A NEW biography of Horace Bushnell has been wanted for two reasons. The appreciative and affectionate memoir given to the public, not long after his death, by his daughter, Mrs. Mary Bushnell Cheney, with the coöperation of her sister, Miss Frances Louisa Bushnell, and loving friends of Dr. Bushnell, is out of print. Its publication, we are told, is discontinued. Moreover, the time has come for a biography which attempts, as that did not, a compendious presentation of the man in his office of preacher and theologian. Of such an estimate perspective is an essential condition, — emphatically essential in the case of one who died while the disturbing controversy he provoked, although less turbulent than formerly, was still seething over unquenched fagots of misunderstanding, pride, and bitterness. The interval has favored cooling, precipitation, analysis, and measurements.
The withdrawal of the earlier book is regrettable. After reading Dr. Munger’s volume we turned to the Life and Letters for more, perusing it without sense of surfeit. The two volumes are, in a way, complementary. Together they afford a nearly complete and satisfying view of the man and his work. Still there is something wanting. Neither sets forth adequately the robust patriotism and large civic usefulness of Dr. Bushnell. He filled his office of religious teacher and shepherd with copious, overflowing energy, keeping steady outlook upon the world’s social and political life, — the neighbor life as well as the national and universal life, — and not infrequently he sent forth messages that commanded serious attention. A biography that shall portray his amplitude of power, his variety of service, in juster proportion and completeness may never be written. Yet this career had a quality of distinction, a unique productiveness, an exemplary virtue and loveliness, that may conspire to give it life beyond life in the affection of humanity. Such immortality is not unknown, although it cannot be foretold. Each generation culls for itself from the world’s past the heroes and saints of whom it has need.
Dr. Munger has undertaken to combine a critical analysis of Bushnell’s theological work with a biography that shall take the place of the Life and Letters. The difficulty is obvious ; and the organic difficulty is intensified by attempting to accomplish the double purpose within the compass of a duodecimo volume of four hundred pages. Presumably, this limitation was prescribed for reasons that were controlling. Consciousness of inadequacy in one part is suggested by the modest, almost apologetic phrase of the preface, — “a biographical sketch.” Dr. Munger is a literary artist with a nice sense of proportion. The hard task undertaken is as well performed, probably, as it could have been done by anybody. It is, indeed, admirably done. Conceding that the thing most needed was an exhibition of the preacher and theologian, his book affords large satisfaction. Necessarily, the motive dominates the treatment and flavors the tone of composition. The result is that it seems to be a book written especially for the profession. It should not be inconceivable that persons may have great admiration for Horace Bushnell who do not care supremely for his theological speculations and debates. His character had a guiding, nourishing, energizing force, potential for uplifting the community of souls.
It happened that he was called to vindicate God’s revelations of himself from prevalent misconceptions, to liberate human hearts from thralldom to a hard and oppressive dogmatic theology, and he delivered his message from, or as from, the pulpit. No blame to the theologians for claiming him and exalting him. He was enrolled in their order ; his vocation was in their vineyard; their cults engaged his chief attention, whether protesting or proposing: but they need not appropriate him too exclusively. He was so broad, so human, so spiritual, so practical, it is not meet that he should be laid away finally on the shelf of a divinity school library. That he was great in his vocation will hardly be gainsaid ; but he was great in his avocations, also, and above all he was great in the sum of qualities and accomplishments, the character. Hence, for example and inspiration, the life is more important than any phase of his achievement. This man would have been a discoverer of new truth and a liberator in whatever station he was set. By instinct he was a pioneer, adventurous, fearless, requiring no leader, content to stand alone and to advance alone if deserted by followers.
It is not proposed to pursue specifically the development of Bushnell’s theological opinions. That they were not common opinions when promulgated, nor set forth in feebleness, is proved by the prodigious ferment caused by their proclamation, and the long, intense, uncharitable antagonism he endured. What is pertinent here is to show the essentials of Dr. Bushnell’s achievement in the domain of theology as Dr. Munger estimates it. Whether his estimate be correct and final in all respects is a matter that we shall not presume to discuss. As the judgment of one peculiarly qualified to form a just opinion, it must command general respect, if not complete assent.
