New York Architecture Images-Gramercy Park
Methodist Book Concern
|150 Fifth Ave.|
History of the Methodists
In 1729 in
England, a small group of Oxford University students were ridiculed as
"Bible Bigots, " the "Holy Club" and "Methodists" because they spent so
much time in methodical prayer and Bible reading. Led by John and
Charles Wesley, the students held their ground against jeering students
and went out to preach and pray with those considered to be the
underbelly of English society.
Historical sketch of the Concern.
As is there stated, at a very early period of his ministry, Mr. Wesley established a printing office, and in 1778 commenced the publication of the Arminian Magazine, in which he vindicated the doctrines taught by that distinguished divine, James Arminius, so far as they coincided with what he believed the truth as revealed in the Holy Scriptures, and likewise the doctrine and usages promulgated and adopted by himself and his brother, Charles Wesley. This publication, together with a variety of tracts and volumes on religious, philosophical, and scientific subjects, have done immense good to the community in Great Britain and other parts of the world; and the Wesleyan connection in England has produced some of the first writers of the age, such as Clarke, Benson, Watson, and many others of less note, but equally indefatigable in spreading light and truth by means of the press. The Magazine, filled with a vast variety of the most useful knowledge, has been continued, gradually enlarging its dimensions, and c hanging ifs name to the Wesleyan Methodist Magazine, to the present time, making in all no less than sixty-three volumes, of from six hundred to upward of nine hundred pages each.
In the early days of Methodism in this country, our people were furnished with books from England, and they were distributed among them by the itinerant preachers, the cost of the first purchase being transmitted to Mr. Wesley to assist in keeping up a constant supply. This method, however, of obtaining the needful books became very troublesome and expensive, and measures were adopted by Dr. Coke, on his arrival in America, to remedy the evil by procuring the republication of such small tracts and sermons, together with a hymn-book, as the growing wants of the people seemed to demand.
The first account I find in the Minutes of the conferences of a book steward is in the year 1789, and John Dickens, then stationed in Philadelphia, where the Book Concern was begun, was the first editor and agent. It appears that when the business was commenced, being but small, and requiring but a portion of the time of the agent for that particular work, he was at the same time the stationed preacher in the city of Philadelphia, there then being but one in the city.
By referring to the books of the agency; the first entry in the handwriting of John Dickens is under date of August 17, 1789, and it appears that the first book which printed was Mr. Wesley’s edition of “A Kempis,” a little devotional work, written by a Roman Catholic, breathing the true spirit of piety, and containing the most pure and exalted sentiments of Christianity. In the same year was issued the first volume of the Arminian Magazine, being chiefly a reprint of pieces which had appeared in its prototype in England, but containing also some accounts of the work of God in America, and other miscellaneous matters of an edifying character. The Methodist Discipline, Saints’ Everlasting Rest, a hymn-book and Mr. Wesley’s Primitive Physic, were all published in the same year.
This was a small beginning, but it was quite equal to the means then at command; for it appears that there were no funds in hand to begin with, except a small amount, about six hundred dollars, which John Dickens lent to the Concern to enable it to begin its benevolent operations.
In 1790, some portions of Fletcher’s Checks, much needed at die time, and the second volume of the Arminian Magazine, made their appearance. In this small way the number of books was gradually increased tinder the skillful management of John Dickens, a man of inestimable worth as a Christian minister, and of great prudence, industry, and fidelity in this particular work. To assist him in his labor, and to guard, as far as possible, the purity of the press, a book committee was appointed in 1797, to whom all works were to be submitted before they were published, except such as were ordered by the General Conference; and the first committee consisted of Ezekiel Cooper, Thomas Ware, John McClasky, Christopher Spry, William McLennan, Charles Cavender, Richard Swain,. and Solomon Sharp. From that day to this a book committee, with similar powers, has been appointed from year to year, tinder the direction of the General Conference, which reports the state of the Concern every year to the annual conference in the bounds of which the Concern is located, and every four years to the General Conference.
John Dickens continued in the superintendence of the book business until 1798, when he died in peace and triumph, of the malignant fever which then raged with terrible destruction in the city of Philadelphia. His death was feelingly lamented by all who knew him, for he was a minister of Jesus Christ, of great power and usefulness, much beloved and respected by all who knew him, and had been very successful in printing and circulating books of the most useful character.
In 1799, Ezekiel Cooper, who still lives, was appointed editor and general book steward. The Concern is greatly indebted to his skillful management for its increasing usefulness, as at the end of his term, in 1808, its capital stock had increased, from almost nothing in the beginning, to about forty-five thousand dollars. In 1804, the Concern was removed from Philadelphia to the city of New York, where Ezekiel Cooper continued its superintendence until 1808, being assisted by John Wilson for the last four years. At the General Conference of 1808 Mr. Cooper resigned his office, the conference giving him a vote of thanks for the faithful and successful manner in which he had discharged his duty, and was succeeded by John Wilson as principal, and Daniel Hitt as an assistant editor and book steward. At this General Conference, on the recommendation of Mr. Cooper, the term of service in the agency was limited to eight years, a regulation which was afterward found to be attended with many inconveniences, so much so that in 1836 the rule was abrogated.
Up to this time the agents received a station, the same as the other preachers, and were held responsible for the double duties of agents of the Book Concern and of stationed ministers, though they were relieved from much of their pastoral labors by their colleagues in the ministry. In 1808 they were entirely released from pastoral labors, only so far as they might be able to preach on Sabbaths, and occasionally on other days, that their time and attention might be more exclusively devoted to the interests of the Concern, in editing and publishing books; — a wise regulation, as has been tested by many years of experience.
