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Marsh, J. B. T. The Story of the Jubilee Singers; With Their Songs . Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Co, 1880. [format: book], [genre: history; travelogue]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
THE Singers had spent over three months in London, and arrangements were now made for a tour in Scotland, with a visit to a few of the larger cities on the way.
Hull, the birthplace of Wilberforce, was reached, by a pleasant coincidence, on the first of August, the anniversary of emancipation in the British colonies. Here it was decided to try the plan adopted at Dr. Allon's chapel in Islington, and find how it would work in the provinces. Fifteen hundred invitations to a concert in the Hope Street Chapel were sent out to those most likely to be interested. The collection, which seemed a very large one to the friends who had charge of the arrangements, amounted to about £52. When it was explained that not less than £100 ought to be realized from each evening's work, if the mission to Great Britain was to be a success, some of the good friends insisted on another trial, with an admission fee. When the time came, Hengler's Cirque, in spite of a rainy evening, and to the delight of all was crowded and the receipts were £140.
Sitting by his window at the hotel in Hull on Sunday evening, and noting the tide of people flowing
idly by, Mr. White proposed an extempore religious service for their benefit. Taking the base of the King William monument as a platform, Mr. Pike preached and the Singers sang of the love of Christ to a crowd that filled the street farther than the voice of either speaker or singer could be heard. Tears trickled down the cheeks of many to whom the sound of prayer or religious song was apparently almost unknown.
In Scarborough, a free concert yielded a collection of about £90, and on Sunday the Singers sang, in a heavy rain, to a Sunday-school gathering of four thousand people on the green. At Newcastle, Rev. H. T. Robjohns had so thoroughly worked up the public interest that every seat was sold before it was time for the concert to commence. At Sunderland, Moody and Sankey had been holding meetings not long before, at the beginning of what afterwards became such a famous work, and the special interest thus awakened in religious song prepared the way for the Singers. J. Candlish, Esq., M. P. presided, the ministers of the different denominations were advertised as patrons, and the large Victoria Hall was filled before many who wished to attend could obtain admission.
Lord Shaftesbury, with characteristic kindness and foresight, had given the Singers a cordial letter of introduction to his friend, John Burns, Esq., of the Cunard Steamship Line at Glasgow. Mr. Burns's sympathies were at once awakened, and he arranged for a garden party at Castle Wemyss, his residence on Wemyss Bay. Invitations were sent out to four hundred persons of prominence and
influence in the west of Scotland; and Lord Shaftesbury, who was also present, made a very effective appeal for their cooperation in promoting the mission of the Singers.
To crown these helpful efforts to forward their work in Scotland, his lordship placed in Mr. Pike's hands, before their departure from Castle Wemyss, letters of introduction to the Lord Provost of Glasgow and the Lord Provost of Edinburgh. Their contents were at that time unknown. Least of all was it suspected that they contained a proposal that the authorities of Glasgow and Edinburgh should vote a welcome to the Singers, and bring them before the public under the auspices of the "Lord Provost, the magistrates, and the Town Council" of these two leading cities! Reports of this gathering at Castle Wemyss had prominent place in the daily papers, kindling a general desire to hear the Singers.
A series of successful concerts followed. At Largs the pastor of the Established (Presbyterian) Church set a desirable precedent by opening his church for a concert with an admission fee. The city authorities at Greenock gave the Singers the use of the town hall, which holds two thousand people. It was densely crowded on two evenings with audiences as sympathetic and enthusiastic as could be desired.
As this was the season when many of the people of the larger towns in Scotland were at the summer resorts, it was decided to pay a short visit to Ireland. Letters from Mr. Burns and the endorsement of the Hon. George H. Stuart, who is held in high regard
in that country of his birth, prepared the people to welcome them. Dr. Henry, President of Queen's College, presided at the first concert in Ulster Hall, Belfast, and Rev. William Johnson, the Moderator of the General Assembly, aided heartily in the subsequent work there. At Londonderry their welcome accorded with the historic fame of that old, liberty-loving town, so foremost in Protestant zeal and good works.
