THE LIFE OF FATHER HECKER
BY REV. WALTER ELLIOTT
NEW YORK: THE COLUMBUS PRESS 1891
Nihil obstat: AUGUSTINUS F. HEWIT, Censor Deputatus.
Imprimatur: M. A. CORRIGAN, Archiepiscopus Neo-Ebor.
THE reader must indulge me with what I cannot help saying, that I have felt the joy of a son in telling the achievements and chronicling the virtues of Father Hecker. I loved him with the sacred fire of holy kinship, and love him still—only the more that lapse of time has deepened by experience, inner and outer, the sense of truth and of purity he ever communicated to me in life, and courage and fidelity to conscience. I feel it to be honor enough and joy enough for a life-time that I am his first biographer, though but a late born child and of merit entirely insignificant. The literary work is, indeed, but of home-made quality, yet it serves to hold together what is the heaven-made wisdom of a great teacher of men. It will be found that Father Hecker has three words in this book to my one, though all my words I tried to make his. His journals, letters, and recorded sayings are the edifice into which I introduce the reader, and my words are the hinges and latchets of its doors. I am glad of this, for it pleases me to dedicate my good will and my poor work to swinging open the doors of that new House of God that Isaac Hecker was to me, and that I trust he will be to many.
CHAPTER I.—CHILDHOOD II.—YOUTH III.—THE TURNING-POINT IV.—LED BY THE SPIRIT V.—AT BROOK FARM VI.—INNER LIFE WHILE AT BROOK FARM VII.—STRUGGLES VIII.—FRUITLANDS IX.—SELF-QUESTIONINGS X.—AT HOME AGAIN XI.—STUDYING AND WRITING XII.—THE MYSTIC AND THE PHILOSOPHER XIII.—HIS SEARCH AMONG THE SECTS XIV.—HIS LIFE AT CONCORD XV.—AT THE DOOR OF THE CHURCH XVI.—AT THE DOOR OF THE CHURCH—(Continued) XVII.—ACROSS THE THRESHOLD XVIII.—NEW INFLUENCES XIX.—YEARNINGS AFTER CONTEMPLATION XX.—FROM NEW YORK TO ST. TROND XXI.—BROTHER HECKER XXII.—HOW BROTHER HECKER MADE HIS STUDIES AND WAS ORDAINED PRIEST XXIII.—A REDEMPTORIST MISSIONARY XXIV.—SEPARATION FROM THE REDEMPTORISTS XXV.—BEGINNINGS OF THE PAULIST COMMUNITY XXVI.—FATHER HECKER'S IDEA OF A RELIGIOUS COMMUNITY XXVII.—FATHER HECKER'S SPIRITUAL DOCTRINE XXVIII.—THE PAULIST PARISH AND MISSIONS XXIX.—FATHER HECKER'S LECTURES XXX.—THE APOSTOLATE OF THE PRESS XXXI.—THE VATICAN COUNCIL XXXII.—THE LONG ILLNESS XXXIII.—"THE EXPOSITION OF THE CHURCH" XXXIV.—IN THE SHADOW OF DEATH XXXV.—CONCLUSION
BY MOST REV. JOHN IRELAND, D.D., Archbishop of St. Paul.
LIFE is action, and so long as there is action there is life. That life is worth living whose action puts forth noble aspirations and good deeds. The man's influence for truth and virtue persevering in activity, his life has not ceased, though earth has clasped his body in its embrace. It is well that it is so. The years of usefulness between the cradle and the grave are few. The shortness of a life restricted to them is sufficient to discourage many from making strong efforts toward impressing the workings of their souls upon their fellows. The number to whose minds we have immediate access is small, and they do not remain. Is the good we might do worth the labor? We cannot at times refuse a hearing to the question. Fortunately, it is easily made clear to us that the area over which influence travels is vastly more extensive than at first sight appears. The eye will not always discern the undulations of its spreading waves; but onward it goes, from one soul to another, far beyond our immediate ranks, and as each soul touched by it becomes a new motive power, it rolls forward, often with energy a hundred times intensified, long after the shadows of death have settled around its point of departure.
Isaac Thomas Hecker lives to-day, and with added years he will live more fully than he does to-day. His influence for good remains, and with a better understanding of his plans and ideals, which is sure to come, his influence will widen and deepen among laymen and priests of the Church in America. The writing of his biography is a tribute to his memory which the love and esteem of his spiritual children could not refuse; it is, also, a most important service to generations present and unborn, in whose deeds will be seen the fruits of inspirations gathered from it. We are thankful that this biography has been written by one who from closest converse and most intimate friendship knew Father Hecker so thoroughly. He has given us in his book what we need to know of Father Hecker. We care very little, except so far as details may accentuate the great lines of a life and make them sensible to our obtuse touch, where or when a man was born, what places he happened to visit, what houses he built, or in what circumstances of malady or in what surroundings he died. These things can be said of the ten thousand. We want to know the thoughts and the resolves of the soul which made him a marked man above his fellows and which begot strong influences for good and great works, and if none such can be unfolded then drop the man out of sight, with a "Requiescant in pace" engraven upon his tombstone. Few deserve a biography, and to the undeserving none should be given.
If it be permitted to speak of self, I might say that to Father Hecker I am indebted for most salutary impressions which, I sorrowfully confess, have not had in me their due effect; the remembrance of them, however, is a proof to me of the usefulness of his life, and its power for good in others. I am glad to have the opportunity to profess publicly my gratitude to him. He was in the prime of life and work when I was for the first time brought to observe him. I was quite young in the ministry, and very naturally I was casting my eye around in search of ideal men, whose footsteps were treading the path I could feel I, too, ought to travel. I never afterwards wholly lost sight of Father Hecker, watching him as well as I could from a distance of two thousand miles. I am not to-day without some experience of men and things, won from years and toils, and I do not alter one tittle my estimate of him, except to make it higher. To the priests of the future I recommend a serious study of Father Hecker's life. To them I would have his biography dedicated. Older men, like myself, are fixed in their ways, and they will not receive from it so much benefit.
Father Hecker was the typical American priest; his were the gifts of mind and heart that go to do great work for God and for souls in America at the present time. Those qualities, assuredly, were not lacking in him which are the necessary elements of character of the good priest and the great man in any time and place. Those are the subsoil of priestly culture, and with the absence of them no one will succeed in America any more than elsewhere. But suffice they do not. There must be added, over and above, the practical intelligence and the pliability of will to understand one's surroundings, the ground upon which he is to deploy his forces, and to adapt himself to circumstances and opportunities as Providence appoints. I do not expect that my words, as I am here writing, will receive universal approval, and I am not at all sure that their expression would have been countenanced by the priest whose memory brings them to my lips. I write as I think, and the responsibility must be all my own. It is as clear to me as noon-day light that countries and peoples have each their peculiar needs and aspirations as they have their peculiar environments, and that, if we would enter into souls and control them, we must deal with them according to their conditions. The ideal line of conduct for the priest in Assyria will be out of all measure in Mexico or Minnesota, and I doubt not that one doing fairly well in Minnesota would by similar methods set things sadly astray in Leinster or Bavaria. The Saviour prescribed timeliness in pastoral caring. The master of a house, He said, "bringeth forth out of his treasury new things and old," as there is demand for one kind or the other. The apostles of nations, from Paul before the Areopagus to Patrick upon the summit of Tara, followed no different principle.
The circumstances of Catholics have been peculiar in the United States, and we have unavoidably suffered on this account. Catholics in largest numbers were Europeans, and so were their priests, many of whom—by no means all—remained in heart and mind and mode of action as alien to America as if they had never been removed from the Shannon, the Loire, or the Rhine. No one need remind me that immigration has brought us inestimable blessings, or that without it the Church in America would be of small stature. The remembrance of a precious fact is not put aside, if I recall an accidental evil attaching to it. Priests foreign in disposition and work were not fitted to make favorable impressions upon the non-Catholic American population, and the American-born children of Catholic immigrants were likely to escape their action. And, lest I be misunderstood, I assert all this is as true of priests coming from Ireland as from any other foreign country. Even priests of American ancestry, ministering to immigrants, not unfrequently fell into the lines of those around them, and did but little to make the Church in America throb with American life. Not so Isaac Thomas Hecker. Whether consciously or unconsciously I do not know, and it matters not, he looked on America as the fairest conquest for divine truth, and he girded himself with arms shaped and tempered to the American pattern. I think that it may be said that the American current, so plain for the last quarter of a century in the flow of Catholic affairs, is, largely at least, to be traced back to Father Hecker and his early co-workers. It used to be said of them in reproach that they were the "Yankee" Catholic Church; the reproach was their praise.
