Herbert Booth – a son, a soul, a poet
by Frances Dingman –
The soul of The Salvation Army undoubtedly found its voice in Herbert Booth, who had a genius for expressing himself in music. The Founder’s third son was a dynamic evangelist and a gifted organizer. His departure from the Army’s work was still another loss to his father and to the Army.
Herbert Henry Howard was born in 1862, in Penzance, when the Booths were in a state of poverty. It was three years until the start of the Christian Mission, which was to become The Salvation Army.
Growing up with the Booth children was in itself a preparation for evangelism. At the age of 19, having completed his education, young Herbert enlisted in an Army which by then was an impressive and spirited movement.
Sent to help Kate
At that time, his older sister Kate was struggling to begin the work in Paris. When the family realized what hardships she was enduring, Herbert was sent to help. He found the hall two-thirds full of the most degraded-looking people he had ever seen. Wherever his sister moved, all sat with eyes fixed on her. Every eye and ear was open to catch what she said. When leaving the hall, he was in tears. Outside, a hostile mob jostled and shouted. A few days later, police closed down the hall, but before it closed, Herbert the doorkeeper had received his first black eye for the Lord.
When an officer’s wife asked him to compose some French hymns, he began expressing himself, first in words. The language was never to come easily to him, but as the verses were taking form, his musical mind led him to invent new melodies that live today after many years of constant use.
Great influence in London
Upon his return to London after two years helping his sister, he organized the first Trading Department, supervised the Financial Department, established an Auxiliary League and devised a bookkeeping method for the Army. After he followed Ballington as principal of the Men’s Training Home in 1884, a successful fundraising campaign provided money to buy what became Clapton Hall. During the four years of his administration, 4,000 officers were trained there and assigned to stations in all parts of the world.
Begins the big band tradition
The Army’s Silver Jubilee in 1890, held at the Crystal Palace, was called the “greatest religious celebration the world has ever known.” The description of the thousands of bandsmen, led and coordinated by Herbert, reminds one of the “76 Trombones” of Meredith Willson’s “Music Man.” From this great band grew the tradition which led to Ballington’s Staff Band in New York and many more to follow.
World class “furlough”
It is not surprising that after four years, Herbert was in need of rest from the enormous responsibilities he had carried. Granted a furlough, he left on a voyage of some 30,000 miles around the world. The schedule of meetings greeting the arrival of “a Booth” made it hardly a rest. In San Francisco he was welcomed by Ballington’s wife, Maud, who was doing meetings there. On his return to London by way of Canada, he was given command of the Army in the British Isles, where 5,000 officers were under his leadership.
There was little, if any, friction among the family in those days. Their beloved mother, not yet ill, held them all in kindliest affection for one another.
When he and Cornelie Schoch were married in 1890, “Songs of Peace and War” was issued, a collection of 86 pieces, nine credited to Cornelie and 77 with words and most of the tunes written by Herbert.
Commands in Canada
While affectionate in correspondence and social relations, Herbert grew to resent the control exerted upon his command by his brother Bramwell, the Chief of the Staff. He asked his father for a command overseas, and the time seemed right for him to go to Canada, a territory which was having troubles. The cash box was empty, and charges of insubordination were being brought on a group of officers protesting rule from London. It was Herbert’s task to set the Army in motion with “the sound of fife and drum.”
In four years he successfully fought the false charges of ex-Salvationists conspiring against him, and the work made impressive strides. War Cry circulation almost doubled; Food and Shelter Depots, Rescue Homes, and Children’s Homes had been established, a Farm Colony had been purchased, and 33,000 had sought salvation at the penitent form.
In 1896, in the great shift of commanders resisted by Ballington, Herbert and Cornelie were sent to Australia. Herbert’s health was suffering when he arrived, but shortly he was able to launch a large Australasian Campaign lasting two years. The martial music opening the campaign ended in a war song of victory. More than 27,000,000 people were recorded as attending the indoor meetings, 15,000 of whom became soldiers. The number of new corps and outposts numbered 194. Buildings and institutions had increased and prospered.
These accomplishments by the Commandant raised the Army to a higher place in the confidence and sympathy of the people. What he and Cornelie Booth had done for the children of the country, and for the unfortunate women, enshrined their names forever in the memory of those they had served.
His idea for the illustration of a lecture called, “The Story of the Early Christians,” led to the Limelight Department, which pioneered filmmaking in Australia. With his leadership, a fine new building for the training of cadets was built.
Recovery and resignation
Herbert’s leadership involved heavy responsibilities, and the tension had been a long-continued strain on his mental and physical powers. A rheumatic heart condition plagued him. He requested a year’s rest, remaining in Australia overseeing the Collie Industrial Colony while relinquishing the territorial command to Commissioner Thomas McKie.
The wide open spaces, which he had thought would give him peace, instead gave him time to think. Herbert was still chafing under the orders issuing from London, which he did not feel took into account the conditions on the scene. Never faltering in his loyalty to the spirit of the Army, he fought only for a principle.
In a letter to his father, he appealed to Booth’s sense of fairness, saying he would not be able to swear absolute loyalty and obedience to his brother for life. After some exchange of correspondence, Herbert resigned, as had Ballington and Kate before him, and for mostly the same reasons. He made no effort to persuade other officers to follow him. After six months of refusal to compromise on both sides, he and Cornelie sailed in August 1902 for San Francisco.
The greetings and offers of assistance from Kate and Arthur Clibborn, Evangeline Booth’s chief secretary, and his sister Emma and her husband, Frederick Booth-Tucker, while consoling, were a far cry from past noisy demonstrations of welcome.
Herbert had only his illustrated lecture to call his own, and on which to support himself, Cornelie, and their three children. Fortunately, invitations from other clergymen poured in, and he was soon off on a tour which saw him lecture every night for 22 months, in as many states. Because of all this traveling, they gave up their home and Cornelie took the children to live with relatives in England.
