President Lincoln asks for an Encore.
Speaker Colfax said, I regret to inform you that the Hon. James Harlan (Secretary of the Interior) is detained by indisposition at home, and will not be able to be here as announced. Before singing the beautiful and impressive hymn, “YOUR MISSION,” next in order on the programme, let me read a brief note from the paper I hold in my hand. On the 20th of January, 1865, at the last anniversary meeting of this Commission, when hostile armies were contending together in deadly strife, this poem was sung as a part of the exercises of the evening. Abraham Lincoln, with his tall form, his care-furrowed face, and his nobly throbbing heart, was here, and, after listening in tears, he sent up, written upon the back of this programme (holding up the precious sheet), in that plain, familiar handwriting, by that hand that now lies cold in the grave, this request:—
Near the close, let us have “Your Mission” repeated by Mr. Phillips. Don’t say I called for it.—LINCOLN.
The hymn was sung by Mr. Philip Phillips, as follows:—
IF you cannot on the ocean
Sail among the swiftest fleet
Rocking on the highest billows,
Laughing at the storms you meet,
You can stand among the sailors,
Anchored yet within the bay,
You can lend a hand to help them
As they launch their boats away.
If you are too weak to journey
Up the mountain, steep and high.
You can stand within the valley
While the multitudes go by;
You can chant in happy measure
As they slowly pass along—
Though they may forget the singer,
They will not forget the song.
If you have not gold and silver
Ever ready at command;
If you cannot toward the needy
Reach an ever-helping hand.
You can succor the afflicted,
O’er the erring you can weep;
You can be a true disciple,
Sitting at the Saviour’s feet.
If you cannot in the harvest
Garner up the richest sheaves,
Many a grain, both ripe and golden,
Oft the careless reaper leaves;
Go and glean among the briers
Growing rank against the wall,
For it may be that their shadow
Hides the heaviest wheat of all.
If you cannot in the conflict
Prove yourself a soldier true,
If where fire and smoke are thickest
There’s no work for you to do,
When the battlefield is silent,
You can go with careful tread—
You can bear away the wounded,
You can cover up the dead.
Do not, then, stand idly waiting
For some greater work to do;
Fortune is a lazy goddess—
She will never come to you.
Go and toil in any vineyard;
Do not fear to do or dare—
If you want a field of labor
You can find it anywhere.
—Mrs. Ellen M. H. Gates.
Annals of the United States Christian Commission (1868).