Popular Science Monthly/Volume 81/October 1912/The Minister's Son

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A FEW months ago, Woodrow Wilson, governor of New Jersey, stood in the little bedroom of the Presbyterian manse. at Caldwell. The reason for his pilgrimage to that village and to that particular house was the fact that there Grover Cleveland, the twenty-second and twenty-fourth president of the United States, was born, March 18, 1837. Woodrow Wilson, himself the son of a Presbyterian minister, at Staunton, Va., paid a visit to the Presbyterian manse at Caldwell, out of which came a famous son. The one, now gathered to his fathers, was an oracle of the democracy, and the other is a possible democratic successor to Grover Cleveland at the White House.

The meeting of their paths at Caldwell is suggestive. Both were sons of the manse. It brings up the old question about the character of ministers' sons. Are they all sons of Belial? Are they all base fellows like the sons of Eli and Samuel? Are there none among them who do not belong to the order of Hophni and Phineas?

Charles Lamb wrote a number of essays on popular fallacies. Among the fallacies which he exposed are the following: "That a bully is always a coward"; "that you must love me and love my dog"; "that we should rise with the lark and lie down with the lamb"; "that ill-gotten gains never prosper," and "that enough is as good as a feast." We could wish that he had added one more—that ministers' sons are generally scoundrels. A long time ago Thomas Fuller wrote:

There goeth forth a common report, no less uncharitable than untrue, as if clergymen 's sons were generally unfortunate like the sons of Eli, dissolute in their lives and doleful in their deaths.

He goes on to make due allowance for "Benjamins" among the sons of ministers, that is, sons of their old age, and hence, "cockered" and humored by their ancient sires. But his conclusion is that "clergymen's children have not been more unfortunate, but more observed than the children of the parents of other professions." This last observation, coupled with a possible desire to disparage the ministry, is the sole basis for a gross fallacy, as contrary to reason as it is contrary to fact. We can all think of ministers' sons who were scallawags, no credit to a minister or to any other man. But if the general moral and intellectual standard of ministers' sons is not high, then all principles of heredity, education and environment are overthrown. Adam begat a son in his own likeness, and most ministers do the same.

The clerical family has ever been one of the chief glories of protestantism. We have no thought of opening an old discussion concerning the differing opinions of two great branches of the Christian church. It may be that the voluntary celibate may rise to a higher plane of sacrifice and devotion than the minister with a family. There have been eminent protestants who have renounced the right of marriage. Among them we find such names as Archbishop Leighton, Samuel Hopkins, William Muhlenberg, author of "I would not live alway," and the historian Neander. Suffice it to say that the reformers can not have been unmindful of the example of the patriarchs, priests and prophets of the Old Testament and the apostles of the New Testament. Peter was married, at least he had a mother-in-law, and Paul claimed the right to do as Peter had done. With this ancient precedent and sanction the reformers can not have been much troubled in conscience when they departed from the rule of one man, Hildebrand, and took to themselves wives. Luther must have had more serious reasons for renouncing the state of celibacy than those which he himself gives, viz., to please his father, tease the Pope and vex the devil. At all events, his home life was bright and happy, an earnest and a type of the clerical family life which he did so much to found. His letters to his children are models of what a father's letters to his children ought to be. Calvin was perhaps more discreet in his marriage than Luther. He may have been thinking of the sneer of Erasmus.

Some speak of the Lutheran cause as a tragedy, but to me it appears rather as a comedy, for it always ends in a wedding.

When Calvin married a demure widow of Strassburg, he could still make his boast that he had not assailed Rome as the Greeks assailed Troy, for the sake of a woman. That these early reformers succeeded in harmonizing the life of the priesthood with the life of the family has been for the glory of the church and the untold enrichment of civilization.

The minister's home is usually a home of intelligence and refinement without that ease and luxury which sap the foundations of character. His home is an answer to a wise man's prayer, "Give me neither riches nor poverty." He never gets riches, sometimes he gets poverty, but more often the lines fall unto him in the pleasant places which lie between those two extremes. However limited, the library of the minister's son will have those few books which have been the inevitable companions of genius and attainment—Plutarch's Lives, Pilgrim's Progress, Æsop's Fables, and the Bible. The son of the minister lives in an atmosphere of moral earnestness, intellectual activity and sacrifice and service for that which is highest. If any home ought to send forth a goodly line of stalwart sons it is the home of the minister.

Oliver Goldsmith, himself a minister's son, opens the "Vicar of Wakefield" with these words:

I was ever of opinion that the honest man who married, and brought up a large family, did more service than he who continued single and only talked of population; from this motive I had scarcely taken orders a year before I chose my wife as she did her wedding gown, not for a fine glossy face, but for such qualities as would wear well.

