This book is definitely not about a successful revivalist, but rather a man who fell from being an evangelical revivalist into a rather cultured and popular clergyman of his day.
Henry Ward Beecher, son of Lyman Beecher, began his ministry on the western frontier, where he engaged vigorously in the labours of a revivalist. Asahel Nettleton had considerable influence over his life in those early years. He moved to Plymouth Church, Brooklyn in 1847. By this time he had developed a national reputation for his oratorical skills, and drew crowds of 2,500 regularly every Sunday. He strongly opposed slavery and favoured temperance and woman's suffrage. Unfortunately, his time in Brooklyn was marred by a radical departure from his earlier position. Although Plymouth Church was greatly affected by the revival of 1857-185, this pastor’s life was tragically marred by accusations of infidelity and theological wavering.
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HENRY WARD BEECHER was primarily a preacher of the gospel. He reiteratedly declared that his purpose in life was to bring men to a knowledge of God and a likeness with God, through Jesus Christ, the Saviour of men. He was a political reformer only because he believed that the gospel was social as well as individual; that the object of Christ was the reconstruction of society through the reconstruction of the individual; that to preach the gospel meant to proclaim the redemption of society, as well as the redemption of the individual, by an application to all social as to all individual problems of the principles and precepts inculcated by Jesus Christ.
Mr. Beecher is known as a brilliant orator, who employed the resources of wide reading, broad sympathy with men, vivid imagination and a devout emotional nature, coupled with extraordinary rhetorical and elocutionary gifts, in arousing the consciences and the affections of popular audiences, and directing them in channels for the promotion of nobler living. But the study of his political life shows also statesmanlike qualities: a clear understanding of current issues, a grasp of great political principles, and a prophet’s perception of the direction in which lay the way to future peace and prosperity. These qualities are especially illustrated by his action in the three great epochs of the national life in which he took a notable part — the antislavery campaign, the Civil War, the reconstruction period. Within the limits of this article I can but hint at certain manifestations of these qualities in these several epochs.
I. THE ANTISLAVERY CAMPAIGN
Mr. Beecher is often called an Abolitionist. If by Abolitionist is meant one who desired the abolition of slavery, the appellation is deserved; if by Abolitionist is meant one who agreed with William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips, in the program which the former kept at the head of The Liberator, he was not an Abolitionist. He did not advocate “immediate unconditional emancipation”; he did not believe that “slaveholders, slave-traders and slave-drivers are to be placed on the same level of infamy and in the same fiendish category as kidnappers and manstealers”; he did not believe that “the existing Constitution of the United States is a covenant with death and an agreement with hell”; he did not believe in “no union with slaveholders.”
His antislavery principles had their first clear enunciation in an editorial published in The New York Independent in the winter of 1850. The occasion of this editorial was the compromise measure introduced into Congress in January of that year for the settlement of the slave question; the principles of the editorial were those incorporated in the platform of the Republican party, six years later, on which, four years after that, Abraham Lincoln was elected. In this editorial Mr. Beecher declared, some years before Abraham Lincoln and some weeks before William H. Seward, the irreconcilable conflict between slavery and liberty, but he declared also his adherence to the Constitution, his loyalty to the Union, his belief that slavery was to be overturned, not by withdrawing from the Union, but by remaining in the Union and resisting the further extension of slavery.
The Garrisonian Abolitionists were the first secessionists; they sought to dissolve the Union in the interest of abolition. The Southern secessionists, ten years later, sought to dissolve the Union in the interest of slavery. Mr. Beecher believed that the forces in the Union for liberty would prove stronger than the forces for slavery, and to the awakening of those forces he addressed himself through the ten years of antislavery campaign — 1850-60.
It is true that he invited Wendell Phillips to lecture in Plymouth Church; it is true that he spoke on the same platform with William Lloyd Garrison. But he made it perfectly clear in speech, sermon and editorial that he believed that the North shared with the South in responsibility for slavery; that it could not escape that responsibility by withdrawing from the Union; that, despite some imperfections, the Constitution was a noble document, framed in the interest of freedom, not of slavery; and that, in the Union and under the Constitution, slavery could be so circumscribed that eventually it would die of inanition. When, therefore, John Brown attempted his disastrous raid into Virginia, Mr. Beecher was not among those who applauded him. “I protest,” he said, “against any counsels that lead to insurrection, servile war and bloodshed. It is bad for the master and bad for the slave, bad for all that are neighbors to them, bad for the whole land — bad from beginning to end.”
On the other hand, when the experiment of “squatter sovereignty” was instigated by Mr. Douglas, and the question whether Kansas should be a free or a slave state was made dependent on the character of its population, Mr. Beecher took an active part in promoting emigration to Kansas of a quality of citizens who would carry with them a free school, free labor, free press, and so a free constitution. He did this at the time when the Abolitionists, with whom public opinion has so often associated him, were denouncing the Emigrant Aid Company as “a great hindrance to the cause of freedom and a mighty curse to the territory,” and maintaining that “the fate of Nebraska and Kansas was sealed the first hour Stephen Arnold Douglas consented to play his perfidious part.”
History has so conclusively demonstrated that the Abolitionists were wrong and the Kansas emigrants were right, that the country has almost forgotten that there was any issue between the two; history has so conclusively proved that if the Abolition secessionists could have had their way and induced the Northern states to withdraw from the Union, they would simply have played into the bands of those who were endeavoring to form a great slavocracy, extending west to the Pacific Ocean and south into the Central American States, that we have aImost forgotten that such a policy was ever seriously urged upon the people of the North.
