Born: No­vem­ber 10, 1852, Ger­man­town, Penn­syl­van­ia.

Died: Ap­ril 10, 1933, Prince­ton, New Jer­sey.

Buried: Prince­ton Ce­me­te­ry, Prince­ton, New Jer­sey.



Henry was the son of Hen­ry Jack­son Van Dyke, Sr. (1822–1891) and Hen­ri­et­ta Ash­mead, and hus­band of Ell­en Reid.

Henry the young­er gra­du­at­ed from Po­ly Prep Count­ry Day School (1869), Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty (1873), and Prince­ton Theo­lo­gic­al Se­mi­na­ry (1877). He then stu­died at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ber­lin for two years be­fore be­ing or­dained a Pres­by­ter­ian min­is­ter. In 1878, he ac­cepted a call to the Unit­ed Con­gre­ga­tion­al Church of New­port, Rhode Is­land.

In 1882, Van Dyke be­came pas­tor of the Brick Pres­by­ter­ian Church in New York Ci­ty, where he served 18 years. On April 23, 1910, he of­fi­ci­at­ed at the fun­er­al of au­thor and hu­mor­ist Mark Twain there.

He was Mur­ray Pro­fess­or of Eng­lish li­te­ra­ture at Prince­ton be­tween 1899 and 1923, and held a num­ber of em­i­nent posts: Am­eri­can am­bas­sa­dor to Hol­land and Lux­em­bourg (1913–17), mod­er­at­or of the Ge­ne­ral As­semb­ly of the Pres­by­ter­ian Church, Com­man­der of the Le­gion of Ho­nor, and pre­si­dent of the Na­tion­al In­sti­tute of Arts and Let­ters.

He chaired the com­mit­tee that com­piled the Pres­by­ter­ian Book of Com­mon Wor­ship in 1905, and helped pre­pare the re­vised edi­tion in 1932.


Some of Van Dyke’s quotes that have been wide­ly pub­lished:

Some of Van Dyke’s quotes that have been wide­ly pub­lished:

There is a lof­ti­er am­bi­tion than mere­ly to stand high in the world. It is to stoop down and lift man­kind a lit­tle high­er.

Time is too slow for those who Wait,
Too swift for those who Fear,
Too long for those who Grieve,
Too short for those who Rejoice;
But for those who Love,
Time is not.

Who seeks for Heaven alone to save his soul
May keep the path, but will not reach the goal;
While he who walks in love may wander far,
Yet God will bring him where the blessed are.

Use the tal­ents you pos­sess, for the woods would be very si­lent if no birds sang ex­cept the best.


A Ballad of Santa Claus

Among the earliest saints of old, before the first Hegira,
I find the one whose name we hold, St. Nicholas of Myra:
The best-beloved name, I guess, in sacred nomenclature,—
The patron-saint of helpfulness,
And friendship, and good-nature.
A bishop and a preacher too, a famous theologian,
He stood against the Arian crew and fought them like a Trojan:
But when a poor man told his need
And begged an alms in trouble,
He never asked about his creed, but quickly gave him double.
Three pretty maidens, so they say, were longing to be married;
But they were paupers, lack-a-day, and so the suitors tarried.
St. Nicholas gave each maid a purse
Of golden ducats chinking,
And then, for better or for worse,
They wedded quick as winking.
Once, as he sailed, a storm arose;
Wild waves the ship surrounded;
The sailors wept and tore their clothes, and shrieked
We’ll all be drownded!
St. Nicholas never turned a hair; serenely shone his halo;
He simply said a little prayer, and all the billows lay low.
The wicked keeper of an inn had three small urchins taken,
And cut them up in a pickle-bin, and salted them for bacon.
St. Nicholas came and picked them out,
And put their limbs together—
They lived, they leaped, they gave a shout,
St. Nicholas forever!
And thus it came to pass, you know,
That maids without a nickel,
And sailor-lads when tempest blow, and children in a pickle,
And every man that’s fatherly, and every kindly matron,
In choosing saints would all agree to call St. Nicholas patron.
He comes again at Christmas-time and stirs us up to giving;
He rings the merry bells that chime good-will to all the living;
He blesses every friendly deed and every free donation;
He sows the secret, golden seed of love through all creation.
Our fathers drank to Santa Claus, the sixth of each December,
And still we keep his feast because his virtues we remember.
Among the saintly ranks he stood,
With smiling human features,
And said, Be good!
But not too good to love your fellow-creatures!

