Page images

the business of publishing books or newspapers. From his youth he had had the strongest faith in the power and value of the printed word; he recognized in it the principal agency by which public opinion is generated and guided; and the wish to do something for the improvement of society by this agency had long been cherished. During this European tour he fell in with Dr. Holland, whom he had slightly known as a lecturer in the West, and whose ethical quality of mind had a strong attraction for him. Several months of companionship in travel ripened their acquaintance into intimacy. Dr. Holland had just sold his interest in the "Springfield Republican." His very successful "Life of Lincoln" and his other books had brought him a good fortune, and he, too, was looking out for some opportunity to invest his gains, both of capital and of experience, in the service of popular education. I have often heard both Dr. Holland and Roswell Smith allude to the memorable night when, standing upon one of the bridges that span the rushing Rhone at Geneva, Dr. Holland outlined to his friend a project, which he had been maturing, of a monthly magazine devoted to American letters and American art. The emphasis rested upon the adjective: the work was to be done in America, by Americans, for Americans; it was to be a popular educator of the highest grade. Roswell Smith promptly seized upon the project. The two friends soon returned to America, and in connection with the firm of Charles Scribner and Company, who were Dr. Holland's own publishers, they founded the corporation which now bears the name of The Century Co., and began the publication of this magazine. At a later date the "St. Nicholas Magazine for Young Folks," which originated in a suggestion by Roswell Smith, was added by the purchase and consolidation of several lesser periodicals, and the editorial care of it was committed to the competent hands of Mrs. Mary Mapes Dodge. The changes through which this organization has passed have been made known to the public, and most of these facts concerning the origin of the enterprise are familiar to many; but it seems fitting that some permanent record of the part taken by Roswell Smith in its foundation should appear upon the pages of THE CENTURY MAGAZINE.

In seeking to gather up for grateful recognition some of the finer qualities of Roswell Smith, my thought first rests upon a certain largeness of conception which characterized all his undertakings. He liked to do great things; he had the courage that is not appalled by difficulties, and the faith that removes mountains. The "St. Nicholas Magazine" was started in the very moment of wide-spread

commercial depression. His plans for the extension of the sale of the magazines were bold and enterprising; his ambition was to make them as good as they could be made, and he grudged no outlay for this purpose; his confident expectation was that the best thing would turn out to be the most profitable. His residence in the West had given him large ideas respecting the publisher's field: he thought that the West and the South as well as the North and the East were cardinal points in the publisher's compass. When the magazines had won their footing on this continent he boldly carried them to England; what was good enough for Americans was good enough for Englishmen. This was the first invasion of the British market by the American periodical. The large success of the undertaking opened the way for other publications; and American magazines, now on sale on every bookstand, have exerted an important influence upon English opinion concerning America.

The quality of his mind is illustrated by the project of "The Century Dictionary." This was purely his own. The scheme of owning and publishing a great dictionary of the English language laid hold upon him many years ago. "It is an open question with us"- SO he wrote eleven years ago-" whether it is best for us to buy one of the leading dictionaries and build on that, or to organize the scholarship of the English-speaking world and make a new one. There must be one English language, and a common standard of the English tongue." He saw no reason why this should not be published in New York. The purchase of the right to revise and republish "The Imperial Dictionary " in America laid the foundation of this enterprise. It was thought at the outset that a "slight revision" would fit the four volumes of the "Imperial" for the market; but the scope of the work at once began to broaden; and before anything had been realized from the sale of the dictionary, nearly fifty times as much money was expended as had been provided for in the original estimate. In all this his courage never faltered. The ambition to "make it what it ought to be" was far stronger than any financial consideration. His satisfaction in the perfection of the work, his sense of its value to the world, were to him a great reward. It was precisely in such concerns as this that the peculiarity of his mind appeared. The importance of a work like the making of a great dictionary was obvious to him. He could see its relations to all science, to the spread of accurate knowledge in the world. He knew that language is the instrument of thought, the medium of communication, the vehicle of truth; th whatever makes it more precise, more l