Father Hecker understood and loved the country and its institutions. He saw nothing in them to be deprecated or changed; he had no longing for the flesh-pots and bread-stuffs of empires and monarchies. His favorite topic in book and lecture was, that the Constitution of the United States requires, as its necessary basis, the truths of Catholic teaching regarding man's natural state, as opposed to the errors of Luther and Calvin. The republic, he taught, presupposes the Church's doctrine, and the Church ought to love a polity which is the offspring of her own spirit. He understood and loved the people of America. He recognized in them splendid natural qualities. Was he not right? Not minimizing in the least the dreadful evil of the absence of the supernatural, I am not afraid to give as my belief that there is among Americans as high an appreciation and as lively a realization of natural truth and goodness as has been seen in any people, and it seems as if Almighty God, intending a great age and a great people, has put here in America a singular development of nature's powers and gifts, both in man and out of man—with the further will, I have the faith, of crowning all with the glory of the supernatural. Father Hecker perceived this, and his mission was to hold in his hands the natural, which Americans extolled and cherished and trusted in, and by properly directing its legitimate tendencies and growth to lead it to the term of its own instincts and aspirations—Catholic truth and Catholic grace. Protestantism is no longer more than a name, a memory. The American has fallen back upon himself, scorning the negations and the doctrinal cruelties of Protestantism as utterly contrary to himself, as utterly unnatural; and now comes the opportunity of the Catholic Church to show that she is from the God who created nature, by opening before this people her treasures, amid which the soul revels in rational liberty and intelligence, and enjoys the gratification of its best and purest moral instincts. These convictions are the keynote of Father Hecker's controversial discourses and writings, notably of two books, Aspirations of Nature and Questions of the Soul. He assumed that the American people are naturally Catholic, and he labored with this proposition constantly before his mind. It is the assumption upon which all must labor who sincerely desire to make America Catholic.
He laid stress on the natural and social virtues. The American people hold these in highest esteem. They are the virtues that are most apparent, and are seemingly the most needed for the building up and the preservation of an earthly commonwealth. Truthfulness, honesty in business dealings, loyalty to law and social order, temperance, respect for the rights of others, and the like virtues are prescribed by reason before the voice of revelation is heard, and the absence of specifically supernatural virtues has led the non-Catholic to place paramount importance upon them. It will be a difficult task to persuade the American that a church which will not enforce those primary virtues can enforce others which she herself declares to be higher and more arduous, and as he has implicit confidence in the destiny of his country to produce a high order of social existence, his first test of a religion will be its powers in this direction. This is according to Catholic teaching. Christ came not to destroy, but to perfect what was in man, and the graces and truths of revelation lead most securely to the elevation of the life that is, no less than to the gaining of the life to come. It is a fact, however, that in other times and other countries the Church has been impeded in her social work, and certain things or customs of those times and countries, transplanted upon American soil and allowed to grow here under a Catholic name, will do her no honor among Americans. The human mind, among the best of us, inclines to narrow limitations, and certain Catholics, aware of the comparatively greater importance of the supernatural, partially overlook the natural.
Then, too, casuists have incidentally done us harm. They will quote as our rule of social conduct in America what may have been tolerated in France or Germany during the seventeenth century, and their hair-splitting distinctions in the realm of abstract right and wrong are taken by some of us as practical decisions, without due reference to local circumstances. The American people pay slight attention to the abstract; they look only to the concrete in morals, and we must keep account of their manner of judging things. The Church is nowadays called upon to emphasize her power in the natural order. God forbid that I entertain, as some may be tempted to suspect me of doing, the slightest notion that vigilance may be turned off one single moment from the guard of the supernatural. For the sake of the supernatural I speak. And natural virtues, practised in the proper frame of mind and heart, become supernatural. Each century calls for its type of Christian perfection. At one time it was martyrdom; at another it was the humility of the cloister. To-day we need the Christian gentleman and the Christian citizen. An honest ballot and social decorum among Catholics will do more for God's glory and the salvation of souls than midnight flagellations or Compostellan pilgrimages.
On a line with his principles, as I have so far delineated them, Father Hecker believed that if he would succeed in his work for souls, he should use in it all the natural energy that God had given him, and he acted up to his belief I once heard a good old priest, who said his beads well and made a desert around his pulpit by miserable preaching, criticise Father Hecker, who, he imagined, put too much reliance in man, and not enough in God. Father Hecker's piety, his assiduity in prayer, his personal habits of self-denial, repel the aspersion that he failed in reliance upon God. But my old priest—and he has in the church to-day, both in America and Europe, tens of thousands of counterparts—was more than half willing to see in all outputtings of human energy a lack of confidence in God. We sometimes rely far more upon God than God desires us to do, and there are occasions when a novena is the refuge of laziness or cowardice. God has endowed us with natural talents, and not one of them shall be, with His permission, enshrouded in a napkin. He will not work a miracle, or supply grace, to make up for our deficiencies. We must work as if all depended on us, and pray as if all depended on God.
God never proposed to do by His direct action all that might be done in and through the Church. He invites human co-operation, and abandons to it a wide field. The ages of most active human industry in religious enterprises were the ages of most remarkable spiritual conquests. The tendency to overlook this fact shows itself among us. Newman writes that where the sun shines bright in the warm climate of the south, the natives of the place know little of safeguards against cold and wet. They have their cold days, but only now and then, and they do not deem it worth their while to provide against them: the science of calefaction is reserved for the north. And so, Protestants, depending on human means solely, are led to make the most of them; their sole resource is to use what they have; they are the anxious cultivators of a rugged soil. Catholics, on the contrary, feel that God will protect the Church, and, as Newman adds, "we sometimes forget that we shall please Him best, and get most from Him, when, according to the fable, we put our shoulder to the wheel, when we use what we have by nature to the utmost, at the same time that we look out for what is beyond nature in the confidence of faith and hope." Lately a witty French writer pictures to us the pious friends of the leading Catholic layman of France, De Mun, kneeling in spiritual retreat when their presence is required in front of the enemy. The Catholic of the nineteenth century all over the world is too quiet, too easily resigned to "the will of God," attributing to God the effects of his own timidity and indolence. Father Hecker rolled up his sleeves and "pitched in" with desperate resolve. He fought as for very life. Meet him anywhere or at any time, he was at work or he was planning to work. He was ever looking around to see what might be done. He did with a rush the hard labor of a missionary and of a pastor, and he went beyond it into untrodden pathways. He hated routine. He minded not what others had been doing, seeking only what he himself might do. His efforts for the diffusion of Catholic literature, THE CATHOLIC WORLD, his several books, the Catholic tracts, tell his zeal and energy. A Catholic daily paper was a favorite design to which he gave no small measure of time and labor. He anticipated by many years the battlings of our temperance apostles. The Paulist pulpit opened death-dealing batteries upon the saloon when the saloon-keeper was the hero in state and church. The Catholic University of America found in him one of its warmest advocates. His zeal was as broad as St. Paul's, and whoever did good was his friend and received his support. The walls of his parish, or his order, did not circumscribe for him God's Church. His choice of a patron saint—St. Paul—reveals the fire burning within his soul. He would not, he could not be idle. On his sick-bed, where he lay the greater part of his latter years, he was not inactive. He wrote valuable articles and books, and when unable to write, he dictated.