Henry Jackson van Dyke (1852–1933)

A Legend of Service

It pleased the Lord of Angels (praise His name!)
To hear, one day, report from those who came
With pitying sorrow, or exultant joy,
To tell of earthly tasks in His employ:
For some were sorry when they saw how slow
The stream of heavenly love on earth must flow;
And some were glad because their eyes had seen,
Along its banks, fresh flowers and living green.
So, at a certain hour, before the throne
The youngest angel, Asmiel, stood alone;
Nor glad, nor sad, but full of earnest thought,
And thus his tidings to the Master brought:
Lord, in the city Lupon I have found
Three servants of thy holy name, renowned
Above their fellows. One is very wise,
With thoughts that ever range above the skies;
And one is gifted with the golden speech
That makes men glad to hear when he will teach;
And one, with no rare gift or grace endued,
Has won the people’s love by doing good.
With three such saints Lupon is trebly blest;
But, Lord, I fain would know, which loves Thee best?

Then spake the Lord of Angels, to whose look
The hearts of all are like an open book:
In every soul the secret thought I read,
And well I know who loves me best indeed.
But every life has pages vacant still,
Whereon a man may write the thing he will;
Therefore I read in silence, day by day,
And wait for hearts untaught to learn my way.
But thou shalt go to Lupon, to the three
Who serve me there, and take this word from me:
Tell each of them his Master bids him go
Alone to Spiran’s huts, across the snow;
There he shall find a certain task for me:
But what, I do not tell to them nor thee.
Give thou the message, make my word the test,
And crown for me the one who answers best.

Silent the angel stood, with folded hands,
To take the imprint of his Lord’s commands;
Then drew one breath, obedient and elate,
And passed, the self-same hour, through Lupon’s gate.

First to the Temple door he made his way;
And there, because it was an holy-day,
He saw the folk by thousands thronging, stirred
By ardent thirst to hear the preacher’s word.
Then, while the echoes murmured Bernol’s name,
Through aisles that hushed behind him, Bernol came;
Strung to the keenest pitch of conscious might,
With lips prepared and firm, and eyes alight.
One moment at the pulpit steps he knelt
In silent prayer, and on his shoulder felt
The angel’s hand: The Master bids thee go
Alone to Spiran’s huts, across the snow,
To serve Him there.
Then Bernol’s hidden face
Went white as death, and for about the space
Of ten slow heart-beats there was no reply;
Till Bernol looked around and whispered, WHY?
But answer to his question came there none;
The angel sighed, and with a sigh was gone.

Within the humble house where Malvin spent
His studious years, on holy things intent,
Sweet stillness reigned; and there the angel found
The saintly sage immersed in thought profound,
Weaving with patient toil and willing care
A web of wisdom, wonderful and fair:
A seamless robe for Truth’s great bridal meet,
And needing but one thread to be complete.
Then Asmiel touched his hand, and broke the thread
Of fine-spun thought, and very gently said,
The One of whom thou thinkest bids thee go
Alone to Spiran’s huts, across the snow,
To serve Him there.
With sorrow and surprise
Malvin looked up, reluctance in his eyes.
The broken thought, the strangeness of the call,
The perilous passage of the mountain-wall,
The solitary journey, and the length
Of ways unknown, too great for his frail strength,
Appalled him. With a doubtful brow
He scanned the doubtful task, and muttered HOW?
But Asmiel answered, as he turned to go,
With cold, disheartened voice, I do not know.

Now as he went, with fading hope, to seek
The third and last to whom God bade him speak,
Scarce twenty steps away whom should he meet
But Fermor, hurrying cheerful down the street,
With ready heart that faced his work like play,
And joyed to find it greater every day!
The angel stopped him with uplifted hand,
And gave without delay his Lord’s command:
He whom thou servest here would have thee go
Alone to Spiran’s huts, across the snow,
To serve Him there.
Ere Asmiel breathed again
The eager answer leaped to meet him, WHEN?

The angel’s face with inward joy grew bright,
And all his figure glowed with heavenly light;
He took the golden circlet from his brow
And gave the crown to Fermor, answering, Now!
For thou hast met the Master’s bidden test,
And I have found the man who loves Him best.
Not thine, nor mine, to question or reply
When He commands us, asking how? or why?
He knows the cause; His ways are wise and just;
Who serves the King must serve with perfect trust.

Henry Jackson van Dyke (1852–1933)