Part 3 out of 3
what he could. And he wrote and sent the beautiful
_Dead he lay among his books,
The peace of God was in his looks_.
Many men of letters, including Ralph Waldo
Emerson, were present at the services, and Dr.
Conwell induced Oliver Wendell Holmes to read
the lines, and they were listened to amid profound
silence, to their fine ending.
Conwell, in spite of his widespread hold on
millions of people, has never won fame, recognition,
general renown, compared with many men
of minor achievements. This seems like an
impossibility. Yet it is not an impossibility, but a
fact. Great numbers of men of education and
culture are entirely ignorant of him and his work
in the world--men, these, who deem themselves
in touch with world-affairs and with the ones who
make and move the world. It is inexplicable, this,
except that never was there a man more devoid
of the faculty of self-exploitation, self-advertising,
than Russell Conwell. Nor, in the mere reading
of them, do his words appeal with anything like
the force of the same words uttered by himself,
for always, with his spoken words, is his personality.
Those who have heard Russell Conwell, or
have known him personally, recognize the charm
of the man and his immense forcefulness; but
there are many, and among them those who control
publicity through books and newspapers,
who, though they ought to be the warmest in their
enthusiasm, have never felt drawn to hear him,
and, if they know of him at all, think of him as
one who pleases in a simple way the commoner
folk, forgetting in their pride that every really
great man pleases the common ones, and that
simplicity and directness are attributes of real
But Russell Conwell has always won the admiration
of the really great, as well as of the humbler
millions. It is only a supposedly cultured class
in between that is not thoroughly acquainted with
what he has done.
Perhaps, too, this is owing to his having cast
in his lot with the city, of all cities, which,
consciously or unconsciously, looks most closely to
family and place of residence as criterions of
merit--a city with which it is almost impossible
for a stranger to become affiliated--or aphiladelphiated,
as it might be expressed--and Philadelphia,
in spite of all that Dr. Conwell has
done, has been under the thrall of the fact that
he went north of Market Street--that fatal fact
understood by all who know Philadelphia--and
that he made no effort to make friends in Rittenhouse
Square. Such considerations seem absurd
in this twentieth century, but in Philadelphia
they are still potent. Tens of thousands of
Philadelphians love him, and he is honored by its
greatest men, but there is a class of the pseudo-
cultured who do not know him or appreciate him.
And it needs also to be understood that, outside of
his own beloved Temple, he would prefer to go
to a little church or a little hall and to speak to
the forgotten people, in the hope of encouraging
and inspiring them and filling them with hopeful
glow, rather than to speak to the rich and comfortable.
His dearest hope, so one of the few who are
close to him told me, is that no one shall come
into his life without being benefited. He does
not say this publicly, nor does he for a moment
believe that such a hope could be fully realized,
but it is very dear to his heart; and no man
spurred by such a hope, and thus bending all
his thoughts toward the poor, the hard-working,
the unsuccessful, is in a way to win honor from
the Scribes; for we have Scribes now quite as
much as when they were classed with Pharisees.
It is not the first time in the world's history that
Scribes have failed to give their recognition to
one whose work was not among the great and
That Conwell himself has seldom taken any
part whatever in politics except as a good citizen
standing for good government; that, as he
expresses it, he never held any political office except
that he was once on a school committee, and also
that he does not identify himself with the so-called
``movements'' that from time to time catch
public attention, but aims only and constantly
at the quiet betterment of mankind, may be
mentioned as additional reasons why his name and
fame have not been steadily blazoned.
He knows and will admit that he works hard
and has all his life worked hard. ``Things keep
turning my way because I'm on the job,'' as he
whimsically expressed it one day; but that is
about all, so it seems to him.
And he sincerely believes that his life has in
itself been without interest; that it has been an
essentially commonplace life with nothing of the
interesting or the eventful to tell. He is frankly
surprised that there has ever been the desire to
write about him. He really has no idea of how
fascinating are the things he has done. His entire
life has been of positive interest from the variety
of things accomplished and the unexpectedness
with which he has accomplished them.
Never, for example, was there such an organizer.
In fact, organization and leadership have
always been as the breath of life to him. As a
youth he organized debating societies and, before
the war, a local military company. While on
garrison duty in the Civil War he organized
what is believed to have been the first free school
for colored children in the South. One day
Minneapolis happened to be spoken of, and Conwell
happened to remember that he organized,
when he was a lawyer in that city, what became
the first Y.M.C.A. branch there. Once he even
started a newspaper. And it was natural that the
organizing instinct, as years advanced, should
lead him to greater and greater things, such as
his church, with the numerous associations formed
within itself through his influence, and the
university--the organizing of the university being
in itself an achievement of positive romance.
``A life without interest!'' Why, when I
happened to ask, one day, how many Presidents he
had known since Lincoln, he replied, quite casually,
that he had ``written the lives of most of them in
their own homes''; and by this he meant either
personally or in collaboration with the American
The many-sidedness of Conwell is one of the
things that is always fascinating. After you have
quite got the feeling that he is peculiarly a man
of to-day, lecturing on to-day's possibilities to the
people of to-day, you happen upon some such
fact as that he attracted the attention of the
London _Times_ through a lecture on Italian history
at Cambridge in England; or that on the
evening of the day on which he was admitted to
practice in the Supreme Court of the United States
he gave a lecture in Washington on ``The Curriculum
of the Prophets in Ancient Israel.'' The
man's life is a succession of delightful surprises.
An odd trait of his character is his love for fire.
He could easily have been a veritable fire-
worshiper instead of an orthodox Christian! He
has always loved a blaze, and he says reminiscently
that for no single thing was he punished
so much when he was a child as for building
bonfires. And after securing possession, as he did in
middle age, of the house where he was born and
of a great acreage around about, he had one of
the most enjoyable times of his life in tearing
down old buildings that needed to be destroyed
and in heaping up fallen trees and rubbish and in
piling great heaps of wood and setting the great
piles ablaze. You see, there is one of the secrets
of his strength--he has never lost the capacity for
Always, too, in these later years he is showing his
strength and enthusiasm in a positively noble
way. He has for years been a keen sufferer from
rheumatism and neuritis, but he has never permitted
this to interfere with his work or plans.
He makes little of his sufferings, and when he
slowly makes his way, bent and twisted, downstairs,
he does not want to be noticed. ``I'm all
right,'' he will say if any one offers to help, and at
such a time comes his nearest approach to
impatience. He wants his suffering ignored.
Strength has always been to him so precious a
belonging that he will not relinquish it while he
lives. ``I'm all right!'' And he makes himself
believe that he is all right even though the pain
becomes so severe as to demand massage. And
he will still, even when suffering, talk calmly, or
write his letters, or attend to whatever matters
come before him. It is the Spartan boy hiding
the pain of the gnawing fox. And he never has
let pain interfere with his presence on the pulpit
or the platform. He has once in a while gone to
a meeting on crutches and then, by the force of
will, and inspired by what he is to do, has stood
before his audience or congregation, a man full of
strength and fire and life.
HOW A UNIVERSITY WAS FOUNDED
THE story of the foundation and rise of
Temple University is an extraordinary story;
it is not only extraordinary, but inspiring; it is not
only inspiring, but full of romance.
