A Traveler's Notes: Destination New York 1856 Part III

New York City
Sabbath, March 11. The hotel did not present, when we went down this morning, much of the appearance of its being Sabbath. The bustle is much the same as usual, and the sale of newspapers going on as on other days. The frequenters of the hall are somewhat better dressed than ordinarily they are, and at the entrance to the smoking-room hangs a notice, "The bar is closed." This is by the enforcement of a law which has been much in abeyance hitherto, but which the present mayor is vigorously putting in force. It was soon apparent, however, that its observance was more nominal than real, and extended to little more than the hanging up of the notice just mentioned.

We went over to Brooklyn to hear Mr. Henry Ward Beecher, a brother of Mrs. Stowe's. Great crowds crossed in the ferry-boat which conveyed us from the foot of Fulton Street to the opposite shore of Long Island. Mr. Beecher's church, which is a large one, was full. We were accommodated very comfortably with chairs in one of the aisles. We had little more than taken our seats when the organ began to play, and Mr. Beecher came in. His pulpit is a reading-desk on an open platform. He has a great arm-chair, and a small table placed beside it. He brought his sermon notes in his hand, and placed them on this, table. Then he began to open and read a little pile of notes which were lying there; and as he had not read them all when the voluntary was finished, he went on doing so, during which time there was silence. All this while, and even during the reading of the Bible, he kept on his greatcoat.

After the anthem came the invocation, and then he read Acts xxv. 13-27, and xxvi. At the 27th verse of the 25th chapter, he stopped to remind his hearers that this was done under the Romans; that if Festus had been a Christian, he would have released Paul, when he found that, as there was no crime against him, he had: a right to be free adding, "For there were no modern doctors in those days to preach other doctrine," a hit at the fugitive slave law.

There were several baptisms, in the administration of which the usual prayers were replaced by the choir chanting, "Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not," and several other passages, ending with, "Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." Unfortunately for the choir, the children were lively, and the music of nature rather spoiled the scientific strains.

At this point, Mr. Beecher made a great many intimations; among others, one to the effect, that the managers offered $10 reward to any one who would give such information as would lead to the detection of those who defaced or otherwise destroyed the walls of the hall or church; that this had been done, and the managers were determined to put a stop to it. This intimation, Mr. Beecher followed up in the strongest terms; addressing the parents, and telling them very plainly that they were to blame very much for the misconduct of their children. He said the walls of the building, and especially of the hall between the church and the lecture-room, had been converted into "the devil's own damnable exhibition-room;" and that he had never seen or heard of anywhere any thing equal to the "devilish obscenity" which he had seen on those walls, put there, he supposed, by young men no, they were not men, they were wretched sunken, and more to the same effect. I never heard such strong expressions. It looked awfully like swearing, and would have been termed so had the words been used in ordinary conversation. It did not prepare me favorably for deriving good from the sermon.

After another hymn, he gave out his text, Acts xxvi. 28, "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian." The discourse was a masterly exhibition of the various classes of "almost Christians." Boldly he wrenched away the veil which hides such characters from the world and from themselves; and he pointed out, in no set phrase, how such were going down to hell with a lie in their right hand. There were those who were Christians in name only, and never troubled themselves about the thing. There were those whose religion was mere sensibility, and so on. His sermon was characterized by great power of language and closeness of thought; but to my mind there was an utter want of refinement, and too much declamation. It was essentially vulgar. He walked about on his platform, and acted. He also used a great many slang expressions, as well as spoke through his nose at times, when he wanted to point an Americanism. I cannot think that this is effective pulpit eloquence, although it draws crowds of a certain sort. The dignity of the pastor's office, as an ambassador of Heaven, requires no histrionic art to set it off. The gospel spoken as if the speaker believed it, will always be effective, and will then, when it owes least to the preacher, be most likely to manifest itself as the power of God unto salvation.

The singing in Mr. Beecher's church is confined to the choir, which is very objectionable. The children of the Sabbath classes came in, with copies of the Child's Newspaper, and their reading-books, and read these papers, or conned their lessons, all through the service. It was most offensive to my ideas of propriety; but their parents did not check it. Indeed, there was a levity about the whole service, and the bearing of the congregation generally, very inconsistent, with our English ideas of sanctuary worship.

William Poole, the pugilist, who was murdered by the Irish the other day, was publicly buried to-day. The people were collecting to the funeral as we returned from Brooklyn, so that it was disagreeable and tedious to get up Broadway. I hurried on to join the family dinner of a friend at half-past one, and the funeral was not till an hour later; so I did not see it. It is said there never before was such a funeral in America. It was headed by a body of police. There were two bands of music, and four or more flags. Probably one or two hundred thousand people followed or formed it members of the United American Society, and others, and members of a society called "The William Poole Association." This is a new society, political, of course, formed on the circumstance of this murder. The whole affair to-day is considered a Know-nothing, or anti-foreign demonstration. Bill Poole was an American, a New Jersey man; and the men who caused his death were Irish. It was the climax of a long feud between the Irish and American pugilist factions, kept up for election times. There were pointed out, walking together, the greatest gambler, the most noted bruiser, and a notorious thief, a fitting trio to honor such a demonstration.

Hoping to hear Dr Taylor, I went in the afternoon to Grace Church, where a pew had been kindly placed at our service. This is the beautiful Gothic church at the angle of Broadway; and the interior corresponds with the external effect. It is the most fashionable church in New York; but there were few present. The singing is very fine, entirely confined to the band; and, indeed, a good deal of it is solo. The bright little daughter of my friend with whom I dined told me that one day a person was singing in the congregation, when the sexton, a fat pompous man, went up to him and stopped him, saying, "We do all the singing here ourselves, sir!" The Episcopal service in the States is a little different from the English Episcopal service, and is judiciously shortened. I was disappointed in my expectation of hearing Dr Taylor, as, although present, and taking part in the service, he did not preach.

Returning after sermon to my friend's, I went in the evening with him to St Thomas' Episcopal Church, where we heard a most excellent sermon from Dr Neville on the suitableness of Jesus as a Saviour, from Luke xv. 4-6, the parable of the man who went to seek and find the lost sheep.

American friendliness and hospitality are proverbial. I am delighted with those I have been with to-day. They were so kind, and made me so much at home, I soon felt as if I had known them all my life. These glimpses into family circles, and precious tastes of the pleasures of home, are doubly delightful amid the isolation of traveling and the solitude of a crowd, which is the characteristic of hotel life.

Nieces and nephews of my friend's are teachers in the Sabbath-schools. They tell me that they find it very difficult to keep their classes in order. If they speak to them about misbehavior, they go away. As one said, they are born free, and take their own way from infancy. These juvenile democrats rather ruffle the equanimity of one accustomed to old-country order and discipline.

There appears to be a great deal more open Sabbath desecration here than with us. For instance, this procession to-day, with flags, drums, and music. Both Thomson's and Taylor's, the two immense restaurants in Broadway, were open and crowded, as were also the oyster-saloons at night. In the hotel, there was no sensible difference from any other day, except that there did not seem to be so many arriving and departing.

Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: A Traveler's Notes: Destination New York  1856 Part III
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: America by river and rail; or, Notes by the way on the New World and its people. By Wiliam Ferguson, F.L.S.London, J. Nisbet and co., 1856.
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