MRS. T. DEWITT TALMAGE
Editor’s Note: Those who appreciate the wonderful ministry of Dr. Talmage will thrill to read this chapter from his book about his life. This particular chapter was written by his beloved and dedicated wife. You will learn things about Dr. Talmage you would never know from just reading his sermons.
The wishes of Doctor Talmage reign paramount with me; otherwise I should not dare to add these imperfect memoirs to the finished and eloquent, yet simple, narration of his life-work which has just charmed the reader from his own graphic pen. Dr. Talmage did not consider his autobiography of vital importance to posterity; his chief concern was for his sermons and other voluminous writings. The intimate things of his life he held too sacred for public view, and he shrank from any intrusion thereupon. His autobiography, therefore, was a concession to his family, his friends, and an admiring public.
So many people all over the world have paid homage to his personality, and to his remarkable influence, that it seemed evident not only to us but to many others, that his own recollections would give abiding pleasure. I remember when we were travelling to Washington after our marriage, many men of prominence, who were on the Congressional Limited, said to Dr. Talmage: “Doctor, why don’t you write your memoirs? They would be especially interesting because you have bridged two centuries in your life.” Then, turning to me, they urged me to use my influence over him. Later on I did so, placing over his desk as a reminder, in big letters, the one word—”Autobiography.”
His celebrity was something so unique, and so widespread, that it is difficult to write of it under the spell which still surrounds his memory. Many still remember seeing and feeling almost with awe the tremendous grasp of success which Dr. Talmage had all his life. A reminiscence of my girlhood will be pardoned: My father was his great admirer many years before I ever met the Doctor. Whenever I went with my father from my home in Pittsburg on a visit to New York, I was taken over to Brooklyn every Sunday morning, unwillingly I must confess, to hear Dr. Talmage. At that time there were other things which I found more pleasant, for I had many young friends to visit and to entertain. However, my father’s wishes were always uppermost with me, and his admiration of the great preacher inspired me also with reverence. The Doctor soon became one of the great men of my life.
Dr. Talmage was among the builders of his century—a watchman of his period. He was a man of philanthropy and enterprise. His popularity was world-wide; his extraordinary power was exerted over people of all classes and conditions of life. His broad human intellectuality, his constant good humour, his indomitable energy, threw a glamour about him. His happy laughter, which attested the deep peace of his heart, rang everywhere, through his home, in social meetings with his friends, in casual encounters even with strangers.
Dr. And Mrs. T. De Witt Talmage.
No one who ever knew the Doctor thought of him as an old man. He himself almost believed that he would live for ever. “Barring an accident,” he often said, “I shall live for ever.” The frankness and buoyancy of his spirit were like youth: were the enchantment of his personality. Even to-day, when memories begin to grow cold in the shadow of his tomb, I am constantly reminded by those who remember him of the strange magical eternity that was in him. He had been so active and busy through all the years of his life, keeping pace with each one in its seemingly increasing speed, that his heart remained ever young, living in the glory of things that were present, searching with eager vigour the horizon of the future.
Wherever I am, whether in this country or in Europe, but especially in England, Dr. Talmage’s name still brings me remembrance of his distinguished career from the men of prominence who knew him. They come to me and tell me about him with unabated affection for his memory. He attracted people by a kind of magnetism, and held them afterwards with ties of deep friendship and respect. The standards of his youth were the standards of his whole life.
My appreciation of Dr. Talmage in these printed pages may not be wholly in harmony with his ideas of the privacy of his home life; but it is difficult to think of him at all in any mood less intimately reverent.
As I look over the scrapbook, my scrapbook (as he and I always called it), I feel the reserve about it that he himself did. My share in the Doctor’s life, however, belongs to these last years of his distinguished career, and I am a contributor by special privilege.
I met him first at East Hampton, Long Island, in the summer of 1896, when I was visiting friends. The other day, while in reminiscent struggle with my scrapbook, I was visited by an old friend of Dr. Talmage, who recalled the following incident:
“It was Dr. Talmage’s custom,” he said, “to take long drives out into the country round about Washington. Sometimes he sent for me to drive with him. One afternoon I received a specially urgent call to be sure and drive with him that day, because he had something of great importance to discuss with me. On our way back, towards evening, I asked him what it was. He said, ‘I work hard, very hard. Sometimes I come back to my home tired, very tired—lonely. I open my door and the house is dark, silent. The young folks are out somewhere and there is no one to talk to.’ Then he became silent himself. I said to him: ‘Have you any one in mind whom you would like to talk to?’ ‘I have,’ he said positively. ‘If so,’ I said, ‘go to her at once and tell her so.’ ‘I will,’ he replied briskly—and the next night he went to Pittsburg.”
