While in Peoria, our dear brother, Mr. R.C. Morgan, of London, England (whose article upon Mr. Bliss, taken from The Christian, will be found in the chapters devoted to memorial services), paid us a visit and passed some days with us. His immediate object in coming was to talk with us about a visit to England. This was proposed before he came, by Mr. Moody, but was now to be considered. Mr. and Mrs. Bliss were both favorably inclined to the proposition, but desirous of knowing and doing the will of the Lord in the matter. I find in our diary, under date of
December 4th: "To-day, Bliss, and wife and I united in special prayer that God would guide as to our future movements. Moody has spoken about our going to England. We expect Brother Morgan of London here, this week, to suggest this to us. The pastors met in Chicago, to-day, to consider inviting us there after Mr. Moody leaves, and calls re before us from various places. We know not what is best, but trust we are all willing to be led, and we ask the Master to plan for us and to keep us. We had rather go anywhere else than to Chicago, and shrink much from following Mr. Moody there. May God give us wisdom to know His will."
Mr. Bliss, from the very first, had an almost unaccountable aversion to the plan proposed of his returning from his Christmas visit to his children, to Chicago, and work there. He desired to remain in the East, working in New England, while Moody and Sankey were in Boston. The expression in his last letter before coming west is explained by this reluctance. The subject of conversation during these days at Peoria naturally turned much upon the proposed trip to England. Mrs. Bliss was disposed to leave her children in this country. She said, "They are under as good care with sister Clara as they could possibly be. They love her now as much as they do me, and I believe it would be better for them and better for us in the work, if they are left in Rome." In commenting upon this, the remark was made that if accident should occur and we were drowned, the children would be safe. Her reply was, "Well, I shouldn't think of that. If we ask the Lord to guide us, and it seems best for all to go, and we are all drowned, it is all right. It is the Lord's will, and it will be best. We should all go together." When Mr. Burchell's dispatch, stating that "Bliss, wife and children were among the dead," was shown me, these words of Mrs. Bliss came very vividly to my mind.
In Peoria, Mr. Bliss held his children's meetings each afternoon, at the Methodist Church, and became more interested than ever in the work for the young, and earnestly expressed his determination to more and more labor in that direction. A number of very interesting conversions in his meetings gave him much pleasure. One dear little German boy, a manly little fellow of eight years old, interested Mr. and Mrs. Bliss very much. He was an intelligent boy, and had a business-like way of speaking of his having accepted Christ, that commended him specially to Mrs. Bliss, who was always repelled by affectation in young or old, and was, perhaps unconsciously, a little unsympathetic toward children on this account. It was during a conversation suggested by her speaking of her confidence in this boy, that Mr. Bliss said, "You do not understand the child nature. You never had a childhood, but were always a mother child." Since their death, the following letter was received from their little Peoria friend. It is given verbatim:
Peoria, Ill., January 27
DEAR BROTHER WHITTLE:
I saw a piece in the Standard of you and Mr. Bliss. I saw that you and the Rev. Mr. Morgan, of London, were getting up a book of the life of Mr. and Mrs. Bliss, and wanted to have letters from those who have been blessed or converted by his songs. I can say that I was converted when they was singing the second hymn, "Hallelujah, 'Tis Done." In singing the chorus of it, I thought do I believe on the Son? and so, as you gave the first invitation for all that were not Christians and wanted to be prayed for to rise, and then asked how many wanted to settle it now to rise, I was among the lot that rose as there were forty or fifty, you said. I saw five or six that rose that were right behind me. I attended all of Mr. Bliss' children's meetings, as also I attended all of yours. It was Thanksgiving night, at the Centennial Hall, in which I was converted. I expect you know me. I am eight years old. I remain, as ever, your friend.
WILLIAM B. HERSCHBERGER
It was a very sad day for me when I received the news of brother Bliss' death. As there was crying and sobbing when we heard it, as my brother kept asking what was the matter. I hope you will pray for our family and for me, as I will continue to pray for you.
This letter fully justifies Mrs. Bliss in her opinion of her little friend William.
Mr. Reynolds writes from Peoria, in connection with Mr. Bliss' labors, that over fifty scholars in his Sunday School testified that they attributed the influence leading to their decision for Christ to the special labors of Mr. Bliss. In the evening meetings for adults, God gave him also many souls in Peoria. One night he was the last one home, and as he came home and hung up his coat in the hall, he remarked, in his happy way, "My last inquiry meeting was at the gate. Three dear young men, all hungry for the Gospel, and two of them have taken Christ."
Our last visit together to the afflicted was made in Peoria. He sung for one who was under peculiar bereavement, and who longed for release from life's burdens, his hymn, "Father, I'm Tired." The frail girl to whom he sang seemed much nearer that day to "crossing the tide" than the strong singer who so cheered her with his song; but she still lives, and may for many a day, to praise the grace that can sustain and bless in the deepest affliction, while he has gone.
Among the many precious meetings in Peoria that come thronging to the mind, none, as connected with these loved ones, is more clearly remembered than the Thanksgiving morning prayer-meeting in Dr. Edwards' church. Dear Bliss was full of the spirit of praise, and, as always, when upon that theme, he lifted us all into sympathy with him. He sang the song of his own composing, "Grandfather's Bible," prefacing it by remarking how much he had to praise God for in having had a godly ancestry; and very full of tender reminiscences to all were the old tunes woven in to tell the story of the Puritans' Bible. He loved to sing the old time tunes, and the hymns his father and mother taught him, and very sweetly he sang them that morning, causing the tars to flow from the eyes of many children "of parents passed into the skies."
Thanksgiving Day we spent with the kind friends who were entertaining us. After dinner, Mr. and Mrs. Bliss sang. He had written many very popular songs that he never sang after he went into Gospel work, and that I knew nothing of. One of these, called "Jolly Jonathan," I had heard of his singing at Northfield for Mr. Moody, and greatly to the latter's delight, and I wished to hear it. He had refused several times in Kalamazoo and Jackson, on our Saturday rest days, and upon this occasion I was the more importunate. Mrs. Bliss finally said, Well, Mr. Bliss, you had better let the Major hear what it is, but, Major, Mr. Bliss is through making and singing that kind of songs, and he doesn't like to have people remember his as singing them." I appreciate now, as I did not then, how out of sympathy he had become, in the habitual tone of his mind, with all that was not connected with Christ during these last days.
One day we rode out together with our brother Rev. Dr. Morgan of the Methodist Church to the cemetery, reviving to Mr. Bliss the recollections of a previous visit - mentioned on page two hundred and fifty-three. The beauty of the ground, and the lovely landscape views from he hills of the Peoria Cemetery, delighted us all. Mr. Bliss was keenly susceptible to the influences of nature, and enjoyed always the view of river, valley, forest and hills. It was just after his previous visit to this cemetery that he wrote "When Jesus Comes." The reality of the truth of Christ's coming had never come to him until about this time. In conversation with some dear Christian friends, one evening in Peoria, the subject was introduced, and one lady quoted from a book of Anna Shipton's, to the effect that her last thought at night, as she looked upon the sky, was "He may come to-night; and the first thought in the morning, as she arose and caught the first beams of light from the rising sun, "He may come to-day." This conversation deeply impressed Mr. Bliss, and gave him, as he afterwards told me, the first real feeling upon what had been a matter-of-course truth to him. He spoke during our ride of his previous visit, and of his writing the song the same day.
I think the words of this song were written first, and that the tune came to him, as mentioned on page one hundred and thirty-six, while he was coming down stairs.