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

men. callings, are indebted to him for many quickescurbed ening hints. His vital mind tended to fructify Sure have every theme that it touched. In my work as How much a pastor he has often given me useful suggesesepay as tions, and the most popular contribution that men would it has been my fortune to make to THE CENstory of the TURY, "The Christian League of Connecticut," reved and sprang from a request made by him. "I want storical re- you," he said, "to write a kind of a story showmens of the ing how the Christian people of some town got day, and together and learned how to coöperate in Chris*te stand for tian work." The elaboration of the idea was my own, but the idea was his, and justice to him requires this acknowledgment.

certainly seen than the es the elements sed. And sex of anguistic very highest guage may arches, and e greatest a erty ambiNe assigned to prises in imporabout it, in the


To this magazine Mr. Smith's only literary contribution was a brief poem, published in one of the early numbers; but he found pleasure, as did many of his young readers, in two short stories which he wrote for "St. Nicholas."

Mr. Roswell Smith was deeply interested in all the current movements of politics and religion. The failure of the Independents in 1884 to organize a new party he greatly deplored; it seemed to him that the time was ripe for a new grouping of the political elements. The attempt to keep the fires of sectional hatred The burning was utterly distasteful to him; he na proposal strongly desired that the North and the South Ameri- should come to a better understanding. The th, Pres- series of papers on "The Great South," pubassorted lished in the magazine under its old name, was

erality suggested by Roswell Smith to Dr. Holland, Kive gradually and it aided, no doubt, in bringing about a better state of feeling. Yet this wish for more strative amicable relations between the two sections was made was not due to any lack of interest in the welon in the fare of the Southern negroes, as his work for Water by the Berea College amply testifies. This institution, de postage on the borders of the mountain district of KenNe mails tucky, in which both sexes and both races are ad by educated together, was one of the special obex made of jects of his care; the broad humanity of its so to the foundation, and the directness of its ministry whod in to the neediest human beings, commended it Fae sim- to his sympathy. icfinite e to both Gess has siderable

Roswell Smith's interest in religion was deep and abiding. His faith was as simple and unquestioning as that of Faraday; his appeal to divine guidance in every matter of importance was as natural and habitual as that of ' large General Gordon. The direct intervention of was ex- the divine power in human affairs was to him a ong with living reality. The institutions of religion were ggestions his special care. Though of Congregational Ne Business, origin, he was for the greater part of his coc est when they life a member of the Presbyterian Church, evoted the fact and the Memorial Church of that denomination None of as nature in New York (now the Madison Avenue deas; under church) owes much to his brave financial leade debate, he ex- ership. He was not, however, the kind of man ve. His trends, in all whom any sect can monopolize: for many years

he was the President of the New York Congregational Club, and he worshiped during the last years of his life with one of the Reformed churches. The wish for a closer and more practical unity among the churches, which found expression in the suggestion about the Christian League, was always in his heart. He was a vice-president, I think, of the American Congress of Churches, which undertook to do something for Christian union in this country; and, as an officer of the American Tract Society, he strove to rejuvenate the life and enlarge the function of that venerable institution. One of the books published by The Century Co., "Parish Problems," revealed Roswell Smith's desire "to do something to help the minister." His motive in undertaking the publication was to make a book in which the people could be shown how to coöperate in the work of the local church. He wished thus to say to the members of the church many things which they greatly need to hear and which the minister cannot say; it was to be a treatise in parish theology, to offset the instruction in pastoral theology which the minister receives in the seminary. This desire to serve the churches found expression in a movement, to which he lent his influence and his personal coöperation, to lift the load from churches which were burdened by debt. Roswell Smith entered upon this work with enthusiasm, and had the satisfaction of seeing a number of churches set free from their encumbrances.

It is not to be supposed that this great publisher was beyond the influence of the motives which usually control men of business. He wanted to succeed in his business. To the expectation of wealth his mind was not inhospitable; but he meant to conduct his business in an honorable way, and, more than this, he was glad to make it tributary to higher interests. If he could see that a given venture was likely to aid the churches, this fact added greatly to its attractiveness. The publication of hymn and service books, in which he has been a leader, was not wholly a matter of business with him; the purification and elevation of the psalmody of church and Sunday-school enlisted his enthusiasm. In the last serious conversation which I had with him, he opened to me a great scheme with which his mind was laboring-to organize the best Biblical scholarship of this country for the translation and publica

tion of a popular edition of the Bible. He proposed to follow mainly the suggestions of the American revisers; perhaps also to make such judicious selection of Biblical material as would better fit the Sacred Scriptures to be read through in families. No man had a deeper reverence for the Holy Book; but he was of the opinion that its value for popular use might be increased by a careful collection of its more nutritious parts. I sought to dissuade him from the enterprise, which he was in no condition of health to undertake; but the bent of his mind appears in the proposition.

