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The semi-weekly messenger. [volume] (Wilmington, N.C.) 1897-1908, April 22, 1902, Image 6

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Remarkable Career of the Late Fev. Dr. T. De Witt Talmage His Won
derful Influence For Good Dow Three of His Churches Took
on "Red Wings of Fire" Interesting Anecdotes.
America who can draw and
bold and thrill every Sab
bath the year round an au
dience of thousands and
"Who preaches the gospel every week to
20.000.000. but one man who thinks In
pictures and paints with a large brush
In colors that burn and glow, and the
nations gather around his pictures and
feel an uplift and a holy thrill." This
was said by a celebrated orator ten
.years ago of Thomas De Witt Talmage.
the farmer's boy, whose remarkable
career has Just ended. Yet there was
nothing In his boyhood home or early
surroundings from which an augury
could be drawn of the worldwide fame
be afterward attained. On a little farm
In the New Jersey village of Bound
Brook, the youngest son of a family of
twelve children, the future pulpit ora
tor first saw the light seventy years
ago. His parents toiled bard and lived
frugally that they might give their
children an education. The eldest broth
er at the close of his college career
went to China as a missionary and
won renown there. Another became a
minister, and De Witt, the youngest of
all, chose the profession of the law.
After graduating with honor from the
University of the City of New York he
spent a year in special studies. But his
parents never ceased to hope that he
might become a preacher. Their hopes
were ful Oiled, and in 1S53. at the age of
twenty-one. he entered the College of
New Brunswick to prepare for the min
istry. As a student he was eccentric rather
than brilliant. lie set the laws of pul
pit oratory at defiance and with bold
originality spoke the thing that was in
bim in current phraseology and in his
own way. "You must change your
style." his teacher said to him. "Oth
erwise no pulpit will be open to you."
But somehow the people listened to
the daring young preacher whose doc
trines, while familiar and orthodox.
Were explained in novel and uncon
ventional language and Illustrated by
figures and events of the ordinary
dally life.
At the conclusion of his theological
course he received an Invitation from
a church at Belleville, N. J., to be
come its pastor. He accepted It and
spent three years in that quiet town,
lie was fond of relating an incident of
that early time which to the last occu
pied a grateful place In his memory,
lie was promised a stipend of $S00 a
year, which seemed to him a magnifi
cent income. But he was fresh from
college, with a college student's pov
erty. The first installment of the in
come was nut due. and he was glad
that, whenever the loneliness of his
bachelor todging became oppressive or
bis larder bare, the hospitable homes
cf bis people were open to him. There
kwas a parsonage attached to the
church, but it was as bare of furniture
as his iocketlook was of money. A
few of his parishioners suspected the
condition of his finances, and one day
they suggested that he take a week's
vacation. On his return one of his
church officers handed him the key of
the parsonage. He entered and to his
amazement found it carpeted and cozl
ly furnished from basement to garret
la the cellar was a stock of coal, and
the pamry was filled with provisions.
Even the kitchen stove contained a
fire, ready laid. "All I had to do in
beginning housekeeping." said Dr. Tal
mage in telling the incident, "was to
strike a match. This was one of hia
earliest glearua of "Ministers' Sun
shine." Belleville. however, could not retain
him long. Other churches offered a
wider sphere of labor, and at the end
of bis third year he accepted a call to
a church at Syracuse. N. Y. There his
powers became more widely known,
and invitations to more prominent pul
pits poured iu upon him. In lSt! a call
came from the Second Reformed
church of Philadelphia, giving him the
opportunity of reaching the people of a
great city. He accepted it, aud his
vivid, dramatic address, his anecdotal
affluence and his fresh and pertinent
Illustrations took the people by storm.
His brilliant vocabulary and the su
perb imagery that marked all his ad
dresses were a revelation. It was pul
pit oratory redeemed and sublimated.
