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Andrew Preston Peabody (1862, 1868-1869)

Andrew Preston Peabody
Acting President 1862, 1868-1869

The facts of Dr. Peabody’s career may be briefly set forth. He was born in Beverly, March 19, 1811. A.B. Harvard, 1826; A.M., 1829; S.T.D., 1952; LL.D., University of Rochester, N.Y., 1863. Tutor in mathematics at Harvard, 1832-33. Ordained over the South Parish, Portsmouth, N.H., October 24, 1833, and remained its minister until August 31, 1860. Harvard University: Preacher to the University and Plumer Professor of Christian Morals, 1860-81; Emeritus after 1881 - March 10, 1893; Acting President of the University, February 28, 1862 - November 29, 1862, September 30, 1868 - May 19, 1869. Died at Cambridge March 10, 1893. A classical scholar, a voluminous writer, a thoughtful and weighty lecturer, a fervent preacher, a wise and beloved teacher, a fatherly and spiritual guide—as the apostle Eliot says of his saints, “he died leaving a good savour.”

Andrew Preston Peabody was born at Beverly, Massachusetts, March 19, 1811. His father died in 1813, of whom the son writes in after-years: “My profession as a clergyman was determined for me from my birth. My father, the only son of a prosperous farmer, was fitted for college with the purpose of pursing the regular curriculum and then studying for the ministry. A strong man arrested his plans, and he became a teacher. I was his only son, and he destined me for the profession it was his lifelong grief that he had been compelled to abandon. He died before I was three years old, and on his death-bed he charged my mother to fulfill his wish concerning me, should I be fit for such a calling. I was present in my mother’s arms when the charge was given, and have a distinct remembrance of the scene; and, though I can have understood nothing of it, I recollect no uttered words earlier than my mother’s rehearsal of what was then said.”

In the dame school where his education began, as the youngest pupil he was pinned by his sleeve to her clothing while the older pupils were reciting their tasks; and, the book lying open in her lap, he learned to read the inverted type, as all printers do, and quite as readily as in the normal position, and could do so all through life. But the daily sessions of the school were not enough for a mind, even at that age, grasping for all knowledge. So on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons he betook himself to another dame teacher, who instructed him in botany, French, and German, so that, when he entered the Junior Class at the age of thirteen, French was to him as easy as English, and he was one of eight who formed the first class in Harvard that ever studied German. While the curriculum seventy years ago was much more elementary than at present, so that the last time Dr. Peabody came to the graduating exercises of our Roxbury Latin School he remarked to me, “Those boys have a much better education than I had when I graduated from college,” there is nothing to be said in disparagement of that remarkable proficiency which enabled him to be one of the two youngest upon whom Harvard has conferred its Bachelor’s degree.

Immediately upon leaving Harvard, and for seven ensuing years, Dr. Peabody taught in two or three schools, and one of these was at Portsmouth.

It was in the family of Dr. Abiel Abbot, the estimable preacher at Beverly, that Dr. Peabody’s early parental consecration to the ministry received a constant renewal and development.

The times were full of interest and excitement for any young person, both in civil and in ecclesiastical affairs. The War of 1812 must have filled his boyhood in that seaport town with stories of the daring adventures of our small but victorious navy, while the churches everywhere were stirred by a theological controversy which promised serious divisions. Dr. Freeman at King’s Chapel in 1872, Dr. Bentley in Salem in 1783, and Dr. Priestley in Philadelphia in 1784, all three distinctly humanitarians, were rapidly helping on the movement, whispers of which had been heard for some time here and there in the New England churches, and which, after the sermon by Dr. Channing at Baltimore in 1819, brought a separation in the Congregational churches.

In two weeks after the ordination Dr. Parker died, and Dr. Peabody was left in entire charge of the parish. In Portsmouth, for twenty-eight years, with the ever-increasing love and honor of the historical and distinguished church which was so large a part of the town, an example and standard among all the New England churches, with few remarkable events, but with a growing reputation as a writer and preacher, with an energy which never paused and a love for his work which never grew cold, Dr. Peabody fulfilled with rare fidelity the duties of the only parish charge he had until in 1860 he came to the university.

The joy of religion was everywhere visible in this life, the sense of rejoicing in the Lord, which bears up all holy lives, a joyful surrender to God’s will. He belonged to that company of noble souls, rapidly growing in these latter days, who hold sectarian ties as nothing before the opening glories of the Church Universal; and he could say with Angélique Arnould, “I am of the church of all the saints, and all the saints are of my church.” The aged tree ceased not to bear fruit because it began at so tender an age. The beatitude of the peacemaker was ever upon him, and the willing testimony of his generations is that he was a messenger of the Most High.

—Abridged from Heralds of a Liberal Faith, Volume 3, edited by Samuel A. Eliot, 1910.

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