For the university came out of nothing!--nothing
but the need of a young man and the fact that
he told the need to one who, throughout his life,
has felt the impulse to help any one in need
and has always obeyed the impulse.
I asked Dr. Conwell, up at his home in the
Berkshires, to tell me himself just how the
university began, and he said that it began because
it was needed and succeeded because of the loyal
work of the teachers. And when I asked for
details he was silent for a while, looking off into
the brooding twilight as it lay over the waters
and the trees and the hills, and then he said:
``It was all so simple; it all came about so
naturally. One evening, after a service, a young
man of the congregation came to me and I saw
that he was disturbed about something. I had
him sit down by me, and I knew that in a few
moments he would tell me what was troubling
`` `Dr. Conwell,' he said, abruptly, `I earn but
little money, and I see no immediate chance of
earning more. I have to support not only myself,
but my mother. It leaves nothing at all. Yet my
longing is to be a minister. It is the one ambition
of my life. Is there anything that I can do?'
`` `Any man,' I said to him, `with the proper
determination and ambition can study sufficiently
at night to win his desire.'
`` `I have tried to think so,' said he, `but I
have not been able to see anything clearly. I
want to study, and am ready to give every spare
minute to it, but I don't know how to get at it.'
``I thought a few minutes, as I looked at him.
He was strong in his desire and in his ambition to
fulfil it--strong enough, physically and mentally,
for work of the body and of the mind--and he
needed something more than generalizations of
`` `Come to me one evening a week and I will
begin teaching you myself,' I said, `and at least
you will in that way make a beginning'; and I
named the evening.
``His face brightened and he eagerly said that
he would come, and left me; but in a little while
he came hurrying back again. `May I bring a
friend with me?' he said.
``I told him to bring as many as he wanted to,
for more than one would be an advantage, and
when the evening came there were six friends
with him. And that first evening I began to teach
them the foundations of Latin.''
He stopped as if the story was over. He was
looking out thoughtfully into the waning light,
and I knew that his mind was busy with those
days of the beginning of the institution he so
loves, and whose continued success means so much
to him. In a little while he went on:
``That was the beginning of it, and there is
little more to tell. By the third evening the
number of pupils had increased to forty; others
joined in helping me, and a room was hired; then
a little house, then a second house. From a few
students and teachers we became a college. After
a while our buildings went up on Broad Street
alongside the Temple Church, and after another
while we became a university. From the first
our aim''--(I noticed how quickly it had become
``our'' instead of ``my'')--``our aim was to give
education to those who were unable to get it
through the usual channels. And so that was
really all there was to it.''
That was typical of Russell Conwell--to tell
with brevity of what he has done, to point out the
beginnings of something, and quite omit to elaborate
as to the results. And that, when you come
to know him, is precisely what he means you to
understand--that it is the beginning of anything
that is important, and that if a thing is but
earnestly begun and set going in the right way
it may just as easily develop big results as little
But his story was very far indeed from being
``all there was to it,'' for he had quite omitted
to state the extraordinary fact that, beginning
with those seven pupils, coming to his library on an
evening in 1884, the Temple University has
numbered, up to Commencement-time in 1915,
88,821 students! Nearly one hundred thousand
students, and in the lifetime of the founder!
Really, the magnitude of such a work cannot be
exaggerated, nor the vast importance of it when
it is considered that most of these eighty-eight
thousand students would not have received their
education had it not been for Temple University.
And it all came from the instant response of
Russell Conwell to the immediate need presented
by a young man without money!
``And there is something else I want to say,''
said Dr. Conwell, unexpectedly. ``I want to say,
more fully than a mere casual word, how nobly
the work was taken up by volunteer helpers;
professors from the University of Pennsylvania
and teachers from the public schools and other
local institutions gave freely of what time they
could until the new venture was firmly on its
way. I honor those who came so devotedly to
help. And it should be remembered that in those
early days the need was even greater than it would
now appear, for there were then no night schools
or manual-training schools. Since then the city
of Philadelphia has gone into such work, and as
fast as it has taken up certain branches the
Temple University has put its energy into the
branches just higher. And there seems no lessening
of the need of it,'' he added, ponderingly.
No; there is certainly no lessening of the need
of it! The figures of the annual catalogue would
alone show that.
As early as 1887, just three years after the
beginning, the Temple College, as it was by that
time called, issued its first catalogue, which set
forth with stirring words that the intent of its
founding was to:
``Provide such instruction as shall be best
adapted to the higher education of those who are
compelled to labor at their trade while engaged
``Cultivate a taste for the higher and most
useful branches of learning.
``Awaken in the character of young laboring
men and women a determined ambition to be
useful to their fellow-men.''
The college--the university as it in time came
to be--early broadened its scope, but it has from
the first continued to aim at the needs of those
unable to secure education without such help as,
through its methods, it affords.
It was chartered in 1888, at which time its
numbers had reached almost six hundred, and it
has ever since had a constant flood of applicants.
``It has demonstrated,'' as Dr. Conwell puts it,
``that those who work for a living have time for
study.'' And he, though he does not himself
add this, has given the opportunity.
He feels especial pride in the features by which
lectures and recitations are held at practically
any hour which best suits the convenience of the
students. If any ten students join in a request
for any hour from nine in the morning to ten
at night a class is arranged for them, to meet that
request! This involves the necessity for a much
larger number of professors and teachers than
would otherwise be necessary, but that is deemed
a slight consideration in comparison with the
immense good done by meeting the needs of workers.
Also President Conwell--for of course he is the
president of the university--is proud of the fact
that the privilege of graduation depends entirely
upon knowledge gained; that graduation does not
depend upon having listened to any set number
of lectures or upon having attended for so many
terms or years. If a student can do four years'
work in two years or in three he is encouraged
to do it, and if he cannot even do it in four he can
have no diploma.
Obviously, there is no place at Temple
University for students who care only for a few years
of leisured ease. It is a place for workers, and
not at all for those who merely wish to be able to
boast that they attended a university. The students
have come largely from among railroad
clerks, bank clerks, bookkeepers, teachers,
preachers, mechanics, salesmen, drug clerks, city and
United States government employees, widows,
nurses, housekeepers, brakemen, firemen, engineers,
motormen, conductors, and shop hands.
It was when the college became strong enough,
and sufficiently advanced in scholarship and
standing, and broad enough in scope, to win the
name of university that this title was officially
granted to it by the State of Pennsylvania, in
1907, and now its educational plan includes three
distinct school systems.
First: it offers a high-school education to the
student who has to quit school after leaving the
Second: it offers a full college education, with
the branches taught in long-established high-
grade colleges, to the student who has to quit
on leaving the high-school.
Third: it offers further scientific or professional
education to the college graduate who must go
to work immediately on quitting college, but who
wishes to take up some such course as law or
medicine or engineering.
Out of last year's enrolment of 3,654 it is
interesting to notice that the law claimed 141;
theology, 182; medicine and pharmacy and dentistry
combined, 357; civil engineering, 37; also
that the teachers' college, with normal courses
on such subjects as household arts and science,
kindergarten work, and physical education, took
174; and still more interesting, in a way, to see
that 269 students were enrolled for the technical
and vocational courses, such as cooking and dress-
making, millinery, manual crafts, school-gardening,
and story-telling. There were 511 in high-
school work, and 243 in elementary education.
