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LIFE AND CHARACTER OF REV. DR. TUCKERMAN.
A Discourse on the Life and Character of the Rev. JOSEPH TUCKERMAN, D. D. Delivered at the Warren Street Chapel, on Sunday evening, January 31, 1841. By WILLIAM E. CHANNING. Boston: William Crosby & Co. 1841. 18mo. pp. 80.
DR. TUCKERMAN was, as to his religious views, a Unitarian. A slight acquaintance, of long standing, with his character and labors, and a cherished interest in the kind of service to which his last years were devoted, made us welcome this little volume. Its perusal has been interesting to us.
The subject of this memoir was a remarkable man. During his college course at Cambridge, which was completed when he was about the age of twenty, he gave no particular indications of future eminence. His residence at Cambridge seems to have passed, at least, the first three years of it, without any serious, controlling views of the great purpose of life. He was a cheerful, upright young man, of strong social sympathies. The severer studies of the university he disliked, and was attracted almost exclusively by the elegancies of literature. He was subsequently settled as a minister in Chelsea, where he remained twenty-five years. During his professional studies, and his residence in Chelsea, he redeemed his time. He has left behind him a name, which, though not distinguished in literary and scientific circles (he was not formed for such distinction), will be had in honor as associated with a self-denying, yet large and promising field of benevolent labor. While in Chelsea, he was led to reflect deeply on the poor and suffering classes of society. When sickness compelled him to abandon his post in that town, the thought of devoting himself to the spiritual welfare of the poor and neglected in the city of Boston, took possession of his mind; and, after some preparatory measures, he entered upon this service, unconscious of the deep hold it was to gain 18
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upon his heart, and of the importance he was afterwards to attach to it. His whole soul became engaged in this work. In religious conversation with the poor and suffering at their wretched abodes, in meeting them for social worship, in suggesting to them improvements as to their domestic management, and in providing places and employment for their children, in these and similar modes of benefiting this class, his heart seemed to find its appropriate exercise.
This discourse describes him as possessing some eminent qualifications for such a service. His benevolence was peculiarly tender and strong. His sympathies were deep and abiding. He had the faculty of at once conciliating the good-will of those he sought to benefit, and of engaging their confidence. He was a practical and persevering man. Being himself a good economist, he might often be found "teaching household management to a poor woman, or contriving employment for her husband, or finding a place for her child." He could become acquainted with all the details of poverty and wretchedness, without contracting the slightest disgust towards the degraded. He sought, and thought he could find some bright spots in the darkest character; and he had the ingenuity, greatly to his own encouragement and that of the wretched, to lay hold on promising qualities and circumstances, however feeble might be the hope of improvement and elevation. He placed much confidence in untiring efforts for individuals. He was, indeed, enthusiastically attached to his work. The feeling was deeply cherished by him, that he must succeed in his endeavors; and he was, therefore, constantly devising means to operate on the objects of his benevolent regard. "I want that man's soul," said he, in reference to one who had gone far astray, "I must save him." He was particularly anxious to benefit the children of the poor. He visited wharves, and markets, and other places of resort, to find idle and neglected children, whom he might rescue from their downward course; and many there are, now in respectable stations, whom his exertions saved from an abused childhood and youth.
The ministry in which Dr. Tuckerman was thus ardently engaged, fully met all his wishes, so far as honor, or ambition, was concerned. He sought for no higher service. used to say, that if the rich and great, who helped to sustain him, could understand the dignity and happiness of his calling,
they would covet it themselves, and choose to partake the toil which they deputed to another." "No favorite of fortune," says Dr. Channing in another connection, "could have repaired to a palace, where the rays of royal favor were to be centered on him, with a more eager spirit and quicker step, than our friend hastened to the abodes of want, in the darkest alleys of our city." He became, at length, exhausted by his labors. In hopes of re-invigorating his feeble frame, he undertook a voyage to Cuba. But he never returned. He died in Havana, April 20, 1840, in his sixtythird year.
Dr. Tuckerman is one, among many instances, of self-improvement. We often hear of self-taught men; men, who have attained to eminence in public life, without having passed through an early course of study. Such men are, indeed, worthy of honor. But there are many, who, on account of extreme youth, or various unpropitious circumstances, have not gained from their literary course the fitness for public life, which they ought to possess; and the labor to which some such men subject themselves to repair the losses, or to correct the errors, of their early life, and to maintain their station with credit and usefulness, is hardly less praiseworthy.
