for American bravery and initiative and
self-sacrifice and romanticism in a way that well
befitted good old Lexington.
To leave a large and overflowing law practice
and take up the ministry at a salary of six hundred
dollars a year seemed to the relatives of Conwell's
wife the extreme of foolishness, and they did not
hesitate so to express themselves. Naturally
enough, they did not have Conwell's vision. Yet
he himself was fair enough to realize and to admit
that there was a good deal of fairness in their
objections; and so he said to the congregation
that, although he was quite ready to come for
the six hundred dollars a year, he expected them
to double his salary as soon as he doubled the
church membership. This seemed to them a
good deal like a joke, but they answered in perfect
earnestness that they would be quite willing to
do the doubling as soon as he did the doubling,
and in less than a year the salary was doubled
I asked him if he had found it hard to give up
the lucrative law for a poor ministry, and his
reply gave a delightful impression of his capacity
for humorous insight into human nature, for he
said, with a genial twinkle:
``Oh yes, it was a wrench; but there is a sort
of romance of self-sacrifice, you know. I rather
suppose the old-time martyrs rather enjoyed themselves
in being martyrs!''
Conwell did not stay very long in Lexington.
A struggling little church in Philadelphia heard
of what he was doing, and so an old deacon went
up to see and hear him, and an invitation was
given; and as the Lexington church seemed to
be prosperously on its feet, and the needs of the
Philadelphia body keenly appealed to Conwell's
imagination, a change was made, and at a salary
of eight hundred dollars a year he went, in 1882,
to the little struggling Philadelphia congregation,
and of that congregation he is still pastor--only,
it ceased to be a struggling congregation a great
many years ago! And long ago it began paying
him more thousands every year than at first it
gave him hundreds.
Dreamer as Conwell always is in connection
with his immense practicality, and moved as he
is by the spiritual influences of life, it is more than
likely that not only did Philadelphia's need appeal,
but also the fact that Philadelphia, as a city,
meant much to him, for, coming North, wounded
from a battle-field of the Civil War, it was in
Philadelphia that he was cared for until his health
and strength were recovered. Thus it came that
Philadelphia had early become dear to him.
And here is an excellent example of how dreaming
great dreams may go hand-in-hand with winning
superb results. For that little struggling
congregation now owns and occupies a great
new church building that seats more people than
any other Protestant church in America--and
Dr. Conwell fills it!
STORY OF THE FIFTY-SEVEN CENTS
AT every point in Conwell's life one sees that
he wins through his wonderful personal influence
on old and young. Every step forward,
every triumph achieved, comes not alone from
his own enthusiasm, but because of his putting
that enthusiasm into others. And when I learned
how it came about that the present church buildings
were begun, it was another of those marvelous
tales of fact that are stranger than any imagination
could make them. And yet the tale was so
simple and sweet and sad and unpretending.
When Dr. Conwell first assumed charge of the
little congregation that led him to Philadelphia
it was really a little church both in its numbers
and in the size of the building that it occupied,
but it quickly became so popular under his
leadership that the church services and Sunday-
school services were alike so crowded that there
was no room for all who came, and always there
were people turned from the doors.
One afternoon a little girl, who had eagerly
wished to go, turned back from the Sunday-school
door, crying bitterly because they had told her
that there was no more room. But a tall, black-
haired man met her and noticed her tears and,
stopping, asked why it was that she was crying,
and she sobbingly replied that it was because
they could not let her into the Sunday-school.
``I lifted her to my shoulder,'' says Dr. Conwell,
in telling of this; for after hearing the story
elsewhere I asked him to tell it to me himself,
for it seemed almost too strange to be true.
``I lifted her to my shoulder''--and one realizes
the pretty scene it must have made for the little
girl to go through the crowd of people, drying
her tears and riding proudly on the shoulders of
the kindly, tall, dark man! ``I said to her that
I would take her in, and I did so, and I said to
her that we should some day have a room big
enough for all who should come. And when she
went home she told her parents--I only learned
this afterward--that she was going to save money
to help build the larger church and Sunday-school
that Dr. Conwell wanted! Her parents pleasantly
humored her in the idea and let her run errands
and do little tasks to earn pennies, and she began
dropping the pennies into her bank.
``She was a lovable little thing--but in only a
few weeks after that she was taken suddenly ill
and died; and at the funeral her father told me,
quietly, of how his little girl had been saving money
for a building-fund. And there, at the funeral,
he handed me what she had saved--just fifty-
seven cents in pennies.''
Dr. Conwell does not say how deeply he was
moved; he is, after all, a man of very few words
as to his own emotions. But a deep tenderness
had crept into his voice.
``At a meeting of the church trustees I told of
this gift of fifty-seven cents--the first gift toward
the proposed building-fund of the new church that
was some time to exist. For until then the matter
had barely been spoken of, as a new church building
had been simply a possibility for the future.
``The trustees seemed much impressed, and it
turned out that they were far more impressed
than I could possibly have hoped, for in a few
days one of them came to me and said that he
thought it would be an excellent idea to buy a
lot on Broad Street--the very lot on which the
building now stands.'' It was characteristic of
Dr. Conwell that he did not point out, what every
one who knows him would understand, that it was
his own inspiration put into the trustees which
resulted in this quick and definite move on the
part of one of them. ``I talked the matter over
with the owner of the property, and told him of
the beginning of the fund, the story of the little
girl. The man was not one of our church, nor
in fact, was he a church-goer at all, but he listened
attentively to the tale of the fifty-seven cents
and simply said he was quite ready to go ahead
and sell us that piece of land for ten thousand
dollars, taking--and the unexpectedness of this
deeply touched me taking a first payment of just
fifty-seven cents and letting the entire balance
stand on a five-per-cent. mortgage!
