Preaching in New York. Ii

November 2, 1920. — The Hard Church of modern times has suffered a loss of poetry, no less than of piety, by letting the day of All Souls drop out of its calendar. More winsome, more humane is the older faith, as in those parts of Ireland where old and sweet customs arc not forgotten. There, as Kettle once said, in every cottage and farmhouse the hearth will be cleanswept and a new fire laid down, with a chair set before it for every member of the family who has passed out of shadows into realities. For it is believed that they are privileged to revisit tonight the place of their childhood. ‘Dead names will be cried about the winds—the names of those who achieved, the names of those who were broken or who broke themselves. Not a heart but about its portals will flutter a strange drift of memories; for it is the Day of all the Dead.’ If religion is poetry believed in, surely here is a touch of beauty, pity, and piety.

November 4. — Spent an evening with Eamonn de Valera, and found him a man of real power and charm — much more, methinks, than a mere doctrinaire. Tall, somewhat angular, he might easily be awkward, and his keen eye and square jaw show the fighter. Winsome and gentle-hearted, one gets an impression of character made firm by loyalty to a principle. When he talked of Ireland, there was a light in his eyes which revealed what reverence and devotion really are. Asked what he would do with Home Rule if and when he got it, he said the first thing would be to declare Ireland independent and free. Such men are easily misjudged, but his sincerity is unmistakable. Patriots are rebels till they triumph—then they are heroes. The evening left me asking a question like that of Pilate, only in a different mood : What is wisdom? Where are we to draw the line between an erect, unbending devotion to an ideal, and an adaptable attitude, which deals with facts, takes half a loaf when it cannot get the whole, and achieves results?

November G. — Had a bite and a chat with Huneker at the Players. What an amazing man, alike for his vitality of body and his verve of spirit, his incredible knowledge, his sensitiveness, his generosity, and, above all, his critical eye for the good. As a romantic raconteur, he is supreme, and there is no one near him. Such talk — full of stories, pictures, flashing epigrams, and news from every realm of art. Listening to him is like riding on an express train through a multicolored tangle-wood. Flaubert, Gautier, and Emerson arc among his masters, and in music, Chopin and Bach. He thinks, as he writes, in terms of music. My suggestion that Painted Veils ought to be reckoned among his sins evoked such a running critique of fiction as I never heard before in my life.

Outside, in Gramercy Park, stood Quinn’s statue of Booth as Hamlet — lonely, pensive, heroic; and over the fireplace, inside, hung Sargent’s portrait of the Booth his friends knew and loved. We agreed that near by there ought to be a memorial to William Winter, the Plutarch of our stage and the greatest critic of the drama America has known. It was an hour of enchantment, made so by the gay heart and the glittering mind of my host.

November 22. — Took tea with Rabindranath Tagore at the Algonquin Hotel, and feel almost as if I had been talking to another Man of the East, who wore a tunic and turban in Galilee. His is Oriental robes, his domelike forehead, his long iron-gray hair, his beautiful dark eyes, made him look like a figure that had stepped out of the pages of the Bible. As he talked on, speaking with exquisitely soft voice in the English accent, I remembered how, when Yeats sought to find someone with whom to compare Tagore, he went back to à Kempis. Rather he is a kind of blend of Whitman and Francis of Assisi — a poet to whom the law of life is love, comradeship, joy, with much else hidden in those deep eyes which we of the West can hardly know. Vividly I recalled my first reading of Song Offerings, and the wonder of it, — like floating, far-off music, touched by a wistful elusive sadness, yet with hints to remind one of the Song of Songs, its imagery as tenuous as filmy smoke-tapestry, — and how, later, I had a happy argument with Alfred Noyes as to whether it was poetry at all or not.

Alas, to-day I heard a new note of pathos in his voice, the echo of a great heartbreak at thought of the chaos of the world and the tragedy of India. It is a sadness hard to know from despair, deepened by his glimpse of our metallic, regimented civilization in the West, and the tide of materialism and narrow nationalism now flowing. Only the Sons of the Spirit — the Poets — have the secret for the healing of humanity, and their voices are not heard in the hoarse rancor of to-day. ‘God is wanting,’he said; and until we find and serve Him, knowing that He cares more for a brother than He does for an empire, there will be no recovery from the bankruptcy of constructive faith and vision we have suffered. ‘May He give us the beneficent mind,’he added, quoting from the Upanishad; and I went away under the spell of a great spiritual personality, whose charm is no more to be uttered than the ecstasy of spring mornings, or the light that lies on purple hills.