On the 28th of January, 1810, John Wilson, who had been long afflicted with an obstinate asthma, died suddenly of that inveterate disease, in the full assurance of faith. He was indeed a most estimable man, a faithful minister, a skillful and diligent book agent, and was greatly beloved and sincerely respected by his brethren and friends. From the time of his lamented death until the General Conference of 1812, the business was carried on by Daniel Hitt alone, but by no means in so prosperous a way as it had been conducted heretofore. In 1812, however, he was elected the principal, and Thomas Ware the assistant editor and book steward; and the General Conference ordered the resumption of the Magazine in monthly numbers; but neither this order was obeyed, nor were the hopes of the friends of the establishment at all realized by the increasing prosperity of the Concern from 1812 to 1816. This fault, however, is not attributable to the want of good intentions or fidelity in the agents, but chiefly, I believe, for the lack of skill and harmony in its general management.
In 1816, Joshua Soule and Thomas Mason entered upon the duties of this agency. They found the Concern much embarrassed with debt, with but scanty means to liquidate it, the number and variety of publications small, and the general aspect of things was quite discouraging. They, however, applied themselves to their work with prudence and diligence, and succeeded in keeping it from sinking under its own weight, and of infusing new energy into some of its departments, by increasing the variety of its publications, and lessening the amount of its debts.
In 1818, the order for resuming the publication of the Magazine, which had been made again by the General Conference of 1816, was carried into effect, agreeably to the desire, and to the joy of thousands. Indeed, the appearance of this periodical, filled as it was with useful matter, was generally hailed with delight by the members of our Church, as the harbinger of brighter days, especially in regard to the revival of literature and sound knowledge among us as a people though it must be confessed that there were some then, who would even sneer at this most laudable attempt to diffuse useful knowledge and Scriptural piety, by means of the press. I could relate many anecdotes in confirmation of this statement, as dishonorable to their authors as they were mortifying to the more enlightened friends of the Church. But, as the day is passed, let these “times of ignorance” be “winked at” and forgotten, from the joy that a more bright and vigorous state of things has so happily succeeded.
In 1820, Nathan Hang’s succeeded Joshua Soule, and Thomas Mason was re-elected an assistant. He found the Concern still laboring under a heavy debt, and was often much embarrassed to meet the demands upon its resources. After looking at things as attentively and impartially as possible, he said to his colleague, “We must increase our debt, with a view to add to the number and variety of our publications, or we never shall succeed in answering public expectation, or of putting the Concern in a prosperous condition.” They went to work accordingly, and commenced with Benson’s Commentary, Clarke’s Wesley Family, Lady Maxwell, and other works of smaller dimensions; and they likewise introduced into our catalogue, philosophical, historical, philological, and scientific works, by exchanging, and by taking parts of editions as publishers conjointly with other publishers; and with a view to rid the Concern of many old and unsaleable books on hand, the prices were lowered, by which means many books that had lain useless upon our shelves were put in circulation. Still, for the want of more experience, many blunders were committed, which were afterward either corrected or avoided. And though by these appliances the debt was augmented, resources to meet the pecuniary demands were created, and by maintaining our credit, we could always obtain money when it was needed.
In 1823 the Youth’s Instructor, a monthly periodical designed for the special benefit of youth, was commenced, and for some years it had a very extensive circulation, and I believe did much to increase the taste for reading, and to raise the tone of an enlightened piety.
Very soon after the General Conference of 1820 measures were adopted, in conformity to its order, for the publication of a revised edition of the hymn-book, and also of a tune-book, containing tunes suited to the great variety of metres in which our most excellent hymns were composed. Hitherto, for the want, of such tunes, many of these hymns, the poetry and spirituality of which are of unrivaled energy and beauty, were left unsung by most of our congregations, and therefore stood useless in the hymn-book.
Nor was the hymn-book before in use much less defective. Some of the hymns had been marred in unskillful hands by alterations and mutilations, while others, which had edified thousands in Europe by their strong, deep, and spiritual sentiments and highly poetical character, had never been introduced into our worshipping assemblies. These defects were now in a great measure supplied by the publication of these editions of the hymn and tune books; and since then the art of singing, that most useful and animating part of divine worship, has been gradually improving among the members and friends of our Church.
Up to this time all our printing and binding had been done by the job, on such terms as could be agreed upon with the different printers and binders who did the work. In the year 1821 we were strongly urged to establish a bindery and printing office. After considering the subject for some time, it was finally concluded to make an experiment first with a bindery, and if this succeeded according to expectations, a printing office could be established at a future time. Accordingly the basement story of the Wesleyan Seminary in Crosby Street was rented, a competent binder employed, and the bindery went into operation in 1822.
At the General Conference of 1824, the constitutional term of Thomas Meson having expired, John Emory was elected as an assistant to Nathan Bangs. Soon after, having tested the beneficial consequences of having a bindery under our own control, the principal, who had great confidence in the intelligence of his assistant, proposed the establishment of a printing office; and after maturely considering the subject, committing with the book committee and others, it was finally concluded to make the experiment; and in the month of September, 1824, the office was commenced in the second story of the same building in Crosby Street, and finally, during the same year, the entire premises were bought of the trustees of the Wesleyan Seminary for a printing office and bindery.
In coming to this conclusion, however, there was great hesitation on the part of the book committee, arising out of a fear that the project would not succeed. So thoroughly convinced, however, was the writer of this sketch of the feasibility of the plan, and of its profitableness to the Concern, that, after obtaining the consent and co-operation of his assistant, they offered to purchase the premises and commence operations on their own personal responsibility; and if the next General Conference should not approve of the undertaking, they would take the entire establishment as their own, provided the Concern should pay them the interest on the purchase money, and the net profits of the printing, after deducting the usual prices paid for the work to other printers. This proposition, indicative of such perfect confidence in the successful issue of the project, silenced opposition, the purchase was made, and the printing office and bindery were very soon permanently established. The utility of the measure, in every point of view, though it added great additional labor and responsibility to the agents, became so manifest, that it was soon seen and appreciated by all concerned, and highly approved of by the next General Conference.