Early in the book, — chapter iii.,— within the space of a dozen pages, is given a panoramic presentation of the points of controversy in the orthodox church of New England from the day of the elder Edwards to that of Professor Taylor, of the Yale Seminary, who was Bushnell’s instructor, although Bushnell was not his disciple. It is a swift summary of disputations that gave to the first Jonathan Edwards and his son, to Bellamy, Hopkins, Emmons, Dwight, and Taylor, their distinction as definers of doctrine. Dr. Munger, however he may respect their religious character, is pungently critical of their opinions and methods. What he says of the method of Edwards discloses, by inference, his own radically different motive, which was Bushnell’s habit as well: “ The general criticism to be made upon Edwards’ work as a whole is that his avowed purpose was the overthrow of an alleged heresy. He thus incurred the inevitable weakness of the negative method. He assumed that if Arminianism were overthrown Calvinism would hold the ground. The mistake was a fatal one, because it substituted controversy for investigation. The search was not for the truth, but for the error of the enemy, who, in almost any theological controversy, holds enough truth to embarrass the other side.” Bushnell’s search was for higher truth, larger truth, the whole truth. He tested propositions by their inclusive rather than their exclusive force. He cultivated what in a fine phrase he called 舠 a vein of comprehensiveness.” He aspired to rise above the incidents of antagonism, and to embrace the saving good of conflicting partial statements in some superlative expansive suggestion that would uplift the understanding, and deliver souls from confinement to low prospects bounded by artificial hills.
Taylor’s assertion of the self-determining power of the will startled the orthodox camp like a midnight alarm, and was the provocation of “ as intense a theological war as the nineteenth century is capable of.” This war was young when Bushnell began his theological studies (1831), and was in full fury when he was settled over the North Church in Hartford. The church contained partisans of the old doctrine and the new, who held together only by dint of Christian love and shrewd tactfulness during the critical period of installing their shepherd. The later conflict followed hard upon a revolt from Calvinism and the Edwardsian modification of it that rived the New England church in twain, and established the Unitarians as a distinct sect. Of this defection Dr. Munger says: “ On theological grounds it was more than half justifiable ; on ecclesiastical grounds it was schismatic, and had the weakness of schism.” Dr. Bushnell’s work was for these as well as for the unseparated disputants of his own communion. 舠 With no antecedents or environment to account for him, he stood out between the two parties under the impulse of his own thought, but having a common message for both. ... It is not yet easy to realize the importance of the position maintained by Bushnell. Less and less will his theological opinions be quoted, though they will not soon be forgotten ; but his stand and method will more and more take on the form of a deliverance for orthodoxy.” A deliverance, that is, from stifling and oppressive dogmas so at war with human nature, awakened to truer conceptions of itself by the potency of new knowledge, that earnest men and women, especially the young, were abandoning the ecclesiastical house of their fathers, in search of vital air and freedom to live hopefully.
“ Relief was needed at four points : first, from a revivalism that ignored the law of Christian growth; second, from a conception of the Trinity bordering on tritheism ; third, from a view of miracles that implied a suspension of natural law; and fourth, from a theory of the Atonement that had grown almost shadowy under ‘ improvements,’ yet still failed to declare the law of human life. The time had also come when a rational, scientific, cause-and-effect habit of thought was imperatively required, not only on these four points, but in the whole realm of theology. But the doctrines, even as they were held, were not to be cast out and trodden underfoot. They sprang out of great and nourishing truths, the germs of which still lay within them. Bushnell undertook to reinterpret these doctrines, and to restate them in the terms of life itself ; to find their ground in nature and revelation, and in the processes of the human spirit.”
