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Ware, William (1797-1852)

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William Ware

William Ware. Courtesy of Andover-Harvard Theological Library, Harvard Divinity School.

Biographical Introduction

William Ware, another son of the Rev. Henry Ware, Sr., was born at Hingham, Mass., on the 3rd of August, 1797. Like his brother Henry, William was fitted for college, partly at Cambridge, under the instruction of his cousin, Ashur Ware, afterwards judge of the District Court of the United States for the District of Maine, and partly under that of the Rev. Dr. Allyn, of Duxbury. He entered Harvard College in 1812, and graduated in 1816.

The year after his graduation he spent at Hingham, as an assistant in a school, while at the same time he was prosecuting theological studies under the Rev. Henry Colman, of whose family he was an inmate. The next three years he spent at Cambridge, still engaged in the study of his profession, but employed, during part of the time, in teaching the town school, and subsequently as assistant to Mr. Norton, who was then the college librarian. He began preaching in 1820. He accepted a call from New York, and was ordained as pastor of the first Unitarian church ever established in that city (then worshipping in Chambers Street) on the 18th of December, 1812. His labors in New York were very arduous, as he was the pioneer Unitarian minister in the city, and, indeed, in the whole region.

In March, 1836, he began in the Knickerbocker Magazine the publication of the “Letters from Palmyra,” which subsequently appeared in a volume under the title of “Zenobia.” In October of the same year he resigned his charge, and removed to Brookline, Mass., where he passed the ensuing winter, dividing his time between preaching and completing the work just referred to. In June, 1837, he removed to Waltham, having accepted an invitation from the Second Congregational Church in that place to supply their pulpit. Here he continued till April, 1838, when the church to which he had temporarily ministered was united with the older church in that place, under the pastoral care of the Rev. Samuel Ripley. Mr. Ware then removed to Jamaica Plain, where he purchased a small farm. He preached frequently, and part of his time he devoted to writing the sequel of “Zenobia,” which was published under the title of “Probus” (now known as “Aurelian”) in June, 1838. About this time he became the proprietor and editor of the Christian Examiner, which remained in his hands until 1844. In July, 1839, he removed to Cambridge, and besides his editorial labors was engaged in the preparation of a new work of fiction, a part of which appeared in the Christian Examiner, and was subsequently published under the title of Julian: or Scenes of Judea, in October, 1841.

In January, 1844, having terminated his connection with the Christian Examiner, Mr. Ware received and accepted an invitation to the pastoral care of the Unitarian church in West Cambridge [Arlington]. Hoping to make this his permanent home, he built a house on the banks of the beautiful Menotomy Pond; but a deep shadow quickly fell upon his bright prospects. In November of the same year he was attacked with a disease, which afterwards proved to be epilepsy. He continued to preach for a short time after this, but in July following, as the disease was evidently making progress, he felt constrained to desist from public speaking and to resign his pastoral charge. In November, 1845, he returned to Cambridge, and there made his home during the rest of his life. After this his health improved considerably, so that in 1847 he engaged in the ministry-at-large in Boston, and continued thus employed for about a year. He had long cherished the desire and purpose of visiting Europe; and, as circumstances seemed now to favor it, he sailed for Leghorn in April, 1848. He was absent somewhat more than a year, passing most of his time in Italy, and chiefly in Florence and Rome, to which, as a student of antiquity and a lover of art, he was specially attracted. On his return, he prepared a course of lectures, which he delivered in Boston, New York, and some other places in the winter of 1849-50. In 1851 these lectures were published in a single volume, entitled Sketches of European Capitals. During the summer of this year he was occupied in the preparation of a course of lectures on the “Works and Genius of Washington Allston.” But, just as his arrangements for delivering them in Boston were completed, he was suddenly prostrated by the disease to which for many years he had been subject. The lectures, however, were subsequently published. He died on the 19th of February, 1852.

In addition to the volumes already noticed, Mr. Ware published: A Communion Sermon, 1825; Three Sermons on Unitarian Christianity, 1828; A Sermon on Worldly-mindedness, in the Liberal Preacher, 1829; and a Memoir of Nathaniel Bacon, in the thirteenth volume of Sparks’s American Biography. In 1827 he edited the Unitarian, a small periodical published in New York.