Measures were adopted for a gradual and constant increase to the number and variety of our books. Hitherto Dr. Adam Clarke’s Commentary had been published by other publishers, and was now in the hands of Abraham Paul, a very worthy member of our Church, and a printer of established reputation in the city of New York. He made an advantageous offer of the stereotype plates of the octavo edition, and of the numbers of the quarto edition which he had on hand, together with a list of his subscribers, with the privilege of publishing the remainder as it should come out. This offer was accepted by the agents, and hence this most valuable and deservedly popular Commentary became the property of the Methodist Episcopal Church, so far as such a work, a copyright of which could not be legally secured in this country, — could become its property, and has been ever since published by this Concern.
The printing of books from stereotype plates had recently been introduced into this country, by which means standard works, for which a constant demand might be expected, were very much cheapened. The first work stereotyped in this establishment was the 24mo. edition of the Hymn-book, soon after the General Conference of 1820. Since that time stereotype plates have been gradually introduced, until nearly all the books now issued from this press are printed from these standing types, — an improvement in the art of printing as great as the improvement in navigation by the use of steamboats, — more especially since the power of steam has been so usefully applied to printing, by the introduction of presses moved by this powerful agent. Of these improvements in book-making this Concern has wisely availed itself, as its means and constantly increasing demands would seem to justify.
But to return to the narrative. Beholding the beneficial results of periodical literature on the intellectual, moral, and religious state of the people, measures were adopted by the agents; with the advice and concurrence of the book committee and of the New York conference, for issuing a weekly paper, to be called the “Christian Advocate.” Accordingly, on the 9th of September, 1826, the first number of this advocate of Christian doctrines, morals, and the institutions of Methodism, made its appearance, much to the gratification of all the members and friends of the Church. As a proof of this general gratification, in a very short time its number of subscribers far exceeded every other paper published in the United States, being about twenty-five thousand; and it soon increased to thirty thousand, and was probably read by more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons, young and old. Though Mr. Badger was the editor of this paper, yet the editorial matter was chiefly furnished by the senior editor of the establishment, even before he was appointed its editor in 1828. Mr. Badger, however, displayed a good taste and correct judgment in selecting and arranging matter for its columns, and was therefore an efficient instrument in giving it a popular character; but so far as the editorial articles were concerned, he received more credit than he was entitled to, as most of those articles were furnished by the person named above, and some very valuable ones by his worthy and able assistant; and its columns were also enriched, from time to time, by some able and pious correspondents. These, together with the religious, scientific, and secular intelligence it inculcated, did much to aid the cause of sound knowledge and solid piety; and it was particularly useful in defending our doctrines and primitive usages from reproach, as well as in making known to our people the character and labor of the entire establishment. Indeed, the “Christian Advocate and Journal” soon became to the Book Concern like a faithful herald to a government, proclaiming to all its will, and making known its plans.
This continual enlargement of the establishment, while it infused energy into its operations, and mightily extended the sphere of its usefulness among the reading community, increased also its debt; but we knew that it also increased the means of its liquidation, and must ultimately both tend to its entire emancipation from its pecuniary embarrassment, and enlarge its sphere of usefulness, in respect to the number, variety, and character of its publications.
It should be noticed, also, that at the earnest request of our brethren west of the mountains, the General Conference of 1820 authorized the establishment of a branch of the Book Concern in Cincinnati, and Martin Ruter, of the New England conference, was appointed to its charge, to act under the direction of the agents in New York. One thing which led to this establishment was the depreciation, since the annihilation of the old bank of the United States, in 1810, of the currency in the west. For a number of years the Concern had several thousand dollars lying useless in the banks of Cincinnati, merely because it was almost worthless in New York; and we had no other way to realize any thing from it, but by authorizing our agent there to invest it in cotton and tobacco, and ship them to our account to New York. The cotton was sent to Liverpool; but the tobacco, I believe, was chiefly a dead loss, in consequence of the wreck of the boat in which it was shipped. [Blessed Loss! Which, I suspect, may have been ordered of the Lord. — DVM]
This branch, however, has gone on from that day to this with less or more prosperity; has become a publishing office, and bids fair to do much in diffusing useful knowledge through all that region of country.
It has been already stated, that the debts of the Concern had very considerably increased; but they had been increased by the procurement of those means, such as an office for printing and binding, presses, stereotype plates, and all sorts of tools for each department, as must, if properly managed, finally lead to the liquidation of the debts, and thus place the Concern on a permanent foundation, beyond the reach of danger by the fluctuations of the times, so often occasioned by the frequent pressures of the money market. Its credit was good; its liabilities were always promptly met; its working hands paid; and all its parts were in vigorous operation.
It was found, however, that there was on hand a large stock of old unsaleable books, bound and unbound, both in the general depository in New York, and on the circuits and stations, as well as at Cincinnati, which had been accumulating for years. All these, through reported from year to year as capital stock, were entirely unproductive; and the manner in which the accounts were kept, and the books sold, had a tendency to increase this unproductive stock, and also the amount of debts due to the Concern. I allude to the credit system, and the discount of eighteen per centum which was allowed to preachers and others for whatever books they might sell, merely rendering an account of the books remaining on hand at the end of each year, which passed to their credit on the settlement of their accounts. By these means the number and quantity of books were constantly augmenting in the districts, while the Concern was increasing its liabilities by being obliged to pay the expense of those already on hand, and for furnishing a fresh supply, a part of which might help to swell the amount of those unsold; and the longer they remained on hand, the more unsaleable they became.
