The songs of Mr. P. P. Bliss are sung by millions. They are joyous, bright, and hopeful, indicating thus the spirit of the man. Like his name, his life was brief and beautiful. His record is romantic, yet from it many salutary lessons may be drawn.
He was born in the little town of Rome, near Towanda, Penn., [United States], on the ninth day of July, 1838. His parents were very poor; and their only son was early inured to labor, which, instead of injuring, tended to develop both his physical and mental constitution. In his boyhood he evinced a love of music, but had then no opportunities to study it as an art. He, however, remembered well the sabbath-school and martial songs that met his ear, and often amused himself and others by singing and whistling them at his work. He had, as it was said, a good ear for music, and, what is better, a bright and genial turn of mind. He was, though penniless, a light-hearted, merry, and obliging boy,— well formed, well behaved, and well beloved. As he advanced in age his voice became more sweet and powerful. He led the music in the sabbath-school, and sought, as he was able, for improvement in the "art divine."
On coming to Chicago in 1864, he was fortunate in making the acquaintance of the distinguished musical composer Mr. George F. Root, and in coming under his instruction. Entering into the employment of the firm of Messrs. Root and Cady, music publishers, he found means to gratify his passion for song, and soon learned, as Mr. Sankey, how to play accompaniments on the melodeon to his voice. He began to compose simple songs for the sabbath-school, and to arrest the attention of the public by his spirited rendering of the popular tunes of Messrs. Root and Bradbury, which were making then a new departure in the field of sacred melody. He had a charming voice, a joyous temper, and his services for sabbath-school and musical conventions gradually came to be in great demand.
On his marriage to Miss Lucy J. Young of Rome, Penn., a lady of fine poetical as well as musical taste, he received a fresh incentive to pursue the study of sacred song. Through her influence he became a Christian; and by her his culture of music and of lyrical poetry was encouraged and advanced. He became a member of Dr. E. P. Goodwin's church, in which he was in 1870 appointed chorister, and subsequently superintendent of the sabbath-school. While in this capacity he composed many of those beautiful hymns and tunes now sung with gladness by so many millions both at home and across the sea.
When Mr. Bliss had gained sufficient knowledge of his favorite art, he began with his wife, who was a charming singer as well as writer, to hold normal musical institutes through the towns and cities of the great North-west, by which he for several years did much towards raising the standard of taste both as to secular and sacred music in that region. He also became very popular as a singer in Chicago, and received merited applause in carrying the bass solos in the grand oratorios of the "Creation" and of "Elijah." But his favorite work was in connection with the sabbath schools, young men's conventions, and evangelism.
It was the hearing of the magnificent voice of Mr. Bliss in Farwell Hall that gave Mr. Moody his idea of engaging a "gospel singer" to aid him in his revival work. He took Mr. Sankey with him to England, because Mr. Bliss had shown him how glorious it is to sing the praises of the Lord.
During the time of the great Sunday-school awakening in Illinois, Mr. Edward Eggleston went out to hold a convention in a certain town, and was much discouraged to find but a very few people present. The services went on heavily for an hour or so, when it was announced to him that Mr. Bliss and his wife had arrived in town.
"Who is Bliss?" said he.
"A music-teacher who is travelling for Root and Cady."
"Bring him in."
In a short time Mr. Bliss appeared, and said that he would sing if he could have his melodeon to assist him. It was a United Presbyterian Church; and the minister said to Mr. Eggleston, "I cannot give you permission to introduce a melodeon, but we have lent to you the church for a convention. If you introduce a melodeon I am not responsible."
The instrument was brought in, and Mr. Bliss and his wife with her fine contralto voice engaged in singing. "And such singing!" says Mr. Eggleston. "Instead of some poor country singing-master, beating out his music as with a flail, I soon found that here was a man with one of the richest voices in the world, capable of putting his own strong spirit into all he sung. He made us forget our Tate and Brady; he sung us into a state of delight, and I saw tears running down the cheeks of the United Presbyterian minister." The house was overcrowded in the evening, and so Bliss turned what else had been a defeat into a victory.
The first Sunday-school music of Mr. Bliss appeared in Mr. George F. Root's little work entitled "The Prize," which was published in 1870. "Whosoever will," and "Look and Live," with their animated choruses, soon became familiar to the members of the sabbath schools throughout the country. Encouraged by this success, he published himself, in 1871, "The Charm," whose very title indicates the effect which it produced wherever it was used. In the year ensuing he brought out "The Song Tree," indicating in the preface, formed of an acrostic, the design for which the work was published.
