Memoirs of P.P. Bliss: Chapter 3

The first composition of Mr. Bliss, so far as is known, was in the year 1864, while in his own house at Rome. He writes in his diary: "1864 -- Lived in Rome, Pennsylvania. Worked on farm some; wrote music some; housekeeping some; taught in in Nunda, Castile, etc. Saved one hundred dollars this year." Mr. James McGranahan, for years a musical friend of Mr. Bliss, was, duing the summer of 1864, a clerk in the county store and post office of Rome. He says: "I well remember Bliss' first published composition. He sent the manuscript to Root & Cady, and after a time he received back a proof in print. He brought in the copy to show me and ask my opinion as to corrections. I had had one or two pieces printed, and knew just how he felt, and we had a very pleasant time over his first piece. It was a great pleasure to him, and yet he had a great deal of wonder that anything he had written was worth publishing." The name of the piece is Lora Vale, copyrighted by Root & Cady in 1865, and published as sheet music. Before sending to Root & Cady, he had forwarded it to Bradbury, and by him it had been refused, much to Mr. Bliss' disappointment, but he was encouraged by friends to send it to Mr. Root.

The lyrics to the song:

Lora Vale

This was the commencement of the exercise of his gifts as a composer. The style of the song will show that the conception of the use of song as conveying Gospel truth had not yet come to him. It is a song of sentiment, of a kind good in its way, but which it would have been impossible to have got him to write during the last years of life. The song became popular and enjoyed a sale of several thousands. Let the reader place in contrast the words of this song, sweet in its sentiment, but purposeless in teaching, and without specific mention of Christ, and the words of the two latest - so far as is known - hymns that he ever wrote, found in this book, and some correct idea of his development can be obtained.

Bliss' Pen and Inkwell, now in the Museum

From 1864 to 1876, twelve years, his pen was busy in giving expression to the songs that came thronging through his soul. Al of his work was done during these years. He was twenty six years old when he wrote his first song, and thirty-eight when he wrote his last. In the year 1863 or '64, he first met Mr. George F. Root of Chicago. The acquaintance then formed became an intimate friendship, and was one of the links in the chain of providences that led him into a larger field of usefulness, and finally into the place God was preparing him for, of a Gospel singer. Mr. Root thus writes of his first impressions of Mr. Bliss:

My acquaintance with Mr. Bliss did not begin very early in his life, though it might have been near the beginning of his musical career. He had attended a term or two of a normal musical institute, had taught some, and had given some concerts near his home, when he wrote his first letter to me. This letter contained an early - perhaps his first - musical composition, a song entitled Lora Vale.

George F. Root, from his book "A Musical Life"
In his autobiography, "The Story of A Musical Life," published in 1891, George F. Root tells a little more of the story behind the publishing of "Lora Vale:" (pages 138-139)

The song was promising, but the letter was more so, as indicating an individual entirely out of the common run of literary or musical aspirants. I think this letter, with many other mementos of Mr. Bliss that would now be useful, was in my office and was destroyed at the great fire of Chicago, Oct. 8 and 9, 1871; at any rate, they cannot now be found.

After a while, he wrote again, saying he would like to come out to Chicago if he could find anything to do. He gave an account of his accomplishments in his droll way, and we all became much interested in having him come. I think it was he who finally made the plan that was agreed upon, namely: He would go as our representative to the towns that would naturally be tributary to Chicago, and hold conventions, or give concerts, or do something musical, whenever he could get the opportunity, (his wife being his accompanist), and so turn people's attention to us for whatever they might want in the way of music. For this service we guaranteed him a certain annual sum. If the proceeds of his converts and conventions did not reach that amount, we were to make it up.

P.P. Bliss' flute, now at the Bliss Museum, and believed to be the one sent to him by George F. Root for the song "Lora Vale."