``And it seemed to me that it would be the
right thing to accept this unexpectedly liberal
proposition, and I went over the entire matter
on that basis with the trustees and some of the
other members, and all the people were soon
talking of having a new church. But it was not
done in that way, after all, for, fine though that
way would have been, there was to be one still
``Not long after my talk with the man who
owned the land, and his surprisingly good-hearted
proposition, an exchange was arranged for me one
evening with a Mount Holly church, and my wife
went with me. We came back late, and it was
cold and wet and miserable, but as we approached
our home we saw that it was all lighted from
top to bottom, and it was clear that it was full
of people. I said to my wife that they seemed to
be having a better time than we had had, and we
went in, curious to know what it was all about.
And it turned out that our absence had been
intentionally arranged, and that the church people
had gathered at our home to meet us on our return.
And I was utterly amazed, for the spokesman
told me that the entire ten thousand dollars
had been raised and that the land for the church
that I wanted was free of debt. And all had come
so quickly and directly from that dear little girl's
Doesn't it seem like a fairy tale! But then this
man has all his life been making fairy tales into
realities. He inspired the child. He inspired the
trustees. He inspired the owner of the land. He
inspired the people.
The building of the great church--the Temple
Baptist Church, as it is termed--was a great
undertaking for the congregation; even though
it had been swiftly growing from the day of Dr.
Conwell's taking charge of it, it was something
far ahead of what, except in the eyes of an enthusiast,
they could possibly complete and pay for
and support. Nor was it an easy task.
Ground was broken for the building in 1889,
in 1891 it was opened for worship, and then
came years of raising money to clear it. But it
was long ago placed completely out of debt, and
with only a single large subscription--one of ten
thousand dollars--for the church is not in a
wealthy neighborhood, nor is the congregation
made up of the great and rich.
The church is built of stone, and its interior
is a great amphitheater. Special attention has
been given to fresh air and light; there is nothing
of the dim, religious light that goes with medieval
churchliness. Behind the pulpit are tiers of seats
for the great chorus choir. There is a large organ.
The building is peculiarly adapted for hearing
and seeing, and if it is not, strictly speaking,
beautiful in itself, it is beautiful when it is filled
with encircling rows of men and women.
Man of feeling that he is, and one who
appreciates the importance of symbols, Dr. Conwell
had a heart of olive-wood built into the front of the
pulpit, for the wood was from an olive-tree in the
Garden of Gethsemane. And the amber-colored
tiles in the inner walls of the church bear, under
the glaze, the names of thousands of his people;
for every one, young or old, who helped in the
building, even to the giving of a single dollar, has
his name inscribed there. For Dr. Conwell wished
to show that it is not only the house of the Lord,
but also, in a keenly personal sense, the house of
those who built it.
The church has a possible seating capacity of
4,200, although only 3,135 chairs have been put
in it, for it has been the desire not to crowd the
space needlessly. There is also a great room for
the Sunday-school, and extensive rooms for the
young men's association, the young women's
association, and for a kitchen, for executive offices,
for meeting-places for church officers and boards
and committees. It is a spacious and practical
and complete church home, and the people feel
at home there.
``You see again,'' said Dr. Conwell, musingly,
``the advantage of aiming at big things. That
building represents $109,000 above ground. It
is free from debt. Had we built a small church, it
would now be heavily mortgaged.''
HIS POWER AS ORATOR AND PREACHER
EVEN as a young man Conwell won local fame
as an orator. At the outbreak of the Civil
War he began making patriotic speeches that
gained enlistments. After going to the front he
was sent back home for a time, on furlough, to
make more speeches to draw more recruits, for his
speeches were so persuasive, so powerful, so full
of homely and patriotic feeling, that the men who
heard them thronged into the ranks. And as a
preacher he uses persuasion, power, simple and
homely eloquence, to draw men to the ranks of
He is an orator born, and has developed this
inborn power by the hardest of study and thought
and practice. He is one of those rare men who
always seize and hold the attention. When he
speaks, men listen. It is quality, temperament,
control--the word is immaterial, but the fact is
very material indeed.
Some quarter of a century ago Conwell published
a little book for students on the study and practice
of oratory. That ``clear-cut articulation is the
charm of eloquence'' is one of his insisted-upon
statements, and it well illustrates the lifelong
practice of the man himself, for every word as
he talks can be heard in every part of a large building,
yet always he speaks without apparent effort.
He avoids ``elocution.'' His voice is soft-pitched
and never breaks, even now when he is over
seventy, because, so he explains it, he always
speaks in his natural voice. There is never a
straining after effect.
``A speaker must possess a large-hearted regard
for the welfare of his audience,'' he writes, and
here again we see Conwell explaining Conwellism.
``Enthusiasm invites enthusiasm,'' is another of his
points of importance; and one understands that
it is by deliberate purpose, and not by chance,
that he tries with such tremendous effort to put
enthusiasm into his hearers with every sermon
and every lecture that he delivers.
``It is easy to raise a laugh, but dangerous, for
it is the greatest test of an orator's control of his
audience to be able to land them again on the
solid earth of sober thinking.'' I have known
him at the very end of a sermon have a ripple of
laughter sweep freely over the entire congregation,
and then in a moment he has every individual
under his control, listening soberly to his words.
He never fears to use humor, and it is always
very simple and obvious and effective. With him
even a very simple pun may be used, not only with-
out taking away from the strength of what he is
saying, but with a vivid increase of impressiveness.
