Up from the Soil
i If you want to drive the devil out of the world, hit him with a cradle instead of a crutch.—Billy Sunday.
SUNDAY must be accepted as a man of the American type before he can be understood. He is of the average, every-day American sort. He is one of the "folks." He has more points of resemblance to the common people than he has of difference from them. His mind is their mind. The keenness of the average American is his in an increased degree. He has the saving sense of humor which has marked this western people. The extravagances and recklessnesses of his speech would be incredible to a Britisher; but we Americans understand them. They are of a piece with our minds.
Like the type, Sunday is not over-fastidious. He is not made of a special porcelain clay, but of the same red soil as the rest of us. He knows the barn-yards of the farm better than the drawing-rooms of the rich. The normal, every-day Americanism of this son of the Middle West, whom the nation knows as "Billy Sunday," is to be insisted upon if he is to be understood.
Early apprenticed to hardship and labor, he has a sympathy with the life of the toiling people which mere imagination cannot give. His knowledge of the American crowd is sure and complete because he is one of them. He understands the life of every-day folk because that has always been his life. While he has obvious natural ability, sharpened on the grindstone of varied experience, his perceptions and his viewpoints are altogether those of the normal American. As he has seen something of life on many levels, and knows city ways as well as country usages, he has never lost his bearings as to what sort of people make up the bulk of this country. To them his sermons are addressed. Because he strikes this medium level of common conduct and thought, it is easy for those in all the ranges of American life to comprehend him.
"Horse-sense," that fundamental American virtue, is Sunday's to an eminent degree. A modern American philosopher defines this quality of mind as "an instinctive something that tells us when the clock strikes twelve." Because he is "rich in saving common sense," Sunday understands the people and trusts them to understand him. His most earnest defenders from the beginning of his public life have been the rank and file of the common people. His critics have come from the extreme edges of society— the scholar, or the man whose business is hurt by righteousness.
The life of William A. Sunday covers the period of American history since the Civil War. He never saw his father, for he was born the third son of pioneer parents on November 19, 1862, four months after his father had enlisted as a private in Company E, Twenty-third Iowa Infantry Volunteers.
There is nothing remarkable to record as to the family. They were one with the type of the middle-western Americans who wrested that empire from the wilderness, and counted poverty honorable. In those mutually helpful, splendidly independent days, Democracy came to its flower, and the American type was born.
Real patriotism is always purchased at a high price; none pay more dearly for war-time loyalty than the women who send their husbands and sons to the front. Mrs. Sunday bade her husband answer the call of his country as only a brave woman could do, and sent him forth to the service and sacrifices which soon ended in an unmarked grave. Four months after she had bidden farewell to her husband, she bade welcome to his son. To this third child she gave the name of her absent soldier husband.
The mother's dreams of the returning soldier's delight in his namesake child were soon shattered by the tidings that Private William Sunday had died of disease contracted in service, at Patterson, Missouri, on December 22, 1862, a little more than a month after the birth of the boy who was to lift his name out of the obscurity of the hosts of those who gave "the last full measure of devotion" to their nation.
Then the mother was called upon to take up that heaviest of all burdens of patriotism—the rearing of an orphan family in a home of dire poverty. The three children in the Sunday home out at Ames, Iowa—Roy, Edward and William—were unwitting participants in another aspect of war, the lot of soldiers' orphans. For years, Mrs. Sunday, who at this writing is still living and rejoicing in the successes of her son, was able to keep her little family together under the roof of the two-roomed log cabin which they called home. In those early days their grandfather, Squire Corey, was of unmeasured help in providing for and training the three orphan boys.
