Part 2 out of 6
jealousy among officers of other companies, and Captain Conwell
hearing of it, decided not to accept the appointment. He wrote the
Governor that he would be content with the captain's commission again
and that he preferred not to raise contention by receiving anything
higher. The company returned home, but before the new re-organization
was effected, Captain Conwell was attacked with a serious fever. By
the time he recovered, the new regiment had been organized and new
officers put over it. Of course, his men were dissatisfied. With the
understanding that such of his old comrades as wished could join it,
he went to work immediately recruiting another company. But nearly all
his old men wanted to come into it, the new men recruited would
not give him up, and the anomalous position arose of two companies
clamoring for one captain. While it created much comment, it did not
lessen the jealousy which his popularity had aroused, among men and
officers not intimately associated with him, so that his second
enlistment began under a cloud of disappointment for his men, and
jealousy among outsiders, that seemed to bring misfortune in its
His new men, however, never failed him. His thoughtful care for them,
his kindness, his unselfishness won their loyalty and love as it had
done in Company F, and Company D, 2nd Massachusetts Volunteers were to
a man as devoted and as attached to him as ever were his old comrades
of the first days of the war.
In this company went as Captain Conwell's personal orderly, a young
boy, John Ring, of Westfield, Massachusetts, a lad of sixteen or
seventeen. Entirely too young and too small to join the ranks of
soldiers, he had pleaded with his father so earnestly to be permitted
to go to the war that Mr. Ring had finally consented to put him in
Captain Conwell's charge. The boy was a worshipper at the shrine of
the young Captain. He had sat thrilled and fascinated under the magic
of the burning words which had swept men by the hundreds to enlist. It
was Captain Conwell's speeches that had stirred the boy and moved him
with such fiery ardor to go to war. No greater joy could be given him,
since he could not fight, than to be in his Captain's very tent to
look after his belongings, to minister in small ways to his comfort. A
hero worshipper the lad was, and at an age when ideals take hold of a
pure, high-minded boy with a force that will carry him to any height
of self-sacrifice, to any depth of suffering. He had been carefully
reared in a Christian home and read the Bible every morning and every
evening in their tent, a sight that so pricked the conscience
of Captain Conwell, as he remembered his mother and her loving
instructions, that he forbade it. But though John Ring loved Captain
Conwell with a love which the former did not then understand, the boy
loved duty and right better, and bravely disobeying these orders, he
The company was stationed at Fort Macon, North Carolina, for awhile,
and then sent to Newport Barracks. Here it was that Captain Conwell
and his soldiers cut the logs and built the first free schoolhouse
erected for colored children. Colonel Conwell himself taught it at
first and then he engaged a woman to teach. It is still standing.
Months passed away and the men received no pay. Request after request
Captain Conwell sent to headquarters at Newberne, but received no
reply. The men became discontented and unruly. Some had families at
home in need. All of these tales were poured into the young Captain's
ears. Ready ever to relieve trouble, impatient always to get to work
and remedy a wrong, instead of talking about it, Captain Conwell
decided to ride to Newberne, find out what was the matter and have the
men's money forwarded at once. Leaving an efficient officer in command
and securing a pass, which he never stopped to consider was not a
properly made-out permit for a leave of absence for a commanding
officer, he took an orderly and started. It was a twenty-mile ride
to Newberne and meant an absence of some time. But he anticipated no
trouble, for the rebels had been letting the Northern troops severely
alone for nearly a year.
He had covered barely two-thirds of the distance, when a Union man
passed, who shouted as he hurried on, "Your men are in a fight."
Conwell and his orderly turned, put their horses to the gallop and
rode back furiously. It was too late. The country between was swarming
with Confederates. He ran into the enemies' pickets and barely escaped
capture by swimming a deep creek, shot spattering all around them. He
made desperate efforts to ride around the lines but failed. Then he
tried descending the river by boat, but the enemy had captured the
entire line of posts. Frustrated at all points, nothing was to be done
but retrace his steps to Newberne, where the worst of news awaited
him. The assault upon his fort had been sudden and in overwhelming
force. His men had been shot down or bayonetted, the remnant driven to
the woods. The whole ground was in the hands of the enemy.
Nor was this all. Back at that little fort had been enacted one of the
saddest tragedies of the war. When the Union soldiers fled, they had
retreated across the long railroad bridge that spanned the Newport
river, and to prevent the enemy following, had set it on fire. Just as
the flames began to eat into the timbers, John Ring, the boy orderly,
thought of his Captain's sword, that wonderful gold-sheathed sword
which had been presented to Captain Conwell on the memorable day in
Springfield when he had so eloquently called upon it to fight in the
cause of Justice. It had been left behind in the Captain's tent, the
Army Regulations requiring that he wear one less conspicuous. Even now
it might be in the hands of some slave-owning Confederate. Maddened at
the thought, John King leaped on to the burning bridge, plunged
back through the fire, through the ranks of the yelling, excited
Confederates, reached the tent unobserved and grasped the sword of his
idolized Captain. Again he made a rush for the flame-wrapped bridge.
But this time the keen eyes of the enemy discerned him.
"Look at the Yank with the sword. Wing him! Bring him down." And
bullets sped after the fearless boy. But he fled on undeterred, and
plunged into the mass of flame and smoke. The fire had gained too
great headway by this time for any living thing to pass through it
unhurt. He saw it was useless to attempt to cross as before, and
belting the sword about him, he dropped beneath the stringers and
tried to make his way hand over hand. All about him fell the blazing
brands. The biting smoke blinded him. The very flesh was burning from
his arms. The enemies' bullets sung about him. But still he struggled
on. In sheer admiration of his courage, the Confederate general gave
the order to cease firing, and the two armies stood silent and watched
the plucky fight of this brave boy. Inch by inch, he gained on his
path of fire. But he could see no longer. In torturing blackness
he groped on, fearful only that he might not succeed in saving the
precious sword, that in his blindness he might grasp a blazing timber
and his hand be burnt from him, that death in a tongue of flame be
swept down into his face, that the bridge might fall and the sword be
lost. At last he heard his comrades shouting. They guided him with
their cheers, "A little farther," "Keep straight on," "You're all
right now." And then he dropped blazing into the outstretched arms
of his comrades, while a mighty shout went up from both sides of the
river, as enemy and friend paid the tribute of brave men to a brave
[Illustration: LIEUTENANT-COLONEL CONWELL]
With swelling hearts and tear-blinded eyes, they tenderly laid the
insensible hero on a gun carriage and took him to the hospital. Two
days of quivering agony followed and then he met and bravely faced his
last enemy. Opening his eyes, he said clearly and distinctly, "Give
the Captain his sword." Then his breath fluttered and the little
armor-bearer slept the sleep of peace.
A SOLDIER OF THE CROSS
Under Arrest for Absence Without Leave. Order of Court Reversed by
President. Certificate from State Legislature of Massachusetts for
Patriotic Services. Appointed by President Lincoln Lieutenant-Colonel
on General McPherson's Staff. Wounded at Kenesaw Mountain. Conversion.
Public Profession of Faith.
The tragic death of John Ring was the final crushing news that came to
Captain Conwell at Newberne. Combined with the nervous strain he had
been under in trying to get back to his men, the condemnation from his
superior officers for his absence, it threw him into a brain fever.
Long days and nights he rolled and tossed, fighting over again the
attack on the fort, making heroic efforts to rescue John Ring from his
fiery death, urging his horse through tangled forests and dark rivers
that seemed never to have another shore. For weeks the fever racked
and wasted him, and finally when feeble and weak, he was once more
able to walk, he found himself under arrest for absence without leave
during a time of danger.
It had been reported to General Palmer that the defeat of the Federal
troops might have been avoided had the officers been on duty. An
investigation was ordered and Captain Conwell was asked for his permit
to be absent. He had simply his pass through the lines, a vastly
different thing he found from an authorized permit of absence. The
investigation dragged its slow course along, as all such things,
encumbered by red tape, do. Disgusted and humiliated by being kept a
prisoner for months when the country needed every arm in its defense,
by having such a mountain made of the veriest molehill built of a kind
act and boyish inexperience, he refused to put in a defense at the
investigation and let it go as it would. Setting the Court of Inquiry
more against him, a former Commander, General Foster, espoused his
cause too hotly and wrote to General McPherson for an appointment for
a "boy who is as brave as an old man." The Court of Inquiry, made up
of local officers, most of them jealous of his popularity, resented
this outside interference and the verdict was against him. But others
higher in authority took up the matter and Captain Conwell was ordered
to Washington. The President reversed the order of the Court. He
was appointed Lieutenant-Colonel, detailed for service on General
McPherson's staff and ordered West. General Butler, under whose
command Captain Conwell served, afterward made a generous
acknowledgment of the injustice of the findings and expressed in warm
words his admiration of Captain Conwell, and the State Legislature
of Massachusetts gave him a certificate for faithful and patriotic
services in that campaign.
Nevertheless, it was an experience that sorely embittered his soul.
Intentionally he had done nothing wrong, yet he had been humiliated
and made to eat the bitter fruits of the envy and jealousy of others.
It saddened but did not defeat him. His heart was too big, his nature
too generous. He could forgive them freely, could do them a kindness
the very first opportunity, but that did not take away the pain at his
heart. One may forgive a person who burns him, even if intentionally,
but that does not stop the burn from smarting.
Saddened, and with the futility of ambition keenly brought home
to him, he joined General McPherson, and in the battle of Kenesaw
Mountain he received a serious wound. He had stationed a lookout
to watch the Confederate fire while he directed the work of two
batteries. It was the duty of the lookout to keep Colonel Conwell and
his gunners posted as to whether the enemy fired shot or shell, easily
to be told by watching the little trail of smoke that followed the
discharge. If a shot were sent, they paid no attention to it for it
did little damage, but if it were a shell it was deemed necessary to
Colonel Conwell was leaning on the wheel of one of the cannon when
there was a discharge from the guns of the enemy. The lookout yelled,
"Shot." But it was a fatal shell that came careening and screaming
toward them, and before Conwell or his men could leap into the
bomb-proof embankment, it struck the hub of the very wheel against
which he leaned, and burst.
When he came to himself, the stars were shining, the field was silent
save for the feeble moans of the wounded, the voices and footsteps
of parties searching for the injured. He was in a quivering agony of
sharp, burning pain, but he could neither move nor speak. At last, he
heard the searchers coming. Nearer, nearer drew the voices, then for
a moment they paused at his side. He heard a man with a lantern say,
"Poor fellow! We can do nothing for him." Then they passed on, leaving
him for dead, among the dead.