And when he says something funny it is
in such a delightful and confidential way, with
such a genial, quiet, infectious humorousness, that
his audience is captivated. And they never think
that he is telling something funny of his own;
it seems, such is the skill of the man, that he is
just letting them know of something humorous
that they are to enjoy with him.
``Be absolutely truthful and scrupulously clear,''
he writes; and with delightfully terse common
sense, he says, ``Use illustrations that illustrate''--
and never did an orator live up to this injunction
more than does Conwell himself. Nothing is more
surprising, nothing is more interesting, than the
way in which he makes use as illustrations of the
impressions and incidents of his long and varied
life, and, whatever it is, it has direct and instant
bearing on the progress of his discourse. He will
refer to something that he heard a child say in a
train yesterday; in a few minutes he will speak
of something that he saw or some one whom he
met last month, or last year, or ten years ago--
in Ohio, in California, in London, in Paris, in
New York, in Bombay; and each memory, each
illustration, is a hammer with which he drives
home a truth.
The vast number of places he has visited and
people he has met, the infinite variety of things his
observant eyes have seen, give him his ceaseless
flow of illustrations, and his memory and his
skill make admirable use of them. It is seldom
that he uses an illustration from what he has
read; everything is, characteristically, his own.
Henry M. Stanley, who knew him well, referred
to him as ``that double-sighted Yankee,'' who
could ``see at a glance all there is and all there
And never was there a man who so supplements
with personal reminiscence the place or the person
that has figured in the illustration. When
he illustrates with the story of the discovery of
California gold at Sutter's he almost parenthetically
remarks, ``I delivered this lecture on that
very spot a few years ago; that is, in the town
that arose on that very spot.'' And when he
illustrates by the story of the invention of the
sewing-machine, he adds: ``I suppose that if any
of you were asked who was the inventor of the
sewing-machine, you would say that it was Elias
Howe. But that would be a mistake. I was
with Elias Howe in the Civil War, and he often
used to tell me how he had tried for fourteen years
to invent the sewing-machine and that then his
wife, feeling that something really had to be done,
invented it in a couple of hours.'' Listening to
him, you begin to feel in touch with everybody
and everything, and in a friendly and intimate
Always, whether in the pulpit or on the platform,
as in private conversation, there is an absolute
simplicity about the man and his words; a
simplicity, an earnestness, a complete honesty. And
when he sets down, in his book on oratory, ``A
man has no right to use words carelessly,'' he
stands for that respect for word-craftsmanship
that every successful speaker or writer must feel.
``Be intensely in earnest,'' he writes; and in
writing this he sets down a prime principle not
only of his oratory, but of his life.
A young minister told me that Dr. Conwell
once said to him, with deep feeling, ``Always
remember, as you preach, that you are striving to
save at least one soul with every sermon.'' And
to one of his close friends Dr. Conwell said, in
one of his self-revealing conversations:
``I feel, whenever I preach, that there is always
one person in the congregation to whom, in all
probability, I shall never preach again, and
therefore I feel that I must exert my utmost power
in that last chance.'' And in this, even if this were
all, one sees why each of his sermons is so
impressive, and why his energy never lags. Always,
with him, is the feeling that he is in the world to
do all the good he can possibly do; not a moment,
not an opportunity, must be lost.
The moment he rises and steps to the front
of his pulpit he has the attention of every one in
the building, and this attention he closely holds
till he is through. Yet it is never by a striking
effort that attention is gained, except in so far
that his utter simplicity is striking. ``I want
to preach so simply that you will not think it
preaching, but just that you are listening to a
friend,'' I remember his saying, one Sunday morning,
as he began his sermon; and then he went on
just as simply as such homely, kindly, friendly
words promised. And how effectively!
He believes that everything should be so put
as to be understood by all, and this belief he
applies not only to his preaching, but to the
reading of the Bible, whose descriptions he not only
visualizes to himself, but makes vividly clear to his
hearers; and this often makes for fascination in
For example, he is reading the tenth chapter of
I Samuel, and begins, `` `Thou shalt meet a company
of prophets.' ''
`` `Singers,' it should be translated,'' he puts in,
lifting his eyes from the page and looking out over
his people. Then he goes on, taking this change as
a matter of course, `` `Thou shalt meet a company
of singers coming down from the high place--' ''
Whereupon he again interrupts himself, and
in an irresistible explanatory aside, which instantly
raises the desired picture in the mind of every
one, he says: ``That means, from the little old
church on the hill, you know.'' And how plain
and clear and real and interesting--most of all,
interesting--it is from this moment! Another
man would have left it that prophets were coming
down from a high place, which would not have
seemed at all alive or natural, and here, suddenly,
Conwell has flashed his picture of the singers
coming down from the little old church on the
hill! There is magic in doing that sort of thing.
And he goes on, now reading: `` `Thou shalt
meet a company of singers coming down from
the little old church on the hill, with a psaltery,
and a tabret, and a pipe, and a harp, and they
shall sing.' ''
Music is one of Conwell's strongest aids. He
sings himself; sings as if he likes to sing, and often
finds himself leading the singing--usually so,
indeed, at the prayer-meetings, and often, in
effect, at the church services.