Returning to Scotland, they were met with the announcement that the authorities of Glasgow had acted upon Lord Shaftesbury's suggestion, and voted to invite them to give a concert at the city hall under their official patronage. Looking backward to the bondage and ostracism that was still so fresh in their memory, such a thing, in that great city of five hundred thousand people, seemed almost incredible. The city hall was full. The Lord Provost presided, and beside him on the platform sat the magistrates and leading clergymen of the city. The Singers were eager to do their best, and the Lord Provost in his closing remarks declared that he "never attended a more delightful meeting."
Their reception at Edinburgh was equally hearty and inspiring. The authorities gave them a vote of welcome. The Lord Provost presided at their first concert, and afterwards gave a dinner-party in their honor at his own residence. At Paisley a most helpful friend was found in Sir Peter Coats, whose name as a thread manufacturer is a household word throughout the world, but whose highest praise where he is personally known is his Christian philanthropy. He entertained the Singers at his country-house on
the banks of the "bonny Doon," piloted them in visits to the many places of historic and poetic interest in that vicinity, attended personally to the preliminary arrangements for, and presided at their concert. At Kilmarnock, Ayr, Aberdeen, Perth, Dundee, and other cities, concerts were given that were a series of triumphs. Many presents were made in money and books for the University, and the people everywhere vied with each other in showing a most gracious hospitality.
From the first, the Jubilee music was more or less of a puzzle to the critics; and even among those who sympathized with their mission, there was no little difference of opinion as to the artistic merit of their entertainments. Some could not understand the reason for enjoying so thoroughly, as almost every one did, these simple, unpretending songs. This criticism led to the publication, by Mr. Colin Brown, Ewing Lecturer on Music in the Andersonian University, Glasgow, of a series of articles, analyzing this style of music, in which he said; "The highest triumph of art is to be natural. The singing of these strangers is so natural that it does not at once strike us how much of true art is in it, and how careful and discriminating has been the training bestowed upon them by their accomplished instructor and leader, who, though retiring from public notice, deserves great praise. Like the Swedish melodies of Jenny Lind, it gives a new musical idea. It has been well remarked that in some respects it disarms criticism, in others it may be truly said that it almost defies it. It was beautifully described by a simple Highland girl, ‘It filled my whole heart!’ The richness
and purity of tone, both in melody and harmony, the contrast of light and shade, the varieties of gentleness and grandeur in expression, and the exquisite refinement of the piano, as contrasted with the power of the forte, fill us with delight, and at the same time make us feel how strange it is that these unpretending singers should come over here to teach us what is the true refinement of music, make us feel its moral and religious power."
The labors of the Singers in connection with the meetings of Messrs. Moody and Sankey were one of the most memorable features of this visit to the North. They first met the evangelists at Newcastle-on-Tyne, and for some days lent daily assistance in the great work. Their songs were found to be especially adapted to promote the revival. One incident in connection with one of the noonday prayer meetings, of which Mr. Moody often spoke afterwards, cannot be better told than in the words of Rev. Mr. Robjohns: "The Jubilee Singers had been specially prayed for. A moment's pause, and there went up in sweet, low notes a chorus as of angels. None could tell where the Singers were, on the floor, in the gallery, or in the air. The crowd was close, and the Singers wherever they were were sitting. Every one was thrilled, for this was the song they sang,
To carry the tidings home.’
The notes are before us as we write, simple enough, the words, too; but one should hear the Jubilees sing them. It was like a snatch of angelic song heard from the upper air as a band of celestials
passed swiftly on an errand of mercy." And he adds: "Nor are these all our obligations to our beloved friends. They have gone in and out the churches, Sunday-schools, and mission-rooms, singing for Jesus. Such services to souls and Christ have opened wide the people's hearts, and the Jubilees have just walked straight in, to be there enshrined for evermore."