All that June night he lay there, looking up at the stars that studded
the infinity of space. About him were dark, silent forms, rigid in the
sleep of death. Those were solemn hours, hours when he looked death in
the face, and then backward over the years he had lived. Useless years
they seemed to him now, years filled with petty ambitions that had to
do solely with self. All the spiritual ideals of life, the things that
give lasting joy and happiness because they are of the spirit and
not of the flesh, he had scoffingly cast aside and rejected. He had
narrowed life down to self and the things of the world. He had no such
faith as made his mother's hard-working life happy and serene because
it transformed its sordid care into glorious service of her Heavenly
King. He had no such faith as carried John Ring triumphant and
undismayed through the gates of fiery death in performance of a loving
service. Suddenly a longing swept over him for this priceless faith,
for a personal, sure belief in the love of a Savior. One by one the
teachings of his mother came back to him, those beautiful immortal
truths she had read him from that Book which is never too old to touch
the hearts of men with healing. Looking up at the worlds swinging
through space to unknown laws, with the immensities of life, death and
infinity all about him, his disbelief, his atheism dropped away. Into
his heart came the premonitions of the peace of God, which passeth
understanding. Life broadened, it took on new meaning and duty, for a
life into which the spirit of God has come can never again narrow down
to the boundaries of self. He determined henceforth to live more for
others, less for himself; to make the world better, somebody happier
whenever he could; to make his life, each day of it, worthy of that
great sacrifice of John Ring.
He being an officer, they came back for his body, and found a living
man instead of the dead. He was taken to the field hospital. One arm
was broken in two places, his shoulder badly shattered, and because
there was no hope of his living, they did not at once amputate his
arm, which would have been done had he been less seriously injured.
Long days he lay in the hospital with life going out all about him,
the moan of the suffering in his ears, thinking, thinking, of the
mystery of life and death, as the shadows flitted and swayed through
the dimly lighted wards at night, the sunshine poured down during the
day. His love of humanity burned purer. His desire to help it grew
stronger. Long were the talks he had with the chaplain, a Baptist
preacher, and when he recovered and left the hospital, his mind was
fully made up. Like his father, his actions never lagged behind his
speech, and he made at once an open profession of the faith on which
he now leaned with such happy confidence.
The fearless, unselfish love of humanity, the desire to help the
oppressed that burned in the bosom of John Brown had sent the
impetuous boy into the war.
The fearless, unselfish act of John Ring sent Colonel Conwell out of
the war a God-fearing man, determined to spend his life for the good
Providence uses strange instruments. Thousands in this country to-day
have been inspired, helped, made different men and women through
knowing Russell Conwell. What may not some of them do to benefit
their country and their generation! Yet back of him stand this old
gray-haired man and a young, fearless boy, whose influence turned the
current of his life to brighten and bless countless thousands.
Resignation from Army. Admission to Bar. Marriage. Removal to
Minnesota. Founding of Minneapolis Y.M.C.A. and of the Present
"Minneapolis Tribune." Burning of Home. Breaking Out of Wound.
Appointed Emigration Agent to Germany by Governor of Minnesota. Joins
Surveying Party to Palestine. Near to Death in Paris Hospital. Journey
to New York for Operation in Bellevue Hospital. Return to Boston.
When Colonel Conwell was able to leave the hospital, he was still
unable to assume active duty in the field, and he was sent to
Nashville for further rest and treatment. Here he reported to General
Thomas and was instructed to proceed to Washington with a despatch for
General Logan. Colonel Conwell started, but the rough traveling of
those days opened his wounds afresh and he completely broke down
at Harper's Ferry. Too weak longer to resist, he yielded to the
entreaties of his friends, sent in his resignation and returned home
for rest and nursing. Before he fully recovered, peace was declared.
Free to resume his studies, he entered the law office of Judge W.S.
Shurtleff, of Springfield, Massachusetts, his former Colonel, read law
there for a short time, then entered the Albany University, where he
Shortly after passing his examination at the bar and receiving his
degree, he was married at Chicopee Falls, March 8, 1865, to Miss
Jennie P. Hayden, one of his pupils in the district school at West
Granville, Massachusetts, and later one of his most proficient music
scholars. Her brothers were in his company, and when Company F was in
camp at Springfield after the first enlistment, she was studying at
Wilbraham and there often saw her soldier lover. Anxious days and
years they were for her that followed, as they were for every other
woman with father, husband, brother or sweetheart in the terrible
conflict that raged so long. But she endured them with that silent
bravery that is ever the woman's part, that strong, steady courage
that can sit at home passive, patient, never knowing but that
life-long sorrow and heartache are already at the threshold.
Immediately after their marriage, they went West and finally settled
in Minneapolis. Colonel Conwell opened a law office, and while waiting
for clients acted as agent for a real estate firm in the sale of land
warrants. He also began to negotiate for the sale of town lots. This
not being enough for a man who utilized every minute, he became local
correspondent for the "St. Paul Press." Nor did he stop here, though
most men would have thought their hands by this time about full. He
took an active part in local politics and canvassed the settlement and
towns for the Republican and temperance tickets. He also was actively
interested in the schools, and not only advocated public schools and
plenty of them, but was a frequent visitor to the city and district
schools, talking to the children in that interesting, entertaining
way that always clothes some helpful lesson in a form long to be
True to the faith he had found in the little Southern hospital, he
joined the First Baptist Church of Saint Paul. But mere joining was
not sufficient. He must work for the cause, and he opened a business
men's noon prayer-meeting in his law office at Minneapolis, rather a
novel undertaking in those days and in the then far West. For three
months, only three men attended. But nothing daunted, he persevered.
That trait in his character always shone out the more brightly,
the darker the outlook. Those three men were helped, and that was
sufficient reason that the prayer-meeting be continued. Eventually it
prospered and resulted finally in a permanent organization from which
grew the Minneapolis Y.M.C.A.
Poor though he was, and he started in the West with nothing, he made
friends everywhere. His speeches soon made him widely known. His
sincerity, his unselfish desire to help others, his earnestness to aid
in all good works brought him, as always, a host of loyal, devoted
followers. A skating club of some hundred members made him their
President, and his first law case in the West came to him through this
A skating carnival was to be given, and the club had engaged an
Irishman to clear a certain part of the frozen Mississippi of snow for
the skating. This he failed to do at the time specified and the club
had it cleaned by some one else. Claiming that he would have done
it, had they waited, the Irishman sued the club. Colonel Conwell, of
course, appeared for the defense. The whole hundred members marched to
the court house, the scene being town talk for some days. Needless to
say he won his suit.
His love for newspaper work led him to start the "Minneapolis
Chronicle" and the "Star of the North," which were afterward merged
into "The Minneapolis Tribune," for which his clever young wife
conducted a woman's column, in a decidedly brilliant, original manner.
Mrs. Conwell wrote from her heart as one woman to other women, and
her articles soon attracted notice and comment for their entertaining
style and their inspiring, helpful ideas.
At this time they were living in two rooms back of his office, for
they were making financial headway as yet but slowly. But times
brightened and Colonel Conwell was soon able to purchase a handsome
home and furnish it comfortably, taking particular pride in the
gathering of a large law library.
It seemed now as if life were to move forward prosperously. But
greater work was needed from Russell Conwell than the comfortable
practice of law. One evening while the family were from home, fire
broke out and the house and all they owned was destroyed. Running
to the fire from a G.A.R. meeting, a mile and a half away, Colonel
Conwell was attacked with a hemorrhage of the lungs. It came from
his old army wounds and the doctor ordered him immediately from that
climate, and told him he must take a complete rest. Here was disaster
indeed. Every cent they had saved was gone. And with it the strength
to begin again the battle for a living. It was a hard, bitter blow for
a young, ambitious man, right at the start of his career; a stroke of
fate to make any man bitter and cynical. But his was not a nature to
permit misfortune to narrow him or make him repine. He rose above it.
It did not lesson his ambitions. It broadened, humanized them. It made
him enter with still truer sympathy into other people's misfortune.
And his trust in God was so strong, his faith so unshaken, he knew
that in all these bitter experiences of life's school was a lesson. He
learned it and used it to get a broader outlook.
His friends rallied to his aid. Prominent as an editor, lawyer, leader
of the Y.M.C.A., it was not difficult to get him an appointment from
the Governor, already a warm friend. He secured the position of
emigration agent to Europe, and he turned his face Eastward. Mrs.
Conwell was left in Minneapolis, and he sailed abroad in the hope that
the sea trip and change of climate would heal the weakened tissue of
his lung and fully restore him to health. But it was a vain hope. His
strength would not permit him to fulfill the duty expected of him as
emigration agent and he was compelled to resign. For several months
he wandered about Europe trying one place, then another in the vain
search for health. He joined a surveying party and went to Palestine,
for even in those days that inner voice could not he altogether
stilled that was calling him to follow in the footsteps of the Savior
and preach and teach and heal the sick. The land where the Savior
ministered had a strong fascination for him, and he gladly seized the
opportunity to become a member of this surveying party and walk over
the ground where the Savior had gone up and down doing good.
But the trip was of no benefit to his health. Instead of gaining he
failed. He grew weaker and weaker. The hemorrhages became more and
more frequent. Finally he came to Paris and lying, a stranger and
poor, in Necker Hospital was told he could live but a few days. Face
to face again with that grim, bitter enemy of the battlefield, what
thoughts came crowding thick and fast--thoughts of his young wife in
far-away America, of father and mother, memories of the beautiful
woods, the singing streams of the mountain home, as the noise and
clamor of Paris streets drifted into the long hospital ward.
Then came a famous Berlin doctor to the dying American. He studied the
case attentively, for it was strange enough to arouse and enlist all
a doctor's keen scientific interest. When analyzed, copper had been
found in the hemorrhage, with no apparent reason for it, and the Paris
doctors were puzzling over the cause. "Were you in the war?" asked the
great man. "Were you shot?"
"Shot in the shoulder?"
Then came back to Colonel Conwell, the recollection of the duel with
the Confederate around a tree in the North Carolina woods and the shot
that had lodged in his shoulder near his neck and was never removed.
"That is the trouble," said the physician. "The bullet has worked down
into the lung and only the most skillful operation can save you,
and only one man can do it"--and that man was a surgeon in Bellevue
Hospital, New York.
Carefully was the sinking man taken on board a steamer. Only the most
rugged constitution could have stood that trip in the already weakened
condition of his system. But those early childhood days in the
Berkshire Hills had put iron into his blood, the tonic of sunshine and
fresh air into his very bone and muscle. Safely he made the journey,
though no one knew all he suffered in those terrible days of weakness
and pain on the lone, friendless trip across the Atlantic. Safely he
went through the operation. The bullet was removed, and with health
mending, he made his way to Boston where his loving young wife awaited
But out of these experiences, suffering, alone, friendless, poor, in
a strange city, grew after all the Samaritan Hospital of Philadelphia
that opens wide its doors, first and always, to the suffering sick
WRITING HIS WAY AROUND THE WORLD
Days of Poverty in Boston. Sent to Southern Battlefields. Around the
World for New York and Boston Papers. In a Gambling Den In Hong Kong,
China. Cholera and Shipwreck.
Abject poverty awaited him on his return to Boston. The fire in St.
Paul had left them but little property, while their enforced hurried
departure compelled that little to be sold at a loss. This money
was now entirely gone, and once more he faced the world in absolute
poverty. He rented a single room in the East district of Boston and
furnished it with the barest necessities. Colonel Conwell secured a
position on "The Evening Traveller" at five dollars a week, and Mrs.