"Sing away dreariness,
Tree of my love;
Oh, and to weariness
Rest may'st thou prove;
The erring to win,
From evil and sin."
He next published for the use of sabbath schools, "Sunshine," the title itself showing the spirit in which it was composed; and then another work entitled "The Joy," containing music of a higher style.
In the spring of 1874, his friend Major D. W. Whittle, knowing his remarkable power to "sing the gospel," invited him to leave his musical institutes and singing schools, and devote himself entirely to evangelism. He accepted the invitation, and engaged heart and soul with him in the self-denying work, trusting, as Messrs. Moody and Sankey, in the Lord alone for his support. They held successful meetings in various cities as far south as Mobile, Ala., and as far north as Minneapolis, Minn., proving that in the union of music, prayer, and exhortation, there is strength. One of their notices will indicate their method in evangelization:—
"Week of prayer. Major Whittle will preach the gospel, and P. P. Bliss will sing the gospel, this Wednesday evening, Jan. 6, at Union Park Congregational Church, Ashland Avenue, opposite the Park. Seats free; all invited; further appointment. 'He hath appointed a day in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man [Jesus Christ] whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead' [Acts xvii. 31]. Friend, are you ready to meet his appointment? There can be no postponement."
In the summer of 1874 he wrote to a friend, "Major Whittle and I are holding protracted meetings. God is wonderfully using us in every way. Help us to praise him for it. I am preparing a book of 'Gospel Songs' for our special use, and would be right glad to have you send a list of hymns and tunes which have been most successful in your experience. And, above all, pray for the book. All the good in the book must come from God." This book was published the same year at Cincinnati, and contains as many as fifty-two of his own compositions, among which, "Jesus of Nazareth passeth by," "I am so glad that Jesus loves me," "Only an Armor-Bearer," "More to follow," "Let the Lower Lights be burning," "Almost persuaded," "Daniel's Band," "Pull for the Shore," "Hold the Fort," "Go bury thy Sorrow," "Meet me at the Fountain," and "Roll on, O Billow of Fire," have become famous; both in England and America. The music of these hymns is well adapted to the words, written in some instances by Mr. Bliss himself; and although it evinces not much of originality, consisting as it does of ideas and phrases long familiar to the ear, it still is sprightly, buoyant, as the soul of its composer, and reaches into the innermost chambers of the heart. It is national, and will doubtless live for many years to cheer the sorrowing, and to aid in the dissemination of the seeds of truth. No American music is known so well in Great Britain as that of Mr. Bliss.
Sources of His Hymns
Many of the hymns of Mr. Bliss are founded on some striking incident, and hence are true to life experience.
"Let the Lower Lights be burning," was suggested by a shipwreck thus graphically described by Mr. D. L. Moody: "On a dark, stormy night when the waves rolled like mountains, and not a star was to be seen, a boat, rocking and plunging, neared the Cleveland Harbor.
"'Are you sure this is Cleveland?' asked the captain, seeing only one light from the light-house.
"'Quite sure, sir,' replied the pilot.
"'Where are the lower lights?'
"'Gone out, sir.'
"'Can you make the harbor?'
"'We must, or perish, sir.'
"And with a strong hand and a brave heart the old pilot turned the wheel. But alas! in the darkness he missed the channel, and with a crash upon the rocks the boat was shivered, and many a life lost in a watery grave. Brethren, the Master will take care of the great light-house. Let us keep the lower lights burning."
The very beautiful song, "I am so glad that our Father in Heaven," was suggested to Mr. Bliss by the refrain, "Oh, how I love Jesus!"
"I have sung long enough," said he to himself one day, "my poor love for Christ, and now I will sing of his love for me." He then wrote in his very best style, his soul being filled with sacred emotion, the words and music of this favorite piece. The effect of this song in Scotland was electrical; and it still is sung by high and low, from Solway Frith to John O'Groat's.
The effective lyric, "Roll on, O Billow of Fire!" written and set to music by himself, and dedicated to Mr. D. L. Moody, is a graphic description of the burning of Chicago:—
"Hark, the alarm! the clang of the bells!
Signal of danger, it rises and swells;
Flashes like lightning illumine the sky;
See the red glare as the flames mount on high.
Roll on, roll on, O billow of fire!
