April 17th, Mr. Bliss left Augusta for Chicago. here he packed away books and papers, and made arrangements to store away furniture until he and his family should return at the close of the year to again make a home. The books then put away, he was never to see again. It was to him a final disposition of his earthly effects. With wife and children, he left Chicago May 1st, for Rome, Pennsylvania, the old home, intending here to pass the summer in rest and in writing songs for the winter campaign, and commencing the work again in October. It was a very happy summer to him. The little invalid George was greatly benefited by the change of air and scene, and rapidly grew well and strong.
Editor's note: references in the diaries of a Major General and a minister who knew the Bliss family indicate that George, the younger son, was either "born with a bad foot" or "crippled by a cow stepping on little George." Information provided by Debra Blum. Old friends came to visit them, and many dear familiar scenes and friends were visited by them. During the summer, a Normal Institute was held in Towanda, and one beautiful Saturday, all the singers came up in carriages to Rome, and passed the day with Mr. Bliss. He was happy as a child, with the pleasure of the meeting with old-time friends, and the singing under the trees of the old-time songs. He attended for a few days the Sunday School Parliament conducted by Rev. W.F. Crafts at "Thousand Island Park;" visited the Philadelphia Exposition, sang at the Chautauqua Assembly, and greatly enjoyed its sessions and the intercourse with Christian friends there, and passed a week that he counted a very delightful one, at the home of Mr. Moody at Northfield, Massachusetts. Mrs. Bliss was his constant companion during the summer, at all of these places. Mr. J.B. Vincent, conductor of the Chautauqua Assembly, thus writes of Mr. Bliss' services there and his personal recollections of him:
The fearful tragedy of last Friday evening sent a thrill of horror throughout the country, before the names of the unfortunate victims had been announced. But what was the consternation and grief of the American church, when the telegraph made known the fact that among the unrecognized or unrecovered passengers was the evangelist and singer, P.P. Bliss, who, through his many songs, and especially through his association with Major Whittle in evangelistic labor, was so well and so widely known.
Mr. Bliss was on his way to Chicago to engage in special labors. I have the impression that he had been summoned there to assist in the meetings of the week of prayer. He was accompanied by his lovely and devoted wife, who went down with him in the fated train, and who with him entered the Father's house.
According to the report of one of the rescued passengers, Mr. Bliss, after the accident, escaped from the car, and then returned to save his wife. Finding that she could not be brought out, he resigned himself to her doom, and they perished together.
Mr. Bliss was one of the noblest and one of the gentlest of men. He had the delicacy of a woman and the strength of a man. His physique was magnificent. I think he was one of the most handsome men I ever met. Large, well proportioned, graceful, with a fine, manly face, full of expression. That body of his was a grand instrument of music, and from its strength came forth sweetness and power. His voice was deep, of wonderful compass and pathos. As it rang out through the woods at Chautauqua, the most thoughtless would stop and listen. Its marvelous magnetic charm was intensified by the energy of the Divine Spirit, which so thoroughly possessed the body and soul of the sweet singer. To the utmost transparency of his pure and simple character, he added a fervent and childlike faith. He was a rare Christian. He knew and believed and enjoyed and lived and preached and sang the Gospel of Christ. His songs were for the glory of Christ. I never knew a man more thoroughly imbued with the Christian spirit. He had one aim and one work in life. He was always on the look-out for souls. he coveted, above everything else, spiritual results. At our "Sunday School Assembly," in private conversation, in the prayer meetings, in the eventide conference, on the platform, everywhere, he seemed absorbed in this one great work. Last evening I received from a personal friend and Chautauqua Sunday School worker a letter in which the following allusion to Mr. Bliss will illustrate the impression he made:
I do not know how it has appeared to you, but I have been impressed with the idea that Brother Bliss grew very rapidly in grace the last year. I noticed, for instance, a great difference between the Syracuse Convention of 1875 and your Chautauqua meeting of last summer. He came to the Lake full of the Holy Ghost and of faith, and all his work was accompanied by divine power. You may not have noticed it, but I saw a change from his very first utterance on the platform; and I certainly never knew one more happy in his selections, suggestions, etc. I remember, in one of the deeply impressive meetings where a soul said he would "try to seek the Lord," quick as though Mr. Bliss said to him, "spell it t-r-u-s-t." In the meetings you assigned to me, I found him a helper indeed from the time he reached the grounds, prompt, unassuming, but most decided, and with that earnest, serious manner befitting the winner of souls. The felicity of his hymn and tune selections is generally known, but the force of his Christian character, his directness, energy and downright devotion should be emphasized now that we have lost him."