He was enthusiastic in his work, as all are who put their whole soul into what they are doing. Such people have no time to count the dark linings of the silvery clouds; they realize that God and man together do not fail. Enthusiasm begets enthusiasm. It fits a man to be a leader; it secures a following. A bishop who was present at the Second Plenary Council of Baltimore has told me that when Father Hecker appeared before the assembled prelates and theologians in advocacy of Catholic literature as a missionary force, the picture was inspiring, and that the hearers, receiving a Pentecostal fire within their bosoms, felt as if America were to be at once converted. So would it have been if there had been in America a sufficient number of Heckers. He had his critics. Who ever tries to do something outside routine lines against whom hands are not raised and whose motives and acts are not misconstrued? A venerable clergyman one day thought he had scored a great point against Father Hecker by jocosely suggesting to him as the motto of his new order the word "Paulatim." The same one, no doubt, would have made a like suggestion to the Apostle of the Gentiles. Advocates of "Paulatim" methods have too often left the wheels of Christ's chariot fast in the mire. We rejoice, for its sake, that enthusiasts sometimes appear on the scene. The missions of the early Paulists, into which went Father Hecker's entire heart, aroused the country. To-day, after a lapse of thirty or thirty-five years, they are remembered as events wherever they were preached.
His was the profound conviction that, in the present age at any rate, the order of the day should be individual action—every man doing his full duty, and waiting for no one else to prompt him. This, I take it, was largely the meaning of Father Hecker's oft-repeated teaching on the work of the Holy Ghost in souls. There have been epochs in history where the Church, sacrificing her outposts and the ranks of her skirmishers to the preservation of her central and vital fortresses, put the brakes, through necessity, from the nature of the warfare waged against her, upon individual activity, and moved her soldiers in serried masses; and then it was the part and the glory of each one to move with the column. The need of repression has passed away. The authority of the Church and of her Supreme Head is beyond danger of being denied or obscured, and each Christian soldier may take to the field, obeying the breathings of the Spirit of truth and piety within him, feeling that what he may do he should do. There is work for individual priests, and for individual laymen, and so soon as it is discovered let it be done. The responsibility is upon each one; the indifference of others is no excuse. Said Father Hecker one day to a friend: "There is too much waiting upon the action of others. The layman waits for the priest, the priest for the bishop, and the bishop for the pope, while the Holy Ghost sends down to all the reproof that He is prompting each one, and no one moves for Him." Father Hecker was original in his ideas, as well as in his methods; there was no routine in him, mental or practical.
I cannot but allude, whether I understand or not the true intent of it, to what appears to have been a leading fact in his life: his leaving an old-established religious community for the purpose of instituting that of the Paulists. I will speak so far of this as I have formed an estimate of it. To me, this fact seems to have been a Providential circumstance in keeping with all else in his life. I myself have at this moment such thoughts as I imagine must have been running through his mind during that memorable sojourn in Rome, which resulted in freeing him from his old allegiance. The work of evangelizing America demands new methods. It is time to draw forth from our treasury the "new things" of the Gospel; we have been long enough offering "old things." Those new methods call for newly-equipped men. The parochial clergy will readily confess that they cannot of themselves do all that God now demands from His Church in this country. They are too heavily burdened with the ordinary duties of the ministry: instructing those already within the fold, administering the sacraments, building temples, schools, and asylums—duties which must be attended to and which leave slight leisure for special studies or special labors. Father Hecker organized the Paulist community, and did in his way a great work for the conversion of the country. He made no mistake when he planned for a body of priests, more disciplined than usually are the parochial clergy, and more supple in the character of their institute than the existing religious orders.
We shall always distinguish Isaac Thomas Hecker as the ornament, the flower of our American priesthood—the type that we wish to see reproduced among us in widest proportions. Ameliorations may be sought for in details, and the more of them the better for religion; but the great lines of Father Hecker's personality we should guard with jealous love in the formation of the future priestly characters of America.
THE LIFE OF FATHER HECKER
TOWARDS the close of the eighteenth century a German clockmaker named Engel Freund, accompanied by his wife and children, left his native town of Elberfeld, in Rhenish Prussia, to seek a new home in America. There is a family tradition to the effect that his forefathers were French, and that they came into Germany on account of some internal commotion in their own country. The name makes it more probable that they were Alsatians who quietly moved across the Rhine, either when their province was first ceded to France, or perhaps later, at the time of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, in 1685. When Engel Freund quitted Germany the disturbing influences of the French Revolution may have had a considerable share in determining his departure. He landed at New York in 1797 and established himself in Hester Street, between Christie and Forsyth.
His wife, born Ann Elizabeth Schneider, in 1764, was a native of Frankenburg, Hesse Cassel. She became the mother of a son and several daughters, who attained maturity and settled in New York. As his girls grew into womanhood and married, Engel Freund, who was a thrifty and successful tradesman in his prime, dowered each of them with a house in his own neighborhood, seeking thus to perpetuate in the new the kindly patriarchal customs of the old land.
To the New-Yorker of to-day, or, indeed, to any reputable and industrious immigrant, the notion of settling a family in Hester Street could not seem other than grotesque. It is now the filthy and swarming centre of a very low population. The Jewish pedlar par eminence lives there and thereabouts. Signs painted in the characters of his race, not of his accidental nationality, abound on every side. Here a synagogue occupies the story above a shop; there Masonic symbols are exhibited between the windows in a similar location. Jewish faces of the least prepossessing type look askance into eyes which they recognize as both unfamiliar and observant. Women, unkempt and slouchy, or else arrayed in dubious finery, brush against one. At intervals fast growing greater the remains of an extinct domesticity and privacy still show themselves in the shape of old-fashioned brick or wooden houses with Dutch gables or Queen Anne fronts, but for the most part tall tenement-houses, their lower stories uniformly given up to some small traffic, claim exclusive right of possession. The sidewalks are crowded with the stalls of a yet more petty trade; the neighborhood is full of unpleasant sights, unwholesome odors, and revolting sounds.
But the Hester Street of seventy years ago and more was another matter. When a canal flowed through Canal Street, and tall trees growing on either side of it sheltered the solid and roomy houses of retired merchants and professional men, Hester Street was a long way up town. Seven years before the subject of the present biography was born, that elegantly proportioned structure, the City Hall, which had then been nine years a-building, was finished in material much less expensive than had been intended when it was begun. Marble was very dear, reasoned the thrifty and far-sighted City Fathers of the day, and as the population of New York were never likely to settle to any extent above Chambers Street, the rear of the hall would be seen so seldom that this economy would not be noticeable. What is now Fourteenth Street was then a place given over to market-gardens. Rutgers Street, Rutgers Place, Henry Street, were fashionable localities, and the adjacent quarter, now so malodorous and disreputable, was eminently respectable. Freund's daughters, as they left the parental roof for modest houses of his gift close by, no doubt had reason to consider themselves abundantly fortunate in their surroundings.
One of these daughters, Caroline Sophia Susanna Henrietta Wilhelmina, born in Elberfeld on the 2d of March, 1796, was still a babe in arms at the time of the family emigration. She was a tall, fair, handsome girl, not long past her fifteenth birthday when she became a wife. Her husband, John Hecker, was nearly twice her age, having been born in Wetzlar, Prussia, May 7, 1782. He was the son of another John Hecker, a brewer by trade, who married the daughter of a Colonel Schmidt. Both parents were natives of Wetzlar. Their son learned the business of a machinist and brass-founder, and emigrated to America in 1800. He was married to Caroline Freund in the Old Dutch Church in the Swamp, July 21, 1811. He died in New York, in the house of his eldest son, July 10, 1860.
Events proved John Hecker to have been equally fortunate and sagacious in his choice of a wife. At the time of their marriage he was thrifty and well-to-do. At one period he owned a flourishing brass-foundry in Hester Street, and during his early married life his prosperity was uninterrupted. But before many years had passed his business declined, and from one cause and another he never succeeded in re-establishing it. This misfortune, occurring while even the eldest of the sons was still a lad, might easily have proved irreparable in more senses than one. But the very fact that the ordinary gates to learning were so soon closed against these children caused the natural tendency they had toward knowledge to impel them all the more strongly in that shorter road to practical wisdom which leads through labor and experience. The Hecker brothers were all hard at work while still mere children, and before John, the eldest, had attained to legal manhood, they had fixed the solid foundations of an enduring prosperity, and all need of further exertion on the part of their parents was over for ever.