There were 79 studying music, and 68 studying to
be trained nurses. There were 606 in the college
of liberal arts and sciences, and in the department
of commercial education there were 987--for it is
a university that offers both scholarship and practicality.
Temple University is not in the least a charitable
institution. Its fees are low, and its hours are
for the convenience of the students themselves,
but it is a place of absolute independence. It is,
indeed, a place of far greater independence, so one
of the professors pointed out, than are the great
universities which receive millions and millions
of money in private gifts and endowments.
Temple University in its early years was sorely
in need of money, and often there were thrills of
expectancy when some man of mighty wealth
seemed on the point of giving. But not a single
one ever did, and now the Temple likes to feel
that it is glad of it. The Temple, to quote its
own words, is ``An institution for strong men
and women who can labor with both mind and
And the management is proud to be able to
say that, although great numbers have come from
distant places, ``not one of the many thousands
ever failed to find an opportunity to support
Even in the early days, when money was needed
for the necessary buildings (the buildings of which
Conwell dreamed when he left second-story doors
in his church!), the university--college it was then
called--had won devotion from those who knew
that it was a place where neither time nor money
was wasted, and where idleness was a crime, and in
the donations for the work were many such items
as four hundred dollars from factory-workers
who gave fifty cents each, and two thousand dollars
from policemen who gave a dollar each.
Within two or three years past the State of
Pennsylvania has begun giving it a large sum annually,
and this state aid is public recognition of Temple
University as an institution of high public value.
The state money is invested in the brains and
hearts of the ambitious.
So eager is Dr. Conwell to place the opportunity
of education before every one, that even his
servants must go to school! He is not one of those
who can see needs that are far away but not
those that are right at home. His belief in
education, and in the highest attainable education, is
profound, and it is not only on account of the
abstract pleasure and value of education, but its
power of increasing actual earning power and thus
making a worker of more value to both himself
and the community.
Many a man and many a woman, while continuing
to work for some firm or factory, has taken
Temple technical courses and thus fitted himself
or herself for an advanced position with the
same employer. The Temple knows of many
such, who have thus won prominent advancement.
And it knows of teachers who, while continuing
to teach, have fitted themselves through the Temple
courses for professorships. And it knows
of many a case of the rise of a Temple student
that reads like an Arabian Nights' fancy!--of
advance from bookkeeper to editor, from office-
boy to bank president, from kitchen maid to
school principal, from street-cleaner to mayor!
The Temple University helps them that help
President Conwell told me personally of one
case that especially interested him because it
seemed to exhibit, in especial degree, the Temple
possibilities; and it particularly interested me
because it also showed, in high degree, the
methods and personality of Dr. Conwell himself.
One day a young woman came to him and
said she earned only three dollars a week and that
she desired very much to make more. ``Can you
tell me how to do it?'' she said.
He liked her ambition and her directness, but
there was something that he felt doubtful about,
and that was that her hat looked too expensive
for three dollars a week!
Now Dr. Conwell is a man whom you would
never suspect of giving a thought to the hat of
man or woman! But as a matter of fact there is
very little that he does not see.
But though the hat seemed too expensive for
three dollars a week, Dr. Conwell is not a man
who makes snap-judgments harshly, and in
particular he would be the last man to turn away
hastily one who had sought him out for help.
He never felt, nor could possibly urge upon any
one, contentment with a humble lot; he stands
for advancement; he has no sympathy with that
dictum of the smug, that has come to us from a
nation tight bound for centuries by its gentry and
aristocracy, about being contented with the position
in which God has placed you, for he points
out that the Bible itself holds up advancement
and success as things desirable.
And, as to the young woman before him, it
developed, through discreet inquiry veiled by
frank discussion of her case, that she had made
the expensive-looking hat herself! Whereupon
not only did all doubtfulness and hesitation vanish,
but he saw at once how she could better herself.
He knew that a woman who could make a hat
like that for herself could make hats for other
people, and so, ``Go into millinery as a business,''
``Oh--if I only could!'' she exclaimed. ``But
I know that I don't know enough.''
``Take the millinery course in Temple University,''
She had not even heard of such a course, and
when he went on to explain how she could take
it and at the same time continue at her present
work until the course was concluded, she was
positively ecstatic--it was all so unexpected, this
opening of the view of a new and broader life.
``She was an unusual woman,'' concluded Dr.
Conwell, ``and she worked with enthusiasm and
tirelessness. She graduated, went to an up-state
city that seemed to offer a good field, opened a
millinery establishment there, with her own name
above the door, and became prosperous. That
was only a few years ago. And recently I had a
letter from her, telling me that last year she
netted a clear profit of three thousand six hundred
I remember a man, himself of distinguished
position, saying of Dr. Conwell, ``It is difficult
to speak in tempered language of what he has
achieved.'' And that just expresses it; the
temptation is constantly to use superlatives--for
superlatives fit! Of course he has succeeded for
himself, and succeeded marvelously, in his rise
from the rocky hill farm, but he has done so vastly
more than that in inspiring such hosts of others
A dreamer of dreams and a seer of visions--
and what realizations have come! And it
interested me profoundly not long ago, when Dr.
Conwell, talking of the university, unexpectedly
remarked that he would like to see such institu-
tions scattered throughout every state in the
Union. ``All carried on at slight expense to the
students and at hours to suit all sorts of working
men and women,'' he added, after a pause; and
then, abruptly, ``I should like to see the possibility
of higher education offered to every one in
the United States who works for a living.''
There was something superb in the very imagining
of such a nation-wide system. But I did not
ask whether or not he had planned any details
for such an effort. I knew that thus far it might
only be one of his dreams--but I also knew that
his dreams had a way of becoming realities.
I had a fleeting glimpse of his soaring vision. It
was amazing to find a man of more than three-
score and ten thus dreaming of more worlds to
conquer. And I thought, what could the world
have accomplished if Methuselah had been a
Conwell!--or, far better, what wonders could be
accomplished if Conwell could but be a Methuselah!
He has all his life been a great traveler. He is
a man who sees vividly and who can describe
vividly. Yet often his letters, even from places of
the most profound interest, are mostly concerned
with affairs back home. It is not that he does
not feel, and feel intensely, the interest of what
he is visiting, but that his tremendous earnestness
keeps him always concerned about his work at
home. There could be no stronger example than
what I noticed in a letter he wrote from Jerusa-
lem. ``I am in Jerusalem! And here at Gethsemane
and at the Tomb of Christ''--reading thus
far, one expects that any man, and especially a
minister, is sure to say something regarding the
associations of the place and the effect of these
associations on his mind; but Conwell is always
the man who is different--``And here at Gethsemane
and at the Tomb of Christ, I pray especially for
the Temple University.'' That is Conwellism!
That he founded a hospital--a work in itself
great enough for even a great life is but one
among the striking incidents of his career. And
it came about through perfect naturalness. For
he came to know, through his pastoral work and
through his growing acquaintance with the needs
of the city, that there was a vast amount of
suffering and wretchedness and anguish, because
of the inability of the existing hospitals to care
for all who needed care. There was so much
sickness and suffering to be alleviated, there were
so many deaths that could be prevented--and so
he decided to start another hospital.