December 10. — My English friends keep writing of New York as a glittering, heartless place, hoping that I may make my church a centre of friendliness in a cold city. Every city is cold and cruel, — not with the ferocity of a tiger, but with the indifference of a cart wheel, which rolls over a stone or a human head with equal ease, — New York not more so than London. Indeed, the frigidity of New York is only a pretense and a bluff, as Raggles discovered in the O. Henry story, ‘The Making of a New Yorker.’ Nor does one have to be knocked over in the street, as he was, to learn that, underneath its glitter and show, it is almost foolishly warmhearted. Half its people are from smaller communities and long for the old neighborliness — but dare not show it. They are like billiard balls in a game: they ‘kiss’ and pass on, little knowing the pent-up kindness under the polished surface. New York is a huge mass of scrambled humanity,—many races, creeds, colors, — but it is wistfully, pathetically human, after all. At the present rate, like Raggles I shall soon be saying ‘Noo York,’thinking that the sun rises in East River and sets in the Hudson.

December 25. — History is eager with the effort of men to find a Happy Prince, whose power shall be gentle, wise, and just, and to establish Him in dominion over their broken lives and warring wills. Long ago they found Him; but all who find Him lose Him, though all have found Him fair. The eager dream came true when from a little town in Judea there came a Man of Good Will, the lover of the race. Each year, for a brief day, so swift to go, Lord Christ rules over us. Each year we give Him Christmas Day, permitting his will to prevail, and his brooding spirit to rest upon the nations. Toward that happy interlude we look forward longingly; and when it is ended, we look back lovingly to the time when we were good together. Strife, anger, tumult, and the hurry of little days are forgotten. A while we dwell in his kingdom, and in his authority there is peace. Alas, the Day of Christ is gone while the welcome is still on our lips. He comes and He passes, because we are troubled about many things. If He might abide, it would be well with us, and pity and joy would walk the common ways of man.

January 14, 1921. — New York is the greatest religious Curiosity Shop on earth. Besides all the regular varieties of religion, Catholic, Protestant, Hebrew, Trinitarian, Unitarian, Communitarian, we have the most variegated menagerie of cults anywhere to be found. ‘Fads, freaks, fakes, supported by women of a certain age suffering from suppressed religion,’ a friend of mine described them; but I have been investigating. In the McAlpin Hotel there is to be a lecture on Divine Metaphysics, after which ‘ audible treatment will be given.’ In the Biltmore there was a lecture on the ‘Hidden Giant,’ — the Subconscious, — followed by ‘Classes in Concentration and Prosperity.’ In the Ansonia Hotel I listen to a sermon on the ‘Religion of the Solar Plexus,’ an utterly new gospel to me. Indeed, I have heard so many unheardof gospels, made up of the heel-taps of psychology and the fag-ends of occultism, that I am dizzy — swimming round and round in puddles of words.

It is a strange phenomenon, restless folk running hither and yon, listening to Parlor Magi, knocking at the doors of dead paganisms and modern theosophies, asking for new faiths. For many, this vagrant hotel religion is a kind of intellectual picnic, asking questions of every ship that comes into port; a religion which, the last of every month, pulls out its notebook to write down a new creed — ‘ ever learning, but never coming to the knowledge of the truth,’ as the Apostle said. For others, it is an ingrowing, self-obsessed religion — not once did I hear the social note struck. They think only of their own personal health, or luck, or success, or peace of mind; and the easy, evasive optimism they seek is an ostrich attitude, ignoring hard realities. Often it looks like a subtle selfishness, trying to wear the robes of mystical faith, seeking spiritual victory without discipline.