I remember at one church service that the
choir-leader was standing in front of the massed
choir ostensibly leading the singing, but that
Conwell himself, standing at the rear of the
pulpit platform, with his eyes on his hymn-book,
silently swaying a little with the music and
unconsciously beating time as he swayed, was just
as unconsciously the real leader, for it was he
whom the congregation were watching and with
him that they were keeping time! He never
suspected it; he was merely thinking along with
the music; and there was such a look of
contagious happiness on his face as made every one
in the building similarly happy. For he possesses
a mysterious faculty of imbuing others with his
Not only singers, but the modern equivalent
of psaltery and tabret and cymbals, all have their
place in Dr. Conwell's scheme of church service;
for there may be a piano, and there may even be
a trombone, and there is a great organ to help
the voices, and at times there are chiming bells.
His musical taste seems to tend toward the
thunderous--or perhaps it is only that he knows
there are times when people like to hear the
thunderous and are moved by it.
And how the choir themselves like it! They
occupy a great curving space behind the pulpit,
and put their hearts into song. And as the
congregation disperse and the choir filter down,
sometimes they are still singing and some of them
continue to sing as they go slowly out toward the
doors. They are happy--Conwell himself is
happy--all the congregation are happy. He makes
everybody feel happy in coming to church; he
makes the church attractive just as Howells was
so long ago told that he did in Lexington.
And there is something more than happiness;
there is a sense of ease, of comfort, of general joy,
that is quite unmistakable. There is nothing of
stiffness or constraint. And with it all there is
full reverence. It is no wonder that he is
accustomed to fill every seat of the great building.
His gestures are usually very simple. Now and
then, when he works up to emphasis, he strikes
one fist in the palm of the other hand. When he
is through you do not remember that he has made
any gestures at all, but the sound of his voice
remains with you, and the look of his wonderful
eyes. And though he is past the threescore years
and ten, he looks out over his people with eyes that
still have the veritable look of youth.
Like all great men, he not only does big things,
but keeps in touch with myriad details. When
his assistant, announcing the funeral of an old
member, hesitates about the street and number
and says that they can be found in the telephone
directory, Dr. Conwell's deep voice breaks quietly
in with, ``Such a number [giving it], Dauphin
Street''--quietly, and in a low tone, yet every
one in the church hears distinctly every syllable
of that low voice.
His fund of personal anecdote, or personal
reminiscence, is constant and illustrative in his
preaching, just as it is when he lectures, and the
reminiscences sweep through many years, and at times
are really startling in the vivid and homelike
pictures they present of the famous folk of the
past that he knew.
One Sunday evening he made an almost casual
reference to the time when he first met Garfield,
then a candidate for the Presidency. ``I asked
Major McKinley, whom I had met in Washington,
and whose home was in northern Ohio, as was
that of Mr. Garfield, to go with me to Mr.
Garfield's home and introduce me. When we got
there, a neighbor had to find him. `Jim! Jim!'
he called. You see, Garfield was just plain Jim
to his old neighbors. It's hard to recognize a
hero over your back fence!'' He paused a mo-
ment for the appreciative ripple to subside, and
``We three talked there together''--what a
rare talking that must have been-McKinley,
Garfield, and Conwell--``we talked together, and
after a while we got to the subject of hymns, and
those two great men both told me how deeply
they loved the old hymn, `The Old-Time Religion.'
Garfield especially loved it, so he told
us, because the good old man who brought him
up as a boy and to whom he owed such gratitude,
used to sing it at the pasture bars outside of the
boy's window every morning, and young Jim
knew, whenever he heard that old tune, that it
meant it was time for him to get up. He said
that he had heard the best concerts and the finest
operas in the world, but had never heard anything
he loved as he still loved `The Old-Time Religion.'
I forget what reason there was for McKinley's
especially liking it, but he, as did Garfield, liked
What followed was a striking example of Conwell's
intentness on losing no chance to fix an
impression on his hearers' minds, and at the same
time it was a really astonishing proof of his power
to move and sway. For a new expression came
over his face, and he said, as if the idea had only
at that moment occurred to him--as it most
probably had--``I think it's in our hymnal!''
And in a moment he announced the number,
and the great organ struck up, and every person
in the great church every man, woman, and child
--joined in the swinging rhythm of verse after
verse, as if they could never tire, of ``The Old-
Time Religion.'' It is a simple melody--barely
more than a single line of almost monotone
_It was good enough for mother and it's good enough for me!
It was good on the fiery furnace and it's good enough for me!_
Thus it went on, with never-wearying iteration,
and each time with the refrain, more and more
rhythmic and swaying:
_The old-time religion,
The old-time religion,
The old-time religion--
It's good enough for me!_
That it was good for the Hebrew children, that
it was good for Paul and Silas, that it will help
you when you're dying, that it will show the way
to heaven--all these and still other lines were
sung, with a sort of wailing softness, a curious
monotone, a depth of earnestness. And the man
who had worked this miracle of control by evoking
out of the past his memory of a meeting with two
of the vanished great ones of the earth, stood
before his people, leading them, singing with them,
his eyes aglow with an inward light. His magic
had suddenly set them into the spirit of the old
camp-meeting days, the days of pioneering and
hardship, when religion meant so much to everybody,
and even those who knew nothing of such
things felt them, even if but vaguely. Every
heart was moved and touched, and that old tune
will sing in the memory of all who thus heard it
and sung it as long as they live.
GIFT FOR INSPIRING OTHERS
THE constant earnestness of Conwell, his desire
to let no chance slip by of helping a fellowman,
puts often into his voice, when he preaches,
a note of eagerness, of anxiety. But when he
prays, when he turns to God, his manner undergoes
a subtle and unconscious change. A load
has slipped off his shoulders and has been assumed
by a higher power. Into his bearing, dignified
though it was, there comes an unconscious
increase of the dignity. Into his voice, firm as it
was before, there comes a deeper note of firmness.