We were married in January, 1898.
The first reception given in our home on Massachusetts Avenue was in the nature of a greeting between the Doctor’s friends and myself. His own interest in the social side of things in Washington was an agreeable interruption rather than a part of his own activities. His friends were men and women from every highway and byway of the world. My father, a man of unusual intellectual breadth and heart, had been my companion of many years, so that I was, to some degree, accustomed to mature conceptions of people and affairs. But the busy whirl in the life of a celebrity was entirely new.
It was soon quite evident that Dr. Talmage relied upon me for the discretionary duties of a man besieged by all sorts of demands. From the first I feared that Dr. Talmage was over-taxing his strength, undiminished though it was at a time when most men begin to relinquish their burdens. Therefore, I entered eagerly into my new duties of relieving the strain he himself did not realise.
His was a full and ample life devoted to the gospel of cheerfulness; and to me, I think, was given the best part of it—the autumn. When I knew him he had already impressed the wide world of his hearers with his striking originality of thought and style. He had already established a form of preaching that was known by his name—Talmagic. Its character was the man himself, broad, brilliant, picturesque, keen with divine and human facts, told simply, always with an uplift of spiritual beauty.
In March, 1898, Dr. Talmage was called West for lecture engagements, and I went with him. What strange and delightful events that spring tour brought into my life! The Doctor lectured every night in what was to me some new and undiscovered country. We were always going to an hotel, to a train, to an opera house, to another hotel, another train, another opera house. Our experiences were not less exciting than the trials of one-night stands. I had never travelled before without a civilised quota of trunks; but the Doctor would have been overwhelmed with them in the rush to keep his engagements. So we had to be content with our bags. When we were not studying time tables the Doctor was striding across the land, his Bible under his arm, myself in gasping haste at his side. What primitive hotels we encountered; what antiquated trains we had to take! Frequently a milk train was the only means of reaching our destination, and, alas! a milk train always leaves at the trying hour of 4 a.m. Once we had to ride on a special engine; and frequently the caboose of a freight train served our desperate purpose. I began to understand something of the loneliness of the Doctor’s life in experiences like these.
I insisted upon sitting in the front row at every one of Dr. Talmage’s lectures, which I soon knew by heart. He used to laugh when I would repeat certain parts of them to him.
Then he would beg me to stay away that I might not be bored by listening to the same thing over again. I would not have missed one of his lectures for the world. These were the great moments of his life; the combined resources of his character came to the surface whenever he went into the pulpit or on to the platform. These were the moments that inspired his life, that gave it an ever-increasing vigour of human and divine perception. The enthusiasm of his reception by the crowds in these theatres keyed me up so that each new audience was a new pleasure. There were no preliminaries to his lectures. Frequently he had time only to drop his hat and step on to the stage as he had come from the train. After every lecture it was his custom to shake hands with hundreds of people who came up to the platform. This was very exhausting, but these were to him the moments of fruition—the spiritual harvest of the Christian seeds he had scattered over the earth. They were wonderful scenes, dramatic in their earnestness, remarkable in the evidence they brought out of his universal influence upon the hearts of men and women. Everywhere the same testimony prevailed:
“You saved my father, God bless you!” “You saved my brother, thank God!” “You made a good woman of me!” “You gave me my first start in life!” In these words they told him their gratitude, as they grasped his hand.
On these occasions the Doctor’s face was wonderful to see as, with the silent pressure of his hand, he looked into the eyes that were filled with tears. Sometimes people would come to me and whisper the same truths about him, and when I would tell him, his answer was characteristic: “Eleanor, this is what gives me strength. It is worth living to hear people tell me these things.”
Dr. Talmage’s instincts were big, evangelical impulses. I often used to urge him to relinquish his pastorate; but he would reply that after all the Church was his candlestick; that he must have a place to hold his candle while he preached to a world of all nations. Yet he often said he would rather have been an unfettered evangelist, bent on saving the world, than the pastor of any one flock or church. To preach to the people was the breath of his life. It was the restless energy of his soul that kept him for ever young. He would put all his strength into every sermon he preached, and every lecture he delivered.