As a substitute for — or better, a correction of — the too great dependence of the churches, for their replenishment, upon so - called 舠revivals of religion,” Bushnell asserted the possibility and duty of so educating the souls of children that they will develop characters in harmony with the divine character, cheerfully obedient to the Christian law of life, and gravitating to acceptance of the responsibility of church membership in due season, without awful paroxysms of conscience or cataclysmal drenchings by the Holy Spirit. He denied that the change of heart, theologically termed conversion, must be “ the product of separate and absolutely independent choice.” The scope of his thought on this theme was concentrated in a volume entitled Christian Nurture, which received its final form in 1861.
Earlier utterances, beginning with a newspaper article in 1836, aroused an odium theologicum which pursued him to the end of life, finding new motives in his several publications of unfamiliar doctrine. The opposition never daunted his will to speak the truth as he apprehended it, nor induced him to indulge in covert or surreptitious expression. When the rage and the growling were fiercest over any last utterance, he was apt to distract his critics by flinging down a new theme of contention. Only once or twice did he condescend to take any defensive part in the controversies aroused.
Those who would know the full significance of this teacher’s opinions, and why they were so disturbing, must go to Dr. Monger’s book, or to the books in which Bushnell has set them forth. Concerning the Trinity, the Atonement, the Incarnation, the books to be read are God in Christ, Christ in Theology, and The Vicarious Atonement, which in its final form comprises Forgiveness and Law, first published separately. Regarding the miracles and all cognate themes, Nature and the Supernatural is the profound and splendid exposition of his philosophical reconciliation of God’s various ways of revelation. In his own words, his purpose was “ to find a legitimate place for the supernatural in the system of God, and show it as a necessary part of the divine system itself.舡 Dr. Munger calls this “ Bushnell’s most thorough and complete treatise.舡 His explanatory and critical treatment of it, both in chapter xiii., which is devoted to it, and in the concluding chapter, while appreciative, is discriminating. Since this is Bushnell’s most original and ambitious contribution to theology, it is fitting to indicate its character by quoting from Dr. Munger somewhat generously, premising that his full thought and felicity are necessarily mutilated by excisions: —
“ The doctrine of miracles has been held in two leading forms: first, that they are to be accepted on the strength of the evidences as stated in Scripture; second, that the character and teaching of Christ are internal proofs of the reality of his miraculous works, — Christ carries the miracles, and not the reverse. ... It was getting to be felt that the laws of nature could not be regarded as set aside, as in the first view, or ignored, as under the second view. Bushnell saw the difficulty with each, though recognizing a certain force in them. . . . He saw that nature and the supernatural could not be put in essential antithesis, but must form ‘ one system.' His method, however, was, not to bring the supernatural down into what is called the natural, but to lift the natural into the supernatural. The point of contact was anthropological : man is supernatural by virtue of his will ; his consciousness of free agency delivers him from the grasp of endless causation, and makes him one with God in freedom and creative energy. . . . This view of man as a supernatural being, and of ‘ one system,’seems to have come to stay, at least in its main features. ... It is true that there still prevail conceptions of miracle as the violation of natural law, and also a crass rejection of the supernatural as a superstition, but the best thought of the day links them together and leaves them by the wayside. This thought, of which Bushnell saw the early gleam, and was the first among us clearly to herald, stands before nature, the revelations of science, and the unfolding nature of man, in wonder and silence, confessing that God is behind and in all, and that his laws, like himself, are one.舡