In the great work at Edinburgh, also, the Singers rendered special assistance, sometimes taking part in as many as six meetings a day, prayer meetings, inquiry meetings, Bible readings, preaching services, etc. On one Sunday evening, Mr. Moody preached and they sang to an audience of between six and seven thousand working-people, gathered by special cards of invitation in the Corn Exchange, which was followed by an inquiry meeting at which some seven hundred asked for prayer.
After the engagements of the Singers took them away from Mr. Moody, missionary and revival meetings were frequently held on Sundays; and at them and at Sunday-school gatherings Mr. Dickerson and Mr. Rutling as well as Mr. White and Mr. Pike often made addresses.
January brought a very whirl of work and a harvest of money, in connection with the campaign through the midland counties. Wherever the Singers went they met crowded houses at their concerts. Many subscriptions were made to furnish rooms, at a cost of £10 each, in Jubilee Hall. Mr. Frederick Priestman, though carrying the cares of an extensive business of his own, interested himself in perfecting arrangements for a private concert at Bradford,
which was so well worked up that it yielded £150, Sir Titus Salt, who was unable to be present, sending £25. Under the patronage of Rev. Eustace Conder and Edward Baines, Esq., M. P., the first concert at Leeds, in a pecuniary point of view, was the most successful one so far that had been given in the kingdom. At Halifax, John Crossley, Esq., M. P., the great carpet manufacturer, pledged a supply of carpets for Jubilee Hall. One of the results of a second visit to Hull was the presentation, for the library of the University, of a fine oil portrait of Wilberforce, purchased through a subscription by the citizens, a memento of the Jubilee work that will always be held in high regard. The Hon. John Bright was absent from home when the Singers visited Rochdale, but his family subscribed £10 to furnish a room to bear his name; and afterwards he wrote a letter commending their mission as "one deserving of all support," which went the rounds of the papers and was of much help to them. At Bolton, J. P. Barlow, Esq., gave £50 for five rooms, one of them to be named after President Charles G. Finney, of Oberlin College, in remembrance of his evangelistic labors during a great revival in that town years before.
At Manchester they were fortunate in enlisting the services of Mr. Richard Johnson, the apostle of ragged schools. No town was ever before more thoroughly plowed with advertising and sown with information, and such work never yielded a better harvest. The proceeds of the four concerts in the Free-Trade Large Hall amounted to over £1,200. This sum was further swollen by the sale of the books
giving the history of their first American campaign, the profit on these sales in one evening being £40. Three concerts followed in the Philharmonic Hall at Liverpool, with large receipts, the first one yielding £325. The total receipts of the month of January amounted to £3,800, or about $19,000!
But this success was achieved at the cost of an appalling amount of work. Requests for concerts flowed in from all parts of the kingdom. It was impossible to comply with half of them, and the investigation involved in deciding where to go was an exhausting strain on time and strength. A vast amount of correspondence was unavoidable in replying to invitations to breakfasts, dinners, and teas, and in answering the many requests that came for concerts for the benefit of schools, churches, asylums, and charities of every sort. Much thought had to be given to the preparation of newspaper notices and other advertising, and much time had to be spent in enlisting the interest and assistance of those whose patronage would be valuable. Adding to all this the incessant demands in meeting the thousand details of concert management and hotel arrangements, and the watchful guidance of the Singers in this new life to which they were so unused, it is no wonder that one after another of the working force broke down under the load.
Miss Gilbert, whose labors had been as incessant as they were invaluable, was taken very ill, and obliged to give up all work. Mr. Pike, who had been doing the work of two men, succumbed next to serious nervous prostration, and had scarcely settled down for the rest that was imperatively necessary,
when his only assistant gave way under the load that he was carrying, and was forbidden by his medical adviser to give any further attention whatever to business.