While engaged in this work, he was constantly sending in words and music of various kinds for revision and correction. It was not long before I saw that here was a man who had a "call" especially as a poet. His musical training and experiences were too limited to permit safe flights on his part beyond simple harmonies, although it was easily seen that he had a natural vein of true melody. What a wonderful use his songs have performed now for more than a score of years. I presume it is seen that I am writing of the beloved and lamented P.P. Bliss.

When Mr. Moody, from being a simple, hard working but devoted city missionary in chicago, began to come to the front as an evangelist, Mr. Bliss' songs, and some that I wrote, were of much use to him...

We published Lora Vale, and this led to further correspondence. And our interest constantly increased in this many-sided "country boy," as he called himself. His curious conceits, so piquant and varied, his beautiful penmanship, his bright nature, that could not seem to see anything unhappy or unbeautiful in life, attracted us strongly, and led often to letters on my part that were not needed for business purposes, but were for the sake of the answer they were sure to bring. The deeper nature of the man did not show then, but that which did appear was "pure and lovely, and of good report."

I do not know of his modes or habits of composition, but I do know of his wonderful fertility and facility. His responses to the calls for the many kinds of literary and musical work that we soon found he could do always surprised us as much by their promptness as by their uniform excellence. It is probable that with every topic that entered his mind there came trooping multitudes of congruous ideas, images and words, and he had only to take his choice; and his choice was always happy, always appropriate, and often striking in its originality and beauty. As Mr. F.W. Root, in a recent number of the Musical Visitor, says of Mr. Bliss: "His faculty for seizing upon the salient features of whatever came under his notice amounted to an enerring instinct. The one kernel of wheat in a bushel of chaff was the first thing he saw."

It was lovely to see how near to all he did was his religion. There was for him no line on one side of which was a bright face and on the other a solemn one. His smile went into his religion and his religion into his smile. His Lord was always welcome and apparently always there in his open and loving heart. It was this that made his liveliness so irresistibly sweet and attractive. You constantly felt its sphere of innocence. This hymn, by a kindred spirit, is a most true expression of his constant condition:

In speaking of himself in a lecture before a State Sunday School Association, this pleasant insight occurs. After making the remark, "let song develop feeling and then to not fail to use it to direct and purify affection," he goes on: "I well remember a loving, large-eyed lad who in the day school could scarcely sing the old song of 'A, B, C, D, E, F, G ("Haste thee, winter"),' but that the tears would fall and mark the time. This lad knew not why he wept, but the faithful Christian teacher turned this mighty motive power to heavenly purposes, and gave these outflowing sympathies wholesome food. So the love of song grew and prevailed, so the channel of the affections widened, and so the lad, though taller grown, stands here to plead for song."

In another article in his correspondence with our musical paper, he speaks in a characteristic way of the death of a friend who had written some poetry for him; but other extracts from this article are so illustrative of his every-day life that we also insert them here in their order.

He begins with speaking of a "general association of ministers" in which he conducted music; then:

There was a deal of mighty fine talking, a few earnest prayers, but very little hearty singing. Why is it that so few ministers sing? Wouldn't it improve their voices, and hearts too?

But please don't put me down as fault-finding. I think Sunshine and its author had a full share of attention. On the other hand, let me tell this. During the convention in Burlington, Iowa, a few weeks since, which, by the way, was a "real good one" = though the first since W.B. Bradbury was there, fourteen or fifteen years ago - it was my good fortune to be a guest of Dr. Salter, Pastor of the Congregational Church, and to hear at family worship such solid tunes as Duke Street, Peterboro, St. Martin's, etc., sung by all the household, all singing soprano in a spirited manner, making a lasting impression on my soul.

I don't believe ministers' and deacons' families are a whit worse than other folks, - N.B. my father was never even a sexton - but I do believe that every Christian family should be a praise-giving band, and, if possible, 'psalm-singers.'

Since Burlington, I have sung in Waukegan and Milburn, within forty miles of Chicago, and the statistics show that not one-half of the children of that county (Lake) are in Sunday School, nor in any way 'hear the Gospel sound.' Surely there is work enough to do.

