James Garfield’s European Vacation
James Garfield’s European Vacation

James A. Garfield was the 20th president of the United States and an original investor in Christian Standard.

A 1868 painting of James A. Garfield by Charles Loring Elliott. The painting is in the collection at Williams College.

He grew up in northeastern Ohio and was baptized in 1850 at age 18. He preached frequently during the 1850s while attending the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (which became Hiram College in 1867) and then Williams College (Williamstown, Mass.), and after returning to Hiram, Ohio, in 1856 to serve on faculty and as principal (commencing in 1857). In 1861 he entered military service with the Union Army during the Civil War.

Soon after the war, he helped make arrangements to establish this magazine. Garfield and founding editor Isaac Errett were friends; Errett preached at the assassinated president’s funeral in Cleveland in 1881.

Social media conversations recently speculated whether Christian Standard ever printed original articles by Garfield. The answer to that, unfortunately, is no.

We published some speeches and addresses by Garfield through the years, plus one poem, but the closest things to original articles were a series of three letters from Garfield to Errett during the future president’s trip to Europe and Italy in 1867.

Here is an extended excerpt from the first letter, written shortly after Garfield arrived in Liverpool, England. It includes a large section devoted to a sermon about the Lord’s Supper which Garfield heard during a service at the Chester Cathedral, which still stands.

_ _ _

Correspondence.

Letter From England

August 31, 1867; p. 5

[The following is an extract from a letter bearing date, London, Aug. 2d, written by our bro. Garfield. It will be found of general interest.—Ed.]

We reached the bar at the mouth of the Mersey, nine miles from the city, at 10:20 P.M., where we waited for the tide to rise and float us over the bar, and did not step on shore till half past seven o’clock, Friday morning. By my watch, which has not been changed since I left Washington, it was not quite two o’clock in the morning. Spent the day, and Saturday till noon—in feeling the solid earth under us again . . . and in looking over the great city of Liverpool, which has grown up almost exclusively from its commerce and ship building. . . . Saturday noon, we went by rail to the quiet old town of Chester, to spend Sunday. I knew but little of its history. . . . It is situated on the border of North Wales, on the river Dee, and marked the Northern boundary of the early Roman conquest. . . . [I]ts walls which have been kept in good repair, show many roods of Roman masonry. . . . There are many remains preserved there, and in the British Museum, which show how completely the Roman ideas and civilization prevailed. Indeed, I have been greatly surprised to find, wherever I have been, so many evidences of the influence of the Empire upon this Island. . . . On Sunday we attended church in the Cathedral, which was built more than a thousand years ago on the ruins of a temple of Apollo. In one of the rooms are suspended the banners which a British regiment carried at Bunker Hill. They are torn with Yankee bullets, and the sexton told us that nearly every Chester man who was in that battle was hit. I ought to have mentioned that Chester has been the scene of many sanguinary conflicts. The long wars of Edward to subdue the stubborn Welsh culminated there. . . . From the Phoenix Tower at one of the angles of its walls, Charles I stood and saw his army defeated by the Parliamentary forces in 1645, and Charles fled, and after a siege of several months, the city capitulated to Cromwell’s men. Its ecclesiastical history has also been important. The Cathedral was for a long time a part of an extensive Catholic abbey and convent. The old cloisters are still visible, though crumbling into ruins. It is quite impossible for me to describe the curious and mournful appearance of decaying stone buildings. It is not that the separate stones are falling from their place, it is not that acts of Vandalism have broken down arches and shattered pillars; but the canker of time has been at work upon the very material of the stone itself, a mildew that blights, a rust that corrupts, a moss that corrodes—seem to envelope and penetrate the whole pile. At first sight, you would suppose that fire had swept over it and cooked and splintered it, and left festoons of soot hanging from every projection; but on a nearer view you have a feeling akin to faintness come over you, when you realize that it is the accumulated weight of days, it is the essence of time which has filled it, and draped it with the cerements of death. I suppose we shall meet this same appearance everywhere in Europe. I have been seeing it now for several days, in many places, but I have not yet overcome the peculiar sadness with which it inspires me. It almost spoiled the pleasure with which I looked upon the Elgin marbles, and the Egyptian relics at the British Museum. If this feeling does not wear away, I shall walk the streets of Rome a bereaved mourner. But to return to Chester and our Sunday there, I was saying that its ecclesiastical history was important. Very early the district of Cheshire and some of the neighboring counties were erected into a Bishopric with Chester and its Cathedral as the head. The Bishops date back several centuries. I remember to have seen, when in college, an old collection of curious Epitaphs, among which was the following:

“Here lies Dr. Keene, the good Bishop of Chester,

Who ate a fat goose and could not digest her.”

In looking over the long list of Bishop recorded in the church annals, I found the name of Charles Keene, who died 1752; and in a chronological table of the city I find it recorded that near the end of the fifteenth century “a goose was eaten on the top of St. Peter’s steeple by the parson and his friends.” This ansers my query about the truthfulness of the epitaph. The dates are near enough together for practical purposes. A new Bishop of Chester was to be installed on the Wednesday following the Sunday we were there, and Dr. Neale, of Liverpool, honorary Canon of Chester Cathedral, preached a sort of preparatory discourse, both for communion (which was to be held on the following Sunday) and for the installation, to guard the people against the ritualistic movement which is so seriously disturbing the peace of the Church of England. I was very glad to have so fortunate an opportunity to hear that question discussed by one of the most eminent of English Canons. His sermon was very clear and powerful, evincing a boldness and belligerent vigor which I was not prepared to see under the elegant gown of a high churchman.

