1793 — 1871.
WE would now introduce” Father Taylor,” the Sailor Preacher of Boston.
Not Father Taylor of California, who is a younger man, but Edward Taylor, of the Bethel, — the man whom Charles Dickens thus described in his “American Notes “: — “The only preacher I heard in Boston was Mr. Taylor, who addresses himself peculiarly to seamen, and who was once a mariner himself. I found his chapel down among the shipping, in one of the narrow, old, waterside streets, with a gay blue flag waving freely from its roof. The preacher looked a weather-beaten, hard-featured man, of about six or eight and fifty; with deep lines graven as it were into his face, dark hair, and a stern, keen eye. Yet the general character of his countenance was pleasant and agreeable. His text was, ‘ Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved?’ “He handled this text in all kinds of ways, and twisted it into all manner of shapes; but always ingeniously, and with a rude eloquence, well adapted to the comprehension of his hearers. Indeed, if I be not mistaken, he studied their sympathies and understandings much more than the display of his own powers. His imagery was all drawn from the sea, and from the incidents of a seaman’s life; and was often remarkably good. He spoke to them of’ that glorious man, Lord Nelson,’ and of Coilingwood; and drew nothing in, as the saying is, by the head and shoulders, but brought it to bear upon his purpose, naturally, and with a sharp mind to its effect. Sometimes, when much excited with his subject, he had an odd way of taking his great quarto Bible under his arm and pacing up and down the pulpit with it; looking steadily down, meantime, into the midst of the congregation. Thus, when he applied his text to the first assemblage of his hearers, and pictured the wonder of the church at their presumption in forming a congregation among themselves, he stopped short with his Bible under his arm and pursued his discourse after this manner: — “‘ Who are these, who are they, who are these fellows? where do they come from? Where are they going to? Come from! What’s the answer?’ leaning out of the pulpit, and pointing downward with his right hand: ‘ From below!’ starting back again, and looking at the sailors before him: ‘ From below, my brethren, from under the hatches of sin, battened down above you by the evil one. That’s where you come from!’ a walk up and down the pulpit: ‘ and where are you going?’ stopping abruptly; ‘ where are you going? Aloft!’ very softly, and pointing upward: ‘.Aloft!’ louder: ‘Aloft!’ louder still: ‘ That’s where you are going, with a fair wind, all taut and trim, steering direct for heaven in its glory, where there are no storms or foul weather, and where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest.’ Another walk: ‘ That’s where you’re going to, my friends.
That’s it. That’s the place. That’s the port. That’s the haven. It’s a blessed harbor — still water there, in all changes of the winds and tides; no driving ashore upon the rocks, or slipping your cables and running out to sea, there: Peace, peace, peace, all peace!’ Another walk, and putting the Bible under his left arm: ‘ What! these fellows are coming from the wilderness, are they? Yes. From the dreary, blighted wilderness of iniquity, whose only crop is death. But do they lean upon anything — do they lean upon nothing, these poor seamen?’ Three raps upon the Bible: ‘Ah, yes. Yes.
They lean upon the arm of their beloved,’ three more raps: ‘upon the arm of their beloved,’ — three more, and a walk: ‘ Pilot, guiding star, and compass all in one, to all hands — here it is ‘ — three more:’ Here it is.
They can do their seaman’s duty manfully, and be easy in their minds in the utmost peril and danger, with this’ — two more: ‘They can come, even these poor fellows can come, from the wilderness leaning on the arm of their beloved, and go up — up — up,’ raising his hand higher and higher, at every repetition of the word, so that he stood with it at last stretched above his head, regarding them in a strange rapt manner, and pressing the book triumphantly to his breast, until he gradually subsided into some other portion of his discourse.”
We are not so enamoured of Charles Dickens as to consider his verdict upon a preacher to be of any material consequence with reference to the man’s real usefulness: but as a judge of vivacity of manner, and power of style, no better critic could be found.
Mr. Taylor’s first regular recognized official holding-forth was before a quarterly Methodist Conference, assembled to test his qualifications. It has been reported that upon this occasion he had the coolness to select as his text the words, “By the life of Pharaoh, surely ye are spies ;” but his biographer says that although those words might have been worked into the sermon, the real text was a more humble but equally singular one, “I pray thee, let me live.” He adds, that the triers saw that his fervor and talents were more than an offset for his defects; and in answer to his prayer, they “let him live.” We do not see how they could have done otherwise, for no Conference would have been strong enough to kill him.
After itinerating for some few years, the man and his mission met, and Father Taylor took up his abode in Boston, as a minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church, specially set apart to labor among sailors. His chapel, at first, held about five hundred hearers, and was immediately filled to its utmost capacity. He began in 1828 in full revival vigor, frequently preaching four times a day. To him it never occurred to polish his style, and prune away its power: he spoke as his heart prompted him, and worked as the Holy Spirit moved him. He did work enough for two men, and had a double blessing upon it. In a very short time Boston felt his power, and its wealth and its culture were at his feet as well as its poverty and roughness. A noble Bethel was built for him, a house of large dimensions, a fit sphere for his operations, and by his soul-stirring ministry he made “the Bethel” famous in all lands.