To his loneliness during that time was added the loss of his beloved sister Emma in 1903. Being denied participation in the funeral held in Carnegie Hall, New York, was a blow which stayed with him for his lifetime.
At the earnest pleadings of his wife, he joined his family in England, but not without some forebodings. Though Bramwell looked upon his arrival as an intrusion, other churches received him warmly, and he was busy for four years lecturing in all parts of the British Isles.
During a two-year tour of Canada which followed, though viewed frostily by Salvation Army administration, he was welcomed by other churches as he had been in England. His missions and lectures had become so successful that he was swamped with invitations from the various American states. In spite of his poor health, he kept a heavy schedule for the next 10 years.
When the message was flashed around the world of the death of William Booth, Herbert’s grief was a tribute greater than the wreaths placed on the General’s grave by the world’s great leaders. He and his sister Kate were among the mourners at the funeral.
Herbert then embarked on a long-awaited tour to South Africa. His adventure there, as elsewhere in the field of evangelism, was rewarded with lasting and well-deserved fame.
Leaving South Africa in 1914 before the war began, he stayed for a time in California’s Santa Cruz mountains to rest and meditate. During this time he conceived the idea of a Confederacy of Christians who, without severing denominational ties, would meet in fellowship and reaffirm their faith in the Bible as their only rule of faith and practice.
He tried first to persuade ministers of other faiths to take the chairmanship, then to have it run by a committee. When all efforts failed, he took the helm himself, meeting with some success as a result of his enthusiasm and talents, but not up to expectations.The Confederacy was defined by his book outlining its principles and Covenant. Failing in the U.S. to get the cooperation expected, he launched a campaign in Australia and New Zealand in 1919 which lasted nearly four years.
While in Auck-land, he learned of the death of his wife, Cornelie, in England.
Returns to America
Herbert returned to America in 1923 by way of Japan. He wrote of the kindness of his former Salvation Army comrades, who had been advised by Bramwell to show him every courtesy. The Japanese were pleased to discover that he had composed many of their favorite hymns.
Bramwell’s consideration gave Herbert hope for a reconciliation which was not to be. He sailed from Japan to the United States, where he was to spend the closing years of his life.
Lack of leadership had hampered the progress of the Confederacy in America. Upon his return in 1923 he decided to make Yonkers, New York, his headquarters. Annie Lane, a long time friend of both Herbert and Cornelie, had moved there when he and Cornelie left Australia. Friendship developed into love, and they were married in October of that year. Ballington represented the family at the wedding, and in an unusual display of solidarity read letters of congratulation from Bramwell, Maud, Evangeline (unable to attend because of illness), Kate, Frederick Booth-Tucker and his wife, and Lucy.
He retired with Annie to her lovely home, Robinlawn. Looked after by his devoted wife, he busied himself with correspondence and preparing articles for publication. In correspondence he expressed deep concern about the unrest in The Salvation Army over the autocracy of the General. Unselfishly, and without personal ambition, he wrote to Bramwell on the need of reform in governing the Army.
“…Why don’t you take a brave and daring stand, and add to the many achievements of your life the crowning act of providing for the continuance, unity and safety of the movement when you are gone?” He suggested calling the High Council and laying before it a workable scheme for electing the General. Once this matter was satisfactorily settled, he felt no one would question Bramwell’s right as the Army leader. There is no record of any reply to this letter.
His last public services were in Miami, Fla., where he had been invited to teach the Bible class established by the renowned statesman William Jennings Bryan. Though many hours went into his preparation, he was unable to complete the 23 addresses required, and returned to Yonkers. After a peaceful spring and summer, the end drew near. The nurse attending him said that he seemed to be especially burdened for his brother Bramwell, praying that he might be given wisdom and grace to lead the Army in perfect unity. Mrs. Booth, his son Henry, and his sister Evangeline were with him at the end.
At his final services at the first Methodist church in Yonkers, the words of Ballington Booth were warm-hearted and generous in praise. Hearts of mourners melted as they listened to the voices of the Army’s male choir singing the sweet melody of “Grace there is my every debt to pay.”
Evangeline bore witness to her brother’s noble worth and work in a loving eulogy in which she recalled that when their father was last in Chicago he had been quite ill and became a little delirious. His mind wandered back to when they were children and used to be taken out for their daily walk. “Mistaking me for my mother, he laid his fevered fingers upon my hand and said, ‘Kate, Kate, don’t be anxious. It is dusk, I know, but all the children will be safe, they will come home in good time’.”
TO THY CROSS, O CHRIST,
by Herbert Booth
To thy Cross O Christ, my Saviour, With my wants and needs I come,
Seeking pray’rfully thy favourAsking that thy will be done.
On thy love for me relyingWith thee on the cross I’m dying
Ev’ry earthly claim denyingThine, and Thine alone to be.
On thy love for me relying, With Thee on the Cross I’m dying,
Ev’ry earthly claim denying, Thine, and thine alone, I’ll be.
At thy cross the light revealing, Shows me what I ought to be;
Near Thy cross my ev’ry feeling Tells me how I pant for thee.
As for thee my soul hath striven, Ev’ry promise thou has given,
Shall be mine for earth and heaven, Mine and mine for ever more.
On the cross, what tears of sorrow, Tell the story to my heart
Of thy love; and bid me follow, Showing others what thou art.
Lord, for thee, all shame despising,
In the arms of faith I’m rising,
And thy pow’r my soul baptizing,
Seals it thine for life or death.
From “Songs of Peace and War”
Source: Herbert Booth by Ford C. Ottman
La Marechale by James Strahan
Photos courtesy of Western Territorial Museum