Dash with thy fiery waves higher and higher:
Ours is a mansion abiding and sure,
Ours is a kingdom eternal, secure."
Both in the words and the music Mr. Bliss presents most vividly the picture of that dreadful conflagration, and then beautifully contrasts the insecurity of our earthly habitations with the permanence of our celestial home. Had he written only this spirited song, his memory would have been long cherished by the lovers of sacred melody.
The stirring song of the life-boat, commencing, "Light in the darkness, sailor: day is at hand," and of which Mr. Bliss wrote both the words and music, was suggested by the following graphic description of a shipwreck:—
"We watched the wreck with great anxiety. The life-boat had been out some hours, but could not reach the vessel through the great breakers that raged and foamed on the sand-bank. The boat appeared to be leaving the crew to perish; but in a few minutes the captain and sixteen sailors were taken off, and the vessel went down.
"'When the life-boat came to you, did you expect it had brought some tools to repair your old ship?' said I. —'Oh, no! she was a total wreck. Two of her masts were gone, and if we had staid mending her, only a few minutes, we must have gone down, sir.'—'When once off the old wreck, and safe in the life-boat, what remained for you to do?'—'Nothing, sir, but just to pull for the shore."'
Spiritualizing this incident, Mr. Bliss brought forth in a moment of musical and poetical inspiration, his effective song, which with its spirited chorus,—
"Pull for the shore, sailor, pull for the shore:
Heed not the rolling waves, but bend to the oar;
Safe in the life-boat, sailor, cling to self no more:
Leave the poor old stranded wreck, and pull for the shore,"—
now goes echoing round the world. Charles Dibdin wrote nine hundred songs, the most of them pertaining to the sea, but none with the Christian ring of this by Mr. Bliss. And sweet it was to hear, on a passage from Liverpool to New York, its cheering notes pealing the tongues of sailors over the deep.
The beautiful song "More to follow," of which he composed both the words and music, was founded on the following incident related by his friend D. L. Moody in one of his stirring addresses:—
"A vast fortune was left in the hands of a minister for one of his poor parishioners. Fearing that it might be squandered if suddenly bestowed upon him, the wise minister sent him a little at a time with a note saying, 'This is thine; use it wisely: there is more to follow.' Brethren, that's just the way the Lord deals with us."
The idea is beautifully spiritualized in the words of the song:—
"Have you on the Lord believed?
Still there's more to follow.
Of his grace have you received?
Still there's more to follow."
And the tune in sextuple time finely expresses the hope of the Christian for blessings yet to come.
The charming song, with its effective chorus,—
"Will you meet me at the fountain,
When I reach the glory-land?"—
was suggested to him by the common invitation at one of the Expositions.
How many souls the precious songs of Mr. Bliss, through Christ, have turned and will still turn away from sin; how many burdened hearts they have most sweetly comforted, and still will comfort,— never can be known till the grand harvest-home. It is one of the tenderest tokens of our heavenly Father's love, to send into this world such harbingers of the felicity of the land of song beyond the river. To cite the instances of the salutary effects of the delightful strains of Mr. Bliss would fill a volume. Such as these are every day occurring: A man had organized a Sunday school in Missouri. He sung to the little company one day the hopeful song of Mr. Bliss, "I am so glad that Jesus loves me," and then put the question, "Are you glad that Jesus loves you?"
A young man, rising instantly, came and threw his arms around the singer's neck, and sobbing said, "You must not go away till I am a Christian." Prayer was offered, when he exclaimed, "Oh that song! I could not get away from it, and it has saved me!"
What if his music does not meet the demands of art? It surely meets the wants of the overburdened and the sorrowful; it moves the hearts of the multitudes to a higher life; and this, I apprehend, is the grand design of song. Mr. Bliss had the genius to give the people what they wanted, what they needed; and so performed a glorious mission.
Mrs. Bliss wrote the hymns, "We are marching to Canaan with Banner and Song," and "I will love Jesus, and serve Him," under the assumed name of "Paulina;" she also composed the music for the latter, as well as the fine air for the "Rock of Ages."