II. THE CIVIL WAR
In a similar fashion the nation has gladly forgotten the spirit of compromise, not to say cowardice, which threatened the North after the election of Mr. Lincoln; we have forgotten that time of confusion, contradictory counsels, conflicting currents, in which even so eminent an antislavery man as Mr. Seward hoped to find some way out by compromise, so influential a journal as The New York Tribune said that “if the Cotton States decide that they can do better out of the Union than in it, we insist on letting them go in peace,” and so clear-headed and loyal a statesman as Charles Francis Adams advocated the summoning of a conference and the shaping of a compromise for the purpose of preventing the Border States from casting in their lot with the Confederacy.
In all this time of confusion and contradiction, there were two men who never for a moment lost sight of the one guiding principle, that concession should nevermore be made to the slave power under any pretext whatever, be the consequences what they might. These were the silent man at Springfield and the eloquent man in Brooklyn, neither of whom for an instant hesitated. In his sermon preached November 29, 1860, “Against a Compromise of Principle,” Mr. Beecher vigorously condemned all such concessions. Speaking, as to the South, from his pulpit, he said —You shall have the Constitution intact, and its full benefit. The full might and power of public sentiment in the North shall guarantee to you everything that history and the constitution gve you. But if you ask us to augment the area of slavery, to cooperate with you in cursing new territory; if you ask us to make the air of the North favorable for a slave to breathe, we will not do it. We love liberty as much as you love slavery, and we shall stand by our rights with all the vigor with which we mean to stand by justice toward you.
These words sound like commonplaces now, but they were uttered when Northern pulpits and Northern presses were clamoring for some impossible compromise, when Congress was debating half-way measures, when timid men were endeavoring to contrive some platform of concession to slavery and secession that would postpone the inevitable conflict, when the radical Abolitionists were advising to let the erring sisters depart in peace. Of his eloquence in the later epoch, stirring the heart and sustaining the courage of the North, undaunted under disaster and defeat, I need not speak here, for I am speaking of Mr. Beecher’s wisdom as a counselor, not of his eloquence as an orator.
For the same reason I need not speak of those marvelous addresses in England, which contributed so largely to prevent English interference and did so much both to arouse and to express the public sentiment of the common and unrepresented workingmen of England, and so much to prepare the way for that unofficial Anglo-American alliance which has grown up within the last few years, to the satisfaction of all right-thinking men on both sides of the water.
III. THE PERIOD OF RECONSTRUCTION
In the third epoch, that of reconstruction, Mr. Beecher exhibited the same prophetic and statesman-like quality. The problem of reconstruction, as it presented itself to the people of the North at the close of the Civil War, was a very difficult and perplexing one. It is not strange that the best minds differed respecting the best method of its solution; even to-day men are not agreed what course should have been pursued. That great evils grew out of the course that was pursued does not prove that it might not have been the best. The nation was like a man in the middle of a swamp; turn which way he will he cannot get out without muddy and perhaps torn clothes, perhaps scratched and bleeding face and hands. But the fundamental principles which Mr. Beecher laid down seem clearer now in the light of history than they did when he first propounded them.
While still the question was open in the country whether the war for secession should be regarded as anything else than gigantic acts of mob violence, which left the states unimpaired to return tinder their old constitutions when the mob had been quelled, he took in his Fort Sumter address the ground that the United States are one and indivisible, that the states are not absolute sovereigns, that liberty is indispensable to republican government, and that slavery must be utterly and forever abolished.
These principles will seem to Northern readers alphabetic, but not so alphabetic as some other principles which he laid down almost simultaneously: that the North should do nothing to impair the self-respect of the South; that it should not demand conversion from secession as a matter of political opinion, but only consent that secession is forever disallowed as matter of practical result; that it should not wait for any further guarantees for the future, the utter destruction of slavery being all the guarantee necessary; that the negro should have all civil rights, but as to suffrage, that might be confined to a few, as, for example, to “those colored men who bore arms in our late war for the salvation of this Government”; that universal suffrage might well wait upon the processes of education; that the South should not be treated as a pagan land to which missionaries must be sent, but as part of a common country to which aid must be sent by the richer and more prosperous section; that in all philanthropic and educational work in the South “our heart should be set toward our country and all its people without distinction of caste, class, or color.”
The maintenance of these principles then subjected Mr. Beecher to suspicion and rancor in the North, just as he had been subjected to suspicion and rancor by his vigorous antislavery sentiments ten years before. Even to-day a radical remnant condemns the same sentiments, now grown more widespread and popular. To me it appears that his counsels were as wise as his spirit was fraternal, and that in the period of reconstruction he showed the spirit of a statesman as truly as in the period which preceded he showed the spirit of a prophet and a reformer.
Mr. Beecher’s greatness conceals his greatness. His wit and humor, his imagination, his emotional power, dazzle and sway men. While they are under the charm of his personality they do not stop to consider whither he is carrying them; when they look back they do not know who has carried them, and so unconscious has been the transference that often they are unaware that it has even taken place. But I believe that if the speeches of Mr. Beecher could be denuded of the elements which made them powerful as orations, if the great fundamental political principles which they embody could be epitomized in these as unemotive and unimaginative as those of Martin Luther, they would show that their author possessed statesmanlike qualities which give him rank among the eminent political counselors and leaders of the epoch in which he lived.