The tendency which a congenial pursuit has to elicit elements of character hardly thought to belong to a person, is also illustrated in Dr. Tuckerman's career. Benevolent activity powerfully cherishes goodness of heart, and even exalts the intellect. "I cannot forget one evening," we quote again from the discourse, "when in conversing with the late Dr. Follen and myself on the claims of the poor, and on the cold-heartedness of society, he not only deeply moved us, but filled us with amazement by his depth of feeling and energy of utterance; nor can I forget, how, when he left us, Dr. Follen, a man fitted by his own spirit to judge of greatness, said to me, he is a great man.'
In reading this little volume, we have been struck with the importance of maintaining in large cities the kind of ministry in which Dr. Tuckerman was engaged. Such cities are centres of influence. They ought to be made strongholds of religion. This is to be effected, not only by sustaining an enlightened and active ministry in established congregations; but, also, by adding to this the various agencies which may
reach the thousands in large cities, who have no home in the churches. The city missionary, who rightly estimates his vocation, and with pious skill, adapts himself to its demands, is a most important agent. His Sabbath schools, his meetings for familiar worship, his daily routine of visits, form a service immensely more full of promise to the best interests of individuals and of the community, than field-preaching, as it has been called, can ever become. Imagine, for a moment, that the existing arrangements in the city of Boston for carrying the gospel to the poor and neglected should be transformed into preaching on the common, or at the corners of streets. Who does not see, that the change would be a disastrous one? We have lately seen it somewhere stated, that in some of our cities, an arrangement for this out-of-door preaching had been entered into by the pastors of the churches. Without questioning the utility of such a plan to certain classes, we yet should have more hope of the moral and religious improvement of a city population in general, and particularly of destitute families from arrangements for employing a few city missionaries, or ministers at large, on the plan which is now so happily in progress in Boston. Such operations, we may hope, would occasionally, at least, in addition to more immediate benefits, issue in the forming of regular congregations. The missionary would thus be giving stability and permanency to his labors, and be diminishing the number that need a special ministry; a number, which will always be large in cities.
Dr. Channing writes, in this Memoir, like a man who has something to say; something, which lies with weight on his own mind, and which it is a relief and a satisfaction to him to say. Of course, there is no dulness, and no labored marshalling of words. He writes in good earnest; and fills his readers, as he was evidently filled himself, with his theme. This develops to us the secret of good writing and of good speaking. Let the soul be filled to overflowing with matter; then the tongue, or the pen, will not be a listless, or a merely playful, instrument; and the hearer or the reader will neither refuse his attention, nor yield it with wearied powers.
There is one thought presented in this discourse, to which too much prominence is given, and which may naturally, though we believe unintentionally, make an erroneous impression. Dr. Tuckerman is spoken of as the founder of the
ministry to the poor in Boston. To him, says the discourse, "we owe the establishment of the Ministry at Large in this place." p. 3. By him, it is again stated, "the Ministry at Large in this city was chiefly originated and established." p. 26. This statement is, indeed, qualified in other connections by the remarks, that "before his time, there had been men, who had devoted themselves exclusively and faithfully to the religious instruction of those who cannot be gathered into the ordinary places of worship"; and, that it was he, who gave form and efficiency to the institution"; and, that we may, therefore, with "but a small deviation from accuracy, call him its founder." We feel but little interest in this question, so far as honor is concerned. If a good cause is established, it is not of much moment who commenced it; particularly, as almost all important movements result from a combination of causes, and their authors had, commonly, no definite and widely extended plan; but seem to have been, without design of their own, placed in a situation from which they could not, as well as would not, retire. And thus, as it were by a special ordination of divine providence, unconsciously to themselves, they set in train a series of most momentous operations. Luther, in his early impressions as to the need of religious reform, is a case in point; so is Clarkson, in respect to the abolition of the slave-trade in England. So Dr. Tuckerman, when he entered on his labors in Boston, in 1826, had no matured plan; but, in the progress of events, he found himself in a far more responsible and interesting station than he had anticipated. He had been preceded, too, as the discourse intimates, by other laborers in the same field. For the sake of recording a few facts on this subject, we proceed to say, that the idea expressed by the term, Ministry at Large, had become a familiar one in some circles, and was distinctly embodied in action. City missionary operations in Boston, that is, operations belonging to a ministry at large, may be traced to a Society of Christian. Females, which was formed in the year 1800," for missionary purposes." In a variety of ways, that Society aided the cause of religion beyond the city and our country; until, in the year 1815, the fact came to be more distinctly felt by its members, that Boston itself contained multitudes of inhabitants who, some in regard to their vices, and others in regard to their poverty, and both classes in regard to their destitu