In 1875 Mr. Bliss published, in conjunction with his friend Ira D. Sankey, "The Gospel Hymns and Sacred Songs," which were used in the revival work at Brooklyn, New York, and Philadelphia. An immense number of copies was sold; but the royalty thereon, amounting to about sixty thousand dollars, was by the compilers devoted to charitable purposes. On being urged by Mood to reserve at least five thousand dollars for himself and family, Mr. Bliss replied, "It must all go for the advancement of the work of the Lord." This book has been in part translated into the Chinese language; and some of the hymns, as, "Hold the Fort," are sung in several of the other nations. The beautiful hymn by Mrs. Bliss, "We're going Home To-morrow," for which her husband wrote the music, appears in this collection.
"The Gospel Hymns No. 2," compiled by Messrs. Bliss and Sankey, who fed, as it were, on angels' food while working over it, was just completed when Mr. Bliss and wife were called to leave their labors here for the great song-world above. It contains one hymn, "Hold fast till I come," by Mrs. Bliss; and the tune is the last one written by her husband.
Mr. Bliss was noted for his gentleness, humility, and fervent piety. His heart was a fountain of good-nature and of spiritual joy. He was wont to pray over his music, and seemed never so happy as when it was moving the souls of men to come to Jesus. His prayer in verse was,—
"More purity give me,—
More strength to o'ercome,
More freedom from earth-stains,
More longings for home."
To one writing to him in respect to "Waiting and Watching for me," for which he composed the music, he replied, "No, I don't seem to rest much in the hope of seeing a throng of heavenly ones waiting and watching for me. They might be in better business. Nor of hearing echoes of my songs there. I want something better. The best things about heaven, it seems to me, will be eternal freedom from sin, and the immediate presence of Jesus.
'There we shall see his face,
And never, never sin.'"
Mrs. Bliss was an estimable lady, well educated, and always ready to assist her husband in his studies and his Christian work. They were most happy in their union, as well as in their children, and their modest home which they appropriately called "The Cottage of Content."
"I think the last time I joined in song with them," says Mr. W. F. Sherwin in "The Christian Union," "we were under the grand old trees at Chautauqua. A sister of Mr. Bliss (a soprano), with Mr. and Mrs. Bliss and myself, made up the quartet. They were about leaving. We turned to his song, 'Meet me at the Fountain,' and Mr. Bliss sung with unusual sweetness the solo,—
'Will you meet me at the fountain,
When I reach the glory-land?'
And we together responded for the last time,—
'Yes, we'll meet you at the fountain.'
The emotions were too deep for utterance, while with uncovered heads we bowed at the rustic seat, and Mr. Bliss offered a fervent but peculiarly sweet and tender prayer, that, if we should not stand to sing again on the banks of the beautiful lake which shimmered in the sunlight before us, we might meet 'beyond the river, by and by.'" (Note: Chautauqua Lake is a fair expanse of water, eighteen miles long, and from one to three miles wide, in the south-west extremity of the State of New York. It is about seven hundred and thirty feet above Lake Erie, and is said to be the highest navigable sheet of water on this continent. The name signifies in tale Indian language, "a misty place," in allusion to the fogs by which, from its elevated situation, it is often covered. It is about five miles distant from Lake Erie.)
At one of the Sunday-school meetings held in Chautauqua, at which there was an audience of three thousand persons, he sung his beautiful heart-song,—
"Almost persuaded now to believe,
Almost persuaded Christ to receive,"—
with such effect that the profound silence which ensued was broken only by the sobbing which arose from various parts of the assembly.
At "The Sunday-school Parliament" held on Wellesley Island in the St. Lawrence River, in 1876, Mr. Bliss justly said respecting church music, "That which ought to have the greatest emphasis just now, in regard to sacred music, is the need of greater reverence. While a song is being sung, people will pass up a church aisle or a Sunday-school aisle, whisper to each other, move about the room, distribute or collect library-books, put on overcoats, or do a score of other things that one would never think of doing during any other kind of prayer. When we are offering praise or prayer to God in metre, as much as if we were doing it upon our knees, a reverence of manner and of spirit should accompany it. Another thing to be enforced in connection with singing is a greater thoughtfulness in regard to the meaning of what we sing. Are the words prayer, or praise? Let appropriate thought, as well as appropriate melody, accompany the words."
The following letter, showing the anxiety of Mr. Bliss for his unconverted friends, was written by him to a business man in Chicago whose death had been erroneously reported:—
KALAMAZOO, Mich., Nov. 7.