Conwell cheerily took in sewing. Thus they made their first brave
stand against the gaunt wolf at the door. Here their first child was
born, a daughter, Nima, now Mrs. E.G. Tuttle, of Philadelphia. These
were dark days for the little household. Night after night the father
came home to see the one he loved best in all the world, suffering
for the barest necessities of life, yet cheerful, buoyant, never
complaining. So sensitive to the sufferings of others that he must do
all in his power to relieve even his comrades in the war when, injured
or ill, what mental anguish must he have endured when his dearly loved
wife was in want and he so powerless to relieve it. She read his heart
with the sure sympathy of love, knew his bitter anguish of spirit, and
suffered the more because he suffered. But bravely she cheered him,
encouraged him, and spent all her own spare minutes doing what she
could to add to the family income.
Thus they pluckily-worked, never repining nor complaining at fate,
though knowing in its bitterest sense what it is to be desperately
poor, to suffer for adequate food and clothing. Colonel Conwell
learned in that hard experience what it is to want for a crust of
bread. No man can come to Dr. Conwell to this day with a tale of
poverty, suffering, sickness, but what the minister's eyes turn
backward to that one little room with its pitiful makeshifts of
furniture, its brave, pale wife, the wee girl baby; and his hand goes
out to help with an earnest and heartfelt sympathy surprising to the
But the tide turned ere long. Colonel Conwell's work on the paper soon
began to tell. His salary was raised and raised, until comfort once
more with smiling face took up her abode with them. They moved into a
pretty home in Somerville. Colonel Conwell resumed his law practice
and began, as in the West, to deal in real estate. He also continued
Busy days these were, but his life had already taught him much of the
art of filling each minute to an exact nicety in order to get the most
out of it. His paper sent him as a special correspondent to write up
the battlefields of the South, and his letters were so graphic and
entertaining as to become a widely known and much discussed feature
of the paper. Soldiers everywhere read them with eager delight and
through them revisited the scenes of the terrible conflict in which
each had played some part. While on this assignment, he invaded a
gambling den in New Orleans, and interfering to save a colored man
from the drunken frenzy of a bully, came near being killed himself.
Coming to the aid of a porter on a Mississippi steamboat, he again
narrowly escaped being shot, striking a revolver from the hand of a
ruffian just as his finger dropped on the trigger. He mixed with all
classes and conditions of men and saw life in its roughest,
most primal aspect But all these experiences helped him to that
appreciation of human nature that has been of such, value and help to
These letters aroused such widespread and favorable comment that the
"New York Tribune" and "Boston Traveller" arranged to send him on a
tour of the world. When the offer came to him, his mind leaped the
years to that poorly furnished room in the little farmhouse, where he
had leaned on his mother's knee and listened with rapt attention while
she read him the letters of foreign correspondents in that very "New
York Tribune." The letter he wrote his mother telling her of the
appointment was full of loving gratitude for the careful way she
had trained his tastes in those days when he was too young and
inexperienced to choose for himself.
It was a wrench for the young wife to let him go so far away, but she
bravely, cheerfully made the sacrifice. She was proud of his work and
his ability, and she loved him too truly to stand in the way of his
This journey took him to Scotland, England, Sweden, Denmark, France,
Italy, Germany, Russia, Palestine, Arabia, Egypt and Northern Africa.
He interviewed Emperor William I, Bismarck, Victor Emanuel, the then
Prince of Wales, now Edward VII of England. He frequently met Henry
M. Stanley, then correspondent for the London papers, who wrote from
Paris of Colonel Conwell, "Send that double-sighted Yankee and he will
see at a glance all there is and all there ever was."
He also made the acquaintance of Garibaldi, whom he visited in his
island home and with whom he kept up a correspondence after he
returned. Garibaldi it was who called Colonel Conwell's attention to
the heroic deeds of that admirer of America, the great and patriotic
Venetian, Daniel Manin. In the busy years that followed on this trip
Colonel Conwell spent a long time gathering materials for a biography
of Daniel Manin, and just before it was ready for the press the
manuscript was destroyed by fire in the destruction of his home
at Newton Centre, Massachusetts, in 1880. One of his most popular
lectures, "The Heroism of a Private Life," took its inception from the
life of this Venetian statesman.
He also gave a series of lectures at Cambridge, England, on Italian
history that attracted much favorable comment.
Mr. Samuel T. Harris, of New York, correspondent of the "New York
Times" in 1870, in a private letter, says, "Conwell is the funniest
chap I ever fell in with. He sees a thousand things I never thought of
looking after. When his letters come back in print I find lots in them
that seems new to me, although I saw it all at the time. But you don't
see the fun in his letters to the papers. The way he adapts himself to
all circumstances comes from long travel; but it is droll. He makes a
salaam to the defunct kings, a neat bow to the Sudras, and a friendly
wink at the Howadji, in a way that puts him cheek-by-jowl with them
in a jiffy. He beats me all out in his positive sympathy with these
miserable heathen. He has read so much that he knows about everything.
The way the officials, English, too, treat him would make you think he
was the son of a lord. He has a dignified condescension in his manner
that I can't imitate."
Part of the time Bayard Taylor was his traveling companion, and there
grew up between these two kindred spirits an intimate friendship that
lasted until Taylor's death.
All through the trip he carried books with him, and every minute not
occupied in gathering material for his letters was passed in reading
the history of the scenes and the people he was among, in mastering
their language. Such close application added an interesting background
of historical information to his letters, a breadth and culture, that
made them decidedly more valuable and entertaining than if confined
strictly to what he saw and heard. It was on this journey that he
heard the legend from which grew his famous lecture, "Acres of
Diamonds," which has been given already three thousand four hundred
and twenty times. It gave him an almost inexhaustible fund of material
on which he has drawn for his lectures and books since.
During his absence his second child, a son, Leon, was born. He
returned home for the briefest time, and then completed the tour by
way of the West and the Pacific. He lectured through the Western
States and Territories, for already his fame as a lecturer was
spreading. He visited the Sandwich Islands, Japan, China, Sumatra,
Siam, Burmah, the Himalaya Mountains, India, returning home by way of
Europe. His Hong Kong letter to "The Tribune," exposing the iniquities
of the labor-contract system in Chinese emigration, created quite a
stir in political and diplomatic circles. It was while on this trip
he gathered the material for his first book, "Why and How the Chinese
Emigrate." It was reviewed as the best book in the market of its kind.
The "New York Herald" in writing of it said: "There has been little
given to the public which throws more timely and intelligent light
upon the question of coolie emigration than the book written by Col.
Russell H. Conwell, of Boston."
These travels were replete with thrilling adventures and strange
coincidents. When he left Somerville after his brief visit, for his
trip through the Western States, China and Japan, a broken-hearted
mother in Charlestown, Mass., asked him to find her wandering boy,
whom she believed to be "somewhere in China." A big request, but
Colonel Conwell, busy as he was, did not forget it. Searching for him
in such places as he believed the boy would most likely frequent,
Colonel Conwell accidentally entered, one night in Hong Kong, a den of
gamblers. Writing of the event, he says:
"At one table sat an American, about twenty-five years old, playing
with an old man. They had been betting and drinking. While the
gray-haired man was shuffling the cards for a 'new deal' the young
man, in a swaggering, careless way, sang, to a very pathetic tune, a
verse of Phoebe Carey's beautiful hymn,
'One sweetly solemn thought
Comes to me o'er and o'er:
I'm nearer home to-day
Than e'er I've been before.'
Hearing the singing several gamblers looked up in surprise. The old
man who was dealing the cards grew melancholy, stopped for a moment,
gazed steadfastly at his partner in the game, and dashed the pack upon
the floor under the table. Then said he, 'Where did you learn that
tune?' The young man pretended that he did not know he had been
singing. 'Well, no matter,' said the old man, I've played my last
game, and that's the end of it. The cards may lie there till doomsday,
and I will never pick them up,' The old man having won money from
the other--about one hundred dollars--took it out of his pocket, and
handing it to him said: 'Here, Harry, is your money; take it and
do good with it; I shall with mine.' As the traveler followed them
downstairs, he saw them conversing by the doorway, and overheard
enough to know that the older man was saying something about the song
which the young man had sung. It had, perhaps, been learned at a
mother's knee, or in a Sunday-school, and may have been (indeed it
was), the means of saving these gamblers, and of aiding others through
their influence toward that nobler life which alone is worth the
The old man had come from Westfield, Mass. He died in 1888, at Salem,
Oregon, having spent the last seven years of his life as a Christian
Missionary among the sailors of the Pacific coast. He passed away
rejoicing in the faith that took him
"Nearer the Father's House,
Where many mansions be,
Nearer the great white throne,
Nearer the jasper sea."
The boy, Harry, utterly renounced gambling and kindred vices.
While coming from Bombay to Aden, cholera broke out on the ship and
it was strictly quarantined. It was a ship of grief and terror.
Passengers daily lost loved ones. New victims were stricken every
hour. The slow days dragged away with death unceasingly busy among
them. Burials were constant, and no man knew who would be the next
victim. But Colonel Conwell escaped contagion.
On the trip home, across the Atlantic, the steamer in a fearful gale
was so dismantled as to be helpless. The fires of the engine were out,
and the boat for twenty-six days drifted at the mercy of the waves.
No one, not even the Captain, thought they could escape destruction.
Water-logged and unmanageable, during a second storm it was thought to
be actually sinking. The Captain himself gave up hope, the women grew
hysterical. But in the midst of it all, Colonel Conwell walked the
deck, and to calm the passengers sang "Nearer my God to Thee,"
with such feeling, such calm assurance in a higher power, that the
passengers and Captain once again took courage. But strangest of all,
on this voyage, while sick, he was cared for by the very colored
porter whose life he had saved on the Mississippi steamboat.
BUSY DAYS IN BOSTON
Editor of "Boston Traveller." Free Legal Advice for the Poor.
Temperance Work. Campaign Manager for General Nathaniel P. Banks.
Urged for Consulship at Naples. His Work for the Widows and Orphans of
Returning to Somerville, Mass., the long journey ended, he found the
editorial chair of the "Boston Traveller" awaiting him. He plunged
into work with his characteristic energy. The law, journalism,
writing, lecturing, all claimed his attention. It is almost incredible
how much he crowded into a day. Five o'clock in the morning found him
at work, and midnight struck before he laid aside pen or book. Yet
with all this rush of business, he did not forget those resolves he
had made to lend a helping hand wherever he could to those needing it.
And his own bitter experiences in the hard school of poverty taught
him how sorely at times help is needed. He made his work for others
as much a part of his daily life as his work for himself. It was
an integral part of it. Watching him work, one could hardly have
distinguished when he was occupied with his own affairs, when with
those of the poor. He did not separate the two, label one "charity"
and attend to it in spare moments. One was as important to him as the
other. He kept his law office open at night for those who could not
come during the day and gave counsel and legal advice free to the
poor. Often of an evening he had as many as a half hundred of these
clients, too poor to pay for legal aid, yet sadly needing help to
right their wrongs. So desirous was he of reaching and assisting those
suffering from injustice, yet without money to pay for the help they
needed, that he inserted the following notice in the Boston papers:
"Any deserving poor person wishing legal advice or assistance will be
given the same free of charge any evening except Sunday, at No. 10
Rialto Building, Devonshire Street. None of these cases will be taken
into the courts for pay."