Turning now from the supreme phase of Bushnell’s life work, we may attempt a more general survey of his personality and achievements. He was born in Litchfield, Connecticut, April 14, 1802, of ancestry that had long habitation in the state. When he was three years old the family removed to Preston, not far away, where there was a factory for making woolen cloth, in which the father found occupation at the trade that his own father had followed before him. In this factory the youth Horace was early employed. In addition the family cultivated a farm. By such double industry they enjoyed an humble prosperity, not far removed from poverty, never releasing the members from the necessity of toil. Service was the duty of each. Idleness was esteemed not only unprofitable, but sinful. Father and mother were persons of strong character, and of exacting fidelity in every relation. None the less was it a home of cheerfulness, of robust affection, of gentle influences, and of noble aspirations. The religious conditions were adapted to inculcation of toleration and charity. The father had imbibed from his mother Arminian predilections ; the mother was reared in the Protestant Episcopal Church. Nevertheless, both joined and supported the one institution of religion in the town, a Congregational church, where hard doctrines were stoutly preached. The home was a nursery of sincere piety, free from bigotry and arrogance. Mental independence was respected. Individualism had a fair chance. Here was germinated the seed which later blossomed in Christian Nurture, and that noble address The Age of Homespun. He was always proud of the fact that for five years before reaching manhood’s age he had done a man’s full daily work. Nor had the intellectual part been stunted. He was a lover of books and men, of all life, and of grand action. He found in the beautiful nature of the region inspirations of joy and thoughtfulness. Between his healthy soul and the spirits of the hills, the fields, the woods, and the streams there was rare facility of communication. The deep sources of his power were already acquired and stored before he determined to go to college:
The privilege of a liberal education was open to him early, but was rejected then because his mind, which had a native bent to mechanics and structural work, was well satisfied with the opportunities afforded in the mill. And modesty had something to do with the decision ; “ for how,” he later explained, “ could an awkward country boy think of going in among the great folk of a college ? ” Nevertheless, he continued school work as he had opportunity, and when sixteen years old began studying Latin. When he was eighteen he united with the village church. From that time a desire for education grew in him. Five years after he had refused it he asked for it. But the homespun manufactured in the mill was going out of use, and the family fortunes were on an ebbing tide. His mother, however, would not relinquish her yearning. She called, as he has gratefully narrated, a family council, “ where we drew the calculation close and made up our bill: I to wear homespun to the end, use only secondhand books, and pay the bills of my last year myself ; the family to institute a closer economy for my sake.”
He was in his twenty-second year when he began his course at Yale, with scant preparation in scholarship, but in physical hardiness, in mental discipline and judgment, a man among boys. He soon came to the front in the classroom, and was leader also in the athletic sports of the time. All reports represent him to have been an industrious, independent worker, cheerful and influential, and respected in the college life, though debarred, of course, from the festive sociality that requires money for its indulgence, and a stranger to the domestic society of the town. He had some proficiency in music, and founded, for the benefit of the chapel choir, the Beethoven Society, which has maintained a useful existence ever since. His religious life was shadowed by a partial eclipse of faith. The questionings of Christian facts and doctrine then rife made an appeal to his reason that was not overcome for many years, although he engaged in no offensive revolt, and kept the path of righteousness of life.
Making it his first duty as a graduate to pay his debts, he began teaching in Norwich. He was not unsuccessful, but he disliked the work, and soon left it to go to New York as assistant editor of the Journal of Commerce. There he labored zealously for ten months, being practically in charge of the newspaper most of the time, owing to the illness of his chief. He wrote much, and with so great ability that, in a reorganization of the property, he was offered a proprietary interest to remain as editor in chief. The flattering offer did not win him. He said it was “ a terrible life,” and having paid his debts, and saved somewhat besides, he returned to New Haven to begin the study of law. In the following summer he decided to go West, work into a law practice, and ultimately into politics. While making his preparations at home he was offered a tutorship in the college. He promptly declined it; but later, yielding to his mother’s suggestion, he reconsidered, and accepted. But for this, another biographer — for presumably he would have had one — might have entitled his volume Horace Bushnell, Jurist and Statesman. Whether there has been gain or loss, what mortal can demonstrate ? His own maturer judgment was, “ No other calling but the ministry of Christ, I am obliged to feel, could have anywise filled my inspirations.”