"Dear Friend, - About a year ago I wrote you a personal letter about good things, urging upon your attention what you must know is the most important business in the world,— eternal life. We have been praying for you ever since; and I believe that in your good-will toward me, you will not be offended if I venture one more letter from my heart. I admire your kindness of heart, and want to thank you for your favors to us. I love you as a brother; and, having no brother of my own, wish I could have you in everything to commune with.
"Isn't it business wisdom to lay up abiding riches in the other world, where we must so soon appear? Is it the fair and honest thing not to confess one's faith in Him who has done so much for us? Pardon me if disagreeable; but, dear brother, when I read of your death in the papers last spring, I wished I had done more to bring you to Christ, my blessed Master. Will you be a follower of Jesus?
"Do not feel obliged to answer this to me. I have prayed the Lord
to follow it with his Spirit, and lead you to answer it to him, as you will
be glad through all eternity.
"Your loving brother, P. P. B."
It had been arranged that on the departure of Messrs. Moody and Sankey, Major Whittle and Mr. Bliss should carry on the evangelism at the Tabernacle in Chicago but this was by a most terrible accident prevented. The last time Mr. Bliss sung at the Moody and Sankey meetings there, he said,—as it afterwards appeared almost prophetically,—"I don't know as I shall ever sing here again; but I want to sing this as the language of my heart,—
'I know not the hour my Lord will come,
To take me away to his own dear home;
But I know that his presence will lighten the gloom,
And that will be glory for me.'"
With Mrs. Bliss he went to Towanda, on the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania, to spend Christmas with his mother. On Thursday, the 28th of December, he with his wife bade their relatives and friends at Towanda and Rome farewell, and started for Chicago. The engine breaking caused them to take a later train, on board of which Mr. Bliss was observed to be engaged in composing, with the Bible and a pencil in hand, a piece of music. When the train with its two engines, on the evening of Friday the 29th, and in the midst of a terrible snowstorm, was crossing the Ashtabula bridge between Erie and Cleveland, the iron structure and the cars upon it fell with a horrid crash, some seventy feet or more, into the stream below.
The passengers were in an instant buried in the dreadful wreck, to perish by the concussion or the flames which in a few moments left but a mass of black and smoldering ruins in the stream. A few of the people escaped, but the bodies of the most of them were so consumed that it was not possible to identify the remains. It is said that Mr. Bliss rose from the ruins, but returning to extricate his wife shared her untimely fate. The news of the death of these beloved singers brought sincere grief to every Christian heart.
The following telegram was sent from Philadelphia:—
"Philadelphia, Jan. 1.
"MOODY AND SANKEY,—The brethren of the East send tenderest sympathies in overwhelming bereavement of our beloved brethren. Bliss and wife. 'Only remembered by what I have done.' Sudden death, sudden glory.
"STUART, WANNAMAKER, AND NEEDHAM.'
The next day Mr. Moody received this sad intelligence from Mr. H. W. Stager of Cleveland:—
"ASHTABULA, Jan. 2.
"The last hope is gone of finding any thing of our dear friends Bliss and wife. Every thing has been done that human power can do. There is no other conclusion to be reached, but that all in that car were entirely consumed. I have found nothing but a hand and a few fragments of bodies to-day, but quite a number of articles of wearing-apparel, both male and female, quite a number of which have been identified by friends, but none by Major Whittle as belonging to Mr. Bliss or wife.
"To-morrow will probably end one of the saddest tasks it has been my lot to perform, or to be imagined."
The following tender letter of condolence, expressing the deep sympathy of Christians in Chicago, was forwarded to the widowed mother of Mr. Bliss:—
CHICAGO, Jan. 3.
We feel painfully how inadequate the most loving of human words are to lift or lighten the burden of such a grief. We do not seek to do this: rather we commend you afresh, as we have done already in our homes, our prayer gatherings, our sabbath services, to Him who is a refuge from the storm, a covert from the tempest, and whose divine pledge is that none of them that trust in Him shall be desolate. But we have thought that among the tributes to this beloved son's character and work upon which your thought will love to linger, it would be pleasant to you to have a word of testimony as to how dear he had become to us. We feel this affliction to be peculiarly personal to us and to those whom we represent. The songs of this dear brother are in many of our churches, our Sunday schools, our homes: and they are there as among the most precious helps the Lord has given to our Christian life and service. They have given peculiar and blessed inspiration to our gatherings for prayer; for they have rung in our ears so tenderly the call of duty, have urged us so tenderly to reconsecration, have put in our lips petitions so earnest for God's aid, have held up before us so attractively the satisfactions to be realized, the joys, the glory to be won, that doubts and gloom have been often banished, sloth broken up, the things of faith more clearly apprehended and rejoiced in, the life of faith, and prayer, and toil for Christ more zealously taken up, more faithfully carried on.
