[From H Stowell Brown, Notes of my Life, 1888]
Few men dying have left behind them so fragrant a memory among so wide a circle of friends as the man who is the subject of this memorial volume.
At the time of his death I received a large number of letters from every part of the kingdom, as well as from the United States and Canada, expressing the hope that some story of his life and work might be given to the public. Others wished for the publication of a volume of sermons, and others again that all his unpublished lectures should be printed.
I have endeavoured in this book to make some response to all these wishes. I found in Hugh Stowell Browns desk a rough manuscript book, in which he had commenced the story of his early life; several commonplace books, recording such passing events in his Ministry at Liverpool as he judged worthy of record ; a lecture on his visit to America, and other miscellaneous manuscripts, from which I have been able, without adding more than a few pages of my own writing, to construct the first part of this volume.
It must be borne in mind that when these manuscripts were written by him, he had no idea of their being published, though much of the matter had been used by him from time to time in lectures and other addresses. I have, however, decided not to attempt to dress them up in any garments of my making, but to give them to his many friends in the rough homespun in which I found them. They will thank me for doing so.
I have of course omitted any passage that might give pain to any living person, and have altered the names and initials of those who may be commented upon unfavourably, either in the autobiography or the Commonplace Book.
I have not thought it necessary to make much reference in this volume to his private life. He has had to face the loss of both his wives and three of his children ; but otherwise his domestic life was serene and happy.
He married Alice Chibnall Sirett, his first wife, in 1848, whom he met during his apprenticeship at Wolverton. She died in 1863; she was the mother of all his children. He afterwards married my sister, Phoebe Caine, who died in 1884, after a long and painful illness of some years duration. There is no doubt that the strain of this long anxiety upon a singularly affectionate nature did much to undermine his robust constitution, and hasten his own death. The three last entries in his Commonplace Book are a sad confirmation of this.
"February 17, 1884Sunday. My dear Phoebe is so ill and weak that I have constant sorrow and pain in my heart ; she gets feebler and feebler, happily not suffering very much, but she is less and less capable of being interested in anything. She is very unselfish and uncomplaining; when a little brighter she is wonderfully hopeful, but that is no good sign; consumption has made her its prey, and hope has all but left me. I find it very hard in these dreadfully depressing circumstances to do my work, yet work is the best thing for me. Lord, help me to say, Thy will be done; but oh! that it may be Thy will to spare her!"
"March 25, 1884. It is not His willmy darling died this morning without a struggle. It is a fine day, befitting the eventthe departure of one so bright and cheerful. It is a great blow to me and to us all, but we have had nearly nineteen years of happy wedded life, and for this it behoves me to be profoundly thankful to God. Now I have another treasure in Heaven."
"March 25, 1885. I have not had the heart to enter anything since this day twelve months. Now the sad anniversary has come. The event has proved a great shock to me, and made me sad and low all the year through. But I have had and continue to have good health, and my work, pretty constantly engaged in, has saved me. I have much reason to thank God, and I hope to work on a while longer."
The "while longer" was but eleven months. God took him on the 24th of February, 1886, by exactly the way he had always longed to go. His death was swift, painless, and unlooked-for by all, save perhaps by himself. A sudden bleeding at the nose, as he wrote the last words of his Sunday morning sermon, came on about noon on Saturday; it was the first sign of apoplexy, and his life ebbed painlessly away on the following Wednesday morning.
It was a strong brave life that thus flickered out. He was full of robust energy to the last moment, and the day before his attack would have walked twenty miles without fatigue.
His death fell with a heavy blow on the town of Liverpool; and with tenfold weight upon his Church. He was not only a remarkable preacher and a much-loved pastor; he was a foremost citizen, eager and active in every good work, who had won his way to public eminence as much by his labours for the good of the people at large as by his untiring energy in the pulpit and on the platform.
The esteem in which he was held by Christian men of all denominations, and especially by Baptists, is eloquently told in the sermon preached in his chapel the Sunday after his death by Dr. Alex. M'Laren of Manchester. The esteem of his fellow-citizens will find expression in the public statue to be erected to his memory by their subscriptions.
But if any proof were needed of the love and esteem in which he was held by the city of Liverpool, of the wide-spread influence of his life, the breadth of his sympathies, and the catholicity of his spirit, it would be found in the vast crowd which followed him to the grave. They were of all creeds and religions Church of England, Unitarian, Roman Catholic, Nonconformist, were all represented by their leading members. Liberals, Conservatives, and Home Rulers were also represented officially, and hardly an institution of the city failed to show its respects to his memory. Although the time fixed for the funeral was one specially inconvenient for working men, at least ten thousand of Liverpools artisans were present at the cemetery and on the route. Truly, "the common people heard him gladly," and to tens of thousands of Englishmen who had never exchanged a word with him he was as a dear personal friend. His death filled them with sorrow, and a deep sense of profound loss.