While tutoring he completed the course for admission to the bar. He was still in spiritual darkness. Dr. Munger says his state might be described as “ sound in ethics, but skeptical in religion. . . . His doubts grew into positive unbelief, which was held in check by his conscience.” In the winter of 1831 the college was solemnized by a revival. The life of the place was aglow with the fervor of consecration. Bushnell gave no sign of sympathy ; nor any sign of opposition, except silence and aloofness. He was no mocker of the faith precious to others. His own pupils copied his attitude. The band of tutors held religious meetings daily, but without him. All feared to interfere with the strong man’s self-striving. He knew their hearts, and finally said to one of them : “ I must get out of this woe. Here am I what I am, and these young men hanging to me in their indifference amidst this universal earnestness.” He invited his pupils to meet him, laid bare to them his position and their own, his determination and the one they should make. He joined his fellow tutors in the meeting, confessing the power of the doubts he had nourished, adding: “But I am glad I have a heart as well as a head. My heart wants the Father; my heart wants the Son; my heart wants the Holy Ghost; — and one just as much as the other. My heart says the Bible has a Trinity for me, and I mean to hold by my heart. . . . But that is all I can do yet.” Long afterward, referring to the period of his aberration, he said : “ My very difficulty was that I was too thoughtful, substituting thought for everything else, and expecting so intently to dig out a religion by my head that I was pushing it all the while practically away.”
He entered the theological seminary, completing his course there, not by any means accepting all that was taught as very truth. Nevertheless, he was licensed, and in May, 1833, he became pastor of the North Church in Hartford. He was married in the same year to Miss Mary Apthorp, of New Haven, a descendant of John Davenport, the colony’s first minister, — a happy and helpful union that fitly nourished the strength and tenderness of his character. When ordained he was thirty-one years old, a broadly, sanely, maturely developed man, with an exceptionally various and liberal training, versed in labor, self-denial, and suffering, all his wisdom of knowledge and experience resting on basic talents that in happy combination constituted a power akin to genius, if not genius itself. His definition of genius was, “ The power of mental application.” This he surely had.
Was he a great preacher? Not by every standard. He preached great sermons. The contents of his published volumes, even those not specifically called sermons, are in large part the thoughts that he had first broached to his Hartford congregation, and in much the same language; but he did not attract the multitude in throngs to hear him. Persons of more emotion than reason were not spellbound by his utterance. They might be conscious that high thoughts, sentences of weighty import, surcharged with conviction, grandly phrased, were sounding in their ears; but it must have required an eager and sympathetic intelligence to apprehend the height and the depth of the deliverance, to compass its broad significance and mark the flight of his swift suggestions. Dr. Munger cites a remark, in colloquio, of Professor George Adam Smith, that “ Bushnell is the preacher’s preacher, as Spenser is the poet’s poet. His sermons are on the shelves of every manse in Scotland.” The Scotch ministers are no mean judges of the intellectual quality of sermons. He was not altogether and only this kind of a preacher. He fed his flock, holding his church and congregation in loving confidence and support through twenty-six years, much of the time amidst such storms of outer hostility and distrust as few churches have fared through without disruption or exhaustion. No man could have made this record in a denomination where the organization and prosperity of the individual church depend so much upon the pulpit service, unless he was a great preacher to his own.
Of his early pulpit manner Mrs. Cheney says : 舠His preaching had in those days a fiery quality, an urgency and willful force, which in his later style is still felt in the more subdued glow of poetic imagery. There was a nervous insistence about his person, and a peculiar emphasizing swing of his right arm from the shoulder, which no one who has ever heard him is likely to forget. It seemed as if, with this gesture, he swung himself into his subject, and would fain carry others along with him. His sermons were always written out in full; never extemporized, never memorized.”
Donald G. Mitchell, in American Lands and Letters, characterizes him as “a vital preacher.” Describing the impression made by him in later life, preaching in the Yale chapel, he says: “A spare man, — as I remember him, — of fair height, thin-faced, with no shadow of grossness in him, — almost the hollow cheeks of an anchorite, and with a voice that bore one into celestial altitudes. We upon the oaken benches were not great lovers of sermons in those days, or of preachers ; but here was a man whose voice and manner held us. ... In his sermon there was pith; he stuck to the core of things. He was outside and remote from conventionalities, — so remote that you would hardly expect him to say a ‘ good-morning ’ as other men did, but to put casual greeting into such fashion as would strike deeper and last longer ; a seer looking into the depths that hem us in, with uttered warnings, expostulations, tender encouragements, all wrapped in words that tingled with new meanings, or beguiled one with their resonant euphuisms.”