He is apt to fling his arms widespread as he prays,
in a fine gesture that he never uses at other times,
and he looks upward with the dignity of a man
who, talking to a higher being, is proud of being
a friend and confidant. One does not need to be
a Christian to appreciate the beauty and fineness
of Conwell's prayers.
He is likely at any time to do the unexpected,
and he is so great a man and has such control
that whatever he does seems to everybody a per-
fectly natural thing. His sincerity is so evident,
and whatever he does is done so simply and naturally,
that it is just a matter of course.
I remember, during one church service, while
the singing was going on, that he suddenly rose
from his chair and, kneeling beside it, on the open
pulpit, with his back to the congregation, remained
in that posture for several minutes. No one
thought it strange. I was likely enough the only
one who noticed it. His people are used to his
sincerities. And this time it was merely that he
had a few words to say quietly to God and turned
aside for a few moments to say them.
His earnestness of belief in prayer makes him
a firm believer in answers to prayer, and, in fact,
to what may be termed the direct interposition of
Providence. Doubtless the mystic strain inherited
from his mother has also much to do with this.
He has a typically homely way of expressing it
by one of his favorite maxims, one that he loves
to repeat encouragingly to friends who are in
difficulties themselves or who know of the difficulties
that are his; and this heartening maxim is,
``Trust in God and do the next thing.''
At one time in the early days of his church
work in Philadelphia a payment of a thousand
dollars was absolutely needed to prevent a law-
suit in regard to a debt for the church organ.
In fact, it was worse than a debt; it was a note
signed by himself personally, that had become
due--he was always ready to assume personal
liability for debts of his church--and failure to
meet the note would mean a measure of disgrace
as well as marked church discouragement.
He had tried all the sources that seemed open
to him, but in vain. He could not openly appeal
to the church members, in this case, for it was
in the early days of his pastorate, and his zeal
for the organ, his desire and determination to
have it, as a necessary part of church equipment,
had outrun the judgment of some of his best
friends, including that of the deacon who had
gone to Massachusetts for him. They had urged a
delay till other expenses were met, and he had
acted against their advice.
He had tried such friends as he could, and he
had tried prayer. But there was no sign of aid,
whether supernatural or natural.
And then, literally on the very day on which
the holder of the note was to begin proceedings
against him, a check for precisely the needed one
thousand dollars came to him, by mail, from a
man in the West--a man who was a total stranger
to him. It turned out that the man's sister,
who was one of the Temple membership, had
written to her brother of Dr. Conwell's work.
She knew nothing of any special need for money,
knew nothing whatever of any note or of the
demand for a thousand dollars; she merely
outlined to her brother what Dr. Conwell was
accomplishing, and with such enthusiasm that the
brother at once sent the opportune check.
At a later time the sum of ten thousand dollars
was importunately needed. It was due, payment
had been promised. It was for some of the
construction work of the Temple University
buildings. The last day had come, and Conwell and
the very few who knew of the emergency were
in the depths of gloom. It was too large a sum to
ask the church people to make up, for they were
not rich and they had already been giving splendidly,
of their slender means, for the church and
then for the university. There was no rich man
to turn to; the men famous for enormous charitable
gifts have never let themselves be interested
in any of the work of Russell Conwell. It would
be unkind and gratuitous to suggest that it has
been because their names could not be personally
attached, or because the work is of an unpretentious
kind among unpretentious people; it need
merely be said that neither they nor their agents
have cared to aid, except that one of the very
richest, whose name is the most distinguished in
the entire world as a giver, did once, in response to
a strong personal application, give thirty-five
hundred dollars, this being the extent of the
association of the wealthy with any of the varied
So when it was absolutely necessary to have
ten thousand dollars the possibilities of money
had been exhausted, whether from congregation
Russell Conwell, in spite of his superb optimism,
is also a man of deep depressions, and this is
because of the very fire and fervor of his nature, for
always in such a nature there is a balancing. He
believes in success; success must come!--success
is in itself almost a religion with him--success
for himself and for all the world who will try for
it! But there are times when he is sad and doubtful
over some particular possibility. And he intensely
believes in prayer--faith can move mountains;
but always he believes that it is better
not to wait for the mountains thus to be moved,
but to go right out and get to work at moving
them. And once in a while there comes a time
when the mountain looms too threatening, even
after the bravest efforts and the deepest trust.
Such a time had come--the ten-thousand-dollar
debt was a looming mountain that he had tried
in vain to move. He could still pray, and he did,
but it was one of the times when he could only
think that something had gone wrong.
The dean of the university, who has been
closely in touch with all his work for many years,
told me of how, in a discouragement which was
the more notable through contrast with his usual
unfailing courage, he left the executive offices
for his home, a couple of blocks away
``He went away with everything looking dark
before him. It was Christmas-time, but the very
fact of its being Christmas only added to his
depression--Christmas was such an unnatural
time for unhappiness! But in a few minutes he
came flying back, radiant, overjoyed, sparkling
with happiness, waving a slip of paper in his hand
which was a check for precisely ten thousand
dollars! For he had just drawn it out of an
envelope handed to him, as he reached home, by
``And it had come so strangely and so naturally!
For the check was from a woman who was profoundly
interested in his work, and who had sent
the check knowing that in a general way it was
needed, but without the least idea that there
was any immediate need. That was eight or nine
years ago, but although the donor was told at
the time that Dr. Conwell and all of us were
most grateful for the gift, it was not until very
recently that she was told how opportune it was.