Isaac Thomas Hecker, the third son and youngest child of this couple, was born in New York at a house in Christie Street, between Grand and Hester, December 18, 1819, when his mother was not yet twenty-four. He survived her by twelve years only, she dying at the residence of her eldest son's widow in 1876, in the full possession of faculties which must have been of no common order. From her, and through her from Engel Freund, who was what is called "a character," Father Hecker seems to have derived many of his life-long peculiarities. "I never knew a son so like his mother," writes to us one who had an intimate acquaintance with both of them for more than forty years. She adds:
"Mrs. Hecker was a woman of great energy of character and strong religious nature. Her son, Father Hecker, inherited both of these traits, and there was the warmest sympathy between them. He was her youngest son, her baby, she called him, but with all her tender love she had a holy veneration for his character as priest.
"She deeply sympathized with him through the trials and anxieties that were his in his search after truth, and when his heart found rest, and the aspirations of his soul were answered in the Holy Catholic Church, her noble heart accepted for him what she could not see for herself. She said to a lady who spoke to her on the subject and who could not be reconciled to the conversion of a daughter: 'No, I would not change the faith of my sons. They have found peace and joy in the Catholic Church, and I would not by a word change their faith, if I could.'"
"She had a very earnest temperament, and what she did she did with all her heart. The last years of her life she was a great invalid, but from her sick room she did wonders. Family ties were kept warm, and no one whom she had loved and known was forgotten. The poor were ever welcome, and came to her in crowds, never leaving without help and consolation. She had a very cheerful spirit, and a bright, pleasant, and even witty word for every one.
"But the strongest trait in her character was her deeply religious nature. With the Catholic faith it would have found expression in the religious life, as she sometimes said herself. The faith she had made her most earnest and devout, according to her light."
Mrs. Georgiana Bruce Kirby, who spent a month at the house in Rutgers Street just after Isaac finally returned from Brook Farm, when Mrs. Hecker was in the prime of middle life, speaks of her as "a lovely and dignified character, full of 'humanities.' She was fair, tall, erect, a very superior example of the German house-mother. Hers was the controlling spirit in the house, and her wise and generous influence was felt far beyond it. She was a life-long Methodist, and took me with her to a 'Love Feast,' which I had never witnessed before."
To the good sense, good temper, and strong religious nature of Caroline Hecker her children owed, and always cordially acknowledged, a heavy, and in one respect an almost undivided, debt of gratitude. Neither Engel Freund nor John Hecker professed any religious faith. The latter was never in the habit of attending any place of worship. Both were Lutheran so far as their antecedents could make them so, but neither seems to have practically known much beyond the flat negation, or at best the simple disregard, of Christianity to which Protestantism leads more or less quickly according as the logical faculty is more or less developed in those whose minds have been fed upon it. However, there was nothing aggressive in the attitude of either toward religious observance. The grandfather especially seems to have been a "gentle sceptic," an agnostic in the germ, affirming nothing beyond the natural, probably because all substantial ground for supernatural affirmations seemed to him to be cut away by the fundamental training imparted to him. He was a kindly, virtuous, warm-hearted man, with a life of his own which made him incurious and thoughtful, and singularly devoid of prejudices. When his daughter Caroline elected to desert the Reformed Dutch Church in which the family had a pew, and to attach herself to another sect, he had only a jocular word of surprise to say concerning her odd fancy for "those noisy Methodists." He had a true German fondness for old ways and settled customs, and to the end of his days spoke only his own vernacular.
"Why don't you talk English?" somebody once asked him toward the close of his life.
"I don't know how," he answered. "I never had time to learn."
"Why, how long have you been here?"
"About forty years."
"Forty years! And isn't that time enough to learn English in?"
"What can one learn in forty years?" said the old man, with an unanswerable twinkle.
Between him and the youngest of his Hecker grandchildren there existed a singular sympathy and affection. The two were very much together, and the little fellow was allowed to potter about the workshop and encouraged to study the ins and outs of all that went on there, as well as entertained with kindly talk that may at first have been a trifle above his years. But he was a precocious child, shrewd, observant, and thoughtful. It was in the old watchmaker's shop that the boy, not yet a dozen years old, and already hard at work helping to earn his own living, conceived the plan of making a clock with his own hands and presenting it to the church attended by the family, which was situated in Forsyth Street between Walker and Hester. The clock was finished in due time and set up in the church, where it ticked faithfully until the edifice was torn down, some forty years later. Then it was returned to its maker in accordance with a promise made by the pastor when the gift was accepted. In 1872 the opening number of the third volume of The Young Catholic contained a good engraving of it, accompanied by a sketch descriptive of its career. Although Father Hecker did not write the little story, it is so true both to fact and to sentiment that we make an extract from it. The clock hung in the Paulist sacristy for about ten years. Then, for some reason, it was taken to the country house of Mr. George Hecker, where it was accidentally destroyed by fire:
"There were points of resemblance in my own and my boy maker's nature. In him, regularity, order, and obedience were fixed principles; and with us both, Time represented Eternity. As the days of his young manhood came his pursuits and tastes in life changed. Deep thought took possession of his mind, and with it a tender love for souls and a heart-hungriness for a further knowledge of what man was given a soul for, and the way in which he was to save it. As these thoughts were maturing in his mind I often noticed his troubled look. One Sunday in particular, he lingered behind the congregation and stood before me, with a new expression in his keen gray eye; and amid the silence of the deserted aisles he thus apostrophized me: 'Farewell, old friend! fashioned by these hands, thou representest Truth, the eternal. What man is ever seeking, through me thou hast found. Here I stand, not man's but God's noblest work, as yet not having repaid my Maker with one act of duty or of service. Thou hast faithfully performed thy mission; henceforth I labor to perform mine.' With a grave and sad look my boy maker, now a young man, left me. I felt then that we had looked our last upon each other in this place; but little did either of us dream of where, when, and how we would meet again. For thirty-five years I labored on unchanged, though I must own to having had some ailments now and then. About this period of my existence I overheard straggling remarks, as the worshippers passed out of the church, which led me to conclude that some change was contemplated, and my suspicions were confirmed by the rector proposing from the pulpit the erection of a new church edifice in another part of the city, to be fashioned after a more modern style of architecture. . . . In accordance with the promise made my boy maker, I was to go back to him. My heart bounded at the prospect. Never in all those years had I seen him. . . .
"In a short time I learned that the author of my existence, after many hard struggles and trials, had at last found truth and light, peace and rest, in the bosom of the Holy Catholic Church. He had returned, when he found me, from the Plenary Council of 1867. He is now a priest, and the head of a religious community. Need I assure those who have been interested in my history that I also have found a home in the same community, where I am consecrated to its use? I am no longer alone now; I am busy from morning until night, helping to regulate the movements of the community. There is not an hour in the day when I do not see my boy maker. We have established sympathies in common; I call him to prayers, to his meals, to his matins, and to his rest. Many a time, when he finds me alone, he gives me some spiritual reading, or says aloud some prayers. Every time I strike, he breathes an aspiration of love and thanksgiving. In short, we have found our glorious mission in our new birth. We are both apostles: I represent Time; he preaches of Eternity."
There can be little doubt, however, that the chief formative influence in the Hecker household was that which came directly through the mother. Young as she was when an unduly heavy share of the domestic burdens fell to her portion, she took it up with courage and bore it with dignity and fidelity. What aid her father could give her was doubtless not lacking, but we may well suppose that, as age crept on Engel Freund, his business began to slip away from him into younger hands. He was probably no longer in a position to endow daughters or to undertake the education of grandchildren. What is certain is that Caroline Hecker's boys, after very brief school-days, were put at once to hard work. What decided their choice of an occupation is not so sure, but in all probability they consulted with their mother and then took the common-sense view that as there is a never-failing market for food staples, even poverty, if mated with diligence and sagacity, may find there a fair field for successful enterprise. John, the eldest, upon whom the mother soon began to rely as her right hand, went to learn his trade as a baker with a Mr. Schwab, whose shop was on the corner of Hester and Eldridge Streets. George, who was some three or four years younger, as the only girl, Elizabeth, came between them, presently followed his brother to the same business.
As for Isaac, whom hard necessity, or, more probably, a mistaken thrift, likewise forced away from school when not much more than ten years old, his earliest ventures bear a curious symbolic likeness to his latest. He earned his first wages in the service of a religious periodical, the Methodist publication still known as Zion's Herald, whose office was situated in Crosby Street near Broadway. From there he went to learn a trade in the type foundry in Great Thames Street. But as it was already apparent that the family road to prosperity was identical with that chosen by his elder brothers, we find him working away beside them in the bake-house by the time he was eleven. They had already established the bakery in Rutgers Street, between Monroe and Cherry, where the family lived for so many years. They had another shop in Pearl Street, to which Isaac used to carry bread every morning.