And, like everything with him, the beginning
was small. That cannot too strongly be set down
as the way of this phenomenally successful
organizer. Most men would have to wait until a big
beginning could be made, and so would most likely
never make a beginning at all. But Conwell's
way is to dream of future bigness, but be ready to
begin at once, no matter how small or insignificant
the beginning may appear to others.
Two rented rooms, one nurse, one patient--this
was the humble beginning, in 1891, of what has
developed into the great Samaritan Hospital. In
a year there was an entire house, fitted up with
wards and operating-room. Now it occupies several
buildings, including and adjoining that first
one, and a great new structure is planned. But
even as it is, it has a hundred and seventy beds,
is fitted with all modern hospital appliances, and
has a large staff of physicians; and the number
of surgical operations performed there is very
It is open to sufferers of any race or creed, and
the poor are never refused admission, the rule
being that treatment is free for those who cannot
pay, but that such as can afford it shall pay
according to their means.
And the hospital has a kindly feature that
endears it to patients and their relatives alike, and
that is that, by Dr. Conwell's personal order, there
are not only the usual week-day hours for visiting,
but also one evening a week and every Sunday
afternoon. ``For otherwise,'' as he says, ``many
would be unable to come because they could not
get away from their work.''
A little over eight years ago another hospital
was taken in charge, the Garretson--not founded
by Conwell, this one, but acquired, and promptly
expanded in its usefulness.
Both the Samaritan and the Garretson are part
of Temple University. The Samaritan Hospital
has treated, since its foundation, up to the middle
of 1915, 29,301 patients; the Garretson, in its
shorter life, 5,923. Including dispensary cases as
well as house patients, the two hospitals together,
under the headship of President Conwell, have
handled over 400,000 cases.
How Conwell can possibly meet the multifarious
demands upon his time is in itself a miracle.
He is the head of the great church; he is the head
of the university; he is the head of the hospitals;
he is the head of everything with which he is
associated! And he is not only nominally, but
very actively, the head!
HIS SPLENDID EFFICIENCY
CONWELL has a few strong and efficient executive
helpers who have long been associated
with him; men and women who know his ideas
and ideals, who are devoted to him, and who do
their utmost to relieve him; and of course there
is very much that is thus done for him; but even
as it is, he is so overshadowing a man (there is
really no other word) that all who work with him
look to him for advice and guidance the professors
and the students, the doctors and the nurses,
the church officers, the Sunday-school teachers,
the members of his congregation. And he is never
too busy to see any one who really wishes to see
He can attend to a vast intricacy of detail, and
answer myriad personal questions and doubts,
and keep the great institutions splendidly going,
by thorough systematization of time, and by watching
every minute. He has several secretaries, for
special work, besides his private secretary. His
correspondence is very great. Often he dictates
to a secretary as he travels on the train. Even in
the few days for which he can run back to the
Berkshires, work is awaiting him. Work follows
him. And after knowing of this, one is positively
amazed that he is able to give to his country-wide
lectures the time and the traveling that they
inexorably demand. Only a man of immense
strength, of the greatest stamina, a veritable
superman, could possibly do it. And at times
one quite forgets, noticing the multiplicity of his
occupations, that he prepares two sermons and
two talks on Sunday!
Here is his usual Sunday schedule, when at
home. He rises at seven and studies until breakfast,
which is at eight-thirty. Then he studies until
nine-forty-five, when he leads a men's meeting
at which he is likely also to play the organ and
lead the singing. At ten-thirty is the principal
church service, at which he preaches, and at the
close of which he shakes hands with hundreds.
He dines at one, after which he takes fifteen
minutes' rest and then reads; and at three o'clock he
addresses, in a talk that is like another sermon,
a large class of men--not the same men as in the
morning. He is also sure to look in at the regular
session of the Sunday-school. Home again, where
he studies and reads until supper-time. At seven-
thirty is the evening service, at which he again
preaches and after which he shakes hands with
several hundred more and talks personally, in his
study, with any who have need of talk with him.
He is usually home by ten-thirty. I spoke of it,
one evening, as having been a strenuous day, and
he responded, with a cheerfully whimsical smile:
``Three sermons and shook hands with nine
That evening, as the service closed, he had
said to the congregation: ``I shall be here for
an hour. We always have a pleasant time
together after service. If you are acquainted with
me, come up and shake hands. If you are strangers''--
just the slightest of pauses--``come up
and let us make an acquaintance that will last
for eternity.'' I remember how simply and easily
this was said, in his clear, deep voice, and how
impressive and important it seemed, and with
what unexpectedness it came. ``Come and make
an acquaintance that will last for eternity!''
And there was a serenity about his way of saying
this which would make strangers think--just as
he meant them to think--that he had nothing
whatever to do but to talk with them. Even
his own congregation have, most of them, little
conception of how busy a man he is and how
precious is his time.
One evening last June to take an evening of
which I happened to know--he got home from a
journey of two hundred miles at six o'clock, and
after dinner and a slight rest went to the church
prayer-meeting, which he led in his usual vigorous
way at such meetings, playing the organ and
leading the singing, as well as praying and talk-
ing. After the prayer-meeting he went to two
dinners in succession, both of them important
dinners in connection with the close of the
university year, and at both dinners he spoke. At
the second dinner he was notified of the sudden
illness of a member of his congregation, and
instantly hurried to the man's home and thence
to the hospital to which he had been removed,
and there he remained at the man's bedside, or
in consultation with the physicians, until one in
the morning. Next morning he was up at seven
and again at work.
``This one thing I do,'' is his private maxim of
efficiency, and a literalist might point out that he
does not one thing only, but a thousand things,
not getting Conwell's meaning, which is that
whatever the thing may be which he is doing
he lets himself think of nothing else until it is
Dr. Conwell has a profound love for the country
and particularly for the country of his own youth.
He loves the wind that comes sweeping over the
hills, he loves the wide-stretching views from the
heights and the forest intimacies of the nestled
nooks. He loves the rippling streams, he loves
the wild flowers that nestle in seclusion or that
unexpectedly paint some mountain meadow with
delight. He loves the very touch of the earth,
and he loves the great bare rocks.
He writes verses at times; at least he has written
lines for a few old tunes; and it interested me
greatly to chance upon some lines of his that
picture heaven in terms of the Berkshires:
_ The wide-stretching valleys in colors so fadeless,
Where trees are all deathless and flowers e'er bloom_.
That is heaven in the eyes of a New England
hill-man! Not golden pavement and ivory palaces,
but valleys and trees and flowers and the
wide sweep of the open.
Few things please him more than to go, for
example, blackberrying, and he has a knack of
never scratching his face or his fingers when doing
so. And he finds blackberrying, whether he goes
alone or with friends, an extraordinarily good
time for planning something he wishes to do or
working out the thought of a sermon. And fishing
is even better, for in fishing he finds immense
recreation and restfulness and at the same time
a further opportunity to think and plan.