And the change it made in Dr. Conwell! He is
a great man for maxims, and all of us who are
associated with him know that one of his favorites
is that `It will all come out right some time!'
And of course we had a rare opportunity to tell
him that he ought never to be discouraged. And
it is so seldom that he is!''
When the big new church was building the
members of the church were vaguely disturbed by
noticing, when the structure reached the second
story, that at that height, on the side toward the
vacant and unbought land adjoining, there were
several doors built that opened literally into
nothing but space!
When asked about these doors and their purpose,
Dr. Conwell would make some casual reply,
generally to the effect that they might be excellent
as fire-escapes. To no one, for quite a while, did he
broach even a hint of the great plan that was
seething in his mind, which was that the buildings
of a university were some day to stand on that
land immediately adjoining the church!
At that time the university, the Temple University
as it is now called, was not even a college,
although it was probably called a college. Conwell
had organized it, and it consisted of a number
of classes and teachers, meeting in highly
inadequate quarters in two little houses. But the
imagination of Conwell early pictured great new
buildings with accommodations for thousands! In
time the dream was realized, the imagination
became a fact, and now those second-floor doors
actually open from the Temple Church into the
You see, he always thinks big! He dreams big
dreams and wins big success. All his life he has
talked and preached success, and it is a real and
very practical belief with him that it is just as
easy to do a large thing as a small one, and, in
fact, a little easier! And so he naturally does not
see why one should be satisfied with the small
things of life. ``If your rooms are big the people
will come and fill them,'' he likes to say. The
same effort that wins a small success would,
rightly directed, have won a great success. ``Think
big things and then do them!''
Most favorite of all maxims with this man of
maxims, is ``Let Patience have her perfect work.''
Over and over he loves to say it, and his friends
laugh about his love for it, and he knows that they
do and laughs about it himself. ``I tire them all,''
he says, ``for they hear me say it every day.''
But he says it every day because it means so
much to him. It stands, in his mind, as a constant
warning against anger or impatience or over-haste
--faults to which his impetuous temperament is
prone, though few have ever seen him either
angry or impatient or hasty, so well does he exercise
self-control. Those who have long known
him well have said to me that they have never
heard him censure any one; that his forbearance
and kindness are wonderful.
He is a sensitive man beneath his composure;
he has suffered, and keenly, when he has been
unjustly attacked; he feels pain of that sort for
a long time, too, for even the passing of years
does not entirely deaden it.
``When I have been hurt, or when I have talked
with annoying cranks, I have tried to let Patience
have her perfect work, for those very people, if
you have patience with them, may afterward be
And he went on to talk a little of his early
years in Philadelphia, and he said, with sadness,
that it had pained him to meet with opposition,
and that it had even come from ministers of his
own denomination, for he had been so misunder-
stood and misjudged; but, he added, the momentary
somberness lifting, even his bitter enemies
had been won over with patience.
I could understand a good deal of what he
meant, for one of the Baptist ministers of
Philadelphia had said to me, with some shame, that
at first it used actually to be the case that when
Dr. Conwell would enter one of the regular ministers'
meetings, all would hold aloof, not a single
one stepping forward to meet or greet him.
``And it was all through our jealousy of his
success,'' said the minister, vehemently. ``He
came to this city a stranger, and he won instant
popularity, and we couldn't stand it, and so we
pounced upon things that he did that were altogether
unimportant. The rest of us were so jealous
of his winning throngs that we couldn't see
the good in him. And it hurt Dr. Conwell so
much that for ten years he did not come to our
conferences. But all this was changed long ago.
Now no minister is so welcomed as he is, and I
don't believe that there ever has been a single
time since he started coming again that he hasn't
been asked to say something to us. We got over
our jealousy long ago and we all love him.''
Nor is it only that the clergymen of his own
denomination admire him, for not long ago,
such having been Dr. Conwell's triumph in the
city of his adoption, the rector of the most powerful
and aristocratic church in Philadelphia voluntarily
paid lofty tribute to his aims and ability,
his work and his personal worth. ``He is an
inspiration to his brothers in the ministry of Jesus
Christ,'' so this Episcopalian rector wrote. ``He
is a friend to all that is good, a foe to all that is
evil, a strength to the weak, a comforter to the
sorrowing, a man of God. These words come from
the heart of one who loves, honors, and reverences
him for his character and his deeds.''
Dr. Conwell did some beautiful and unusual
things in his church, instituted some beautiful and
unusual customs, and one can see how narrow and
hasty criticisms charged him, long ago, with
sensationalism--charges long since forgotten except
through the hurt still felt by Dr. Conwell himself.
``They used to charge me with making a circus
of the church--as if it were possible for me to
make a circus of the church!'' And his tone was
one of grieved amazement after all these years.
But he was original and he was popular, and
therefore there were misunderstanding and jealousy.
His Easter services, for example, years
ago, became widely talked of and eagerly
anticipated because each sermon would be wrought
around some fine symbol; and he would hold in
his hand, in the pulpit, the blue robin's egg, or
the white dove, or the stem of lilies, or whatever
he had chosen as the particular symbol for the
particular sermon, and that symbol would give
him the central thought for his discourse, accented
as it would be by the actual symbol itself in view
of the congregation. The cross lighted by elec-
tricity, to shine down over the baptismal pool, the
little stream of water cascading gently down the
steps of the pool during the baptismal rite, the
roses floating in the pool and his gift of one of them
to each of the baptized as he or she left the water--
all such things did seem, long ago, so unconventional.
Yet his own people recognized the beauty
and poetry of them, and thousands of Bibles in
Philadelphia have a baptismal rose from Dr.