This was a part of his life to which he was fond of recurring in his last years. "Thanks be to God!" he said on the first day of 1886, "how hard we used to work preparing for New Year's Day! Three weeks in advance we began to bake New Year's cakes—flour, water, sugar, butter, and caraway seeds. We never could make enough. How I used to work carrying the bread around in my baker's cart! How often I got stuck in the gutters and in the snow! Sometimes some good soul, seeing me unable to get along, would give me a lift. I began to work when I was ten and a half years old, and I have been at it ever since."
And again, a few days later, as a poor woman carrying a heavy basket passed him in the street, he said to the companion of his walk: "I have had the blood spurt out of my arm carrying bread when I was a baker. A lady asked me once for a hundred dollars to help her send her only son to college. I answered her that my mother had four children and got along without begging, and that I would not exchange one year of those I spent working for several at college."
Less than a month before his death he fell into conversation with a newsboy on the corner near the Paulist church in Fifty-ninth Street. "It interested me very much," he said afterwards. "I found out that he is one of five little brothers, and their mother is a widow. She is trying to bring them up, poor thing! It reminds me of my own mother."
It is plain that there could not have been much room for formal study in a life of hard physical labor, so soon begun and so unremittingly continued during the years usually given up to school work. An ordinary boy, placed in such circumstances, would doubtless have grown up ignorant and unformed. But while none of the Hecker boys was quite of the ordinary stamp, Isaac was distinctly sui generis and individual. He has said of himself that he could remember no period of his life when he had not the consciousness of having been sent into the world for some especial purpose. What it was he knew not, but expectation and desire for the withheld knowledge kept him pondering and self-withdrawn. Once in his childhood he was given over for death with a bad attack of confluent small-pox, and his mother came to his bedside to tell him so. "No, mother," he answered her, "I shall not die now. God has a work for me to do in the world, and I shall live to do it."
Such instruction as Isaac obtained before beginning to earn his own bread was given him in Ward School No. 7. A Dr. Kirby was then its principal, and the time was just previous to the introduction of the present system. The schools were not entirely free, a small payment being required from the parents for each pupil, to supplement the grant of public funds. No doubt the boy, who had an ardent thirst for knowledge, regretted his removal from his desk more deeply than he was at the time willing to express. Still, it may be questioned whether he ever had any natural aptitude for close, continuous book-work, at least on ordinary and prescribed lines. He was "always studying," indeed, as he sometimes said in speaking of his early life, but the thoughts of other men, whether written or spoken, do not seem to have been greatly valued by him, except as keys which might help him to unlock those mysteries of God and man, and their mutual relations, which tormented him from the first. He was to the last an indefatigable reader, but yet it would be true to say that he was never either a student or a scholar in the ordinary sense. It is a curious question as to how a thorough education might have modified Father Hecker. It is possible—nay, as the reader may be inclined to believe with us as the story of his inner life goes on, it is even probable—that the more he was taught by God the less he was able to receive from men.
It is certain, however, that he seriously regretted and soon set himself to rectify the deficiencies of his early training. This was one of the reasons which took him to Brook Farm. In the first entry of the earliest of his diaries which has been preserved he thus speaks of his hidden longing after knowledge. He was twenty-three when these sentences were written, and he had been at Brook Farm for several months:
"If I cast a glance upon a few years of my past life, it appears to me mysteriously incomprehensible that I should be where I am now. I confess sincerely that, although I have never labored for it, still, something in me always dreamed of it. Once, when I was lying on the floor, my mother said to my brother John, without anything previously being spoken on the subject, and suddenly, in a kind of unconscious speech, 'John, let Isaac go to college and study.' These words went through me like liquid fire. He made some evasive answer and there it ended. Although to study has always been the secret desire of my heart from my youth, I never felt inclined to open my mind to any one on the subject. And now I find, after a long time, that I have been led here as strangely as possible."
His childhood seems to have been a serious one. In recurring to it in later life, as he often did, he never spoke of any games or sports in which he had shared, nor, in fact, of any amusements before the time when he began to attend lectures and the theatre. It was the childhood of what we call in America a self-made man—one in which the plastic human material is rudely dealt with by circumstances. His mother taught him his prayers, the schoolmistress his letters, necessity his daily round of duties, and for the rest he was left very much to himself and to that interior Master of whose stress and constraint upon him he grew more intimately conscious as he grew in years. The force of this inward pressure showed itself in many ways. Outwardly it made his manner undemonstrative, and fixed an intangible yet very real barrier between him and his kindred, even when the affection that existed was extremely close and tender. From infancy he exhibited that repugnance to touching or being touched by any one which marked him to the end. Even his mother refrained from embracing him, knowing this singular aversion. She would stroke his face, instead, when she was pleased with him, and say, "That is my kiss for you, my son."
The mutual respect for each other's personalities shown in this closest of human relations was characteristic of the entire family, as will be seen later, when the nature of the business connections between Isaac and his brothers has to be considered. Far from weakening the natural ties, or impairing their proper influence, it seems to have strengthened and perfected them. Asked once towards the close of his life how it was that he had never used tobacco in any form, he answered: "Mother forbade it, and that was enough for George and me. I was never ruled in any way but by her affection. That was sufficient." The parallel fact that he never in his life drank a drop of liquor at a bar or at any public place was probably due to a similar injunction. The children were brought up, too, with exceedingly strict ideas about lying and stealing, and all petty vices. Throughout the family there prevailed an extreme severity on such faults. "I have never forgotten," said Father Hecker, "the furious anger of an aunt of mine and the violent beating she gave one of my cousins for stealing a cent from her drawer. That training has had a great and lasting effect upon my character."
In such antecedents and surroundings it is easy to see the source of that abiding confidence in human nature, and that love for the natural virtues which marked Father Hecker's whole career. They had kept his own youth pure. He had been baptized in infancy, however, as the children of orthodox Protestants more commonly were at that period than at present, and in all probability validly, so that one could never positively say that nature in him had ever been unaided by grace in any particular instance. It is the conviction of those who knew him best that he had never been guilty of deliberate mortal sin. One of these writes:
"During all the intimate hours I spent with him, speaking of his past life he ever once said that he had been a sinner in a sense to convey the idea of mortal sin. And on the other hand he said much to the contrary; so much as to leave no manner of doubt on my mind that he had kept his baptismal innocence. He was deeply attached to an edifying and religious mother; he was at hard work before the dawn of sensual passion, and his recreation, even as a boy, was in talking and reading about deep social and philosophical questions, and listening to others on the same themes. He expressly told me that he had never used drink in excess, and that he had never sinned against purity, never was profane, never told a lie; and he certainly never was dishonest.
"The influence of his mother was of the most powerful kind. He told me that the severest punishment she ever inflicted on him was once or twice (once only, I am pretty sure) to tell him that she was angry with him; and this so distressed him that he was utterly miserable, sat down on the floor completely overcome, and so remained till she after a time relented and restored him to favor. Such a relationship is quite instructive in reference to the original innocence of his life."
It has been said already, in speaking of Father Hecker's childhood, that he had been consciously under the influence of supernatural impressions from a very early period. It seems probable, therefore, that at least during the few years which preceded his juvenile plunge into politics he must have been devout and prayerful, though doubtless in his own spontaneous way. Such were his mother's characteristics, and we find her son writing to her, when his aspirations after the perfect life had led him to the threshold of the church, that she, of all persons, ought most to sympathize with him, for he is about doing that which will aid him to be what she has always desired to see him. But his devotions probably bore small resemblance to those of the ordinary religiously minded boy, either Catholic or Protestant. He has said that often at night, when lying on the shavings before the oven in the bake-house, he would start up, roused in spite of himself by some great thought, and run out upon the wharves to look at the East River in the moonlight, or wander about under the spell of some resistless aspiration. What does God desire from me? How shall I attain unto Him? What is it He has sent me into the world to do? These were the ceaseless questions of a heart that rested, meanwhile, in an unshaken confidence that time would bring the answer.