This suddm popularity might have
spoiled some men. but young Talmage
kept a close watch on himself. It gave
. bim n st nse of enlarged responsibility,
and be became eveu more careful not
only In the preparation of his sermons,
but la hi general conduct
At the beginning of his Philadelphia
pastorate a characteristic incident oc
curred. Dr. Talmage at that time was
a smoker. A member of his cohgrega
tic a. a tobacco merchant, called on him
in his study, and. detecting the odor of
tobacca. be casually remarked on leav
Jog that he would like to have the
pleasure of sending the doctor some
choice cigars. Next day the preacher
found on his study table a lox filled
with fragrant Havanas. and ou the trp
- of tue t!gars was the card of the send
er, lnT:bed. "With compliments. He
. "took out a cigar, looked at it, turned it
around bezwjin all thumb and finger
and soliloquized, "Shall I smoke and
enjoy these and thus very likely impair
my Influence with this man and his
friends and my congregation in gener
al, or shall I put influence and example
first?" He laid the cigar back In the
box, closed it with a snap and returned
it to the sender with this note:
My Dear Sir I have stopped emoklng
qult today. . T. D. W. T.
The sudden resolution, acted out In
the pur of the moment, was typical of
his whole life.
In 1SC0. seven years after his settle
ment In Philadelphia. Dr. Talmage re
ceived simultaneous calls to Chicago.
Brooklyn and San Francisco. Their
demands spurred him to still higher ef
fort. He chose Brooklyn, as he believed
that city needed him most The call
bore only seventeen signatures, but it
was unanimous, for there were but sev
enteen members In-the church. They
had a large building, but the pews
were mostly empty, and though it
stood among a teeming population the
church was exerting little Influence. In
March, 1SG0, he preached his first ser
mon there. The transformation that
followed seemed magical. Every serv
ice was crowded. Within a year It was
decided to erect a new edifice capable
of seating 3,000. Dr. Talmage's first
sermon was from the text, "Compel
them to come In," but it seemed an in
aptitude, for the people came in such
numbers that many were compelled to
6tay out.
Two years afterward, on a Sunday
morning in December, 1S72, Dr. Tal
mage looked from the window of his
house and saw his beloved church "put
ting on red wings of fire" until it swept
the heavens, a lurid mass of conflagra
tion. Undismayed by the destruction of
their church, the congregation soon be
gan to build a still larger structure
which would seat 5,000. Although the
completed edifice was the largest
church of its denomination in America,
i it was never large enough to hold the
! crowds who came to listen to the now
: famous preacher. The regular hearers
alone were nearly sufficient to fill the
building, and their number was aug-
' by many from other states and even by
transatlantic visitors, who had read his
sermons printed in their home journals.
For fully fifteen years the church had
uninterrupted prosperity, which was
rudely broken on Oct. 13. 1SS0. by the
complete destruction of the second tab
ernacle by fire. A third tabernacle was
built still larger than its predecessors.
It was finished in 1S91. and Its dedica
tion was a great public occasion. Large
delegations, drawn from every section
of the Union, came, bringing congratu
lations. It was a grand and beautiful temple
of, worship, rich In ornamentation, vast
in seating capacity and perfect in
acoustics. "I never could sing a note
or raise a tune." Dr. Talmage would
often say. Yet the music, the strains
of the great, deep toned thirty
thousand dollar organ, mingling with
the mighty swell of voices, led by
Peter Alis silver cornet, was the
finest Imaginable. Three years later,
when a series of meetings were
held to celebrate the twenty-fifth an
niversary of his pastorate in Brooklyn,
the state, the city and the clergy of the
neighborhood united in recognition of
the eminence Dr. Talmage had achiev
ed. He was overwhelmed with verbal
congratulations and good wishes, and
telegrams, letters and cable dispatches
came from Illustrious personages here
and beyond the seas. It was. however,
the closing scene in his long succession
of Brooklyn triumphs, for on the fol
lowing Sunday. May 13, 1S94. a fire
broke out in the church at the close of
the morning service, and the fine build
ing in a few hours became a pile of
smoking ruins.
Saddened by the destruction of bis
third and most beautiful tabernacle.
Dr. Talmage for a time ceased active
pastoral work and went abroad on a
tour of the globe. He preached to large
audiences In Australia. New Zealand.
India and Great Britain and on his
return published an account of his
jourueylngs in a volume entitled "The
Earth Girdled." which was widely cir
culated. He now devoted himself al
most exclusively to his editorial duties
on The Christian Herald, to which he
had been a regular weekly contributor
since 1ST8. becoming editor in chief in
1S1K). Dr. Louis Klopsch. the proprie
tor of that journal, had been bis Inti
mate friend and business associate for
many years. He had syndicated Dr.
