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Elijah Kellogg

"The summer folks," said a Harpswell fisherman, "say they never heard such preaching as Uncle Kellogg served up at the Congregational Church."

He referred to the late Rev. Elijah Kellogg, best known perhaps, especially to boys who like tales of adventure, as the author of the Elm Island stories.

'There's one thing about the stories that Uncle Kellogg writes," his critic went on, ''he always got everything right when he wrote about the sea. He was a sailor himself and when he told about managing a dory in a squall, or working a ship in a storm, you could use what he wrote for a sailor's guide. I have read Clark Russell and Marryatt and Dana's 'Before the Mast,' but I must say Uncle Kellogg got it nearer from a sailor's point of view than any of them."

Rev. Elijah Kellogg was born in Portland May 20, 181 3, and died March 17, 1901. It is well known that he refused many offers of large city parishes, where the people would have paid him a good salary, but he preferred to spend his life in his secluded home on Harpswell Neck. Not long before the great preacher's death, Holman Day, the well-known Maine author, visited Rev. Elijah Kellogg and wrote the following impressions of the preacher and writer and of his home.

In the tall, old-fashioned house behind the spruces on Harpswell Neck, lives Rev. Elijah Kellogg. Notwithstanding the picturesque beauty of the place it would be lonely for anyone except a lover of retirement. Especially lonesome was the homestead one sunny afternoon in September. The house was locked, the blinds were drawn, and were it not for a little path that wormed through the grass to the door, a careless visitor might think the place no longer tenanted.

The pastor and his housekeeper were away, but evidently not for long. The carriage house stood wide open and within was the venerable clergyman's old-fashioned carriage, with the big, round glass in back and sides, the muddy every-day cart and the single-seated wagon with an umbrella tucked under the seat. A horse munched in his stall in the stable.

Over behind the barn a cow stood in the shade.

Whether the minister would appear from land, or from sea, was uncertain, but plainly he was not far distant. So I listened to the silence buzzing in my ears and watched Mr. Kellogg's grey cat scratching her claws on his favorite pear tree.

The aged minister came by water and his coming was picturesque. Gen. Joshua L. Chamberlain, the Hero of Little Round Top, whose summer cottage is across the bay and with whom Mr. Kellogg's friendship dates from the time when Bowdoin's ex-president was a boy in college, had invited the preacher across for dinner. So Mr. Kellogg went with a basket of his best apples. After the meal the general came rowing the aged clergyman back to his own shore. It was a striking spectacle, the soldier-scholar bending to the oars, his old friend seated in the stern sheets and guiding the craft. The general accompanied the clergyman up the bank and not until they were well up toward the spruces did he relinquish the basket and bid "Uncle'' Kellogg good-bye with a hearty hand-clasp.

"When I first began to write my books for boys,'' said the venerable author to me, "I used to think that perhaps I ought to be writing sermons instead. But then I reflected that I was reaching a larger audience than I ever could through sermons and so I reconciled my labors to my scruples. My books number about thirty and I spent much hard labor in their composition.''

"Where is Elm Island, Mr. Kellogg!"

"Oh, I made that island out of my imagination for the story. You know it's pretty hard finding an island on the Maine coast bearing northwest from the mainland. Still, notwithstanding that fact, I know that at least half a dozen islands are pointed out as the suppositious place where Lion Ben and the boys lived and labored.

"I enjoyed writing those books. I like anything that relates to the affairs and the prosperity of young men. I have always been anxious to help young men in any way I could. They're an inspiration. So when I commenced to write books for boys I struck out on new lines. All the books for young folks seemed to tell them how to play.

"I commenced to tell them how to work. I was, of course, much gratified because the stories were read so generally. When I hear that any boy has perused those books with pleasure I feel that the boy has something good in him, some trait worth cultivating, for it indicates that he has a desire to learn and is interested in wholesome, hard work.

''When boys or men come and tell me that those books have helped them, I feel a pleasure that I cannot describe. One of the very happiest days of my whole life was when a successful man held my hand and said, "Mr. Kellogg, I date my prosperity and success from the time I read the Elm Island series.'' And the naive and honest brown face glowed.

Speaking of ''Spartacus to the Gladiators," that stirring old declamation known to every school boy, Kellogg said that he wrote it while a boy at Andover, as a rhetorical exercise, and delivered it himself. The professor under whose charge the exercises were conducted said, as the youthful speaker stepped down.

"Boys, that is eloquence!"