It was not at all wonderful that sailors especially, and other classes of the community in proportion, should flock to hear Mr. Taylor, for he was a man of great human sympathies, manly, bold, honest, childlike and outspoken; and, withal, a man on fire with love to Christ and perishing souls. His preaching never could be dull, the intense white heat of his nature prevented that. He was terribly in earnest, and commanded the attention of all around him for that very reason.
No ideas of propriety, or notions of delicacy, hung about him like fetters: he spoke to sailors, not to squeamish pomposity’s, and to “the sons of Zebulon” he poured out his great heart in a homely eloquence, which was all on flame. One who heard him in 1835 said of him ”His eloquence was marvelous: his control over the audience seemed almost absolute. Tears and smiles chased each other over our faces, like the rain and sunshine of an April day. He had one of the most brilliant imaginations that ever sparkled and burned. His sermon was all poetry, though it came in bursts and jets of flame. It was like the dance of the aurora, changing all the while from silver flame to purple, and back again. But the secret of his magnetic power lay in his overflowing sympathies, that leaped over all barriers, and had no regard for time or place. There was no wall of formality between him and his hearers, any more than if he were talking to each one of us in a private room. He would single out a person in his audience, and talk to him individually, with the same freedom as if he met him in the street. ‘ Ah! my jolly tar,’ turning to a sailor who happened at that moment to catch his eye, ‘ here you are, in port again; God bless you! See to your helm, and you will reach a fairer port by-and-by. Hark! don’t you hear the bells of heaven over the sea?’” The ludicrous was allowed considerable play in his discourses, and we think rightly so. To the pure mind, none of the powers of our manhood are common or unclean. Humor can be consecrated, and should be. We grant that it is a power difficult to manage; but when it is under proper control, it more than repays for all the labor spent upon it. Children do sad damage with gunpowder; but what a force it is when a wise man directs its energy.
Mr. Taylor made men laugh that they might weep. He touched one natural chord, that he might be able to touch another; whereas, some preachers are so unnatural themselves, that the human nature of their hearers refuses to subject itself to their operations. 0 ye who are evermore decorously dull, before ye judge a man whose loving ministry conducted thousands to the skies, think how immeasurably above you all he soared, and remember that with all his violations of your wretched regulations, he was one whom the Lord delighted to honor. Farthing candles rail at the sun for his spots, while they cannot be sure that those spots are not excessive light; and may be quite sure of another thing, that, spots or no spots, ten thousand such glimmers as theirs are not worthy to be compared with the stray beams of the great orb of day.
At the prayer-meetings Father Taylor, like a father in his family, cast off all restraint, and unveiled his inner nature with childlike unguardedness. One of his most remarkable displays of this kind was after an address by a visitor, who related the death of a very wicked man, who was blown up a few days before in a powder mill at Wilmington. He came down crushed and mangled, and gave his heart to God; and now who would not say with the holy man of old, “Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his”? Father Taylor rose at once. “I don’t want any trash brought unto this altar. I hope none of my people calculate on serving the devil all their lives and cheating him with their dying breath. Don’t look forward to honoring God by giving him the last snuff of an expiring candle. Perhaps you never will be blown up in a powder-mill. ” “That holy man,” he continued, “that we heard of was Balaam, the meanest scoundrel mentioned in the Old Testament or the New. And now I hope we shall never hear anything more from Balaam, nor from his ass. ” His own prayers were more like the utterances of an Oriental, abounding in imagery, than a son of these colder western dimes. Think of his prayer at the dedication of a new church.. — “ If any man attempts to sow heresy in [his pulpit, or to preach aught but Christ and him crucified, Lord drive him out of the house and sweep his tracks off the floor. ” The Sunday before he was to sail for Europe, he was en-treating the Lord to care well for his church during his absence. All at once he stopped and ejaculated, “What have I done? Distrust the Providence of heaven! A God that gives a whale a ton of herrings for a breakfast, will he not care for my children?” and then went on, closing his prayer in a more confiding strain. “His work in one peculiar field is not, generally known. Living at the North End, near the lowest haunts of vice, he was often called to attend the death-beds of abandoned women. Protected by his eccentricity and his purity alike from any shadow of suspicion, he always obeyed such a summons. At all hours of the day or night he visited the foulest haunts of crime in this noble service; never with one harsh word for the fallen, never with any apology for their crime. He received many warnings against venturing on such errands. The only notice that he ever took of them was to lay aside his cane, which was elsewhere his constant companion, but which he never took with him when he visited the cellars and garrets of North Street. This was simple courage in the Christian soldier; but it was also the wisest prudence.”
It grieves one’s heart to relate that after many years of glorious service Father .Taylor faded away by degrees during ten long years, losing slowly all his powers. It was as the Lord would have it; but to drift about as a poor hulk, with the armament removed, and the light in the binnacle extinguished, was very grievous both to the old man and to his friends.
So passed away one whom Emerson called one of the two greatest poets of the United states. He was a Pedobaptist, an Arminian, and a man of a thousand divergences from our line of things, which we believe to be more Scriptural than his; but, for all that, upon the coffin of a good man and true, with no grudging hand we cast a funeral wreath, and say, “Would God there were others to fill his place!”