, Talmage's sermons since 1S85. furnish
ing them regularly every week to over
3.000 newspapers. It is estimated that
the total number of weekly readers
reached by the syndicate and through
other channels was not less than 20.
000.000. an audience far more vast than
has ever been addressed by any other
writer or preacher in the world, ancient
or modern. .
During the next two years be varied
bis literary work by frequent preach
ing and lecture' tours and an occasional
: visit abroad. He bad a big: warm
; heart and generous Impulses, and he
was Interested in various philanthropic
movements, some cr them of wide
Bcope. His love of such work was fos
tered by his experience In 1S02 wfcen
he visited Bussla with Dr. Klopsch on
"a mission of bread first sending on
ahead the steamship Ieo. laden with
50.000 sacks of 'Jour, the gift of gem-r
ous Americans to the starving Ilusi.i:i
peasants. While In St. Petersburg t!:
Americans were summoned to Peter
hof. the Imperial summer resi ler .
where they were presented to the Czur
Alexander, the empress. Czarowitz
Nicholas, the present emperor, r.nd dth
er royalties. That the stalwart Amri
can preacher made an impression w::s
evident from the fact that the emput.r
sent to the visitors handsome gifts of
gold and 6llver. The enthusiastic mu
nicipalities of St. Petersburg and Mos
cow gave them public fetes, and in the
former city the astonished divine was
carried on the shoulders of a cheering
Russian crowd in front of the dohma.
or town hall. Dr. Talmage often refer
red with kindling eye to this Russian
welcome, and ha spoke many a kindly
word for the young czar. In later
years, with voice and pen. he greatly
helped the cause of Armenian, Cuban
and Porto Rican relief. In the great In
dia famine and a few years ago In Chi
nese relief. Altogether, with his splen
did talent for reaching the popular
heart. $2,000,000 was raised in these
various worldwide charities. He was a
member and active worker in a num
ber of charitable organizations, but in
these, as in all others of the same char-
acter. he Invariably kept in the back- j
ground. He Is one of the Incorporators :
of the Bowery mission of New York, j
tne pioneer or American rescue mis
In 1S05 Dr. Talmage accepud for a
time a pastoral call from the First
Presbyterian church In Washington,
which is known as "the church of the
presidents," many incumbents of the
White House having, worshiped there
In former years. Among his parishion
ers were President Cleveland, many
cabinet members and other high offi
cials. He was the most popular minis
ter at the national capital, and his
church was crowded to the doors. But
urgent calls from other quarters were
multiplying, and he finally decided,
though not without reluctance, to give
up local pastoral work and devote him
self exclusively to answering these de
mands. He retired from active connec
tion with the Washington church in
11)00 and thereafter gave himself up
wholly to editorial work and preaching
and lecturing.
The passing years served to increase
his fame, and the announcement of his
preaching was always sufficient to at
tract a vast audience. His personal
mail was probably the largest of any
man In America outside of public office.
There' were thousands who wrote to
him. asking advice in spiritual things
and laying their hearts bare to one
whom they regarded as bearing a di
vine mission and "speaking with au
thority." Dr. Talmage's noma at 1400 Massa
chusetts avenue. Washington, was a
handsome four story building, modern
In style. Here in the center of national
influence and culture the great preach
er dispensed bis hospitality to guests
who visited bim from all parts of the
world. His study waa an ideal snug
gery, lined with well filled bookshelves
tnd big, inviting, leather covered chairs
and settees. Books and periodicals were
everywhere. Near by was a famous col-
1 lection of relics from eastern lands
trophies of many .tsurceys rcsJrs from
iCiazL pebbJrs from the brook Elas
(whence David tck tbe stones vrlth
which Le slew Goliattii. relics from the
Acropcils, frcxa the Parthenon, from
Mars bin (where Paul preached to the
Athenian), from Sicnl. Jerusalem. Oli
vet and even Calvary.
