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Ware, Henry, Sr. (1764-1845)

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Henry Ware Acting President from 1810, 1828-1829

Henry Ware, Courtesy of the Unitarian Universalist Association Archives

Henry Ware, Sr., a son of John and Martha Ware, was born in Sherborn, Massachusetts, April 1, 1764. His advantages of education were but small, as the school which he attended was kept only from six to ten weeks during the winter, and the rest of the time he worked with his elder brothers on his father’s farm. He was very quiet in his disposition, a great lover of play, and far more apt to learn than any of his schoolmates.

At the age of fifteen death deprived him of his father; and his portion of the estate amounted to no more than one hundred pounds, of the currency of that day. As this was quite inadequate to secure him a college education, his brothers, with exemplary generosity, agreed to combine their efforts to aid him. Accordingly, in November 1779, he was placed, as a student, under the care of the Rev. Elijah Brown, the minister of his native parish, where in due time he completed his course preparatory to entering college. He graduated Harvard in 1785 as the first scholar of his class, and immediately after his graduation took charge of the town school of Cambridge, Massachusetts. At the same time he studied theology under the direction of the Rev. Timothy Hilliard, then minister of the First Parish in Cambridge.

His first sermon was preached on his twenty-third birthday, April 1, 1787, in his native place, in the pulpit of his early pastor and instructor. His first efforts, as a preacher, were received with much more than common favor; and in a short time he received a call to settle as pastor of the First Church in Hingham, Massachusetts, then recently rendered vacant by the death of Dr. Gay. He accepted the call from Hingham, and was ordained and installed October 1, 1787. The sermon on the occasion was preached by the Rev. Timothy Hilliard, and was published.

Mr. Ware soon found that his salary (four hundred and fifty dollars) was unequal to the support of a rising family; and, in order to make up the deficiency, he was obliged to resort to keeping boarders and fitting boys for college. Though this must necessarily have abridged in some degree his professional attainments, he was still highly acceptable to his people, and was greatly esteemed for his talents and virtues through the whole surrounding region. In 1806 Mr. Ware was honored with the degree of Doctor of Divinity from Harvard College.

In the year 1805, when he was in his forty-first year of age, he was chosen to the Hollis Professorship of Divinity in Harvard College, the chair having been recently vacated by the death of Dr. Tappan. The appointment was confirmed by the Overseers on the 14th of February, his inauguration took place on the 14th of May, and he removed to Cambridge the following month. Mr. Ware’s election was an occasion of a memorable controversy. Dr. Tappan, his predecessor, had always been regarded as a Trinitarian and a moderate Calvinist; but Mr. Ware was understood to be a Unitarian. Vigorous efforts were made to prevent the nomination, when submitted to the Overseers, from being confirmed; but it was confirmed by a vote of thirty-three to twenty-three. The “orthodox” clergy generally were greatly dissatisfied with the result, and Dr. Pearson, who had been both a Professor and a Fellow in the College, the next year resigned both these offices, giving as a reason that “the University was the subject of such radical and constitutional maladies as to exclude the hope of rendering any essential service to the interests of religion by continuing his relation to it.” Dr. Morse also published a pamphlet, entitled “True Reasons on which the Election of a Hollis Professor of Divinity in Harvard College was opposed at the Board of Overseers.” This may be regarded as the beginning of the Unitarian controversy, which was prosecuted with great vigor until the lines between the two parties were distinctly drawn.

In this controversy Dr. Ware took no immediate part until the year 1820, when he published a volume entitled “Letters to Trinitarians and Calvinists, Occasioned by Dr. Woods’s Letters to Unitarians,” which passed through three editions the same year. In 1821 Dr. Woods replied to these letters; and in 1822 Dr. Ware continued the controversy by an Answer to Dr. Woods’s second work, and to this Answer he subsequently added a Postscript, making a considerable pamphlet. This exchange of arguments was generally known as “the Wooden Ware controversy.”

In the discharge of his duties as professor, Dr. Ware read to the students lectures on the Evidences, Doctrines, and Ethics of Religion, and on Biblical History and Criticism, and conducted the instruction in those departments. After the establishment of public worship in the college chapel, in 1814, he took his share in the pulpit service. After the death of President Webber, and again after death of President Kirkland, he was invested with the temporary government of the college, and there was no diminution of its prosperity under his administration.

