THE PRINCETON ENQUIRY
The trouble had begun that September of 1926, in a town in Connecticut called Waterbury. The occasion was a student mission, to which students from all the Eastern colleges were invited. Whether by design or simply because they were the ones enthusiastic enough to sacrifice the last ten days of their summer vacation, three-quarters of those who turned up were young men who had found a faith through Buchman's work; and Princeton provided easily the largest delegation, including several officers of the Philadelphian Society. Among them was Ray Purdy, Sam Shoemaker's successor as General Secretary, who had given up a job in Wall Street to go back to Princeton. Shoemaker himself had been invited to rake the lead in the preparation days for the campaign.
During these preparations one of the young men from Princeton was able to help the rector of a local Episcopal church with some personal problems; and the rector subsequently told his congregation about his new experience of faith. This alarmed some of his brother clergy. One of them, in a preparatory meeting, declared at length that the clergy were not the target of the mission. When he had finished his speech, he asked Sherwood Day - who was sitting beside him - what he really thought of it. Somewhat taken aback, Day replied candidly, 'Oratory, empty oratory.'
The campaign seems to have been successful enough. Afterwards, however, a series of critical articles appeared in an Episcopal magazine called The Churchman, the editor of which, Guy Emery Shipler, was a long-term opponent of Buchman's work and said to be the inventor of the term 'Buchmanism'. They noted the fact that Princeton had supplied more missioners than any other college and inferred that it had been a plot of Buchman's devotees to take over the campaign. The articles, written by Ernest Mandeville, were described as 'distorted, untruthful and unworthy' in a letter signed by eight senior churchmen who had token part in the campaign.1 However, Time magazine, on 18 October 1926, reproduced some of the more offensive portions from these articles, without their qualifications, and described Buchman, under a picture, as 'Soul- surgeon and anti-auto-eroticist'. On the same day Buchman, whom The New York Times had reported as having dined on board ship with Queen Marie and her family, arrived in New York.
Immediately the hunt was on. The apparent combination of royalty, religion and sex was irresistible to the newspapers, and both Buchman and his royal friends were eagerly pursued. The tea reception took place, but Queen Marie did not appear, although her son Prince Nicolas did. 'While Dr Frank N. D. Buchman, "surgeon of souls", sat patiently in his home, No 11 West 53rd Street, surrounded by 150 guests who had been asked to meet the Queen, Marie of Romania forsook the engagement, if engagement it was,' reported the New York Herald Tribune.2 Eventually, according to the reporter, Buchman phoned a message to the Queen, and his guests went off to a brief audience at her hotel, each with a blank admission card on which he had written in red pencil: 'Ambassador Hotel to meet Queen Marie'. Time added the false gloss that Buchman had only met the Queen when 'he was presented to her on the Leviathan a fortnight ago'.3
Buchman was from then on cast by the press at large as the leader of a strange and unhealthy sect, another Rasputin exploiting a brief encounter with royalty, who operated in 'darkened rooms', 'holding hands', 'hysterical', 'erotic', 'morbid'.*
(* These allegations went into the newspaper files and for many years permeated most accounts of Buchman and his work in America.)
Buchman was deeply hurt by these insinuations, especially hating being made to look like the leader of a new cult, the more so as his own name was used to describe what he regarded as God's work and not his. When he first heard the word 'Buchmanism', he said later, 'it was like a knife through my heart'. 'What is Buchmanism? There is no such thing,' he told the New York-American. 'We believe in making Christianity a vital force in modern life.'4
The whole affair was an ideal casus belli for Buchman's critics in Princeton. The student newspaper, The Daily Princetonian, summarised what Time had said about the Waterbury campaign and asked, in an editorial, what the graduate Secretaries of the Philadelphian Society were doing, dragging the good name of Princeton in the mud. To try to clear the air, the university authorities agreed to an open forum to debate the work of the Philadelphian Society. It was held in the largest lecture hall in the university, interest was intense and the hall was packed.