Dr. Talmage had absolutely no personal vanity. He was a man absorbed in ideas, indifferent to appearances. He lived in the opportunities of his heart and mind to help others; although he had been one of the most tried of men, he had never spared himself to help others. He never lost faith in anyone. There were many shrewd enough to realise this characteristic in him, who would put a finger on his heart and draw out of him all he had to give.
On one occasion we were travelling through Iowa, when a big snow storm made it evident that we could not make connections to meet an engagement he had made to lecture that evening in Marietta, Ohio. He had just said to me that after all he was glad, because he was very tired and needed the rest. Will Carleton was on the same train, bound for Zanesville, Ohio, to give a lecture that night. He was very much afraid that he, too, would miss his engagement. He asked the Doctor to telegraph to the railroad officials to hold the limited at Chicago Junction, which the Doctor did. The result was that we were whisked in a carriage across Chicago and whirled on a special car to the junction, where the limited was held for us, much to the disgust of the other passengers.
He saw the mercy of God in every calamity, the beauty of faith in Him in every mood of earth or sky. One spring day we were sitting in the room of a friend’s house. There were flowers in the room, and Dr. Talmage loved these children of nature. He always said that flowers were appropriate for all occasions. Some one said to him, “Doctor, how have you kept your faith in people, your sweet interpretation of human nature, in spite of the injustice you have sometimes been shown?” Looking at a great bunch of sweet peas on the table, he said: “Many years ago I learned not to care what the world said of me so long as I myself knew I was right and fair, and how can one help but believe when the good God above us makes such beautiful things as these flowers?”
His creed, as I learned it, was perfect faith, and the universal commands of human nature to live and let live. Although I was destined to share less than five years of his life, there was in the whole of it no chapter or incident with which he did not acquaint me. He was not a man of theory. No one could live near him without awe of his genius.
We returned to Washington after this spring lecturing tour, where the Doctor resumed his preaching twice on Sunday, and his mid-week lecture, till June. Then, according to Dr. Talmage’s custom, we went to Saratoga for a few weeks before the crowds came for the season. The Doctor found the Saratoga Springs beneficial and made it a rule to go there for a time each summer. On July 3, 1898, we started for the Pacific coast on what Dr. Talmage called a summer vacation. On his desk there was always a great number of invitations to preach and lecture awaiting his acknowledgment or refusal. The greatest problem of the last years of his life was how to find time for all the things he was asked to do and wanted to do. In vain I tried to make him conform to the usual plans of a summer outing. He asked me if he might take a “few lectures” on our route to California, and he did, but he always managed to slip in a few extra ones without my knowledge. When I would protest about these additional engagements he would say that the people wanted to hear him, that they were new people he had never seen, which meant more to him than anything else; then, of course, I had to yield my judgment.
It had been Dr. Talmage’s original plan to go to Europe during this first summer of our marriage, but the outbreak of the Spanish war made him afraid he might not be able to get back in time for his church work in October. Although ostensibly this was a vacation trip, it was so only in the spirit and gaiety of the Doctor’s moods. Three times a week Dr. Talmage lectured, and preached once, sometimes twice, every Sunday. From Cincinnati westward to Denver, we zigzagged over the country, keeping in constant pursuit of the Doctor’s engagements. No argument on our part could alter these working plans which my husband had made before we left Washington. He was so happy, however, in the midst of his energies, that we forgot the exertion of his labours.
The three places where, by agreeable lapses, Dr. Talmage really enjoyed a rest, were Colorado Springs, the Yellowstone Park, and Coronado Beach in California. Aside from these points, we were travelling incessantly in the Doctor’s reflected glory, which was our vacation, but by no means his. While at Colorado Springs, where we stayed two weeks, Dr. Talmage preached once, and once in Denver, but he did not lecture.
In Salt Lake City the Doctor preached in the Tabernacle, the throne room of polygamy, that he had so often attacked in previous years. That was a remarkable feature of these last milestones of his life, that all conflicts were forgotten in a universal acknowledgment of his evangelism. His grasp of every subject was always close to the hearts of others, and it was instinctive, not studied.
During our visit in the West, he talked much of the effect of the Spanish war, regarding our victory in Cuba and the Philippines as an advance to civilisation.