But these were early days, days when the influence of his mother, never wholly shaken off, was still dominant and pervasive in all that concerned him. There came a period, however, beginning in all likelihood about his fourteenth, and lasting until his twentieth year or thereabouts, in which he certainly lost hold on all distinctively Christian doctrines. With such a mind as his, and such a training, this was almost inevitable. His intellect, while it hungered incessantly after supernatural truth, kept nevertheless a persistent hold upon the verities of the natural order, and could not rest until it had synthetized them into a coherent whole. That was his life-long characteristic. During the years of painful ill health which preceded his death, he often said that he was unlike the Celt, who takes to the supernatural as if by instinct. "But I am a Saxon and cling to the earthy" he would say; "I want an explicit and satisfactory reason why any innocent pleasure should not be enjoyed." He attributed this to his racial peculiarities. Others may differ with him and credit it to his nature, taken in its human and rational integrity. Furthermore, he was always singularly independent and self-poised. He could not endure being hindered of anything that was his, except by an authority which had legitimated to his intelligence its right to command. He could obey that readily and entirely, as his life from infancy clearly witnesses; but he never knew a merely arbitrary master.
Such a nature, fed on the mingled truth and error characteristic of orthodox Protestantism, was certain to reject it sooner or later, impelled by hunger for the whole Divine gift of which that teaching contains fragments only. The soul of Isaac Hecker was one athirst for God from the first dawn of its conscious being. Upon Him, its Creator and Source, it never lost hold, and never ceased to cry out for Him with longing and aspiration, even during that bitter and protracted period of his youth when his mind, entangled in the maze of philosophic subjectivism, seemed in danger of rejecting theism altogether. But the underpinning of his faith, so far as that professed to be Christian and to come by hearing—to have an intellectual basis, that is—began to slip away almost as soon as he left his mother's knee. It is possible that very little stress was ever laid upon distinctively Christian doctrines in her teaching. To adore God the Creator, to listen to His voice in conscience, to live honestly and purely as in His sight—the heritage she transmitted to him probably contained little more than this. Like most others reared in heresy who afterwards attain to the true knowledge of the Incarnation, he had to seek for it with almost as great travail of mind as if he had been born a pagan. It cannot be too strongly insisted on, however, that his struggles were merely intellectual, and, when they began to take a definite turn, shaped themselves into the natural result of a metaphysic as repugnant to common sense as it is to Christian philosophy. To this fact, so important in certain of its bearings, we have ample testimony in the private diaries kept before his conversion, from which we shall make extracts later on. They find a later confirmation in some most interesting memoranda, jotted down, after conversation with him at intervals during the last years of his life, by one whom he admitted to an unusually close intimacy. He was always singularly reserved concerning matters purely personal; his confidences, when they touched his own soul, seldom seemed entirely voluntary, and were quickly checked. Occasionally they were taken by surprise, as when the course of talk insensibly turned toward internal ways; and again they were deliberately angled for with a hook so well concealed that it secured a prize before he was aware. From these notes we shall here make a few quotations bearing on the point made above—i.e., that his difficulties prior to his entrance into the church were neither moral nor spiritual, but intellectual. Of him, if of any man, it was always true that his heart was naturally Christian. The first of these extracts, bearing as it does on a topic constantly in his thoughts, affords a good enough example of what was meant in saying that his confidences were sometimes taken by surprise:
"There are some for whom the predominant influence is the external one, authority, example, precept, and the like. Others in whose lives the interior action of the Holy Spirit predominates. In my case, from my childhood God influenced me by an interior light and by the interior touch of His Holy Spirit."
At another time he said:
"While I was a youth, and in early manhood, I was preserved from certain sins and certain occasions of sin, in a way that was peculiar and remarkable. I was also at the same time, and, indeed, all the time, conscious that God was preserving me innocent with a view to some future providence. Mind, all this was long before I came into the church."
"Many a time before my conversion God gave me grace to weep over those words: 'And all those who love His coming.' I did not believe in His coming, but I loved it honestly and longed to believe it. I had learned much of the Bible from my mother and had read it often and much myself."
This consciously supernatural character of his inner life from the first, should be kept closely united in the reader's mind with that other idea of his adhesion to "guileless nature" which was such a favorite theme with Father Hecker. No one could be more emphatic than he in asserting the necessity of the supernatural for the attainment of man's destiny. How could it be otherwise, when he considered that destiny to be the elevation of man above all good merely human, and by means far beyond the compass of his natural powers? Still, this was undoubtedly a conclusion of his riper years, a result arrived at after a certain intense if not very prolonged experience in contemporary Utopias, in futile endeavors to raise man above his own level while remaining on it, whether by socialistic schemes or social politics.
In an article called "Dr. Brownson and the Workingman's Party Fifty Years Ago," published in The Catholic World of May, 1887, Father Hecker has himself made some interesting references to his experiences in the latter field, and upon these we shall draw heavily for our own account of this period of his life, supplementing them with whatever bears upon the subject in the memoranda already referred to.
Concerning the inception of this party, to which all three of the young Heckers belonged in 1834, we have a better statement in Dr. Brownson's Convert than we know of elsewhere. Brownson was for a time actively interested in it, and in 1829 established a journal in support of its principles somewhere in Western New York. From him we learn that it was started in 1828 by Robert Dale Owen, Robert L. Jennings, George H. Evans, Fanny Wright, and a few other doctrinaires, foreign-born without exception, in the hope of getting control of political power so as to use it for establishing purely secular schools. Their advocacy of anti-Christian and free-love doctrines had so signally failed among adult Americans that the slower but surer method of educating the children of the country without religion had dawned upon them as more certain to succeed.
"We hoped," writes Dr. Brownson, "by linking our cause with the ultra-democratic sentiment of the country, which had had from the time of Jefferson and Tom Paine something of an anti-Christian character; by professing ourselves the bold and uncompromising champions of equality; by expressing a great love for the people and a deep sympathy with the laborer, whom we represented as defrauded and oppressed by his employer; by denouncing all proprietors as aristocrats, and by keeping the more unpopular features of our plan as far in the background as possible, to enlist the majority of the American people under the banner of the Workingman's party; nothing doubting that, if we could once raise that party to power, we could use it to secure the adoption of our educational system."
This party, however, both as an engine in politics and as a fitting embodiment of his private views, Dr. Brownson soon abandoned. He was not truly radical, in the evil sense of that word, at any period of his career, and the theories of the leaders soon became insupportable to his moral sense. But he remained true to the cause of the workingmen while abandoning the organization which assumed to voice their needs and their wishes. Probably these more ulterior aims of their leaders were never fully appreciated by the rank and file of those who followed them. Yet the genesis of the present purely secular school system, against whose workings and results nearly all Christian denominations are too late beginning to protest, is clearly traceable to the propaganda carried on half a century ago by men and women whose only half-veiled warfare against Christianity, property, and marriage was then an offence in the nostrils of our people at large. It is fair to predict that this generation, or another which shall succeed it, will yet have the good sense to regret, and the courage to atone for, the fact that hatred to the Catholic Church, and a desire to cripple her hands where her own children were concerned, should have been a more powerful agent in dragging them and theirs into the abyss of secularism than was their love of Christianity in deterring them from it.
Father Hecker's account of his own youthful connection with the "Workingman's Democracy," although written with the direct intention of placing his estimate of Dr. Brownson on record, has too many strictly autobiographic touches in it to be here omitted. Such passages, bearing on long past personal history, are fewer than we could wish them among his papers, published or unpublished. The five articles on Dr. Brownson, beginning in The Catholic World of April, 1887, and concluding in November of the same year, contain almost the only matters relative to his personal history which he ever put into print. Concerning the party, of which Dr. Brownson says that he had ceased to be a recognized leader at this time, although he still threw his influence as a speaker into all its projects for social reform, Father Hecker writes:
"We called ourselves the genuine Democracy, and in New York City were for some years a separate political body, independent of the 'regular' Democracy, and voting our own ticket. I have before me the files of our newspaper organ, the Democrat, the first number of which appeared March 9, 1836, published by Windt & Conrad, 11 Frankfort Street. In its prospectus the Democrat promises to contend for 'Equality of Rights, often trampled in the dust by Monopoly Democrats,' to battle 'with an aristocratic opposition powerful in talent and official entrenchment, and mighty in money and facilities for corruption.' 'In the course of this duty it will not fail fearlessly and fully to assert the inalienable rights of the people['] against 'vested rights' and 'vested wrongs.' It claims to be the 'instructive companion' of the mechanics' and workingmen's leisure, 'the promotion of whose interests will ever form a leading feature of the Democrat.' And in the editorial salutatory it speaks thus:
"'We are in favor of government by the people. Our objects are the restoration of equal rights and the prostration of those aristocratical usurpations existing in the state of monopolies and exclusive privileges of every kind, the products of corrupt and corrupting legislation. . . . At this moment we are the only large nation on the face of the earth where the mass of the people govern in theory—where they may govern in reality, if they will—where the real taxes of government, although too heavy, are but trifling, and where a majority of the population depend on their own labor for support; yet such is the condition of that large class that the fruits of their toil are inadequate to sustain themselves in comfort and rear their families as the young citizens of a republic ought to be reared.
