Ernest Howard Crosby: A Biographical Sketch

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Ernest Howard Crosby

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Our subject for this month's sketch is interesting in the extreme in that it shows the evolution of a man's thought concerning many of the problems of life, wherein at one stage he takes the commonly accepted view of the world, and, later on, through his activities in the world, comes at last to understand the great wrongs perpetrated in the name of civilization, and then through the spoken and written word seeks to present to the world a higher ideal, a truer conception of life. Only the man who thinks and lays aside race traditions and prejudice, and who keeps his mind unbiased and studies life as it is can reach such conclusions.

Ernest Howard Crosby, son of the Rev. Dr. Howard Crosby, was born in New York, November 4, 1856. As a boy he attended the Mohegan Lake School, and later entered the University of New York, from which institution he was graduated in 1876 as the valedictorian of his class. After leaving the university he studied law for two years at Columbia, and again graduated with the highest honors.

In 1879 he began the practice of law in New York City, and became prominently identified with the Republican party, serving in the New York Legislature during 1887, 1888 and 1889. During his service in the Legislature he was Chairman of the Committee on Cities, perhaps the most important of the legislative committees. Mr. Crosby was also prominently identified with temperance legislation, introducing in the Legislature the Crosby High License Bill which was three times vetoed by Governor David B. Hill. From 1874 to 1882 the subject of our sketch was a member of the Seventh Regiment of the New York National Guard, and retired as Major and Inspector of Rifle Practice. He became a life member of the Seventh Regiment Veteran Association, from which organization he resigned in 1895 on account of the action of that body during the Brooklyn trolley strike.

In 1889 President Harrison nominated Mr. Crosby as Judge of the International Tribunal of Egypt, and to this post he was appointed by the Khedive. He served on this Tribunal for five years resigning in 1894. On leaving Alexandria he received the order of Medjedieh, third class, from the Khedive in recognition of his distinguished services with the International Tribunal.

During his sojourn in Alexandria Mr. Crosby read some of Tolstoy's works, and, being much impressed by them, made a pilgrimage to Yasnaia Poliana to visit the great Russian before returning to America.

When he reached New York Mr. Crosby decided to retire from politics, nor did he take up his law practice again, but settled down on his farm at Rhinebeck, Dutchess Co., N. Y.

Mr. Crosby's interests in New York City are many, however. Among others he was the organizer and first President of the New York Social Reform Club; he is actively interested in the labor movement; he is a strong anti-imperalist and opponent of war, and has been the President of the New York Anti-Imperialists' League since its formation; he is President of the New York Vegetarian Society, and also of the Civic Council.

Mr. Crosby is the author of some well known works dealing with social problems and satirizing the military spirit of modern Christianity. Among them are "Plain Talk in Psalm and Parable,"<ref>Published by Small, Maynard & Co., Boston.</ref> published in 1898; "Captain Jinks, Hero,"<ref>Published by Funk & Wagnalls Co., New York.</ref> 1902, and "Swords and Plowshares,"<ref>Published by Funk & Wagnalls Co., New York.</ref> 1902. Mr. Crosby is also the editor of Whim, a magazine devoted to the discussion of social problems. He is very popular as a lecturer and has made many tours in the South and West. Mr. Crosby was married in 1881 and has a son and a daughter.

The time is not yet ripe for a thorough public appreciation of Mr. Crosby's splendid work. The path of the reformer is not strewn with roses, for men criticize and find fault at one stage with any innovation that would make for the betterment of humanity. Nevertheless, sooner or later, we come at last to see and appreciate the reformer at his true worth.

Mr. Crosby is a worthy son of a worthy father, and the courage and enthusiasm of the one seem to have been transmitted to the other. If the world had more men like him it would be correspondingly better off.

The writer, with every well-wisher for the good of mankind, will hope for every success for Mr. Crosby along the lines he has laid down for his life work.

