Memoirs of P.P. Bliss: Chapter 2

The O.F. Young Home, Rome, Pennsylvania

In 1859, Mr. Bliss was at Almond, New York, and in the winter of that year he taught at the Rome Academy at Rome, Pennsylvania. The previous year, his musical gift had brought him into an acquaintance with the family of Mr. O.F. Young, a thrifty farmer and devout Christian man, who, some thirty years before, had come into the valley to teach school, and had married one of his pupils, the daughter of Peter Allen, a leading citizen of Rome, and was now the head of a happy family, consisting of Grandma Allen, her daughter his wife, with their five children, two songs and three daughters. The whole family were singers, and Mr. Young being one of the school board, Mr. Bliss was invited to make their house his home, and soon became as one of the family. He brought here his younger sister, that she might attend school and be with him for the winter.

Lucy J. Young Bliss, P.P. Bliss' Wife

The descriptions given of Mr. Bliss by his friends, and a daugerreotype taken at this time, indicate that he was possessed of unusual personal attractions. Of large frame and finely proportioned, a handsome, frank, open face, with fine, large expressive eyes, and always buoyant and cheerful, full of the kindliest feeling, wit and good humor, with a devout Christian character, and of unsullied moral reputation, he became a universal favorite among young and old. Among his pupils were the children of Mr. Young, who became his most intimate friends. The eldest daughter, Lucy, then about eighteen years of age, was the associate and companion of Mr. Bliss' sister, and thus these young people were thrown much together. During the winter, the singing school, the spelling class and the choir meetings went on as is wont in the country villages of the East, and these two "kept company," and found ere long that they were necessary to each other's happiness. So, one beautiful morning in the following spring, June 1, 1859, with Pa and Ma Young accompanying, they went in a very quiet way to the little town of Wysocks, six miles down the valley, and were married by the minister in the parlor of the minister's house.

It is a beautiful ride down the valley of the Wysocking. The hills rise up grandly on either side; the brook flows rapidly by, its babbling and murmurings heard from the road, hidden sometimes in deep dells by overhanging trees, and gleaming in the light through open fields. The woods were filled with wild flowers and singing birds, that June morning, and the world was full of poetry to these two dear friends as they rode to their wedding. Happy in the love of God, happy in each other's love, how rich they were! Of money they had absolutely none. Mr. Bliss did not possess at this time fifty dollars' worth of worldly goods. Mr Young derived a comfortable support from his farm, but had nothing wherewith to endow the young couple, beyond the warm welcome to the old homestead of the loved daughter and the one who he had long loved as a son. They came back to the home, and Mr. Bliss, taking off his Sunday clothes, went out to work on the farm, and Lucy went into the kitchen to help her mother.

Wedding Photo of P.P. and Lucy J. Bliss

I find in his diary this mention of this event in his life: "June 1, 1859 - married to Miss Lucy J. Young, the very best thing I could have done." And looking back upon the eighteen years they have lived together on earth, and all they were to each other, in the experiences of joy and sorrow, of poverty and prosperity, that they passed through, no one who knew them but would acquiesce and recognize the providence of God in bringing them together. Mrs. Bliss was in many things the opposite and the complement of her husband. He was by nature poetical, impulsive, demonstrative, easily moved; she strongly practical, steady, reticent and with great adherence of purpose. She was both wife and mother to him from the first of their union. She was of a deep nature, loving, tender in her affection, beyond what most who knew her gave her credit for. His buoyant, joyful, affectionate, warm-hearted demonstrativeness naturally made her more reserved manner seem constrained; but all who learned to know her loved and admired her, and thanked God that Philip Bliss had such a wife. At the time of her marriage, she was a member of the Presbyterian Church in Rome, having made profession of faith in Christ at the age of sixteen. Mr. Bliss, about the time of his marriage, became connected with the same church, and labored efficiently with them in church work, being for some time the Superintendent of a Union Sunday School in the village, and is remembered by many of the grown-up people in this connection.