An event worthy to be recorded and enever to be forgotten is the departure - I can't say death - of Kate Cameron. Her name was first on a list of thirty to unite with our church the very day she received the welcome to the church above.

She has written many sweet spiritual songs, but none more beautiful, I think, than "That City" written for The Joy and sung at her own funeral:

You tell me of a city
That is so bright and fair,
Oh, why do not the friends I love
Talk more of going there?"

Sure enough, I wonder why we don't?

And here again - after we had suggested that he occupy a certain place regularly in the paper. This was among the last things before increasing work on his part and new business relations on ours caused a loving separation, after a nearly ten years' connection.

P.P. Bliss, His Column
Selected Editorial

In assuming editorial charge of this column, we make our editorial bow (wow), etc.

The editor fondly hopes, etc.

In our treatment of those vast and vital issues of the momentous future, we shall endeavor to maintain a persistent, etc.

In view of our past editorial experience, we can confidently promise - etc.

Our old friends and acquaintances need scarcely to be told that they may expect us to pay --c, etc. etc.


Omaha, Neb., July 15, 1873

Just five hundred miles in twenty-four hours - and you'll see the center of the world! No, not quite. We call it, "Away out West," but it lacks thirty miles of being the middle of Uncle Sam's farm! [ I was tempted to go the thirty miles further, so I could say I'd been half-way across. ]

And the programmes said, "The Fifth Annual State Sunday School Convention." Though as to numbers and results 'twas called the beginning of things.

"Elaborate and elegant" was the unanimous verdict on the church decorations: "Cordial and complete" the welcome; "Harmonious and helpful" all the exercises.

The success of the music department is the subject of this article. Saml. Burns, Superintendent of the M.E.S.S., of Omaha, in behalf of the Executive Committee, sent on for fifty copies of the book to be used, and had two or three weeks' practice; so much for preparation.

Professor Nightingale, President of the Convention, was, as you'd know by his name, a musical spirit, and gave the singing its proper place and time in each session, so that music seemed to be one of the exercises, and not a mere pastime. So much for selection.

Dr. J.H. Vincent, of New York, father and founder of the "Berean Series" and "S.School Journal," being the prominent speaker, aided the singing materially, not only by his kindly words concerning it, but by engaging heartily in it, both its chorus and quartette. So much for sympathy.

Mr. F.J. Hartley, of London, Eng., also a live worker in S.S., manifested a wonderful interest in everything pertaining to American institutions, and complimented the style of our S.S. songs and the manner in which they are rendered, as worthy of imitation. So much for Christian charity.

The Children's Mass Meeting of course was a grand success, and the speeches and songs "splendid!" Among the pieces sung were: "Hold The Fort," "Daniel's Band," "More To Follow," "Heaven For Me," "Pull For The Shore," and "Remembered." (at that time recently issued.)

Something about an "Old Piano" was sung and apparently enjoyed, but some folks might consider "sacred" songs only appropriate, and perhaps nothing had better be said about "profane" songs in such a solemn convention. (?)

All in all, a more social convention (ice cream included) could not be imagined. And in the years to come, Nebraska will be a bright star in the Sunday School firmament.

That her Sunday School singing may be as popular as the U.P.R.R., and her Christian charity be as broad and inviting as her blooming prairies, is the wish of

-- Sunshine

The Joy is a good name for a singing book. Don't you think so? The name was discovered, as a great many other good things are yet to be, in the Bible. Turn to Jeremiah, 33rd chapter and 11th verse -- and you will find it. Though, as it may not be convenient to turn just now - people seldom turn to look up a quotation - it may be well enough to print it here. "The voice of joy, and the voice of gladness: the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride; the voice of them that shall say, Praise the Lord of Hosts: for the Lord is good; for His mercy endureth forever."

