A curious record and recorder.
By Rev. Henry wood, Chaplain U. S. Navy.Messrs. Editors:—Passing the last summer, in consequence of ill-health, in the ancient town of Medford, half a dozen miles out of Boston, I was interested in visiting its noted residences and localities and studying its early Puritanic history. But what most of all interested and instructed me were four small manuscript volumes, written out in a neat and legible hand, and showing all the order, care, and accuracy of a counting-house ledger, though they were barely eight inches by four in size. A column was struck from top to bottom of each page on the left hand side, with the year at the head and the month and day below, while the texts were inclosed between this and another parallel column on the right, and the name of the preacher recorded still further on the right, with comments on the sermon and notices of the week's events beneath, and then, in business style, a horizontal line under the whole. The title of the various volumes, which were kindly loaned me by the present owner, was as follows:—
‘An Account of all the Texts preached in our New Meeting House on Sabbath Days, Fast Days, and Thanksgiving Days, and also all the Baptisms. By Thomas Seccombe.’The record begins with September 3, 1727, ‘when the first sermon was preached in our new Meeting House by Mr. Ebenezer Turell,’ and ends with the following entry: ‘The owner of this book died about 11 o'clock this night, [p. 71] fast day, April 15, 1773.’ Another hand continued the journal for two years longer, when death terminated the labors of a pastor signalized by having such an annalist, who was a highly respectable, intelligent, and pious man, a true specimen of the old Puritanic stock, whose unfailing attendance upon public worship, unless forbidden by uncontrollable circumstances, and his perseverance and care in performing the humble task he imposed upon himself, running through the period of forty-six years, are a perfect marvel, and probably without parallel. Commencing the record of every Sabbath's text and the name of the preacher, with frequent brief notices of passing events in the church, the town, and the country, in the year 1727, he continued it, without the intermission of a single Sabbath, fast, or thanksgiving day, till the year 1773, when death alone stopped his untiring hand. When, in some few instances, he was unable to attend the church himself, he procured some one to report to him the text and the preacher, while he, with his own hand, made the entry. But if the industry and perseverance of the recorder are a matter for wonder, how much more so the immense labor of the minister who furnished the materials! The record contains a list of no less than five thousand five hundred and eighty-two sermons, giving two for every Sunday in forty-six years, with an excess of a dozen and more for every year for preparatory lectures, funeral sermons, etc. The mere thought of 5,582 sermons, carefully thought out, studied out, and written out, by the same individual, and an hour long at least in the delivery, as they were in those days, absolutely startles one in the contemplation of the labor, both intellectual and mechanical. It has been my fortune to gaze upon the pyramids of Egypt, yes, and to climb them: but my back did not ache so much, nor my mind wonder so much, as in contemplating this huge pyramid of sermons, of which every sermon was a tier, a stratum, a step. It might well reach the heavens, and I trust did, and conducted many gazers and listeners there. Still, while the Egyptian pyramids remain firm, [p. 72] and up to the topmost stone, not a manuscript sermon is to be found in the parish where this monument was erected, though some printed discourses and controversial pamphlets remain. If all had been printed, they would have made 280 volumes, giving 20 sermons for a volume. So true is the old proverb: ‘Omnia vincit improbus labor.’ The last sermon of Mr. Turell was preached April 17, 1774, the text selected seeming to be prophetic of the end of his career, ‘If a man die, shall he live again? All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come.’ Here ended his labors, and soon after his life. His successor was Rev. Dr. David Osgood, who acquired a wide celebrity for two political sermons. Mr. Turell seldom exchanged pulpits, and never, so far as the record shows, repeated a sermon. He never preached extempore, but always wrote his sermon fully out. He was a native of Boston, and graduate of Harvard University, remarkable for the elegance of his person and his gentlemanly manners. At the same time he was an accomplished scholar, while his health was always delicate. And yet he wrote and preached 5,582 long sermons! The texts alone, if given in a volume, would impart to it rare value, from the originality in their use, and their suggestiveness. The notes of the recorder, with the facts and incidents he narrates, give an interesting view of the character of the ministry, the condition of the churches, and the type of Christian doctrine prevalent in that distant period.