This letter was written by Joseph Willes Backus (1823-1901), the son of Elijah James Backus (1796-1870) and Joanna R. Ellis (1799-1881), while he was attending college at Yale. Backus married Mary Jane Clark (1831-1905) in 1845, before graduating with the Class of 1846. He later attended the Yale University Divinity School from 1856-1858 and earned a Doctor of Divinity degree.
Backus addressed to Dr. DeWitt Clinton Lathrop (1819-1862). Dr. Lathrop “was the son of Mr. James Lathrop, of Bozrah. In early life he had a strong desire to become a physician; but his father not fully approving, he was left mainly to his own resources. By industry and perseverance he finally obtained his medical diploma, and soon after settled in the practice of his profession at Windham Center. Here he remained a number of years, being highly esteemed, not only in his profession but as a man and a Christian citizen. Some three years since he concluded to remove to Norwich Town, where he continued in practice until he joined the 8th Regiment. He married Charlotte, daughter of Thomas Gray, Esq., of Windham, who survives him, and leaves three children. He was about 45 years of age.”
The following account of his death is from the correspondence of the New York Times:
The death of Dr. D.W.C. Lathrop, Assistant Surgeon of the Eighth Connecticut Volunteers, on the 18th inst., has been one of the sad events of the week. His untiring devotion to the wounded and sick in the Craven street Hospital, following so closely upon the labor and exhaustion of the battle-field of Newbern, with his constant confinement and anxiety for his patients, exposed him to the disease, typhoid fever, to which he fell a victim, after some two weeks’ sickness. He consecrated his whole energies to the duties of his profession, and has nobly fallen in the service of humanity and his country.
Addressed to De Witt C. Lathrop, Esq., Bozrahville, Connecticut
New Haven [Connecticut]
March 27th 1843
My Dear Friend,
If I could but deposit on this paper with real vividness the true feelings and emotions of my heart all that I want to say, it would give me much greater pleasure than to draw the imperfect outlines of friendly conversation. Allow me then to say just what I naturally should if I were addressing myself to your ears — even to the violation, if need be, of the stern and unmeaning rules of grammar or rhetoric. Clinton, you cannot tell, you have no reason in my conductor towards you, for judging how great I esteem the privilege of intercourse with a friend whose faithfulness and sincerity constrain me to consign to his confidence, without reserve, my most sacred thoughts. And as you intimate, if this could be done without the form and process of 50 or 60 miles’ travel — here I have a great many conclusions, of which the most simple and concise is, the pleasure would be mine, real and complete.
But I do not like long prefaces better than you. I feel as if I wanted to make this letter consist of a continuous chain of entreaties for your prayers and advice: not but what I believe you do pray for me, but I mean both for myself and this whole institution. It is now emphatically an awfully interesting time. There are occasional instances of conviction and conversion among the impenitent, the Spirit of God is evidently striving among them, some of the more active professors of religion laboring with something of that spirit and fervor for a revival which the work demands, but the great body of Christians cold and indifferent, asleep and dreaming over the souls of their fellow mere ripening for destruction! Now I say I want your prayers for myself and this college: for myself, because I feel as if I was one of that class whom the Apostle calls “weak in the faith” — one who has found the Savior precious to forgive sin, and yet by the deceitfulness of the wicked heart, and the temptations of Satan kept from continually exercising that strong faith in his promises which can “overcome the world,” that ardent, abiding, glowing love which means from the world, and which, from my own experience at times I know makes to forget the things of time and sense, and dwell with wonder and amazement on the matchless glories and loveliness which are told of him in the message of his condescensions to give his precious blood to ransom the guilty, and from making that unreserved consecration to him, of time, talents and all, for time and eternity, which is the joy and the life of the Christian’s lot. With the eye of faith, I can at times get those conceptions of his love, faint and feeble as they are, that produce a desire to avoid exposure to the contemplations of my daily walks, and to the influence of worldly business even, which has such a fearful tendency to blunt those keen sensibilities, and check that warmth of feeling which the closet is witness to. But if I ever had a sincere feeling, it is that he will accept of my feeble service and make me instrumental in winning souls to him.
But the institution needs your prayers. Let me tell how we are situated — particularly students from this State. Of this class, there are but few — very few — who are not receiving influences, by letter from their respective homes, as it were fresh from the immediate manifest presence of the Holy Spirit — so general are revivals through the State — and this is the great cause to which is attributed the degree of interest that exists here at present. Just think of this place, the concentrating point, of such great and holy influences, carried before the throne of grace by the prayers of so many of the pious and good, and then, my dear friend, in unison with them unite your voice in supplicating a blessing upon us. O what a precious season will it be, if God should permit us to see it, when the stout-hearted, rebellious sinner, and all without an interest in the Saviour shall be giving themselves away in sweet submission to their God and Redeemer, as has already been witnessed in the case of a few. When I search the causes that keep away the revival which we so ardently desire, I am led to look into my heart, and with trembling ask, “Lord, is it I?” O that none may stumble over me into the world of misery and despair.
I received a letter from home within a few days and heard by it of two speaking in the prayer meetings whose names were not in the list of those you sent me — I mean S. H. Johnson and D. Hastings. I have looked with great anxiety in every letter that I have received to find these names and you may judge that it was welcome news. I do hope that they will begin immediately to lead a life of active piety, and improve every opportunity in trying to induce impenitent friends to turn and live. This is the only way to enjoy religion. A remark by Rev. Dr. Haus, who preached here a few sabbaths since, struck me with peculiar force — “Wo to that man who has just religion enough to make him unhappy.” How impressive and full of meaning.
One thing I must mention that I did not think to when I wrote last — that is about writing for the Franklin Lyceum according to agreement. I began to make preparation by way of planning at an early period of this term with a good deal of spirit and ambition, but studies were so much harder than previously and there being a prospect of a work of grace, with suitable effort, I was obliged to give it up for this term. You must pardon me for not mentioning it before. And also for the act itself. I presume with the present state of things in Franklin, it will not be wanted.
Our studies are now very interesting. In Latin we are reading of the Carthagenian & Roman War — undoubtedly familiar to you. In mathematics we commenced with Euclid a short time since — interesting far beyond my expectation. The Colchester fellows seem to be doing quite well, so far as I know. Kennedy rather improves. I look forward with a kind of joy which I never had before to my going home time, if my life should be spared so long. Why should I not? I hope in your next you will have more good news to tell. Write soon. Love to all.
Yours affectionately, — J. W. Backus
I know that this letter must be uninteresting, but hope to have something of more importance to tell next time. Let me have your prayers. Let this college have them.