My dear Sir: I had an acquaintance with the Rev. Rockwood Giddings of several years standing, and sufficiently intimate to justify me in speaking with some confidence of his prominent characteristics. I am happy to communicate to you my impressions concerning him, in connection with a brief narrative embodying the leading facts and events of his life.
Rockwood Giddings was born in Plymouth, N. H., August 8. 1812, and was consequently twenty-seven years of age at the time of his death, October 29, 1839. His father, William Giddings, Esq., sent him, at the age of fifteen, to the New Hampton Literary Institution, at that time under the direction of the late Rev. Dr. B. F. Farnsworth, where he remained two years, devoting himself to the study of the Greek and Latin languages, preparatory to a college course. Unlike most boys of his age, he manifested no disposition to engage in the ordinary sports of boyhood; and whilst others were spending their Saturdays in hunting, or fishing, or profitless lounging, young Giddings might be seen delving at his books, or, solitary and alone, wandering among the granite hills that encircle the Institution. His grave, self-reliant, yet unaffectedly modest, bearing soon acquired for him the soubriquet of " the young parson;" while his progress in learning, his graceful elocution, and a command of language wonderful in a lad of his age, secured for him the respect of all who knew him.
During his residence at New Hampton, his attention was drawn to the subject of religion; and, after several weeks of prayerful consideration of the plan of salvation by faith, he was enabled to see its adaptation to his case, and to accept of pardon through a crucified Redeemer. He was subsequently baptized, and united with the Baptist Church at New Hampton.
In 1829, he entered Waterville College, then under the Presidency of the venerable Jeremiah Chaplin, D. D., where he graduated in 1833. Though he was the youngest memher of his class, and not as far advanced in his preparatory studies as were most of his classmates, he very soon took honourable rank, and at the end of four years, but very few of thl class were superior to him in general scholarship, and not one his equal in the department of Belles Lettres.
At one period of his college course, he was impressed with the conviction that it was his duty to devote his life to the Christian Ministry ; and the Baptist Church in Waterville, apprized of his views in the premises, tendered him a license to preach the Gospel. But, as he did not, for some years thereafter, exercise the authority thus conferred, it is probable that a sense of his own unfitness for the sacred office deterred him from entering the pulpit.
Soon after leaving College, he went to Virginia, where he commenced the study of Medicine, for which he had a great partiality, having entered upon his collegiate studies with the medical profession in prospect as the goal of his ambition. He, subsequently, removed to Warsaw, Ky., which he made his residence until he had completed his medical studies. He was intending to locate himself in that part of Ihe State, where he had become extensively known, and was highly esteemed by all who knew him. But an elderly physician residing in Missouri, who desired to retire from an extensive and lucrative practice, and who had formed a high opinion of young Giddings' qualifications for ultimate success and usefulness in his profession, offered him a partnership on such terms as were entirely satisfactory; and his arrangements were soon made to enter upon the field of labour which seemed to have been thus providentially opened before him. But the profession which Mr. Giddings had chosen, was not the one for which the Master had prepared him. The Great Physician again called. - and again the love of souls burned more brightly upon the altars of his heart. He hesitated, but not long. His decision was reversed. "I cannot," he wrote, "go to Missouri, unless I go to preach the Gospel."
He was shortly afterwards ordained, and, by invitation, visited the Baptist Church in Shelhyville, with a view to a settlement with them. The church were delighted with his preaching, and gave him a unanimous call to become their Pastor. This was in the winter of 1835. That church had. for several years, been without a regular Pastor, and had become, in consequence, feeble and inefficient. But, under Mr. Giddings' ministrations, it was soon revived, its membership greatly increased, and its inefficiency was succeeded by an active co-operation in the benevolent enterprises of the day for extending the Redeemer's Kingdom, at home and abroad. It was one of the very few Baptist churches in Kentucky that then enjoyed the entire services of a regular Pastor.
