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Full text of "Address at the funeral of the Rev. Dr. Nott, Schenectady, February 2, 1866 in the Presbyterian church"

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REV. DR. 1^0 TT 

















113 Fulton Stbebt. 



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This occasion makes its own impressions. The 
silent power of these preparations for tlie grave, witli 
their sad and tender associations for ns all, is more 
eloquent than could be the most fervid human utter- 
ances. It is the voice of God to His mortal creatures. 

We look upon this coffin, and think of him whom 
we have known and revered for these long years, so 
great, so potent as he was. But he is not there, the 
tabernacle is bereft of its glory. That which gave 
such power to his eye, such expressiveness to his face, 
such grandeur and command to that form, tJie spirit, is 
no more here. It has returned to God. 

And we, with hearts full of the high interest and 
value of his life, gathered about that in its grave 
dress which was he, where for so long he has 
been wont to stand between the living and the dead 
and proclaim salvation, on the spot whence so often he 
distributed and enforced the sacramental emblems,* let 
us all receive from that awful repose one more impres- 

<* Dr. Nott had been accustomed for many years to take part with the pastor 
in the administration of the Lord's Supper. 

sion upon Ms favorite theme of death and eternal life. 
As lie was laboring down to the river now passed, he 
said (not consciously), " I will preach." And doth he 
not preach to us beyond all the matchless oratory of 
his best days ? He, who could so impressively express 
himself upon the grave and retribution, that he might 
commend to mortal men Him who through death de- 
stroyed the power of death and delivered them, now 
himself of the dead, and on his way to the sepulchre, 
preaches his last, his farewell sermon to his pupils, to 
his co-laborers in pulpit and college, to his fellow- 
Christians and fellow-sinners. We may no more hear 
his voice, nor look upon his venerable presence ; but 
his unwonted silence and stillness, the strange indiifer- 
ence to us, his sorrowing friends, have 8iich a heart- 
breaking power, such a divine solemnity of appeal ! 
Holy Spirit, preach Thou to every one here through 
these memories of him who is to preach no more; 
make the living lay to heart this day's lesson of Divine 

To others it shall be left, and on more fitting occa- 
sion, to remind this community of what he was to them 
from of old ; how he labored for their melioration and 
welfare in all respects ; how every concern of moment 
to this locality enlisted his generous, far-seeing zeal, 
(from the very shade trees which relieve and adorn 
our streets, all through the gradations of municipal 

and social life, up to the establishment of the school, 
and the endowment of the college) ; how thus, for a 
period of sixty years, he has been of material and pe- 
cuniary advantage beyond any other instrumentality 
to our city. 

Let it be told by others what his relation has been 
to the important educational record of this, his adopted 
State ; what essential influence he exerted toward the 
inception of our common school system ; how unselfish 
and noble he was in regard to the interests of the 
sister colleges of the Commonwealth, and how worthily 
he fulfilled the trusts reposed in him for them. 

Let it be for others to portray his public spirit, his 
sympathy with all philanthropic enterprises, his sin- 
gular readiness always to do and to endure for what- 
ever proposed relief of the poor, the oppressed, or the 
afllicted, — for any real melioration of man. 

All this, and such as this, has to be told, and will be 
again and again repeated in just eulogy. Confident 
are we that, when his life and influence are recorded by 
well-informed, competent, and congenial spiiits, (impar- 
tially, Christianly recorded), it will be so rich in inci- 
dent, so extraordinary in its facts, so demonstrative 
of greatness and goodness in its subject, that the world 
will more than ever take knowledge of him, and honor 
his memory. 

But our hearts and memories do not need that, here 

and now. To the relation between Ms life and religion, 
therefore, we will at present restrict ourselves ; and in 
trying to tell how he began, how he was disciplined, 
and how he finished, we will determine what his real 
life was, and what should be our estimate of it. 

Looking back nearly a century, we see a little boy 
of not yet four years, leaning on his mother's knee, 
gazing with his bright eyes into her fond face, while 
she instnicts him. The lesson is, " Fear God, and keep 
His commandments." Already the child has com- 
mitted most of the English version of the Psalms, and 
very many besides of the grand old renderings of them 
by Sternhold and Hopkins. What must have been the 
religious influence of a mother, unusually wrapt up in 
her precocious son, as she seems to have been, and so 
devoted to his religious welfare, as this fact implies ? 
The mother * was a gifted woman, as well as fervently 
pious. She was also, for the times, unusually well edu- 
cated and accomplished ; and she put in requisition all 
her resources to obviate the disabilities of poverty for 
the mental and religious culture of the son. She heard 
him read the Bible entirely through, ere he was four 
years old. From her he derived his first and finest 
impressions in that art of elocution for which he be- 
came so distinguished (as he often said) ; herself his 
only model and critic in that which some supposed to 