January 16. — Each of the cults that haunt our hotels betrays some lack on the part of organized religion — chiefly its lack of emphasis on the mystical element. Medical science is not spiritual enough, and the church does not give specific guidance in the details of the spiritual life — what the Catholics call the Office of Direction. The church tells men to pray, but does not tell them how to do it — whereas it is a high, austere art. The physician must not simply tell his patient to be well, he must tell him how to do it — what to eat, how to sleep, and the rest. There are difficulties in handling mental and spiritual hygiene in the pulpit; but a way must be found to do it. Each of the cults I have visited offered a programme, a method to be followed, a book to be read regularly. Such books! Bereft of literary beauty and spiritual wisdom — but they are read. The meaning of it all is that these cults are seeking a new technique of religion, in response to a deep need, — trying to help distracted folk to personal efficiency through spiritual experience, — and their aim is right, whatever we may think of their teachings. After all, Susan Yellam was right: ‘Faith in A’mighty God have more to do wi’ the stomach than most folks think on.’

January 24. — Listening to Chesterton lecture is a joy undefiled, as much for his manner as for the niceties of his insight and his ever-present humor. His huge figure, his shock of tousled gray hair, his accent, beginning a sentence in the treble key and sliding down, his shy, winning smile, captivate, the while he pricks our absurdities and pronounces prohibition a violation of the constitution of the universe. His second lecture, ‘Shall We Abolish the Inevitable?’ was an annihilating analysis of the pervasive, easy-going fatalism which is nothing short of a curse. At the close of one of his lectures, a woman in the top gallery asked him why he used paradox in his writings. He expressed surprise, saying that he had searched his books in vain for a paradox, the quest having suggested a great epic poem to be entitled Paradox Lost. If he can help America to recover its lost sense of humor, he will be a benefactor; and he can do it by telling us what the London papers would say if the Autobiography of Margot Asquith had been written by an American woman!

January 27. — No church is more rich in its munificence, or more strategic in its labor to stem the tide of paganism in New York, than the Episcopal Church. Its missions arc marvels of sagacious and prophetic Christian enterprise. For that reason all who labor in this diocese are deeply interested in the election of a new bishop; but it is a pity that we always have a big row and get all mussed up about it. As a partisan of the rector of Grace Church, — whose spiritual insight and literary charm have been among my blessings for years, — the result does not make me happy, save as a rebuke to the Anglophobes, who attacked Dr. Manning on the ground of his British origin; which is like excommunicating George Washington, who was a British subject before lie became an American citizen. Let us hope the new Bishop will finish the slowly rising Cathedral of St. John the Divine, — about which James Lane Allen wove his lovely story, The Cathedral Singer, — and show us the function of a cathedral in a democracy. If only our varied fellowships could be united in one great communion, making the Cathedral a central shrine at the gates of the University, joining a Home of the Soul and a City of the Mind in the service of a many-tongued metropolis — is it only a dream?

January 28. — The annual dinner of the Poetry Society last night reminded me of the dim nights in London when we used to discuss the heavenly art between air raids. How interesting it is to meet singers whose faces you have never seen, but whose songs have opened windows of divine surprise toward the City on the Hill! Though I have long been a devotee in the Temple of Song, Le Gallienne, Rice, Kemp, Sara Teasdale, Elsa Barker, and Ina Coolbrith were among the members of the choir I had not met. Mukerji came near being the hero of the hour, with his story of the wandering poets of India, begging alms for which they pay in bits of wisdom and song. If we did not understand the meaning of the lines he recited, we felt the rhythm of the music. Markham, in his welcome to Tagore, said that in the Land of Poetry there is no East and West, but one cup of the universal communion. In the speech of Tagore one felt the ache of his heart in his words, as of one depressed, if not deeply wounded, by the mood of America. He pleaded for men of world-mind, who see that we are all citizens of one Kingdom of the Spirit, members of one Beloved Community.

February 4. — Every time I hear Rabbi Wise, it makes me want to play truant from my own church; he is so vital, so vibrant with intellectual power, so aglow with moral electricity — like a bit of human radium. Tall, athletic, graceful, his dark brown eyes eaglelike in their brightness; his deep bass voice soft as velvet in appeal, and resonant in denunciation; his style bristling with epigrams, swift epitomes, and phrases that sting the mind with the surprise of beauty — his charm as an orator is equal to his daring as a prophet. One moment he is walking to and fro like a lawyer at the bar; another, he is exploding some injustice or absurdity with a quick sabrethrust, with now a glint of humor and now a gleam of prophetic indignation.