It turned out to be a debate more about Buchman's work than that of the Philadelphian Society. There was much angry talk about 'Buchmanism', though, as the campus doctor, Donald Sinclair, said later, 'no one...seemed to have any definite idea what it was to which they were opposed'.5
The meeting enthusiastically carried a motion for an investigation into the work of the Philadelphian Society, the New York press took it up, and President Hibben agreed. A high level committee was set up, * and Hibben gave a number of press interviews, one of which quoted him as saying that 'there is no place for Buchmanism in Princeton'.6
(* This committee was chaired by a senior member of the university's Board of Trustees, Edward D. Duffield, the President of Prudential Life Insurance, who was later to step in as acting President of Princeton when Hibben was killed in a motor accident. It consisted of two other trustees, four members of the faculty and several student representatives.)
When the committee started work they found very little evidence to justify the hullabaloo at the forum. They began, according to the Committee's minutes, by asking undergraduates to come forward and express their grievances. Not one appeared. They then approached Neilson Abeel and the group whose campaign had instigated the inquiry, and asked them to produce evidence. Abeel and his friends refused to appear, but they provided a list of twenty names, to whom the committee wrote letters. None came forward. Undergraduate members of the committee were then sent to interview the twenty young men individually. Eighteen said that they had no grievance, so why should they appear? Two did voice grievances but one later decided that he had misunderstood the situation and withdrew. The second made a complaint which the committee dismissed as being too vague to have any validity.
By contrast, the evidence given in support of the Philadelphian Society was impressive. The undergraduate 'Cabinet' of the Society gave its officers unanimous and unqualified endorsement, and their evidence was backed up by what the committee described in their report as 'a considerable number of undergraduates'. A young man called Dean Clark was typical. What he had learnt through contacts with people like Purdy, he said, had been 'the greatest help in life I have ever known'. 'There is nothing I can say which will fully express the debt of gratitude I feel I owe these men,' he went on. 'The talks I have had with them have done more for me than any other single thing in college. The claims of Christ upon a man's whole life and activity have been put by them in the most sincere and convincing way - no doctrines ... or dogmas were expressed - nothing but the simple and heart-searching challenge of Christ himself.'7
Buchman also began to get a modest amount of support in the press. Life magazine (the predecessor of the Time-Life publication) commented editorially on what it called 'the inquisition at Princeton University into the qualifications of Frank Buchman as a religious influence'. 'What Mr Buchman seems to do', wrote the editor, E. S. Martin, 'is to give men new motives and driving power. The means which he seems to have at his disposal sometimes upset persons exposed to them, and none the less because they are spiritual means. That may be why he is scrutinised at Princeton. Or it may be that Princeton likes its students the way they are, and does not want new men made of them ... what this world needs the most of anything is that a lot of people in it should be changed in many of their vital particulars. Our world needs to be born again, needs it badly, and is at least as reluctant to face that process as Princeton seems to be to have "F.B." transmogrify any of her children.'8
The result of all this was a marked change of atmosphere among the investigators, which was apparent when they called the officers of the Philadelphian Society before them for a second time. 'Whereas on our first appearances we had been treated as accused criminals,' recalled Howard Blake, then an Assistant Secretary, 'the whole atmosphere had changed by December.'9
The report appeared at the end of December.10 The committee had, it said, looked into the charges: that members of the Society had practised an aggressive and offensive form of evangelism; that individual privacy had been invaded; that confessions of guilt had been required as a condition of Christian life; that meetings had been held where mutual confession of intimate sins had been encouraged; and that emphasis had been placed on confessions of sexual immorality. 'We have endeavoured in every way to secure any evidence which would tend to substantiate or justify these charges,' it stated. 'With the exception of a few cases which were denied by those implicated, no evidence has been produced before us which substantiates... or justifies them.... On the other hand, judged by results, the General Secretary's work .. . has been carried on with signal success ... He has given to Princeton a reputation for efficient and fruitful Christian endeavour which is certainly not exceeded at this time by similar work carried on in any other institution.' The only criticisms were that the Secretary had made some mistakes largely through an 'excess of zeal' and that the officers of the Society had confined themselves too closely to 'intensive work' and thus failed to appeal to the undergraduate body in general.
The committee, however, carefully skirted any direct judgement on Buchman and his work as being beyond its terms of reference, although its members knew that the activities of the General Secretary were based upon Buchman's principles. So the original press rumours were left unanswered. As a young Presbyterian minister in New York wrote to Ray Purdy, 'The investigating committee certainly leave Buchman high and dry, praising with faint damns.' 11 Buchman was acutely aware of this, and wrote to Purdy, 'Exoneration should have come from you and a few like-minded if the committee would not accord that finding'. The aim of their opponents had been 'to free you but discredit the work nationally'.12
The situation became once more acute when Hibben told Purdy that not only was he unwilling to have Buchman on the Princeton campus as a guest of any section of the university, but he also wanted to extend the ban to the town as well, although he conceded that he had no right to do so.
