BISHOP GEORGE F. SEYMOUR. - The Right Rev. George Franklin Seymour, S. T. D., (Racine) LL. D. (Columbia University), was born in the city of New York on Monday, January 5, 1829, at 547 Greenwich street. He was the youngest of five children of Isaac Newton, and Elvira (Belknap) Seymour. The elder sons died in infancy in Newburg, Orange county, New York, where the family then resided, and where the second child, a daughter, Mary, was born in 1820. In 1825 the future Bishop's father removed to New York city, where a fourth child, a daughter, Elvira, was born in 1826, and the fifth and last, George Franklin, in 1829. The Bishop's father was of English ancestry and descended from one of two brothers, who came to Hartford, Connecticut, about 1640, from Hertfordshire, England, where the Seymours had resided from the days of William the Conqueror. In America the Seymours, descended from the original settlers, were scattered, some going to Vermont and others to the state of New York. In the latter state they planted themselves in Saratoga, Oneida and Onondaga counties. The Bishop's father, Isaac Newton, was born in Stillwater, Saratoga county, May 12, 1794, and went to Newburg, Orange county, in 1810, and became ultimately deputy sheriff of the county. In 1825 he removed to New York city at the instance and under the patronage of Mr. John Wurtz, the president of the newly organized Delaware and Hudson Canal Company. Mr. Seymour remained in their employ until April 1, 1869, when he resigned and was granted a life annuity of two thousand dollars a year, and the use of a desk in their office. He died January 17, 1873. The Bishop's mother, Elvira, was of English descent through her father and of Irish through her mother. She was married to Isaac Newton Seymour, April 14, 1818.
George, the subject of this sketch, was educated at a dame's school, kept by Miss Nancy B. Durand, at the Village Academy, and finally at Columbia Grammar School and Columbia College, now Columbia University, where he graduated with the highest honors in October, 1850, delivering the Greek salutatory, in this instance an iambic trimeter poem, which was greatly admired for its Attic purity of style, beauty of diction, and sublimity of sentiment. On Leaving his alma mater, the future Bishop hesitated as to his life work, owing to his infirmity of sight. When only two weeks old he was the victim of ophthalmia, which deprived him of the use of his right eye for life. This disadvantage secluded him from the rough plays of boys, and threw him upon his own resources for occupation and amusement, and he became in consequence a student and omnivorous reader. As a child he perused all the books within his reach, and before he was eleven years of age, as a last resource, he tried to master Locke's Essay on the Human Understanding ,and grapple with the problem of "innate ideas."
On leaving college young Seymour felt strongly drawn to the sacred ministry, but he naturally feared that his very imperfect vision would so seriously interfere with the satisfactory discharge of his public duties, that it would be better for him to forego his cherished desire, and turn to some secular employment.
In this condition of uncertainty of mind he entered the General Theological Seminary, Chelsea Square, New York city, in the autumn of 1851 and graduated in 1854. He did not, however, become a candidate for Holy Orders until the last year of his course, so doubtful did he continue to be, almost to the end, of the advisability of his entering the ministry.
Mr. Seymour was ordained deacon and priest by Bishop Horatio Potter, of New York. The first ordination, that of deacon, took place December 17, 1854, and the second, that of priest, September 23, 1855. The Rev. Mr. Seymour went for his first charge to Annandale, Dutchess county, New York, where he founded and became the first warden of St. Stephen's College. In 1861 he accepted the rectorship of St. Mary's Church, Manhattanville, and in 1862 that of Christ church, Hudson, New York. In the following year, 1863, at the urgent request of his bishop, he went, as Bishop Potter expressed it, "to lead a forlorn hope" in recovering the parish of St. John's, Brooklyn, New York, from the distressing condition into which internal dissension had brought it. Happily, by the blessing of God, the new rector was able to do this, and he passed the parish into the hands of his successor, afterward the first bishop of Quincy, Dr. Alexander Burgess, free from debt, and in prosperous and united condition. The Rev. Mr. Seymour left St. John's because he was elected professor of ecclesiastical history in his alma mater, the General Theological Seminary. He began his duties at the seminary in the fall of 1865, but he was not able to relinquish his rectorship of St. John's church, Brooklyn, until Epiphany, 1867. To his duties as professor were added those of dean in 1875, to which office he was elected in that year in succession to the Rev. Dr. Forbes, the first permanent dean of the institution. The Rev. Dr. Seymour's career at the seminary was eminently practical. He began and carried out, as far as his limited resources would permit, those improvements in the grounds and buildings, which were so munificently and generously continued and completed by his immediate successor, the third dean the Rev. Dr. Eugene Augustus Hoffman.