MR. BEECHER published approximately seven hundred sermons, representing fourteen out of fifty preaching years. He published two volumes when he was fifty, gathering tip forty-eight fugitive sermons that had been printed in pamphlets and newspapers; two volumes when he was fifty-two, sermons illustrating his various moods and methods. At fifty-five he began to publish one sermon each week, a publication that was continued until he was sixty-two; in his seventieth year he founded The New Plymouth Pulpit, and continued it for two years; at seventy-three his sermons preached during his summer’s visit to England were printed; and he also left some twenty-five sermons published in The Christian Union but never put in book form.
His output, therefore, includes some twenty-four volumes of sermons — sermons biographical, doctrinal, philosophical, narrative, imaginative, and expositional; sermons written sometimes from the viewpoint of reason, sometimes from the viewpoint of persuasion and argument, sometimes from the viewpoint of inspiration and hope, but always with the purpose of convincing men of sin, persuading men from sin, the development of faith in God and love for Christ, and the building up of a Christlike character. From twenty-five to forty years of age he wrote with great care one sermon a week. During this time, he tells us, he was an apprentice, learning his trade. Very early he decided that the only way to learn how to preach was by preaching. Having, therefore, written his Sunday morning sermon for his own people in Indianapolis, on Monday he started out, and repeated that sermon every night in as many different schoolhouses in the country round about. In 1844 he preached once every day for ten months in rural districts and little villages, and a few sermons of that epoch have on the first page the names of from ten to thirty schoolhouses and churches where they were preached.
At seventy-three I heard him say: “What if the great orators and lawyers and statesmen were to try to learn to speak by speaking on one day of the week? What if a great singer should attempt to develop a voice by singing one hour on Sunday and then never opening the mouth until the next Sunday? The only way for young men to learn how to preach is to preach. I question whether God himself could make a preacher out of a man who opens his mouth one day and then keeps his mouth closed during the next six days.” But Mr. Beecher was not simply a preacher who mastered his art by practising it; he was also a tireless and accurate student, reading along the line of the theme on which he was going to preach, and he continued to do this until he was about fifty, at which time he had accumulated between five and six thousand volumes. Contrary to the usual opinion, also, few men in theology, philosophy and the apologetics of his era. To the very end his library was singularly rich in theology, philosophy and the relations between the new science and religion.
Until he was thirty years of age he was under the influence of his father, Lyman Beecher, and his interest in theological problems was kept at white heat through the discussions of his brothers, who were preachers. He tells us that for four years his father, Professor Stowe, his brother Edward, and the other three brothers, not to mention his sisters, who were passionately fond of theology, gathered around the dinner-table, and there continued, sometimes for two and three hours, forgetting to eat, because they could remember nothing but theology, the problems of Calvinism, and the discussions that were on between the Old and New School Presbyterians. For thirty years Mr. Beecher breathed no air but the air of theology. Theology was the bread that he ate, theology was the water that he drank, theology was the very blood in his veins. He tells us that he knew the arguments of the Puritan theologians, like John Owen, of all the New England theologians, and of the Old School theology taught at Princeton and the New School of Calvinism taught in Lane — knew them so that he could recite them forward and backward. He could play with the arguments as a juggler keeps nine balls in the air.
In 1875 a friend spoke to him about a certain preacher who prided himself on his theological positions, and had said that Mr. Beecher knew nothing about theology. Mr. Beecher replied, “When he has preached theology for twenty years, as once I did, he will through preaching master it, instead of being mastered by his knowledge, as a big pile of green wood masters the fire that smolders beneath.” The fact is, Mr. Beecher rejected the theology of his era, not because he knew so little about theology, but because he knew so much about it. After fifty-five he ceased to read closely, turned all his theological and philosophical books over to his brother Edward, went to Dr. Rossiter W. Raymond for a condensed statement of what was going on in the realm of science and philosophy, asked his old friend, Thomas G. Shearman, to do his economic reading for him, and during the last fifteen years of his life read but few books, and these very slowly. He left ten thousand volumes, and multitudes of them never had more than the first fifty leaves cut. But he was not under the delusion that most of us are under—that a man has read a book because he owns it.
Some years ago I analyzed Mr. Beecher’s published sermons, and recently I have gone through a large number of his manuscripts, representing the earlier period of his ministry. I find that once in three years he made the round of Christian truth and experience, preaching on the great epochs of the spiritual life, and on the great themes, the Scriptures, God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, man, his dignity, his need, his ignorance and sinfulness, the nature and number and order of the spiritual faculties, the method of quickening in men a sense of sin, the nurture of faith, the development of love, the feeding the hope of the life of man. But if the themes were many, the ideas that controlled them were few. No matter what the subject of the sermon is, during the last thirty years of his preaching four great thoughts dwell in every sermon, as if he had squeezed four clusters of grapes, that the purple flood might run down through all his statements.