The year after his marriage, Mr. Bliss worked upon the farm for his father-in-law, and received for his support thirteen dollars a month, the amount usually paid to farm hands. That winter he commenced teaching music in Bradford County, at two dollars an evening "and found." The year 1860 he ever reckoned as a memorable one in his history. The little knowledge he had obtained of music made him feel deeply how little he knew, and gave him the most burning desire to prosecute a thorough study of the art. His soul was filled with that which he longed to express, but the future looked dark to him. He had no means and no prospect of being able to secure any further education. For a time he became burdened and depressed with these thoughts.

The Rome Presbyterian Church, as it appears today.

In July and August of that year, a Normal Academy of Music was held in Geneseo, New York, under Perkins, Cook, Bassini and others. It was the great event of the period among the musical people of the surrounding country. The advantages to be offered in training and culture were unusual, and of the utmost value to those desiring to cultivate music. Poor Bliss obtained the programme, and eagerly pored over the inducements and opportunities it offered. It was just what he needed. It would be such a joy to him to meet these masters in the art - such a help to him for all the future; but the expense was far beyond his means. He had not a dollar in the world. It was impossible for him to go. He was almost heartbroken about it. He threw himself upon the old settee in the sitting-room one day, when no one but Grandma Allen was in the room, and he says, "I just cried for disappointment. I thought everything had come to an end; that my life must be passed as a farm hand and country schoolmaster, and all bright hopes for the future must be given up." Grandma was full of sympathy, and wanted to know all about the trouble. After she had been told about the Academy, she said, "Now, Phil, what does that cost?" "Well, Grandma," he said, "it would take as much as thirty dollars." "Well, thirty dollars is a good deal of money," said the kind old lady; "I have an old stocking that I have been dropping pieces of silver in for a good many years, and I'll just see how much there is. Perhaps there are thirty dollars, and if there are, why, you can take it and go to the Normal." The stocking was brought out and found to contain more than the thirty dollars, and Bliss spent six weeks of the hardest study of his life at the Normal. God bless dear old Grandma Allen. The world owes her interest compounded a hundred times over as long as she lives, and a grateful remembrance after her death, for what she did that day for P.P. Bliss.

Bliss' Melodeon, in the Gospel Songwriters Museum, Rome, PA

In the winter of 1860, Mr. Bliss formally took up the business of a professional music teacher. In his diary he says, "Old Fanny (a horse) and a twenty-dollar melodeon furnished by O.F. Young set me up in the profession." The next three years were passed in and about Rome. He was quite successful as a teacher, and during the winter months, had plenty of employment. In the summer he worked upon his father-in-law's farm, and again attended the Normal Academy in 1861, and in 1863. In 1861, he writes, "Summer at Geneseo, New York, T.E. Perkins, T.J. Cook and Pychowski, faculty this season." In 1862, there is this memorandum: "Worked on farm. Did not go off to school this summer - partly on account of my health and partly on account of my wealth! Winter, Honesdale, Pennsylvania, made the acquaintance of I. Brundage, a good Rev. and singer." To be a good minister and a good singer was to occupy a large place in Mr. Bliss' affections, and he ever esteemed Mr. Brundage as a very dear friend. Indeed, long before he entered upon the life of an evangelist, while following the profession of music, he had scores of warm-hearted personal friends among the ministers of the Gospel. He had a great respect for their calling - a desire to be helpful to them in their work, and a love for them individually, which all who came to know him most cordially reciprocated. From no other class of persons have so many and so tender expressions of love for his memory and sorrow at his death been received as from the ministers.