Dr. Munger’s testimony is : “ He can be fully appreciated only by those who heard him preach. Sermon and delivery fitted each other like die and image. The sincerity of the word was matched by the quiet confidence of his bearing, and the poetry of his diction was sustained by the music of his voice, which always fell into a rhythmic cadence. The flights of his imagination were not rhetorical strivings, but the simple rehearsals of what he saw. His effectiveness was peculiar. If he gained any hearing at all, he won the consent of the whole man, — not agreement always, but intellectual and moral sympathy. He was the most democratic and most human of preachers, and at the same time one of the loftiest and most spiritual. He spoke to men as on equal terms and in a direct way, taking them into his confidence and putting himself in their place, feeling their needs, sharing their doubts, and reasoning the questions out as one of them. He never berates, and if he exhorts, it is in the same spirit of comradeship over the matter in hand. Still he is dominated by the subject and its demands, following where it goes ; and if any of his hearers falter, he does not stop with them, but leads the rest on to the final solution, or up to the last look into the mystery.”
His published sermons live. Wanting the interpretation of his voice and glance and gesture, they are still vital, inspiring, grand, testifying to his primacy among contemporaries and his enduring sway. However familiar his speculative opinions, once novel, may become, or whether they become obsolete, the message of his best sermons will not grow dull nor trite. It addresses the verities of being, temporal and eternal. And literature will be apt to treasure some of these sermons, with many of his essays and addresses, as choice trophies of achievement in the art of English expression.
During the whole term of his pastorate, and until the end of his life, he was the public-spirited citizen, actively promoting the prosperity of his city and state, and giving to the affairs of the nation earnest attention. He kept abreast of the current social and political movements of a history-making epoch, and when occasion served gave valorous help to the righteous side. His first published sermon (1835) was entitled The Crisis of the Church. In it he arraigned slavery as an impending peril. “ It has its seat in the will rather than the conscience ; and all its moral affinities from the first have accordingly been adverse, and have operated to depress that noble virtue that gave birth to our institutions. . . . The whole material of slavery, all the moral elements which it supplies to our institutions, are inflammable and violent. At almost any hour it may explode the foundations of the republic.”
From that time onward to the outbreak of the slaveholders’ rebellion, and through the agony of the war to the final overthrow of the “ dire evil,” — final in respect of its concrete organism, — he kept his influence steadily useful to the party of freedom, crowning this devotion by the majestic solemn oration on Our Obligations to the Dead, at the commemoration by Yale College of her sons who had fallen in the war for the preservation of the Union.
In this oration, delivered (1865) before reconstruction measures were enacted, he proposed an amendment to the Constitution, providing that “ the basis of representation in Congress shall be the number, in all the states alike, of the free male voters therein.” He divined that, under such an amendment, political interest, without other enforcement, would establish impartial suffrage securely. Something like this has been proposed lately as a remedy for the evasions that have been accomplished in defeat of the purpose of the amendment that our lawyer statesmen produced with so much travail.
In 1840, sixty years ago, he uttered a denunciation of the immoral spoils system of party government that has not been bettered in the long interval since : “ Let me take you to the scene where your Lord is crucified ; and after the work is done, I will point you then to four men, not the most worthy, sitting down to parcel out the garments of the crucified Saviour, and casting their lots for the seamless robe he wore. These too were receivers of the spoils.” If the doctrine of the spoils is to be the universal doctrine of politics, “ then we shall have a scene in this land never before exhibited on earth ; one which would destroy the integrity and sink the morality of a nation of angels. It will be as if so many offices, worth so much, together with the seamless robe of our glorious Constitution, were held up to be the price of victory. . . . Only conceive such a lure held out to this great people, and all the little offices of the government thus set up for the price of victory, without regard to merit or anything but party services, and you have a spectacle of baseness and rapacity such as was never seen before. No preaching of the gospel in our land, no parental discipline, no schools, not all the machinery of virtue together, can long be a match for the corrupting power of our political strifes actuated by such a law as this. It would make us a nation of apostates at the foot of Sinai.”
