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Samuel F.B. Morse
Prof. Morse's Funeral
H.J. Rodgers Twenty-Three Years Under a Sky-Light, or Life and Experiences of a Photographer (Hartford: H.J. Rodgers, 1872), p.225.
From the New York Tribune of April 6, 1872.
PROF, MORSE'S FUNERAL.
SERVICES AT DR. ADAMS' CHURCH - A CROWDED AUDIENCE - THE SERMON THE BURIAL AT GREENWOOD.
The funeral services in honor of Professor Morse were held yesterday at Madison Square Presbyterian Church, preceded by a prayer at the house in West Twenty-second Street, where only the relatives and intimate friends were in attendance. All the available space in the church, excepting reserved pews along the center aisle, was crowded an hour before the time appointed for the services. The communion table was covered with the choicest flowers arranged as crosses, crowns, and wreaths, one beautiful cross of rare white blossoms being a tribute from the young ladies of Rutgers College.
The funeral procession, which reached the church soon after eleven o'clock, and entered during the rendering of an original offertory of dirge music, by the organist, Mr. Bassford, was headed by the Rev. Wm. Adams, D.D., and the Rev. Francis B. Wheeler, D.D., of Poughkeepsie, the latter being pastor of the church of which Prof. Morse has been a member for the past twenty years. The pall-bearers were Gen. John A. Dix, Peter Cooper, Wm. Orton, Cambridge Livingston, Daniel Huntington, Cyrus W. Field, Charles Butler, and Ezra Cornell. Following these were Gov. Hoffman and staff, the Legislative Committee, members of the National Academy of Design, Directors and Operators of the Western Union Telegraph Company, members of the Evangelical Alliance, Chamber of Commerce, Stock Exchange, and Association for the Advancement of Science and Art, delegations from the Common Councils of New York, Brooklyn, and Poughkeepsie, and many of the Yale Alumni. Among the many distinguished persons present were Gen. Sickles and ex-Congressman Robinson, of Brooklyn, who rendered efficient service to Prof. Morse in his first efforts to secure assistance from Congress for the telegraph, and stood by his side when the first message was sent. After the audience was seated the choir sung the anthem, "I heard a voice from Heaven," from the Greatorex collection. Dr. Adams read appropriate selections from the Scriptures, and the hymn, "Asleep in Jesus, blessed sleep," was sung by the choir to the tune of "Rest," both words and music being favorites of the deceased. The following address was then delivered by Dr. Adams:
How poor and paltry the words of man in the presence of the great mystery of death! How weighty, how sublime those words of God with which we are bidden on such occasions to comfort one another! Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God which liveth and abideth forever. For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth and the flower fadeth away, but the word of the Lord endureth forever. And this is the word by which the Gospel is preached unto you. Two aspects are here presented of man. According to one, frail and fading as the flowers which love strews over his bier; according to the other, abiding, incorruptible, imperishable as the word of God.
The true value of a good life can never be lost; the good which men do lives after them, and is not interred with their bones. Abel, the first one of our race who tasted death, being dead yet speaketh. He is the true Methuselah who originates good thoughts and projects, which live a thousand years after he himself has passed from the world. Two days ago a funeral procession filed through our streets with muffled drums, reversed arms, flags draped with black, and with every sign of public woe, bearing the remains of one whom we all loved and honored to their last resting place. As the pageant went by you said to yourselves: "Such is the end of the life of the body; like a vapor it vanished! away; but the fidelity and loyalty of the brave Christian soldier are not lost and cannot pass away; they have entered as permanent properties into the life and history of this country."
Preeminently true is this of the distinguished man whose death has brought us together at this hour. If it be true, according to the Scriptures, that no man dieth by himself, emphatically true is it that the death of such a man as this is like the fall of an oak in a grove, creating a wide chasm and bearing with it many trees, vines, and boughs to the ground. Deep as are the sorrows caused by this death in the home circle and in private intimsicies, it cannot but be regarded as a public bereavement. We sorrow not alone; millions share the shock. One is awed by the thought that no sooner had death come to this dear and honored friend, than by means of that instrumentality which his genius had effected, the intelligence was throbbed beneath the billows of the ocean, across the continent eastward and westward, and simultaneously became the topic of remark and the occasion of grief in London, Paris, Eome, Vienna, Berlin, St. Petersburg, Syria, Egypt, India, China, Japan, and in every part of the civilized world. We say in familiar phrase, "He is dead; " but he lives still, and will live forever in forms of usefulness which are intimately related to the peace, welfare and advancement of the whole human race.
Samuel Finley Breese Morse was the eldest son of the late Rev. Dr. Jedediah Morse of Charlestown, Mass. He was born at that place on the 27th of April, 1791, and accordingly was within a few weeks of 81 years of age at the time of his death. He graduated at Yale College in 1810, and developing an early fondness for art, went abroad for the purpose of studying it with Washington Allston and Benjamin West, and returned to this Country with honorable testimonials of his success. He was one of the founders and the first President of the Academy of Design in this City, and expected to devote his life to the art of painting; but owing to an incident, which shows the arcana of Providence in brining good out of evil, he was divorced from the pencil and brush, and diverted to those studies and instruments which resulted in the invention that has given him his world-wide renown.