The first ruling idea is his conception of the suffering God. For him, God is no “sheaf of thunderstorms.” God loves, he pities, he recovers, he sympathizes, he suffers. The very heart of his message is that God neither slumbers nor sleeps, by reason of the emotions of love that suffer and make him the burden-bearer of all his children. As Paul met his Master on the way to Damascus; as Luther, climbing the steps of the church in Rome, received the revelation that he could enter immediately into the presence of God and be saved, so Mr. Beecher, kneeling in the edge of the forest in Indiana, discovered in his vision hour the suffering love of God. For the next forty years that was his one message, and with ever-increasing joy he preached it to the very last hour of his life. From the old pagan notion that was still taught when I was in the seminary, that God was not susceptible to pain, that God dwells at a far remove from this earth, impassive and with marble heart, that God is eternally young and eternally happy, lifted up above all possibility of tears, or anxiety, or solicitude — from all these Grecian and heathen and former ultra-Presbyterian and medieval conceptions he utterly revolted.
Denying that God suffers through any weakness or sin of his own, as man suffers, Mr. Beecher believed that God, as a Father, takes upon himself the sorrows, sufferings and sins of his children. Because he is a Father, because nothing that concerns his children is foreign to him, he suffers with his children’s sorrows, and sympathizes in their griefs, and pities those who fear him. Jesus was filled with compassion when he saw the publican, the prodigal and sinner. His whole being went out in tides of sympathy toward those who through error or sin had blotted out all the hopes and prophecies of their youth; and if Christ suffered with men through thirty years, God suffers through all the ages and for all the multitudes. Looking out upon the great pilgrim band journeying across the desert, and blundering as they journeyed, a band struggling, wandering from the way, oft falling in the desert, full oft stricken down by the beasts of passion, sometimes left weltering in their own blood, it seemed to Mr. Beecher impossible for any Christian man to believe that God from his throne in the sky beheld this pilgrim host with any save emotions of sympathy and sorrow and suffering and medicinal love.
About 1870 the scientists began to name God force, and explained the universe by spelling force with a capital “F.” They made God control the world through tides and rivers and winds, so that he had no more personal relation to his universe than the mill stream has to the wheel that grinds the flour. Others represented God as a kind of householder, who built a house, cared for the root saw that it was well lighted through the windows, well provisioned as to root cellar and pantry, but who never permitted any one of his children living in the house to know the Father, and himself had no interest in the welfare of his children. Over against these views Mr. Beecher unveiled God as the God of suffering God, whose solicitude for his children burns day and night; God who cares for all created things, who loves birds, and cares for the insect in the grass, who loves things empty and crude, things unlovely and seminal, who loves men who are unlovely and ignorant and sinful, and who loves, expecting nothing in return. This all-suffering and all-helpful God is abroad upon a mission of recovery. As the suffering God, he has set before himself the task of bringing the lowest and weakest and worst from littleness to largeness, from ignorance to wisdom, from crudeness and hate to ripeness and love. The image of his impartial, all-including, disinterested love is the sun that shines for the evil and the good. To the last, the sun was Mr. Beecher’s favorite image of the great suffering God, whose mighty and majestic heart pulsates through all the universe the tides of his all-cleansing, all-medicinal, all-forgiving and all-healing love. In scores of sermons Mr. Beecher never mentions this thought of the suffering God, and yet, no matter what the theme is, this thought dwells within and above the sermon, as the sky overarches the meadows and orchards with their various grains and fruits.
The second ruling idea of Mr. Beecher was his conception of the divinity of Jesus Christ. Here he was an open and self-confessed heretic. In the strictest sense he was Sabellian. He did not believe that Christ had a human intellect or a human will. He believed that that sacred and divine form that walked over the hills of Palestine was the luminous point where God, the creator and sustainer of the universe, manifested himself. He does indeed manifest himself through storms that reveal his omnipotence, through harvests that reveal his goodness, but he also reveals his love and suffering heart in that human face — the face of Jesus Christ. It was this conception of Jesus that in turn gave him his conception of God as the suffering God of love.
Out of this conception, also, grew his sermon on the Trinity, in which he argued against the unitary God, and proclaimed the social nature of God, and spoke of the assembling of faculties and affections, as many organs are assembled in one body, and many faculties in one mind. The Jesus that he preached was to him the God that he loved. In the same prayer, therefore, he addresses Jesus and God, his Father. His one passion was this passion for Jesus Christ. No one who ever heard Mr. Beecher pray in the closing years of his life but was impressed with the way in which he pronounced the words “Jesus” and “Christ” — for him they were love-words, perfumed with the most sacred memories. This conception of Jesus colored all his sermons, even when he did not refer to it, and was stamped upon even his philosophical discussions and national themes, as the king’s image is stamped upon gold.
Two other ideas ruled, permeated and colored Mr. Beecher’s sermons, and once a man has found out what they are he has the key that, with the other two words, unlocks all the mystery of his discourses; these two words are the sanctity of the individual and the certainty of the soul’s immortality. Mr. Beecher held that he was to give an account unto God for himself. Therefore he stood on his own feet, thought his own thoughts, reached his own conclusions and published them. But he insisted just as earnestly upon the sacred rights of others. The one striking characteristic of Plymouth Church is the outstanding strength of its individual men. I can tell a Beecher-grown man as I can tell a pasture-grown oak. Nothing pleased Mr. Beecher more than to have his men stand up in the Friday evening meeting and combat him. He found therein the proof of his ministry. For that reason he fed the life of the church spiritually, but he would not choose its officials. He insisted that the spiritual life of the church should express itself by governing itself His favorite sentence was that “the poorest government of a church that is self-government is better than the best government that I as pastor impose upon them.”