Dear Bliss and Mrs. Bliss, I cannot think of you without a pang and a longing, but I know they will gradually wear away, and nothing but joy will remain for our next meeting.

-- George F. Root

The article by F.W. Root, in Church's Musical Visitor for January 1877, quoted from by Mr. George F. Root, is so excellent in its appreciation of Mr. Bliss that it is given entire:

Mr. Bliss' voice was always a marvel to me. He used occasionally to come to my room, requesting that I would look into his vocalization with a view to suggestions. At first a few suggestion were made, but latterly I could do nothing but admire. Beginning with E flat, or even D flat below, he would, without apparent effort, produce a series of clarion tones, in an ascending series, until having reached the D (fourth line tenor clef) I would look to see him weaken and give up, as would most bass singers; but no, on he would go, without a sound of straining, and without the usual apoplectic look of effort. I feel quite safe in saying that his chest range was from D flat below to A flat above, the quality being strong and agreeable throughout and one vowel as good as another. He would have made name and fortune on the dramatic stage had he chosen that profession and studied a more scientific class of music than that in which he chose to work.

The lavishness of natural endowment may be also seen in his musical compositions, though in not so high a degree. He never composed upon large designs, and so never expanded his natural gifts into any very comprehensive creative ability. But I find enough in his melodies to justify myself in saying that he had the instincts of a musical composer. "When Jesus Comes" deserves to live by the side of the best songs of the church; its intellectual side is well enough, and its emotional element is to me irresistible. And I venture to say that it will live, unless I am also mistaken in the belief that the religious progress of today (of which this song is an outgrowth) is giving deeper consideration to the things of the heart than has been given in any epoch known to history hitherto, or, indeed unless certain Gospel singers kill the piece by a very mistaken way of rendering it.

Mrs. Bliss was so thoroughly devoted to her husband, that her life merged in his. There is a melancholy satisfaction in the though that this dire calamity did not part this most devoted couple.

In 1865, Mr. Bliss writes: "Summer, concerted with J.G. Towner. A pleasant singer, honest partner and lively companion. Made a hundred dollars in two weeks. Drafted in the United States Army two weeks." Mr. Bliss reported for duty at Carlisle Barracks after being drafted, and after two weeks' service was discharged, it being evident that the war was at an end, and that no more men would be needed.

This Melodeon and the Baton sitting on top of it were used on the 'Yankee Boys' tours; currently on display in the Museum.

He again writes: "About November 1st, George F. Root wrote to ask us if the 'Yankee Boys' would come West and engage with Root & Cady. The 'Yankee Boys' very readily consented in consideration of a guaranteed salary and expenses paid. Came to Chicago, November 21st, 1865. December, 1865, 'Yankee Boys,' not succeeding in the concert line, tender their resignation to Root & Cady, who gracefully accept, but propose to retain 'Mr. Bliss' in their employ 'if he will stay.' Answer, he will stay. Thus Root & Cady very kindly disengage me from a life which is becoming irksome. They offer me a hundred and fifty dollars a month and expenses of self and wife. On settlement, our receipts were so small that I told Mr. Cady I would only ask for a hundred dollars a month, which he allowed." At the close of 1868, the firm advanced his salary both for the preceding and succeeding year.

From this time on for eight years, Mr. Bliss' occupation was the holding of musical conventions and the giving of concerts, and private instruction in music in towns throughout the Northwest. for four years his conventions were held under his arrangement with Root & Cady; after that, by independent appointment. He was very popular as a musical conduction and teacher, and was much sought after for convention work.

During the first of his engagement with Root & Cady, Mrs. Bliss was employed as clerk in Root & Cady's store, then in the Crosby Opera House Building, on Washington Street, Chicago. This position she filled for about six months, and then accompanied her husband in all of his travels, to assist in his concerts and convention work. Every summer they would return to Rome to visit the old homestead. During these visits to his home, in the rest and peace he enjoyed there among the hills, many of Mr. Bliss' sweetest pieces were written.

