Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
Father Taylor: A Man of Genius
By Cyrus Augustus Bartol (18131900)
[Born in Freeport, Me., 1813. Died, 1900. Radical Problems. 1872.]
HE stands for the sea. He is the great delegate from the waves to the congress of intellect. In thousands of ships, by almost millions of mariners, to whom by baptism of the Holy Ghost he was father who christened their babes, his fame was borne to every port. The sailor says he has been where the United States had not been heard of, but never where Father Taylor had not. How did a man,no discoverer in the kingdom of ideas, no martyr of principle, nor marshal of opinion,so touch the common mind? The answer is that word about whose application we are always in quarrel or doubt,genius .
His vision was passion. It made a train of his faculties. His insight was enactment. It was said of one, In company he leaves the scholar behind: in his study he is a different man. Taylor never left nor lost himself, nor seemed made up of parts and pieces. He moved altogether if he moved at all. His casual talk was better than any preparation; his impromptu, his finest performance. A gown would have wrapped his talent in a napkin. He put on no dress nor garland. He was as inspired at the street-corner as addressing a throng. There was grandeur in his trivial converse, and humor in his grave discourse. He provoked laughter in the congregation, and wet your eyes with his private greeting; put you in church with his grace at table, made an April day of smiles and tears at his evening vestry, or overcame you with solemnity in your house, so that you were inclined to say it thundered, or an angel spake to him. One said he was like a cannon, better on the Common than in a parlor. But in your sitting-room he could be a flute. He was a man-of-war, or tender and soft as a maid. In accidental encounters he melted hard-faced persons with his pathos, or surprised the despondent into good cheer with consolations effectual because before undreamed. In all this was no calculation. As the Spiritualists say, he was under control. He was an Italian improvisator in America, an extemporaneous speaker condensed beyond example, with combustion and no dilution. In many a wit we see the diamond shining: he was the diamond burning. Do not get worn out, a friend said to him. I tear out, was his reply. He served some strange power, having its way with him, and which he could not resist. The spirit of this prophet was not subject to the prophet .
He was as ingrained an actor as Garrick or Kean. He did not believe in preaching from notes; and, making a speech at a meeting of his brethren, he took off a clergyman confined to his manuscript, looking from his page to his hearers, gazing one way and gesticulating another, to the convulsive laughter of the victims he scored. I remember his impersonating a dervish in his spinning raptures, so that to see that Oriental character one had no need to travel. There was in his word a primitive force none could withstand. Move a little: accommodation is a part of religion, he said to some who took up too much room in a crowded seat; and, as though his request were a favor, and in such quaint phrase they had received a present, they moved. Every subject was to him such an object, he marvelled at our philosophic self-fingering .
He preached as the birds sang. He could not help it or help himself. Where he stood was a drama, not a desk. He was the character in Midsummer Nights Dream: it mattered not what part he took. Riches dropped from him unawares, like pearls from Prince Esterhazys dress. His concern was wide as his race. Genius is love. Was Byron misanthrope? So far no poet. Taylor was no cold peak. His mountain stood on fire. His was a southern heart married to a northern brain. He went back to Virginia, and asked to see Johnny, the little boy he had played with at school fifty years before, and they brought in a white-haired old man; and Taylor came home and represented lad and gray-beard with his marvellous transformations, needing no stage-dress. He entered into every nature; with the Dutch painter could have become a sheep, and seemed only a larger one among the pigeons that swarmed round him in his back yard to be fed. As he walked in the Public Garden, a sparrow flew startled from its bush. He stretched his hand after it, saying, I will not squeeze you. For a moment I thought the bird might come.
In his illustration of genius, liberality was a mark. A Methodist, Methodism was not his gaol or goal. Like the Indian on the prairie, he said he walked large. He knocked at every door, Orthodox, Episcopal, Romish, Radical; and, as in the Arabian Nights tale, every door opened. He had the freedom of the city. Thirty years ago he attended a meeting of the Transcendental Club. There were in the company, as he entered, doubtful looks! He was asked to speak, and began in his chair; but soon saying, I must get up, he rose, rubbed the rumples out of his trousers with a laugh, and pictured our climbing like spiders with such vivacity that when, as he concluded, another ventured to speak, our leader said, When the spirit has orbed itself in a man, there is nothing more to offer. Who shall come after the king?