Conwell pressed within the pages.
His constant individuality of mind, his constant
freshness, alertness, brilliancy, warmth, sympathy,
endear him to his congregation, and when he
returns from an absence they bubble and effervesce
over him as if he were some brilliant new preacher
just come to them. He is always new to them.
Were it not that he possesses some remarkable
quality of charm he would long ago have become,
so to speak, an old story, but instead of that he
is to them an always new story, an always entertaining
and delightful story, after all these years.
It is not only that they still throng to hear
him either preach or lecture, though that itself
would be noticeable, but it is the delightful and
delighted spirit with which they do it. Just the
other evening I heard him lecture in his own
church, just after his return from an absence,
and every face beamed happily up at him to welcome
him back, and every one listened as intently
to his every word as if he had never been heard
there before; and when the lecture was over a
huge bouquet of flowers was handed up to him, and
some one embarrassedly said a few words about
its being because he was home again. It was
all as if he had just returned from an absence of
months--and he had been away just five and a
MILLIONS OF HEARERS
THAT Conwell is not primarily a minister--
that he is a minister because he is a sincere
Christian, but that he is first of all an Abou Ben
Adhem, a man who loves his fellow-men, becomes
more and more apparent as the scope of his life-
work is recognized. One almost comes to think
that his pastorate of a great church is even a
minor matter beside the combined importance of
his educational work, his lecture work, his hospital
work, his work in general as a helper to those who
For my own part, I should say that he is like
some of the old-time prophets, the strong ones
who found a great deal to attend to in addition
to matters of religion. The power, the ruggedness,
the physical and mental strength, the positive
grandeur of the man--all these are like the general
conceptions of the big Old Testament prophets.
The suggestion is given only because it has
often recurred, and therefore with the feeling that
there is something more than fanciful in the com-
parison; and yet, after all, the comparison fails
in one important particular, for none of the
prophets seems to have had a sense of humor!
It is perhaps better and more accurate to
describe him as the last of the old school of American
philosophers, the last of those sturdy-bodied, high-
thinking, achieving men who, in the old days,
did their best to set American humanity in the
right path--such men as Emerson, Alcott, Gough,
Wendell Phillips, Garrison, Bayard Taylor,
Beecher; men whom Conwell knew and admired
in the long ago, and all of whom have long since
And Conwell, in his going up and down the
country, inspiring his thousands and thousands,
is the survivor of that old-time group who used
to travel about, dispensing wit and wisdom and
philosophy and courage to the crowded benches
of country lyceums, and the chairs of school-houses
and town halls, or the larger and more pretentious
gathering-places of the cities.
Conwell himself is amused to remember that
he wanted to talk in public from his boyhood,
and that very early he began to yield to the
inborn impulse. He laughs as he remembers the
variety of country fairs and school commencements
and anniversaries and even sewing-circles
where he tried his youthful powers, and all for
experience alone, in the first few years, except
possibly for such a thing as a ham or a jack-knife!
The first money that he ever received for speaking
was, so he remembers with glee, seventy-five cents;
and even that was not for his talk, but for horse
hire! But at the same time there is more than
amusement in recalling these experiences, for he
knows that they were invaluable to him as training.
And for over half a century he has affectionately
remembered John B. Gough, who, in the
height of his own power and success, saw resolution
and possibilities in the ardent young hill-man,
and actually did him the kindness and the honor
of introducing him to an audience in one of the
Massachusetts towns; and it was really a great
kindness and a great honor, from a man who had
won his fame to a young man just beginning an
Conwell's lecturing has been, considering
everything, the most important work of his life, for by
it he has come into close touch with so many
millions--literally millions!--of people.
I asked him once if he had any idea how
many he had talked to in the course of his career,
and he tried to estimate how many thousands
of times he had lectured, and the average attendance
for each, but desisted when he saw that it
ran into millions of hearers. What a marvel is
such a fact as that! Millions of hearers!
I asked the same question of his private secretary,
and found that no one had ever kept any sort
of record; but as careful an estimate as could be
made gave a conservative result of fully eight
million hearers for his lectures; and adding the
number to whom he has preached, who have been
over five million, there is a total of well over
thirteen million who have listened to Russell
Conwell's voice! And this staggering total is, if
anything, an underestimate. The figuring was done
cautiously and was based upon such facts as that
he now addresses an average of over forty-five
hundred at his Sunday services (an average that
would be higher were it not that his sermons in
vacation time are usually delivered in little
churches; when at home, at the Temple, he
addresses three meetings every Sunday), and that
he lectures throughout the entire course of each
year, including six nights a week of lecturing during
vacation-time. What a power is wielded by
a man who has held over thirteen million people
under the spell of his voice! Probably no other
man who ever lived had such a total of hearers.
And the total is steadily mounting, for he is a man
who has never known the meaning of rest.
I think it almost certain that Dr. Conwell has
never spoken to any one of what, to me, is the
finest point of his lecture-work, and that is that
he still goes gladly and for small fees to the small
towns that are never visited by other men of great
reputation. He knows that it is the little places,
the out-of-the-way places, the submerged places,
that most need a pleasure and a stimulus, and he
still goes out, man of well over seventy that he is,
to tiny towns in distant states, heedless of the
discomforts of traveling, of the poor little hotels
that seldom have visitors, of the oftentimes hopeless
cooking and the uncleanliness, of the hardships
and the discomforts, of the unventilated
and overheated or underheated halls. He does
not think of claiming the relaxation earned by a
lifetime of labor, or, if he ever does, the thought
of the sword of John Ring restores instantly his
How he does it, how he can possibly keep it up,
is the greatest marvel of all. I have before me a
list of his engagements for the summer weeks of
this year, 1915, and I shall set it down because
it will specifically show, far more clearly than
general statements, the kind of work he does.