But to this overruling idea of the sacredness of the individual we must add Mr. Beecher’s idea of man’s immortality. Looking out upon his vast congregation that crowded aisles and walls, to the number of nearly three thousand, he saw them all clothed, not simply with imperfection and knowledge, with mingled passions and virtues, with hopes and fears and loves, not simply as pilgrims famished and hungry, but he also saw them as the children of God, big with destiny and immortality. This thought of the immortal life filled him with solemnity. It lent exhilaration to his reason. It fell like golden sunlight upon the heads of his congregation. It seemed like the wistful smile of God. It overflowed his eyes with tears and his heart with sympathy. It filled his words with the sweetness of love. He saw that in mortal life overarching men as the sky overhangs the flowers, filling them with rain and dew. For him what value did this lend to man’s soul! What importance did it lend to his sermon! Indeed, the hour and the sermon, in view of this immortal life, seemed for the time to Mr. Beecher the only things worth while. Among his hundreds of sermons, therefore, with their many messages and their diverse meanings, there are four all-controlling ideas — the suffering love of God, the divine Christ, the sacredness of the individual soul, and the certainty of the life immortal. Having chosen his theme, Mr. Beecher poured the meanings of these four truths through whatsoever sermon in such a way as to “convince the man of his sin, to convert him from his sin and develop in him the faith of God and the love of Christ, and build up in him a character after Christ’s divine pattern.
No one ever spent a day with Mr. Beecher who did not discern the reason why he was never spoken of by his acquaintances as either a silver- or golden-tongued orator. It is not to disparage Guthrie or Chrysostom that each bears one of these appellations; but it is to indicate the wholeness and integral character of Beecher that his eloquence must be spoken of as an effluence of his entire nature rather than the superb activity of some particular power.
PHYSICAL BASIS OF HIS ORATORY
My study of him as both an organism and an organ commenced shortly after I had read a stimulating and thoughtful production on “The Physical Basis of Oratory.” In later years I called up the sagacious remarks in that essay when I saw Gladstone under nearly similar circumstances. In both of these cases one was tempted to ask which had the most influence upon the other, body or mind? Certainly, in the full glow of his creative activity and its expression, each of these men could not have appeared in more characteristic and obedient physical form. Mr. Gladstone’s body gave one the conviction that there was more of character in him vertically; Mr. Beecher’s that there was more of character in him laterally. Mr. Beecher swept things with a breadth of mental vision and conquest before whose advance an unparalleled variety of wrongs went down and an equal variety of rights rejoiced in the fresh revelation of their strength Mr. Gladstone illuminated and commanded things by a height of outlook and insistence under which every-thing base made a deeper shadow and everything essentially true rose into sublimer proportions. This, indeed, is one of the things which the great orator must do, either through his body or in spite of his body—he must create an atmosphere in which justice seems awfully grand and in which injustice seems as despicable.
It would not be adequate to say that Beecher’s body, at the incandescent moment of his supreme utterance, was “the organ of his mind.” The whole being called Beecher was organism; he was it and it was he. If there had not been such integrity, physical and spiritual, in the fact called Beecher, there would have been too much of his somewhat too short body. In Gladstone’s case, as I heard him at Liverpool, I thought if he had spoken with less loftiness and had avoided what a friend near me called his ingrained moral narrowness, he would have been just a little too tall. Such is the miracle of the relationship of mind and body in the case of the great orator. Of all orators I have ever studied, these men most illustrated the difference between mind embodied and mind incarnate.
How much of the effect for brotherly winning and uplifting toward the apparently cold heights of righteousness lay in Beecher’s indubitable physical vitality and his making it a radiation of his spiritual self, I never was quite able to make out. This is probably not oratory but it is of oratory, and without Mr. Beecher’s phenomenal power in this respect he could not have won men. Preaching once in Chicago and urging men to climb up by the grace of God from the animal toward the angel, he stood for a moment so excellent an animal as he pronounced the word “basilar” that a base man sitting next to a refined gentleman said: “That man can make me feel that I can be as noble as he looks, when he looks his best, because he gets hold of me physically. He is the real thing in both cases.” This is character rather than oratory obeying what is called “the first principles of address in starting from the level of ordinary thought and feeling.”
Nevertheless it is oratory, too. If he had not opened his mouth, the impression would have been that made by an orator, the orator being, as Fox said, “one who can give immediate instantaneous utterance to his thoughts.” Eloquence is always more than one says; it is the communication of what one is at his best. John Bright and Henry Ward Beecher had massive proportions to the eye, like Burke and Fox, Webster and Chalmers, but the study of all these will not disclose such an interesting likeness as that which abides between Beecher and Mirabeau. Every man has his rhythm, just as every man has his body; the rhythm and the stout, elastic frame of either of these men, differing startlingly as they do, might be taken for those of the other.
Mr. Beecher’s incandescence was not less impressive because he was not always incandescent. He could literally withdraw himself from the front door or windows of his house and be somnolent, or go into one of the chambers of himself and take a nap mentally. I have seen him doing this with his eyes wide open; others were suffering from the irritating prose of a would-be poet-speaker; he was simply withdrawn into the cushioned serenity of himself. It was on the occasion of the Herbert Spencer banquet; and eminent but very heavy were some of the speakers. Spencer looked at times as if he wished he had not written the books which they praised. More than one distinguished man looked tired and bored.