* Mrs. Stephen Nott was a daughter of Col. Samuel Selden, of Lyun, Conn. 

be tlie artificial result of a very different schooling, 
but with which she had imbued him till it became a 
second nature. He said of her: "The light of my 
young life went out when my mother died ; " and, to 
appreciate this fully, we must have in mind how more 
than ordinaiy was the relation of that mother and son ; 
that she was to him companion, as well as counselor, 
playmate, as well as teacher and mother. He never 
had any child's society. The reverses of the family 
compelled him to work regularly on the little farm 
before he was nine years old, and, though his thirst for 
knowledge was insatiate, precluded his studying by 
day. So at night after toil, his mother sympathiz- 
ing and aiding, the boy was learning and labor- 
ing at that early age. That faithful, loving mother 
died when he was fifteen, but not before her work 
for his soul had been well done. He could not 
remember when he began to fear and love God, be- 
cause (we presume) at a very early period his heart 
was turned to the way of salvation. But the effect 
upon him of her loss, terrible as was the affliction, 
seems to have been to seal upon his heart the lessons 
of her pious care, and induce him publicly that year to 
profess religion, and ultimately to devote himself to the 
holy ministry. 

Dr. Nott was ever and eminently reverent and 
awe-struck in the contemplation of death. It did 

not seem to be an ordinary fear of dying. It was 
rather a fearful impression of cleatli's remorseless in- 
difference to human plans and hopes ; a dread, as of an 
enemy whose dire power to bereave he had sorely 
tried. His mother's decease was the great trial of his 
child-life, and at an age when perhaps it is most hard 
to bear. It doubtless left a deep scar upon Ms heart. 
Do we not perceive the effect all through his after life ? 
There was another such impression, when at thirty 
years of age he, the gifted and widely honored pastor of 
an Albany charge, at a time when to be so placed and 
honored was to be the religious monitor of the chief 
men in our State and nation, the friend and associate 
of persons whose fame has since been world-wide. In 
that experience of care and responsibility and severe 
pressure upon the brain and the heart, (such as led 
himself to say that he could hardly have lived through 
it long,) he relied exceedingly upon his gifted and 
devoted wife.* He had never thought (he said) that 
she would die. Yet remorseless death came again, and 
blotted out the brightness of his home, and bowed him 
how deeply ! The tradition of this bereavement and 
its mournful effects lingered in that city through an- 
other generation. Is it only an imaginary conviction, 
that this new and severe lesson accounts, in no small 

* She was a daughter of Rev. Joel Benedict, of Plainfield, Conn., with whom 
Dr. Nott completed his preparation for college, and afterward studied theology, 
while acting as the Principal of Plainfield Academy. 


degree, for that peculiar tone which characterized his 
after religious life, and preaching the prominence of 
such thouo^hts and themes ? 

Then there was a third stage in this singular 
experience and its eifects. It occurred much later 
in life. Never can it be forgotten by those who 
w^ere immediately cognizant of it. An entire com- 
munity was thrown into the deepest sympathy of 
grief by the death of his only daughter.* She 
had made his home so bright, so like it of old, when 
her mother was its gladness. No doubt he had com- 
forted himself with the confidence that it would be for 
him ever so to his end. No one could mistake the 
potency in that ever-to-be-remembered loving influ- 
ence. But it was not to continue. Asrain came 
remorseless death, and threw his pall over the bright- 
ness of that home. The blow was severe beyond 
description, but he met it like a Christian.f The sub- 

* She was the wife of Rev. Alonzo Potter, D.D. andLL.D.. then Vice-Presi- 
dent of Union College, afterward the distinguished prelate of the Episcopal 
diocese of Pennsylvania. 

t Extract from a letter written by Dr. Nott under the influence of that 
grief : 

* * * "Nothing could have been more sudden and unexpected than 
the death of my daughter, and nothing to me or mine more distressful . Few 
people live who are bound together with more tender ties than those which 
bound her to us — especially to me. I had hoped to lean on her as I descended 
toward the grave, and to hear her voice and feel the support of her hand on 
my bed of death. But I have been called to build her tomb, and she not 
mine. Her departure has left a mighty void in my heart, and there remains a 
sense of desolateness which must be abiding. It is a wreck that cannot be 
repaired. No other stroke could so have crushed my hopes and joys. Bat I 


limity of tliat grief cannot be described. Witbout 
sternness, witbout bitterness or murmnring, witbout 
distrust of God; but sucb an appalling power it 
implied of deatb, sucb a renewal was it of bis earlier 