While serving as professor, Dr. Seymour was chosen by the almost unanimous vote of the clergy as bishop of Missouri in 1868, but lacked a few votes of the constitutional two-thirds majority of the laity. In 1874 he was elected bishop of the diocese of Illinois, but was denied confirmation by the house of deputies in the general convention of 1874, as his classmate and close friend, the Rev. James De Koven, warden of Racine College, was, a few months after, on his election to the same diocese, by the standing committees. These refusals were due to the excitement which prevailed at the time on the subject of ritual. These passions and prejudices have long since been laid to rest, and the Rev. Dr. De Koven has been, so far as universal homage and veneration can effect canonization, numbered with the saints, and his intimate associate, Dr. Seymour is bishop of Springfield, and perhaps may be accorded a much humbler place among the confessors, who have suffered for the truth's sake.
In December, 1877, Dean Seymour was chosen by unanimous vote the first bishop of Springfield. His election was confirmed by the standing committees and bishops in the course of the following three months, but acting under the advice of his bishop and others he declined in April, 1878. The convention, as it was then called, of the diocese of Springfield, which met in May, 1878, reaffirmed their choice of Dr. Seymour by a unanimous vote of the clergy and laity, and he felt constrained under this unexpected pressure to accept. He accordingly resigned his positions in the east, and was consecrated on the Feast of St. Barnabas, June 11, which in 1878 fell on Tuesday in Whitsun week in Trinity church, (his parish church) New York City, by ten Bishops, namely, the Rt. Rev. Horatio Potter, of New York, who acted as consecrator by commission from the presiding bishop, Smith of Kentucky, and with him were associated the most Rev. Dr. Harper, lord bishop of Christ Church, New Zealand and Metropolitan; the Rt. Rev. Dr. Southgate, formerly missionary bishop in Turkey, the Rt. Rev. Dr. Odenheimer, bishop of northern New Jersey; the Rt. Rev. Dr. Lay, bishop of Easton, who was the preacher on the occasion; the Rt. Rev. Dr. Quintard, bishop of Tennessee; the Rt. Rev. Dr. Clarkson, bishop of Nebraska; the Rt. Rev. Dr. Neely, bishop of Maine; the Rt. Rev. Dr. Scarborough, bishop of New Jersey; and the Rt. Rev. Dr. M'Laren, bishop of Illinois. The presence of the Metropolitan of New Zealand (Dr. Harper) added English orders to the apostolic strands, which were woven together by ten bishops in this consecration. The New Zealand bishop was on his way from his far distant jurisdiction to attend the Lambeth conference in London, England, which met a month later. He came from San Francisco to embark from New York by Atlantic steamers, and was in New York about twenty hours, and during that brief interval was enabled to take part in the services in Trinity Church. Three bishops by the law of the church universal (Nice, Canon 4) are enough to render a consecration regular, but in the setting apart of Dr. Seymour as bishop, there were ten, three times three and one added. The succession is necessary for the conveyance of official character and power. All government vested in officers who die must be perpetuated by the principle of succession, whether it be in business as bank and railroad officials, civil affairs as mayors and governors, or in the church where the ministry is recognized as official. It will be seen by this illustration how, humanly speaking, it is impossible for the succession to fail in the handing on of office from bishop to bishop. It is done through a network of many strands crossing and recrossing each other, and not by a chain of single links. Bishop Seymour made three visitations of his diocese before he took up his residence in Springfield in the autumn of 1879. The reason for his delay in leaving New York was that he was held by duties which he could not devolve upon others at an earlier date. He was at the time of his consecration (June 11, 1878) dean of the General Theological Seminary and professor of ecclesiastical history in the same institution; superintendent of the society for promoting religion and learning, which made him responsible for the distribution of about thirty thousand dollars annually in the interests of theological education; chaplain of the House of Mercy, New York, and a trustee of several institutions in and near New York city.
