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|Bishop Kavanaugh in California.
He came first in 1856. The Californians "took to" him at once. It was almost as good as a visit to the old home to see and hear this rosy-faced, benignant, and solid Kentuckian. His power and pathos in the pulpit were equaled by his humor and magnetic charm in the social circle. Many consciences were stirred. All hearts were won by him, and he holds them unto this day. We may hope too that many souls were won that will be stars in his crown of rejoicing in the day of Jesus Christ.
At San Jose, his quality as a preacher was developed by an incident that excited no little popular interest. The (Northern) Methodist Conference was in session at that place, the venerable and saintly Bishop Scott presiding. Bishop Kavanaugh was invited to preach, and it so happened that he was to do so on the night following an appointment for Bishop Scott. The matter was talked of in the town, and not unnaturally a spirit of friendly rivalry was excited with regard to the approaching pulpit performances by the Northern and Southern Bishops respectively. One enthusiastic but not pious Kentuckian offered to bet a hundred dollars that Kavanaugh would preach the better sermon. Of course the two venerable men were unconscious of all this, and nothing of the kind was in their hearts. The church was thronged to hear Bishop Scott, and his humility, strong sense, deep earnestness, and holy emotion, made a profound and happy impression on all present. The church was again crowded the next night. Among the audience was a considerable number of Southerners - wild fellows, who were not often seen in such places, among them the enthusiastic Kentuckian already alluded to. Kavanaugh, after going through with the preliminary services, announced his text, and began his discourse. He seemed not to be in a good preaching mood. His wheels drove heavily. Skirmishing around and around, he seemed to be reconnoitering his subject, finding no salient point for attack. The look of eager expectation in the faces of the people gave way to one of puzzled and painful solicitude. The heads of the expectant Southerners drooped a little, and the betting Kentuckian betrayed his feelings by a lowering of the under-jaw and sundry nervous twitchings of the muscles of his face. The good Bishop kept talking, but the wheels revolved slowly. It was a solemn and "trying time" to at least a portion of the audience, as the Bishop, with head bent over the Bible and his broad chest stooped, kept trying to coax a response from that obstinate text. It seemed a lost battle. At last a sudden flash of thought seemed to strike the speaker, irradiating his face and lifting his form as he gave it utterance, with a characteristic throwing back of his shoulders and upward sweep of his arms. Those present will never forget what followed. The afflatus of the true orator had at last fallen upon him; the mighty ship was launched, and swept out to sea under full canvas. Old Kentucky was on her feet that night in San Jose. It was indescribable. Flashes of spiritual illumination, explosive bursts of eloquent declamation, sparkles of chastened wit, appeals of overwhelming intensity, followed like the thunder and lightning of a Southern storm. The church seemed literally to rock. "Amens" burst from the electrified Methodists of all sorts; these were followed by "hallelujahs" on all sides; and when the sermon ended with a rapturous flight of imagination, half the congregation were on their feet, shaking hands, embracing one another, and shouting. In the tremendous religious impression made, criticism was not thought of. Even the betting Kentuckian showed by his heaving breast and tearful eyes how far he was borne out of the ordinary channels of his thought and feeling.
He came to Sonora, where I was pastor, to preach to the miners. It was our second year in California, and the paternal element in his nature fell on us like a benediction. He preached three noble sermons to full houses in the little church on the red hillside, but his best discourses were spoken to the young preacher in the tiny parsonage. Catching the fire of the old polemics that led to the battles of the giants in the West, he went over the points of difference between the Arminiau and Calvinistic schools of theology in a way that left a permanent deposit in a mind which was just then in its most receptive state. We felt very lonesome after he had left. It was like a touch of home to have him with us then, and in his presence we have had the feeling ever since. What a home will heaven be where all such men will be gathered in one company!
It was a warm day when he went down to take the stage for Mariposa. The vehicle seemed to be already full of passengers, mostly Mexicans and Chinamen. When the portly Bishop presented himself, and essayed to enter, there were frowns and expressions of dissatisfaction.
"Mucho malo!" exclaimed a dark-skinned Senorita, with flashing black eyes.
"Make room in there - he's got to go," ordered the bluff stage-driver, in a peremptory tone.
There were already eight passengers inside, and the top of the coach was covered as thick as robins on a sumac-bush. The Bishop mounted the step and surveyed the situation. The seat assigned him was between two Mexican women, and as he sunk into the apparently insufficient space there was a look of consternation in their faces - and I was not surprised at it. But scrouging in, the newcomer smiled, and addressed first one and then another of his fellow-passengers with so much friendly pleasantness of manner that the frowns cleared away from their faces, even the stolid, phlegmatic Chinamen brightening up with the contagious good humor of the "big Mellican man." When the driver cracked his whip, and the spirited mustangs struck off in the California gallop - the early Californians scorned any slower gait - everybody was smiling. Staging in California in those days was often an exciting business. There were "opposition" lines on most of the thoroughfares, and the driving was furious and reckless in the extreme. Accidents were strangely seldom when we consider the rate of speed, the nature of the roads, and the quantity of bad whisky consumed by most of the drivers. Many of these drivers made it a practice to drink at every stopping-place. Seventeen drinks were counted in one forenoon ride by one of these thirsty Jehus. The racing between the rival stages was exciting enough. Lashing the wiry little horses to full speed, there was but one thought, and that was, to "get in ahead." A driver named White upset his stage between Montezuma and Knight's Ferry on the Stanislaus, breaking his right-leg above the knee. Fortunately none of the passengers were seriously hurt, though some of them were a little bruised and frightened. The stage was righted, White resumed the reins, whipped his horses into a run, and, with his broken limb hanging loose, ran into town ten minutes ahead of his rival, fainting as he was lifted from the seat.
