Friday, August 1, 2014

Daniel Webster's visit to John Colby

From The Friend Volume 51 Incidents and Reflections.—No. 8 An intimate friend of Daniel Webster, who spent some weeks with him at his place in Franklin, in the autumn of 1851, the year before his death, relates that one pleasant morning Webster proposed driving to Andover, a distance of about ten miles.*

* John Colby was the husband of Mr. Webster's eldest sister, who died many years before the visit here referred to. He was known as a great septic in religious matters in early life, and hence Mr. Webster's earnest desire to visit him soon after he heard of Mr. Colby's conversion.

On their "way, he said the object of his trip was to visit an old man named John Colby, who had married his half-sister. She had long been dead, and he had not seen John for forty-five years, and all interest in him had died out. He was a wild, reckless fellow when young; and though not a drinking man, and thrifty as to business, acquired the reputation of being the wickedest man in tho neighborhood, so far as swearing and impiety went. Daniel then told his friend what had impelled him to renew the long-suspended intercourse.
"Now I will give you the reason why I am to-day going up to see this John Colby. I have been told by persons who know, that, within a few years, he has become a convert to the Christian religion, and has met with that mysterious change which we call a change of "heart; in other words, he has become a constant, praying Christian. This has given me a very strong desire to have a personal interview with him, and to hear with my own ears his account of this change. For, humanly speaking, I should bavo said that his was about as hopeless a case for conversion as I could well conceive. Ho won't know me, and I shall not know him; and I don't intend to make myself known at first.
"We drove on, and reached the village,—a little, quiet place, one street running through it, a few houses scattered along here and there, with a country store, a tavern, and a post office. As we drove into this quiet, peaceable little hamlet, at midday, with hardly a sign of life noticeable, Webster accosted a lad in the street, and asked where John Colby lived.