In 1811 Dr. Ware began to give courses of lectures for resident students in divinity, out of which grew the Divinity School, which has since been connected with the college. When this school was formally organized in 1816, he became Professor of Systematic Theology and the Evidences of Christianity, and continued to occupy this place for twenty-four years.

About the close of the year 1839 Dr. Ware, in consequence of a cataract which had been for several years forming on his right eye, found it necessary to relinquish a portion of his labors; and from that time he limited his attention to the Divinity School. He died June 12, 1845. A discourse on his life and character was subsequently delivered at Cambridge by Dr. Palfrey. On the 31st of March, 1789, Dr. Ware was married to Mary, daughter of the Rev. Jonas Clark, of Lexington, who died July 13, 1805, aged forty-three, having been the mother of ten children—seven daughters and three sons. He was married a second time, on the 9th of February, 1807, to Mary, daughter of James Otis, and widow of Benjamin Lincoln, Jr. She died on the 17th of the same month, aged forty-two. He was married a third time, not long after, to Elizabeth, daughter of Nicholas Bowes, formerly an eminent bookseller of Boston, who became the mother of nine children—five sons and four daughters. Six of his sons graduated at Harvard College, and occupied places of usefulness and honor.

Of Ware, Rev. George Putnam, D.D., wrote:

My first meeting with Dr. Ware was on entering college in 1822. He examined us in the Greek Testament. He wished to look at our books to see if they were interlined—a precaution not taken by any other of the corps of examiners. He took away the obnoxious volumes, mine among the number. He did it so mildly, so politely, so modestly, as to remove all offensiveness from the measure. When he had got through the examination, he complimented us for our good recitation, and congratulated us on having been put to the test of exchanging books with him, and having borne it so well. We left him, at least I did, thinking that, while he was the strictest of all the members of the Faculty through whose hands we had passed, he was yet one of the kindest and pleasantest. All I ever saw of him during the rest of his life was in keeping with that little incident of the text-books-the strictest ideas of propriety, thoroughness, and discipline, with a winning gentleness and paternal friendliness of manner and feeling.

Dr. Ware, you know, had a large family of his own, and during a large part of his life he used to have boys in his house to educate. He was considered very wise and successful in the management of them. He used to say that he had no system about it, and never could arrive at any. Once, when asked by a parent to draw up some set of rules for the government of children, he replied by an anecdote. “Dr. Hitchcock,” he said, “was settled in Sandwich; and, when he made his first exchange with the Plymouth minister, he must needs pass through the Plymouth woods—a nine miles’ wilderness, where travellers almost always got lost, and frequently came out at the point they started from. Dr. H., on entering this much-dreaded labyrinth, met an old woman, and asked her to give him some directions for getting through the woods so as to fetch up at Plymouth rather than Sandwich. “Certainly,” she said, “I will tell you all about it with the greatest pleasure. You will just keep right on till you get some ways into the woods, and you will come to a place where several roads branch off. Then you must stop and consider, and take the one that seems to you most likely to bring you out right.” He did so, and came out right. I have always followed the worthy and sensible old lady’s advice in bringing up my children. I do not think anybody can do better—at any rate, I cannot.” And yet he had some rules practically, whether he knew it or not. One was never to reprove a child at the moment or in presence of other persons, but to call him into the study afterwards for a solitary talk. No child, I suppose, ever left his study on such an occasion without increased love and reverence for him; but it was a formidable affair, though he used not many words, and was always mild in his manner. “I do wish,” said one of his elder boys to another of them—“I do wish father would flog us, and done with it; but this talk, there is no standing that. It knocks a fellow up so entirely, and makes one feel so.”

It was a principle with him to make but few points with a child, and avoid collision of wills when practicable, but, when he did take a stand, to abide by it and prevail. But he was once known to surrender this principle, and acknowledge himself beaten. The boy got into a fit of passionate disobedience, and the doctor, after a long contest, gave in. An elder member of the family wondered that he should yield. He said that some torrents were so violent that they had better be left to themselves than resisted; and, besides, he said he did not wish to set the child an example of obstinate wilfulness, but would rather let him see that the strongest must and could yield sometimes.