The text was from Luke: “This do in remembrance of me.” He commenced by saying that the meaning of the Lord’s Supper, as discussed by Luther and the Church of Rome, was settled by the Church of England when it became a Protestant Church; protesting, among other things, against the literal interpretation which Rome put upon the “hoc est corpus meum” [this is my body] of the Saviour, and claiming it to be a novelty or innovation—a falling away from the ancient truth. For three hundred years the question has been at rest in the Church of England; but for the last few years there has been a current setting back toward Rome, till at last a Bishop—the head of the ancient diocese of Salisbury—has declared, in his solemn charge to his subordinates, that the Lord’s Supper is the real presence; that the wine is a bloody sacrifice, and all his officiating ministers are sacrificing priests.

He would confront this Bishop of Salisbury with the declaration of his noble predecessor, Bishop Jewell, who discussed this very question three hundred years ago, and told the priests of Rome if they would [p]rove that the literal body of Christ was a thousand places at the same time, he would turn Papist. The present Bishop ought not to turn till he can give as strong proof. He then considered the Lord’s Supper as meaning four things:

1. Remembrance of an absent friend. If he is here, why eat in remembrance of him? His absence is implied in the text. In another place we are told where his body now is—at the right hand of God; and it will remain there till all his foes are subdued. The real presence is found in the “Lo, I am with you always.” The believer meets the real presence in prayer, not in remembrance.

2. An open profession of faith. “As often as ye do this, you do show forth his death.” To the early Christians this was a test which involved torture, and, perhaps, death.

3. A pledge and vow of faithful service. For this reason it came to be called sacramental. This is not a Biblical term; it is borrowed from pagan Rome. When the Roman became a soldier, he took what was called a sacramentum, or oath, to be true to the Imperial banner. It is proper to use this pagan custom to illustrate the vow which a Christian takes in the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper, to be faithful to the Captain of his salvation; but we have no right to import a heathen word into our theology, and then base theological doctrines on secondary meanings of that word. It is incumbent upon the ritualists to show how the word sacramentum came to mean an outward sign of an inward, spiritual operation. By this abuse of a word, they have come to use such jargon as this: “A thing may be sacramentally, but not literally true.”

4. A personally appropriating enjoyment of Christ himself. To one who rises to the full height of this great theme, the grace, power and merit of the incarnation is in the communion. But the Lord’s Supper transforms neither the bread nor the eater. Whatever he is to it, it is to him. To some the supper is only a remembrance; to others it is both remembrance and communion. It should be remembrance of, profession of, pledge to, and communion with, Christ himself.

In conclusion, he called upon all Christians to rally to the defense of their ancient faith, and finally, called upon all Englishmen, if they did not care for religion, to rally against this new heresy, if they would save their civil liberties. Protestantism had saved England from the fate of Spain hitherto. If we would not now fall, as Spain fell, we must demand of the House of Lords, who were now considering the great question, to maintain the ancient faith of Protestant England.

You may not have observed that a committee of the House of Lords is now at work preparing a report on the contention about ritualism; and scarcely a day has passed since I have been in London, but that some reference has been made to the subject in Parliament.

After church, we accepted the invitation of an English squire to drive with him. We had met him on the cars from Liverpool the day before, and talked some, and, quite unexpectedly, he sent the invitation. We drove to his place (Mollington Hall) about three miles from Chester, and had a fine opportunity of seeing the interior of an English home. He belongs to the class of wealthy country squires who own large landed estates. . . .

On Monday, the 28th, we came by the Northwestern railway, at the rate of 40 to 50 miles per hour, passing through Crewe and Rugby, and reached London before evening. I ought to have mentioned that there were fourteen American families stopping at the same hotel we stopped at in Chester. The whole country swarms with them.

J. A. Garfield.

Garfield visited the Chester Cathedral during his trip to England in 1867. He heard a sermon about the Lord’s Supper preached there. This photo from 2012 is taken from the southeast. (Courtesy of Stephen Williams/Wikimedia Commons)

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A second letter from Garfield, dated Aug. 20, 1867, and datelined “Glasgow,” was published in the Oct. 5 edition. It spoke at length of visiting sites connected with William Shakespeare, including the bard’s grave. Garfield mentioned seeing “a first folio edition of his works” in the British Museum that included an engraved portrait of the man beneath which were verse that concluded, “Look not on his picture, but his book.”

Garfield opined: “I have noted these points for the purpose of showing how Shakespeare was regarded by his contemporaries. These lines were published seven years after his death, and ought to have some weight with Miss [Delia] Bacon and Judge [Nathaniel] Holmes, and the other literary lunatics who are trying to prove that Shakespeare did not write his plays.”

And finally, the third bit of correspondence by Garfield, called a “Letter from Italy”—dated Sept. 25, 1867, and datelined “Florence”—was published in Christian Standard’s Nov. 2 issue. The letter goes on, at length, about Italian politics, Catholicism, and the pope. Included are such lines as, “Nothing but respect and pity for the aged Pio IX. has kept the Italians from sweeping away the pretense of his temporal power months ago.” [Pope Pius IX was then 75.] Also: “At the Peace Congress, held in Geneva, week before last, Garibaldi declared that the Pope and his religion are the chief enemies of liberty in Europe.”

At some point, perhaps we will revisit this correspondence to Errett from Garfield, but for now, enjoy the final sentence of that final letter:

“If America can unite the power, valor and intellect of old Rome with the purity and truth of Christianity, she may become what Rome was, without becoming what Rome is.”

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—Jim Nieman, managing editor, Christian Standard

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