One of the holiest, Mr. Bliss was one of the cheeriest of men. His was not a somber piety. There was no touch of asceticism in his nature. He was as simple as a child, and full of genial humor. His personal letters overflow with playfulness, puns, rhymes, and personal thrusts of the wittiest but always of the most generous character. He lived in the light. It was the light of the Lord, and that is the light of love. He never had anything but good to say of his brethren. He never carped nor criticized. He saw in others what he had most of in himself. He "took to" people. He loved his fellow men.
I am not competent to speak of Mr. Bliss as a musician. No doubt, many of his songs lack the fire of true poetry and the ring of the immortal music, but when he sang them the words became poetry, and the melodies the very soul of music. Many of his productions have real merit, and will live and be sung for a hundred years to come. They are charged with the sentiment and the force of the living Gospel. "I am so glad that our Father in Heaven," will be a child-song in the church of the future. If there's only one song" of his that remains, it will be that one. His "Almost Persuaded" has the solemnity of eternity in it. Many a soul has been led by it to immediate decision. "Still There's More to Follow," has kindled the faith of the believer and led him to seek more of the wondrous "grace" and "love" and "power" which are the burden of it. "The Light of the World is Jesus" is a song which derives peculiar significance from the tragic end of its author. Did he sing at the last:
No darkness have we who in Jesus abide?
That the prayer of the song "When Jesus Comes," was fulfilled in his last moments I cannot doubt:
Oh, let my lamp be burning,
When Jesus comes.
I can hear him sing again, out of the tempest in which his earthly bark was foundered, as his redeemed spirit looked upon the shores of the glorious land just beyond:
Bright gleams the morning, sailor, uplift the eye
Clouds and darkness disappearing, glory is night
Safe in the life boat, sailor, sing evermore,
"Glory, glory, hallelujah! Pull for the shore."
Mrs. Bliss was in every way worthy of the noble companion of her life and death. Like him, she was remarkably pure and simple. She was his helper in conventions [ footnote: see page 251, chapter 21 ], and she encouraged him to put forth his earliest efforts as a musician. How her rich alto voice would pour forth its volumes of music as they stood together on the Chautauqua platform! I have heard them again and again sing at night to an immense concourse of people, and amidst the stillness of the grave the people would hear these voices of the Lord calling to them as out of eternity.
And the orphaned children! How often in our travels together have those dear parents talked of the treasures of heart and home. May the Father of the fatherless be the protector of the little darlings! I sincerely hope that Mr. Moody's call for a penny collection in all the Sunday Schools of the country, January 14, will receive a prompt and liberal response.
The circumstances combined to render the disaster of the Friday evening - that fearful holocaust - the most horrible of all modern accidents. The terrible crash of eleven cars as they fell seventy feet, the howling winds, the crushing ice, the freezing waters, the drifting, blinding snow, the raging fires,, and the black starless skies! What agony did the victims experience! No mortal tongue can describe it!
But that tempest was to our dear Bliss and his wife the "whirlwind" in which they were caught up, as by a "chariot of fire," into the kingdom of the Eternal. Whether killed by the fall, or the waters, or the fire, it mattered little to them. Whether the struggle was for but a moment, or protracted for many minutes, it was for them to look the dear Lord in the face - the Lord whom they had trusted and loved so long - and all was well. And all now is well.
How can we account for such a wonderful visitation? Are good men so plentiful that the Lord can remove one so useful just at the time of his largest promise? What does it all mean?
Well, we are not called upon to explain it. God does not require His servants to account for or to defend His administration. But we do see a few things in the visitation which give us some light and consolation.
1. The departed brother and his wife were ready. They were ripe for heaven. Why should we mourn or wonder when the chorus of the skies is made stronger and sweeter?
2. The songs our dear brother wrote are still with us. And they have received a new sweetness and significance and power by the tragic end of the singer of them.
3. This death has startled into new activity and consecration the workers in all the churches. Who can estimate the intensified convictions, the strengthened purposes, the redoubled diligence among that blessed brotherhood who are at work in America - and all this, under God, caused by this solemn call.
4. By he peculiar method of the divine providence in the present case, a holy Christian life is brought before the public. Brother Bliss now preaches with a tongue of fire to the millions. Tens of thousands who had never seen nor even heard of the departed are now brought face to face with his lovely character, and with the Christ he so faithfully proclaimed.
5. But is there not ministry in the sphere to which he has been removed, for such a royal soul as his?
Dear Bliss! The memories will come - his face, his noble form, his gentle manners, his fervent prayers and appeals, his deep absorption in the one beautiful work of his life! Farewell, dear friend! Our hearts bleed at the thought that we shall see him no more here! The world seems lonely without him! But we shall meet yonder!