In 1823 Mr. Ware was married to Mary, daughter of Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse, of Cambridge. He left two sons and two daughters.

First-Person Accounts of William Ware

His successor in New York, Dr. Henry W. Bellows, wrote:

I knew Mr. Ware only in his prime, from forty to fifty. He had a noble and beautiful presence, a good height, a firmly and generously fashioned frame, a head so high and large, so intellectual and commanding, that I recollect Miss Martineau said it was worth coming across the Atlantic to see it. His complexion was fair and pallid, but not of an unhealthy look. On the contrary, although very thoughtful and scholarly in his aspect, he had commonly a robust and hearty manner, aided by a cheery and manly voice and by a vigorous movement of foot and muscular grasp of hand, which gave an impression of power and health. The very serious disease (of the brain) from which he suffered, perhaps all his life, but certainly acutely for the last ten years of his existence, and which finally carried him off, never very seriously impaired his appearance or showed itself in his external ways. A full, soft eye, with mirth and mildness in it, and a great, wide-looking sense, with a hospitality for all that Art and Nature and Humanity could bring within its sweep; a generous, strong, firm chin; a handsome, regular mouth; with a magnificent dome overhanging and crowning all—made William Ware’s head and face remarkable in all assemblies. And this fine physique did not mislead. A heart as true, noble, and sweet as ever beat; a mind clear, broad, and strong; a will firm and erect; a conscience clear and scrupulous; a taste pure and classical; a spirit reverential and humble—all were in William Ware. Nothing but a lurking disease of the brain kept him from doing still larger justice to his great powers of mind and character, for he was equal, in intellectual and moral endowments, to anything. Self-distrust, reserve, and a shrinking from publicity—which his social affections, which were strong, his delightful power of conversation, and his universal personal acceptableness did nothing to account for, and which must have proceeded from disease—these kept him from doing that full justice to himself in the pulpit and in his professional career which, could he have overcome them, would have placed him as a preacher where he afterwards stood as a writer. His sermons, always dear, high-toned, and in the purest English, were comparatively dry and unadorned; his manner somewhat cold and unaffecting—simply from the shrinking delicacy with which he avoided the least approach to ostentation or self-exhibition, and from the excessive dread of show of emotion. He was so real, so modest, so sincere, that to do anything for effect, to seem to feel or to say more than the coolest self-judgment would justify, was wholly beyond his power; and for fear he should sink into mere professional zeal and pulpit effort he kept far within the limits of his own sensibilities and powers, and hid alike his fine imagination and his tender heart from those he addressed in his sermons. His verbal memory was very bad. Public extempore prayer was a perpetual trial to him, and he was always afraid of breaking down in it. The presence of an audience disconcerted and distressed him, and I think he seldom had any comfort in his public utterances.

“Oh that William could preach his letters!” said his distinguished brother Henry to me one day in Cambridge, as he was reading one of those brilliant, playful, affectionate, easy epistles which his friends were so fond of receiving. For, all the while that Mr. Ware was preaching severe, essay-like, and unattractive sermons, which owed their power mainly to the confidence, respect, and affection inspired by his high, manly, pure, and disinterested character, his stern simplicity of soul and unassuming worth, he was capable of writing—and soon proved it—in a charming, imaginative, dramatic, and many-colored style, of mingled purity and strength, grace and elegance. He wrote, too, with consummate self-possession and ease, not even correcting his manuscripts, and with a marvelous rapidity and richness and beauty. His splendid series of classical novels must certainly hold a permanent place in literature.

Mr. Ware’s ministry in New York was indescribably laborious. He made a conscience of two original sermons every week. He visited his widely scattered congregation with laborious care. He was punctiliously attentive to the sick and to the poor, wearing himself out in persistent watchings and readings by their bedsides. He had a nervous shrinking from everything unhandsome or offensive to the senses and the taste, but this only made him the more exacting of himself in his attentions to the least interesting or most repulsive dependents on his pastoral attentions. Very proud and self-respectful, he contended with a narrow income in a most uncomplaining way. Indeed, his port and carriage made at no time the least appeal to sympathy, much less to pity or help. Willing to give any and everything, sympathy, money, attention, he asked nothing, and with difficulty received anything. I recollect well meeting him in Florence, a lonely self-exile, because he could not bear that his disease should wear on the sympathies of home, and chose to suffer alone. His manner and conversation gave no indication of the martyrdom he was enduring. Indeed, they almost rendered inquiry as to his health impossible—you felt that he would not permit sympathy with his sorrows to be even hinted. I have never seen so self-subsistent and dignified a sufferer. The sword hanging over his head could not quench his smile, his courage, his self-reliance; and yet he concealed even his fortitude, his triumph of spirit.