As a small boy he wished that he could throw
a dam across the trout-brook that runs near the
little Conwell home, and--as he never gives up--
he finally realized the ambition, although it was
after half a century! And now he has a big pond,
three-quarters of a mile long by half a mile wide,
lying in front of the house, down a slope from it--
a pond stocked with splendid pickerel. He likes
to float about restfully on this pond, thinking
or fishing, or both. And on that pond he showed
me how to catch pickerel even under a blaze of
He is a trout-fisher, too, for it is a trout stream
that feeds this pond and goes dashing away from
it through the wilderness; and for miles adjoining
his place a fishing club of wealthy men bought
up the rights in this trout stream, and they
approached him with a liberal offer. But he declined
it. ``I remembered what good times I had when
I was a boy, fishing up and down that stream,
and I couldn't think of keeping the boys of the
present day from such a pleasure. So they may
still come and fish for trout here.''
As we walked one day beside this brook, he
suddenly said: ``Did you ever notice that every
brook has its own song? I should know the song
of this brook anywhere.''
It would seem as if he loved his rugged native
country because it is rugged even more than because
it is native! Himself so rugged, so hardy,
so enduring--the strength of the hills is his also.
Always, in his very appearance, you see something
of this ruggedness of the hills; a ruggedness,
a sincerity, a plainness, that mark alike his
character and his looks. And always one realizes
the strength of the man, even when his voice, as
it usually is, is low. And one increasingly realizes
the strength when, on the lecture platform or in
the pulpit or in conversation, he flashes vividly
A big-boned man he is, sturdy-framed, a tall
man, with broad shoulders and strong hands.
His hair is a deep chestnut-brown that at first
sight seems black. In his early manhood he was
superb in looks, as his pictures show, but anxiety
and work and the constant flight of years, with
physical pain, have settled his face into lines of
sadness and almost of severity, which instantly
vanish when he speaks. And his face is illumined
by marvelous eyes.
He is a lonely man. The wife of his early years
died long, long ago, before success had come,
and she was deeply mourned, for she had loyally
helped him through a time that held much of
struggle and hardship. He married again; and
this wife was his loyal helpmate for many years.
In a time of special stress, when a defalcation of
sixty-five thousand dollars threatened to crush
Temple College just when it was getting on its
feet, for both Temple Church and Temple College
had in those early days buoyantly assumed
heavy indebtedness, he raised every dollar he
could by selling or mortgaging his own possessions,
and in this his wife, as he lovingly remembers,
most cordially stood beside him, although she
knew that if anything should happen to him the
financial sacrifice would leave her penniless. She
died after years of companionship; his children
married and made homes of their own; he is a
lonely man. Yet he is not unhappy, for the
tremendous demands of his tremendous work leave
him little time for sadness or retrospect. At times
the realization comes that he is getting old, that
friends and comrades have been passing away,
leaving him an old man with younger friends and
helpers. But such realization only makes him
work with an earnestness still more intense, knowing
that the night cometh when no man shall work.
Deeply religious though he is, he does not force
religion into conversation on ordinary subjects
or upon people who may not be interested in it.
With him, it is action and good works, with faith
and belief, that count, except when talk is the
natural, the fitting, the necessary thing; when
addressing either one individual or thousands, he
talks with superb effectiveness.
His sermons are, it may almost literally be
said, parable after parable; although he himself
would be the last man to say this, for it would
sound as if he claimed to model after the greatest
of all examples. His own way of putting it is
that he uses stories frequently because people are
more impressed by illustrations than by argument.
Always, whether in the pulpit or out of it, he
is simple and homelike, human and unaffected.
If he happens to see some one in the congregation
to whom he wishes to speak, he may just leave
his pulpit and walk down the aisle, while the
choir is singing, and quietly say a few words and
In the early days of his ministry, if he heard
of a poor family in immediate need of food he
would be quite likely to gather a basket of
provisions and go personally, and offer this assistance
and such other as he might find necessary
when he reached the place. As he became known
he ceased from this direct and open method of
charity, for he knew that impulsiveness would be
taken for intentional display. But he has never
ceased to be ready to help on the instant that he
knows help is needed. Delay and lengthy
investigation are avoided by him when he can be
certain that something immediate is required.
And the extent of his quiet charity is amazing.
With no family for which to save money, and with
no care to put away money for himself, he thinks
only of money as an instrument for helpfulness.
I never heard a friend criticize him except for
too great open-handedness.
I was strongly impressed, after coming to know
him, that he possessed many of the qualities that
made for the success of the old-time district
leaders of New York City, and I mentioned this
to him, and he at once responded that he had
himself met ``Big Tim,'' the long-time leader of
the Sullivans, and had had him at his house, Big
Tim having gone to Philadelphia to aid some
henchman in trouble, and having promptly sought
the aid of Dr. Conwell. And it was characteristic
of Conwell that he saw, what so many never
saw, the most striking characteristic of that
Tammany leader. For, ``Big Tim Sullivan was
so kind-hearted!'' Conwell appreciated the man's
political unscrupulousness as well as did his
enemies, but he saw also what made his underlying
power--his kind-heartedness. Except that Sullivan
could be supremely unscrupulous, and that Conwell
is supremely scrupulous, there were marked
similarities in these masters over men; and
Conwell possesses, as Sullivan possessed, a
wonderful memory for faces and names.
Naturally, Russell Conwell stands steadily and
strongly for good citizenship. But he never talks
boastful Americanism. He seldom speaks in so
many words of either Americanism or good citizenship,
but he constantly and silently keeps the
American flag, as the symbol of good citizenship,
before his people. An American flag is prominent
in his church; an American flag is seen in his home;
a beautiful American flag is up at his Berkshire
place and surmounts a lofty tower where, when
he was a boy, there stood a mighty tree at the
top of which was an eagle's nest, which has given
him a name for his home, for he terms it ``The
Remembering a long story that I had read of
his climbing to the top of that tree, though it
was a well-nigh impossible feat, and securing the
nest by great perseverance and daring, I asked
him if the story were a true one. ``Oh, I've heard
something about it; somebody said that somebody
watched me, or something of the kind. But
I don't remember anything about it myself.''
Any friend of his is sure to say something,
after a while, about his determination, his
insistence on going ahead with anything on which
he has really set his heart. One of the very
important things on which he insisted, in spite of
very great opposition, and especially an opposition
from the other churches of his denomination
(for this was a good many years ago, when
there was much more narrowness in churches
and sects than there is at present), was with
regard to doing away with close communion. He
determined on an open communion; and his way
of putting it, once decided upon, was: ``My
friends, it is not for me to invite you to the table
of the Lord. The table of the Lord is open. If
you feel that you can come to the table, it is open
to you.'' And this is the form which he still uses.
He not only never gives up, but, so his friends
say, he never forgets a thing upon which he has
once decided, and at times, long after they
supposed the matter has been entirely forgotten,
they suddenly find Dr. Conwell bringing his
original purpose to pass. When I was told of
this I remembered that pickerel-pond in the
If he is really set upon doing anything, little
or big, adverse criticism does not disturb his
serenity. Some years ago he began wearing a
huge diamond, whose size attracted much criticism
and caustic comment. He never said a word
in defense; he just kept on wearing the diamond.
One day, however, after some years, he took it
off, and people said, ``He has listened to the
criticism at last!'' He smiled reminiscently as he
told me about this, and said: ``A dear old deacon
of my congregation gave me that diamond and I
did not like to hurt his feelings by refusing it.
