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THE WORKS OF ELISHA MULFORD.
T is the pathetic feature of grinding logic, the theological wrangle, the the early death of this man defense of church or school, and the massing that his generation had of texts; because also they fail to comprehend little knowledge of him the attitude of a mind that looks directly at while he was of it. His the faith and measures it by its own light. name stands almost for a The external life of Dr. Mulford does not shadow. He was a great throw much light upon him, yet there was a
and substantial person to singular harmony between his history and his those who knew him well, but so secluded was thought. He came of excellent lineage; the his life, so unobtrusive was his character, so blood of his ancestry for two hundred years scant was his career of special achievements, had been of a full Puritan strain. He was born that it is difficult to convey a distinct picture in Montrose, Pa.; was prepared for college of him except by arbitrary assertion. Even in Homer, N. Y., under Dr. Woolworth; and then the terms employed produce conflicting was graduated from Yale College in 1855. impressions and leave an indistinct image. One who had skill in discerning character Never speaking in public; engaging in no con- might early have detected signs of the greattroversies; heading no party; following no ness that followed, and even the form it would leader; identified with no school; touching take. His imagination — a large feature in here and there many creeds and philosophies his mental organization - led the way at first, but falling in with none; suspected by the reput- and he seemed about to enter the field of bellesedly orthodox, yet so evidently Christian that lettres. But even before college days he had unbelief never claimed him;an Episcopalian by declared to himself that he would write great sincere preference, yet uttering no word for books, if any. He never lost his love for lirhis church in any page of his writing; holding erature as a fine art and always responded that schism is deadly, yet an ardent admirer keenly to a well-turned sentence or a fine of the Puritan and the Quaker; a good Catho- verse; but his main concern, first and last, was lic and yet a stout Protestant,- how shall such with high thought. The two tastes led to an one be rendered explicable to an age that what has not been fully recognized in him,cannot think of men except as ranged under namely, a double life, or rather, a life so broad some school or church or party.
that it had that appearance. His early indiNor does he grow much clearer to the ma- cations as a writer and his constant habit of jority when his books are read. It is claimed discussing literature and art in a critical way that in “The Nation” he has presented a lofty led many of his friends to underrate the solidand philosophical conception of the state: ity of his mind; but even in college, while the book is opened to find it constantly as- neglecting his studies for the literature which serted that the nation is a moral organism, was then being rapidly poured upon the world with illustrations drawn from American insti- by Tennyson, the Brownings, Dickens, Thacktutions and nearly forgotten pages of Hebrew eray, Hawthorne, and Longfellow, and also history, rising at last into the mystic allusions for the social life of college, then peculiarly of the Apocalypse, which the author regards brilliant, he was leading another life than that as a clear and substantial utterance of politi- which appeared. He was not careful to precal wisdom. What relation can such a book pare himself to meet in full the demands of have to American politics? Or take his “Re- the class-room, but he startled his classmates public of God”: it is asserted that it is a sci- with disquisitions on the authors there read entificand rational presentation of Christianity. such as they did not hear from the tutors. The book is found to consist of continuous as- That the college did not do more for him and sertion, without a suggestion of argument or that he did not get more from the college was formal proof, and even without quotation of not the fault of either, but was rather due to Scripture except in way of illustration. What ill adjustment between a mind like his and the is there here scientific or peculiarly rational ? methods of education which then prevailed. Nothing, it must be confessed, unless one is The college furnished at least a good shelter able of one's self to discern the logic that is while his powers were uniting and taking shape, more than its forms. The majority fail to and it provided him with a sufficient knowlunderstand the book because they miss the edge of Latin and Greek for practical purposes.