To his Church and congregation the blow was stunning. He had been their faithful friend and minister for nearly forty years; his warm and tender nature even more than his robust preaching of the gospel had endeared him to them more than is usual between pastor and people. But the Church at Myrtle Street has been true to his memory. Their gratitude to him is being shown by the absence of a single defection, and by the continuance, with unabated energy, of all the many agencies for Christian work in which he took so deep an interest, and which he loved so well.
A year after his death the Church invited Rev. D. P. Macpherson of Glasgow to fill the vacant pulpit. He came to an earnest, disciplined Church, full of Christian zeal and work, whose generosity, self-sacrifice, and energy have made it a society almost unique in English Nonconformity.
The Church at Myrtle Street owes much of its life and vigour to Hugh Stowell Brown; but he was ever the first to recognise that the results attained by it are quite as much due to the excellence of the material as to the quality of the tool.
I have endeavoured in this volume to give some idea of Mr. Browns power as a lecturer, in the selections I have made from his Commonplace Book. He always wrote his lectures out, in horrible hieroglyphics of his own, that he often failed to read himself, but once written, his marvellous memory retained them ever after. He could take up a sermon preached twenty years before, never since looked at, and preach it verbatim after reading it once over. He rarely used his manuscript in the pulpit. From two to three days hard work in the study were given weekly to the preparation of his two Sunday sermons.
He was very popular with the many Americans who stream through Liverpool every year. I have often seen the pew-openers, supplemented by the efforts of the Deacons, find it difficult to seat the two or three hundred strangers, who on occasions would flock into an already over-crowded chapel. Nothing has more gratified me since his death than the many letters written to members of his family by residents in America, speaking of the great effect his preaching has had upon their own lives.
I do not think any minister in the Baptist denomination has filled so many pulpits as Hugh Stowell Brown. Possessed of an iron constitution, and what was more important, a Church willing he should go, he was always ready to travel to Scotland, or Devonshire, or South Wales, to preach for some poor Church, or lecture in aid of some useful society. His Commonplace Book is full of shrewd and witty notes, made on such journeys as these. I have known him spend his well-earned annual holiday in going about the country on such work as this, always as ready to preach to one hundred as to one thousand persons, always with a preference for a poor and struggling Church to one rich and prosperous.
The few sentences which follow give an admirable view of what Hugh Stowell Brown was as a preacher. I have taken them from an address given to the Liverpool Baptist Union by Mr. James C. Farrie, one of his deacons, and a very dear friend, some two months after his death.
I feel greatly encouraged by the remembrance that the ministry of Hugh Stowell Brown was distinctly the ministry of a mannot of an angel. He never made any affectation, of being by virtue of his office raised above the weakness and failings that are common to men. If he was a Minister he was so, not because he was so much better than other men, nor because he had higher and holier aims than~ they, but simply because he had the gifts which qualified him for the work he discharged. Of the value and importance of these gifts he was not ignorantto the true dignity to which they entitled their possessor he was not indifferent - but he was a man destitute of official sanctity He never either preached or acted as if his office surrounded him with a halo of sanctity, within which he lived and moved, separated from his fellow-men. He had no sacred office, except so far as it was made sacred by duty and sanctified by good work; this secured, he delighted to live as a man among men. There can be no doubt that to this trait in his character he owed a good deal of his popularity. When men came in contact with him they saw, not the pastor, not the preacher, but Mr. Brown. To them he was Brown, or Stowell Brown, but hardly ever the Rev. Mr. Brown. * * * This unaffectedness entered into and largely influenced his preaching. I do not know that it would be possible for a man in the pulpit to be more thoroughly himself than Mr. Brown. Mannerisms he had of course, but they were the mannerisms of the man of the pulpit. Tricks of oratory and flights of eloquence he knew nothing of, and he was equally void of the power to invest the plain words of Scripture with pretty, ingenious, but fanciful spiritual meanings. To him the natural and obvious meaning of a passage was the interpretation that commended itself, and unless there were good reasons, supported by sound scholarship, for not adopting it, the meaning the unlearned reader would instinctively apply to the ext was always the meaning to be enforced. * * *
He was fearlessly honest in the handling of the word of God. If he met with an insuperable difficulty in the course of exposition, he never cloaked it, he never denied it, but frankly admitted its exist ence and his own inability to solve it. This honesty of exposition gave a wonderful charm and power to his preaching. * * *