Emerson said that the man who speaks the truth will find life sufficiently dramatic. It has been so with Rabbi Wise, who early took for his motto: ‘I will try to see things as they are, and then I will try to say them as I see them.’ His gallant fight for a free pulpit in a Free Synagogue is memorable in the religious life of America. As chivalrous as he is fascinating, in New York he is not only a personality but an institution, — admired, feared, and idolized by turns, — a leader of his own people and a captain of the forces making for social justice, civic honor, and national idealism.

February 11. — Spoke at a Settlement on the East Side, to a company made up largely of Jewish young people, the most intent and eager listeners I have had in many a day. My talk was about Lincoln, the emphasis being on the idea that we must support the State and not expect the State to support us. When question-time came, I learned that my audience did not agree with much that I had said, and they refuted me by quoting Karl Marx, whose writings they knew, giving chapter and verse, chiefly from Das Kapital — using it as an authority much as theologians use the Bible. When we got away from Marx, and dealt with issues on their merits, they were not so certain, and I accused them of playing leapfrog over hard facts. The religious idea they dismissed with a sort of triumph, even with scorn. Not all of them were Marxians, and they had a picturesque debate among themselves, while I acted as umpire. Having told them that I preferred Lincoln to Marx, I went away — wishing the while that all young people had as keen an interest in public affairs.

February 25.— Fifth Avenue, from Madison Square to the top of Central Park, is a fine lady, elegantly dressed and well mannered, the very pink of fashion, and with the way of one secure in her position and social standing. She has wealth and power, and the great churches she passes add dignity without solemnity to her deportment. If her skirts are cut as befits the fashion, — alow or aloft, — she is no flirt like Broadway, much less what Wells calls a ‘painted disaster of the street’; it is a difference not of inches, but of intention. She moves with fair grace, but without striking sinuousness. She dines at the Waldorf, worships at Brick Church, St. Thomas’s, or the Cathedral, as her heart inclines, reads at the Public Library, and keeps a museum of art for her guests. If she smokes, it is in the seclusion of her stately clubs, any one of which would make the palace of an Oriental monarch look like a rummage sale. At times she is haunted, methinks, by the dread of horrible shapes of poverty hidden in the shabbiness into which the city shades off toward the East. It is a brilliant, gracious avenue, more high-heeled than high-browed, but kind-hearted withal; in short, a glorified Main Street.

March 18. — David Swing was right. Snakes crawl, birds fly, and rabbits run, but man talks himself forward. Having discussed a thing for half a century, he takes a cautious step in advance, and then sits down and reopens the infinite conversation. Take the matter of Church Unity, about which we are having a series of very able lectures at Brick Church. All agree that a divided Church is wasteful, as well as stupid and ineffective; but the pace of a snail is swift beside our progress toward unity. Indeed, beyond the evil of overlapping, we do not know what we mean by Church Unity, much less how to bring it about. It makes one think of the saying of Rose Macaulay in What Not: ‘To organize religion, a man must have the talents of the Devil, or at least of an intelligent Civil Servant.’ Anyway, the sons of darkness outwit the sons of light, and the cohesive power of greed outruns the coherence of Christian enterprise. Must the Church always be last, riding in an oxcart in a day of express trains?

March 26. — As a lad, I knew nothing of Catholicism, save as a strange superstition called Popery, which I heard denounced as Antichrist, and every kind of ugly name. So, reading in the paper about Cardinal Gibbons, I made bold to write him a long letter, telling him of my case and the awful things I had heard about his Church. In closing I asked him to name a book from which I might learn what the Church really taught, and something of its history. In due time came a letter, two pages long, written with his own hand, gentle and wise of spirit; and a few days later an autographed copy of his little book, The Faith of Our Fathers. To-day I attended the service in his memory at the Cathedral on Fifth Avenue, drawn equally by veneration of a noble character and gratitude to a great man who took time to answer the scrawling letter of a little boy eleven years old. Once more I felt the power of the Church, opening its arms alike to rich and poor, to the learned and the unlearned, flinging across their troubled lives the mantle of an august memory and an eternal hope — flooding the mortal scene with music and color and the romance of holiness!

March 27. — Once again Easter Day builds its great Arch of Promise over the homes of our living and the graves of our dead. ‘If it were not so, I would have told you,’ said Jesus; to which I love to add the words of St. Ignatius: ‘Those who have heard the word of Jesus can bear his silence.’ He confirms faith without satisfying curiosity, but always he lets light through the Shadow. When he spoke of his own death He simply said, ‘I go to my Father.’ No place is named, only a Presence. He thought in terms of Life, and death was but a cloud-shadow floating over the human valley. Eternity is now, God is here, and death is but the shadow of life! O my soul, remember and rejoice!