"Old man Holden told me to go in ahead or smash everything, and I made it!" exclaimed White, with professional pride.
The Bishop was fortunate enough to escape with unbroken bones as he dashed from point to point over the California hills and valleys, though that heavy body of his was mightily shaken up on many occasions.
He came to California on his second visit, in 1863, when the war was raging. An incident occurred that gave him a very emphatic reminder that those were troublous times.
He was at a camp-meeting in the San Joaquin Valley, near Linden - a place famous for gatherings of this sort. The Bishop was to preach at eleven o'clock, and a great crowd was there, full of high expectation. A stranger drove up just before the hour of service - a broad shouldered man in blue clothes, and wearing a glazed cap. He asked to see Bishop Kavanaugh privately for a few moments.
They retired to "the preachers' tent," and the stranger said:
"My name is Jackson - Colonel Jackson, of the United States Army. I have a disagreeable duty to perform. By order of General McDowell, I am to place you under arrest, and take you to San Francisco."
"Can you wait until I preach my sermon?" asked the Bishop, good-naturedly; "the people expect it, and I don't want to disappoint them if it can be helped."
"How long will it take you?"
"Well, I am a little uncertain when I get started, but I will try not to be too long."
"Very well; go on with your sermon, and if you have no objection I will be one of your hearers."
The secret was known only to the Bishop and his captor. The sermon was one of his best - the vast crowd of people were mightily moved, and the Colonel's eyes were not dry when it closed. After a prayer, and a song, and a collection, the Bishop stood up again before the people, and said:
"I have just received a message which makes it necessary for me to return to San Francisco immediately. I am sorry that I cannot remain longer, and participate with you in the hallowed enjoyments of the occasion. The blessing of God be with you, my brethren and sisters."
His manner was so bland, and his tone so serene, that nobody had the faintest suspicion as to what it was that called him away so suddenly. When he drove off with the stranger, the popular surmise was that it was a wedding or a funeral that called for such haste. These are two events in human life that admit of no delays: people must be buried, and they will be married.
The Bishop reported to General Mason, Provost-marshal General, and was told to hold himself as in duress until further orders, and to be ready to appear at headquarters at short notice when called for. He was put on parole, as it were. He came down to San Jose and stirred my congregation with several of his powerful discourses. In the meantime the arrest had gotten into the newspapers. Nothing that happens escapes the California journalists, and they have even been known to get hold of things that never happened at all. It seems that someone in the shape of a man had made an affidavit that Bishop Kavanaugh had come to the Pacific Coast as a secret agent of the Southern Confederacy, to intrigue and recruit in its interest! Five minutes' inquiry would have satisfied General McDowell of the silliness of such a charge - but it was in war times, and he did not stop to make the inquiry. In Kentucky the good old Bishop had the freedom of the whole land, coming and going without hinderance; but the fact was, he had not been within the Confederate lines since the war began. To make such an accusation against him was the climax of absurdity.
About three weeks after the date of his arrest, I was with the Bishop one morning on our way to Judge Moore's beautiful country-seat, near San Jose, situated on the far-famed Alameda. The carriage was driven by a black man named Henry. Passing the post-office, I found, addressed to the Bishop in my care, a huge document bearing the official stamp of the provost-marshal's office, San Francisco. He opened and read it as we drove slowly along, and as he did so he brightened up, and turning to Henry, said:
"Henry, were you ever a slave?"
"Yes, sah; in Mizzoory," said Henry, showing his white teeth.
"Did you ever get your free-papers?"
"Yes, sah - got 'em now."
"Well, I have got mine - let's shake hands."
And the Bishop and Henry had quite a handshaking over this mutual experience. Henry enjoyed it greatly, as his frequent chucklings evinced while the Judge's fine bays were trotting along the Alameda.
(I linger on the word Alameda as I write it. It is at least one beneficent trace of the early Jesuit Fathers who founded the San Jose and Santa Clara missions a hundred years ago. They planted an avenue of willows the entire three miles, and in that rich, moist soil the trees have grown until their trunks are of enormous size, and their branches, overarching the highway with their dense shade, make a drive of unequaled beauty and pleasantness. The horse-cars have now taken away much of its romance, but in the early days it was famous for moonlight drives and their concomitants and consequences. A long-limbed four-year-old California colt gave me a romantic touch of a different sort, nearly the last time I was on the Alameda, by running away with the buggy, and breaking it and me - almost - to pieces. I am reminded of it by the pain in my crippled right-shoulder as I write these lines in July, 1881. But still I say, Blessings on the memory of the Fathers who planted the willows on the Alameda!)