Mr. Crosby's earliest work is entitled: "Plain Talk in Psalm and Parable." In it he expresses many vital truths. In a straightforward, manly way he goes to the heart of things. The following quotation will give you a little idea of the numerous good things to be found in the book:

"This is a mad world.
The great church is crowded. The ancient torn battle-flags are hung high on the walls, where the dusty red and yellow rays from the stained windows strike them. The monuments of generals who died fighting look down at the multitude, among whom we see here and there uniformed soldiers from the garrison.
And the priest drones: 'But I say unto you, Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you; and whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.'
Yet no one smiles—but the devil.
"This is a mad world.
In the congregation are great land-owners and millionaires, statesmen and magistrates.
They sit content, and the rest admire them and would be as they are.
And once more the priest reads: 'It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God;' and again, 'Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them, but it shall not be so among you.'
Yet no one smiles—but the devil."

Count Tolstoy says: "I like the book very much. Some of the pieces—the choice is difficult because all are very good— I will have translated into Russian and published."

Edwin Markham says: "'Plain Talk in Psalm and Parable' is one of the significant books of the time."

We could quote from what many others have said concerning the book, all commending it in the highest terms.

In a later work entitled "Captain Jinks, Hero," which is a satire on the military spirit of the time, Mr. Crosby has achieved a pronounced success.

Walter Crane has this to say concerning the book: "It ('Captain Jinks, Hero') is a very telling satire upon military life and military ideals, and it should be most valuable at the present time as a counterblast to the imperialist and military fever, which, fostered by the expansion of capital in seeking new fields for employment, has seized upon both the English and American people like a disease. Mr. Crosby uses that most powerful weapon, ridicule, and he throws the cold searchlight of sense and common humanity upon the false and inflated aspects of so-called military glory. One feels, too, there is a kind of natural history in the development of his hero and the incidents of his career, while the author, thinly veiling actual events and personages, gets in many a homethrust, which shall bring him the sympathy and applause of all lovers of peace, justice, and human progress, on both sides of the Atlantic."

We quote rather from the opinions of others than from the book itself as our limited space forbids acceptable quotations, but one more quotation from Edgar Fawcett is worthy of attention in this sketch.

"Mr. Crosby's work will do a very great deal of good. There are times when ridicule alone can deal the coup de grace to a dying wrong. And war is a dying wrong, whatever shortsighted people may say to the contrary. Slavery, a friend of equal horror, took many a decade to die in. Mr. Crosby, with all his fine antagonism, may not be in at the finish, but he is one of the few spacious-minded thinkers who deserve to be."

Mr. Crosby's latest work is entitled "Swords and Plowshares." In this book without doubt he makes his most vigorous protests against war and the spirit of conquest. I have no recollection of any book that has been written in recent times, or, for that matter, at any time, wherein all the glamour and chivalry of war is so mercilessly stripped off and you see things as they are in reality. In this book Mr. Crosby unmasks the deceit and hypocrisy of professing Christians who violate everything that Christ himself held sacred. Jesus either had a gospel of peace and good will toward all men or he had not. He was too sincere to have a gospel to suit peace in times of peace and to suit war in times of war as some of his latter day disciples have done. Note in the following verses Mr. Crosby's position in relationship to Christianity and war.

Talk, if you will, of hero deed,
Of clash of arms and battle wonders;
But prate not of your Christian creed
Preached by the cannon's murderous thunders.
Be what you will, entire and free,
Christian or warrior—each can please us;
But not the rank hypocrisy
Of warlike followers of Jesus.

Mr. Crosby is particularly happy in the following verses entitled: "Love's Patriot."

I saw a lad, a beautiful lad,
With a far off look in his eye,
Who smiled not on the battle-flag
When the cavalry troop marched by.
And, sorely vexed, I asked the lad
Where might his country be
Who cared not for our country's flag
And the brave from oversea?
"Oh, my country is the Land of Love,"
Thus did the lad reply;
"My country is the Land of Love,
And a patriot there am I."
"And who is your king, my patriot boy,
Whom loyally you obey?"
"My king is Freedom," quoth the lad,
"And he never says me nay."
"Then you do as you like in your Land of Love,
Where every man is free?"
"Nay, we do as we love," replied the lad,
And his smile fell full on me.


  • Charles Brodie Patterson, “Ernest Howard Crosby: A Biographical Sketch,” Mind 12, no. 3 (June 1903): 166-171.