Few men la literary Kf e retained their
intellectual rigor so long. Even those
who knew hia best could detect no
diminution in the .force of his elo
quence and no dimming o tbe luster
of his splendid periods though he had
turned seventy. Ills last sermons were
every whit as brilliant as those he com
posed when in bis prime. His eye was
as clear, his voice as flexible and reso-
nant and his step as elastic as though I
he were not Hearing that border land ,
"W II ere rmrrtpns are laid down," lliose .
last few golden years were in some re
spects the happiest of his life. Though
they were busy years, they still left
him some leisure. In the summer,
which he usually passed at bis beauti
ful country home at Easthampton. N.
Y.. be did an Immense amount of liter
ary work. He was a most agreeable
host and could recall with photograph
ic fidelity scenes and events long pass
ed, delighting his guests with such
reminiscences. He was the personal
friend of many leading Americans of
the preceding half century, and his rec
ollections of presidents, statesmen, au
tbors and other eminent people were
full of interest. Few men possessed
the ability to tell a story so entertain
ingly. He had the keenest sense of hu
mor and frequently set his audience in
a roar by bis droll wit and Comic mim
icry. But it was always good humored,
and his wit. like a buttoned foil, had a
point that hurt nobody. A master of
invective,, be was kindly at heart and
never quarrelsome. Once when he was
asked why be allowed attacks upon
him to pass unheeded he answered
with a characteristic story:
"When I was preaching my first ser
mon, on a hot summer Sunday. I had
just given out the text and had hardly
opened my mouth for the first sen
tence of my discourse when In popped
n flv I mnlrt htir him hnrm5nr nrniinH
in my mouth and buzzing like
sessed. A cold sweat broke
all pos-
out all
over me. I felt him back iu my threat.
I glared at the audience. They were
looking at me expectantly. I felt that
the crisis of my life had arrived and
that I must act at once. Through my
hot brain flashed the thought. 'Shall 1
gag and spit out the intruder and make
a spectacle of myself before these peo
ple who are waiting for the sermon
and thus very likely spoil the effect of
it and ruin my reputation at the out
set of my career or shall I take the fel
low down and wrest victory from the
enemy'' My mind was made up ou the
Instant. I gulped. Down went Mr.
Fly. to be converted into flesh and
bone and muscle, and 1 plunged into
my sermon and went through it with
such zest and earnestness that the rows
of people who met me at the door to
shake hands declared it was the best
sermou they had ever listened to. And
I've been swallowing flies ever since.'
be added, with a droll twinkle of the
eye. "Whenever one attacks in the
paper or elsewhere. I simply say to my
self: 'Here's another fly. I'll take him
down.' And down be goes. I find it the
best way to avoid quarrels and to over
come trifling obstacles wb'th would
only be magnified by opposition."
Dr. Talmage's doctrine was cf the
old fashioned orthodox type, but it fell
with new attractions from bis eloquent
Hps. He believed In a Bible "inspired
from lid to lid." and many times during
his career be came to the front as a de
fender of the Integrity of the book of
books. He repudiated the "higher criti
cism" as a menace to the old religion
and denounced as Impious the doubts
concerning miracles and inspiration.
His famous attack on Ingersoll created
something of a sensation twenty years
ago. He scored the brilliant agnostic
In a series of sermons fall of vigorous
philippics. - Often be chose as a target
for bis oratorical batteries the foibles
and besetting sins of society, and he
never spared bis ammunition, Be poor-
td out broadside n'YTall street J
falcons, gamblers, low politicians and j
ail who cane within the range of hia
criticism. Hia forceful denunciation of ,
popular vices was equaled only by his
nbility to move bis audience to tears of
sympathy when be chose to appeal to t
the emotions. No preacher in a century ;
could describe In such moving lan-.
guage the charms of home, the moth- i
ers love for a wayward child, the de-
lights of rural life cr the simple faith
of the believer In Christ and heaven
lie was unquestionably within a cer
tain wide range the most vivid and pic
turesque speaker the American pulpit
bas eTCr known, and bis sermons and
writings alike were Turneresque In lit-1
co,or and expression. His religion
was the old satisfying "corn and wine j
v h1' " -
predated. He was always In his best
vein when facing a miscellaneous as
semblage in the great cities. He bas
frequently spoken before 10.000 per
sons, and bis great audiences at the
Academy of Music New York: In the
f Chicago Auditorium and in London, !