They have had like ministry in our sabbath schools; no songs have more quickly reached and more powerfully moved the children. Hundreds and even thousands have been won by them not only to sing for Jesus, but to accept the call of Him of Nazareth, and can say to-day from the heart, as they do with their lips,—
"Hallelujah, 'tis done!
I am saved by the blood of the crucified One." And in our family circles these sweet songs have been a perpetual joy. Times without number they have comforted the bereaved, cheered the discouraged, strengthened the weak, brightened as with the light of heaven the faces of the dying.
Dear madam, as we recall these things we cannot but lift up thanksgiving in the midst of our tears for God's gift of this servant to his Church in the latter days; and we feel that God has greatly honored, you, as he honored the mother of Samuel and the mother of David, in giving you such a treasure, and through your prayers and Christian nurture preparing him for such a glorious ministry of winning souls. We rejoice also for the work which he is yet to do. Although he rests from his labors, through all the ages to come his works will follow him. Already these gospel songs are sung round the world; yet their mission is only begun. As the years roll on, like the handful of seed dropped in the furrow they shall yield increasing harvest, till from all lands and kindreds and tongues there shall come up a mighty throng to cast their crowns at the feet of that dear Lord whose dying love it was our dear brother's highest joy to magnify.
We do not forget how lonely the way will be unto which you are called by this Providence. But though this beloved son's arm, upon which you hoped to lean in these declining years, has been struck down, a stronger arm, a surer support, still remains; and in the kingdom of the Shepherd of Israel your feet will not stumble. Though the face you had so loved to look upon is withdrawn, the face of One altogether lovely will shine ever in its place. Though the voice so full of music to your ears is hushed, the voice that spake as never man spoke, and to hear which all heaven would keep glad silence, will speak unceasingly to your heart. And evermore before you and the dear children so bereft will be the vision of the beloved gone before, and of the welcome that awaits your coming at the gate of the city.
As we speak these words there comes to us one of the songs, that, like the precious Scripture lyric of which it was born, has been blessed of God to many a weary pilgrim. May its cheering, hopeful words minister strength to you as to those who listened to it from the lips now sealed to human ears!—
"Through the valley of the shadow I must go,
Now the rolling of the billows call hear,
We wish also to express through you our most sincere and prayerful sympathy with the parents of our beloved sister, Mrs. Bliss. Some of us have known how peculiarly identified with her husband she was in all his work for Christ. And no testimony could be more beautiful than that which he so often bore to the cheerfulness with which she accepted the separations from home which his evangelistic life necessitated, and the loving encouragement and aid, alike by counsel, pen, and voice, which it was her delight to render. Lovely and pleasant in their lives, in their death they were not divided. And through all future years, while their memories will be alike cherished, their labors will be alike fruitful.
And now, dear madam, we commend you all, and especially these dear children, to the tender care, the unfailing guardianship, of Him whose mercies never fail. May the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord. And through Him who is the resurrection and the life, may we all be gathered with those, beloved in the home where "God shall wipe away all tears from our eyes, and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away."
In the bonds and consolations of the gospel we are affectionately
On the sabbath following the disaster, memorial services were held at Chicago in the Tabernacle, which was crowded to its utmost capacity. They consisted mainly of the singing of the hymns of the deceased, interspersed with brief remarks and prayers.
Mr. Moody said, "The hymns of Mr. Bliss are such as he was himself, full of life and cheer. In all the years I have known and worked with him, I have never once seen him cast down: here is a hymn of his I think we may sing. It begins, 'Brightly beams our Father's mercy.' Yet still more brightly beams the light along the shore to which he has passed. My heart goes out for his mother. He was an only son, and his mother is a widow. Let us just put up a prayer for this mother. And there was dear Mrs. Bliss, who was not one inch behind her husband. She taught him how to pray, and encouraged him with his music. I have often heard him say, 'All I am I owe to that dear wife.' It was in the midst of a terrible storm that he passed away; but the lights which he kindled are burning all along the shore. He has died young; but his hymns are sung round the world."