The list is the itinerary of his vacation. Vacation!
Lecturing every evening but Sunday, and on
Sundays preaching in the town where he happens
June 24 Ackley, Ia. July 11 *Brookings, S. D.
`` 25 Waterloo, Ia. `` 12 Pipestone, Minn.
`` 26 Decorah, Ia. `` 13 Hawarden, Ia.
`` 27 *Waukon, Ia. `` 14 Canton, S. D
`` 28 Red Wing, Minn. `` 15 Cherokee, Ia
`` 29 River Falls, Wis. `` 16 Pocahontas, Ia
`` 30 Northfield, Minn. `` 17 Glidden, Ia.
July 1 Faribault, Minn. `` 18 *Boone, Ia.
`` 2 Spring Valley, Minn. `` 19 Dexter, Ia.
`` 3 Blue Earth, Minn. `` 20 Indianola, Ia
`` 4 *Fairmount, Minn. `` 21 Corydon, Ia
`` 5 Lake Crystal, Minn. `` 22 Essex, Ia.
`` 6 Redwood Falls, `` 23 Sidney, Ia.
Minn. `` 24 Falls City, Nebr.
`` 7 Willmer, Minn. `` 25 *Hiawatha, Kan.
`` 8 Dawson, Minn. `` 26 Frankfort, Kan.
`` 9 Redfield, S. D. `` 27 Greenleaf, Kan.
`` 10 Huron, S. D. `` 28 Osborne, Kan.
July 29 Stockton, Kan. Aug. 14 Honesdale, Pa.
`` 30 Phillipsburg, Kan. `` 15 *Honesdale, Pa.
`` 31 Mankato, Kan. `` 16 Carbondale, Pa.
_En route to next date on_ `` 17 Montrose, Pa.
_circuit_. `` 18 Tunkhannock, Pa.
Aug. 3 Westfield, Pa. `` 19 Nanticoke, Pa.
`` 4 Galston, Pa. `` 20 Stroudsburg, Pa.
`` 5 Port Alleghany, Pa. `` 21 Newton, N. J.
`` 6 Wellsville, N. Y. `` 22 *Newton, N. J.
`` 7 Bath, N. Y. `` 23 Hackettstown, N. J.
`` 8 *Bath, N. Y. `` 24 New Hope, Pa.
`` 9 Penn Yan, N. Y. `` 25 Doylestown, Pa.
`` 10 Athens, N. Y. `` 26 Ph
`` 11 Owego, N. Y. `` 27 Kennett, Pa.
`` 12 Patchogue, LI.,N.Y. `` 28 Oxford, Pa.
`` 13 Port Jervis, N. Y. `` 29 *Oxford, Pa.
* Preach on Sunday.
And all these hardships, all this traveling and
lecturing, which would test the endurance of the
youngest and strongest, this man of over seventy
assumes without receiving a particle of personal
gain, for every dollar that he makes by it is given
away in helping those who need helping.
That Dr. Conwell is intensely modest is one
of the curious features of his character. He sincerely
believes that to write his life would be,
in the main, just to tell what people have done
for him. He knows and admits that he works
unweariedly, but in profound sincerity he ascribes
the success of his plans to those who have seconded
and assisted him. It is in just this way that he
looks upon every phase of his life. When he is
reminded of the devotion of his old soldiers, he
remembers it only with a sort of pleased wonder
that they gave the devotion to him, and he quite
forgets that they loved him because he was always
ready to sacrifice ease or risk his own life for
He deprecates praise; if any one likes him, the
liking need not be shown in words, but in helping
along a good work. That his church has succeeded
has been because of the devotion of the people;
that the university has succeeded is because of
the splendid work of the teachers and pupils; that
the hospitals have done so much has been because
of the noble services of physicians and nurses.
To him, as he himself expresses it, realizing that
success has come to his plans, it seems as if the
realities are but dreams. He is astonished by his
own success. He thinks mainly of his own
shortcomings. ``God and man have ever been very
patient with me.'' His depression is at times
profound when he compares the actual results
with what he would like them to be, for always
his hopes have gone soaring far in advance of
achievement. It is the ``Hitch your chariot to
a star'' idea.
His modesty goes hand-in-hand with kindliness,
and I have seen him let himself be introduced in
his own church to his congregation, when he is
going to deliver a lecture there, just because a
former pupil of the university was present who,
Conwell knew, was ambitious to say something
inside of the Temple walls, and this seemed to
be the only opportunity.
I have noticed, when he travels, that the face
of the newsboy brightens as he buys a paper from
him, that the porter is all happiness, that
conductor and brakeman are devotedly anxious to
be of aid. Everywhere the man wins love. He
loves humanity and humanity responds to the love.
He has always won the affection of those who
knew him, and Bayard Taylor was one of the
many; he and Bayard Taylor loved each other for
long acquaintance and fellow experiences as world-
wide travelers, back in the years when comparatively
few Americans visited the Nile and the
Orient, or even Europe.
When Taylor died there was a memorial service
in Boston at which Conwell was asked to preside,
and, as he wished for something more than
addresses, he went to Longfellow and asked him to
write and read a poem for the occasion. Longfellow
had not thought of writing anything, and
he was too ill to be present at the services, but,
there always being something contagiously
inspiring about Russell Conwell when he wishes
something to be done, the poet promised to do