It really bothered me to wear such a glaring big
thing, but because I didn't want to hurt the old
deacon's feelings I kept on wearing it until he
was dead. Then I stopped wearing it.''
The ambition of Russell Conwell is to continue
working and working until the very last moment
of his life. In work he forgets his sadness, his
loneliness, his age. And he said to me one day,
``I will die in harness.''
THE STORY OF ACRES OF DIAMONDS
CONSIDERING everything, the most remarkable
thing in Russell Conwell's remarkable
life is his lecture, ``Acres of Diamonds.''
That is, the lecture itself, the number of times
he has delivered it, what a source of inspiration
it has been to myriads, the money that he has
made and is making, and, still more, the purpose
to which he directs the money. In the
circumstances surrounding ``Acres of Diamonds,'' in
its tremendous success, in the attitude of mind
revealed by the lecture itself and by what Dr.
Conwell does with it, it is illuminative of his
character, his aims, his ability.
The lecture is vibrant with his energy. It flashes
with his hopefulness. It is full of his enthusiasm.
It is packed full of his intensity. It stands for
the possibilities of success in every one. He has
delivered it over five thousand times. The
demand for it never diminishes. The success grows
There is a time in Russell Conwell's youth of
which it is pain for him to think. He told me of
it one evening, and his voice sank lower and
lower as he went far back into the past. It was
of his days at Yale that he spoke, for they were
days of suffering. For he had not money for
Yale, and in working for more he endured bitter
humiliation. It was not that the work was hard,
for Russell Conwell has always been ready for
hard work. It was not that there were privations
and difficulties, for he has always found difficulties
only things to overcome, and endured privations
with cheerful fortitude. But it was the
humiliations that he met--the personal humiliations
that after more than half a century make
him suffer in remembering them--yet out of those
humiliations came a marvelous result.
``I determined,'' he says, ``that whatever I
could do to make the way easier at college for
other young men working their way I would do.''
And so, many years ago, he began to devote
every dollar that he made from ``Acres of Diamonds''
to this definite purpose. He has what
may be termed a waiting-list. On that list are
very few cases he has looked into personally.
Infinitely busy man that he is, he cannot do
extensive personal investigation. A large proportion
of his names come to him from college presidents
who know of students in their own colleges
in need of such a helping hand.
``Every night,'' he said, when I asked him to
tell me about it, ``when my lecture is over and
the check is in my hand, I sit down in my room
in the hotel''--what a lonely picture, tool--``I
sit down in my room in the hotel and subtract
from the total sum received my actual expenses
for that place, and make out a check for the
difference and send it to some young man on my
list. And I always send with the check a letter
of advice and helpfulness, expressing my hope
that it will be of some service to him and telling
him that he is to feel under no obligation except
to his Lord. I feel strongly, and I try to make
every young man feel, that there must be no sense
of obligation to me personally. And I tell them
that I am hoping to leave behind me men who
will do more work than I have done. Don't
think that I put in too much advice,'' he added,
with a smile, ``for I only try to let them know
that a friend is trying to help them.''
His face lighted as he spoke. ``There is such a
fascination in it!'' he exclaimed. ``It is just like
a gamble! And as soon as I have sent the letter
and crossed a name off my list, I am aiming for
the next one!''
And after a pause he added: ``I do not attempt
to send any young man enough for all his
expenses. But I want to save him from bitterness,
and each check will help. And, too,'' he concluded,
them to lay down on me!''
He told me that he made it clear that he did
not wish to get returns or reports from this
branch of his life-work, for it would take a great
deal of time in watching and thinking and in
the reading and writing of letters. ``But it is
mainly,'' he went on, ``that I do not wish to hold
over their heads the sense of obligation.''
When I suggested that this was surely an
example of bread cast upon the waters that could
not return, he was silent for a little and then said,
thoughtfully: ``As one gets on in years there is
satisfaction in doing a thing for the sake of doing
it. The bread returns in the sense of effort made.''
On a recent trip through Minnesota he was
positively upset, so his secretary told me, through
being recognized on a train by a young man who
had been helped through ``Acres of Diamonds,''
and who, finding that this was really Dr. Conwell,
eagerly brought his wife to join him in most
fervent thanks for his assistance. Both the
husband and his wife were so emotionally overcome
that it quite overcame Dr. Conwell himself.
The lecture, to quote the noble words of Dr.
Conwell himself, is designed to help ``every person,
of either sex, who cherishes the high resolve
of sustaining a career of usefulness and honor.''
It is a lecture of helpfulness. And it is a lecture,
when given with Conwell's voice and face and
manner, that is full of fascination. And yet it is
all so simple!
It is packed full of inspiration, of suggestion,
of aid. He alters it to meet the local circumstances
of the thousands of different places in
which he delivers it. But the base remains the
same. And even those to whom it is an old story
will go to hear him time after time. It amuses him
to say that he knows individuals who have listened
to it twenty times.
It begins with a story told to Conwell by an
old Arab as the two journeyed together toward
Nineveh, and, as you listen, you hear the actual
voices and you see the sands of the desert and the
waving palms. The lecturer's voice is so easy,
so effortless, it seems so ordinary and matter-of-
fact--yet the entire scene is instantly vital and
alive! Instantly the man has his audience under
a sort of spell, eager to listen, ready to be merry
or grave. He has the faculty of control, the vital
quality that makes the orator.
The same people will go to hear this lecture
over and over, and that is the kind of tribute
that Conwell likes. I recently heard him deliver
it in his own church, where it would naturally
be thought to be an old story, and where, presumably,
only a few of the faithful would go; but it
was quite clear that all of his church are the
faithful, for it was a large audience that came to
listen to him; hardly a seat in the great
auditorium was vacant. And it should be added
that, although it was in his own church, it was
not a free lecture, where a throng might be
expected, but that each one paid a liberal sum for
a seat--and the paying of admission is always a
practical test of the sincerity of desire to hear.
And the people were swept along by the current
as if lecturer and lecture were of novel interest.
The lecture in itself is good to read, but it is only
when it is illumined by Conwell's vivid personality
that one understands how it influences in
the actual delivery.
On that particular evening he had decided to
give the lecture in the same form as when he first
delivered it many years ago, without any of the
alterations that have come with time and changing
localities, and as he went on, with the audience
rippling and bubbling with laughter as usual,
he never doubted that he was giving it as he had
given it years before; and yet--so up-to-date and
alive must he necessarily be, in spite of a definitive
effort to set himself back--every once in a while
he was coming out with illustrations from such
distinctly recent things as the automobile!
The last time I heard him was the 5,124th time
for the lecture. Doesn't it seem incredible! 5,124
times' I noticed that he was to deliver it at a
little out-of-the-way place, difficult for any
considerable number to get to, and I wondered just
how much of an audience would gather and how
they would be impressed. So I went over from
there I was, a few miles away. The road was
dark and I pictured a small audience, but when
I got there I found the church building in which
he was to deliver the lecture had a seating
capacity of 830 and that precisely 830 people were
already seated there and that a fringe of others
were standing behind. Many had come from
miles away. Yet the lecture had scarcely, if at
all, been advertised. But people had said to one
another: ``Aren't you going to hear Dr. Conwell?''
And the word had thus been passed along.