In any case, the editors of the campus newspaper had no intention of leaving the matter there. They told Purdy that they proposed to run a series of editorials condemning personal evangelism on the campus. Purdy felt 'in duty bound to answer',13 and wrote a letter which The Daily Princetonian headed 'Practices of Buchmanism will stay while secretaries remain'.14 It was accompanied by a similar letter from Blake and another Assistant Secretary, C. Scoville Wishard.15
These letters, of course, reopened the row which had led to the investigation. Hibben sent for Purdy and asked for an assurance that he and his colleagues would have no further contact with Buchman, and said he would give them until the end of the academic year in June to re-establish confidence in themselves.
Purdy and his friends had no intention of accepting Hibben's demand and, the following morning, were discussing how to word their reply when Hibben telephoned again. He told Purdy that he had been unable to sleep because he had not been entirely candid. Under no circumstances would Purdy and his colleagues be reappointed for the following year. They thereupon submitted their resignations, effective from the beginning of March.
The Princeton affair thus put Buchman on the map with a vengeance. It did so in the way he least wanted, as the supposed leader of a distinctly dubious sect or cult. However much he protested that what the newspapers labelled 'Buchmanism' was simply vital Christianity at work, in the public mind it was now a thing apart.
The events in Princeton, furthermore, continued for decades to cast a shadow over Buchman's work among influential sections in America. Hibben liked to insist that he never made any public statement about Buchman.16 But he never required The Daily Princetonian or the New York newspapers involved to withdraw their assertion that he had. He was also very outspoken to other academics, like the President of Yale. His letters show how completely he had accepted the line of Abeel and Buchman's other critics, in direct contradiction to the findings of his own investigating committee. Meanwhile, a complete press silence on the committee's findings enabled Time, seven months later, to write that the Princeton authorities had 'forbidden Mr Buchman the practice of his system there' as 'unhealthy'.17 The verdict of that committee was forgotten, even in Princeton.
Thus, when Buchman died in 1961, the old accusations were resurrected, and the only member of the investigating committee still living, Alexander Smith, who had been United States Senator for New Jersey from 1944 to 1959, felt constrained to repeat its conclusions in the Princeton Alumni Weekly. 'In the present critical and confused state of the world we should all be deeply grateful for Frank Buchman and the great work he has done,' he added.18 Again in 1978, in a semi-official book by Alexander Leitch, Secretary of Princeton University Emeritus, published by the Princeton University Press, the controversy is referred to in a way which perpetuates the criticisms, and, while mentioning the report, omits all the main findings of the investigating committee.19
The withdrawal of Queen Marie from his New York tea was a public embarrassment and a personal hurt for Buchman. His notes at the time reveal how disconcerted he was and how much in need of inner reassurance: 'Regain your poise ... There is much to suffer... Cheer up, go strong, all is well. Forget it.' He suspected 'courtiers' of intervening, but a recent biography of the Queen lays the blame on her 'official hosts' and, by implication, on events. On arrival in the city, Queen Marie was given a tumultuous ticker-tape welcome and what the New York Times described as 'probably the most relentless camera bombardment... in the world's history'. 'Ebullient and enthusiastic, she never lost her composure or good humour, even with the often cynical representatives of the press.' After a visit to Washington to meet President Coolidge, she returned to New York with a heavy cold and only her 'royal training' enabled her to defy the doctor and remain on her feet. 'The object of uncontrolled social lust, the Queen was annoyed by the "fearful competition" among her sponsors for her attention….. Pressed by their official hosts to push Buchman aside, Marie and her children balked. Public repudiation of an old friend, the Queen said, was against their royal "creed".'20 On Sunday 24 October she attended Calvary Church in the morning, but only Prince Nicolas attended Buchman's reception.
Buchman drafted an immediate letter warning her against endangering 'the moral and spiritual development of her children'. Exactly what was sent is not known. 'Queen Marie unhappy since she received your letter. Will write fully,' he noted a little later. She had returned to Romania where King Ferdinand's terminal illness had begun and where, with Prince Carol in Paris having renounced his right to succession, she was in the middle of a constitutional crisis. Her four-page hand-written letter addressed, as usual, to 'Uncle Frank' was dated 15 April 1927.