Experience is a school teacher who carries a rod, as Sunday could well testify. He learned life's fundamental lessons in the school of poverty and toil. To the part which his mother played in shaping his life and ideals he has borne eloquent tribute on many platforms. When the youngest son was twelve years old, he and his older brother were sent off to the Soldiers' Orphanage at Glenwood, Iowa. Later they were transferred to the Davenport Orphanage, which they left in June of 1876, making two years spent in the orphanages. Concerning this experience Sunday himself speaks:
"I was bred and born (not in old Kentucky, although my grandfather was a Kentuckian), but in old Iowa. I am a rube of the rubes. I am a hayseed of the hayseeds, and the malodors of the barnyard are on me yet, and it beats Pinaud and Colgate, too. I have greased my hair with goose grease and blacked my boots with stove blacking. I have wiped my old proboscis with a gunny-sack towel; I have drank coffee out of my saucer, and I have eaten with my knife; I have said 'done it,' when I should have said 'did it,' and I 'have saw' when I should 'have seen,' and I expect to go to heaven just the same. I have crept and crawled out from the university of poverty and hard knocks, and have taken postgraduate courses.
"My father went to the war four months before I was born, in Company E, Twenty-third Iowa. I have butted and fought and struggled since I was six years old. That's one reason why I wear that little red, white and blue button. I know all about the dark and seamy side of life, and if ever a man fought hard, I have fought hard for everything I have ever gained.
"The wolf scratched at the cabin door and finally mother said: 'Boys, I am going to send you to the Soldiers' Orphans' Home.' At Ames, Iowa, we had to wait for the train, and we went to a little hotel, and they came about one o'clock and said: 'Get ready for the train.'
"I looked into mother's face. Her eyes were red, her hair was disheveled. I said: 'What's the matter, mother?' All the time Ed and I slept mother had been praying. We went to the train; she put one arm about me and the other about Ed and sobbed as if her heart would break. People walked by and looked at us, but they didn't say a word.
"Why? They didn't know, and if they had they wouldn't have cared. Mother knew; she knew that for years she wouldn't see her boys. We got into the train and said, 'Good-bye, mother,' as the train pulled out. We reached Council Bluffs. It was cold and we turned up our coats and shivered. We saw the hotel and went up and asked the woman for something to eat. She said: 'What's your name?'
'"My name is William Sunday, and this is my brother
"'Where are you going?'
"'Going to the Soldiers' Orphans' Home at Glenwood.'
"She wiped her tears and said: 'My husband was a
soldier and he never came back. He wouldn't turn any one away and I wouldn't turn you boys away.' She drew her arms about us and said: 'Come on in.' She gave us our breakfast and our dinner, too. There wasn't any train going out on the 'Q' until afternoon. We saw a freight train standing there, so we climbed into the caboose.
"The conductor came along and said: 'Where's your
money or ticket?' '"Ain't got
still, boys. It won't cost a cent to ride on my train.'
"It's only twenty miles from Council Bluffs to Glenwood, and as we rounded the curve the conductor said: 'There it is on the hill.'
"I want to say to you that one of the brightest pictures that hangs upon the walls of my memory is the recollection of the days when as a little boy, out in the log cabin on the frontier of Iowa, I knelt by mother's side.
"I went back to the old farm some years ago. The scenes had changed about the place. Faces I had known and loved had long since turned to dust. Fingers that used to turn the pages of the Bible were obliterated and the old
menced to cry. My brother handed him a letter of introduction to the superintendent of the orphans' home. The conductor read it, and handed it back as the tears rolled down his cheeks. Then he said: 'Just sit
"Til have to put you off.'
"We comtrees beneath which we boys used to play and swing had been felled by the woodman's axe. I stood and thought. The man became a child again and the long weary nights of sin and of hardships became as though they never had been.