"I also wrote most of the other declamations at that time,'' remarked he. A close rival of Spartacus is "Regulus to the Carthaginians," another example of stately eloquence that so charms the hearts of the schoolboy's.

"For a time," said the venerable man with a quizzical smile, "Spartacus was ruled out at Bowdoin declamations, as I've heard. The professors used to say that no matter what the merits of the speakers might be, the prize used regularly to go to the boy who thundered Spartacus."

Elijah Kellogg's life has not one trace of repining or reproach in it. He has accepted what has come to him and has been content. He has borne the adversity that has overtaken him through the failure of his publishers, and from his meager resources has always extended a helping hand.

"If Elijah Kellogg had a hundred thousand dollars," said a neighbor, "he would still be poor, for he always has his hand out to help someone who is worse off than he. Why, the people love that man like a father and the newer generation coming up seem to love him still more than those before them.''

"I have had a happy life here," said Mr. Kellogg. "There has been peace and enough for me and those who were dependent on me. My parish has been world enough in which to work.

"I have watched the generations grow to man-hood and felt that in a way I was helping the Lord to shape their ways. The younger people as they grow seem to like me, too," and the pastor smiled wistfully.

''Do you know, I have had helping me in my farm work this week, great-grandchildren of my first parishioners!''

The Kellogg house was built forty years ago by Mr. Kellogg, assisted by his neighbors and parishioners. Then, as now, they would do anything to assist him.

''You come over and hew for me," he used to say, "and I'll be over and preach for you."

In all the years he has dwelt in Harpswell, he has never asked neighborly assistance, when by any manner of means he could perform a task with his own hands. He has lived and labored honestly on the six days, as he lives and labors now brown, hardy and earnest, charitable, loving and a kindly counselor always. He has spoken the words that have united, has blessed the children, has watched the long lives and laid the fathers and mothers away. Still he lives on cheerily and hopefully.

And twice each Sabbath day from the pulpit of the white church on the hill, he has preached such sermons as can come only from the heart of a simple, earnest, toiling man of God and that man Elijah Kellogg.

The fervor, fire and soul of Mr. Kellogg's earlier productions were never more nearly matched by him Chan at the time of the Bowdoin centennial in 1894. He spoke at the great dinner on that occasion. The major-general of the armies of the United States, the chief justice of the United States, the chief justice of Maine and many other distinguished persons had preceded the slight, bronzed, stooped old gentleman who had stood in the press with his hand at his ear and listened as best he might. The heat was intense. The great marquee but indifferently protected the throng from the sun's rays. Therefore as the after-noon wore on the audience oozed out from beneath the tent and sought the cool green of the lawn and the shade of the trees.

At last the word went about on the campus "Elijah Kellogg is speaking,'' and then the throngs flocked back again, pressing, crowding, standing on tip-toe, craning their necks to hear this plainly-attired, kindly-faced old preacher.

People who had but lily attended the speeches of men great in the world, now were breathlessly eager to hear. Anyone who moved restlessly or whispered was reproved by withering looks. I shall always remember that address not its words but its marvelous effect on the throng. The venerable preacher drifted into the story of how it came about that he settled in Harp swell.

In simple language he described his early pastor-ate there when he supplied from college. The people asked him to become their pastor. He promised that he would, if certain conditions on their part were carried out. The parish did as he asked and a delegation came to him to announce their compliance.

Then with gratitude and with a true interest in his people he took up his work in Harpswell, many, many years ago, and there he has dwelt ever since, continuing at the age of eighty-five the pastoral ministrations he commenced in his early youth.

All this he told with unaffected earnestness at Brunswick that day, and no career among them all seemed more to be admired. A blameless, simple life spent in doing good and in honest work in con-tented retirement that is Elijah Kellogg's career and his name will be long in the mouths of people when more dazzling honors and personages have forever gone.

His closing words at Brunswick thrilled the hearts of all who listened. A new light came in his eyes. His bent form straightened. He was inspired. The matchless eloquence of the last few sentences rang over the heads of the great throng and echoed in their ears.

Then the speaker ceased and almost abruptly pushed his way out through the press. Pausing only an instant to shake a hand outstretched, he plodded across the campus in the sunshine, stooped yet brisk in his walk, his well-worn hat pulled down upon his head, his thin, brown face placid once more after the fervor of his address.

Thus, a lonely figure on the broad campus, he passed out of sight beneath the trees, unhitched his sober brown horse and drove away toward his Harpswell home.

Holman Day


Source: Maine My State, The Maine Writers Research Club, The Journal Print Shop, Lewiston, Maine, 1919

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