It is not, however, in these specific plans that his religious purpose was realized so much as in his deeper intention to make all his work as a publisher serviceable to that kingdom for whose coming he prayed. He desired that the two magazines, especially, should be powerful instruments of righteousness. That the tone of them should always be elevated; that nothing impure or unworthy should be allowed to appear in them; that they should never be permitted to assail or undermine genuine faith or pure morality; that they should pour into the community a constant stream of refining influence, this was his central purpose, his lofty ambition. The efforts of his editors in this direction he always heartily supported. I know well, from many conversations with him, how deep and serious was this desire. I should do my friend a great disservice if I tried to convey the impression that he was not a keen, far-sighted business man; but I believe that he was something more than this, and that all his thoughts about business were affected and, to some good degree, shaped by the wish and the hope to do something for the improvement of the world in which he lived. He meant to be, and he believed himself to be, a co-worker with God. The issues of the presses that he had set in motion were spreading light and beauty, truth and love, among men; they were helping to make the world better every day. He knew it, and gloried in it. With all the personal satisfaction which he derived from the success of his business ventures was mingled the deeper feeling of thankfulness for the privilege of serving the higher interests of his fellow-men. Roswell Smith was not a flawless characternot many such long remain upon the earth; but the works that follow him bear witness of large thoughts, noble aims, and fruitful labors.


ROSWELL SMITH, from early manhood a life-member of the American Tract Society, was quickened to a new interest in its affairs

Washington Gladden.

when his pastor, the Rev. Dr. Robinson, became editor of its "Illustrated Christian Weekly," which interest culminated at the annual t

plans which he had desired and the society had adopted, came to him as a providential call to service and, if need be, to sacrifice; and thenceforth, whatever were the enactments of his own extensive business, his life was freely given to the interests of the society. His practical knowledge of the publishing business, fertility of suggestion, sound judgment, and large acquaintance with and love for missionary effort made him a most helpful member of the committee.

He was a truly catholic Christian. One of his cherished purposes, to which he gave much thought and personal work, was a plan for close coöperation, or even a union on some general basis, between all the great American undenominational publishing societies. But serious illness overtook him, and of necessity he was constrained to remove his hand from what he hoped would be the means of furthering and demonstrating the unity of all evangelical Christians.

ing of 1886, when on his motion a committee to him to put his hand to the execution of the was appointed "to inquire into the practical workings of the society, and to recommend such changes in its constitution, methods, and management as may seem desirable." Declining to become the chairman, he accepted the position of secretary of the committee. The resolution directed the committee "to make a thorough examination of all the affairs and business of the society," and as executive secretary the burden of the duty and responsibility fell upon him, though the whole was shared by his associates, the Hon. Nathaniel Shipman (chairman), General Wager Swayne, the Rev. Talbot W. Chambers, D. D., Chancellor M'Cracken, the Hon. James White, and Mr. Robert Colby. Their report was thorough and comprehensive. It introduced vital changes in the constitution and methods of the society. Though not inerrant, after consideration and full discussion in two public meetings, it was in the end adopted June 1, 1887, with few if any dissenting voices. The five subsequent years of practical working have attested in the main the wisdom of the changes then made. At the annual meeting of the same year Roswell Smith was elected a member of the Finance and Executive committees, in which he continued by succeeding elections until his decease. His peculiar gifts as a publisher, which placed him easily in the front rank of the men in that sphere, added to his desire to make the most of his life for the Lord, and for his fellow-men for Christ's sake, were the prime elements in the quickening which occurred about 1887. The opportunity now brought Financial Secretary of the American Tract Society.

As weariness and weakness in the past two years stealthily crept over him, from time to time he recalled with peculiar delight his association with the men whom he esteemed and loved as members of the committee, and his satisfaction in the retrospect of his work in connection with the society. It is almost needless to add that this view is most cordially reciprocated by the officers and members of the American Tract Society, to which his decease is an irreparable loss.