"'. . . He is very shortsighted, however, who thinks that a majority of the people, where universal suffrage exists, will submit long to a state of toil and mendicity. The majority would soon learn to exercise its political rights, and command its representatives to carry the laws abolishing primogeniture and entails one step further, and stop all devises of land and prohibit it from being an article of sale. (In a foot-note of the editorial:) We actually heard these and several such propositions discussed by a number of apparently very intelligent mechanics, after the adjournment of a meeting called to consider the subject of wages, rents, etc.'
"At that time the main question was the condition of the public finances, and our agitation was directed chiefly against granting charters to private banks of circulation. We condemned these as monopolies, for we were hostile to all monopolies—that is to say, to the use of public funds or the enjoyment of public exclusive privileges by any man or association or class of men for their private profit."
We interrupt our direct quotation from this article in order to relate one of the humors of the period, so far as these brothers were concerned, in the words of the late Mr. George Hecker:
"When we were bakers the money in common use was the old-fashioned paper issued by private banks under State charters. We were regularly against it. So we bought a hand printing-press and set it up in the garret of our establishment. All the bills we received from our customers, some thousands sometimes every week, we smoothed out and put in a pile, and then printed on their backs a saying we took from Daniel Webster (though I believe it was not quite authentic): 'Of all the contrivances to impoverish the laboring classes of mankind, paper money is the most effective. It fertilizes the rich man's field with the poor man's sweat.' They tried to punish us for defacing money, but we beat them. We didn't deface it; we only printed something on the back of it. Isaac and I often worked all night putting up handbills for our meetings, for in those days there were no professional bill-posters."
Father' Hecker's acquaintance with Dr. Brownson, which had so powerful an effect upon his future career, began in 1834, when Brownson was invited to lecture in New York in favor of the principles and aims of this party. Isaac was then in his fifteenth year. Among the conversations recorded in the memoranda we find this reference to their earliest interview:
"I first met Dr. Brownson in New York, in our house. I was then reading the Washington Globe, Benton's speeches, Calhoun's, etc. The elder Blair was its editor; its motto was, 'The world is governed too much'—a motto in whose spirit there could be no great movement except in the way of revolution. After the establishment of the American Government the principle expressed in that motto could only be abandoned or pushed into revolution and anarchy.
"I put this question to Brownson: 'How can I become certain of the objective reality of the operations of my soul?' He answered: 'If you have not yet reached that period of mental life, you will do so before many years.'
"It is a great humiliation for me to admit that I was ever in a state in which I doubted the actual validity of the testimony of my own faculties, and the reality of the phenomena of my mental existence. I had begun my mental life in politics, and in a certain sense in religion; but to my philosophical life I was yet unborn."
In the article on the "Workingman's Party," already quoted from, Father Hecker, after mentioning that Dr. Brownson continued to lecture before the New York members of the party for several years, goes on as follows:
"If it be asked why a man like Dr. Brownson, a born philosopher, should have thus busied himself with the solution of the most practical of problems by undertaking to abolish inequality among men, the answer is plain. The true philosopher will not confine himself to abstract theories. But, furthermore, Brownson at this epoch of his life had lost his grip on the philosophy that leads men to trust in a supernatural happiness to be enjoyed in a future state; and the man who does not look to the hope of a future state of beatitude for the chief solace of human misery must look to this life as its end. If a man does not seek beatitude in God he seeks it in himself and his fellow-men—in the highest earthly development of our better nature if he becomes a socialist of one school, and in the lusts of the animal man if he becomes a socialist of the brutal school. The man who has any sympathy in his heart and is not guided by Catholic ethics, if he reasons at all on public affairs, will become a socialist of some school or other. Says Dr. Brownson in The Convert, p. 101:
"The end of man, as disclosed by my creed of 1829, is obviously an earthly end, to be attained in this life. Man was not made for God, and destined to find his beatitude in the possession of God his Supreme Good, the Supreme Good itself. His end was happiness—not happiness in God, but in the possession of the good things of this world. Our Lord had said, 'Be not anxious as to what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, or wherewithal ye shall be clothed; for after all these things do the heathen seek.' I gave Him a flat denial, and said, Be anxious; labor especially for these things, first for yourselves, then for others. Enlarging, however, my views a little, I said, Man's end for which he is to labor is the well-being and happiness of man in this world—is to develop man's whole nature, and so to organize society and government as to secure all men a paradise on the earth. This view of the end to labor for I held steadily and without wavering from 1828 till 1842, when I began to find myself tending unconsciously towards the Catholic Church.'
"The reader will have seen by the extracts given that we were a party full of enthusiasm. I was but fifteen when our party called Dr. Brownson to deliver the lectures above mentioned. But my brothers and I had long been playing men's parts in politics. I remember when eleven years of age, or a year or two older, being tall for my years, proposing and carrying through a series of resolutions on the currency question at our ward meetings. As our name indicates— 'Workingman's Democracy'—we were a kind of Democrats. As to the Whig party, it received no great attention from us. At that time its chances of getting control of this State or of the United States were remote. Our biggest fight was against the 'usages of the party' as in vogue in the so-called regular Democracy embodied in the Tammany Hall party. This organization undertook to absorb us when we had grown too powerful to be ignored. They nominated a legislative ticket made up half of their men and half of ours. This move was to a great extent successful; but many of us who were purists refused to compromise, and ran a stump ticket, or, as it was then called, a rump ticket. I was too young to vote, but I remember my brother George and I posting political handbills at three o'clock in the morning; this hour was not so inconvenient for us, for we were bakers. We also worked hard on election day, keeping up and supplying the ticket booths, especially in our own ward, the old Seventh. I remember that one of our leaders was a shoemaker named John Ryker, and that we used to meet in Science Hall, Broome Street.
"If this was the high state of my enthusiasm, so was it that of us all. Our political faith was ardent and active. But if we had been tested on our religious faith we should not have come off creditably; many of us had not any religion at all. I remember saying once to my brother John that the only difference between a believer and an infidel is a few ounces of brains. . . . We were a queer set of cranks when Dr. Brownson brought to us his powerful and eloquent advocacy, his contribution of mingled truth and error. He delivered his first course of lectures in the old Stuyvesant Institute in Broadway, facing Bond Street—the same hall used a little afterwards by the Unitarian Society while they were building a church for Mr. Dewey in Broadway opposite Eighth Street, the very same society now established in Lexington Avenue, with Mr. Collyer as minister. The subsequent courses were delivered in Clinton Hall, corner of Nassau and Beekman, the site now occupied by one of our modern mammoth buildings. I forget how much we were charged admission, except that a ticket for the whole course cost three dollars. There was no great rush, but the lectures drew well and abundantly paid all expenses including the lecturer's fee. The press did not take much notice of the lectures, for the Workingman's party had no newspapers expressly in its favor, except the one I have already quoted from. But he was one of the few men whose power is great enough to advertise itself. Wherever he was he was felt. His tread was heavy and he could make way for himself.