The question now was, What means can be devised to rid the Concern of this mass of unproductive stock, and more speedily and certainly dispose of books which may be hereafter published? In answer to this question, it was suggested by the assistant agent, and promptly assented to by the principal, that the old stock on hand, scattered through the country in the several circuits, should be offered at wholesale prices, for cash or good security, at a discount of fifty percent, and that her after our books should he sold to wholesale purchasers, whether preachers or others, at a discount of thirty-three and one-third percent for cash, and twenty-five percent on good security, payable at the next annual conference after the purchase was made, and if not then paid, with lawful interest until the note was discharged. This system was accordingly recommended to the General Conference of 1828, and, after mature consideration, was adopted, and its provisions inserted in the Discipline.
At this conference, the constitutional term of Nathan Bangs having ended, he was elected editor of the Christian Advocate and Journal, John Emory the principal editor and book steward, and Beverly Waugh his assistant.
With this broad foundation laid, and these wise plans devised and sanctioned, the new agents went to their work in good earnest, and soon succeeded in paying off the debts of the establishment, and in widening the sphere of their operations greatly. Wesley’s and Fletcher’s Works were published, the Methodist Magazine was improved by commencing a new series under the denomination of the “Methodist Magazine and Quarterly Review,” the number of Sunday school books and tracts was multiplied, though these latter were under the charge of the editor of the Christian Advocate and Journal. The new method of selling the books worked admirably well, the old stock on hand was rapidly disposed of, and the orders for books became more numerous, and of course the and all profits proportionally augmented.
This rapid increase in the business very soon led to the necessity of enlarging our buildings. Accordingly all the vacant ground in Crosby Street was occupied. But even these additions were found insufficient to accommodate the several departments of labor, so as to furnish the needful supply of books now in constantly increasing demand.
To supply this deficiency five lots were purchased in Mulberry Street, between Broome and Spring streets, and one building erected in the rear for a printing office and bindery, intending to erect another of larger dimensions after the General Conference of 1832. Accordingly the plan of the new buildings was submitted to that conference, with an estimate of the probable expense, and of its utility in furthering the benevolent objects of the Concern. The plan was highly applauded, and the agents were instructed to carry it into execution.
At this General Conference, Dr. Emory, whose wise counsels and literary labors had been of so much service to the Concern, and were therefore highly appreciated, was elected a bishop, and Beverly Waugh was appointed to fill his place, and T. Mason his assistant. Acting on the principles which had been laid down by their predecessors, they carried out the plans which had been suggested with great energy and effect. At the same conference, in consequence of the increased labors in the editorial department, Nathan Bangs was removed from the editorship of the Christian Advocate and Journal to the editorial charge of the Methodist Magazine and Quarterly Review and the general books, and John P. Durbin was elected editor of the Christian Advocate and Journal and Sunday school books and tracts, and Timothy Merritt his assistant. Mr. Durbin introduced one very important improvement into the Sunday school department, and that was the commencement of a Sunday School Library, which has now reached its two hundred and forty-fourth volume, made up of some of the choicest books to he found for the edification of youth. This division of labor had a most beneficial tendency, as it enabled the editors to devote themselves more exclusively to the improvement of the literary and scientific departments of their work.
What an alteration in this respect! In the infancy of the Concern the agent did all the work of editing, packing up the books, and keeping the accounts, besides doing the work of a stationed preacher. In 1804 he was allowed an assistant; but no clerk was employed until 1818, when, on resuming the publication of the Magazine, the agents, by the advice of the book committee, employed a young man to assist in packing the books and shipping them off. From 1820 to 1828 the writer of this history had the entire responsibility of the establishment on his shoulders, both of editing and publishing the Magazine and books, and overseeing its pecuniary and mercantile department. It is due, however, to his assistants to say, that they labored faithfully and indefatigably to promote the interests of the Concern, and the labor of keeping the books and attending to the pecuniary business devolved chiefly on them, under his advisement. In 1825 a clerk was first employed to keep the books; and after the Christian Advocate and Journal was commenced, and the Sunday school books and tracts began to multiply, it became necessary to employ several clerks to keep the accounts, and to pack up and send off the periodicals. In taking charge of the Methodist Magazine and Quarterly Review, the editor found himself exceedingly cramped, as he was not at liberty to offer any remuneration to contributors, but must take such as he could get, chiefly by selections from other books or furnishing matter from his own pen. In consequence of these embarrassments, he is free to confess that the character of that publication was far beneath what it should and might have been, had the editor been at liberty to follow his own convictions of duty and propriety in furnishing suitable materials for the work. This defect was as mortifying to him, as it was a disappointment to its readers and patrons; and he rejoices that his advice, long urged without effect, was at last adopted, and that hence a brighter day has dawned upon this department of our literature; for now, by employing able writers, the worthy editor is giving a character to that periodical which is likely to be equally honorable to himself and to the Church whose interests he is endeavoring to promote.
Immediately after the adjournment of the conference of 1832, the new agents went to work, and erected the front building in Mulberry Street; and, in the month of September, in 1833, the entire establishment was removed into the new buildings. Not being able to dispose of the property in Crosby Street, the old edifice was taken down, and four neat dwelling houses were erected in its place, the rent of which is worth to the Concern from twelve hundred to two thousand dollars a year. They are intended as residences for the editors and agents; and if they do not choose to occupy them, they are at liberty to rent them, and take the avails toward defraying the expense of other houses. Thus the premises which were at first procured as a site for the Wesleyan seminary, an institution designed for the religious as well as secular education of youth, has become the permanent property of the Methodist Book Concern, and is therefore still devoted to scientific, religious, and literary purposes. May it never be otherwise employed!