Friend, surely so,
For this I know:
That our faiths are foolish by falling below,
Not coming above, what God will show.

April 10. — Broadway is a parable of human life. Born amid the rocks of Spuyten Duyvil, it has an innocent, if rather ragged, childhood, and it is ready for school by the time it reaches Columbia and Union Seminary — though one may doubt if it learns much theology. Leaving the University, it behaves very well at first; but by the time it arrives at Columbus Circle, its mind runs to automobiles, which is not a good omen. Alas, between Broadway Tabernacle and the Flatiron Building, it is a gay and giddy-paced street, garish in manners if not in morals, — all lit up and flashy, — known as ‘ the Street of Seven Sins,’though it is not as bad as it is painted. By the time it gets to Grace Church, it is a sober, middle-aged street, the glitter of the White Way having faded into the light of common day. At the City Hall it mixes in politics, but to no good purpose. Gradually it becomes the Street of the Dreadful Height, until it ends in a Grand Cañon, and thinks only of money, as if smitten with the avarice of age. Toward the end, even its churches are very rich; which makes one ponder the words of Jesus about the end of a ‘broad way.’

April 15. — On a soft-spoken day in spring, when the sky is clear, with only bits of lacy clouds here and there, it is no good trying to stay in and study; so I go a-rambling. New York is so vast, — like a human ocean, — that one may wander any whither: from Feather Bed Lane to the Bowery, from Hell Gate to Greenwich Village. On top of a bus I floated down the human river called Fifth Avenue, landing at Seventeenth Street, on my way to Irving Place, ‘the heart of the O. Henry country.’ His house at No. 55 still stands, but he seems to be everywhere in New York, as the spirit of Dickens haunts London. Though not a New Yorker, no one was ever more penetrated by the genius and flavor of New York, its comedy, its tragedy, its endless surprise.

Thence to the top of the Woolworth Tower, where, as from the peak of Matterhorn, one sees a maze of streets northward, through which Broadway and Fifth Avenue run like dual motifs of the city. From that dizzy pinnacle, what an incredible vista is unveiled — the hills of Jersey, the distances of Brooklyn, the harbor near by, the blue tumbling sea, and Ellis Island, with thoughts of the inpouring tides of peoples of all lands, making one wonder what our America will be like fifty years hence. Below, the people on the streets look like a colony of ants crawling on the pavement; and Trinity and St. Paul’s are only toy churches, with tiny spires, where men play with religion. Which thing is a parable, as if another philosophy of life had found vogue — an aggressive, gigantic, ambitious materialism; yet those tiny temples still bear witness to the things of the spirit. Once New York nestled under their shadow; now it towers above them.

Taking lunch with the Old Banker at the India House was like escaping from New York to dine in the days of Charles Lamb; after which I strolled through Wall Street, on to the east and north, ‘where cross the crowded ways of life,’ and found myself in the Bowery — which sorely needs a bath. The East Side is like the world of to-day, jammed together and slowly learning to live together, not without friction and fuss. By sunset I had strayed into Brooklyn, to the corner of Fulton and Cranberry streets, where Walt Whitman set up and printed Leaves of Grass; and after a suffocating journey in the Subway jam, I reached home, knowing of a truth that the line in the Pepys Diary is the greatest line in literature: ‘And so to bed.’

April 19. — Went with the throng to hear the President speak at the unveiling of the statue of Simon Bolivar in Central Park. It was a brilliant day, and my heart behaved like a child when he appeared — tall, nobly formed, stately, benign, a little ill at ease, as if not yet used to the ways of his high office, and its loneliness, but with a haunting voice, and the kindest face I have ever looked into. He is a symbolic figure, with the vestiture upon him of the will and purpose of a nation; and we need not apologize to any sentiment of equality for regarding him with reverence. When he is running for office, he is only a man; when elected, he is something more. The accolade of the national will makes him a priest of humanity in this land, where — please God — great ideals are being worked out. What the President does before the world he does for and through us, typifying the nation as no mere ruler could typify it. His character is our character, his work our work. God save the President!