Plainfield, N.J., January 4, 1877
While at Northfield in September, Mr. Bliss accompanied Mr. Moody to Greenfield, Brattleboro, Keene and adjacent towns, and sang at meetings conducted by Mr. Moody. He writes: "September 18, 1876 - Just returned from a week with Bro. Moody, in his home at Northfield, driving one hundred miles over Vermont, Massachusetts and New Hampshire hills, and holding eleven meetings." He greatly enjoyed this visit, as did also Mrs. Bliss, although both would laughingly mention Mr. Moody's habit of making the best use of his visitors that he could, as manifest by his using them at eleven meetings in a week.
October 1st, Mr. Bliss arrived in Chicago, and was present at Moody and Sankey's opening service. He was the guest, at this time, of Mr. H.M. Thompson, of the Brevoort House, and here composed several of the songs that appeared in Gospel Hymns No. 2. He did not participate in any of the Chicago meetings in a public way, but for three weeks, was a constant attendant, and was greatly blessed in the remarkable services that opened Mr. Moody's work in Chicago, and in the personal contact with Mr. Moody and Mr. Sankey, with the latter of whom he spent most of his time, removing for a couple of weeks to Mr. Sankey's hotel, that they might be uninterruptedly together. Until this time they had never been much together in the work, but had arranged for their hymn books mostly by correspondence. Now, they had what both had long desired - a season of personal conference, that cemented more closely the bonds of brotherhood between them.
The hundreds of those who have compared and criticized these two men, and, judging of what is in us all by nature, have thought of them as in any manner envious or jealous of one another, would have a clearer apprehension of what the grace of God in the heart can do, if they could have known the loving relationship that existed between them. It was a scene long to be remembered, to be with them alone for an hour in the room at the Pacific Hotel, as they compared and tested and criticized the songs to be used in their meetings. First, one would be at the organ rendering a song, then the other, and both laughing, crying and praying together over their work. They rejoiced in each other's gifts, and praised God for the honor conferred upon them in being used in His service. Mr. Bliss would never listen, if he could avoid it, to depreciation of others, and in all the writer's fellowship with him, he cannot recall an unkind or envious expression or act toward those whom he may have esteemed better singers or of greater reputation than himself. God answered to him in a remarkable degree his prayer,
Only an Instrument, ready His praises to sound at His will,
Willing, should He not require me, in silence to wait on Him still.
He could sit and listen to the singing of others, and pray for them, and rejoice in God's using them, without a thought to mar his communion with God. During this sojurn in Chicago, many precious gatherings of brethren consecrated to evangelistic work were enjoyed by Mr. Bliss. Needham and Stebbins, Moorhouse, Charles Inglis, Rockwell, Morton, Jacobs, Farwell, Spafford, Dean and others were frequently together in those days, dining with Moody, and discussing Gospel truth or plans of work, or in Bliss' room listening to some new song. These brethren and others engaged in the work were all dear to Mr. Bliss, and were many times mentioned by name in his prayers. He delighted to hear of the blessing of God upon their labors, and to see their own growth in grace.
October 21st, the brethren separated for their different posts near Chicago. Mr. Bliss went to Kalamazoo, Michigan, Mrs. Bliss accompanying him. The evening of their arrival, they were entertained at Rev. Mr. Spencer's, where, with thoughtful hospitality, all the pastors of the city were gathered to give them welcome. It was a very pleasant and profitable meeting, and both Mr. and Mrs. Bliss often recurred to it as having given them much pleasure. The meetings held here were participated in by all the ministers, and from the first were much blessed. Mr. Bliss conducted a young people's meeting here as in other places, and with happy results. Many there look upon him as the instrument in God's hands of leading them to Christ. He sang in the young ladies' seminary, and at the Baptist College, and in many private residences to the sick and invalid ones. The dear friend there, who for seven years or more has been confined to his room, will well remember the sunshiny day, when Mr. Bliss came and sang to him the "Ninety and Nine," "Hallelujah! What a Savior," and how, in the seasons of prayer and reading the word that followed this visit, he gave his heart to the Lord. In a little while, when will cross the tide, and will know in its fullness the truth, "Hallelujah, what a Savior." The dear young man who met Mr. and Mrs. bliss in the singing room, grown reckless from repeated failures in his experiments at becoming a Christian, will never forget the pressure of the hands that were so kindly placed upon his shoulders, or the earnest, loving look from the eyes that met his, or the words so earnestly spoken, telling him that his failure had come from his experiments, and urging him now, without experimenting, to trust Christ fully for all thins, and make a full commitment to Him. Very earnestly did both these dear friends pray for this young man. Very faithful was dear Mrs. Bliss in her encouragement and counsel to him, and very happy were both of them when, the day of their departure, they took their leave of him, and intelligent, decided, happy Christian. Never will dear H. forget the interest taken in his conversion by Mr. Bliss, nor the sympathy and faith of Mrs. Bliss with his dear parents, when they were praying to God for his salvation. H. has sent me a copy of a letter received from Mr. Bliss, which speaks his heart, and tells of his personal interest in his Lord's work:
20th November, 1876
God bless you, my dear friend H., or Brother "Fred," as I prefer to call you. It is just as I expected. Your letter didn't surprise me a bit.
