CHARLES D. TH0MPSON.
* Reprinted from the Indian Witness with the kind permission of the Editor
"Where do you go with a face so bright?
I seek the Bourne of the Fadeless Light.
And what if the end be death at last?
Not death, but life, with the shadow past.
Who are you, Spirit, with heart so true?
I was once your dream, and I might be--you."
I think I met Howard Walter for the first time at the Northfield Student Conference in 1901, the summer before we entered college. We were in the same eating-club part of our Freshman year. During the first two years he roomed with Miner Rogers, who was head of the Student Volunteer band and leader of a mission study class which we both attended, and who was afterward killed in the massacres at Adana, Turkey, while trying to put out a fire on the roof of the girls' school. In junior year we were messmates the whole year, and members of an honour course in composition, and I remember many a talk late into the night, and exchanges of confidences. But it was not until senior year that I really came to know him. We both roomed in Blair Hall, where I had to pass his room going to and from classes. He had a lovely single room, conveniently situated to watch the crowds coming from the station, and there I learned from his book-shelves that there were more famous poets than I had ever heard of before. For some time a group of intimate friends met for prayer every day in his room. For several months that year he never went to bed without having written a poem. He was editor-in-chief of the Nassau Literary Magazine, one of the editors of the Princeton Tiger, and winner of the Baird Oratorical Contest, which was the greatest literary honour in the college, and for which only those who had stood highest in English throughout their college courses could compete. I remember especially our canoe rides up the river and through the swamps, and one long walk through a rocky glen, when he told me that he had no less than eight friends to whom he would not be afraid to tell anything in his life, and I realized for the first time something of his power for friendship. Only that year, too, did I learn of the weakness of his heart, which he never told to any but his best friends, and of the courage which is shown in the lines I have quoted above from his poem on "Optimism"—a courage by which he faced death daily, and yet had faith and strength to accomplish all that he did, knowing himself always near "the Bourne of the Fadeless Light."
At the Northfield Student Conference of 1905, just after we graduated, and the last time we were ever all together, there were seven of our class, Princeton, 1905, who either planned to go or eventually did go to the foreign field as missionaries. One is in the Princeton work in Peking, one went to Turkey, and two to India, a fifth spent some time in both India and South America, one was unable to because of ill health and Norman Thomas, who became a missionary to foreigners in America, and has been the chairman of the committee on immigration of the New York Federation of Churches. For many years this group of men kept up a round-robin letter, and in this letter Howard was the leading spirit. For years, each day of the week was assigned for prayer for one of the group, and I think none of us had any greater time of inspiration than when these letters came around.
The first year out of college was spent at Hartford Theological Seminary, and the next year he went to Japan for a year to teach English in Waseda University, Tokio under the auspices of the Y.M.C.A. It was during this year in Japan that he wrote "My Creed," which is probably his best known poem. One day a line or two occurred to him, on an inspiration from his mother and he sat down and completed the whole poem in some fifteen minutes. It has several times been set to music specially composed for it, and has appeared in several collections of hymns, and has been used extensively on gift-cards, placards and Christmas cards. He lived in the most intimate contact with the Japanese students, going with them on one long trip by sea to the outlying islands, and on many tramps in the mountains. It was here that he formed the basis of the personal work which was afterwards one of the features of his work.
Returning to Hartford, he became a leader in all the activities of the Theological Seminary, and on graduating and being ordained, in 1909, he was at once made assistant pastor of the Asylum Hill Congregational Church, which is the largest church in Hartford. During his pastorate he married Miss Marguerite Darlington, niece of Bishop Darlington. His first daughter, Marion, was born in Hartford, Ruth in India, and his son Henry during his furlough in America. Three years later he was unanimously asked to become the pastor of this large church, but he decided to accept the offer of the Young Men's Christian Association to become a special literary secretary set apart for the study of Muhammadanism as Mr. Farquhar was already for Hinduism. In spite of what it might involve, he fearlessly decided for India, and, in 1912, after beginning study of Arabic and Urdu in America, he came out to take up the work to which his life was dedicated from that time onward. A collection of nearly a hundred poems was published, under the title My Creed and Other Poems, the same year. He describes them truly as "songs of faith and love and friendship."
After spending the winter in the language school where he began at Luckinow, he was sent to Lahore, where he began at once at first hand his studies into Muhammadan life and customs. He was also given charge of the Y.M.C.A. hostel for non-Christian students. Realizing that the problems that the Indian students might be different from those of American or Japanese students, he set out characteristically to find out what was already known about personal work in India. He addressed questionnaires to a large number of personal workers in India and compiled their answers in a book which was published under the title "Handbook of Work among Students Enquirers in India." He also became secretary of the "Missionaries to Muslims League." On the steamer from Marseilles to Bombay, and during the happy Christmas and New Year's days spent in the Walters' home, the friendship of our college days was renewed and redoubled. Of the ways in which he helped me personally to become a truer and better man, I cannot speak here. Above all he helped me to realize the indwelling presence of the Spirit of Christ. The hours spent about his fireplace were surely the happiest of those three years for me.
In 1916 he was to have gone to Egypt for two years special study, had not the war prevented. Instead, he returned to America for a year, pursuing further language studies and such researches concerning Muhammadanism as were possible in America. He attended a re-union of the class of 1905, at Princeton, and a number of his old friends, who usually do not favour these functions, attended because they knew he was to be there. He had been one of the leading personal workers in the Eddy-Buchman Campaign in Lahore, and while in America he frequently helped Mr. Buchman in this work.
On his return to India In 1917, he spent three months in China doing personal work among the students of China in company with Mr. Buchman. A part of his last year in India was spent in Lucknow collecting materials for two books, one on Mohammedan sects, the other on Mohammedan mystics. The last time I saw him was when he came to Allahabad for a conference with Dr. Griswald and Mr. Farquhar, and we both had the privilege of being guided about the "Kumbh Mela" at Allahabad by Mr. Farquhar. Although his work seemed barely begun, he had already acquired a portion of his authority which, in his own field, would soon have equalled that of his older colabourer in the field of Hinduism.
Every great change in his life he met in the spirit of the lines of his ode to "Princeton--1905":
"Swift comes the sunrise of a larger day,
Whose tasks are near, are near;
Joined in the bonds of fellowship for aye,
Glad scorn we'll fling to fear."
We may be sure he met the last great change in the same spirit. He always looked forward to the sunrise of that larger day and the greater, nobler tasks which he believed awaited him in the joyous life of that dawn.
I cannot close without repeating his creed—the creed which all who knew him saw so bravely and so wondrously lived out in all his ways.