He was an earnest ally of public education in its lower and its higher realms. At a time when the Hartford schools were in a low state he was active in stimulating public opinion to lift them up, and his effort produced great and permanent effects. No one has more clearly perceived the high public uses of common schools for all classes of the people. During a year spent in California, sick man that he was, he devoted himself with ardor to forwarding the project of a university, giving impulse to a nascent public sentiment which has blossomed gloriously. This is only one of the ways in which he exerted a beneficent influence in moulding the young commonwealth, whose promise he measured with a statesman’s prescience.
Rev. J. H. Twichell, of Hartford, has said, “ Bushnell lies back of all that is best in the city.” Another says, “ Hartford is largely what he has made it.” In a time of stagnation and discouragement, he roused the citizenship to confidence and fresh endeavor by a notable sermon entitled Prosperity a Duty. When the community had been induced to substantial agreement to build the new State House on an unfit site, he went into a public meeting and made an address which changed the aspect of the matter so decisively that the scheme was no longer tolerable. By a labor begun almost alone, and continued through years as tactfully as persistently, he prevailed in reclaiming an unsightly and nauseous region in the heart of the city and transforming it into a park, which, while he lay dying, was by vote of the city government named Bushnell Park. All these things, and many more that cannot be enumerated, were accomplished by sheer ability to impress his better judgment on the conviction of men of affairs. What has been said herein of his active concern in civic affairs and in the moral aspect of political issues, which is the aspect sound statesmanship must perforce consider, hardly suggests the resources for fuller treatment available to an unhampered biographer. But it must suffice.
No just notion of the peculiar power and beauty of his writing at its best can be formed from description, nor from such meagre examples as have been quoted in illustration rather of the substance of his opinions than of his genius for expression. The style was the product of all his experience, more a natural than an artificial instrument, and susceptible of his various moods, — sincere, playful, earnest, struggling, aspiring, exalted. It had a racy Litchfield County strength and sweetness for the soil of it, upon which the culture of the scholar and the imagination of the poet, spontaneously springing and flowering, wrought some noble developments of grace and splendor. He was a trained logician, but he made little use of dialectic, being persuaded that religious truth is not so demonstrated to the soul.
Late in life, to one who inquired whether certain traits of his style were the results of any peculiar method of training, he wrote that, after a “ strong lift in religious experience,” he found he had no language to serve him in his higher thoughts. “ In this mood or exigency, I discovered how language, built on physical images, is itself two stories high, and is, in fact, an outfit for a double range of uses. In one it is literal, naming so many roots or facts of form ; in the other it is figure, figure on figure, clean beyond the dictionaries for whatever it can properly signify. . . . Writing became in this manner to a considerable extent the making of language, and not a going to the dictionaries. I have dared sometimes to put myself out on my liberty. Finding the air full of wings about me, buoyant all and free, I have let them come under and lift. The second, third, and thirtieth senses of words — all but the physical first sense — belong to the empyrean, and are given, as we see in the prophets, to be inspired by. Of course they must be genuinely used, — in their nature, and not contrary to it. We learn to embark on them as we do when we go to sea; and when the breeze of inspiration comes, we glide. Commonly there will be a certain rhythm in the motion, as there is in waves, and as we hear in Æolian chords.”
He added these practical precepts : “ Never take a model to be copied. When that is being done, no great work begins ; the fire is punky and only smokes. Never try to create a fine style or say things beautifully. Go to the tailors for all the appearings. But if we can have great thoughts, let these burst the shells of words, if they must, to get expression. And if they are less rhythmic when expressed than is quite satisfactory, mere thought, mere headwork, will, of course, have its triangulations, and ought to have. Add now great inspirations, great movings of sentiment, and these, just so long as the gale lasts, will set everything gliding and flowing, whether to order or not. But let no one think to be gliding always. A good prose motion has some thumping in it.”