These cases he prepared as attentively and took into court with as
eager determination to win, as those for which he received large fees.
Of course such a proceeding laid him open to much envious criticism.
Lawyers who had no such humanitarian view of life, no such earnest,
sincere desire to lighten the load of poverty resting so heavily on
the shoulders of many, said it was unprofessional, sensational, a "bid
for popularity." Those whom he helped knew these insinuations to be
untrue. His sympathy was too sincere, the assistance too gladly
given. But misunderstood or not, he persevered. The wrongs of many an
ignorant working man suffering through the greed of those over him,
were righted. Those who robbed the poor under various guises were made
to feel the hand of the law. And for none of these cases did he ever
take a cent of pay.
Another class of clients who brought him much work but no profit were
the widows and orphans of soldiers seeking aid to get pensions. To
such he never turned a deaf ear, no matter the multitude of duties
that pressed. He charged no fee, even when to win the case, he was
compelled to go to Washington. Nor would he give it up, no matter what
work it entailed until the final verdict was given. His partners say
he never lost a pension case, nor ever made a cent by one.
An unwritten law in the office was that neither he nor his partners
should ever accept a case if their client were in the wrong, or
guilty. But this very fact made wrongdoers the more anxious to secure
him, knowing it would create the impression at once that they were
A story which went the rounds of legal circles in Boston and finally
was published in the "Boston Sunday Times," shows how he was cleverly
fooled by a pick-pocket The man charged with the crime came to Colonel
Conwell to get him to take the case. So well did he play the part of
injured innocence that Colonel Conwell was completely deceived and
threw himself heart and soul into the work of clearing him. When the
case came up for trial, the lawyer and client sat near together in the
court room, and Colonel Conwell made such an earnest and forceful plea
in behalf of the innocent young man and the harm already done him by
having such a charge laid at his door that it was at once agreed the
case should be dismissed, by the District Attorney's consent. So
lawyer and client walked out of court together, happy and triumphant,
to Colonel Conwell's office, where the pick-pocket paid Colonel
Conwell his fee out of the lawyer's own pocketbook which he had deftly
abstracted during the course of the trial.
The incident caused much amusement at the time, and it was a long
while before Colonel Conwell heard the last of it.
Into work for temperance he went heart and soul, not only in speech
but in deed. Though he never drank intoxicating liquor himself, he
could never see a man under its baneful influence but that heart and
hand went out to help him. Many a reeling drunkard he took to his
Somerville home, nursed all night, and in the morning endeavored with
all his eloquence to awaken in him a desire to live a different life.
Deserted wives and children of drunkards came to him for aid, and many
of the free law cases were for those wronged through the curse of
Friend always of the workingman, he was persistently urged by their
party to accept a nomination for Congress. But he as persistently
refused. But he worked hard in politics for others. He managed one
campaign in which General Nathaniel P. Banks was running on an
independent ticket, and elected him by a large majority. His name
was urged by Senators Charles Sumner and Henry Wilson for the United
States Consulship at Naples, the lectures he had given at Cambridge,
England, on Italian history having attracted so much favorable comment
by the deep research they showed, and the keen appreciation of Italian
character. He was considered an expert in contested election cases and
he frequently appeared before the Legislature on behalf of cities and
towns on matters over which it had jurisdiction.
Mr. Higgins, who knew him personally, writing of these busy days in
"Scaling the Eagle's Nest," says:
"He prepared and presented many bills to Congressional Committees at
Washington, and appeared as counsel in several Louisiana and Florida
election eases. His arguments before the Supreme Courts in several
important patent cases were reported to the country by the Associated
Press. He had at one time considerable influence with the President
and Senators in political appointments, and some of the best men still
in government office in this State (Massachusetts) and in other
New England States, say they owe their appointment to his active
friendship in visiting Washington in their behalf. But it does not
appear that through all these years of work and political influence he
ever asked for an appointment for himself."
Catholics, Jews, Protestants and non-sectarian charities sought his
aid in legal matters, and so broad was his love for humanity that all
found in him a ready helper. At one time he was guardian of more than
sixty orphan children, three in particular who were very destitute,
were through his intercession with a relative, left a fortune of
$50,000. Yet despite all these activities, he found time to lecture,
to write boots, to master five languages, using his spare minutes on
the train to and from his place of business for their study. In 1872
he made another trip abroad. Speaking of him at this time, a writer in
the London Times says:
"Colonel Conwell is one of the most noteworthy men of New England. He
has already been in all parts of the world. He is a writer of singular
brilliancy and power, and as a popular lecturer his success has been
astonishing. He has made a place beside such orators as Beecher,
Phillips and Chapin."
Thus the busy years slipped by, years that brought him close to the
great throbbing heart of humanity, the sorrows and sufferings of the
poor, the aspirations and ambitions of the rich, years in which he
looked with deep insight into human nature, and, illumined by his love
for humanify, saw that an abiding faith in God, the joy of knowing
Christ's love was the balm needed to heal aching hearts, drive evil
out of men's lives, wretchedness and misery from many a home. More and
more was he convinced that to make the world better, humanity happier,
the regenerating, uplifting power of the spirit of God ought to be
brought into the daily lives of the people, in simple sincerity,
without formalism, yet as vital, as cherished, as freely recognized a
part of their lives as the ties of family affection which bound them
Death of Wife. Loss of Money. Preaching on Wharves. Growth of Sunday
School Class at Tremont Temple from Four to Six Hundred Members in a
Brief Time. Second Marriage. Death of Father and Mother. Preaching at
Lexington. Building Lexington Baptist Church.
Into this whirl of successful, happy work, the comforts and luxuries
of prosperity, came the grim hand of death. His loving wife who had
worked so cheerfully by his side, who had braved disaster, bitter
poverty, hardship, with a smile, died of heart trouble after a few
days' illness, January 11, 1872. It was like a thunderbolt from a
cloudless sky. In the loneliness and despair that followed, worldly
ambitions turned to dust and ashes. He could not lecture. He could not
speak. The desolation at his heart was too great. His only consolation
was the faith that was in him, a "very present help," as he found, "in
time of trouble." This bitter trial brought home to him all the more
intensely the need of such comfort for those who were comfortless. His
heart went out in burning sympathy for those sitting in darkness like
himself, but who had no faith on which to lean, nothing to bring
healing and hope to a broken heart. Her death was a loss to the
community as well as to her family. Her writings in the "Somerville
Journal" had made a decided impression, while her sweet womanly
qualities had endeared her to a wide circle of friends. Noting her
death, a writer in one of the Boston papers said:
"Mrs. Conwell was a true and loving wife and mother. Kind and
sympathetic in her intercourse with all, and possessed of those rare
womanly graces and qualities which endeared her to those with whom she
was acquainted. Her death leaves a void which cannot be filled even
outside her own household. Her writings were those of a true woman,
always healthful in their tone, strong and vigorous in ideas and
concise in language."
Other troubles came thick and fast. He lost at one time fifty thousand
dollars in the panic of '74, and at another ten thousand dollars by
endorsing for a friend. His old acquaintance, poverty, again took up
its abode with him. In addition, he was heavily in debt. Those were
black days, days that taught him how unstable were the things of this
world--money, position, the ambitions that once had seemed so worthy.
The only thing that brought a sense of satisfaction, of having done
something worth while, was the endeavor to make others happier, to put
joy into lives as desolate as his own. Such work brought peace.
To forget his own troubles in lightening those of others, he went
actively into religious work. He took a class in the Sunday School of
Tremont Temple, that very Sunday School into which Deacon Chipman had
taken him a runaway boy some twenty years before. The class grew from
four to six hundred in a few months. He preached to sailors on the
wharves, to idlers on the streets, in mission chapels at night. The
present West Somerville, Massachusetts, church grew from just such
work. He could not but see the fruits of his labors. On all sides it
grew to a quick harvest.
The thought that he was thus influencing others for good, that he
was leading men and women into paths of sure happiness brought him
a spiritual calm and peace such as the gratification of worldly
ambitions had never given him. More and more he became convinced it
was the only work worth doing. The strong love for his fellowmen, the
desire to help those in need and to make them happier which had always
been such a pronounced characteristic, had set him more than once
to thinking of the ministry as a life work. Indeed, ever since that
childish sermon, with the big gray rock as a pulpit, it had been in
his mind, sometimes dormant, breaking out again into strong feeling
when for a moment he stood on some hilltop of life and took in its
fullest, grandest meaning, or in the dark valley of suffering and
sorrow held close communion with God and saw the beauty of serving Him
by serving his fellowmen. That the inclination was with him is shown
by the fact that when he was admitted to the bar in Albany in 1865, he
had a Greek Testament in his pocket.
As soon as his means permitted after the war, he gathered a valuable
theological library, sending to Germany for a number of the books. In
1875, when he was admitted to practice in the Supreme Court of the
United States, he delivered an address that same evening in Washington
on the "Curriculum of the School of the Prophets in Ancient Israel."
From all parts of the Old World he gathered photographs of ancient
manuscripts and sacred places, and kept up a correspondence with many
professors and explorers interested in these topics. He lectured in
schools and colleges on archaeological subjects, with illustrations
prepared by himself.
It is not to be wondered that with his keen mind and his gift of
oratory the law tempted him at first to turn aside from the promptings
of the inner spirit. Nor is it to be wondered that even when
inclination led strongly he still hesitated. It was no light thing for
a man past thirty to throw aside a profession in which he had already
made an enviable reputation and take up a new lifework. With two small
children depending upon him, it was a question for still more serious
But gradually circumstances shaped his course. In 1874, he married
Miss Sarah F. Sanborn whom he had met in his mission work. She was of
a wealthy family of Newton Centre, the seat of the Newton Theological
Seminary. One of the intimate friends of the family was the Rev. Alvah
Hovey, D.D., President of the Seminary. Thus while inclination pulled
one way and common sense pulled the other, adding as a final argument
that he had no opportunity to study for the ministry, he was thrown
among the very people who made it difficult not to study theology.
Troubled in mind he sought Dr. Hovey one day and asked how to decide
if "called to the ministry." "If people are called to hear you," was
the quick-witted, practical reply of the good doctor. But still he
hesitated. His law practice, writing, lecturing, claimed part of him;
his Sunday School work and lay preaching, a second and evergrowing
stronger part. His law practice became more and more distasteful, his
service to the soul needs of others, more and more satisfying.
[Illustration: MRS. SARAH F. CONWELL]
In 1874 his father died, and in 1877 he lost his mother, these sad
bereavements still further inclining his heart to the work of the
ministry. They were buried at South Worthington, in a sunny hilltop
cemetery, open to the sky, the voice of a little brook coming softly
up from among the trees below. This visit to his old home under such
sad circumstances, the memory of his father's and mother's prayers
that the world might not be the worse, but that it might be the better
for his having lived in it, deepened the growing conviction that he
should give his life to the work of Christ.