In this new and commodious building, with diligent and efficient agents and editors at work, every thing seemed to be going on prosperously and harmoniously, when, lo and behold, the entire property was consumed by fire! In this disastrous conflagration, the Methodist Church lost not less than two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. The buildings, all the printing and binding materials, a vast quantity of books, bound and in sheets, a valuable library, which the editor had been collecting for several years, were in a few hours consumed
It is impossible to describe the sensations which were produced by this calamitous and mournful event. It was on a very cold night in the month of February, 1836, but a short time after the great fire in the city of New York, which destroyed about twenty million dollars’ worth of property. I was awakened about four o’clock, A. M., by a ringing at my door, and a voice which apprised me that the Book Room was on fire! I sprung from my bed, dressed, called my two sons who were at home, and repaired with all possible speed to the scene of conflagration. I hoped, at least, to save the library. But the smoke was already issuing from the windows of my office, and the flames from other parts of the house! Here I found the agents, who were on the spot before me. The hydrants were frozen, and the waters were thrown but feebly, though all exerted themselves to their utmost. We saw that all was gone. Suddenly, and with a tremendous crash, the roof fell in! The flames seemed to ascend in curling eddies to the heavens, carrying with them fragments of books and papers, which the winds swept over the city to the eastward, as if to carry the news of the sad disaster to our distant friends. Indeed, a leaf of a Bible was found about three miles from the place, on which the following verse was but just legible: — “Our holy and our beautiful house, where our fathers praised thee, is burned up with fire; and all our pleasant things are laid waste,” Isa. lxiv, 11.
While standing upon the smoking ruins, about ten o’clock in the morning, a minister of the Protestant Episcopal Church informed me that this leaf had been picked up in the city of Brooklyn, and that it was in the possession of a gentleman in the lower part of the city, a bookseller, in Pearl Street. I requested a friend to call and ascertain the fact, and if possible to obtain the relic, which seemed precious in my estimation. He accordingly called, and found it was even so; but the gentleman, wishing to preserve it as a memento of this disastrous event, and as an evidence of the truth of his own statement, declined to surrender it to another.
Our “beautiful house,” and all our “pleasant things,” our books and printing and binding apparatus — were indeed “burned up with fire!” But the fire-proof vault had, by the skillful management of the firemen, preserved the account books, and most of the registry books for subscribers were saved by the timely exertions of the clerk of that department. The rest was gone, except about three hundred dollars’ worth of books, and some of the iron work, stone, and brick about the building.
“How did this fire originate?” This question has been asked a thousand times, but never satisfactorily answered, although an inquiry was immediately instituted, and diligent search made, with a view to ascertain the fact. It still lies buried in obscurity; but my own opinion is, that it took fire by accident in the interior of the building, in the second story, where the fire was first discovered by the man who came to open the office and make the fires for the day. The reasons for this opinion, though satisfactory to myself, I cannot here detail; and, as they do not involve any one connected with the establishment in blame, while it relieves us from entertaining the cruel suspicion that any one was wicked enough to set fire to the premises, it may pass for what it is worth, without injury to any individual concerned.
In the deep affliction felt by the agents, and indeed all in any way connected with the establishment, it was no small consolation to be assured of the sincere and wide-spread sympathy which was both felt and expressed by our brethren and friends for us on account of this heavy loss. At a public meeting held a few days after in the city of New York, about twenty-five thousand dollars were subscribed toward relieving us in this distress, and as the news spread, similar meetings were held all over the country, and liberal donations and subscriptions were made, which mightily cheered the hearts of those more immediately interested in the Concern. The entire amount which has been received toward making up this heavy loss is $88,346.09. This, as it came in, enabled the agents to continue their business, and they recommenced building, even while the smoke gave signs that the fire was not entirely extinguished.
What made this fire the more disastrous was, that the much more destructive one which had preceded it only about two months in the city of New York, had prostrated most of the insurance offices, and rendered them unable to pay the demands against them, and made it impossible to get insured in New York with any safety for some time. Most of the policies held by the Concern had expired about this time by their own limitation and such were the fears entertained abroad for New York fires, that it was next to impossible to get insured elsewhere on any terms. Hence but a small portion was under insurance at the time of the fire, so that only about $25,000 were realized from these sources to make up the loss.
Happily, the Concern was not in debt. By hiring an office temporarily, and employing other printers, and accepting he kind offers of some who proffered their services, the agents soon resumed their business, the smaller works were put to press, and our herald of news, the Christian Advocate and Journal, soon took its flight again, though the first number after the fire had its wings much shortened, through the symbolical heavens, carrying the tidings of our loss, and of the liberal and steady efforts which were making to reinvigorate the paralyzed Concern.
Things went on in this way till the assembling of the General Conference of 1836, when Beverly Waugh being elected a bishop, Thomas Mason was put in his place, and George Lane was elected his assistant. To this conference the plan of the new building was submitted, approved of; and the new agents entered upon their work with energy and perseverance. Samuel Luckey, D. D., was elected general editor, and John A. Collins his assistant. Of their labors I need say nothing, as they are before the public, and will be appreciated according to their worth.
The new buildings went up with all convenient dispatch, in a much better style, more durable, better adapted to their use, and safer against fire than the former. A view of the front building may be seen in the engraving which accompanies this volume. [graphic not included with this electronic edition — DVM] This is one hundred and twenty-one feet in length, and thirty in breadth, four stories high above the basement, with offices for the agents and editors, a book-store in the north end, and a committee-room in the first story above the basement in the south end, in which the managers of the Missionary Society meet, ad the corresponding secretary has his office, the other story being occupied for a printing office, drying and pressing the printed sheets.
The building in the rear is sixty-five feet in length, and thirty in breadth, four stories high, and is used for stitching and binding, and storing away the printed and bound books.