May 14. — What is the great American sin? Extravagance? Vice? Graft? No; it is a kind of half-humorous, goodnatured indifference, — a lack of ‘concentrated indignation,’ as an English friend described it, — which allows extravagance and vice to flourish. Trace most of our ills to their source, and it is found that they exist by virtue of an easy-going, fatalistic indifference which dislikes to have its comfort disturbed. For years a tide of immigration has poured in upon us, threatening to inundate our institutions; but America did not care — lacking public-mindedness. Lawlessness runs rife for the same reason, in this city of cliff-dwellers and cavemen. The most shameless greed, the most sickening industrial atrocities, the most appalling public scandals are exposed; but a half-cynical and wholly indifferent public passes them by with hardly a shrug of the shoulders; and they are lost in the medley of events. This is the great American sin, inviting the thunder and lightning of the wrath of God.

June 20. — Went to the East Side, to offer a gentle prayer over a little child run over and killed by a car. Up four flights of stairs, in narrow halls lit by dim gas-jets, over floors creaky and uneven, I reached the tenement ‘home,’ where I witnessed a heartbreaking scene. Half-a-hundred people had gathered in the rooms and halls, a testimony to the kindliness and neighborliness of the poor. After the service, as the little body was carried out, the children who had been playing in the street assembled, their bright, pretty faces bestreaked with dirt, making a picture, as they stood in silence.

For hours I wandered along the dingy streets, littered with rubbish, where people are so crowded that life treads on life, and solitude must be unknown. The sidewalks swarmed with children; the air rang with their shouts or curses, as they darted to and fro amid the rumble of the wheels, playing games. To one watching the scene, it has a kind of repulsive picturesqueness; but to be in it, with no hope of a better lot, would make the best people of the city anarchists within a week. Yet it is accepted with patient fatalism by people whose dwelling-places are more like lairs and dens than homes. Only the joy of the children redeemed its drabness from utter desolation.

Rambling on into the Jewish quarter, I found the sidewalks thronged with peddlers and purchasers, and everybody trafficking eagerly. There were little girls of Madonna-like beauty, with oval faces and olive tints, and clear, dark eyes, relucent as evening pools; and on boxes and in doorways, old men with long beards of jetty black or silvery gray, and the noble profiles of their race. Among such as these, I remembered, Jesus walked, and from among them He chose his disciples and friends. As I walked homeward in the falling daylight, the scene was touched by the gentleness of evening, blurring its harsh realities with beauty— like the mercy of God softening the brutality of man.

July 10. — When there is a parade on Fifth Avenue, which is always the centre of the stage, — whether it be the Circus and the elephants, or the ‘Old Soaks’ protesting against Prohibition on the Fourth of July — New York is like a village. People otherwise aloof are friendly, gossipy, and charming. Today, by contrast, the Christian Endeavorers marched to the music of ‘ Onward, Christian Soldiers.’ One banner they carried arrested attention: ‘A Warless World by 1923!’ All wished it might be so, but many thought it too brave a prophecy. But I remember a similar slogan carried in 1911: ‘A Saloonless Nation by 1921’; and it came true, with time to spare. Who shall say that the principle of world peace shall not swiftly prevail, since the pressure of grim facts is proving, by a Divine pragmatism, that war is suicide! The Church is not dead, least of all when it marches and works in unity.

July 21. — From my study on Riverside Drive I look down upon the majestic, broad-breasted Hudson as it nears the sea which is its eternity.

Its moods are as many as my own, varying with the hours: now lucid and revealing, now overhung by a soft haze of dreamy meditation, now swept by drifting mist, like a blue dust of rain. It has become almost personal in its friendliness, and I seem to feel its bafflement when the inflowing tide pushes its waters upstream, like the pressure of the Eternal Will thwarting my impulsive spirit. None the less, it is calm, having won by depth what all the world is seeking — peace!

How God must love beauty. Every evening I watch the Divine Artist painting a new sunset over the New Jersey hills, and marvel at his masterpieces. Last night the whole sky was aglow with gorgeous colors shining through long bars of clouds — aweinspiring in its loveliness. First a mass of molten splendor, — like Dante’s great rose of gold, — with a foundation of dark vapor. Gradually the gold changed to delicate, tender green, then to pale lavender, deepening into soft purple as night came down — like a shade slowly drawn over a latticed window in the City of God.