Of Mr. Giddings as a Preacher, a Pastor and a Christian, the late Dr. J. L. Waller thus speaks, in an obituary notice of him shortly after his death. "The high and commanding station which he occupied among his brethren, the strong hold that he held upon their affections, though but a youth and but a few years among them, and the work that he has done, - these are his eulogium. His memory will be cherished by all who knew
him. The writer of this was intimate with him. We sat under his ministry for nearly twelve months; and never has it fallen to our lot to form acquaintance with a man more devotedly pious and exemplary in all his walks and conversation. During these twelve months, we were with him almost every day; nor do we remember once to have heard a word escape his lips that would not bear the criticism of the severest moralist. Young as he was, such was the dignity of his deportment, so amiable and excellent was he in his manners, that he commanded the respect and esteem of all. He never acted, in any company, or on any occasion, beneath the Gospel Minister. His talents were of the highest order; and, had he lived, he would have ranked with the giant intellects of the age. He never took a commonplace view of any subject, but was always masterly and profound upon whatever he treated. His manner as a preacher was always solemn and impressive. Nothing unworthy the pulpit ever escaped him. He aimed at no display; made no studied efforts to amuse or to amaze by rhetorical flourishes or theatrical starts. His was the eloquence of thought, of religion; and no man who could think, or who was pious, ever listened to him without interest and edification. So equally balanced was his mind, that no one faculty seemed better developed than another. He seemed to possess all the discretion that age and experience could give. He indulged in no vain speculations, no impracticable schemes. He wasted no time in spinning gossamer theories, or in devising Utopian plans. His was a practical mind. He was quick in decision, planned with discriminating clearness, and executed with promptness and energy. He filled every station to which he was called with an ability that astonished his most ardent admirers. He was the best model for young preachers that we ever knew."
During his Pastorate at Shelbyville, Mr. Giddings was married to Miss Mary Hansborough, daughter of Joel Hausborougb, Esq., of Shelby County, - a devotedly pious and most estimable lady. But this union, seemingly auspicious of much good to the cause of religion, was of very brief continuance. In less than twelve months, his young \vife was taken from pain and suffering to the mansion of rest prepared for her in Heaven. For a time, this afflictive dispensation of Providence pressed heavily upon his spirit; but he repined not. A great work was before him, and to its accomplishment he addressed himself with increased devotion and energy.
In the fall of 1838, Mr. Giddings was appointed to the Presidency of the Baptist College at Georgetown. This Institution, originally established and partially endowed with a view to the education of young men preparing for the ministry, had passed through a succession of reverses, and its friends had almost abandoned it in despair. Without funds, without a Faculty, with a Board of Trustees composed of men connected with three different religious denominations, at that time uncompromisingly hostile to each other, with a rival College springing up by its side and already overshadowing it, the Georgetown College stood the personification of starving qrphanage, quietly awaiting its dissolution. Mr. Giddings was fully apprized of all these facts, and he knew, too, that several attempts by older men than himself to resuscitate the Institution had failed; but he believed that what ought to be done could be done, and that the Kentucky
Baptists were abundantly able, and that they would be willing, to endow their College, if the matter were properly placed before them. He accepted the appointment to its Presidency, with the understanding that he should be permitted to spend whatever time might be necessary in securing an ample endowment, and with a firm resolution to return to the pulpit as soon as he should have accomplished this object.
His church at Shelbyville had not been apprized of his appointment, when one of its members, meeting him on the street, said to him, - " Brother Giddings, I have had laid aside, for some time, five hundred dollars for our College at Georgetown; but, as there is no prospect of our doing anything there in the way of educating our young preachers, I am undecided what I had better do with it." Mr. Giddings then informed him of his appointment to. and his acceptance of, an Agency for the College, and proposed to him to head a subscription for its endowment with the five hundred dollars. The gentleman cheerfully gave the money, and offered to double the sum if the College would find some other suitable Agent, and let him remain with his church. A similar spirit animated the members of his church generally; and, though they felt that they were sustaining a great loss in giving up a beloved Pastor, their approval of his course was manifested by a subscription of several thousand dollars towards the endowment of the College.