We entered the Yellowstone Park at Minado and drove through the geyser country. We stopped at Dwelly’s, a little log-cabin famous to all travellers, just before entering the park. On leaving there, we had been told that there were occasional hold-ups of parties travelling in private vehicles, as we were. The following day, while passing along a lonely road, a man suddenly leaped from the bushes and seized the bridles of the horses. The Doctor appeared to be terribly frightened, and we were all very much excited when we saw that the driver had missed his aim when he fired at the bandit. The robber was of the appearance approved in dime novels; he wore a sacking over his head with eye-holes cut in it through which he could see, and looked in all other respects a disreputable cut-throat. Just as we were about to surrender our jewels and money, Dr. Talmage confessed that he had arranged the hold-up for our benefit, and that it was a practical joke of his. He was always full of mischief, and took delight in surprising people.
On Sunday Dr. Talmage preached in the parlours of the Fountain Hotel. The rooms were crowded with the soldiers who were stationed in the park. The Doctor’s sermon was on garrison duty; he said afterwards that he found it extremely difficult to talk there because the rooms were small, and the people were too close to him. We paid a visit to Mr. Henderson, who was an official of the Yellowstone Park at that time, and whose brother was Speaker of the House in Washington. He begged Dr. Talmage to use his influence with members of Congress to oppose a project which had been started, to build a trolley line through the Yellowstone Park. The Doctor promised to do so, and I think the trolley line has not been built. We left the Yellowstone Park, at Cinabar, and went direct to Seattle. During our stay in Seattle the whole town was excited one morning by the arrival of a ship from the Klondike, that region of golden romance and painful reality. The Doctor and I went down to the wharf to see the great ship disembark these gold-diggers; but for several hours the four hundred passengers had been detained on board because $24,000 in gold dust, carried by two miners, had been stolen; and though a search had been instituted, to which everyone had been compelled to submit, no clue to the thief had been found. Dr. Talmage was profoundly impressed by the misfortune of these two men, who after months of exposure and fatigue were now obliged to walk ashore penniless. A number of these four hundred passengers had brought back an aggregate of about $4,000,000 from the Klondike; but many among them had brought back only disappointment, and their haggard faces were pitiful to see; indeed, the Doctor told me that out of the thousands who went fortune hunting to Alaska, only about 3 per cent. came back richer than when they started.
In the early part of September Dr. Talmage lectured in San Francisco on International Policies. His admiration of the Czar’s manifesto for disarmament of the nations was unbounded, and he emphasised it whenever he appeared in public. He prophesied the millennium as if he looked forward to personal experiences of it; this came from his remarkable confidence in the life forces nature had given him. At Coronado Beach we determined upon a rest for two weeks; but the Doctor could in no wise be induced to forego his lecture at San Diego. A pleasant visit to Los Angeles was followed by a delightful sojourn of a few days at Santa Barbara, the floral paradise of the Golden Coast; here the Doctor was met at the station by carriages, and we were literally smothered in flowers; even our rooms in the hotel were banked high with roses. In the afternoon we accepted an invitation to drive through Santa Barbara, hoping against hope that we might do so inconspicuously. But the same flower-laden carriages came for us, and we were driven through the city like a miniature flower parade. Much to the Doctor’s regret he was followed about like a circus; but his courtesy never failed.
On our route East we again stopped in San Francisco. An announcement had been made that Dr. Talmage would preach for the Sunday evening service at Calvary Presbyterian Church, on the corner of Powell and Geary Streets. Never had I seen such a crowd before. As we made our way to the church, we found the adjoining streets packed so solidly with people that we had to call a policeman to make an opening for us. Once inside, we saw the church rapidly filling, till at last, as a means of protection, the doors were locked against the surging crowd. But Dr. Talmage had scarcely begun his sermon when the doors were literally broken down by the crowd outside. Quick to see the danger the Doctor sent out word to the people that he would speak in Union Square immediately after the church service. This had the desired effect, and the great crowd waited patiently for him a block away till nine o’clock. It was rather a raw evening because of a fog that had come up from the sea, and for this reason the Doctor asked permission to keep his hat on while he talked from the band stand. It was the first time I ever heard him speak out of doors, and I was amazed to hear how clearly every word travelled, and with what precision his voice carried the exact effect. It was a coincidence that the theme of his sermon should have been, “There is plenty of room in Heaven.”
The tremendous enthusiasm, the almost worshipful interest with which he was received, could easily have spoiled any man, but with Dr. Talmage such an ovation as we had witnessed seemed only to intensify the simplicity of his character. He lost his identity in the elements of inspiration, and when he had finished preaching it was not to himself but to the power that had been given him, he gave all the credit of his influence. He was always simple, direct, unpretentious.