At last came the deciding event. In 1879, a young woman visited
Colonel Conwell, the lawyer, and asked his advice respecting the
disposition of a Baptist Meeting House in Lexington. He went to
Lexington and called a meeting of the members of the old church,
for the purpose of securing legal action on the part of that body
preparatory to selling the property. He got some three or four old
Baptists together and, as they talked the business over, "they became
reluctant to vote, either to sell, destroy, keep, or give away the
old meeting-house," says Burdette, in "Temple and Templars." "While
discussing the situation with these sorrowful old saints--and one good
old deacon wept to think that 'Zion had gone into captivity,'--the
preacher came to the front and displaced the lawyer. It was the crisis
in his life; the parting of the ways. In a flash of light the decision
was made. 'It flashed upon me, sitting there as a lawyer, that there
was a mission for me there,' Dr. Conwell has often said, in speaking
of his decision to go into the ministry. He advised promptly and
strongly against selling the property. 'Keep it; hold service in it;
repair the altar of the Lord that is broken down; go to work; get
God to work for you, and work with Him; 'God will turn again your
captivity, your months shall be filled with laughter and your tongues
with singing." They listened to this enthusiastic lawyer whom they had
retained as a legal adviser, in dumb amazement 'Is Saul also among the
prophets?' But having given his advice, he was prompt to act upon it
himself. 'Where will we get a preacher?' 'Here is one who will serve
you until you can get one whom you will like better, and who can
do you more good. Announce preaching in the old meeting house next
"It was nothing new for Colonel Conwell to preach, for he was engaged
in mission work somewhere every Sunday; so when the day came, he was
there. Less than a score of hearers sat in the moldy old pews. The
windows were broken and but illy repaired by the curtaining cobwebs.
The hand of time and decay had torn off the ceiling plaster in
irregular and angular patches. The old stove had rusted out at the
back, and the crumbling stove-pipe was a menace to those who sat
within range of its fall. The pulpit was what Mr. Conwell called a
'crow's perch,' and one can imagine the platform creaking under the
military tread of the tall lawyer who stepped into its lofty height to
preach. But, old though it was, they say, a cold, gloomy, damp, dingy
old box, it was a meeting house and the Colonel preached in it. That a
lawyer should practice, was a commonplace, everyday truth; but that a
lawyer should preach--that was indeed a novelty. The congregation of
sixteen or seventeen at the first service grew the following Sabbath,
to forty worshippers. Another week, and when the new preacher climbed
into that high pulpit, he looked down upon a crowded house; the little
old chapel was dangerously full. Indeed, before the hour for service,
under the thronging feet of the gathering congregation, one side of
the front steps--astonished, no doubt, and overwhelmed by the unwonted
demand upon its services--did fall down. They were encouraged to
build a fire in the ancient stove that morning, but it was past
regeneration; it smoked so viciously that all the invalids who had
come to the meeting were smoked out. The old stove had lived its
day and was needed no longer. There was a fire burning in the old
meeting-house that the hand of man had not lighted and could not
kindle; that all the storms of the winter could not quench. The pulpit
and the preacher had a misty look in the eyes of the old deacons at
that service. And the preacher? He looked into the earnest faces
before him, into the tearful, hopeful eyes, and said in his own strong
heart, 'These people are hungry for the word of God, for the teachings
of Christ. They need a church here; we will build a new one.'
"It was one thing to say it, another to achieve it. The church
was poor. Not a dollar was in the treasury, not a rich man in the
membership, the congregation, what there was of it, without influence
in the community. But lack of money never yet daunted Dr. Conwell. The
situation had a familiar look to him. He had succeeded many a time
without money when money was the supreme need, and he attacked this
problem with the same grim perseverance that had carried him so
successfully through many a similar ordeal."
"After service he spoke about building a new church to two or three of
the members. 'A new church?' They couldn't raise enough money to put
windows in the old one, they told him."
"'We don't want new windows, we want a new church,' was the reply."
"They shook their heads and went home, thinking what a pity it was
that such an able lawyer should be so visionary in practical church
affairs. Part of that night Colonel Conwell spent in prayer; early
next morning he appeared with a pick-axe and a woodman's axe and
marched upon that devoted old meeting-house, as he had marched against
Hood's intrenchments before Atlanta. Strange, unwonted sounds saluted
the ears of the early risers and awakened the sluggards in Lexington
that Monday morning. Bang, Bang, Bang! Crash--Bang! Travelers over the
Revolutionary battlefield at Lexington listened and wondered. By and
by a man turned out of his way to ascertain the cause of the
racket. There was a black coat and vest hanging on the fence, and
a professional-looking man in his shirt sleeves was smashing the
meeting-house. The rickety old steps were gone by the time this man,
with open eyes and wide-open month, came to stare in speechless
amazement. Gideon couldn't have demolished 'the altar of Baal and the
grove that was by it' with more enthusiastic energy, than did this
preacher tumble into ruin his own meeting-house, wherein he had
preached not twelve hours before. Other men came, looked, laughed,
and passed by. But the builder had no time to waste on idle gossips.
Clouds of dust hovered about him, planks, boards, and timbers came
tumbling down in heaps of ruin."
"Presently there came along an eminently respectable citizen, who
seldom went to church. He stared a moment, and said, 'What in the name
of goodness are you doing here?'"
"'We are going to have a new meeting-house here,' was the reply, as
the pick-axe tore away the side of a window-frame for emphasis."
"The neighbor laughed, 'I guess you won't build it with that axe,' he
"'I confess I don't know just exactly how it is going to be done,'
said the preacher, as he hewed away at a piece of studding, 'but in
some way it is going to be done.'"
"The doubter burst into an explosion of derisive laughter and walked
away. A few paces, and he came back; walking up to Colonel Conwell he
seized the axe and said, 'See here, Preacher, this is not the kind of
work for a parson or a lawyer. If you are determined to tear this old
building down, hire some one to do it. It doesn't look right for you
to be lifting and pulling here in this manner.'"
"'We have no money to hire any one,' was the reply, 'and the front of
this structure must give way to-day, if I have to tear it down all
"'I'll tell you what I'll do,' persisted the wavering doubter; 'if you
will let this alone, I'll give you one hundred dollars to hire some
"Colonel Conwell tranquilly poked the axe through.' the few remaining
panes yet unbroken in the nearest window and replied, 'We would like
the money, and I will take it to hire some one to help, but I shall
keep right on with the work myself.'"
"'All right,' said the doubter; 'go ahead, if you have set your heart
upon it. You may come up to the house for the hundred dollars any time
"And with many a backward look the generous doubter passed on, half
beginning to doubt his doubts. Evidently, the Baptists of Lexington
were beginning to do something. It had been many a year since they had
made such a noise as that in the village. And it was a noise destined
to be heard a long, long way; much farther than the doubter and a
great many able scientists have supposed that sound would 'carry.'"
"After the doubter came a good-natured man who disliked churches in
general, and therefore enjoyed the fun of seeing a preacher tug and
puff in the heavy work of demolition, for the many-tongued rumor by
this time had noised it all around Lexington that the new preacher was
tearing down the Baptist meeting-house. He looked on until he could no
longer keep his enjoyment to himself."
"'Going to pull the whole thing down, are you?' he asked."
"'Yes, sir,' replied the working preacher, ripping off a strip of
siding, 'and begin all new.'"
"'Who is going to pay the bills?' he asked, chuckling."
"The preacher tucked up his sleeves and stepped back to get a good
swing at an obstinate brace; 'I don't know,' he said, 'but the Lord
has money somewhere to buy and pay for all we need.'"
"The man laughed, in intense enjoyment of the absurdity of the whole
"'I'll bet five dollars to one,' he said, with easy confidence of a
man who knows his bet will not be taken up, 'that you won't get the
money in this town.'"
"Mr. Conwell brought the axe down with a crashing sweep, and the
splinters flew out into the air like a cloud of witnesses to the
efficacy of the blow."
"'You would lose your money, then,' quietly said the preacher, 'for
Mr.---- just now came along and has given me a hundred dollars without
"The man's eyes opened a trifle wider, and his next remark faded into
a long-drawn whistle of astonishment. Presently--'Did you get the
cash?' he asked feebly."
"'No, but he told me to call for it to-day.'"
"The man considered. He wasn't enjoying the situation with quite so
much humor as he had been, but he was growing more interested."
"'Well! Is that so! I don't believe he meant it,' he added hopefully.
Then, a man after all not disposed to go back on his own assertion, he
said, 'Now I'll tell you what I'll do. If you really get that hundred
dollars out of that man, I'll give you another hundred and pay it
"And he was as good as his word."
"All that day the preacher worked alone. Now came in the training of
those early days on the farm, when he learned to swing an axe; when he
builded up rugged strength in a stalwart frame, when his muscles were
hardened and knotted with toil."
"'Passers-by called one after another, to ask what was going on. To
each one Colonel Conwell mentioned his hope and mentioned his gifts.
Nearly every one had added something without being asked, and at six
o'clock, when Colonel Conwell laid down the pick and axe at the end of
his day's work, he was promised more than half the money necessary to
tear down the old meeting-house and build a new one."
"But Colonel Conwell did not leave the work. With shovel, or hammer,
or saw, or paint-brush, he worked day by day all that summer alongside
the workmen. He was architect, mason, carpenter, painter, and
upholsterer, and he directed every detail, from the cellar to the
gilded vane, and worked early and late. The money came without asking
as fast as needed. The young people who began to flock about the
faith-worker undertook to purchase a large bell, and quietly had
Colonel Conwell's name cast on the exterior, but when it came to the
difficult task of hanging it in the tower, they were obliged to call
Colonel Conwell to come and superintend the management of ropes and
pulleys. Then the deep, rich tones of the bell rang out over the
surprised old town the triumph of faith.' An unordained preacher, he
had entered upon his first pastorate, and signalized his entrance upon
his ministry by building a new meeting-house, awakening a sleeping
church, inspiring his congregation with his own enthusiasm and zeal."
At last he had found his work. With peace and deep abiding joy he
entered it. Doubts no longer troubled him. His heart was at rest.
"Blessed is he who has found his work," writes Carlyle; "let him ask
no other blessedness."
HIS ENTRY INTO THE MINISTRY
Ordination. First Charge at Lexington. Call to Grace Baptist Church,
For this work he had been trained in the world's bitter school of
experience. He had learned lessons there of infinitely more value in
helping humanity than any the theological seminary could teach him. He
knew what it was to be poor, to be utterly cast down and discouraged,
to be sick and suffering, to sit in the blackness of despair for the
loss of loved ones. From almost every human experience he could reach
the hand of sympathy and say, "I know. I have suffered." Such help
touches the heart of humanity as none other can. And when at the same
time, it points the way to the Great Comforter and says again, "I
know, I found peace," it is more powerful than the most eloquent
sermon. Nothing goes so convincingly to a man's heart as loving,
sympathetic guidance from one who has been through the same bitter
He was ordained in the year 1879, the council of churches, called for
his ordination, met in Lexington, President Alvah Hovey of Newton
Seminary presiding. Among the members of the council was his life-long
friend, George W. Chipman, of Boston, the same good deacon who had
taken him a runaway boy into the Sunday School of Tremont Temple.
The only objection to the ordination was made by one of the pastors
present, who said, "Good lawyers are too scarce to be spoiled by
making ministers of them."