An intimation was given the Bishop that if he wanted the name of the false-swearer who had caused him to he arrested he could have it.
"No, I don't want to know his name," said he; "it will do me no good to know it. May God pardon his sin, as I do most heartily!"
A really strong preacher preaches a great many sermons, each of which the hearers claim to be the greatest sermon of his life. I have heard of at least a half dozen "greatest" sermons by Bascom and Pierce, and other noted pulpit orators. But I heard one sermon by Kavanaugh that was probably indeed his master-effort. It had a history. When the Bishop started to Oregon, in 1863, I placed in his hands Bascom's Lectures, which, strange to say, he had never read. Of these Lectures the elder Dr. Bond said "they would be the colossal pillars of Bascom's fame when his printed sermons were forgotten." Those Lectures wonderfully anticipated the changing phases of the materialistic infidelity developed since his day, and applied to them the reductio ad absurdum with relentless and resistless power. On his return from Oregon, Kavanaugh met and presided over the Annual Conference at San Jose. One of his old friends, who was troubled with skeptical thoughts of the materialistic sort, requested him to preach a sermon for his special benefit. This request, and the previous reading of the Lectures, directed his mind to the topic suggested with intense earnestness. The result was, as I shall always think, the sermon of a lifetime. The text was, There is a spirit in man; and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding. (Job xxxii. 8.) That mighty discourse was a demonstration of the truth of the affirmation of the text. I will not attempt to reproduce it here, though many of its passages are still vivid in my memory. It tore to shreds the sophistries by which it was sought to sink immortal man to the level of the brutes that perish; it appealed to the consciousness of his hearers in red-hot logic that burned its way to the inmost depths of the coldest and hardest hearts; it scintillated now and then sparkles of wit like the illuminated edges of an advancing thundercloud; borne, on the wings of his imagination, whose mighty sweep took him beyond the bounds of earth, through whirling worlds and burning suns, he found the culmination of human destiny, in the bosom of eternity, infinity, and God. The peroration was indescribable. The rapt audience reeled under it. Inspiration! the man of God was himself its demonstration, for the power of his word was not his own.
"O I thank God that be sent me here this day to hear that sermon! I never heard any thing like it, and I shall never forget it, or cease to be thankful that I heard it," said the Rev. Dr. Charles Wadsworth, of Philadelphia, the great Presbyterian preacher - a man of genius, and a true prose-poet, as any one will concede after reading his published sermons. As he spoke, the tears were in his eyes, the muscles of his face quivering, and his chest heaving with irrepressible emotion. Nobody who heard that discourse will accuse me of too high coloring in this brief description of it.
"Don't you wish you were a Kentuckian?" was the enthusiastic exclamation of a lady who brought from Kentucky a matchless wit and the culture of Science Hill Academy, which has blessed and brightened so many homes from the Ohio to the Sacramento.
I think the Bishop was present on another occasion when the compliment he received was a left-handed one. It was at the Stone Church in Suisun Valley. The Bishop and a number of the most prominent ministers of the Pacific Conference were present at a Saturday-morning preaching appointment. They had all been engaged in protracted labors, and, beginning with the Bishop, one after another declined to preach. The lot fell at last upon a boyish-looking brother of very small stature, who labored under the double disadvantage of being a very young preacher, and of having been reared in the immediate vicinity. The people were disappointed and indignant when they saw the little fellow go into the pulpit. None showed their displeasure more plainly than Uncle Ben Brown, a somewhat eccentric old brother, who was one of the founders of that Society, and one of its best official members. He sat as usual on a front seat, his thick eyebrows fiercely knit, and his face wearing a heavy frown. He had expected to hear the Bishop, and this was what it had come to! He drew his shoulders sullenly down, and, with his eyes bent upon the floor, nursed his wrath. The little preacher began his sermon, and soon astonished everybody by the energy with which he spoke. As he proceeded, the frown on Uncle Ben's face relaxed a little; at length he lifted his eyes and glanced at the speaker in surprise. He did not think it was in him. With abnormal fluency and force, the little preacher went on with the increasing sympathy of his audience, who were feeling the effects of a generous reaction in his favor. Uncle Ben, touched a little with honest obstinacy as he was, gradually relaxed in the sternness of his looks, straightening up by degrees until he sat upright facing the speaker in a sort of half-reluctant, pleased wonder. Just at the close of a specially vigorous burst of declamation, the old man exclaimed, in a loud voice:
"Bless God! he uses the weak things of this world to confound the mighty!" casting around a triumphant glance at the Bishop and other preachers.
This impromptu remark was more amusing to the hearers than helpful to the preacher, I fear; but it was away the dear old brother had of speaking out in meeting.
I must end this Sketch. I have dipped my pen in my heart in writing it. The subject of it has been friend, brother, father, to me since the day he looked in upon us in the little cabin on the hill in Sonora, in 1855. When I greet him on the hills of heaven, he will not be sorry to be told that among the many in the far West to whom he was helpful was the writer of this too imperfect Sketch.