Mr. Morgan's maternal grandfather, Pierpont, was a very well-known man in his time; the following passage from an unknown hand (it is taken from an old copy of the Christian Examiner) shows the impression he made. The somewhat highflown phraseology cannot quite spoil it as a real reflection of his soul:
Mr. Pierpont united within himself the characteristics of two very distinct persons. One was graceful, cultivated, delicate, fastidious to the last degree, careful of etiquette, studious, dignified; with a certain loftiness of dignity, indeed, which strangers were apt to find somewhat frigid, but genial and expansive with his friends, and beautifully tender and loving with children. This was the clergyman and the poet.
The other was the ardent knight, armed for battle, and seeking it far and near; ... quick to discover injustice, he no sooner unearthed a new wrong than he attacked it with the fiery ardour of a nature whose enthusiasm was but the hotter for the restraints which the habits and tastes of the scholar ordinarily imposed upon it. He used all his weapons at once: logic, sarcasm, invective, poetry—ands harpened them all with a stern 'Thus saith the Lord!' This was John Pierpont, the Reformer; and ... few names rang wider throughout the careless, prosperous land than his.
Clearly an insurgent of those days! Pierpont failed as a lawyer, failed as a merchant; as a clergyman he won fame, but gave his congregation no peace or rest, and in one place after another they turned upon him. His most important pulpit was in the Hollis Street Unitarian Church of Boston. “He was liable to open his Hollis Street pulpit,” says a writer, “any Sunday morning with either or both temperance or slavery. He preached temperance to a congregation of men who drank rum, sold rum, made rum ... of course he gave mortal offence.” And again, “His fight lasted seven years, one man against many, poverty against wealth, right against wrong.” At last he was formally placed on trial by an ecclesiastical council for “preaching on exciting topics,” and for failing to conduct himself “with Christian meekness.” The exciting topics were “the meanness and crime which he saw about him in high places”! The immediate result of thetrial was a vote of censure, but Pierpont soon left the church for another, far away.
The year 1861 saw him in Boston again, and he went to the front as chaplain of the Twenty-second Massachusetts Regiment. The regiment went into camp on the north bank of the Potomac. It was shrewish fall weather, and the chaplain, now an old man, was unable to endure the cold. He was seen walking about most of the night beating his body with his hands to keep his blood from freezing. He sent in an application to the commander of the brigade for three days' leave, intending to look for some occupation in Washington. The officer had never heard of him and sent back the paper with a message scrawled across the back, "Why does he want three days? Give him two." In a very depressed state of mind the old man called upon Secretary Chase and modestly inquired if there was not some clerical work he could do. The secretary, who knew him well by reputation, shook his hand warmly, agreed to do anything he could for him, and did, in fact, provide him with a work of compilation for the Government which occupied the elderly clergyman until his death.
Of all the effort and struggle of this man's life there only remains a school-book piece of verse—“Warren's Address”—do you not recall it?—beginning,
Stand! The ground's your own, my braves!
and a volume of poetry entitled “Airs of Palestine,” now unread. There are verses, however, which pulsate with the vigour of protest. Here is a specimen, the first stanza of “A Word from a Petitioner,” which has an oddly contemporaneous sound:
What! our petitions spurned! The prayer
Of thousands—tens of thousands—cast
Unheard beneath your speaker's chair!
But ye mil hear us, first or last.
The thousands that, last year, ye scorned,
Are millions now. Be warned! Be warned!
The Life Story of John Pierpont Morgan