This portrait is very true, with a suggestion of his nature that makes it a faithful transcript of his presence. It is a picture of him at 66 years of age. His strength overwhelmed people, and yet he was very simple, easily affected by the misfortunes of others, direct in all his impressions; but no one could take him by surprise, because his faith in the eternal redemption of all trials was beyond the ways of the world. His optimism was simple Christianity. He always said he believed there was as great a number out of the Church as there was in it that followed the teaching of Christianity. He was among the believers, with his utmost energy alert to save and comfort the unbelievers. He believed in everything and everyone. The ingenuousness of his nature was childlike in its unchallenged faith and its tender instincts. His unworldliness was almost legendary in its belief of human nature. I remember he was asked once whether he believed in Santa Claus, and in his own beautiful imagery he said:
“I believe in Santa Claus. Haven’t I listened when I was a boy and almost heard those bells on the reindeer; haven’t I seen the marks in the snow where the sleigh stopped at the door and old Santa jumped out? I believed in him then and I believe in him now—believe that children should be allowed to believe in the beautiful mythical tale. It never hurt anyone, and I think one of the saddest memories of my childhood is of a day when an older brother told me there was no Santa Claus. I didn’t believe him at first, and afterwards when I saw those delightful mysterious bundles being sneaked into the house, way down deep in my heart I believed that Santa Claus as well as my father and mother had something to do with it.”
In the last years of his life music became the greatest pleasure to Dr. Talmage. An accumulation of work made it necessary for me to engage a secretary. We were fortunate in securing a young lady who was an exquisite pianist. In the evening she would play Liszt’s rhapsodies for the Doctor, who enjoyed the Hungarian composer most of all. He said to me once that he felt as if music in his study, when he was at work, would be a great inspiration. So my Christmas present to him that year was a musical box, which he kept in his study.
The three months preceding our trip to Europe were spent in the usual busy turmoil of social and public life. In truth we were very full of our plans for the European tour, which was to be devoted to preaching by Dr. Talmage, and to show me the places he had seen and people he had met on previous visits. There was something significant in the welcome and the ovations which my husband received over there. Neither the Doctor nor myself ever dreamed that it would be his farewell visit. And yet it seems to me now that he was received everywhere in Europe as if they expected it to be his last.