"Once more with my gun on my shoulder and my favorite dog trailing at my heels I walked through the pathless wood and sat on the old familiar logs and stumps, and as I sat and listened to the wild, weird harmonies of nature, a vision of the past opened. The squirrel from the limb of the tree barked defiantly and I threw myself into an interrogation point, and when the gun cracked, the squirrel fell at my feet. I grabbed him and ran home to throw him down and receive compliments for my skill as a marksman. And I saw the tapestry of the evening fall. I heard the lowing herds and saw them wind slowly o'er the lea and I listened to the tinkling bells that lulled the distant fowl. Once more I heard the shouts of childish glee. Once more I climbed the haystack for the hen's eggs. Once more we crossed the threshold and sat at our frugal meal. Once more mother drew the trundle bed out from under the larger one, and we boys, kneeling down, shut our eyes and clasping our little hands, said: 'Now I lay me down to sleep; I pray the Lord, my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray thee, Lord, my soul to take. And this I ask for Jesus' sake, Amen.'
"'Backward, turn backward, O time in thy flight,
Make me a child again, just for tonight,
Mother, come back from that echoless shore,
Take me again to your heart as of yore.
Into the old cradle I'm longing to creep,
Rock me to sleep, mother, rock me to sleep.'
"I stood beneath the old oak tree and it seemed to carry on a conversation with me. It seemed to say: "'Hello Bill. Is that you?' "'Yes, it's I, old tree.'
"'Well, you've got a bald spot on the top of your head.
"'Yes, I know, old tree.'
"'Won't vou climb up and sit on my limbs as you used to?'
"'No, I haven't got time now. I'd like to, though, awfully well.'
." 'Don't go, Bill. Don't you remember the old swing you made?'
"'Yes, I remember; but I've got to go.'
"'Say Bill, don't you remember when you tried to play George Washington and the cherry tree and almost cut me down? That's the scar you made, but it's almost covered over now.'
"'Yes, I remember all, but I haven't time to stay.' "'Are you comin' back, Bill?' "T don't know, but I'll never forget you.' "Then the old apple tree seemed to call me and I said: 'I haven't time to wait, old apple tree.'
"' I want to go back to the orchard,
The orchard that used to be mine,
The apples are reddening and filling
The air with their wine.
I want to run on through the pasture
And let down the dusty old bare,
I want to find you there still waiting,
Your eyes like the twin stare.
Oh, nights, you are weary and dreary,
And days, there is something you lack;
To the farm in the valley,
I want to go back.'
"I tell it to you with shame, I stretched the elastic bands of my mother's love until I thought they would break. I went far into the dark and the wrong until I ceased to hear her prayers or her pleadings. I forgot her face, and I went so far that it seemed to me that one more step and the elastic bands of her love would break and I would be lost. But, thank God, friends, I never took that last step. Little by little I yielded to the tender memories and recollections of my mother; little by little I was drawn away from the yawning abyss, and twenty-seven years ago, one dark and stormy night in Chicago, I groped my way out of darkness into the arms of Jesus Christ and I fell on my knees and cried 'God be merciful to me a sinner!'"
Of formal education the boy Sunday had but little. He went to school intermittently, like most of his playmates, but he did get into the high school, although he was never graduated. Early in life he began to work for his living, even before he went off to the Soldiers' Orphanage. Concerning these periods of early toil he himself has spoken as follows:
"When I was about fourteen years old, I made application for the position of janitor in a school.
"I used to get up at two o'clock, and there were fourteen stoves and coal had to be carried for all them. 1 had to keep the fire up and keep up my studies and sweep the floors. I got twenty-five dollars a month salary. Well, one day I got a check for my salary and I went right down to the bank to get it cashed. Right in front of me was another fellow with a check to be cashed, and he shoved his in, and I came along and shoved my check in, and he handed me out forty dollars. My check called for twenty-five dollars. I called on a friend of mine who was a lawyer in Kansas City and told him. I said: 'Frank, what do you think, Jay King handed me forty dollars and my check only called for twenty-five dollars.' He said, 'Bill, if I had your luck, I would buy a lottery ticket.' But I said, "The fifteen dollars is not mine.' He said, 'Don't be a chump. If you were shy ten dollars and you went back you would not get it, and if they hand out fifteen dollars, don't be a fool, keep it.'