"Dr. Brownson was then in the very prime of manhood. He was a handsome man, tall, stately, and of grave manners. His face was clean-shaved. The first likeness of him that I remember appeared in the Democratic Review. It made him look like Proudhon, the French Socialist. This was all the more singular because at that time he was really the American Proudhon, though he never went so far as 'La propriete, c'est le vol.' As he appeared on the platform and received our greeting he was indeed a majestic man, displaying in his demeanor the power of a mind altogether above the ordinary. But he was essentially a philosopher, and that means that he could never be what is called popular. He was an interesting speaker, but he never sought popularity. He never seemed to care much about the reception his words received, but he exhibited anxiety to get his thoughts rightly expressed and to leave no doubt about what his convictions were. Yet among a limited class of minds he always awakened real enthusiasm—among minds, that is, of a philosophical tendency. He never used manuscript or notes; he was familiar with his topic, and his thoughts flowed out spontaneously in good, pure, strong, forcible English. He could control any reasonable mind, for he was a man of great thoughts and never without some grand truth to impart. But to stir the emotions was not in his power, though he sometimes attempted it; he never succeeded in being really pathetic.
"It must be remembered that although Dr. Brownson was technically classed among the reverends, he was not commonly so called. It may be said that he was still reckoned among the Unitarian ministry, owing mostly to his connection with Dr. Channing, of Boston, who took a great interest in the Workingman's party. But I do not think he was advertised by us as reverend or publicly spoken of as a clergyman. He may have been yet hanging on the skirts of the Unitarian movement. But his career had become political, and his errand to New York was political. He had given up preaching for some years, and embarked on the stormy waves of social politics, and had by his writings become an expositor of various theories of social reform, chiefly those of French origin. So that the dominant note of his lectures was not by any means religious, but political. He was at that time considered as identified with the Workingman's party, and came to New York to speak as one of our leaders. The general trend of his lectures was the philosophy of history as it bears on questions of social reform. At bottom his theories were Saint-Simonism, the object being the amelioration of the condition of the most numerous classes of society in the speediest manner. This was the essence to our kind of Democracy. And Dr. Brownson undertook in these lectures to bring to bear in favor of our purpose the life-lessons of the providential men of human history. Of course, the life and teachings of our Saviour Jesus Christ were brought into use, and the upshot of the lecturer's thesis was that Christ was the big Democrat and the Gospel was the true Democratic platform!
"We interpreted Christianity as altogether a social institution, its social side entirely overlapping and hiding the religious. Dr. Brownson set out to make, and did make, a powerful presentation of our Lord as the representative of the Democratic side of civilization. For His person and office he and all of us had a profound appreciation and sympathy, but it was not reverential or religious; the religious side of Christ's mission was ignored. Christ was a social Democrat, Dr. Brownson maintained, and he and many of us had no other religion but the social theories we drew from Christ's life and teaching; that was the meaning of Christianity to us, and of Protestantism especially."
In penning the reminiscences just given Father Hecker probably had in mind the whole period lying between his fourteenth year and his twenty-first. In the autumn of 1834, when he first made acquaintance with Orestes Brownson, Isaac Hecker was not yet fifteen, while the reform lecturer was in his early thirties. But the boy who began at once, as he has told us, to put philosophical questions, and to seek a test whereby to determine the validity of his mental processes, was already well known to the voters of his ward, not merely as an overgrown and very active lad, always on hand at the polling booths, and ready for any work which might be entrusted to a boy, but also as a clear and persuasive speaker on various topics of social and political reform.
Politics of the kind into which the young Heckers threw themselves so ardently were not very different in their methods fifty years ago from what they are to-day. Reform politics are always the reverse of what are called machine politics. The meetings of which Father Hecker speaks were spontaneous gatherings of determined and earnest men, young and old, held sometimes in public halls, sometimes, when elections were close at hand, in the open street. Often they were dominated by leaders better able to formulate theories than to bring about practical remedial measures. The inception of all great parties has something of this character. It generally happens that principles are dwelt upon with an exclusive devotion more or less prejudicial to immediate practical ends. This is why young men, and even striplings, provided they are energetic and persuasive, will be listened to with attention at such eras. Men are seeking for enlightenment, and hence views are taken for what they seem to be worth rather than out of respect for the source they spring from. Imagine, then, this tall, fair, strong-faced boy of fourteen, mounted, perhaps, on one of his own flour-barrels, dogmatizing the principles of social democracy, posing as a spontaneous political reformer before a crowded street full of men twice and thrice his years, but bound together with him by the sympathies common to the wage-earning classes. It is true that Isaac Hecker and his brothers, of whom the eldest had but recently attained to the dignity of a voter, although still poor and hard-working, had already, by virtue of sheer industry and pluck, passed over to the class of wage-payers. But they were not less ardent reformers after than before that transition. Isaac at all events, was consistent and unchanged throughout his life in the political principles he adopted among the apprentices and journeymen of New York over half a century ago. There was little room for vulgar self-conceit in a nature so frank and sincere as his. What he had to learn, as well as what he had to teach, always dwarfed merely personal considerations to their narrowest dimensions in his mind. Hence his impulsive candor, the clearness of his views, and the straightforward simplicity of his speech at once attracted notice, and although so young, he went speedily to the front in the local management of his party. In the article already quoted from, he tells us that after 1834 the managers left all future engagements of lecturers to his brother John and himself. It was doubtless this fact which led directly to that lasting and fruitful intimacy with Dr. Brownson which then began. His was the strongest purely human influence, if we except his mother's, which Isaac Hecker ever knew. And these two were on planes so different that it is hardly fair to compare them with each other.
A BRIEF consideration at this point of a certain permanent tendency of Father Hecker's mind will be of present and future value to the student of his life. It has been said already that he never changed the principles he had adopted as a lad among the apprentices and journeymen of New York; principles which, for all social politics, he summarized in the homely expression, "I am always for the under dog." Thus, in the article quoted in the preceding chapter, he had the right to say of himself and his associates:
"We were guileless men absorbed in seeking a solution for the problems of life. Nor, as social reformers at least, were we given over to theories altogether wrong. The constant recurrence of similar epochs of social agitation since then, and the present enormous development of the monopolies which we resisted in their very infancy, show that our forecast of the future was not wholly visionary. The ominous outlook of popular politics at the present moment plainly shows that legislation such as we then proposed, and such as was then within the easy reach of State and national authority, would have forestalled difficulties whose settlement at this day threatens a dangerous disturbance of public order."
We dwell on his political consistency, however, only because it affords an evidence of that unity of character which was always recognized in Father Hecker by those who knew him best. Change in him, in whatever direction it seemed to proceed, meant primarily the dropping off of accidental excrescences. There was nothing radical in it. What he once held with the settled allegiance of his intelligence he held always, adding to or developing it further as fast as the clouds were blown away from his mental horizon. From the standpoint of personal experience he could fairly criticise, as he did in conversation some few years before his death, Cardinal Newman's dictum that "conversion is a leap in the dark." "I say," he went on, "that it is a leap in the light." "Into the light, but through the dark," was suggested in reply.
"No," he answered. "If one arrives at a recognition of the truth of Catholic doctrine through one or other form of Protestant orthodoxy, then the difficulties of ordinary controversy will indeed leave him to the very end in the dark. But if he comes to the Church through the working and the results of natural reason, it is light all the way, and to the very end. I had this out with Cardinal Newman personally, and he agreed that I was right."
It is true that his views were rectified when he entered the Church, and that when once in it he was ever acquiring new truth and new views of truth. But his character never changed. He was a luminous example of the truth of the saying that the child is father to the man, so often apparently falsified by experience. Boy and man, the prominent characteristic of his mind was a clear perception of fundamentals and a disregard of non-essentials in the whole domain of life. To reverse a familiar maxim, "Take care of the dollars and the cents will take care of themselves," might describe his plan of mental economy. To the small coin of discussion in any field of inquiry he paid little attention. One who knew him many years has often heard him say, "Emphasize the universal always."
He was a teacher by natural vocation. No sooner was he satisfied that he knew anything of general moment than he felt pressed to impart his knowledge. Contact with him could never be simply for acquaintance' sake; still less for an idle comparison of views. While no man could be more frank in the admission of a lack of data on which to base an opinion in matters of fact, or a lack of illumination on affairs of conduct or practical direction, when such existed, yet to be certain was, to him, the self-luminous guarantee of his mission to instruct. But until that certainty was attained, in a manner satisfactory to both the intellectual and the ethical sides of his nature, he was silent.