Mr. White was thus left alone. His lungs were weak, and the heavy fogs and the night-work were telling seriously upon them. And at this juncture came word that his wife, whose health had not been good, and who, with her children, was in lodgings in Glasgow, was ill. Yet as the gross income of the concerts at that time was averaging $1,000 a night, and it seemed to be so manifestly "now or never" with their mission, he felt that it was his duty to keep on, at whatever sacrifice of personal feelings or strength, with the work. But a few days after he received intelligence that impressed him with the conviction that his wife, who had been taken with typhoid fever, was more seriously ill than he supposed. Hurrying to her bedside, he reached it less than two days before she died. She had been a valued teacher with him at Fisk before their marriage; and her death, which would have been a terrible blow at any time, in these peculiar circumstances of his health and work was unspeakably trying. A loss of sleep and appetite followed which so reduced his strength that he was finally obliged to give up work. And in the midst of this prostration he was attacked with hemorrhage of the lungs, and for some time seemed to be lying at the very gates of death.
These facts becoming known to friends interested in the work, offers of assistance were numerous, and by relying largely on volunteer help, the Singers were able to go on and fill all their appointments.
At Sheffield, Derby, Wolverhampton, Norwich, Ipswich, Cambridge, Leicester, Nottingham, Birmingham, and other cities, the experiences of January were repeated in crowded audiences, generous contributions, and the good cheer of true English hospitality.
There was a large harvest still ungathered when the time drew near that had been fixed for their return to America. But circumstances were such, especially the health of those who had the charge of the work, that a longer stay than was originally proposed was impracticable.
A trip to the south of Wales, with concerts at Newport, Cardiff, Merthyr Tydvil, and Swansea, was followed by successful visits to Bristol, Southampton, Bath, Brighton, and a few other cities. Mr. Spurgeon, not forgetful of his farewell words when they left London, not only opened his Tabernacle to them for a second concert, but made one of his happiest addresses in connection with the present of a full set of his works for the library. The house was densely crowded, and the receipts exceeded even those of the first concert in the same place.
The closing concert was given in Exeter Hall, and yielded a larger sum than any other of the whole campaign in Great Britain. That steadfast friend, the Earl of Shaftesbury, presided. Dr. Allon, whose counsels had been of great value to them from the beginning, gave the audience some account of the winter's work. Nearly £10,000 had been raised for the Jubilee Hall, aside from special gifts for the purchase of philosophical apparatus, and donations in money for the library, and of books from Mr.
Gladstone, Mr. Motley, Dean Stanley, Mr. Spurgeon, Mr. Thomas Nelson, and many other friends.
Lord Shaftesbury, in his parting address, spoke with much feeling of the pleasure their visit had given the English people, and of the affection and respect in which they would always hold the Jubilee Singers. The Doxology was sung by the entire assembly, and his Lordship, amid the cheers of the audience, and in their behalf, bade them good-by, shaking hands with each of the Singers as they left the platform.
To the Singers personally, aside from the financial success that had attended their work, the visit had been one of almost unalloyed satisfaction. They had been everywhere the object of hospitable attentions that, if they had any fault, were sometimes so urgent and abounding as to be wearisome, after the strain which their work made upon their energies. Few of them had suffered from sickness, and the shorter distances to be traveled and the warmer temperature in winter, had made concert-work easier than in America. In no way were they ever offensively reminded, through look or word unless by some rude American who was lugging his caste conceit through a European tour, or by a vagrant Englishman who had lived long enough in America to "catch" its color prejudices that they were black.
The Singers reached Nashville in time to attend the Commencement exercises. The trustees passed resolutions testifying to the interest and sympathy with which they had followed their career, to their
industry and devotion in their work, and to the high honor they had achieved for themselves and their people, adding: "No one can estimate the vast amount of prejudice against the race which has perished under the spell of their marvelous music. Wherever they have gone they have proclaimed to the hearts of men in a most effective way, and with unanswerable logic, the brotherhood of the race."
Marsh, J. B. T. The Story of the Jubilee Singers; With Their Songs . Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Co, 1880. [format: book], [genre: history; travelogue]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=Jubilee.html