She thanked him for his welcome news and, as one martyr of unfair newspaper attacks to another, hoped he was coming clear and strong out of the difficulties accumulating on his 'brave way'. She asked him whether he thought she belonged to the foolish virgins who did not light their lamps, and said she tried to live as straight, think as straight, act as straight as she possibly could, though she knew she was not perfect.
Buchman replied thanking her for her 'frank letter': 'You are marvellous on a human basis, but the truth is that you lack the maximum power. .. Uncle Frank cannot and must not convict you of sin - it must be the Holy Spirit. I am thinking of future days .. . and if you had this power as a possession the future might be changed... I am sure you have enough Christianity to take you to heaven, but there's danger of your Christianity at times being sentiment.. . I feel that there is a great deal more that He wants to tell you if you maintain the discipline of an early morning quiet time and that surrender of self and of human plannings to His will and His way....
'What hope is there for royalty or anyone else but rebirth?... can the "still, small voice" be the deciding factor in political situations, such as face you in these days of crises?. . . Let me say, with the utmost conviction, it is the only thing that will. . . .
'I am deeply touched when you ask me to keep a large spot in my heart for the children: I gladly do this always . . . Let mother and children go far enough for fun in the Christian life. It's an unbeatable romance! It's life's greatest adventure . . . With the rarest sense of fellowship with you . . . Your devoted friend.'21
Faced with the difficulties stemming from the Princeton fracas and the wide condemnatory publicity, Buchman reacted with a mixture of faith, obstinacy and hurt feelings. He wrote to George Stewart Jr, 'I have gone through these weeks with a peace that passeth human understanding, living in the great whirling vortex with utmost quiet, no resentment, no ill will . . .'22 Certainly the New York-American article reported that 'he smiled quietly and denied without vehemence' the various charges brought against him. But his letter to Purdy complaining that he had not himself been exonerated also accused Purdy of disloyalty to him personally. This was unfair to Purdy, who had nailed his colours firmly to the mast both during the investigation and in a press release to Associated Press which the agency had not sent out. Purdy seems to have understood the hurt behind the personal accusation, and sent back a letter compassionately but firmly stating his view of events.
At the height of the crisis, Buchman said, 'We are internationally discredited,' and went away to be alone. He returned a few hours later saying that the whole situation would be 'a sounding-board to the nation'.
Seven years later, Henry van Dusen, who had spoken up for Buchman's colleagues before the committee but had distanced himself soon after, estimated that Buchman had been left with 'not over a half-dozen persons on both sides of the Atlantic' prepared to work with him.23 This was a ridiculous underestimate, but one which showed how deeply the affair had affected the Princetonian mind.
1 Martin MSS. Signatories included Sherwood Eddy, the Episcopal chaplain of Harvard and faculty members of Union and General Theological Seminaries.
2 New York Herald Tribune, 29 October 1926.
3 Time, 1 November 1926.
4 New York-American, 30 October 1926.
5 Letter to investigating committee and The Daily Princetonian from Donald B. Sinclair, 6 November 1926.
6 Time, 1 November 1926, quoted in Ernest Gordon, The Princeton Group.
7 Dean A. Clark to investigating committee, November 1926.
8 Life, 18 November 1926, p. 18.
9 Howard Blake to Loudon Hamilton, 14 September 1975.
10 Report to President Hibben of Special Committee appointed to study the activities and scope of the Philadelphian Society, 31 December 1926.
11 Dr George Stewart Jr to Ray Purdy, 15 January 1927.
12 Buchman to Ray Purdy, 17 January 1927.
13 Ray Purdy to John Hibben, 4 February 1927.
14 Daily Princetonian, 28 January 1927.
16 Princeton History, 1977, p39.
17 Time, 18 July 1927.
18 Princeton Alumni Weekly, 22 September 1961.
19 Alexander Leitch: A Princeton Companion (Princeton University Press, 1978), p.87.
20 Pakula, pp. 345–6, 350.
21 Buchman to Queen Marie of Romania, 15 April 1927.
22 Buchman to Dr George Stewart Jr, 3 December 1926.
23 Van Dusen, Atlantic Monthly, July 1934.