During a short stay in Chicago Dr. Talmage preached in his son’s church, and then hurried home to begin his duties in his own church. Duty was the Doctor’s master key; with it he locked himself away from the mediocre, and unlocked his way to ultimate freedom of religious impulse. For a long while he had formed a habit of preaching without recompense, as he would have desired to do all his life, because he felt that the power of preaching was a gift from God, a trust to be transmitted without cost to the people. He never missed preaching on Sunday, paying his own expenses to whatever pulpit he was invited to occupy. There were so many invitations that he was usually able to choose. It was this conviction that led to his ultimate resignation from his church in Washington, that he might be free to expound the Scriptures wherever he was.
He was always so happy it was hard to believe that he was overworking; yet I feared his labour of love would end in exhaustion and possible illness. Everything in the world was beautiful to him, and yet beauty was not a matter of externals with him. It radiated from him, even when it was not about him. Especially was this noticeable when we were away together on one of his short lecturing trips. At these times we were quite alone, and then, without interruptions, in the sequestered domain of some country hotel he would admit me into the wonderland of his inner hopes, his plans for the future, his ideas of life and people and happiness. Once we were staying in one of these country hotels obviously pretentious, but very uncomfortable—the sort of hotel where the walls of the room oppress you, and the furniture astonishes you, and there are no private baths. He sat down in the largest chair, literally beaming with delight.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” he said; “now I take my home with me; before I used to be so much alone. Now I have someone to talk to.”
There was nothing comparative in his happiness; everything was made perfect for him by the simplicity of his appreciation. I used to look forward to these trips as one might look forward to an excursion into some new and unexpected transport of existence, for he always had new wonders of heart and mind to reveal in these obscure byways we explored together. They were all too short, and yet too full for time to record them in a diary. These were the hours that one puts away in the secret chamber of unwritten and untold feeling. I turn again to the pages of our scrap book, as one turns to the dictionary, for reserve of language.
In November of 1898 I find there a clipping that reminds me of the day Dr. Talmage and I spent at the home of Senator Faulkner, in Martinsburg, West Virginia. The Anglo-American Commission was in session in Washington then, and during the following winter. The Joint High Commission was the official title, and we were invited by Senator Faulkner with these men to get a glimpse of that rare Americanism known the world over as Southern hospitality. The foreign members of the Commission were Lord Herschel, Sir Wilfred Laurier, Sir Louis Davis, and Sir Richard Cartwright. Our host was one of the Americans on the Commission.
We left Washington about noon, lunched on the train, and reached the old ancestral home in a snow storm. All of the available carriages and carry-alls were at our disposal, however, and we were quickly driven to the warm fireside of a true Southerner, who, more than any other kind of man, knows how to brand the word “Home” upon your memory. We dined with true Southern sumptuousness. Never shall I forget the resigned and comfortable expression of that little roast pig as it was laid before us. To the Englishmen it was a rare chance to understand the cordial relations between England and America, in an atmosphere of Colonial splendour. The house itself has not undergone any change since it was built; it stands a complete example of an old ancestral estate. As we were leaving, our host insisted that no friend should leave his house without tasting the best egg-nog ever made in Virginia. The doctor and I drove to the station in a carriage with Lord Herschel. He was a man of great reserve and high breeding. On the way he showed us a letter that he had just received from his daughter, a little girl in England, telling him to be sure and come home for the Christmas holidays, and not to let those rich Americans keep him away.
This was the beginning of a series of dinners given by members of the Joint High Commission in Washington during the winter, to which we were often invited. A few months later Lord Herschel died in Washington. Dr. Talmage was almost the last man to see him alive. He called at his hotel to invite him to stay at his house, but he was then too ill to be moved.
During the early Fall of 1898 the Doctor lectured at Annapolis. It was his first visit to the old historic town, and he was received with all the honour of the place. We were the guests of Governor Lowndes at the executive mansion, where we were entertained in the evening at dinner. Just before the Christmas holidays, Dr. Talmage made a short lecturing trip into Canada, and I went with him; it was my privilege to accompany him everywhere, even for a brief journey of a day.
In Montreal, while sitting in a box with some Canadian friends, during one of the Doctor’s lectures, they told me how deep was the affection and regard for him in England.
“Wait till you see how the English people receive him,” they said; “you will be surprised at the hold that he has on them over there.” The following year I went to England with him, and experienced with pride and pleasure the truth of what they had said.
The end of our first year together seemed to be only the prelude to a long lifetime of companionship and happiness, without age, without sorrow, without discord.
The above article is the first chapter in the book, “T. De Witt Talmage– As I knew Him” The following link will connec you to the full text of the book.