With this earnest of future success, Mr. Giddings entered upon his Agency. Wherever he went, he was received with cordiality, and his very presence seemed to inspire confidence in his ability to accomplish what he had undertaken. Old prejudices against "educated" ministers melted down before the fervid eloquence of his pulpit ministrations, and the simplicity of his piety, as exhibited in his conversation and deportment. Many, who had never before given a dollar for ministerial education, now subscribed their hundreds, and pledged themselves to give more if it should be found necessary. Encouraged by his success, the Trustees of the College filled the vacant Professorships, purchased additional grounds, and contracted for the erection of a new college edifice. Students flocked to the resuscitated Institution, and among them several who are now among the most efficient and useful ministers of the Baptist denomination in Kentucky. The rival College was, in a few months, removed to a more eligible locality, and Georgetown College entered upon a career of prosperity highly encouraging to its friends.
In less than eight months President Giddings had secured, in unconditional promissory notes, more than eighty thousand dollars towards an endowment, - about one half of the sum he proposed to raise, and which, had he been spared, he felt confident he could obtain in the next twelve months. But the self-imposed labour of an Agency, performed on horseback, in all kinds of weather, proved too severe on a constitution naturally feeble. He could not resist the temptation, occasionally presented, during his travels through the State, of participating in protracted meetings; and, on two or three occasions, his labours in these meetings had prostrated his physical powers and thrown him upon a bed of sickness. On the last of these, at the Long Run Church, after preaching every day for nearly two weeks, and baptizing a large number of converts, he sank in the pulpit
in the midst of his sermon. In a few days, he was carried to the house of his father-in-law, in Shelby County, where, in spite of the best medical aid, he gradually declined, until it became obvious to himself and others that his labours on earth had terminated. He calmly arranged his temporal affairs, pertaining chiefly to the details of his Agency; and, when this was done, he expressed a perfect willingness to depart, if it should be the will of God, - assured that, if the endowment of the College wass desirable for the good of his cause, He would raise up some one to complete what he had been enabled to commence and to prosecute with so much success.
Much of the time during his last illness, his mind was wandering; but, even when the paroxysms of fever were upon him, "the ruling passion, strong in death," possessed his mind. Sometimes he imagined himself in the pulpit, when he would go through, in a few moments, all the forms of a public service, - prayer, singing, the sermon, the benediction, - would address the impenitent, the awakened, the professors of religion, and with language that seemed almost inspired. At other times, he supposed himself to be engaged in the work of his Agency, - would solicit from his visitors subscriptions to the College endowment, setting forth the importance of ministerial education, and commenting upon the liabilities of his brethren who had already aided him. But, during the intervals between his febrile paroxysms, his mind was calm, peaceful, and resigned to the will of his Heavenly Father; and his death was such as might have been anticipated by all who knew him well.
At the request of the Shelbyville Church, his remains were deposited in their church-yard; and a beautiful marble monument was erected over them. The Trustees of the College also caused to be erected upon the College campus an obelisk, of Kentucky marble, commemorative of his Christian character, and of their gratitude for his self-sacrificing services in behalf of the cause of Education and Religion.
Mr. Giddings was a man of uncommonly prepossessing personal appearance. He was about six feet in height, finely proportioned, with dark hair and eyes, a countenance beaming with benevolence and frankness, and, at the same time, indicative of great firmness of purpose. He was beloved by all who knew him. Such was the maturity of his judgment, his prudence, his dignified yet affable bearing, that, while the younger members of his church looked up to him as a counsellor and a guide, the aged members found in their youthful Pastor a "staff of support" in their Christian pilgrimage. He was a great favourite with his aged brethren in the ministry, many of whom, still living, cherish his memory with the feelings of a parent for a departed child.
I am, dear Sir, truly yours, J. E. FARNAM, April 15, 1859.
[From William Buell Sprague, Annals of the American Pulpit: Baptist, 1860, pp. 818-822. Document from Google Books. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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