Fisk, Wilbur

Fisk, Wilbur first president of. the Wesleyan University, was born in Brattleboro, Vt., August 81, 1792. His parents were of the old Puritan stock, and he- was trained in habits of virtue and religion, especially by his mother. In 1809 he went to the Grammar School at Peacham, and in 1812 to the University of Vermont, where he passed A.B. in 1815. In 1818 be entered the ministry of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and soon became remarkable for piety and success in his ministry. His talents as a preacher were of a very high order; indeed, he has hardly been surpassed in this respect in the American pulpit. His health was feeble, however, from the beginning, and his unwearied labors in the itinerant ministry were too great for him. In 1823 he was made presiding elder of the Vermont district, and in 1824 was chosen delegate to the Vermont Conference, a rare distinction for so young a man. From this time onward his life was devoted to the cause of Christian education in the Methodist Episcopal Church. When he entered the ministry in 1818 "there was not a single literary institution of any note under the patronage of the Church. A few years later, in 1824, he was appointed agent to collect funds for one which had been established in Newmarket, N. H.; but he declined the service because, as he said, it was not established on a permanent basis. Still be was anxious that one should be established, and through his efforts, with others, the academy at Wilbraham was commenced, and he was appointed its principal in 1826. The spirit which was thus aroused soon demanded an institution of a higher grade. The Northern and Eastern Conferences united to found the Wesleyan University at Middletowns and Dr. Fisk naturally, and without a rival, was chosen its president in 1830. The part he had already taken in awaking the people to the subject, his devotion to it, and his abilities, made him more than even a leader in the cause of education in the Church. Students gathered to the institution from every part of the nation, and many soon went forth from it who, by his recommendation, became presidents, professors, and teachers in the rapidly multiplying colleges and seminaries under the patronage of the Church throughout the United States. His heart was in this work. He believed, too, that he was where Providence designed him to be. And when, in 1836, he was elected bishop, he declined the office, for he said,' If my health would allow me to perform the work of the episcopacy I dare not accept it, for I believe I can do more for the cause of Christ where I am than I could do as a bishop.' Who shall say that his decision was not only honest, but wise; that his duties as an educator of the young, and the part he took in awaking the people to the great value of general education, were less important than the work of any bishop ?" (Centenary Memories, in The Methodist, N. Y.). In 1828 he had been elected bishop of the Canada Conference, but declined the office. In 1829 he received the degree of D.D. from Brown University, and in the same year was elected president of Lagrange College, Alabama, and also professor in the University of Alabama, both which offices he declined. For many years his life was an incessant struggle with pulmonary disease, and in 1835-6 he travelled in Europe for the benefit of his health. He died at Middletown, Feb. 22, 1839. Among his writings are, The Calvinistic Controversy (N. Y. 18mo): -Travels in Europe (N. Y. 1838, 8vo):-

Sermons and Lectures on Universalism :-Reply to Pie7point on the Atonement, and other tracts and sermons.

Dr. Fisk was a saintly man, of the type of Fenelon, and endowed with some of Fenelon's best moral and mental traits-clearness and logical force; flexibility and adroitness in controversy; with earnest love of truth and goodness for the animating spirit of all his life and thought. As a preacher, few surpassed him in eloquence, none in fervor. As a teacher, he had that highest of all qualities, the power to kindle the enthusiasm of his pupils. Take him for all in all, he was a man of rare symmetry of character, moral and intellectual, of whom all whom he knew would be more willing to say, "'Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright," than of any man of his time who held so high a place. Dr. Stevens describes him as follows: " Wilbur Fisk's person bespoke his character. It was of good size, and remarkable for its symmetry. His features were beautifully harmonious, the contour strongly resembling the better Roman outline, though lacking its most peculiar distinction, the nasus aquilinus. His eye was nicely defined, and, when excited, beamed with a peculiarly benign and conciliatory expression. His complexion was bilious, and added to the diseased indication of his somewhat attenuated features. His head was a model, not of great, but of well proportioned development. It had the height of the Ronan brow, though none of the breadth of the Greek. There is a bust of him extant, but it is not to be looked at by any who would not mar in their memories the beautiful and benign image of his earlier manhood by the disfigurations of disease and suffering. His voice was peculiarly flexible and sonorous: a catarrhal disease affected it, but just enough, during most of his life, to improve its tone to a soft orotund, without a trace of nasal defect. Few men could indicate the moral emotions more effectually by mere tones. It was especially expressive in pathetic passages. His pulpit manner was marked in the introduction of the sermon by dignity, but dignity without ceremony or pretension. As he advanced into the exposition and argument of his discourse (and there were both in most of his sermons), he became more emphatic, especially as brilliant though brief illustrations ever and anon gleamed upon his logic. By the time he had reached the peroration his utterance became rapid, his thoughts were incandescent, the music of his voice rang out in thrilling tones, and sometimes even quivered with trills of pathos. No imaginative excitement prevailed in the audience as under Maffitt's eloquence, no tumultuous wonder as under Bascom's; none of Cookman's impetuous passion, or Olin's overwhelming power, but a subduing, almost tranquil spell of genial feeling, expressed often by tears or half-suppressed ejaculations; something of the kindly effect of Summerfield combined with a higher intellectual impression. Fisk lived for many years in the faith and exemplification of Paul's sublime doctrine of Christian perfection. He prized that great tenet as one of the most important distinctions of Christianity. His own experience respecting it was marked by signal circumstances, and from the day he practically adopted it till he triumphed over death, its impress was radiant on his daily life. With John Wesley, he deemed this important truth promulgated, in any very express form, almost solely by Methodism in these days-to be one of the most solemn responsibilities of his Church, the most potent element in the experimental divinity of the Scriptures" (Methodist Quarterly Review, July, 1852, p. 446). See Holdich, Life of Wilbur Fisk (N.Y. 1840, 8vo); Methodist Quarterly, 1842, p. 579; Sherman, New-England Divines, p. 238; M'Clintock, Lives of Methodist Ministers(N. Y. 8vo; sketch of Fisk by the Rev. 0. H. Tiffany, D.D.); Sprague, Annals, 7:576; Stevens, History of the Methodist Episcopal Church; Christian Review, July 9, 1868; Zion's Herald, 7:400 sq. SEE ALSO NEW ENGLAND THEOLOGY.

 
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