The ordination over, the large law offices in Boston were closed. He
gave his undivided time and attention to his work in Lexington. The
lawyer, speaker and writer ceased to exist, but the pastor was found
wherever the poor needed help, the sick and suffering needed cheer,
the mourning needed comfort, wherever he could by word or act preach
the gospel of the Christ he served.
His whole thought was concentrated in the purpose to do good. No one
who knew him intimately could doubt his entire renunciation of worldly
ambitions, the sacrifice was so great, yet so unhesitatingly made.
Buried from the world in one way, he yet lived in it in a better way.
Large numbers of his former legal, political and social associates
called his action fanaticism. Wendell Phillips, meeting Colonel
Conwell and several friends on the way to church, one Sunday morning,
remarked that "Olympus has gone to Delphi, and Jove has descended to
be an interpreter of oracles."
His salary at the start was six hundred dollars a year, little more
than ten dollars a week. But it was enough to live on in a little New
England village and what more did he need? The contrast between it
and the ten thousand dollars a year he had made from his law practice
alone, never troubled him.
[Illustration: THE BAPTIST TEMPLE]
The church was crowded from the first and the membership grew rapidly.
His influence quickly spread to other than church circles. The town
itself soon felt the effect of his progressive, energetic spirit. It
awoke to new life. Other suburban villages were striding forward into
cities and leaving this old Battlefield of the Revolution sleeping
under its majestic elms. Mr. Conwell sounded the trumpet. Progress,
enterprise, life followed his eloquent encouragement. Strangers
were welcomed to the town. Its unusual beauty became a topic of
conversation. The railroad managers heard of its attractiveness and
opened its gates with better accommodations for travelers.
The governor of the state (Hon. John D. Long) visited the place on Mr.
Conwell's invitation, and large business enterprises were started and
strongly supported by the townspeople. From the date of Mr. Conwell's
settlement as pastor, the town took on a new lease of life. He showed
them what could be done and encouraged them to do it.
One of the town officers writing of that time, says: "Lexington can
never forget the benefit Mr. Conwell conferred during his stay in the
Then all unknown to Mr. Conwell, a man came up to Lexington one Sunday
in 1882, from Philadelphia, and heard him preach in the little stone
church under the stately New England elms. It was Deacon Alexander
Reed of the Grace Baptist Church of Philadelphia, and as a result of
his visit, Mr. Conwell received a call from this church to be its
pastor. It was like the call from Macedonia to "come over and help
us." For the church was heavily in debt, and one of the arguments
Deacon Reed used in urging Mr. Conwell to accept was that he "could
save the church." He could have used no better argument. It was the
call to touch Mr. Conwell's heart. A small church, and struggling
against poverty; a people eager to work, but needing a leader. No
message could have more surely touched that heart eager to help
others, to bring brightness, joy and higher aspirations into troubled
lives. It was a wrench to leave Lexington, the church and the people
who had grown so dear to him. But the harvest called. There was need
of reapers and he must go.
GOING TO PHILADELPHIA
The Early History of Grace Baptist Church. The Beginning of the Sunday
Breakfast Association. Impressions of a Sunday Service.
The church to which Mr. Conwell came and from which has grown the
largest Baptist church in the country, and which was the first
institutional church in America, had its beginning in a tent. In 1870
a little mission was started in a hall at Twelfth and Montgomery
Avenue by members of the Young Men's Association of the Tenth Baptist
Church. The committee in charge was Alexander Reed, Henry C. Singley,
Fred B. Gruel and John Stoddart. A Sunday School was started and
religious services held Thursday evenings and Sunday afternoons. The
little mission flourished, and within a year it was deemed advisable
to put some one in charge who could give it his full time. The Rev.
L.B. Hartman was called and the work went forward with increasing
prosperity. He visited the families in the neighborhood, interested
the children in the Sunday School, held two preaching services every
Sunday and usually two prayer meetings during the week. In 1872,
evangelistic services were held which resulted in a number of
conversions. The need now became so imperative for a recognized
church, that on Feb. 12, 1872, one was formally organized with
forty-seven members, L.B. Hartman pastor, and John A. Stoddart, Henry
O. Singley and G.G. Mayhew, deacons. The membership still increased
rapidly, the little hall was crowded to discomfort, and it was decided
to take a definite step toward securing a church building of their
own. A lot was purchased at Berks and Mervine for $7,500, a tent with
a seating capacity of 500 erected, and Grace Baptist Church had its
first home. The opening services of the tent were memorable for many
After addresses had been made by Drs. Malcolm, Peddie, Rowland and
Wayland, an effort was made to raise the twelve hundred dollars due on
the tent. A wealthy layman, Mr. William Bucknell, offered to pay the
twelve hundred dollars provided the members of Grace Baptist Church
should henceforth abstain from the use of tobacco. The alert chairman
said, "All who are in sympathy with Brother Bucknell's proposition,
please rise." The entire audience arose. Mr. Bucknell made out his
check next morning for twelve hundred dollars.
In 1874, the tent was moved to a neighboring lot, where it was used as
a mission. Homeless wanderers were taken in, fed and pointed the
way to a different and better life. From this work grew the Sunday
Breakfast Association of Philadelphia.
A contract was made for a new church building, and in 1875 Grace
Church moved into the basement of the new building at Berks and
Mervine Streets. But dark days came. The financial burden became
excessive. Judgment bonds were entered against the building, the
sheriff was compelled to perform his unpleasant duty, and the property
was advertised for sale. A council of Baptist churches was called to
determine what should be done.
The sheriff was persuaded to wait. The members renewed their exertions
and once more the church got on its financial feet sufficiently to
meet current financial expenses. The plucky fight knit them together
in strong bonds of good fellowship. It strengthened their faith, gave
them courage to go forward, and taught them the joy of working in
such a cause. And while they were struggling with poverty and looking
disaster often in the face, up in Massachusetts, the man who was to
lead this chosen people into a new land of usefulness, was himself
fighting that battle as to whether he should hearken to the voice of
the Spirit that was calling him to a new work. But finally he left all
to follow Him, and when this church, going down under its flood of
debt, sent out a cry for help, he heard it and came. To his friends in
Massachusetts it seemed as if he were again throwing himself away. To
leave his church in Lexington on the threshold of prosperity, for a
charge little more than a mission, with only twenty-seven present to
vote on calling him, seemed the height of folly. But he considered
none of these things. He thought only of their need.
On Thanksgiving Day, 1882, he came. The outer walls of the small
church were up, the roof on, but the upper part was unfinished,
the worshippers meeting in the basement And over it hung a debt of
$15,000. But the plucky band of workers, full of the spirit that
makes all things possible, had found a leader. Both had fought bitter
fights, had endured hardships and privations, had often nothing but
faith to lean on, and pastor and people went forward to the great work
Out of his love of God, his great love of humanity, his desire to
uplift, to make men better and happier, out from his own varied
experiences that had touched the deeps of sorrow and seen life over
all the globe, came words that gripped men's hearts, came sermons that
packed the church to the doors.
It was not many months before his preaching began to bear fruits. Not
only was the neighborhood stirred, but people from all parts of the
city thronged to hear him.
In less than a year, though the seating capacity of the church was
increased to twelve hundred, crowds stood all through the service. It
became necessary to admit the members by tickets at the rear, it being
almost impossible for them to get through the throngs of strangers at
the front. Upon request, these cards of admission were sent to those
wishing them, a proceeding that led to much misunderstanding among
those who did not know their purpose nor the reason for their use. But
it was the only way that strangers in the city or those wishing to
attend a special service could be sure of ever getting into the
A Methodist minister of Albany gives a description in "Scaling the
Eagle's Nest," of his attendance at a service that pictures most
graphically the situation:
"I arrived at the church a full hour before the evening service. There
was a big crowd at the front door. There was another crowd at the side
entrance. I did not know how to get a ticket, for I did not know, till
I heard it in the jam, that I must have one. Two young people, who
like many got tired of waiting, gave me their tickets, and I pushed
ahead. I was determined to see how the thing was done. I was
dreadfully squeezed, but I got in at the back entrance and stood in
the rear of the pretty church. All the camp chairs were already taken.
Also all extra seats. The church was rather fancifully frescoed. But
it is an architectural gem. It is half amphitheatrical in style. It is
longer than it is wide, and the choir gallery and organ are over the
preacher's head. It looks underneath like an old-fashioned sounding
board. But it is neat and pretty. The carpet and cushions are bright
red. The windows are full of mottoes and designs. But in the evening
under the brilliant lights the figures could not be made out.
"There was an unusual spirit of homeness about the place, such as I
never felt in a church before. I was not alone in feeling it. The
moment I stood in the audience room, an agreeable sense of rest and
pleasure came over me. Everyone else appeared to feel the same. There
was none of the stiff restraint most churches have. All moved about
and greeted each other with an ease that was pleasant indeed. I saw
some people abusing the liberty of the place by whispering, even
during the sermon. They may have been strangers. They evidently
belonged to the lower classes. But it was a curiosity to notice
the liberty every one took at pauses in the service, and the close
attention there was when the reading or speaking began.
"All the people sang. I think the great preacher has a strong liking
for the old hymns. Of course I noticed his selection of Wesley's
favorite. A little boy in front of me stood upon the pew when the
congregation rose. He piped out in song with all his power. It was
like a spring canary. It was difficult to tell whether the strong
voice of the preacher, or the chorus choir, led most in the singing. A
well-dressed lady near me said 'Good evening,' most cheerfully, as a
polite usher showed me into the pew. They say that all the members do
that. It made me feel welcome. She also gave me a hymn-book. I saw
others being greeted the same. How it did help me praise the Lord! At
home with the people of God! That is just how I felt. I was greatly
disappointed in the preacher. Agreeably so, after all. I expected to
see an old man. He did not look over thirty-five. He was awkwardly
tall. I had expected some eccentric and sensational affair. I do not
know just what, but I had been told of many strange things. I think
now it was envious misrepresentation. The whole service was as simple
as simple can be. And it was surely as sincere as it was simple. The
reading of the hymns was so natural and distinct that they had a
now meaning to me. The prayer was very short, and offered in homely
language. In it he paused a moment for silent prayer, and every one
seemed to hold his breath in the deepest, real reverence. It was so
different from my expectations. Then the collection. It was not an
asking for money at all. The preacher put his notice of it the other
way about He said, 'The people who wish to worship God by giving their
offering into the trust of the church could place it in the baskets
which would be passed to any who wanted to give.' The basket that went
down to the altar by me was full of money and envelopes. Yet no one
was asked to give anything. It was all voluntary, and really an
offering to the Lord. I had never seen such a way of doing things in
church collections. I do not know as the minister or church require it
so. The church, was packed in every corner, and people stood in the
aisles. The pulpit platform was crowded so that the preacher had
nothing more than standing room. Some people sat on the floor, and a
crowd of interested boys leaned against the pulpit platform. When the
preacher arose to speak, I expected something strange. It did not seem
possible that such a crowd could gather year after year to listen to
mere plain preaching. For these are degenerate days. The minister
began so familiarly and easily in introducing his text that he was
half through his sermon before I began to realize that he was actually
in his sermon. It was the plainest thing possible. I had often heard
of his eloquence and poetic imagination. But there was little of
either, if we think of the old ideas. There was close continuous
attention. He was surely in earnest, but not a sign of oratorical
display. There were exciting gestures at times, and lofty periods.