Shortly before Beecher was called upon, the refreshed soul which had now forsaken its couch, where it had been safe from the irritation of illustrious dullness, came forth and looked out through the windows— those eyes of unforgettable lucidity and depth. All of him spoke from the instant he found his feet beneath him. Mentally alert and entirely furnished with knowledge, he was more distinguished in that speech through the luminosity of his moral attributes. It was the most courageous speech I had heard from Mr. Beecher.
My father had repeated to my childhood passages from addresses which he had heard Mr. Beecher deliver when mobs were howling about him and he confronted the horrible visage of Civil War; and he always told me that Mr. Beecher impressed him as fearful, yea, decidedly afraid of two things — the possibility of being wrong mentally with respect to the subject he was talking about, and the moral peril of being unwilling to stand by the truth as he saw it and be its champion to the end. His whole soul was so intent with this wholesome fear that he had no other. He was like Lord Lawrence, who “feared God so much that he feared not man at all.” On that occasion he was not delighting Herbert Spencer with his discriminating and warm eulogy; be was courageously paying a debt of gratitude and discharging an obligation with utmost freedom, but every attitude uttered Paul’s words, “With a great sum have I obtained this freedom.”
Such eloquence as Mr. Beecher’s is impossible without that courage which invigorates the brain and makes the will resistless. It may be born and nursed in the heart and enswathed in the emotions, as the term suggests, but it alone rescues a man from fragmentariness and makes him whole and holy as a leader of men through public speech. Intellect, sensibilities and will are not separate compartments, but constitute one overflowing cup of power in all eloquence.
Doubtless those of us who were too young to have beheld the monarch when he was a war-horse “and his neck was clothed with thunder,” received the somewhat similar impression of the vivifying and unifying influence of his courage as an oratorical force when we heard him in the times of his severest trial. Was it a lecture on preaching which had taken shape as the bitter cup was pressed to his lips, or a lecture given fouled the air with their vile hooting, or a sermon to college young men such as I heard within an hour after he had been made aware of the dreadful avalanche which was approaching him, he was the same fervent, human unit throughout the illuminating hour. In those times the effect upon a discriminating hearer was that of a total character—a character totalized by fiery courage, making his eloquence opalescent because its fire was revealed everywhere.
If Mr. Beecher had not possessed a magnetic centralness of character which forbade easily separable powers and interests from straying out the field, he would have been simply the most multitudinous collection of forces which ever failed in public life. He had wit and humor; almost always they did not have him. To change the figure, he would strike a vein which, if followed up, would have made him a clown tossing grotesque chunks of ore as no Grimaldi might have done; but suddenly the swirling fires of his persistent purpose in speech would melt the ore and the fine gold would be coined into noble thoughts. His humor would often bubble forth with a hint that the hearer might soon be overwhelmed, but inimitably the master of himself was its master, and a cup full of sparkling water would be handed to one whose throat had been a little dry and whose appetite now was ready for wisdom.
With an art for epigram he surprised his audience, but never lost them or left them standing at the quick turn in the roadway where so unexpectedly came the brief and brilliant vision. The temptation to let the wheels of the mind go round, because the machinery was noiseless, had its death at birth in the fact that anything like conceit over such a happy state of things was lost in the serious purpose of his address, which was to make others think and feel and will as he did. As much might be said of his boundless sympathy. Those eyes were roguish with laughter no more often than they were wet with tears. At the old Soldiers’
Home in Dayton, Ohio, I saw him touch a flag and heard him utter a sentence with the result that everybody was weeping and he himself was almost unmanned with emotion. Instantly the disorganized man was reorganized by that centralizing life purpose which permitted no waste of such precious energies. He saw his relationship to future problems, and realized that only a stern devotion to duty and the highest wisdom could meet those issues. It is this forceful manhood, permeated with loyalty to God and man, which must ever be regarded as the energizing and saving secret of Beecher the orator.
So far as the art of the orator is concerned, Mr. Beecher’s voice, which is but the string upon the instrument, was the organ of the organism most apparently in evidence. Like a violinist of the highest power, when he touched it his total self touched it. He could play an excellent tune, like Paganini, on one string, but any such consideration of the stringed instrument overestimates the string; it must not leave out the instrument especially.
No elocutionary training could have saved him from ministerial sore throat, or his audience from ministerial sore ears, which is a consequential and not less distressing malady. His justness of emphasis came from his fine perception; his painter-like sympathy for rightness of color, and his will to express himself in perfect draughtsmanship — simply to transfer his character into another character, was the supreme and easy task to which he called his voice. To tell the truth as he saw it required an instrument unabused by vociferation and free from the sharpness which comes from saying sharp things too frequently, which often cuts the thread of truth. It must indeed be entirely melodious as truth itself is. There was spiritual good breeding in Beecher’s tones. Such a voice cannot be made in one generation. It was as variable as the portraits of the man, yet from thunder to whisper it was Beecher’s. voice.
This artistic passion was allied with almost unerring artistic wisdom. Like George Inness, whose paintings are a revelation of the gradual evolution of a soul Mr. Beecher was one of the first to understand, the great preacher himself advanced from an almost pharisaic legalism to an almost unparalleled liberty. He knew the secret of elimination. “Thou canst if thou wilt” — so the devil always says to a big, brainy and capable man. Animated and ardent, the orator always feels as Webster did when, after talking a few moments in reply to Hayne, everything that he had ever thought or heard or read was within his grasp, and he had only “to seize a thunderbolt as it went smoking by and hurl it at him.”