The Rev. Dr. Goodwin said, "The other day I received a visit from a missionary in South Africa. He said he was going out, some time ago, to establish a new mission; and, taking refuge in a Zulu hut, the first thing he heard was 'Hold the Fort,' sung in the Zulu language."
Meetings were held in many other cities, commemorative of the death and characters of Mr. and Mrs. Bliss. Dr. Goodwin (of whose church Mr. Bliss was a member) preached a funeral sermon at Rome; and in Boston, Jan. 7, a meeting in memoriam was held in the hall of the Young Men's Christian Association, which was overcrowded. Dr. Eben Tourjée led the music, which was confined to the singing of the hymns of Mr. and Mrs. Bliss. Remarks were made by the Rev. M. R. Deming on the power of the gospel songs which they had composed, and on the loss to the church by the death of these gifted singers. "The Tribune" as kindly as beautifully paid this tribute to Mr. Bliss:—
"He has been Mr. Moody's right arm; for Mr. Sankey has chiefly sung the songs which the dead singer composed and used to sing. He is dead, but he lives again; lives in the Sunday school, in the church, in the revival, in the foreign missions, in the heart of every man and woman striving for something higher and better, wherever men preach Christ, and sinners seek repentance.
"It takes much from the sadness of the singer's awful death, that his life was so rounded and complete. His work had been so well done that death could not surprise him, and find him with his mission unaccomplished. He had made his mark, and the mark will remain. His life has stopped, but his work goes on in every church and in every home all over the world; and years from now, when even his name may be lost, his songs will still continue to inspire faltering men and women with courage, to bring consolation into the house of mourning, to arouse faith in the human heart. For such a life, so perfect, so successful, so far-reaching in its influences, spent in the most beneficent of labor, and lost at the post of duty, there should be no tears. Other voices will take up his strains, and the work will go on without stop. Their simple beauty is not marred, nor is their wonderful influence upon the popular heart lessened by his death. Noble and impressive in his physique, affable and genial in his conduct with every one, earnest and untiring in his work, he will long be missed as a leader in the evangelical movement which is now stirring the popular heart; but he has left his impress upon the world, with results more lasting than the work achieved by heroes of the battle-field or masters of state-craft. His harp is forever silent, his voice forever hushed; but the songs which he sung can never die. Their melody, like the brook, goes on forever."
He left two children, George G. and Paul P.; the one about two, and the other about four years old. For them Mr. Moody raised at once by subscription the sum of ten thousand dollars, and also a liberal sum for the mother of Mr. Bliss. The father of Mrs. P. P. Bliss is still living, at Rome, Penn.
In his personal appearance Mr. Bliss was remarkably prepossessing; in his manners, affable, obliging, and polite. "He was tall and well developed in his physical frame," says one who knew him intimately, "with clustering black hair and a handsome face; possessing easy and polished manners and a very joyous temperament, together with a wealth of sympathy." His songs and poetry breathe the spirit of his own bright and joyous disposition, the movement of the music being lively, and the minor key but seldom introduced.
"I am so glad that Jesus loves me,"—
with its light sextuple measure, well represents his genial and loving nature. It could have come only from a heart aglow with life and joy in the Redeemer.
Mrs. Bliss, who died at the age of thirty-five years, was a fitting companion of such a noble man. With fine natural abilities improved by culture, with an affluence of good-nature, a lively imagination, and a spirit sanctified by religion, she made his home and public life happy; dividing his sorrow and doubling his joy. In life they were as one, in death they were not divided. The pictures which the artist has here given of them, says Mr. Sankey in a letter lying before me, "are very good, especially the one of Mrs. Bliss." The scene of the dreadful accident by which they lost their lives is vividly presented at the bottom of the portraits. A penny contribution has been taken up in the sabbath schools for the erection of a monument in honor of the lamented singers. But their noblest and most enduring monument is the beautiful Christian hymns and tunes they have composed. These will still ring on, comforting and consoling many, and embalming the names of the authors in the hearts of millions of the heirs of glory.
In his own sweet words we may say that these two loved ones, whose rich music fills so many souls with gladness, are now singing sweeter songs,—
"Safe in a land immortal,
Safe in a country rare,
Safe in a heavenly portal,
Safe in a mansion fair;
Safe with the joys supernal,
Safe with the blest to bow,
Safe with the Love eternal,
Safe with the Master now."
From The Lives of the Eminent American Evangelists Dwight Lyman Moody and Ira David Sankey... by Elias Nason. Boston: B. B. Russell, 1877.
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