But it was all so natural. At one point the whole audience burst into
laughter at a comic turn in an illustration, but the preacher went on
unconscious of it. It detracted nothing from the solemn theme. It was
what the 'Chautauqua Herald' last year called a 'Conwellian evening.'
It was unlike anything I ever saw or heard. Yet it was good to be
there. The sermon was crowded with illustrations, and was evidently
unstudied. They say he never takes time from his many cares to write a
sermon. That one was surely spontaneous. But it inspired the audience
to better lives and a higher faith. When he suddenly stopped and
quickly seized a hymn-book, the audience drew a long sigh. At once
people moved about again and looked at each other and smiled. The
whole congregation were at one with the preacher. There was a low hum
of whispering voices. But all was attention again when the hymn was
read. Then the glorious song. One of the finest organists in the
country, a blind gentleman by the name of Wood, was the power behind
the throne. The organ did praise God. Every one was carried on in a
flood of praise. It was rich. The benediction was a continuation of
the sermon and a closing prayer, all in a single sentence. I have
never heard one so unique. It fastened the evening's lesson. It was
not formal. The benediction was a blessing indeed. It broke every rule
of church form. It was a charming close, however. No one else but
Conwell could do it. Probably no one will try. Instantly at the close
of the service, all the people turned to each other and shook hands.
They entered into familiar conversation. Many spoke to me and invited
me to come again. There was no restraint. All was homelike and happy.
It was blessed to be there."
FIRST DAYS AT GRACE BAPTIST CHURCH
Early plans for Church Efficiency. Practical Methods for Church Work.
The Growing Membership. Need of a New Building.
The preaching filled the church. Men and women felt that to miss a
sermon was to miss inspiration and strength for the coming week's
work, a broader outlook on life, a deeper hold on spiritual truths.
But it was more than the sermons that carried the church work forward
by leaps and bounds, added hundreds to its membership, made it a power
for good in the neighborhood that gradually began to be felt all over
The spirit of the sermons took practical form. Mr. Conwell followed no
traditions or conventions in his church work. He studied the needs of
the neighborhood and the hour. Then he went to work with practical,
common sense to meet them. First he determined the church should be
a home, a church home, but nevertheless a home in its true sense,
overflowing with love, with kindness, with hospitality for the
stranger within its gates. Committees were formed to make strangers
welcome, to greet them cordially, find them a seat if possible, see
that they had hymn books, and invite them heartily to come again. And
every member felt he belonged to this committee even if not actually
appointed on it, and made the stranger who might sit near him feel
that he was a welcome guest. When the church became more crowded,
members gave up their seats to strangers and sat on the pulpit, and it
was no unusual sight in the church at Berks and Mervine streets to see
the pulpit, as well as every other inch of space in the auditorium,
crowded. Finally, when even this did not give room enough to
accommodate all who thronged its doors, members took turns in staying
away from certain services. No one who has not enjoyed the spiritual
uplift, the good fellowship of a Grace Church service can appreciate
what a genuine personal sacrifice that was.
After the service, Mr. Conwell stationed himself at the door and shook
hands with all as they left, adding some little remark to show his
personal interest in their welfare if they were members, or a cordial
invitation to come again, if a stranger. The remembrance of that
hearty handclasp, that frank, friendly interest, lingered and stamped
with a personal flavor upon the hearer's heart, the truths of
Christianity that had been preached in such simple, clear, yet
forcible fashion from the pulpit.
Another of Mr. Conwell's methods for carrying out practical
Christianity was to set every body at work. Every single member of the
church was given something to do. As soon as a person was received
into the membership, he was invited to join some one or other of the
church organizations. He was placed on some committee. In such
an atmosphere of activity there was no one who did not catch the
enthusiasm and feel that being a Christian meant much more than
attending church on Sundays, putting contributions in the box, and
listening to the minister preach. It was a veritable hive of applied
Christianity, and many a man who hitherto thought he had done his full
duty by attending church regularly and contributing to its support had
these ideas, so comfortable and self-satisfied, completely shattered.
The membership was composed almost entirely of working people, men and
women who toiled hard for their daily bread. There were no wealthy
people to help the work by contributions of thousands of dollars. The
beginnings of all the undertakings were small and unpretentious. But
nothing was undertaken until the need of it was felt; then the people
as a whole put their shoulders to the wheel and it went with a will.
And because it practically filled a need, it was a success.
The pastor was the most untiring worker of all. With ceaseless energy
and unfailing tact, he was the head and heart of every undertaking.
Day and night he ministered to the needs of his membership and the
community. To the bedside of the sick he carried cheer that was better
than medicine. In the homes where death had entered, he brought the
comfort of the Holy Spirit. Where disgrace had fallen like a pall, he
went with words of hope and practical advice. Parents sought him to
help lead erring children back from a life of wretchedness and evil.
Wherever sorrow and trouble was in the heart or home he went, his
heart full of sympathy, his hands eager to help.
Much of his time, too, in those early days of his ministry was devoted
to pastoral calls, not the formal ministerial call where the children
tiptoe in, awed and silent, because the "minister is there." Children
hailed his coming with delight, the family greeted him as an old, old
friend before whom all ceremony and convention were swept away. He was
genuinely interested in their family affairs. He entered into their
plans and ambitions, and he never forgot any of their personal history
they might tell him, so that each felt, and truly, that in his pastor
he had a warm and interested friend.
His own simple, informal manner made every one feel instantly at home
with him. He soon became a familiar figure upon the streets in the
neighborhood of his church, for morning, noon and night he was about
his work, cherry, earnest, always the light of his high calling
shining from his face. The people for squares about knew that here was
a man, skilled and practical in the affairs of the world, to whom they
could go for advice, for help, for consolation, sure that they would
have his ready sympathy and the best his big heart and generous hands
Such faithful work of the pastor, such earnest, active work of the
people could not but tell. The family feeling which is the ideal of
church fellowship was so strong and warm that it attracted and drew
people as with magnetic power. The church became more and more
crowded. In less than a year it was impossible to seat those who
thronged to the Sunday services, though the auditorium then had a
seating capacity of twelve hundred.
"I am glad," the pastor once remarked to a friend, "when I get up
Sunday morning and can look out of the window and see it snowing,
sleeting, and raining, and hear the wind shriek and howl. 'There,' I
say, 'I won't have to preach this morning, looking all the while at
people patiently standing through the service, wherever there is a
foot of standing room.'"
[Illustration: THE SAMARITAN HOSPITAL OF THE FUTURE]
The membership rose from two hundred to more than five hundred within
two years. A question began to shape itself in the minds of pastor
and people. "What shall we do?" As a partial solution of it, the
proposition was made to divide into three churches. But, as in the old
days of enlistment when two companies clamored for him for captain,
all three sections wanted him as pastor, and so the idea was
Still the membership grew, and the need for larger quarters faced them
imperatively and not to be evaded. The house next door was purchased
which gave increased space for the work of the Sunday School and the
various associations. But it was a mere drop in the bucket. Every room
in it was filled to overflowing with eager workers before the ink was
fairly dry on the deed of transfer.
Then into this busy crowd wondering what should be done came a little
child, and with one simple act cleared the mist from their eyes and
pointed the way for them to go.
HATTIE WIATT'S LEGACY
How a Little Child Started the Building Fund for the Great Baptist
One Sunday afternoon a little child, Hattie Wiatt, six years old,
came to the church building at Berks and Mervine to attend the Sunday
School. She was a very little girl and it was a very large Sunday
School, but big as it was there was not room to squeeze her in. Other
little girls had been turned away that day, and still others, Sundays
before. But it was a bitter disappointment to this small child; the
little lips trembled, the big tears rolled down her cheeks and the
sobs that came were from the heart. The pastor himself told the little
one why she could not come in and tried to comfort her. His heart was
big enough for her and her trouble if the church was not. He watched
the childish figure going so sadly up the street with a heart that was
heavy that he must turn away a little child from the house of God,
from the house raised in the name of One who said, "Suffer little
children to come unto me."
She did not forget her disappointment as many a child would. It had
been too grievous. It hurt too deeply to think that she could not go
to that Sunday School, and that other little girls who wanted to go
must stay away. With quivering lip she told her mother there wasn't
room for her. With a sad little heart she spent the afternoon thinking
about it, and when bedtime came and she said her prayers, she prayed
with a child's beautiful faith that they would find room for her so
that she might go and learn more about Jesus. Perhaps she had heard
some word dropped about faith and works. Perhaps the childish mind
thought it out for herself. But she arose the next morning with a
strong purpose in her childish soul, a purpose so big in faith, so
firm in determination, it could put many a strong man's efforts to
the blush. "I will save my money," she said to herself, "and build a
bigger Sunday School. Then we can all go."
From her childish treasures she hunted out a little red pocketbook
and in this she put her pennies, one at a time. What temptations that
childish soul struggled with no one may know! How she shut her eyes
and steeled her heart to playthings her friends bought, to the
allurements of the candy shop window! But nothing turned her from
her purpose. Penny by penny the little hoard grew. Day after day the
dimpled fingers counted it and the bright eyes grew brighter as the
sum mounted. That mite cast in by the widow was no purer, greater
offering than these pennies so lovingly and heroically saved by this
But there were only a few weeks of this planning, hoping, saving. The
little Temple builder fell ill. It was a brief illness and then the
grim Reaper knocked at the door of the Wiatt home and the loving,
self-sacrificing spirit was born to the Father's House where there are
many mansions, where there was no lack of room, for the little heart
so eager to learn more of Jesus.
With her dying breath she told her mother of her treasure, told her it
was for Grace Baptist Church to build.
In the little red pocketbook was just fifty-seven cents. That was her
legacy. With swelling heart, the pastor reverently took it; with misty
eyes and broken voice he told his people of the little one's gift.
"And when they heard how God had blessed them with so great an
inheritance, there was silence in the room; the silence of tears and
earnest consecration. The corner stone of the Temple was laid."
BUILDING THE TEMPLE
How the Money was Raised. Walking Clubs. Jug Breaking. The Purchase of
the Lot. Laying the Corner Stone.
Thus was their path pointed out to them and they walked steadily
forward in it from that day.
Plans were made for raising money. The work went forward with a vim,
for ever before each worker was the thought of that tiny girl, the
precious pennies saved one by one by childish self-denial. The child's
faith was equaled by theirs. It was a case of "Come unto me on the
water." They were poor. Nobody could give much. But nobody hesitated.
It was not only a question of giving, even small sums. What was given
must be saved in some way. Few could give outright and not feel it.
Incomes for the most part just covered living expenses, and expenses
must be cut down, if incomes were to be stretched to build a church.
So these practical people put their wits to work to see how money
could be saved. Walking clubs were organized, not for vigorous cross
country tramps in a search for pleasure and health, but with an
earnest determination to save carfare for the building fund. Tired men
with muscles aching from a hard day's work, women weary with a long
day behind the counter or typewriter, cheerfully trudged home and
saved the nickels. Women economized in dress, men who smoked gave it
up. Vacations in the summer were dropped. Even the boys and girls
saved their pennies as little Hattie Wiatt had done, and the money
poured into the treasury in astonishing amounts, considering how small
was each individual gift. All these sacrifices helped to endear the
place to those who wove their hopes and prayers about it.