There are now, 1841, employed in the printing office eight power-presses, moved by steam; and the cylinder press, on which the Christian Advocate and Journal is printed, throws off one thousand and eight hundred impressions in an hour. To keep all these in operation requires the labor of fifty-six hands, a much less number than before power-presses were used, besides the superintendent of the office, to whose skill and diligence the Concern is much indebted for its steady improvement and encouraging success.
In the bindery there are employed eighty-seven hands, besides the worthy superintendent, whose activity and skill in his business have gained him the confidence of his employers. Of these thirty-six are male and fifty-one are female, the latter of whom are engaged in folding and stitching, and the former in pressing and binding the books.
Adding these to those employed in the printing office, they will make the whole number at present, including the editors, agents, and clerks, in the Book Room, one hundred and seventy-four workmen, the number varying either less or more, to meet the exigencies of the times.
I need only add here, that at the last General Conference the same agents were continued in office, George Peck was elected editor of the Methodist Quarterly Review and the general books and tracts, and Thomas E. Bond editor of the Christian Advocate and Journal, and Sunday school books, and George Coles his assistant.
In addition to this principal establishment, as I have already noticed in the general history, the branch establishment at Cincinnati has been so conducted that it has constantly increased in magnitude and importance, and is receiving more and more of the public patronage. A weekly paper, ably conducted, and with a circulation of upward of twelve thousand, now entered upon its seventh volume, is published there, besides a variety of books of the smaller class, together with a periodical in the German language, and another called the Ladies’ Repository and Western Gatherer; and the agents keep on sale all the books which are published in New York. In addition to these, with a view to afford facilities for the more general circulation of both books, tracts, and periodicals, depositories have been established in Boston, Philadelphia, Richmond, Va., Charleston, S. C., Pittsburgh, and Nashville, at each of which places a weekly religious paper is published, all under the patronage of the General Conference except those in Boston and Philadelphia, the former being under the patronage of the New England, Rhode Island, Maine, and New Hampshire conferences, and the latter being the property of individuals. Though these several papers may not add any thing directly to the pecuniary resources of the Concern, as some of them have not heretofore supported themselves, yet they no doubt increase and extend its moral power and influence, and indirectly promote its pecuniary interests by inculcating more generally religious and scientific information, advertising the books, and thus creating, improving, and more widely diffusing a taste for reading, by which means a demand for books is proportionally increased and perpetuated.
This imperfect narrative will enable the reader to judge of the moral power which this Concern has exerted, and does still exert, on the reading community by means of its numerous publications.
II. Objects and Influence of the Concern — Many have egregiously misapprehended the objects of this establishment. They have supposed that its chief object and primary design were to make money, and hence the virulence with which it has been at times assailed. But it has been affirmed over and over again, and also demonstrated by an appeal to facts, that this never was, and is not either the primary or secondary object and design of the Methodist Book Concern. It was commenced, and is now kept in operation for the purpose of diffusing abroad sound knowledge, moral and religious information, and general intelligence on all subjects connected with the best interests of mankind, which involve their present and future, their temporal and eternal well-being. These are its objects.
But knowing that, if judiciously managed, it might yield something over and above its expenses, provision was made for the application of its surplus revenue for the best of all objects, namely, the spread of Scriptural truth and holiness through the land, by means of itinerant preaching. The objects, therefore, to be realized by its pecuniary means are identical with the preaching of the gospel, and fall in with the grand design for which the Saviour came into our world, and that is to redeem mankind “from all iniquity.” And its annual avails are sacredly applied for the promotion of this most benevolent object.
Our ministry differs, in respect to its means and amount of support, from all others. We are not, however, inquiring into the comparative merits or demerits of each, but simply in regard to facts. While most others are so amply provided for that they may lay up something for old age, and procure an inheritance for their children, our ministers are allowed what is considered barely sufficient to meet the necessary wants of themselves and those who are dependent on them for a support, and hence the appropriations are made in proportion to the age and number in a family, and to the expensiveness of living. But in many places not even this much is ever realized. Hence many come to conference every year more or less deficient, especially those who labor in the exterior parts of the work. Yet allowing that they were to get all that is allowed them, unless the have other means of accumulating property, they will “have nothing over.”
Under these circumstances, it was thought to he a sacred duty which the Church owed to her servants, who have worn and are wearing themselves out in her service, to provide something for their support and comfort in old age, as well as to meet the annual necessities of those who are most emphatically preaching “the gospel to the poor.” For this purpose a public collection, called “the conference or fifth collection,” is made once a year in all our congregations, the amount of which is sent to the annual conference, and equally divided among deficient preachers toward making up their disciplinary allowance; and to aid in this benevolent work the avail of the Book Concern are added.
We have also on our list not less than two hundred and sixty-one superannuated preachers, perhaps as many wives and widows, besides a large number of orphan children. These are some of the “treasures of the Church,” as a certain primitive bishop said to his heathen persecutors, when, in answer to their demand for his church treasures, he brought out the poor of his flock, and replied, “These are my treasures;” but they are a sort of treasure which hung us in no other income than what is called forth by the commiseration which they excite in the hearts of the people. They are nevertheless a treasure of great worth.
Well, to meet the wants of these superannuated preachers, their wives, widows, and orphan children, the avails of the Methodist Book Concern are appropriated, and we rejoice that it has alway yielded a little for so noble and philanthropic an object. Hence this is made one of the many grounds on which the plea is founded, and a very strong one it is, even resistible to those who understand and duly appreciate it, for as extensive a circulation as possible of the books of this establishment. And then as the bishops have no legal claim upon any circuit or station, nor even an annual conference, for any thing more than their bare allowance as traveling preachers; that is, one hundred dollars a year for each bishop and one hundred dollars for his wife, and not over twenty-four dollars for each child under fourteen years of age, a portion of the annual dividends of the Book Concern is appropriated for their family and traveling expenses. These then are the objects which are incidentally provided for by this Concern, and it is thought that they are such as to commend themselves to the approbation of every just, generous, and benevolent mind.