I have no intention at this time of giving a detailed history of his connection with the magnetic telegraph, as those various associations of science and art with which he was connected will vie with each other in vindicating the truth in this matter. I shall intrust that eulogy to them, passing myself to those moral and religious aspects of his life and work, which seem to me the most appropriate to be treated by a Christian minister, in the sanctuary where he was so long accustomed to worship. While the world was filled with the splendor of his success, such was the genuine quality of his religious faith, that from first to last he delighted to regard himself as the child and agent of Providence. That first message which was flashed through the first public telegraph wire "What has God wrought?" was no affectation, but the sincere expression of one who always devoutly felt his dependence upon Divine Providence. I am told by one, who can speak advisedly on the subject, that among all the messages which have been sent beneath the sea from nation to nation, concerning all things great and small, diplomacy, commerce, marriages, births, deaths, etc., it is not known that one unkind, angry or profane word has ever passed. Prof. Morse, at the beginning of his experience, was no stranger to trial and opposition. Those who saw him in an upper room in the University of New York, where he gave himself up to midnight thought and study, will never forget the patience of his faith and hope amid manifold discouragements. To him was allotted, as if he were one of the few noble men to whom it was safe that it should be so allotted, the rare privilege of seeing the complete success, and enjoying the full honors and rewards of his great achievements. He struggled with difficulties and privations, with ridicule in high places, with the worlds dread laugh, and with subsequent litigation; but he lived to be crowned with more honors, insignia, and tokens of respect from the different Governments and crowned heads of the world, than were ever allotted to any other private citizen of our Republic. It has passed into a proverb, that true merit sooner or later rises superior to opposition, and draws luster from reproach, as the clouds which in the morning follow the sun, and strive to darken and hinder its early career, arrange themselves at the hour of its setting into a brilliant and magnificent array, giving and taking glory from its descending rays. There is seldom in the history of man a life so complete as his. "Those that honor me, I will honor," says the God of the Scriptures. Length of days, peace, riches, and honor, are the supremist gifts of divine wisdom promises well fulfilled in the case of this honored friend.
You remember a short time ago he was occupied with others of our fellow-citizens, in acts of attention to a distinguished representative of the royal house of Russia. At the holy communion of this church next ensuing, an occasion in which, for domestic and personal reasons, he felt an extraordinary interest, at the close of the service he approached me, with more than usual warmth and pressure of the hand, and with a beaming countenance said : "O, this is something better and greater than standing before princes !" His piety had the simplicity of childhood. His household will never forget the purity and heartiness of his devotions.
When his brother Sidney died, last Christmas, he began to die also. Through fear of exciting alarm and giving distress to his own household, he did not speak so much to them as to some others, of his expected departure, but he used to say familiarly to some, with whom he was ready "to converse upon this subject;" I love to be studying the Guide Book of the country to which I am going; I wish to know more and more about it." A few days before his decease, in the privacy of his chamber, I spoke to him of the great goodness of God to him in his remarkable life. "Yes; so good, so good," was the quick response; "and the best part of all is yet to come." Though spared more than 80 years, he saw none of the infirmities of age, either of mind or body. His delicate taste his love for the beautiful, his fondness for the fine arts, his sound judgment, his intellectual activities, his public spirit, his intense interest in all that concerned the welfare and the decoration of the city, his earnest advocacy of Christian liberty throughout the world all continued unimpaired to the last.
With perfect health, and the full possession of every faculty, urbane and courteous as you all knew him, there was. no infelicity of temper or manner such as sometimes befalls extreme age. Surrounded by a young family, he was their genial friend and companion as well as head, sympathizing in all their simple and innocent pleasures that give the charms to home. In particular qualities he had many equals and superiors, but in that rare combination of qualities which, like the harmony of colors in the finished picture, made him what he was, he seems to have been unrivaled; so that for these many years he seemed to me, and this is the image of him in his life and in his death which I shall always retain, the personification of manly beauty, halved with the glory which God gives to the hoary head, found in the way of righteousness. It seemed to me that religion with him was something more than the thin varnish over his own pictures, designed to bring out light and shade. It was right in the very substance of his soul and life. As a worshipper, devotee, and listener in the house of God, he evinced that magnetic sympathy with the preacher which every pastor feels, though he cannot describe. Especially did he kindle into enthusiasm at all words which aroused to honor and glorify his Divine Lord.
To-day we part forever with all that is mortal of that man whom we have loved so much, and who has done so much in the cause of Christian civilization. Less than one year ago his fellow citizens, chiefly telegraphic operator, who loved him as children love their fathers, reared his statue in bronze, in the Central Park of this City. That venerable form, that face so saintly in its purity and refinement, we shall see no more. How much we shall miss him in our homes, our churches, our public gatherings, in the streets of the city, and in that society which he adorned and blessed. But his life has been so happy, so useful, so complete, that for him nothing remains to have been wished. He has left to his family, his friends, and his country, a spotless name beloved by all nations, and he died as a Christian, in the bright and blessed hope of everlasting life. Farewell, beloved friend, honored citizen, public benefactor, good and faithful servant. While your eulogy shall be pronounced in many languages, this, I believe, was your own highest aspiration to have your name written as an humble disciple in the Lamb's Book of Life.
Prayer followed by the Rev. Dr. Wheeler, and the chant, "Just as I am, without one plea," was rendered by the choir. An opportunity was then given to take a last look at the venerable face of the distinguished professor, and while the organist played a funeral march of Chopin, the immense audience slowly moved up the center aisle past the coffin and dispersed. The congregation manifested the greatest respect and reverence for Prof. Morse, but there were few indications of mourning, the prevailing feeling seeming to be that a noble life, crowned with the greatest of earthly successes and honors, had reached a fitting and worthy end.
At the conclusion of the services at the church, the remains were taken to Greenwood Cemetery, and deposited in the receiving vault. The burial service was read and prayer offered by the Rev. J. A. Hodge, of Hartford, son-in-law of the late Richard Morse, and the benediction was pronounced by the Rev. Dr. Wheeler. There were only 14 carriages in the procession, and as it moved down Broadway, frequently stopped by the blockaded streets, or divided by the crossing of trucks, none would have imagined that it was escorting to his last resting-place, one of the most distinguished Americans of the age.