A fair was given in a large hall in the centre of the city which
brought to the notice of many strangers the vigorous work the church
was doing and netted nearly five thousand dollars toward the building
fund. It was a fair that went with a vim, planned on business lines,
conducted in a practical, sensible fashion.
Another effort that brought splendid results was the giving out of
little earthen jugs in the early summer to be brought to the harvest
home in September with their garnerings. It was a joyous evening when
the jugs were brought in. A supper was given, and while the church
members enjoyed themselves at the tables, the committee sat on the
platform, broke the jugs, counted the money and announced the amount.
The sum total brought joyous smiles to the treasurer's face.
Innumerable entertainments were held in the church and at homes of
the church members. Suppers were given in Fairmount Park during the
summer. Every worthy plan for raising money that clever brains could
devise and willing hands accomplish was used to swell the building
Thus the work went ahead, and in September, 1886, the lot on which
The Temple now stands at Broad and Berks was purchased at a cost of
twenty-five thousand dollars. Thus encouraged with tangible results,
the work for the building fund was pushed, if possible, with even
greater vigor. Ground was broken for The Temple March 27, 1889. The
corner stone was laid July 13, 1890, and on the first of March, 1891,
the house was occupied for worship.
The only large amount received toward the building fund was a gift of
ten thousand dollars on condition that the church be not dedicated
until it was free of debt. In a legal sense, calling a building by the
name of the congregation worshipping in it is a dedication, and so the
building, instead of being called The Grace Baptist Church, was called
the Baptist Temple, a name which will probably cling to it while one
stone stands upon another.
Raising money and erecting a building did not stop the spiritual work
of the church. Rather it increased it. People heard of the church
through the fairs and various other efforts to raise money, came to
the service, perhaps out of curiosity at first, became interested,
their hearts were touched and they joined. Never did its spiritual
light burn more brightly than in these days of hard work and
self-denial. The membership steadily rose, and when Grace Church moved
into its new temple of worship, more than twelve hundred members
answered the muster roll.
OCCUPYING THE TEMPLE
The First Sunday. The Building Itself--Its Seating Capacity,
Furnishing and Lighting. The Lower Temple and its Various Rooms and
Halls. Services Heard by Telephone at the Samaritan Hospital.
That was a great day--the first Sunday in the new Temple. Six years
of labor and love had gone to its building and now they possessed the
"During the opening exercises over nine thousand people were present
at each service," said the "Philadelphia Press" writing of the event.
The throng overflowed into the Lower Temple; into the old church
building. The whole neighborhood was full of the joyful members of
Grace Baptist Church. The very air seemed to thrill with the spirit
of thanksgiving abroad that day. All that Sabbath from sunrise until
close to midnight members thronged the building with prayers of
thankfulness and praise welling up from glad hearts.
Writing from London several years later, Mr. Conwell voiced in words
what had been in his mind when the church was planned:
"I heard a sermon which helped me greatly. It was delivered by an old
preacher, and the subject was, 'This God is our God,' He described the
attributes of God in glory, knowledge, wisdom and love, and compared
Him to the gods the heathen do worship. He then pressed upon us the
message that this glorious God is the Christian's God, and with Him we
cannot want. It did me so much good, and made me long so much for more
of God in all my feelings, actions, and influence. The seats were
hard, and the tack of the pew hard and high, the church dusty and
neglected; yet, in spite of all the discomforts, I was blessed. I
was sorry for the preacher who had to preach against all those
discomforts, and did not wonder at the thin congregation. Oh! it is
all wrong to make it so unnecessarily hard to listen to the gospel.
They ought for Jesus' sake tear out the old benches and put
in comfortable chairs. There was an air about the service of
perfunctoriness and lack of object, which made the service indefinite
and aimless. This is a common fault. We lack an object and do not aim
at anything special in our services. That, too, is all wrong. Each
hymn, each chapter read, each anthem, each prayer, and each sermon
should have a special and appropriate purpose. May the Lord help me,
after my return, to profit by this day's lesson."
No hard benches, no air of cold dreariness marks The Temple. The
exterior is beautiful and graceful in design, the interior cheery and
homelike in furnishing.
The building is of hewn stone, with a frontage on Broad Street of one
hundred and seven feet, a depth on Berks Street of one hundred and
fifty feet, a height of ninety feet. On the front is a beautiful half
rose window of rich stained glass, and on the Berks Street side a
number of smaller memorial windows, each depicting some beautiful
Biblical scene or thought. Above the rose window on the front is a
small iron balcony on which on special occasions, and at midnight on
Christmas, New Year's Eve and Easter, the church orchestra and choir
play sacred melodies and sing hymns, filling the midnight hour with
melody and delighting thousands who gather to hear it.
The auditorium of The Temple has the largest seating capacity among
Protestant church edifices in the United States. Its original seating
capacity according to the architect's plans, was forty-two hundred
opera chairs. But to secure greater comfort and safety only thirty-one
hundred and thirty-five chairs were used.
Under the auditorium and below the level of the street is the part of
the building called the Lower Temple. Here are Sunday School rooms,
with a seating capacity of two thousand. The Sunday School room and
lecture room of the Lower Temple is forty-eight by one hundred and six
feet in dimensions. It also has many beautiful stained-glass windows.
On the platform is a cabinet organ and a grand piano. In the rear of
the lecture room is a dining-room, forty-five by forty-six feet,
with a capacity for seating five hundred people. Folding tables and
hundreds of chairs are stowed away in the store rooms when not in use
in the great dining-room. Opening out of this room are the rooms of
the Board of Trustees, the parlors and reading-rooms of the Young
Men's Association and the Young Women's Association, and the kitchen,
carving-room and cloak-room. Through the kitchen is a passageway to
the engine and boiler rooms. In pantries and cupboards is an outfit
of china and table cutlery sufficient to set a table for five hundred
persons. The kitchen is fully equipped, with two large ranges,
hot-water cylinders, sinks and drainage tanks. In the annex beyond the
kitchen, a separate building contains the boilers and engine room and
the electric-light plants.
The steam-heating of the building is supplied by four one hundred
horse-power boilers. In the engine room are two one hundred and
thirty-five horse-power engines, directly connected with dynamos
having a capacity of twenty-five hundred lights, which are controlled
by a switchboard in this room. The electrician is on duty every day,
giving his entire time to the management of this plant. The building
is also supplied with gas. Directly behind the pulpit is a small
closet containing a friction wheel, by means of which, should the
electric light fail for any reason, every gas jet in The Temple can be
lighted from dome to basement.
For cleaning the church, a vacuum plant has been installed, which
sucks out every particle of dust and dirt. It does the work quickly
and thoroughly, in fact, so thoroughly it is impossible even with the
hardest beating to raise any dust on the covered chairs after they
have been cleaned by this process. Such crowds throng The Temple that
some quick, thorough method of cleaning it became imperative.
Back of the auditorium on the street floor are the business offices of
the church, Mr. Conwell's study, the office of his secretary and of
the associate pastor. All are practically and cheerfully furnished,
fitted with desks, filing cabinets, telephones, speaking tubes,
everything to carry forward the business of the church in a
time-saving, businesslike way.
The acoustics of the great auditorium are perfect. There is no
building on this continent with an equal capacity which enables the
preacher to speak and the hearers to listen with such perfect comfort.
The weakest voice is carried to the farthest auditor. Lecturers who
have tested the acoustic properties of halls in every state in the
Union speak with praise and pleasure of The Temple, which makes the
delivery of an oration to three thousand people as easy, so far as
vocal effort is concerned, as a parlor conversation.
Telephonic communication has recently been installed between the
auditorium and the Samaritan Hospital. Patients in their beds can
hear the sermons preached from The Temple pulpit and the music of the
Compared with other assembly rooms in this country, the auditorium of
The Temple is a model. It seats thirty-one hundred and thirty-five
persons. The American Academy of Music, Philadelphia, seats
twenty-nine hundred; the Academy of Music, Brooklyn, twenty-four
hundred and thirty-three; Academy in New York, twenty-four hundred and
thirty-three; the Grand Opera House, Cincinnati, twenty-two hundred
and fifty; and the Music Hall, Boston, twenty-five hundred and
But greater than the building is the spirit that pervades it. The
moment one enters the vast auditorium with its crimson chairs, its
cheery carpet, its softly tinted walls, one feels at home. Light
filters in through rich windows, in memory of some member gone before,
some class or organization. Back of the pulpit stands the organ, its
rich pipes rising almost to the roof. Everywhere is rich, subdued
coloring, not ostentatious, but cheery, homelike.
Large as is the seating capacity of The Temple, when it was opened it
could not accommodate the crowds that thronged to it. Almost from the
first, overflow meetings were held in the Lower Temple, that none
need be turned away from the House of God. From five hundred to two
thousand people crowded these Sunday evenings in addition to the large
audience in the main auditorium above.
The Temple workers had come to busy days and large opportunities. But
they took them humbly with a full sense of their responsibility, with
prayer in their hearts that they might meet them worthily. Their
leader knew the perils of success and with wise counsel guided them
against its insidious dangers.
"Ah, that is a dangerous hour in the history of men and institutions,"
he said, in a sermon on the "Danger of Success," "when they become too
popular; when a good cause becomes too much admired or adored, so that
the man, or the institution, or the building, or the organization,
receives an idolatrous worship from the community. That is always
a dangerous time. Small men always go down, wrecked by such dizzy
elevation. Whenever a small man is praised, he immediately loses
his balance of mind and ascribes to himself the things which others
foolishly express in flattery. He esteems himself more than he is;
thinking himself to be something, he is consequently nothing. How
dangerous is that point when a man, or a woman, or an enterprise has
become accepted and popular! Then, of all times, should the man or the
society be humble. Then, of all times, should they beware. Then, of
all times, the hosts of Satan are marshaled that by every possible
insidious wile and open warfare they may overcome. The weakest hour in
the history of great enterprises is apt to be when they seem to be,
and their projectors think they are, strongest. Take heed lest ye fall
in the hour of your strength. The most powerful mill stream drives the
wheel most vigorously at the moment before the flood sweeps the mill
to wildest destruction."
Just as plainly and unequivocally did he hold up before them the
purpose of their high calling:
"The mission of the church is to save the souls of men. That is its
true mission. It is the only mission of the church. That should be its
only thought. The moment any church admits a singer that does not sing
to save souls; the moment a church calls a pastor who does not preach
to save souls; the moment a church elects a deacon who does not work
to save souls; the moment a church gives a supper or an entertainment
of any kind not for the purpose of saving souls--it ceases in so much
to be a church and to fulfil the magnificent mission God gave it.
Every concert, every choir service, every preaching service, every
Lord's supper, every agency that is used in the church must have the
great mission plainly before its eye. We are here to save the souls of
dying sinners; we are here for no other purpose; and the mission of
the church being so clear, that is the only test of a real church."
The thousands of men and women Grace Church has saved and placed in
paths of righteousness and happiness, show that it has nobly stood
the test, that it has proved itself a church in the true sense of the