G. L. Shearer,


FOR six years Roswell Smith was the honored President of the Congregational Club of New York and vicinity. For most of that time he was a member of the Memorial Presbyterian Church, but his membership in that church was determined by his personal relations with its pastor, the Rev. Charles S. Robinson, D. D. His sympathies were heartily with the Congregational churches, and his gifts for benevolent work chiefly through their missionary boards. Soon after the organization of the club he was elected to its membership, and in 1883 was chosen President. The outlook of the club at that time was not promising. No permanent and desirable place for its meetings had been found, and that, with other facts, had discouraged many of its members. When Mr. Roswell Smith assumed its presidency a new and brighter era began. He brought to the office large practical wisdom. wide knowledge of men, and exceptional opportunities for se

curing speakers. From the beginning of his administration to its end the Congregational Club offered the best program of any club in New York whose primary object was the discussion of topics of current interest. The platform was always free; speakers were encouraged to give their honest thought, and were not asked whether it coincided with the views of the President or membership. One subject in particular had an especial interest for our President. Some time before his election the following question had been discussed, "Is it possible to do business on Christian principles?" A very prominent banker, who was also a prominent church member, maintained that Christian principles were one thing and business principles another. I have never seen Mr. Roswell Smith more indignant than when referring to that discussion, and he was not satisfied until it had been considered again and he had borne emphatic testimony to his

faith that the only way in which business can be conducted with prospect of permanent success is by a strict adherence to the teachings of Christ.

The publisher of THE CENTURY, of course, had unequaled facilities for securing the participation of eminent authors and public speakers in the discussions of the club, and few, if any, persons whose names were prominent in the pages of THE CENTURY during his presidency of the club failed, at some time, to appear at its meetings. In his intercourse with its members Mr. Roswell Smith was always the urbane Christian gentleman; in his conferences with its officers he was always courteous and considerate. We felt that he gave to us his best thought, and the club had unquestion

able evidence that while it honored itself by choosing him as its President, it always had a large place in his heart. In 1889 failing health compelled him to decline reëlection to the office, and while he has seldom been seen at the club since that time, his name has often been mentioned with sincere and reverent regard; and in no organization of which he was a member will his memory be more fondly cherished and his loss more deeply mourned. In all the years of his connection with the Congregational Club, during most of which he was its President, its members will recall not a single act or word that was not courteous and Christian, and its present conspicuous success is universally regarded as very largely due to his wisdom and devotion to its interests.

[merged small][merged small][graphic][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][ocr errors]


MR. ROSWELL SMITH'S first gift, one thousand dollars, was sent through the American Missionary Association in 1884 for our current expenses. In June of the following year he, with George W. Cable, attended our commencement. He saw our urgent need of a suitable building for class-rooms, library, etc., and remarked that we should begin making bricks. One of our workers mentioned the difficulty of making bricks without straw. Mr. Roswell Smith at once replied, "Put me down for five thousand for straw." We began making bricks that summer, and in the end he put twenty-five thousand dollars into a new building for us. One of the most characteristic letters from the large correspondence had during the progress of the building was written January 7, 1887, in which he says: "I hope the college will get on without calling on me for more money, but I shall be ready to respond to calls as fast as may be necessary to keep the work in progress, and I wish you to call on me freely for that end."

When the building was nearly completed. we asked him to christen it. He wrote to call it "Lincoln Hall," in memory of the poor white boy of Kentucky who had won the hearts of his countrymen and the highest honors they could give.

After we had been in the building a few months, the following letter was received:

"NEW YORK, Nov. 24, '87.

"MY DEAR MR. DODGE: I am glad to know that the building - Lincoln Hall - meets your picture of it in my office, and it certainly gives needs and gives you so much pleasure. I have a me more pleasure at present than my new house, which I am trying so hard to get into, and can't.

"I have written to Mr. Hartley about the basrelief of Lincoln, and shall doubtless be able to advise you in that matter within a few days. "I am very sincerely yours,


Mr. Roswell Smith wished a bas-relief of Lincoln to be placed in the vestibule of Lin

« PreviousContinue »