I say incidentally — for they were not the primary, nor the chief object for which the Concern was instituted. If they were, they would not be worthy of the labor and anxiety of conducting its complicated affairs, inasmuch as its pecuniary benefits might, if this did not exist, be realized with less trouble from other sources. But when we take into the account its immense moral, religious, and scientific object, to promote which was its primary design, no man need to grudge the labor he bestows upon it, the sacrifices he may make to build up and perpetuate its interests, and to make it wield as great and extensive a power as possible. To guard the purity of the press, to promulgate sound, Scriptural doctrine, to spread the most useful information, and to proclaim to all within the hearing of its voice, “the unsearchable riches of Christ,” — these were the high, and holy, and enlightened purposes for which this Concern was established, and for which we have labored, and do still labor to keep it in operation.
Those therefore who understand its character and objects, will be convinced that they who work in this Concern, editors, agents, printers, and binders, as well as the venders of the books, are subserving, in the most powerful and diffusive manner, the grand designs of redemption. Whatever may be the motive of any subordinate or principal agent in its concerns, let it be remembered that it was created, and has been carried forward, for the sole purpose of enlightening mankind by the principles of truth, whether of moral, philosophical, historical, or divine truth, and of saving sinners from the error of their ways, by pointing them to the “Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world.”
But has it accomplished this work? It has. I remember at the public meeting held in the city of New York in its behalf, soon after the disastrous fire I have before noticed, a gentleman present, a member of the Protestant Episcopal Church, arose and remarked, in substance, “I have lived heretofore in the new countries; and I remember the time when the people who dwelt in their log cabins had no other books to read but such as they obtained from Methodist itinerants, who carried them around their circuits in their saddle-bags, and after preaching sold them to the people. In this humble way the poor people in the wilderness were supplied both with the living word from the ups of God’s messengers, and with reading matter for their meditation by the fire-side when the living teacher had taken his departure. Therefore,” he added, with a warmth of feeling which thrilled through the whole assembly and brought forth a spontaneous burst of applause, “put me down one thousand dollars to help rebuild the Methodist Book Room.”
This was all strictly true. Wherever the Methodist preachers went; — and where did they not go? — they not only carried the glad tidings of salvation upon their lips, but they also “published the acceptable year of the Lord” by means of the press, and by circulating the best of books in the cheapest possible form among the people, often giving them away, at their own personal expense, to those who were not the to pay for them.
What a mighty engine is the press! What an event was that when this engine was first set in motion Since then, what a revolution has been effected in the civilized world, in religion, in civil jurisprudence, in philosophy, and in every department of knowledge, human and divine! Mr. Wesley well knew the power of this instrument. he therefore availed himself of it to aid him in the great work of evangelizing the world. He made it speak, in clear and distinct tones, “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” His sons in the gospel have had wisdom and perseverance enough to follow in his track, aid make this speaking-trumpet continue its “certain sound,” and it has been, not a “tinkling cymbal,” but a high-sounding instrument of peculiar force, warning the unruly, instructing the ignorant, and rejoicing the hearts, by its thrilling accents, of tens of thousands of immortal minds.
Others have also imitated the example. Hence publishing establishments, among various sects and parties, have come into existence both in Europe and America, which are sending out their tracts, Sunday school books, Bibles, and various other publications, in every direction. Success to them all, so far as they are guided by the “wisdom coming from above,” and are actuated by motives of benevolence to the souls and bodies of men!
But the voice of this mighty instrument is now heard in almost every quarter of the globe. The men that have been raised up by the lever of Wesleyan Methodism have “gone out into all the world, and their words,” which are uttered through the press, “unto the ends of the earth.” On both sides of the Atlantic men have been raised up, and qualified to hold “the pen of ready writers;” and they have wielded, and are wielding it, with powerful effect among the different nations of the earth. Portions of the works of the Wesleys, and the doctrinal tracts and biographies of those and others of the same connection, have been translated into the French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, and Dutch languages, and even into some of the languages of the North American Indians, and, by means of the press, are “flying upon the wings of the morning to the utmost bounds of the earth.” Even at our own press, Bibles and Testaments, of various sizes Commentaries, — Wesley’s, Clarke’s, Benson’s, Watson’s, — sermons, from a variety of authors, doctrinal, experimental, and practical; tracts, to the number of upward of three hundred, from four to sixty pages each; biographies of Christian ministers, and other eminent characters, male and female; histories; critical dissertations on a variety of subjects; various periodicals, loaded with the best of matter, of a miscellaneous character, one of which, the Christian Advocate and Journal, is read probably by not less than one hundred thousand8 people; are now published, and sent abroad in various directions.
Now, who can calculate the immense moral power of this press? Besides the influence it exerts upon the readers of its publications, it tends to call forth the talents of writers who are benefiting themselves while they are striving to instruct others, thus increasing the moral and intellectual ability to do good, while the good itself is diffused throughout the whole community. For, indeed, these publications are carrying light and instruction, not only throughout our own continent, but to Africa, to South America, to the British provinces of North America, to the West Indies, and are now lifting up their voice in the Oregon territory, on the shores of the North Pacific.
No wonder that its enemies have tried to cripple its energies, and to silence its voice. They had felt its power; they therefore feared its effects; but, by using it judiciously, it has made known our character and objects, vindicated our doctrines, institutions, and usages, and developed our plans of operations. Hence a comparative silence has succeeded to the clamorous opposition which was raised against it and us not many years since.