Welcome to the ranks. Now "forward, march," in the service of our Captain. You are not the man to sit still and prosper. And I'm so glad, Fred, that you've begun in time to put in a full day's work. So here's my heart's "Good Cheer," and I expect to see you take both hands and pull with a will.
The kind of a "Christian" you are to be will be largely determined in the next few months, I might have said weeks.
Lend a hand to that score or more of your associates and the college boys. Pull them in shore before they drift down to the rapids. Help some weak friend by a lift on his burden.
Oh, how the world needs happy, singing, joyful young Christians!
I congratulate you upon the good times you are going to have in the service of the Lord. If the Devil knocks you down occasionally, you'll fall on your knees; and then he'll soon leave you. Good is the Lord. Amen
Should have replied sooner, but hoped to see you. We all go to Chicago to-morrow night. Love to father, mother and sisters.
Yours in Galatians ii, 20,
Just beginning to get hold here. Pray for us.
One evening at Kalamazoo, while on the way to the service, this verse was repeated and became a favorite with us from that on, and was almost daily quoted:
In peace I go; no fear I know;
Since Christ walks by my side.
His love to me my joy shall be,
His words shall be my guide.
Among the papers found in his trunk was a slip with that verse written upon it. "Whatever comes, let us just stick to that," he would remark, and it truly expressed the atmosphere in which, in those days, he seemed to be walking. Each day the Master gave him some special work, some special blessing. Some years before, he had given a concert in Kalamazoo, and was entertained for the night by a gentleman who a little time after had died. Mr. Bliss sought out the family, and found a representative of them in a daughter who had married a well-known business man, but neither of them Christians. God used his visit to them, and both were led, before the meeting closed, to accept Christ, and were very happy in His love, and are now among the most active Christian workers of the place.
Another letter, received from a young lady in Kalamazoo, and given below, will tell its own story as to the faithfulness of Mr. and Mrs. Bliss to individual souls - the simple secret of all success in evangelistic work, from the time that Jesus talked with Nicodemus by night and the woman at Samaria at noon, to the present hour.
Faithfulness in private work with individuals must keep pace with service in public to the crowds, or that will be no power.
February 10, 1877
Dear Sir - I was baptized last Sunday, and while I realize that "with God all things are possible," still it does not seem to me that any one but Mr. Bliss could have induced me to take this step. I am a minister's daughter and have been a constant attendant on divine worship, and have attended many revivals where sinners flocked to Christ, but they always left me just outside the fold. When Mr. Bliss sang, "Only Trust Him," it touched my heart. Then he was so sympathetic, and he said that he did not know the time when he was converted. He left feeling entirely out of the question; and while others made "great the mystery of godliness," with him it was "Only Trust Him."
I promised Mr. B. that I would write to them at Jackson, but was very busy with my studies, and, as I told Dr. Hodge, I waited too long; but he thought that in heaven they would rejoice with far greater joy than they could on earth. But heaven seems a great way off, and there are a great many passages in the Bible I cannot understand, and when I heard of their death it seemed to me that God did not care for His children; but with all such thoughts I see again the glorious singer, and hear in sweetest accent, "Only Trust Him." There was no one, excepting my dear papa, mamma and sister, whose death I would have regretted so much. I can scarcely realize that I knew them only three short weeks. I spent the afternoon with them at their rooms here. They were the happiest hours of my life. Mrs. Bliss gave me her photograph, but the only one I have of him hangs on memory's walls, and it shall never be obliterated. I have a beautiful letter that they wrote me while they were here. I am very glad that you came to Kalamazoo. I pray for you that God will make you very successful in winning souls to Him.
I gave Mr. Bliss "Bunyan's Complete Works," and wrote on the fly leaf, "I go to prepare a place for you - that where I am there ye may be also;" but little did I think he would so soon be there. The last night they were here, we were the last ones to leave the church. At the door, Mr. Bliss turned around and said, "Good bye, old Methodist Church, I shall not see you again;" but to me he said, "I will just say good night to you; we shall meet again in the morning." He won the love of all. Heaven seems nearer and dearer now that they are there, but how we miss them here! Mr. Bliss said to me some time before he left, "I shall watch for you in heaven." I know they are waiting for me at the beautiful gate. Will you pray for me, Mr. Whittle, that I may be a happy, devoted Christian and meet them there?
Yours in the blessed hope of John vi, 47,
The afternoon Mr. Bliss left Kalamazoo, the young men, many of them new converts, surprised him by gathering at the depot and singing him a farewell from Gospel Songs. The last song, which closed as the train came up to the station, was "We're Going Home To-morrow."