"Well, he had some drag with me and influenced me. I was fool enough to keep it, and I took it and bought a suit of clothes. I can see that suit now; it was a kind of brown, with a little green in it and I thought I was the goods, I want to tell you, when I got those store clothes on. That was the first suit of store clothes I had ever had, and I bought that suit and I had twenty-five dollars left after I did it.
"Years afterwards I said, 'I ought to be a Christian,' and I got on my knees to pray, and the Lord seemed to touch me on the back and say, 'Bill, you owe that Farmers' Bank fifteen dollars with interest,' and I said, 'Lord, the bank don't know that I got that fifteen dollars,' and the Lord said 'I know it'; so I struggled along for years, probably like some of you, trying to be decent and honest and right some wrong that was in my life, and every time I got down to pray the Lord would say, 'Fifteen dollars with interest, Nevada County, Iowa; fifteen dollars, Bill.' So years afterwards I sent that money back, enclosed a check, wrote a letter and acknowledged it, and I have the peace of God from that day to this, and I have never swindled anyone out of a dollar."
There are other kinds of education besides those which award students a skeepskin at the end of a stated term. Sunday has no sheepskin—neither has he the sheep quality which marks the machine-made product of any form of training. His school has been a diversity of work, where he came face to face with the actualities of life. He early had to shift for himself. He learned the priceless lesson of how to work, regardless of what the particular task might be, whether it was scrubbing floors (and he was an expert scrubber of floors!), or preaching a sermon to twenty thousand persons. He had a long hard drill in working under authority: that is why he is able to exercise authority like a major-general. Because personally he has experienced, with all of the sensitiveness of an American small boy, the bitter injustice of over-work and under-pay under an oppressive task-master, he is a voice for the toilers of the world. In this same diversified school of industry he learned the lesson of thoroughness which is now echoed by every spike in bis tabernacle and every gesture in his sermons. Such a one as he could not have come from a conventional educational course. It needed this hard school to make such a hardy man.
It was while a youth in Marshalltown, Iowa, playing base ball on the lots, that Sunday came to his own. Captain A. C. Anson, the famous leader of the Chicago "White Sox," chanced to see the youth of twenty, whose phenomenal base-running had made him a local celebrity. It is no new experience for Sunday to be a center of public interest. He has known this since boyhood. The local base-ball "hero" is as big a figure in the eyes of his own particular circle as ever a great evangelist gets to be in the view of the world. Because his ears early became accustomed to the huzzahs of the crowd, Sunday's head has not been turned by much of the foolish adulation which has been his since he became an evangelist.
A level head, a quick eye, and a body which is such a finely trained instrument that it can meet all drafts upon it, is part of Sunday's inheritance from his life on the baseball diamond.
Most successful base-ball players enter the major leagues by a succession of steps. With Sunday it was quite otherwise. Because he fell under the personal eye of "Pop" Anson he was borne directly from the fields of Marshalltown, Iowa, to the great park of the Chicago team. That was in 1883, when Sunday was not yet twenty-one years of age. His mind was still formative—a quality it retains to this day—and his entrance into the larger field of base ball trained him to think in broad terms. It widened his horizon and made him reasonably indifferent to the comments of the crowds.
A better equipment for the work he is doing could not have been found; for above all else Sunday "plays ball." While others discuss methods and bewail conditions he keeps the game going. Such a volume of criticism as no other evangelist, within the memory of living men, has ever received, has fallen harmless from his head, because he has not turned aside to argue with the umpire, but has "played ball."
There is no. call for tears or heroics over the early experiences of Sunday. His life was normal; no different from that of tens of thousands of other American boys. He himself was in no wise a phenomenon. He was possessed of no special abilities or inclinations. He came to his preaching gift only after years of experience in Christian work. It is clear that a Divine Providence utilized the very ordinariness of his life and training to make him an ambassador to the common people.