Liverpool and Glasgow have rarely !
been equaled In point of numbers. He
delighted, too. In an audience of farm- j
era. sut-n gatherings never lauca 10
comprehend hl3 homely doctrines.
lie used to 6ay that he had long since
"lived down" the frills and nonessen
tials of religion. "At twenty." he would
explain. "I believed several hundred
things; at fifty I believed about a score,
but now, with clearer vision, as I grow
okler and come nearer the close of the
Journey. I hold only to three things as
vital that God our Father loves us far
better than we know, that Jesus Christ,
his Son. Is our Redeemer and Saviour
and that I cm a sinner, enriched by his
grace, though all unworthy."
All his life he was Inordinately fond
of religious literature. Even In child
i hood he would read Scott's Commenta
' ries. a bulky volume, when he was too
small to sit upon a chair and had to
use a stool Instead. If he could have
mastered even a single foreign lan
guage, he would probably have become
a missionary like his brothers, but be
! h.d
no knack of acquiring strange
j to:;:rjs so ne 6uck to the plain
' K'o Suxon and to such purpose that
that his
sturdy utterances have been translated
into ueariy a score of foreign lan
guages. When he visited Athens in
1S!. he was presented to Queen Olga.
who told him that she "had the pleas
ure of reading bis sermons In her na
tive Greek In her own capital In the
columns of a weekly publication."
Through such means he doubtless
reached much vaster audiences In for
eign lands than any missionary could
ever hope to reach. When he was mak
ing his round the world trip, he found
his sermons read In so many places
that he afterward used to say jocular
ly. "I felt on that trip as though I was
making a round of pastoral calls."
Speaking of the secret of bis own
powers. Dr. Talmage once said: "I
take the subjects that are Interesting
people all around me every day aud
particularly at the momenL I jot down
my notes In a little book and always
try to get down the precise point I
wish to make. Then I take all availa
ble sources of information on that
point acd sift them thoroughly, avoid
ing beaten tracks. 1 suppose I have
preached more sermons than any one
living on texts that are overlooked by
other preachers. I revise my work and
boil it down, making It as pungent and
epigrammatic as possible, and then dic
tate it to get the oratorical effect I've
found my subjects in odd. out of the
way places, la a locomotive train, on a
hotel piazza, la a patent office report, in
a rainstorm. I never had more than
three lessons In elocution, but I recall
an early experience that helped me.
When a young man. I belonged to a de
bating club. It was a rule of the club
to devote one evening a month to ex
temporaneous addresses on a topic not
to be announced, even to the speaker,
until the moment of delivery. None of
os knew what we might have to talk
about, bot we were expected to get
op and say something anyway without
hesitating about IL One night It came
my turn, and when the president aa-
aounced, lit. Talmage win now cfr
3ress cs oa the influence of the moot;
upon vegetation,' I felt as though I
bad been struck with a baseball bat
But I rose, pulled cp ny collar and
made a speech, I don't remembes
rtrhnt I said, but It was as full of serf
ous. fine spun resounding phrases as
though I bad been a scientific professos
fresh from the study of the subject;
and It passed muster. After that exj
perience." he added, laughing. "I fell
onite equal to speaking offhand or
As an editorial writer Dr. Talmage
was versatile and prolific, and hia.
weekly contributions on an Immense
variety of topics would fill many vol-i
umcs. nis writing was as entertaining
and pungent as bis reaching and!
full of brilliant eccentricities -Tall
marisms." as they were called. IleJ
coined new words and Invented new
phrases. If the topic was to bis liking,!
the pen raced to keep time with thd
thought It was the same with his ser-;
mons. Once conceived In the bus
brain, the committing to paper wasj
swift and exciting. Still, with all this
haste, nothing could exceed the scroj
pulous care be took with bis Cnlshea
manuscript He once wired from Cin
cinnati to his publisher in New Ycrli
Instructions to change a comma In bla
current sermon to a semicolon. Jle badj
detected the error while reading proof
on the train.