His name as a preacher was a household word in Liverpool, and men crowded to listen to the robust and energetic teaching that came from the pulpit of Myrtle Street Chapel and the platform of the Concert Hall, Lord Nelson Street. Another feature of Mr. Browns pulpit ministry tended to make it popular. He had a great command of plain simple English. He never committed the folly of supposing that because the average Englishman is not very learned he is therefore babyish, and must be taught the gospel in words of two syllables; but he never used a long word where he could use a short one, and never a learned word if a popular one could be found. * * He believed that a man should study most conscientiously for his sermon, but he believed also that he should study his people and endeavour to provide for their necessities. He did not believe in learned talk to unlearned people, but he did not believe either that a man could teach others unless he took every pains to be well taught himself. * * *
But I should do Mr. Brown great injustice, if I left it to be supposed that in unaffectedness of manner, in frankness as to difficulties of interpretation, in boldness in the application of the gospel to the affairs of every-day life, and in simplicity of speech all the secret, or even the main secret, of his success was to be found. Mr. Browns popularity as a preacher was in truth only one of the many proofs we have that if Christ be held up the people will be drawn. Whatever some might think of the topics upon which at times Mr. Brown spoke from his pulpit, those who, like myself, sat under his ministry for nearly thirty years, know that no man ever preached a gospel more full of Christ than he. Christ, the power of God to -the salvation of men, was the grand theme of his ministry, and on no topic was Mr. Brown more earnest than this. His plain and manly way of putting the truth, however, at times to some seemed abrupt and to lack persuasive ness. The message came with a ring which declared the ambas sador had spoken faithfully, and that the responsibility, for the rejection or acceptance of his Masters message, must rest with those to whom he spoke. The fact was, that to him the gospel of Jesus Christ was so noble and grand a thingso good a thing for men, that he could hardly comprehend how people could be so constituted as to require to be coaxed and wheedled into accepting the gospel, as peevish children are enticed to take a dose of physic. He was to some extent conscious of his inability to meet the wants of such people. Talking to me once about some plans he had for trying to influence persons of this stamp, he said, "But what can I do? Ive got no gush." But, gush or no gush, he had a power of reaching the consciences and enlightening the minds of men, which, when he was moved to exercise it, was one of the richest of his gifts. To some of us his stirring manly appeals to men to turn to Christ and live, are among the most cherished recollections of the ministry we have lost. Salvation as presented by Mr. Brown was ever a present reality as well as a future joy, and while he never left the latter out of the account, his natural bent of mind inclined him to dwell perhaps more fully upon the former. * * * *
Mr. Brown took a prominent part in the work of the Baptist Denomination. In the year 1878 he accepted the presidency of the Baptist Union, giving an inaugural address on the subject of "Ministerial Apprenticeship," in which he urged that the ordinary Nonconformist college course is not sufficient for the education of a minister, and that young students should not enter into ministerial life without some practical knowledge of its duties, difficulties, and responsibilities. His farewell address at the close of his term of office was "An Appeal to well-educated Young Men to enter the Ministry." He held very strongly that it would be far better to get rid of denominational colleges altogether, and that students for the Nonconformist Ministry should take their arts at our National universities instead. In 1880, when he was anxious to retire from the Ministry of Myrtle Street Church, he was fond of saying he would like to open a hail at Oxford or Cambridge, affiliated to one of the more liberal colleges, and get about him young men of the Baptist and Independent bodies, to whom he would give exigetical and theological teaching, side by side with the Arts of the University a work for which he was in all respects admirably fitted.
Mr. Brown was an active member of the Committee of the Baptist Missionary Society, and I believe his Church contributed more largely to its funds than any other in the denomination. -
But active as he was in denominational work, he could find surplus energy for great social and political causes. For many years he was a leading member of the Peace Society, and president of the Liverpool branch. He took the warmest interest in the sailors of the port of Liverpool, with whom he was very popular, and was chairman of the Liverpool Seamans Friend Society. He was a member of the United Kingdom Alliance, and frequently spoke on its behalf at public meetings. The Hospital Sunday Committee reckoned him one of its best members; and indeed there was no movement for the benefit of the people of Liverpool in which he was not well to the front.
I cannot close better than by saying of him, in his own words, spoken of such another man, "We bid our friend farewell until we meet again, and the fellowship that was so good and pleasant shall be renewed, never to be broken. We mourn the loss we have sustained; but let us be thankful that our friend was given to us for so long a time, to do a work so good, to set an example so fine, and to leave a memory so beloved."
W. S. CAINE.