Tbis, and sucb as tbis, was bis discipline fi'oni God ; 
as it seems to me, made means of grace, more tban 
any otbers of bis varied trials to prepare bim to 
die tbe deatb of tbe rigbteous ; and probably giving 
its peculiar tone to bis religious experience, and to bis 
public discourses. At any rate, wbatever tbe cause, a 
prominent cbaracteristic in bis preacbing, and of bis 
religious life, was tbis sense of tbe fearfulness of deatb. 
His sermons abounded in it ; and tbougbtful minds 
were sure to witness its manifestations in tbe freedom 
of social intercourse. Remarkably cbeerful and felici- 
tous as be was in society, alive always to tbe interest^ 

feel, and from the first have felt, that the arm of God inflicted it. I do not wish, 
I have not wished, the decision altered. I have a strong conviction on my mind 
that Maria was prepared to die. She had been ripening for heaven, and I trust 
was ripe for it. If so, our loss is her gain ; and if we tnily loved her, therefore, 
in place of sorrowing, we should rejoice. It is difficult to carry the truths of 
the gospel out in practice. The want of faith embarrassed even Christ's 

'* If they had little faith, what may be said of us ? It is hard to learn that 
this is not our rest, and hence loss, follows loss till the weary, bereaved pilgrim 
finds that no prop is left on earth to lean upon. There is nothing left so dear 
to me as the child which God has taken. But it is God who has taken her. If 
she were borne away into exile, there would be a sore pang at the recollection 
of departure. But she has gone home to her Father's house, and there I hope 
presently to meet her. My remaining journey will indeed be less cheerful 
than it would could I have continued to enjoy the solace of her company. 
Still the end will not be less joyful because she has gone before me." o o o o 


of passing event's, active and earnest in regard to duties 
and efforts for the immediate present, nothing seemed 
more natural and necessary than to recur to those other 
thoughts and feelings. 

The grand aim of Dr. Nott's life wotild seem to have 
been the melioration of men according to the spirit of 
the gospel. This simple idea of a renewed, a Christian 
heart, with its Puritan associations, (may we not say its 
Puritan essentials?) of education, freedom, and frater- 
nity, affords the clue for a fair unfolding of this remark- 
able life. We make no claim for him of sinless disin- 
terestedness, or of perfect freedom from the infirmities 
of our humanity. No one could pray as he did, apart 
from a painful sense of his own imperfections and sins. 
No one arrogated less for himself in such respects than 
he. Yet this grand aim of a truly Christian mind was his, 
by the grace of God. He had originally experienced 
it through his mother's pious care. It had been inten- 
sified through those disciplinary familiarities with 
death to which we have alluded. And it was evident to 
his latest life. Therefore he so dreaded out-living his 
power to be at work. Therefore he so felt the obliga- 
tion to do with his might while the day lasted. 
And so it was, that the blow which laid him aside 
from active life a few years since found him, though 
really an infirm old man, harder than ever at work, 
resolutely, almost perversely bent upon doing his 


utmost so long as lie could. All his invention, his 
pressure of secular care, his marked sagacity in deal- 
ing with men, and such other things, which we asso- 
ciate with him, had been forced upon him hy the 
cii'mtmstances besetting the working out of his grand 

Just threescore and ten years ago he came first to 
this State. He came in a missionary spirit, fired with 
the noble aim referred to. In his Puritan associations 
the school and the church kept company. Knowledge 
and religion were properly twin sisters, real science 
and real revelation never at variance. And throughout 
his long and admired career he has diligently pursued 
this aim in this spirit. He has endeavored to instill it 
into all others. He has striven to impress it, with its love 
of truth as truth, its regard for duty as duty, its candor, 
catholicity, and all magnanimity, upon the young. 
Did time permit, it would be pleasing to dilate upon 
these aspects of the character and life, which his friends 
so love to dwell upon. Were I to choose a single 
expression of all these social characteristics of our Hon- 
ored Dead, it would be that he was remarkably supe- 
rior to all the littlenesses of human selfishness. He was 
truly a magnanimous man, because his natm'al noble- 
ness of spirit was informed and aggrandized by 
fear of God; and it was this character, which so 
adapted and signally empowered him as the educator 


and governor of youth. It is well said that " he gov- 
erned the college by his prayers." But it was the 
praying of this sort of man ; of one who sympathized 
with the young men ; of one who forgot not his own 
need of grace when he dealt with the erring, — forgot 
not the sweetness and power of home, when he prayed 
for, or watched over his pupils, forgot not his own 
bitter experiences, when poor or discouraged students 
were to be aided and cheered on their way. When 
others would counsel harshness of discipline, when rash 
youth had been overborne by temptation, he never 
ignored his Divine Master's tender interest for the 
young, never failed to remember that the Lord, and 
the servant, had a mission of love, to "seek and 
to save the lost." And master of all the powers of col- 
lege strategy though he was so beyond compare, 
detecting, preventing, and rectifying evil and mischief 
with an almost superhuman faculty, he was furthest 
possible fi'om the spirit of a mere and harsh inquisitor 
or tyrant. He aimed to be a father and Mend of every 
young man, good or bad, and his pupils, consciously or 
not, felt it, and loved him. So his magnanimity, even 
more than his skill and power, governed them. And 
therefore it was so : " Dr. Nott governed Union Col- 
lege by his prayers." 