More than thunderbolts came into the field of Beecher’s vision, urging themselves on his attention and pleading to enter into his picture, but he had the ability to leave this pretty flower and that noble tree out of his canvas. “This one thing I do”—that was the intensely wrought law, self-imposed and radiant, to which he gave obedience. So will the artist live forever in his art, as Raphael in his Sistine Madonna and Richard Wagner in Parsifal.
The Minister of Highbury Quadrant Congregational Church, London.
HENRY WARD BEECHER is for many of us in England the greatest preacher of the last decades of the nineteenth century. Spurgeon surpassed him in evangelical force, Liddon in the elaboration of his rhetoric, Parker in brilliancy of phrase, but none of these equaled him in general mass of intellect, in philosophic grasp, in native genius. It is hard to say what genius is; we endeavor to define it by such terms as charm, magnetism, and a peculiar lambency of mind, “a light that never was on sea or land”; but whatever it is, no one could be in Beecher’s company for half an hour without knowing that he possessed it. He had in a supreme degree the “genius to be loved.” He captivated men without an effort. He never attempted to do anything that could be called great, and yet he was always great. He appeared absolutely simple, and yet his simplicity was the last equation of profundity. He was a preacher by vocation, but he made one feel that he could as easily have been a statesman, a prime minister, or the president of a republic. It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that while Beecher lived no other American bulked very large in English eyes. He was the typical American of his generation. He rose so high, he cast so large a shadow, he held the gaze so completely, that when we English folk thought of America we always thought of Beecher. To us he seemed the incarnation of the national genius.
The salient quality which impressed me most in Beecher was the supreme ease with which he did his work. I had not the good fortune to meet him on his historic visit to England in the sixties ; that was before my time. During his last visit to England, however, I heard him often; I sat beside him on the platform; I had ample opportunity of studying his methods of address; and this supreme ease with which he did his work filled me with astonishment. He never seemed agitated, nervous, or conscious of the least strain, however vast the congregation he addressed. His audiences were not always quite friendly. There was an undercurrent of suspicion which he was much too sensitive not to perceive. But he moved before these vast crowds always like a man at ease. He knew his own integrity and he knew his own power. The moment he began to speak the spell of his personality began to work.
PECULIARITY OF HIS ORATORY
At first his speaking created a sense of disappointment; it was so quiet, so colloquial, so free from the usual artifice of the orator. He seemed to be standing at a height, aloof from his audience, talking to himself of things which were of moment to himself alone. He did not even try to make himself heard, and many amusing contests of wit between himself and his hearers arose on this matter. “Can’t hear,” one night. “I never meant you to hear that,” Beecher retorted, and calmly pursued the course of his argument. Men looked at one another and mutely asked what they had come out for to see. Where were the brilliant paradox, the flash of epigram, the sonorous declamation which English audiences had learned to expect from their popular orators? Where were the passion and intensity which lift an audience to its feet? Men remembered John B. Gough, and wondered at Beecher’s reputation. They remembered the full roll of Bright’s and Gladstone’s eloquence, stately, impressive, full of magnificent modulations, an eloquence like the sound of many waters.
This quiet man went on talking with himself. It seemed to him of no importance whether his audience thought well or ill of him. Then, suddenly, he emitted a spark of flame that ran kindling through the crowd. He said something so daring or so piquant that men began to sit up stiff upon their seats and lean forward in anxious listening. There came a flash of humor, a touch of pathos, and the audience quivered; a moment later frantic excitement seized upon the congregation. And still he was talking with the utmost quietness, complete master of himself as well as of his hearers. It was a new kind of oratory. Nothing had been heard like it in England, and nothing has been heard since. So Coleridge might have talked out of the depth of an experience and wisdom that seemed more than finite — the old man eloquent. It was a kind of oratory almost too rare to be called oratory. It was in truth much more than oratory; it was the speech of the soul finding by unerring instinct its way to the deepest springs of life and thought in his hearers.
GREATER THAN HIS WORK
There is a useful distinction which I have often had occasion to draw between writers and speakers who seem more than their works and those who seem less. In reading some books and listening to some men I am conscious that the best, and even more than the best, that is in them has found adequate expression. They have gained a height, but it has been at the expenditure of the last ounce of strength. With Beecher I felt precisely the reverse. There were reserves in him which he never called into action. He drew upon a mind so full, a nature so rich that he had no need to husband his resources. His personality exceeded by far his finest effort to express it. He could afford to be lavish; he could always have done better than his best if he had so willed it. Very few men produce this impression.
George Meredith impresses me and all who know him as being much greater than his works. Coleridge impressed his contemporaries as greater than his poetry. There is a kind of divine carelessness in Shakespeare; he is a giant who never used his strength to the full. Beecher, also, I think, stands in this rare category. Nothing that he did was so great as himself. No sermon he preached and no book which he has left behind him gives us anything like an adequate measurement of his genius. There was a kind of primeval depth and freshness in him; he was inexhaustible as nature herself. In this respect Beecher is unique. I have heard many sermons and addresses more brilliant than anything which I heard from him; I have never met a man who gave me such a sense of inexhaustible depth of nature.
WHO IS HY.WARD BEECHER?
He is the man who said the best blood of England must be shed to atone for the Trent affair.