With such serious purpose and intent the founders of clerical households have exalted religion and adorned society. Goethe, when a young man, fell in love with Frederike Brion, the attractive daughter of the pastor at Sessenhiem. It was the purest and strongest love of his passionate career, and his intimate knowledge of the life of that clerical household led him to write:

A Protestant country pastor is perhaps the most beautiful topic for a modern idyl; he appears like Melchizedek, as priest and king in one person. He is usually associated by occupation and outward condition with the most innocent conceivable estate on earth, that of the farmer; he is father, master of his house, and thoroughly identified with his congregation. On this pure, beautiful, earthly foundation rests his higher vocation: to introduce men into life, to care for their spiritual education, to bless, to instruct, to strengthen, to comfort them in all the epochs of life, and, if the comfort for the present is not sufficient, to cheer them with the assured hope of a more happy future.

"The one idyl of modern life" Coleridge termed the ministerial family life, and Wordsworth thought it worthy of praise in his "Ecclesiastical Sonnets," where he sings,

A genial hearth, a hospitable board,
And a refined rusticity, belong
To the neat mansion, where, his flock among,
The learned Pastor dwells, their watchful Lord.

In 1750, Justus Möser calculated that in the two centuries after the reformation, more than ten millions of human beings in all lands owed their existence to the clerical family. In the century and a half since he made his estimate the number have very likely trebled. And what influence have these millions of ministers' children exerted upon civilization? To judge of this a brief study of eminent names in Protestant countries is most illuminating.

In the "Dictionary of National Biography," England, there are 1,270 names of eminent men who were sons of clergymen. There are 510 names of famous men who were sons of lawyers, and 350 who were sons of physicians. In this single compilation of great names in English history there are 410 more sons of ministers than sons of doctors and lawyers together. In a recent issue of "Who's Who," for America, out of nearly 12,000 names, almost 1,000 are sons of clergymen, a number out of all proportion to the whole number of ministers in the population of the country. According to that standard, there should have been not more than fifty of these famous men the sons of clergymen.

Time would fail to tell of all the notable men in all departments of human activity who were sons of ministers. We mention only a few of these. In science, Agassiz, Fabricius, Jenner, Linnæus, Olbers, Fields, Morse, Berzelius, Euler; in history and philosophy, George John Komannes, John G. Wilkinson, Hallam, Hobbes, Fronde, Sloan, Parkman, Bancroft, Schnelling, Schliermacher, Nietzsche, Müller; in art, Reynolds and Christopher Wren; in philanthropy, Clarkson and Granville Sharp, the anti-slavery agitators; in poetry, Lessing, Tennyson, Ben Jonson, Cowper, Goldsmith, Thomson, Coleridge, Addison, Young, John Keble, Matthew Arnold; among essayists, Emerson, Richter, Hazlitt; among novelists, Charles Kingsley, Henry James, and three daughters of clergymen, Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, and Harriet Beecher Stowe.

But most remarkable is the long list of celebrated divines who were themselves sons of ministers. Among such are these names, Swedenborg, the seer, Jonathan Edwards, Archibald Hodge, Henry Ward Beecher, Lyman Abbott, Charles Spurgeon, Increase and Cotton Mather, Matthew Henry, the famous commentator, Frederick D. Maurice, Lightfoot, John and Charles Wesley, Mansell, Dorner and Dean Stanley.

In our American history the Field family is a noble example of the influence of clerical households. The father, the Reverend David D. Field was a minister of the Congregational church. One son, David Dudley, was the eminent jurist and law reformer; another, Stephen J., was an associate justice of the Supreme Court; a third son, Henry M., was a useful clergyman and author; and the fourth son was Cyrus W., who laid the Atlantic cable.

It is probable that ministers' sons have exerted more influence in the United States than in any other country. Among teachers, lawyers, doctors, scientists, men of business, and in the church, there are a great host who have been the sons of the manse. Of the more notable men in our history who were sons of ministers we find in political life, Cleveland, Clay, Buchanan, Arthur, Quay, Morton, Beveridge, Hughes, and the lamented Dolliver of Iowa; among jurists, Field and Brewer; among educators, Woodrow Wilson, Faunce, James, Carroll, Lounsbury; in history and literature, Sloan, Parkman, Bancroft, Holmes, Emerson, Henry James, Lowell, Gilder, Van Dyke; in invention and science, Cyrus W. Field, Samuel F. Morse, and Agassiz; in the church, Beecher, Alexander, Hodge, Abbott, Potter, Jonathan Edwards; in philosophy, James. In the Hall of Fame fifty-one famous Americans are honored. Of these fifty-one, ten are the children of ministers: Agassiz, Beecher, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Henry Clay, Jonathan Edwards, Emerson, Lowell, Morse, Bancroft, Holmes.

The Protestant ministry is justified of her children. Like the fabled Pactolus of Syria, whose sands carried the wealth of Crœsus, the ministerial family has flowed down the valleys of our national life weighted with the golden dust of achievement and renown.