After a college life that could hardly be in the war then raging. It is at this point, called earnest, though in no way open to grave perhaps, that a certain aspect of his character charge, the real seriousness of his nature be- can be best explained. To a certain extent came apparent in the choice of theology as a he did not make the impression of a man oi profession. In this choice the true man was courage. His manner was calm but was not disclosed, for Dr. Mulford was preëminently strongly charged with assurance. He almost a theologian. He spent two years in Andover, never pointedly disagreed with any, but indibut, as in college, saw more truth than he heard, cated his variance by suggesting another view and ended his studies with undisguised protest of the subject, leaving the other to find out against the theology then taught in that insti- the difference. His intense sympathy and tution. He was perhaps the first Protestant of absolute courtesy held him back from controhis kind in New England, after Dr. Bushnell versy and made him over-tolerant in converand Dr. Washburn. Heretofore those who sation, so that dull persons often suspected dissented from the prevailing theology had him of weakness and mental dishonesty, not turned towards Unitarianism or Universalism, discerning the delicacy and fineness of his but Mulford did not feel himself shut up to dissent. He also carried any difference into these somewhat beaten paths, discerning an- the region of principles — often very remote other that has since become well known and and general, and apparently of slight conseis much used. The separation from Andover quence to any save himself. But if he differed was wide and thoroughly mutual. The year in principle he differed all the way through, in which he was buried found Andover busily and saw little need of formal explanation. engaged over points that then were clear to His real character in this respect is seen in his his mind, and in substantial accord with his position as a preacher. The influences about views of humanity and the reach of Christ's him would have led him to remain silent; no work. After leaving Andover he spent a year man more yearned for sympathy or more hated in Europe, traveling, and hearing lectures on a wrangle; he seemed incapable of living withtheology, but chiefly brooding,-- for such was out one or of enduring the other. But, contrary his life-long habit, and returned home, hur- to his superficial disposition, he carried the war ried by the outbreak of the war. He was in no into his pulpit, overcoming all opposition by way fitted to become a soldier: a better task simple weight of utterance and solemnity of awaited him, to which he was drawn by an in- conviction. It is here that his character offers ward voice which was also a divine call. He itself in one of its finest lights; his general took orders in the Episcopal Church, not attitude throughout his life was taken and merely because there was no other place for held in opposition to much in himself. He him, but because upon the whole he thought had no great endowment of natural courage; along its lines, or rather, as he then believed, he was not born with the clinched fist of a it suffered him to think in his own way. The reformer or a polemic; he was sensitive in the point of contact, however, did not reach far highest degree to human sympathy and was within. Æsthetically he felt with his church made for fellowship; but his thought led and and could easily have gone into some lengths kept him apart, and his path through life was of ritualism; no excess of it would have troub- for the most part solitary. His divergences led him so long as it did not involve dog- were not great enough to call out denial or matic assumption. He prized the catholicity denunciation, but were sufficient to awaken of the Episcopal Church as to doctrine, but suspicion. He was not impeached, but he was its rubrics had little interest for him, and the made to feel a mild, ill-defined ostracism; there lines that separate it from other churches had were no blows and wounds, but there was a for him no existence. Only in a very limited fretting irritation; no turning of the back, but degree is he to be regarded as belonging to a somewhat doubtful offering of the hand. This the Episcopal Church. He never violated her sort of treatment, which is the form persecution canons; he served obediently at her altars; takes in these later ages, being restrained by he taught theology under her name; but he law and public opinion from any other, calls wrote no line in her support, received no hon- for a finer and more spiritual courage than ors and but the barest recognition from her that demanded by the grosser forms. hands. There was repeated in him the story His retirement from parish labor, brought of all ages -- the prophet is never accepted by about by the claims of private business and his age, and a great man is always greater by a growing deafness, seems now a divire than any institution that holds him.
shaping of his life to the high end in store for Dr. Mulford took a parish in New Jersey, him, but along a path not then easily traced. and immediately found himself face to face The close of the war found him in his native with a congregation disposed through busi- county, living in the ancestral home of his ness interests to sympathize with the South wife twelve miles distant from Montrose.