"'That is John Colby's house,' said he, pointing to a very comfortable two-story house, with a green lawn running down to the road. We drove along towards it, and little before we reached it, making our horse secure, we left tho wagon and proceeded to the house on foot. Instead of steps leading to it, there were little flagstones laid in front of the door; and you could pass right into the house without having to stop up. The door was open. There was no occasion to knock, because, as we approached the door, tho inmates of tho room could see us. Sitting in the middle of that room was a striking figure, who proved to be John Colby. He sat facing tho door, in a very comfortably furnished farm-house room, with a little table, or what would perhaps be called a light-stand, before him. Upon it was a large, old-fashioned Scott's Family Bible, in very large print, and of course a heavy volume. It lay open, and he had evidently been reading it attentively. As we entered, he took off his spectacles and laid them upon the page of the book, and looked up at us as we approached, Webster in front. He was a man, I should think, over six feet in height, and he retained in a wonderful degree his erect and manly form, although he was eighty-five or six years old. His frame was that of a once powerful, athletic man. His head was covered with very heavy, thick, bushy hair, and it was white as wool, which added very much to the picturosqueness of his appearance. As I looked in at the door, I thought I never saw a more striking figure. He straightened himself up, but said nothing until just as we appeared at the door, when ho greeted us with,—
"'Walk in, gentlemen.'
"He then spoke to his grandchild to give us some chairs. The meeting was, I saw, a little awkward, and he looked very sharply at us, as much as to say, 'You are here, but for what I don't know: make known your business.' Webster's first salutation was,—
"This is — Colby, John Colby, is it not?'
"'That is my name, sir,' was the reply.
"' I suppose yon don't know mo,' said Webster.
"' No, sir, I don't know you; and I should like to know how you know me.'
"' I have seen you before, —Colby,' replied Webster.
'"Seen me before!' said he; 'pray, when and where?'
"' Have you no recollection of me?' asked Webster.
"'No, sir, not tho slightest;' and he looked by — Webster toward me, as if trying to remember if ho had seen me. Webster remarked,—
"' I think you never saw this gentleman before; but you have seen me.'
"Colby put the question again, when and where?
"' You married my oldest sister,' replied Webster, calling her by name. (I think it was Susannah.)
"'I married your oldest sister!' exclaimed Colby; 'who are you?'
'"lam "little Dan,"' was tho reply.
"It certainly would be impossible to describe the expression of wonder, astonishment, and half-incredulity that came over Colby's face.
"' You Daniel Webster I' said he; and he started to rise from his chair. As he did so, he stammered out some words of surprise. 'Is it possible that this is the little black lad that used to ride tho horse to water? Well, I cannot realize it!'
"Webster approached him. They embraced each other; and both wept.
"' Is it possible,' said Colby, when tho embarrassment of the first shock of recognition was past, ' that you have come up here to see me? Is this Daniel? Why, why,' said he, 'I cannot believe my senses. Now, sit down. I am glad, oh, I am so glad to see you, Daniel! I never expected to see you again. I don't know what to say. I am so glad,' ho wont on, 'that my life has been spared that I might see you. Why, Daniel, I road about you, and hear about you in all ways; sometimes some members of tho family come and tell us about you; and the newspapers tell us a great deal about you, too. Your name seems to be constantly in the newspapers. They say that you are a great man, that you are a famous man; and you can't tell how delighted I am when I hear such things. But, Daniel, the time is short,—you won't stay here long,—I want to ask you one important question. You may be a great man : are you a good man? Are you a Christian man? Do you love the Lord Jesus Christ? That is the only question that is worth asking or answering. Are you a Christian? You know, Daniel, what I have been: I have been one of the wickedest of men. Your poor sister, who is now in heaven, knows that. But the spirit of Christ and of Almighty God has come down and plucked me as a brand from the everlasting burning. I am here now, a monument to his grace. Oh, Daniel, I would not give what is contained within the covers of this book for all the honors that have been conferred upon men from the creation of the world until now. For what good would it do? It is all nothing, and less than nothing, if you are not a Christian, if you arc not repentant. If you do not love the Lord Jesus Christ, in sincerity and truth, all your worldly honors will sink to utter nothingness. Are you a Christian? Do you love Christ? You have not answered me.'
"All this was said in the most earnest and even vehement manner.
"'John Colby,' replied Webster, 'you have asked me a very important question, and one which should not be answered lightly. I intend to give you an answer, and one that is truthful, or I won't give you any. I hope that I am a Christian. I profess to be a Christian. But, while I say that, I wish to add,—and I say it with shame and confusion of face,—that I am not such a Christian as I wish 1 wore. I have lived in the world, surrounded by its honors and its temptations; and I am afraid, John Colby, that I am not so good a Christian as I ought to be. I am afraid I have not your faith and your hopes; but still, I hope and trust that I am a Christian, and that the same grace which has converted you, and made you an heir of salvation, will do the same for me. 1 trust it; and I also trust, John Colby,—and it won't be long before our summons will come,—that we shall meet in a better world, and meet those who have gone before us, whom wo knew, and who trusted in that same divine, free grace. It won't be long. You cannot tell, John Colby, how much delight it gave me to hear of your conversion. Tho hearing of that is what has led me here to-day. I came here to see with my own eyes, and hear with my own ears the story from a man that 1 know and remember well. What a wicked man you used to be!'
"'0 Daniel!' exclaimed John Colby, 'youdon't remember how wicked I was; how ungrateful I was; how unthankful I was! I never thought of God ; I never cared for God; I was worse than the heathen. Living in a Christian land, with the light shining all around me, and the blessings of Sabbath teachings everywhere about me, I was worse than a heathen until I was arrested by the grace of Christ, and made to see my sinfulness, and to hear the voice of my Savior. Now I am only waiting to go home to Him, and to meet your sainted sister, my poor wife. And I wish, Daniel, that you might be a prayerful Christian, and I trust you are. Daniel,' he added, with deep earnestness of voice, 'will you pray with me?'
"We knelt down, and Webster offered a most touching and eloquent prayer. As soon as he had pronounced the 'Amen,' J. Colby followed in a most pathetic, stirring appeal to God. He prayed for the family, for me, and for everybody. Then we rose ; and he seemed to feel a serene happiness in having thus joined his spirit with that of Webster in prayer.
"' Now,' said he, 1 what can we give you? I don't think we have any thing that we can give you.'
"' Yes, you have,' replied Webster; 'you have something that is just what we want to eat.'
"' What is that?' asked Colby.
"' It is some bread and milk,' said Webster. 'I want a bowl of bread and milk for myself and my friend.'
"Very soon the table was set, and a white cloth spread over it; some nice bread was set upon it and some milk brought, and we sat down to the table and eat. Webster exclaimed afterward: 'Didn't it taste good? "Didn't it taste like old times?'
"The brothers-in-law soon took an affectionate leave of each other, and we left. Webster could hardly restrain his tears. When we got into tho wagon ho began to moralize.
"'I should like,' said he, 'to know what the enemies of religion would say to John Colby's conversion. There was a man as unlikely, humanly speaking, to become a Christian as any man I over saw. He was reckless, heedless, impious; never attended church, never experienced the good influence of associating with religious people. And here he has been living on in that reckless way until he has got to bean old man ; until a period of life when you naturally would not expect his habits to change: and yet he has been brought into tho condition in which we have seen him to-day,—a penitent, trusting, humble believer. Whatever people may say, nothing,' added Webster, 'can convince mo that any thing short of the grace of Almighty God could make such a change as I, with my own eyes, have witnessed in the life of John Colby."
"When we got back to Franklin, in the evening, we met John Taylor at the door. Webster called out to him:—
"'Well, John Taylor, miracles happen in these later days as well as in the days of old.'
"'What now, squire?' asked John Taylor.
"' Why, John Colby has become a Christian. If that is not a miracle, what is?'"
Opportunity is the flower of time, and as the stalk may remain when tho flower is cut off, so time may remain to us when opportunity is gone forever.

Daniel Webster's Brother-in-Law Saturday, January 23, 1886 Grand Forks Daily Herald ND

Historical Sketches. The Family of Daniel Webster Wednesday, Nov. 14, 1849 Jackson Citizen

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