Bishop Seymour was married July 23, 1889, in Trinity Church, New York City, by the Rt. Rev. H. C. Potter, bishop of New York, and the Rev. Dr. Morgan Dix, rector of the parish, to Mrs. Harriet Atwood (Downs) Aymar. He resides in his own private home on Second street, south of and not far from the state house, which embraces an area of between four and five acres. He is very anxious that the diocese of Springfield should secure this ideal spot for the future Cathedral, and its related buildings and grounds, as a foundation on which to build in the course of time, it may be many years, fifty or a hundred hence; and with a view to secure this "Cathedral foundation," he has offered to donate one-fifth of the appraised value of the property.
It is not irrelevant to this biographical sketch, to say a few words about the diocese over which Bishop Seymour presides, its present condition, and its future prospects. The diocese receives its name, Springfield, from the see city, the capital of the Empire state of the West, Illinois, and embraces three-fifths of its territory, and nearly one-half of its population. It reaches from Bloomington on the north to Cairo on the south, and from the Indiana line on the east to the Illinois River until it joins the Mississippi on the west, and then to the Mississippi as far down as Cairo. The state has one hundred and two counties, and the diocese of Springfield takes sixty with over two millions of people, Chicago takes twenty-three, and Quincy the third diocese, takes nineteen.
It will be seen that Springfield has the lion's share of territory, and being absolutely a rural diocese, with no large city as a base of supplies, and almost all the missionary ground placed in its charge, its condition has been, and is, gauged by earthly metes and measures, a very hard one indeed. Still since the bishop took charge in 1878 the diocese had increased on all the lines of church growth more than three-fold. And besides a new spirit has been infused into the people, and they have learned to know, and appreciate the treasures and privileges, which they possess in being members of the church. In consequence, as people cherish and care for what they highly value, the outward aspect of church life has changed for the better, new church buildings have been erected, rectories have been built, glebes bought, and services have been brightened and dignified, making them more suitable to Him in whose honor they are rendered.
In his relation to the general church the bishop has done his best to protect the faith, against what he and thousands with him felt to be a deprivation of its integrity, and her policy against the surrender of its root and fundamental principles. In these two lines of contention, as illustrations, we may adduce the bishop's attitude toward the consecration of the late Dr. Brooks, of Massachusetts. In this there was not the slightest element of personal feeling; on the contrary, the Bishop and Dr. Brooks were and continued to be friends, who shared mutual respect and admiration for each other. The Bishop felt, and feels, that it was a perilous thing for one, holding the avowed and published views of Dr. Brooks, to take the oath of fidelity to the faith involved in the office of consecration as a bishop in the church of God. As an act of unselfish friendship, Dr. Seymour did his best to dissuade the distinguished Boston rector from taking what he considered a fatal step for himself, and one injurious to its effect upon the whole church in the United States. In the matter of the surrender of the polity of the church, we may say, that the episcopate would have been given to the mission in the Republic of Mexico, without sufficient safeguards for its safety, and the faith for which it is the custodian, had it not been for Bishop Seymour. He exerted himself to the utmost in his efforts to prevent this fatal mistake, and happily has so far succeeded.
As a writer the Bishop's pen has not been idle. He is the author of many publications. Among them we may mention "Modern Romanism"; "A Plea for Truth"; "An Open Letter to Bishop Doane with Appendices"; "Amusements in Their Relation to Religion"; "The Sacrament of Baptism"; "Related Ordinances, and the Creed"; and numerous sermons, addresses, charges, and contributions to the religious and secular press.