Greater seclusion could hardly have been the nature of the nation so that they shall see found, but the appointments of his life were how divine a thing it is, it will be forever generous and appropriate. Most men in his sacred in their eyes. Such was the aim of this circumstances would have drifted into politics young scholar, conceived and entered upon or turned to money-making, but Dr. Mul- before the smoke of battle had cleared away. ford was not fitted for one and for the other He provided himself with all needful books,he had no taste. The nature and force of his leisure and a free mind were already provided; intellectual gifts in no way more clearly appear his theological conceptions formed a nourishthan in the life he now entered upon. So far ing atmosphere for his purpose, and the fresh as books, reading, and daily occupation were memory of the war keenly stirred his interest. concerned, he might have been living in New Everything was favorable except the solitude Haven or Cambridge. I have never met a in which he worked and the greater solitariperson the current of whose intellectual habit ness of the path he was opening through the Aowed in so steady and strong a stream as his. tangle of history; for it may safely be said Nothing diverted or lessened it, or apparently that if Dr. Mulford's conception of the nature added to it, being always at the full. No vari- of the nation is not new, it has never been ation in his intellectual register could be dis- so fully worked out, nor has it ever been precovered. Whether in the woods of Pennsyl- sented with the illustration of a nation that vania or in the streets of Cambridge, the same reflected the conception; for never before in themes engaged his attention, and his sense of the course of history has there been a nation them was always about the same. No separa- whose political order bore out the divine plan tion from men and books dulled him, nor could of a nation. While Dr. Mulford's conscious I discover that any contact with them greatly aim in “ The Nation” was to unfold the lesson quickened him. The reservoir of his thought of the civil war, we now see that he was workwas within himself and sprang from fountains ing on a larger plan. Society is now making that seemed to be inexhaustible.
the dangerous transition from the aristocratic Dr. Mulford carried with him to Friendsville to the democratic idea of government, and a purpose, conceived in college days, of writing with the change there is danger lest that truth upon political themes. He had read Aristotle be lost which alone makes any government and had been profoundly moved by his politi- real and binding, - namely, that it is by the cal wisdom. He early noticed the fact that grace of God. Kings planted themselves on the German theologians found themselves led this truth, and hence had power and majesty. to write on the constitution of society. His The pomp of courts is not the reflection of own theological conceptions from the first human pride, but of the divineness of governcarried him into the same field. His mentalment. In passing from one form to the other cast was of such a character and so ample that the insignia of power and majesty are largely it was simply impossible for him to keep away dropped, and with them there is danger lest from such subjects. But these influences were the conception of government as a divine as nothing compared with those of the civil thing be also given up and it come to be rewar just closing. Here was a most weighty garded, even as it already is by some schools fact in history to be accounted for. A great, of social science, as a mere matter of police, prosperous, Christian nation, one by every con- a negative check on crime, with the result of sideration of nature and self-interest, suddenly resolving society into nearly absolute individbreaks itself in two and appeals to war to en- ualism, the idea of humanity as a social fact force the unnatural action. That such a thing lost, and progress reduced to a go-as-you-please should happen seemed to him to indicate a scramble for the most that can be got, or to defective consciousness of itself in the nation, selfish combinations that turn society into a Slavery and sectional ambition and party heat war between labor and capital — a condition were not enough to explain so mighty a revolt already existing in part and sure to prevail of the nation against itself; its sense of itself unless it is checked by the conception of gormust be at fault.
ernment as existing by the will of God and tor Thus his mind worked on the problem, and righteousness, and as God's own instrument hence those years of thought and writing and for blessing humanity — not an instrument re-writing that produced " The Nation." His merely, but a creatively ordained order, in object was not simply to explain the civil war, which men must live if they would live at all. but to teach the people the nature of the Dr. Mulford, whose work was always constate and the grounds of their government. structive and at heart conservative, saw the Hence his book bore the sub-title, “ The necessity of unfol ng the truth that a democFoundations of Civil Order and Political Life racy not only rests on the grace of God, but, in the United States." His argument with beyond all other forms of government, is so himself was: If I can reveal to the people grounded and must be so interpreted. Hence
his continual assertion that the nation is a himself carried by his argument beyond the
vealed in the Christ. He had that encowment
passed. It is, with all its abstractness and far- Mulford fulfilled the Horatian maxim, and kept awayness, still a most near and vital book, his work till the “ninth year” before giving and bears as much trace of feeling and devo- it to the world. He was not insensible to the tion as of thought. One lays it down querying ambition of an author; still the book came whether one has been reading a book of politics from him like the message of a prophet, and or of theology, but with a dawning suspicion almost as if without will of his own. that they may possibly be one. This was In 1880 Dr. Mulford removed to Cambridge, exactly Dr. Mulford's position. The nation is where he became a lecturer on theology in divine; theology is realized in organized hu- the Episcopal School. No other position was manity; the laws and methods of each are ever offered him in the ecclesiastical world, the same and run indistinguishably into each and the recognition of a theological degree other. Thus he says: “ The morality of a was carefully withheld; for it must be stated people, and so also its politics, will always that he early fell under that suspicion of “uncorrespond to its actual theology, and will soundness” which blasts so much of fresh and be but the sequence of that.”
