"Moncure Daniel Conway," Harper's Magazine, September 25, 1875, pp. 785-786.
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MONCURE DANIEL CONWAY.
This distinguished writer and lecturer, whose graceful articles have made him so familiar to readers of Harper's Magazine, has returned to this country from England, after an absence of thirteen years. Mr. CONWAY was born March 17, 1832, in Stafford Country, Virginia. After receiving his early education at an academy in Fredericksburg, he was sent by his father to Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where he was graduated in 1849. Induced to enter the ministry as a profession, he was received as a Methodist preacher, and as such stationed on the circuit of Rockbridge, Maryland. During a brief period he punctually fulfilled the duties of this position; but finding himself too youthful for the career undertaken, and becoming aware of the insufficiency of his education, he returned to his home in Falmouth, and, frankly stating these conclusions, asked permission to resume study, and for this purpose to be sent to Harvard College, Massachusetts. This request not being acceded to, he at once determined to abandon his State, and start out on his own account. Proceeding directly to Massachusetts, he secured friendly aid which enabled him to enter the divinity school at Cambridge, defraying his expenses by teaching privately while following the college course. In 1854 he was graduated, and shortly after he removed to Washington city, where he had been called to take charge of a Unitarian church. His political opinions were entirely at variance with the ruling sentiments of his State and of the District of Columbia; and the antislavery discourses he delivered from his new pulpit only intensified the disfavor with which he was regarded for the conduct he had conscientiously urged to pursue in spite of family and friendly entreaties. Thus he soon discovered that Washington was not a field suited to the development of the ideas which he firmly held -- ideas diametrically opposed to the slavery system in all its forms -- and he therefore determined to seek a home in the great West. Accordingly in 1856 he took up residence in Cincinnati, where he accepted the call of another Unitarian church, and shortly after his arrival married.
During the first years of the war he continued to preach, while at the same time using his pen successfully, and meeting with great favor as a lecturer in Western and New England cities. As an ardent devotee to the side of the Union, he exerted himself strenuously in its behalf, and hence was offered a responsible position by Mr. LINCOLN, but deeming himself unable to fulfill its duties, he declined. It was then the idea occurred to him that he could render most effective service to the cause which he had at heart by proceeding to England and endeavoring to correct the mistaken notions prevalent there in regard to the conflict.
On his arrival there, in 1863, he was at once received with open arms by all the friends of America, and even in those aristocratic circles flaunting admiration of the South he not only became speedily respected and admired (thanks to his acquirements and earnest convictions), but was the means of doing away with a vast amount of high-flown prejudices and enmity which had been set up against the government of the United States. The most eminent literary and scientific men in London and throughout the kingdom were attracted to his side and with many of them he contracted warm personal friendship -- with JOHN STUART MILL, TYNDALL, HUXLEY, TENNYSON, BRIGHT, CARLYLE, etc.
In the press, in magazines, and in the lecture-room Mr. CONWAY worked zealously to correct the biased utterances against the integrity of the Union which he found fashionable in London society upon his entering it. His articles for the Fortnightly Review, Fraser's Magazine, and other periodicals, to the Times and Daily News, attracted marked, and first served to bring him prominently before the English public, among whom his subsequent efforts have quite familiarized his name. In the beginning of his residence abroad he assumed charge of South Place Chapel, Finsbury, and four years later of a chapel at St. Paul's Road, Camden-Town, for evening services only, which two positions he had continued to fill with solid tokens of his auditor's satisfaction. Yearly, amidst his manifold occupations, he has managed to take a vacation of one or two months at a time in order to visit the Continent. One year Germany has been his field of exploration; then Russia, Paris and France, Austria, Sweden, Denmark, Italy, etc.
The Franco-Prussian war of 1870 found Mr. CONWAY within the lines of the German operations; he was present at the battle of Gravelotte, near Metz. On its close, unable to prolong his vacation, he immediately set out for London, where he arrived ere the full details of that fight and the consequent situation of the two contending armies had become known. Upon his calling at the Daily News office, the editor of that paper captured him at that moment as being the most valuable man in the world; and so rejoiced was he to be able to pump an accurate observer of the occurrences in France that he fastened up his captive in one of the editorial rooms, passed in refreshments from time to time, and refrained from letting him out until column after column had been written off for the paper. As a consequence, the Daily News had a better account of the battle of the day than its confrere, the Times.
He had published several books in England. Three, The Earthbound Pilgrimage, Republican Institutions, and Sacred Anthology, have been favorably noticed by the most authoritative critics of the English reviews and papers. Undoubtedly his Sacred Anthology, both on the account of the judgment and the learning it displays, as well as for the need it fills in literature, is so far his ablest effort. It is already a standard on the library shelf, having passed through three editions besides the one printed in this country. In his criticism upon it, MAX MULLER pronounced it an important and timely contribution to philosophical studies.
During his residence abroad, Mr. CONWAY, through his special articles to Harper's Magazine, has laid before the American public information of a rare and useful order -- interviews, facts, sketches, etc.; and his correspondence to the Cincinnati Commercial, copied bodily of largely extracted from the press generally throughout the country -- a fact bearing witness to its merits -- has made his name more familiar on this side of the Atlantic that that of any other American correspondent residing in Europe. Mr. CONWAY's descriptive articles in Harper's Magazine, especially his "South Coast Saunterings in England," have been the most interesting papers of this class that have found their way into periodical literature. In the September number of that Magazine he commenced a series of very valuable illustrated papers on the South Kensington Museum. It is Mr. CONWAY's purpose to give a course of interesting lectures here during the coming season.