I remember how fascinating it was to watch
that audience, for they responded so keenly and
with such heartfelt pleasure throughout the entire
lecture. And not only were they immensely
pleased and amused and interested--and to
achieve that at a crossroads church was in
itself a triumph to be proud of--but I knew that
every listener was given an impulse toward doing
something for himself and for others, and that
with at least some of them the impulse would
materialize in acts. Over and over one realizes
what a power such a man wields.
And what an unselfishness! For, far on in
years as he is, and suffering pain, he does not
chop down his lecture to a definite length; he
does not talk for just an hour or go on grudgingly
for an hour and a half. He sees that the people
are fascinated and inspired, and he forgets pain,
ignores time, forgets that the night is late and that
he has a long journey to go to get home, and
keeps on generously for two hours! And every
one wishes it were four.
Always he talks with ease and sympathy.
There are geniality, composure, humor, simple
and homely jests--yet never does the audience
forget that he is every moment in tremendous
earnest. They bubble with responsive laughter
or are silent in riveted attention. A stir can be
seen to sweep over an audience, of earnestness or
surprise or amusement or resolve. When he is
grave and sober or fervid the people feel that he
is himself a fervidly earnest man, and when he is
telling something humorous there is on his part
almost a repressed chuckle, a genial appreciation
of the fun of it, not in the least as if he were laughing
at his own humor, but as if he and his hearers
were laughing together at something of which they
were all humorously cognizant.
Myriad successes in life have come through the
direct inspiration of this single lecture. One hears
of so many that there must be vastly more that
are never told. A few of the most recent were
told me by Dr. Conwell himself, one being of
a farmer boy who walked a long distance to hear
him. On his way home, so the boy, now a man,
has written him, he thought over and over of
what he could do to advance himself, and before
he reached home he learned that a teacher was
wanted at a certain country school. He knew
he did not know enough to teach, but was sure he
could learn, so he bravely asked for the place.
And something in his earnestness made him win
a temporary appointment. Thereupon he worked
and studied so hard and so devotedly, while he
daily taught, that within a few months he was
regularly employed there. ``And now,'' says
Conwell, abruptly, with his characteristic skim-
ming over of the intermediate details between the
important beginning of a thing and the satisfactory
end, ``and now that young man is one of
our college presidents.''
And very recently a lady came to Dr. Conwell,
the wife of an exceptionally prominent man
who was earning a large salary, and she told him
that her husband was so unselfishly generous
with money that often they were almost in straits.
And she said they had bought a little farm as a
country place, paying only a few hundred dollars
for it, and that she had said to herself,
laughingly, after hearing the lecture, ``There are no
acres of diamonds on this place!'' But she also
went on to tell that she had found a spring of
exceptionally fine water there, although in buying
they had scarcely known of the spring at all;
and she had been so inspired by Conwell that she
had had the water analyzed and, finding that it
was remarkably pure, had begun to have it bottled
and sold under a trade name as special spring
water. And she is making money. And she also
sells pure ice from the pool, cut in winter-time
and all because of ``Acres of Diamonds''!
Several millions of dollars, in all, have been
received by Russell Conwell as the proceeds from
this single lecture. Such a fact is almost staggering--
and it is more staggering to realize what
good is done in the world by this man, who does
not earn for himself, but uses his money in
immediate helpfulness. And one can neither think
nor write with moderation when it is further
realized that far more good than can be done
directly with money he does by uplifting and
inspiring with this lecture. Always his heart is
with the weary and the heavy-laden. Always
he stands for self-betterment.
Last year, 1914, he and his work were given
unique recognition. For it was known by his
friends that this particular lecture was approaching
its five-thousandth delivery, and they planned
a celebration of such an event in the history of the
most popular lecture in the world. Dr. Conwell
agreed to deliver it in the Academy of Music, in
Philadelphia, and the building was packed and
the streets outside were thronged. The proceeds
from all sources for that five-thousandth lecture
were over nine thousand dollars.
The hold which Russell Conwell has gained on
the affections and respect of his home city was
seen not only in the thousands who strove to
hear him, but in the prominent men who served
on the local committee in charge of the celebration.
There was a national committee, too, and
the nation-wide love that he has won, the nation-
wide appreciation of what he has done and is
still doing, was shown by the fact that among the
names of the notables on this committee were
those of nine governors of states. The Governor
of Pennsylvania was himself present to do Russell
Conwell honor, and he gave to him a key
emblematic of the Freedom of the State.
The ``Freedom of the State''--yes; this man,
well over seventy, has won it. The Freedom of
the State, the Freedom of the Nation--for this
man of helpfulness, this marvelous exponent of
the gospel of success, has worked marvelously for
the freedom, the betterment, the liberation, the
advancement, of the individual.
FIFTY YEARS ON THE LECTURE
RUSSELL H. CONWELL
AN Autobiography! What an absurd request!
If all the conditions were favorable, the story
of my public Life could not be made interesting.
It does not seem possible that any will care to
read so plain and uneventful a tale. I see nothing
in it for boasting, nor much that could be helpful.
Then I never saved a scrap of paper intentionally
concerning my work to which I could refer, not
a book, not a sermon, not a lecture, not a newspaper
notice or account, not a magazine article,
not one of the kind biographies written from time
to time by noble friends have I ever kept even as
a souvenir, although some of them may be in my
library. I have ever felt that the writers concerning
my life were too generous and that my own
work was too hastily done. Hence I have nothing
upon which to base an autobiographical account,
except the recollections which come to an
My general view of half a century on the
lecture platform brings to me precious and beautiful
memories, and fills my soul with devout gratitude
for the blessings and kindnesses which have
been given to me so far beyond my deserts.
So much more success has come to my hands
than I ever expected; so much more of good
have I found than even youth's wildest dream
included; so much more effective have been my
weakest endeavors than I ever planned or hoped--
that a biography written truthfully would be
mostly an account of what men and women have
done for me.
I have lived to see accomplished far more than
my highest ambition included, and have seen the
enterprises I have undertaken rush by me, pushed
on by a thousand strong hands until they have
left me far behind them. The realities are like
dreams to me. Blessings on the loving hearts and
noble minds who have been so willing to sacrifice
for others' good and to think only of what
they could do, and never of what they should get!
Many of them have ascended into the Shining
Land, and here I am in mine age gazing up alone,
_Only waiting till the shadows
Are a little longer grown_.
Fifty years! I was a young man, not yet of
age, when I delivered my first platform lecture.
The Civil War of 1861-65 drew on with all its
passions, patriotism, horrors, and fears, and I was
studying law at Yale University. I had from
childhood felt that I was ``called to the ministry.''
The earliest event of memory is the prayer of
my father at family prayers in the little old cottage
in the Hampshire highlands of the Berkshire
Hills, calling on God with a sobbing voice
to lead me into some special service for the
Saviour. It filled me with awe, dread, and fear, and
I recoiled from the thought, until I determined
to fight against it with all my power. So I sought
for other professions and for decent excuses for
being anything but a preacher.
Yet while I was nervous and timid before the
class in declamation and dreaded to face any
kind of an audience, I felt in my soul a strange
impulsion toward public speaking which for years
made me miserable. The war and the public
meetings for recruiting soldiers furnished an outlet
for my suppressed sense of duty, and my first
lecture was on the ``Lessons of History'' as
applied to the campaigns against the Confederacy.
