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Autobiography and Letters of Orville Dewey, D.D. Edited by his Daughter   By: (1794-1882)

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Edited by his Daughter Mary Dewey


IT is about twenty five years since, at my earnest desire, my father began to write some of the memories of his own life, of the friends whom he loved, and of the noteworthy people he had known; and it is by the help of these autobiographical papers, and of selections from his letters, that I am enabled to attempt a memoir of him. I should like to remind the elder generation and inform the younger of some things in the life of a man who was once a foremost figure in the world from which he had been so long withdrawn that his death was hardly felt beyond the circle of his personal friends. It was like the fall of an aged tree in the vast forests of his native hills, when the deep thunder of the crash is heard afar, and a new opening is made towards heaven for those who stand near, but when to the general eye there is no change in the rich woodland that clothes the mountain side.

But forty years ago, when his church in New York was crowded morning and evening, and [8] eager multitudes hung upon his lips for the very bread of life, and when he entered also with spirit and power into the social, philanthropic, and artistic life of that great city; or nearly sixty years ago, when he carried to the beautiful town and exquisite society of New Bedford an influx of spiritual life and a depth of religious thought which worked like new yeast in the well prepared Quaker mind, then, had he been taken away, men would have felt that a tower of strength had fallen, and those especially, who in his parish visits had felt the sustaining comfort of his singular tenderness and sympathy in affliction, and of his counsel in distress, would have mourned for him not only as for a brother, but also a chief. Now, almost all of his own generation have passed away. Here and there one remains, to listen with interest to a fresh account of persons and things once familiar; while the story will find its chief audience among those who remember Mr. Dewey [FN My father always preferred this simple title to the more formal "Dr." and in his own family and among his most intimate friends he was Mr. Dewey to the last. He was, of course, gratified by the complimentary intention of Harvard University in bestowing the degree of D.D. upon him in 1839, but he never felt that his acquisitions in learning entitled him to it.] as among the lights of their own youth. Those also who love the study of [9] human nature may follow with pleasure the development of a New England boy, with a character of great strength, simplicity, reverence, and honesty, with scanty opportunities for culture, and heavily handicapped in his earlier running by both poverty and Calvinism, but possessed from the first by the love of truth and knowledge, and by a generous sympathy which made him long to impart whatever treasures he obtained. To trace the growth of such a life to a high point of usefulness and power, to see it unspoiled by honor and admiration, and to watch its retirement, under the pressure of nervous disease, from active service, while never losing its concern for the public good, its quickness of personal sympathy, nor its interest in the solution of the mightiest problems of humanity, cannot be an altogether unprofitable use of time to the reader, while to the writer it is a work of consecration. He who was at once like a son and brother to my father, he who should have crowned a forty years' friendship by the fulfilment of this pious task, and who would have done it with a stronger and a steadier hand than mine, BELLOWS, was called first from that "fair companionship," while still in the unbroken exercise of the varied and remarkable powers which made his life one of such [10] large use, blessing, and pleasure to the world. None could make his place good to his elder friend, whose approaching death was visibly hastened by grief for the loss of the constant sympathy and devotion which had faithfully cheered his declining years... Continue reading book >>

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