His aim seemed to be to avoid all notice, all praise, all pity.

The genuineness of Mr. Ware was apparent in everything. He was incapable of an insincere tone of voice. He understated his convictions, his affections, his faith. He concealed from the young his superiority in knowledge, experience, wisdom, as if it were almost a wrong. I recollect his saying to me once that he never knew a man who did anything worth while, who was lacking in conceit. He spoke as if he would give much for that quality. His humility was so great and so genuine that he felt it to be a hindrance. But it was accompanied by an immense self-respect-no self-complacency, no adequate self-valuation, but great self-respect. He could not be praised; his dignity, childlike as it was, could not be invaded. At bottom he was really great in his personality.

Mr. Ware had a dry humor about him, very delightful to his intimate friends. I remember his walking down Broadway with me the day before my ordination in New York as his successor. Assuming a very solemn expression, he said, “Sir, I wish to give you one very serious piece of advice in entering on your new life in this great and dangerous city.” I opened my ears to take in the consummate counsel, in which I was prepared to find the wisdom of his life and ministry condensed, “Be careful, sir, be very careful not to step on the coal holes.” Doubtless he meant to express his sense of the folly of expecting a young man to profit much by the advice of his seniors. His remark about the coal holes has been of real service (for they are slippery pests, when shut, and perilous traps, when open); but a thousand times, in its moral import of “taking heed to my ways,” I have revived it, as his sole counsel to me in stepping into his shoes.

Dr. Dewey, who worked with him in New York, wrote of him:

William Ware was born for another profession than that in which he passed his life. He should have been an artist, a painter, or an author. There are some drawings in his house at Cambridge which show that he would have excelled in that walk of art. The study walls of his house in New York were covered over with crayon sketches. Though so calm in his outward appearance that few would have suspected it, yet he was too sensitive for public life. Between silent walls, with none to observe him, he would have found his work congenial and grateful. But before an audience his faculties had no fair play.

Not that he was indifferent to his hearers, still less to his people. For I hardly ever knew a parish more devotedly attached to its pastor than his, composed, too, in part of some of the most cultivated and admirable persons, as you, his successor, well know. And nobody can read his “Zenobia,” “Aurelian,” and “Julian” without seeing that he was full of genius and eloquence. But the face of an audience seemed to chill that glowing enthusiasm. And it was so with him in the more solemn and formal occasions of his parochial life. He used to say to me that the death and approaching funeral of any person in his parish, even of a little child, filled him with agitation and distress for days.

I have in my possession two most touching letters from him on what he called his “mistake for a life.” So much did he feel this that he determined, soon after his settlement in New York, to retire. But his brother Henry, devoted as he was to the church, as all our churches well know, could not bear that he should leave his post, and persuaded him to remain in it. My own relation with him was so intimate, and so important was his presence and companionship to me, that I exacted and obtained from him a promise that he would not resign his place without consulting me. Great, therefore, was my surprise when I learned one day in my country home that he had actually taken that step. I went down to New York, and my first word to him was : “How is this? You have broken your promise.” His answer shut my lips; for he said, “I have not consulted even my father or brothers.” I saw how it was. He could not bear the unnatural strain of his situation upon his mind and heart. Exclamations of regret and disappointment arose on every hand, and my own sorrow was such that I felt, I am afraid, a sort of malicious pleasure in telling him of persons in the parish, most highly valued by him, who said to me, “We have lost our best friend, and the greatest benefactor we ever had in our families.” He was much surprised—for nothing in him exceeded his modesty—and said, “If I had known that, perhaps I should have remained.”

It was some years after that he was seized with that affection of the brain which eventually proved fatal to him. How disease should have entered so perfect a dwelling as the dome of his upper head, I do not know, nothing could be finer. Pendent to his likeness in my library hangs that of Ruskin, but with all his intellectual beauty it is not equal to Ware’s.

Related Resources in the Harvard Square Library Collection

The Biography of Henry Ware, Sr.