There was one characteristic of this beloved man, of 
essential affinity with his grand aim, a vital part of it, — 


whicli I hazard nothing in styling the crowning 
' glory of his character and life. He was pre-eminently 
and unreservedly a Peacemaker. Wonderfully here he 
made one feel, always, that he was an exceeding good 
and great man. The chief element in this excellence 
was his own forgiving spirit. For a third of a century 
one, who has been perhaps as free to intrude upon him 
as any other, and as fully possessed of his temptations 
to bitterness, censoriousness, and uncharitableness, 
with whom he conferred so unreservedly, and expressed 
himself so unguardedly, that a glimpse of the wrong 
spirit would have been had, if indulged, — and that 
witness here testifies, if ever there was in mere man 
the nobleness of a thoroughly and invariably forgiving 
spirit, it characterized our departed Friend and Father. 
He talked freely of matters, in regard to which it was 
notorious that his sense of justice and honor had been 
cruelly outraged. But never did unchristian harshness 
of expression escape him. With such a spirit, what a 
power he had as a peacemaker ! He, who always so 
truly prayed, " Forgive us as we forgive those who have 
sinned against us," could, and habitually did, throw 
himself, often with most benign effect, between oppos- 
ing partisans in Church and in State. To many a furious 
:and ruinous discord he has effectually said, " Peace, be 
still." In how many a social, and even in the more un- 
manageable domestic feud, has he gracefully and ten- 


derly interposed, bringing order and rest out of confu- 
sion and wrath. Most of that record is, of course, only on 
high. But enough of him is well known, and reverently 
felt, as to the loveliness and power of this spirit, to 
assure us that all the glory and the good is his of that 
saying of our Lord : " Blessed are the peacemakers, for 
they shall be called the children of God." 

The immediate expectation of death is usually a 
severe test of man ; and Dr. Nott has been conscious of 
that condition for years. Since 1860 he has felt that he 
was within a momentary summons to go hence. During 
much of this protracted period of awaiting and expect- 
mcr. he has been enouorh himself to discriminate 
clearly, and cautiously consider, his prospects. Clouds 
and apprehensions would sometimes intervene ; but 
always there was reverent, cordial submission to the 
Divine will, and for the most part a sweet, humble, 
child-like fearlessness of trust and hope. It was the 
manifestation of a true, soul-sustaining Christianity ; 
and a demonstration of his sincerity, an interpretation 
of his life beyond all scope for cavil or doubt — a price- 
less testimony to the covenant faithfulness of God. 
How sad it was to witness the waning of that noble 
spirit, to be so premonished all these weary months 
and years that he was passing away ! Yet how blessed 
the assurance accorded to us, made more and more full 
at every new stage of his progress homeward, that he 


was tnisting unwaveringly in that grace of God, wliicli 
had cared for him from infant life. He was ever to 
the end a little child before God, most pleased to sit 
at Jesus' feet, and confiding firmly, gratefully, in 
the sovereignty and loving-kindness of his gracious 
Lord. In his dying hours, when he felt that the end 
could not be afar, his parting counsel and legacy to his 
nearest friend was, " Fear God, and keep His com- 
mandments ;" the counsel and legacy of his mother to 
himself, which had begun and controlled his entire 
religious life. When utterance was difficult, the spirit 
only not gone, he said : " One word, one word — Jesus 
Christ ! " And the last, the very last exclamation from 
his lips was : " My covenant God ! " Blessed, beloved 
man ! These precious remains we will deposit tenderly 
in their appointed resting-place, the grave made honor- 
able and sure, because under watch and ward of Him 
who is " the Resurrection and the Life." Remorseless 
death may seem to have dominion. But it is only a 
seeming. Thou, sainted Friend and Father, thyself art 
in another sphere and rest, in the home of God, in " the 
house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." We 
will think of thee hereafter as denizen of the brighter, 
better country, knowing even as also thou art known, 
refined of all dross, purged of all sin, released from 
all care, at home in the joy of thy Lord. " There the 
wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at 



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