That matchless temperance orator and loving
friend, John B. Gough, introduced me to the little
audience in Westfield, Massachusetts, in 1862.
What a foolish little school-boy speech it must
have been! But Mr. Gough's kind words of
praise, the bouquets and the applause, made me
feel that somehow the way to public oratory
would not be so hard as I had feared.
From that time I acted on Mr. Gough's advice
and ``sought practice'' by accepting almost every
invitation I received to speak on any kind of a
subject. There were many sad failures and tears,
but it was a restful compromise with my conscience
concerning the ministry, and it pleased my friends.
I addressed picnics, Sunday-schools, patriotic
meetings, funerals, anniversaries, commencements,
debates, cattle-shows, and sewing-circles without
partiality and without price. For the first five
years the income was all experience. Then
voluntary gifts began to come occasionally in the
shape of a jack-knife, a ham, a book, and the
first cash remuneration was from a farmers' club,
of seventy-five cents toward the ``horse hire.''
It was a curious fact that one member of that
club afterward moved to Salt Lake City and was
a member of the committee at the Mormon
Tabernacle in 1872 which, when I was a correspondent,
on a journey around the world, employed
me to lecture on ``Men of the Mountains'' in the
Mormon Tabernacle, at a fee of five hundred dollars.
While I was gaining practice in the first years
of platform work, I had the good fortune to have
profitable employment as a soldier, or as a
correspondent or lawyer, or as an editor or as a
preacher, which enabled me to pay my own expenses,
and it has been seldom in the fifty years
that I have ever taken a fee for my personal use.
In the last thirty-six years I have dedicated
solemnly all the lecture income to benevolent
enterprises. If I am antiquated enough for an
autobiography, perhaps I may be aged enough to
avoid the criticism of being an egotist, when I
state that some years I delivered one lecture,
``Acres of Diamonds,'' over two hundred times
each year, at an average income of about one
hundred and fifty dollars for each lecture.
It was a remarkable good fortune which came
to me as a lecturer when Mr. James Redpath
organized the first lecture bureau ever established.
Mr. Redpath was the biographer of John Brown
of Harper's Ferry renown, and as Mr. Brown had
been long a friend of my father's I found employment,
while a student on vacation, in selling that
life of John Brown. That acquaintance with Mr.
Redpath was maintained until Mr. Redpath's
death. To General Charles H. Taylor, with
whom I was employed for a time as reporter for
the Boston _Daily Traveler_, I was indebted for many
acts of self-sacrificing friendship which soften my
soul as I recall them. He did me the greatest
kindness when he suggested my name to Mr.
Redpath as one who could ``fill in the vacancies
in the smaller towns'' where the ``great lights
could not always be secured.''
What a glorious galaxy of great names that
original list of Redpath lecturers contained!
Henry Ward Beecher, John B. Gough, Senator
Charles Sumner, Theodore Tilton, Wendell Phillips,
Mrs. Mary A. Livermore, Bayard Taylor,
Ralph Waldo Emerson, with many of the great
preachers, musicians, and writers of that remarkable
era. Even Dr. Holmes, John Whittier,
Henry W. Longfellow, John Lothrop Motley,
George William Curtis, and General Burnside
were persuaded to appear one or more times,
although they refused to receive pay. I cannot
forget how ashamed I felt when my name ap-
peared in the shadow of such names, and how
sure I was that every acquaintance was ridiculing
me behind my back. Mr. Bayard Taylor, however,
wrote me from the _Tribune_ office a kind note
saying that he was glad to see me ``on the road to
great usefulness.'' Governor Clafflin, of Massachusetts,
took the time to send me a note of congratulation.
General Benjamin F. Butler, however,
advised me to ``stick to the last'' and be a
The work of lecturing was always a task and
a duty. I do not feel now that I ever sought to
be an entertainer. I am sure I would have been
an utter failure but for the feeling that I must
preach some gospel truth in my lectures and do at
least that much toward that ever-persistent ``call of
God.'' When I entered the ministry (1879) I had
become so associated with the lecture platform in
America and England that I could not feel justified
in abandoning so great a field of usefulness.
The experiences of all our successful lecturers
are probably nearly alike. The way is not always
smooth. But the hard roads, the poor hotels,
the late trains, the cold halls, the hot church
auditoriums, the overkindness of hospitable
committees, and the broken hours of sleep are
annoyances one soon forgets; and the hosts of
intelligent faces, the messages of thanks, and the
effects of the earnings on the lives of young college
men can never cease to be a daily joy. God
bless them all.
Often have I been asked if I did not, in fifty
years of travel in all sorts of conveyances, meet
with accidents. It is a marvel to me that no such
event ever brought me harm. In a continuous
period of over twenty-seven years I delivered
about two lectures in every three days, yet I did
not miss a single engagement. Sometimes I had
to hire a special train, but I reached the town on
time, with only a rare exception, and then I was
but a few minutes late. Accidents have preceded
and followed me on trains and boats, and
were sometimes in sight, but I was preserved
without injury through all the years. In the
Johnstown flood region I saw a bridge go out
behind our train. I was once on a derelict steamer
on the Atlantic for twenty-six days. At another
time a man was killed in the berth of a sleeper I
had left half an hour before. Often have I felt
the train leave the track, but no one was killed.
Robbers have several times threatened my life,
but all came out without loss to me. God and man
have ever been patient with me.
Yet this period of lecturing has been, after all,
a side issue. The Temple, and its church, in
Philadelphia, which, when its membership was
less than three thousand members, for so many
years contributed through its membership over
sixty thousand dollars a year for the uplift of
humanity, has made life a continual surprise; while
the Samaritan Hospital's amazing growth, and the
Garretson Hospital's dispensaries, have been so
continually ministering to the sick and poor, and
have done such skilful work for the tens of thousands
who ask for their help each year, that I
have been made happy while away lecturing by
the feeling that each hour and minute they were
faithfully doing good. Temple University, which
was founded only twenty-seven years ago, has
already sent out into a higher income and nobler
life nearly a hundred thousand young men and
women who could not probably have obtained an
education in any other institution. The faithful,
self-sacrificing faculty, now numbering two hundred
and fifty-three professors, have done the real
work. For that I can claim but little credit;
and I mention the University here only to show
that my ``fifty years on the lecture platform''
has necessarily been a side line of work.
My best-known lecture, ``Acres of Diamonds,''
was a mere accidental address, at first given
before a reunion of my old comrades of the Forty-
sixth Massachusetts Regiment, which served in
the Civil War and in which I was captain. I
had no thought of giving the address again, and
even after it began to be called for by lecture
committees I did not dream that I should live
to deliver it, as I now have done, almost five
thousand times. ``What is the secret of its
popularity?'' I could never explain to myself or others.
I simply know that I always attempt to enthuse
myself on each occasion with the idea that it is
a special opportunity to do good, and I interest
myself in each community and apply the general
principles with local illustrations.
The hand which now holds this pen must in
the natural course of events soon cease to gesture
on the platform, and it is a sincere, prayerful hope
that this book will go on into the years doing
increasing good for the aid of my brothers and
sisters in the human family.
RUSSELL H. CONWELL.
South Worthington, Mass.,
September 1, 1913.