Their home, during these years, they considered as being in Chicago. About one-fifth of their Sundays were probably passed here. They boarded, for some years, with musical companions, Mr. and Mrs. O. Blackman, and were always deeply attached to these dear friends. In February, 1868, he remained in Chicago some weeks, writing music for a book published by Root & Cady, called "The Triumph."

On December 28th of the same year, he writes: "Bought my gold watch - a hundred and sixty dollars. At the close of this year, he writes in his diary: "Thus the overruling Providence has led me by unmistakable evidences to see and recognize His dealing with me all through life's journey. Truly we have much to be thankful for. My dear wife, my greatest earthly treasure, joins in the opinion that we are and ever have been highly favored of Heaven; that we find our greatest enjoyment in each other's society, when striving to make each other happy, and our highest aim is to be useful to ourselves and others, and to 'glorify God that we may enjoy Him forever.'"

The sentiment of gratitude that ever actuated Mr. Bliss is shown in these lines. His first impulse, in every good thing that came to him, and in all his joy and happiness, sometimes, to others, arising from comparatively trifling causes, was to fall on his knees and thank God. The sentiment of deep attachment to his wife that pervaded his life is also shown. They were indeed inseparable and fond of each other and helpful to each other, in all the relations of life here and hereafter, beyond the conception of many who bear the relation of husband and wife, even though they profess that the relationship is sanctified in Christ. May the example of these dear friends in this respect be owned of God to make more happy many a Christian home where they were known and loved, and where what is here feebly represented is known to be true of them.

In 1869, Mr. Bliss wrote songs and tunes for "The Prize," a Sunday School book published by Root & Cady, and also wrote some pieces, which were published as sheet music. He held conventions at Bushnell, Carthage, Randolph, Hamilton, Mason City, Lamoille, Delavan, Secor, Washington, Memence, Peoria and Havana, in Illinois, and in Brockton, New York - thirteen conventions in all, running in time from one to four weeks.

The following report on the Philip and Lucy Bliss' tenth anniversary celebration is not from the Memoir, but appeared in the East Bradford Advocate, June 2, 1869, vol. 1 number 3, under the heading Local Intelligence. The author is D.S. Maynard.

For their tenth ("tin" is the symbol for the tenth) anniversary, they sent out invitations actually engraved on a small tin plate. One of these invitations is on display in the Museum, but I was not able to get a useable photograph of it.

Bliss also wrote a song, called "The Tin Wedding," especially for this occasion.

Prof. P.P. Bliss

Things beautiful, things useful, and things nonsensical. An invitation to a Tin Wedding naturally suggests milk pais and pens, strainers, etc. etc. But to one present on the occasion, such things were furthest from the thought.

While at his home in the summer (Rome, Pennsylvania) he writes: "June 1, celebrated our tin wedding." "June 5 - to Boston for the Jubilee. Stopped in New York and heard Parepa at Steinway Hall; also Levy, the great cornetist, Campbell, the base, and at Boston, Ole Bull, Arbuckle, Gilmore and Co." "June 20 - To Brooklyn to hear H.W. Beccher preach." He closes his memorandums for the year with an acknowledgement of blessings received. Notes his settlement with Root & Cady, and mentions that he has "plenty of convention engagements at one hundred dollars for four days.' He adds: "In daily contact with G.F. Root, J.R. Murray, Balatka, O. Blackman, W.S.B. Mathews, D.C.C. Miller, H.R. Palmer and other good musicians."

This brief mention of his life for one year will show that he was a busy man. He had very little idle time. He had established a reputation and was regarded as successful in his profession, and with a bright future before him as a musician.

During this year, 1869, an event occurred in his history, that he regarded of the same pivotal nature in its results to him as was the loan of Grandma Allen, that enabled him to go to Geneseo, and the meeting with Mr. Root, that led to his coming west. This event was the meeting with and forming the acquaintance of Mr. D.L. Moody, as narrated in the following chapter.

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