His phenomenal memory was never:
at a loss. He had spoken or written ori
thousands of topics, and be remember
ed almost everything be had ev
preached. In preparing bis twent,
volume series of sermons be used onl
500. or less than half the total numbe
he had preached. In addition to at
least a thousand sermons of 4.C0a
words each, each sermon diffcrcntj
from the other, this vast pulpit reperj
tory aggregating probably 4.000.00$
words, he was the author of a numbe
of lectures, the most popular bel
"The New Life of tbe Nation." "Grutn
biers," "Our New Home." "Big BIu
ders" and "The Bright Side of Things.'
Originality in all things was perhaps'
the most pronounced trait of Dr. Tal-j
mage's character. In his literary workj
be scorned to borrow, though bis own
unique phrases and ideas were thej
prey of many petty plagiarists. Al4
though his fame will rest chiefly uponi
his sermonlc writings, bis treatment o!
lighter topics was brilliant and clever
But his finest work was not among th
shallows. His pen could go deeply int
the secrets of the heart and soul, a
such was his rare gift that with a sin-:
gle sentence he could move a multitude.
Some of his volumes written In the
early part of his career show rare vH
vacity and wit and give a clew to hia
wonderful success as an entertaining
lecturer In matu-er years. Among the
periodicals to which he contributed at
various times were the New York
Weekly. Hearth and Home, The Inde-i
pendent and The Christian at Work.
About thirty volumes of bis sermons
have been published, twenty volume
appearing In a single series In 11XX).
His other works besides those already.!
mentioned Include "Crumbs Swept Up,"
"Around the Tea Table," Sparks From
My Anvil. "A Thousand Gems." "From
Manger to Throne." "Sports That Kill."
"The Wedding Ring." "Night Sides of
City Life." "Tbe Poetry of Life." "Old'
Wells Dug Out" "Abominations of
Modern Society" and "Tbe Earth Gir
dled." For many years bis revenues
from his editorial and other literary
work, bis book royalties and bis lee-'
tures netted him the princely Income of
20.000 a yenr. these figures by no
means representing tbe maximum.
In person Dr. Talmage was aboves
the medium height and well propor-j
tloned. His bead was of average size.1
with marked evidence of Intellectual
power. His eyes were light .and hlai
complexion fresh acd Indicative of ro-j
bust health. Ills face shone with nrula-i
blllty and cheerfulness. His conversa-
tion was animated, his manner gentlef
and cordial in tbe extreme. Self reU-
ance. calmness and Judgment were ap
parent and his bearing Indicated dig-?
nity and self possession, yet be was no-
wise ostentatious or affected, and bis
hearty manner and genial flow of con
versation placed even a stranger onj,
agreeable terms with bim at once. He
was a most fascinating conversational-
1st Ills language was marked by nob!.
senumenr. poetry ana numor. ami lie
talked with a fine originality, never I-!
Ing afraid to show bis feelings. Whea
In tbe glee and enthusiasm of the n;o-
ment at a church festival he exclaiui.1
that he felt "like a morning star." it'
was not that bis taste induced bim to'
take h!s illustration from negro min
strelsy: but acting on the impulse of
the moment he seized upon a popular
saying to express h'ji own feelings
Men of stiff propriety aud starched ctg ;"
nity would uot have done such a thin,;.
With him It was the Impulsive expres
slon of a free, cheerful heart bubbling
over with the love of burner and the
"milk of human kindness. Whether it
was due to eccentricity or to an uncsa
al store of rich, exuberant animal spir
its, he was certainly more real and
true to genuine auman nature In social
life than most of bis ministerial con
temporaries. Dr. Talmage was three times mar
ried. His first wife was Miss Mary
Avery of Brooklyn. A son, Thomas
(wbo died In his nineteenth yeari, and
a daughter. Jessie, were tbe fruits of
this union. A great sorrow shadowed
his life when Mrs. Talmage was acci
dentally drowned In the ScboyikUl riv
er near Philadelphia in 18C2. His scc-i
ond marriage was with Miss Suslei
Whittemore, and five children were
born'to theo, the eldest Frank, beingi
now, a Presbyterian minister la Cbica-I
go- Again bereaved by death of his
matrimonial companion, be married, int
1803, Sirs. Collier of Allegheny, wbol
tUTTiTej hia.

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