In the first of these quotations is a brief presentation of his favorite theory of the symbolism of language. It is elaborated in an essay prefixed to the argument of the book Godin Christ; and he frequently reverts to it, as the right method of inculcating theology, and the key to the interpretation of the Scriptures. He speaks of this symbolism as his own discovery, and so undoubtedly it was ; but it had been discovered also by others. Emerson definitely formulated it in the fourth part of Nature. It is a corollary of Swedenborg’s doctrine of correspondences, and in Emerson’s essay on Swedenborg the root idea is tracked back to Plato. Bushnell affirms that “ the whole universe of nature is the perfect analogon of the whole world of thought or spirit.” This differs only in form from Emerson’s statement, “ Nature is the symbol of the spirit.”
Of Dr. Bushnell’s personal traits there is little space to speak. That he was a man of uncommon affection and tenderness appears in the tributes of those who knew him intimately, and in the charming family letters, of which many are given in the earlier memoir. He began his ministry and the establishment of a home on a salary of twelve hundred dollars a year, with a resolution, which he kept, never to incur a debt which he did not know how he was to pay. His domestic life, of which one of his daughters gives report, was of the sweetest type, simple, familiar, cheerful, and considerate. He was punctual in business and in duties. His conversation with friends was cordial, meaty, entertaining, often brilliant. Neither health nor inclination, to say nothing of his constant serious occupation, permitted much participation in social festivity. He had innate dignity and courtesy, although sometimes abrupt to the point of brusqueness, and when the provocation was great he could be sternly severe. He bore affliction with resignation, and crosses with patience. His favorite recreations were gardening and fishing. One may surmise that his scholarship was excursive and liberal rather than exact or profound. Dr. Munger says it was a peculiarity and a weakness of Bushnell, if regarded as a professional theologian, that he “ not only wrote, but published first, and read later, with the result of a real or apparent modification of his opinions.”
While he was glad of approbation, he was not dependent upon it, nor was he deflected by it. He consulted with himself. He leaned on conscience. Feeling God at his back, he encountered human favor and blame with an equal mind. Except in some of his theological works, he seldom felt a need of reinforcing his opinions or illustrating them, much less of adorning them, by quotation. If he sometimes made his argument overstrenuous, it was through urgency of zeal rather than in pride of power, and never in malice of temper. He cherished no animosities, and courted peace rather than strife, but not at the price of suppressing the message he was charged to deliver. His familiar and trusted friends were neighbors, or not far away, and his correspondence was not voluminous. A very dear friend was Dr. Cyrus A. Bartol, with whom he had extended, intimate correspondence of a delightful quality, perfect in mutual confidence. The distrust and non-intercourse which were the penalties of bis heresies had no effect to sour his disposition, however keenly they were felt. For thirty years he was in broken health that interrupted his loved labor, and kept him for long periods from home. This, too, was patiently borne, in a way that wrought mellowness and spirituality of character. It is pleasant to know that he lived down in large degree the personal hostility provoked by his bold divergence from accepted standards. In later life he was invited to pulpits that had long been shut against him, and his last days were comforted by evidences of generous appreciation and affection. In part, the changed conditions were due to the growth of liberal opinions; still more to a life which exemplified the Master’s instruction.
His theology was a lift forward, a contribution to progress, not a finality. One who said, 舠As nature becomes truly a universe only through science revealing its universal laws, the true universe of thought and spirit cannot sooner be conceived,” could not have hoped to speak the final word. Already his work in this department, important as it was in his day, is being overwhelmed by an influx of new knowledge and light. Its fame must be intrusted to the historians of religion. A longer life in common remembrance will be the fate of his strong, spiritual, rejoicing sermons ; and the contents of such books as Work and Play, Moral Uses of Dark Things, and Building Eras have perennial worth and ministration. All in all, he must be accounted a man of noble stature, whose work promoted that conception of God as love which
“ Would change the hue of intermediate things And make one thing of all theology.”
- Horace Bushnell , Preacher and Theologian. By THEODORE T. MUNGER. Boston and New York : Houghton, Mifflin & Co. 1899.↩