He was kind to children, and had a happy influence with them. Two little girls, near neighbors of his, had imbibed a great terror of thunder, owing to the example of a grandmother who lived with them. She was accustomed every summer afternoon without fail to walk round and examine the sky in search of thunderclouds, and, if she discerned one no bigger than a man’s hand, she would immediately shut herself into her chamber, and generally take the children with her, where she would spend the afternoon in a state of the greatest agitation. The doctor, seeing the effect upon these poor children, determined to do all in his power to avert what he foresaw would be the consequences to them in after-life. He used at such times to send for them to come and stay with his own children, and, after calming their minds, would either leave them to themselves or, if he found them still agitated with terror, he would amuse them by playing on his flute, and sometimes set all hands to dancing, and strive in various ways to beguile them of their fears. It came at last to be considered quite a holiday, when there were signs of an approaching shower. Those children, to this day, remember with gratitude the invaluable service he rendered them.

Dr. Ware was all through life very watchful against habits of self-indulgence. After seventy he received, as a birthday present from his grandchildren, a large and luxurious easy-chair. He was unwilling to use it for a long time for fear he should get in the habit of depending on the comfort of it.

He had a natural bashfulness or diffidence, which he never entirely got over. I have heard him say that, after forty years in his profession, he still trembled in the pulpit, and never rose to speak without a feeling of embarrassment. This I attribute partly to his extreme modesty, and partly to the profound reverence, the exceeding awe (which I have never seen surpassed), with which he regarded the Deity, and every truth that pertained to him, and every service of which he was the object. Whenever he rose to pray or preach, he knew what he was doing, he felt where he stood—and he trembled.

Let me mention one of his professional habits. Most clergymen, I am sure, will wonder and admire. As long as he was minister of Hingham, he said he never slept on Sunday night till he had selected his text, and planned and begun his sermon for the next Sunday.

From natural reserve and a great abhorrence of “can’t” he was never a great talker on religious subjects, even with his children; but he became more free and communicative in his last years. The advance of age affected him, as, I believe, it always does good men, but seldom or never bad men—it made him more and more cheerful, genial, open, and affectionate. During the period of his decline he did not care to hear any reading but from the Bible and religious works. Paley ’s and Sherlock’s Sermons were favorite books, also the “Chapel Liturgy.” After his sight failed, he amused himself much with recalling the sacred poetry he had learned when young, and in the night before he went to sleep he used to say it was a great comfort to him to go over even the little hymns of his childhood, and such texts of Scripture as he could remember as far back as he could remember anything. In his last years of infirmity the thought of death and a future state was always with him evidently a most solemn thought, though generally a cheerful one.

Of Ware, Rev. Abiel Abbot Livermore wrote:

My opportunities for knowing the character of Dr. Ware were great. I was the instructor, for longer or shorter periods, of four of his children—two sons and two daughters. I chiefly fitted one of his sons, George, who afterwards died in California, for college. I boarded in his family, sat at his table, and heard his table talk during the third term of my Junior year, all my Senior year in college, and during the three years of my professional education in the Divinity School. During my whole residence at Cambridge of six years I heard Dr. Ware preach at least one-half of the time.

It would be superfluous to say that the better any one knew him, the more he would love and reverence him. He was the most candid and amiable of men, a very woman in tenderness and love, and a hero in his fearless advocacy of his own honest convictions.

Dr. Ware was the soul of candor and fairness. He held the golden mean in everything. It seemed to be his desire to do perfect justice to every opinion, every action of character which came before him. He taught in the lecture-room to distrust violent partisans on any side, to winnow out the grains of pure wheat from the most uncompromising heaps of chaff, and to love and cherish truth at every cost. And all this genial grace of candor which he practiced there in his daily exercises on Sunday he carried up into the pulpit, and solemnized with prayer and the dignity of the sermon. As a preacher, he was too logical, sensible, moderate, and unimaginative to strike the fancy of your college students. It was only when their own minds had grown up to his serene and stormless height of contemplation that they felt the exquisite charm of his beautiful spirit. He was too rounded, too free from angles and extremes, to be easily grasped and held; but his wisdom, where it met a prepared and waiting spirit, I used to think was as nearly perfect as anything earthly I have met with.

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