independent thought in this country. Why The influence of this book has been great this suspicion should have fastened on him, it but peculiar. It can hardly be said to be pop- is hard to tell, unless it was occasioned by a ular. Dr. Mulford had so great confidence in disposition to ask questions within theological his thought, and such respect for the intelligence precincts - a habit which is never unobserved of the people, that he fancied its publication nor forgiven. It may also have been due to his would influence the fall elections; but its effectundisguised sympathy with Maurice, who had upon the masses was about that of the Beati- come into prominence through the Jelf controtudes upon a mob,— the exact truth needed, versy and awakened an interest if not a followbut not quite in moral range. It is a book for ing in this country while Mulford was in college. the leaders, and not for the rank and file. No That this suspicion followed him even to the last one who legislates, or writes on political sci- with its mild but real defamation, shutting off ence, or speaks on social subjects can afford all but a grudging and half-hearted recognition, to pass it by; and one should hesitate long illustrates the degree of intelligence and charity before one allows one's self to conceive of which still mark our theological world. One human society as having any other basis or may deny the multiplication table with impuend than that here indicated, for the book nity, but if one intimates that eternal may not simply presents the life of the nation as in- be synonymous with everlasting, he is a heretic cluded within Christianity. So ably is this though he have all the graces of St. John; done, and so firmly is political life linked to and when this suspicion once fastens on a the work of the Christ, that there could be no man, musk is not so diffusive and persistent. better book of Evidences than this. The skep- While Dr. Mulford was conscious of the fact tic who doubts Christianity when looked at that he was suspected where he ought to directly cannot fail to see in this picture of have been understood, he seldom spoke of it, national life, which he cannot doubt, the full and was the farthest from courting such a repulineaments of essential Christianity. In a sec- tation or meeting it in a bravado way; he was ondary way the influence of the book has not keyed to such a spirit. He was no comebeen marked. Many statesmen have pondered outer; the whole cast of his mind was proits great truths and baptized their principles foundly conservative; there was in him nothafresh in its divine spirit. The abler editors ing of the iconoclast; he was to the last fiber have caught its meaning and now interpret constructive. One searches in vain along the nation under its conception. Its under: his pages for denials except for the sake of tone may be heard in presidential messages definition; his sense of human society and and in the forms of legislation. It reënforces of personal relation to it was such as to social reformers and guides them along safe hold him off from eccentric thought and conand winning lines. It has helped to create a duct; he was nearly devoid of those qualities popular sentiment against those conceptions which usually belong to heretics, yet he bore of society which are based on the hard analo- most unjustly that imputation. His appeal gies of physical science. But its chief office is from it was not to the right of private opinion to link the necessary life of the nation to the or merely to intelligence and reason, but to processes of Christianity, or to establish the the consensus of the centuries. Hence at the identity of political action with Christian faith, close of “ The Republic of God "he prints the or, in simpler words still, it presents the Nicene creed, - as though he would say, kingdom of God as coming in the order of “See, I have said nothing new, but only human society.
this"; and most significantly he adds the two This book was the product of long and wide dates, “A. D. 381–1881." study and much brooding and rewriting. Dr. This book, like " The Nation," was born, as