And this demonstrates more forcibly still its vast utility. It has spoken so plainly, conclusively, energetically, and truly, that others now understand us better than formerly, and we humbly trust fellowship us more cordially.
It is hoped, therefore, that neither pride nor vain-glory on the one hand, nor fear and man-pleasing on the other, will ever lead to the abuse of this high and distinguished privilege, of speaking to the public through the press. And may it ever be guarded against all impurity in doctrine and morals, and he made to utter the sentiments of truth and love! so shall it be like a faithful sentinel, to guard the walls of our Zion, and to direct the wandering traveler, who has his “face thitherward,” into the “narrow way” and the “strait gate,” which may safely conduct him to everlasting life.
But it is time to bring this History to a close. I have finished my work, at least in this department of labor. I have done what I could to present facts, with such comments as seemed needful to throw light upon them. If I have allowed some of these facts to pass without any note of approbation or disapprobation, the reader is not to infer that they are therefore either approved or disapproved, but simply that I chose to let every one draw his own inferences, without any predilection from the opinions of the historian.
One word, by way of apology, for the general arrangement and manner of the History. It is said that “history is philosophy teaching by example.” This is true. But how does philosophy teach by example? I apprehend, by the facts it furnishes, and not by substituting philosophical disquisitions for the facts of history. Well-authenticated facts furnish the philosopher with his data, whence he draws his conclusions respecting causes and effects and their mutual dependence, as well as the influence they exert upon human affairs. The principal business of the historian, therefore, is to record facts as he finds them, without disguise or coloring, whether he can account for them or not.
This I have endeavored to do; though not, as one has thoughtlessly said, by suppressing inquiry, on all proper occasions, into the causes which originated he facts, and of the effects which they produced on human society, and especially on the religious world. And could I conscientiously have taken the reins from the imagination, and suffered my reason to run mad, I might have conjured up a thousand fanciful theories to account for the success and influence of Methodism, without ascribing it to its true original cause, namely, the divine agency. This, however, I dare not do. But in the close of the first volume, and in various other places, I have endeavored, and I hope not without some success, to show the aptitude of the means which divine wisdom saw fit to employ to produce the desired results, and the suitableness of the instruments, and their plans of operation, to the condition and tendencies of human society. So far, therefore, from keeping philosophy if you understand by that word the art of tracing effects to their causes, or of inferring causes from their effects, — under abeyance, I have freely availed myself of its assistance in the course of my work, as every one must see who reads it with attention, and does not make up a judgment without consulting its pages.
I might, indeed, have omitted many of the reports and other documents of the General Conference, and extracts from writers on other subjects, and have simply stated the substance of them, in my own language, in few words. But this would not have answered my purpose. These documents I considered of great importance in settling doctrines, in establishing principles, and in confirming usages, and, therefore, would be often appealed to for or against us. Some of them had been published, and others given in a mutilated form, and commented upon by our opponents greatly to our disadvantage. Others were locked up in the General Conference trunk, and were of use to no one except to those who had an opportunity to consult them in manuscript. These are now made public in an authenticated form, are accessible to all who desire to read them, and will be of convenient reference in time of need.
I have endeavored thus to use the discretion which the General Conference so generously allowed me to exercise over its documents, according to the best of my judgment, for the edification of the reader, and for the good of the general cause; and if the absence of all complaint, on the part of those most interested, may be considered an evidence of satisfaction in the selections I have made, I have reason to infer that I have not abused my trust.
Had these documents and extracts been omitted, my work, I confess, would have had more the appearance of a continued history, faithfully elaborated in a uniform style; but I chose, in this respect, to sacrifice the reputation which such a course might have secured to the greater utility, and, I should hope, satisfaction, of the reader, arising from variety in matter and style, by adopting the method I have.
I have, indeed, been much encouraged, from knowing that the former volumes have had an extensive circulation, that many have expressed themselves highly gratified in their perusal, and a hope that the History might be continued to the present time. And, as this is in conformity with my original intention, though it has lengthened on my hands much beyond my expectations when I commenced writing, I have accordingly brought it down to the year 1840. Here I close it, with an expression of gratitude to Almighty God for the good that he hath done by the humble instrumentality of the Methodist ministry, and for permitting me to record it to the glory of his name. Amen.
New York, March 26, 1841.
Since the establishment of the other papers before mentioned, there has been a falling off in the number of subscribers to this paper, while the aggregate number of readers has increased. Allowing twelve thousand to the Western Christian Advocate, and three thousand to each of the other five weekly papers, and twenty-six thousand to the one issued in New York, the whole number of subscribers will be forty-three thousand; and, allowing four readers to each subscriber, which probably is the average number, it will give one hundred and seventy-two thousand readers of these weekly sheets. Though this may sound large, yet the number is not by any means in proportion to the number of Church members, not being more than about one fifth of the entire membership.
Should not every Methodist family, consisting of probably not less than two hundred thousand, be blessed with the visits of one or more of these heralds of good tidings?
The British officers were respectful to the church and its members, though none of them were helpful to the work as Captain Webb had been during the period of its organization. But the common soldiers were not so respectful, as they probably realized better than their officers that the members still remaining in John Street were sympathetic with the Colonial cause. They often stood in the aisles with their hats on, while the service was proceeding, and sometimes descended to practical jokes.
On one occasion, however, the officers themselves made mischief. It was Christmas Eve and the congregation were in the midst of a service commemorating the Saviours birth, when a party of masked men marched up the aisle. One of them was dressed to represent the devil, with cloven feet and a long forked tail. The service stopped and the chief devil walked up the aisle to the altar. A member arose and with a cane knocked off his satanic majestys mask when lo! there stood a well-known British colonel. He was held until the city guard arrested him.
This article was taken from the book entitled "One Hundred and One Methodist Stories" by Carl F. Price and published by the Methodist Book Concern.