Newell Dwight Hillis: A Character Sketch -- By: Z. Swift Holbrook

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 055:219 (Jul 1898)
Article: Newell Dwight Hillis: A Character Sketch
Author: Z. Swift Holbrook


Newell Dwight Hillis: A Character Sketch

Z. Swift Holbrook

The late Professor David Swing had finished that sentence, “We must all hope much from the gradual progress of brotherly love,” when he laid down his pen. He never returned to his desk to complete his task, for in a few days he passed into the great beyond. The work at Central Church was at a stand-still because its moving spirit, its master-mind, was gone. Many thought that no one could be found to follow in the footsteps of such a man, for he was a genius, a rare combination of poet and artist. To ask another to complete that unfinished sermon was to ask some writer of fiction to finish “The Mystery of Edwin Drood “where Dickens left it, or like seeking an artist to restore the missing arms to the Venus of Milo.

David Swing was the most beautiful destructionist that Chicago had ever listened to. His poetical instincts and religious faith were all that saved him from being a cynic. His natural tendency was to destroy, but his artistic sense, his intellectual love of the true, the good, and the beautiful bade him sheathe his sword like Hamlet, and, like Hamlet, he obeyed with a tenderness born of affection. He was not only poet and artist, but philosopher and sage. He was the deadly enemy of the ugly, the deformed, the cruel, whether in theology, in art, or in literature. Like Tennyson and Wordsworth, he was the poet’s poet, not in verse but in prose. For twenty years the most cultivated people in Chicago had listened to such an one who combined in the rarest degree a broad philosophy with poetical insight and artistic skill, for Swing could touch the deepest emotions of the heart in the minor key, or, with ease and simplicity, could change to the major and arouse one’s hopes and faith. He left his audience not hopeless and desolate, as does Chopin in his funeral march; but, like Mendelssohn or Beethoven, he left a ray of sunlight to brighten and to cheer. He was influenced and molded intellectually by Greek thought; for, though he never went abroad but once, and then only to Scotland, he sauntered in the streets of Athens, he was on terms of familiarity with the great minds that made that city the home of culture, of refinement, and of intellectual brilliancy. Sappho and Dante he knew by heart, and he conversed with Plato and Socrates every day in the market-place. He sauntered about the Acropolis; he loitered at the gateways of Knowledge to hear the voices of those who had learned

some new truth; he loved his New Testament, not so much that it was revelation as that it was the truth, beautiful and written in Greek.

He loved Christianity not less as the way and the life, but more as the truth. His friendship for Marc...

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