During these years at Rome, Mr. Bliss' pastor was Rev. Darwin Cook. Mr. Bliss esteemed him very highly, and ever spoke of him with affection. He has often said that it was Mr. Cook's encouraging words, more than anything else, that stimulated him to excel in his profession, and particularly turned his attention to the composition of melodies for Sunday School songs. Mr. Cook is still living, and participated in the funeral exercises of Mr. and Mrs. Bliss in Towanda, and writes as follows of his recollections of Mr. Bliss:

Merryall, January 31, 1877

In 1863, Mr. Bliss writes: "Geneseo again. Perkins, Bassini and Zundel. A very good term for me. Winter, taught at Castile, New York. Boarded at D. Bovee's. A pleasant winter, only my wife, Lou, was at home; so I was only half a man, if half." The instructors of Mr. Bliss at these Normals all still speak in the highest terms of his unusual intelligence and remarkable proficiency. Bassini, at his first Normal, selected him as his most intelligent pupil, and in that and succeeding years took unwonted interest in him, giving him private lessons upon the use of the voice. Much of his remarkable power in this respect, he felt, was due to the careful and scientific instruction received from Bassini. With a quick apprehension and a thinking mind, Mr. Bliss desired to be intelligent in his profession, and was always withing to be taught, ever ready to receive, and careful to retain instruction. He never felt that he himself was a master, and ever preferred to be a scholar rather than a teacher.

Isaac Bliss, P.P. Bliss' Father

During this period of his life at Rome, from the proceeds of his singing schools, he saved up a few hundred dollars, and bought a little cottage, to which he removed his parents, and for a time set up housekeeping. The dear old father, who had passed most of his days in humble homes in the backwoods, was now sixty-five years of age. The little cottage in Rome was a better home than he had ever lived in. Many months his children, "Phil" and "Lou" had planned the surprise that awaited him. They had saved in every possible way to buy and plainly furnish the little home. When all was made ready, Father Bliss was sent for. The day of his arrival in Rome, he stopped at Father Young's for dinner. In the afternoon, the happy children took the gentle, laughing, gray-haired old Christian in the wagon, and riding along the one village street, asked him to pick out the house that they had selected to be his home. Two or three times he essayed to express his choice, picking out the humblest, and each time taking a poorer one, until at last he gave up, a little troubled that he might have been too ambitious. When the happy Phil, almost too full to contain himself, turned the team, and driving back up the street, stopped at a pretty little cottage, a neat piazza in front, a large yard filled with blossoming lilacs and budding apple trees, it looked very beautiful; and as the strong man lifted his father from the wagon, it was a very happy hour to him, as he said, "This is your home, father." The dear old man sat down in a chair placed for him upon the stoop, and, with tears running down his cheeks, said, "Phil, I never expected to have so good a home on earth as this."

Bliss Home in Rome, PA, now the Gospel Songwriters Museum

Here the last months of the life of the old saint passed away sweetly, peacefully and happily. The remembrance of these, his last days, were always exceedingly precious to Mr. and Mrs. Bliss. The burden of life in some degree rolled away, and he entered more into the sunlight that awaited him in fullness in the life beyond. "The first time I ever saw Father Bliss," Mrs. Bliss once told me, "he reproved me for laughing on Sunday." Brought up by a Puritan father, living in communion with God, drinking daily from the Bible, the only book he ever read, life was to him very solemn, an everything around him was related to God and to eternity. His children all felt this atmosphere in their association with him, and none drank in more of the father's sense of the reality of eternal things than did his son. There is a root and stalk for every beautiful flower that blooms, a spring for every flowing stream; and all that has given power on the earth to Philip Bliss' songs finds its root in the Bible of the Hebrews, its stalk in the living characters developed by that Bible among the Puritans. The stream of melody that flowed through him, making glad the people of God, had its spring in the intense reality of spiritual things that came down to him from a godly ancestry.

During these months with his children, the father laid aside everything of austerity that had ever associated itself with him, and was like a happy child. Mr. Bliss often thanked God for his goodness in permitting him to have the joy of making his dear father happy, and of being with him in his last days. In January, 1864, after only a few months in the home he thought so much better than he was entitled to, the father died, and was taken to his Heavenly home, to meet the great surprise of knowing what "God hath prepared for them that love Him." There can be no more fitting close to this chapter than the song of Mr. Bliss, written, much of it, from personal recollection, and which he usually prefaced, in singing, by a few remarks about his father, and by saying, very devoutly, "I thank God for a godly ancestry."

The lyrics to the song:

My Grandfather's Bible

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