He is the man who advocates a War of Extermination with the South,—says it is incapable of “re-generation,” but proposes to re-people it from the North by “generation.”—See “Times.”
He is the friend of that inhuman monster, General BUTLER. He is the friend of that so called Gospel Preacher, CHEEVER, who said in one of his sermons—“Fight against the South till Hell Freezes, and then continue the battle on the ice.”
He is the friend and supporter of a most debased Female, who uttered at a public meeting in America the most indecent and cruel language that ever polluted female lips.—See “Times.”
MEN OF MANCHESTER, ENGLISHMEN!
What reception can you give this wretch, save unmitigated disgust and contempt? His impudence in coming here is only equalled by his cruelty and impiety. Should he, however, venture to appear, it behooves all right-minded men to render as futile as the first this second attempt to get up a public demonstration in favor of the North, which is now waging War against the South with a vindictive and revengeful cruelty unparalleled in the history of any Christian land.
English Poster of 1863
FAREWELL MEETING AT CITY TEMPLE
The most triumphant display of ability which I have ever known was Beecher’s farewell meeting at the City Temple, on his last visit. He spoke all together for about two hours and a half. I sat beside him, and was amazed to find that the entire notes for his address did not fill half a sheet of note-paper. Never was his humor fresher, never was be more able as the address was, it was insignificant beside what followed. He offered to answer questions on any subjects which the audience might select. The subjects selected were as wide as human thought. They ranged from the nature of the Trinity to the ethics of socialism. They included anxious questions about eternal punishment and absurd questions about Anglican orders.
Never once did Beecher falter. His adroitness, his nimbleness of mind, his wit, his keen penetration into the characters of his questioners, were simply astounding. It was only sheer hunger and exigency of time that broke up the meeting. The people would have remained for hours longer, and Beecher showed no trace of weariness. Indeed, he humorously complained, when Dr. Parker closed the meeting, that he was beginning to enjoy himself. Those who heard Beecher on that memorable morning knew how true it was that the man was infinitely greater than his works. They witnessed the free, untrammeled display of a supreme genius using every means of expression with equal ease, capable of rising to any demands made upon it, moving with a kind of effortless felicity through the loftiest realms of human thought; and great and admirable as were some of the men ranged round Beecher that day, they and the audience alike felt that no one of them approached that solitary greatness which distinguished Beecher.
MORE THAN A RHETORICIAN
Beecher taught the preachers of England many great lessons, and their debt to him is incalculable.
He taught us naturalness. He taught us the value of speech as distinguished from mere oratory. He showed us how great was the power of the man who could think upon his feet. He taught us that neither claptrap nor highly-wrought artificial rhetoric, nor even a popular theme, was needed to win the ear of the listening multitude. Given the man who thought clearly, who felt deeply, who spoke out of his heart in good, honest vernacular, and there was no theme, however philosophic, that could not engage the deepest interest of an audience. We needed those lessons, for the traditions of pulpit eloquence when Beecher began his ministry were mostly of a quite different kind. I do not wish to speak a single disparaging word of such genuine pulpit orators as Parsons, of York, or Morley Punshon, but we know that their eloquence was artificial in form, the result of laborious elaboration, built up upon deliberate antithesis and climax and crowned with glittering perorations. Spurgeon had already struck a hard blow at this method of preaching, but it needed a Beecher to demolish it. It needed some one to show us that the freedom of plain speech was not only suited to simple evangelical appeals, but also to the widest ranges of philosophic thought.
To have heard Beecher was an era in the life of many a young preacher. He went home to prepare himself instead of his sermons. He saw that the secret of pulpit force was in direct talk, as between man and man. He saw that to be himself was a better aim than to imitate any one else, however worthy of imitation. He discovered that the full mind, the big heart, the intense soul, made the successful preacher — these, and these alone. That was a great lesson to learn. It revolutionized the pulpit and to this day the English pulpit bears the mark of Beecher, and has cause to thank him.
REV. H. W. BEECHER’S
MISSION TO LIVERPOOL.
THE TRENT AFFAIR.
[Rev. H. W BEECHER in the New York Independent.]
“Should the President quietly yield to the present necessity (viz., the delivering up of Messrs. Mason and Slidell) as the lesser of two evils and bide our tune with England, there will be a
SENSE of WRONG, of NATIONAL HUMILIATION
SO PROFOUND, AND A
HORROR OF THE UNFEELING SELFISHNESS
OF THE ENGLISH GOVERNMENT
in the great emergency of our affairs, such as will inevitably break out by and by in flames, and which will only be extinguished by a deluge of blood! We are not living the whole of our life to-day. There is a future to the United States in which the nation will right any injustice of the present hour.”
The Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, at a meeting held in New York, at the time when the Confederate Envoys, Messrs. Slidell and Mason, had been surrendered by President Lincoln to the British Government, from whose vessel (the Royal Mail Steamer Trent) they were taken, said
“That the Best Blood of England must flow for the outrage England had perpetrated on America.”
This opinion of a Christian (?) minister, wishing to obtain a welcome in Liverpool, whose operatives are suffering almost unprecedented hardships, caused by the sucidal war raging in the States of North America, and urged on by the fanatical Statesmen and Preachers of the North, is worthy of consideration.
Poster displayed in England when Mr. Beecher spoke there in 1863
And Beecher did even more to revolutionize our theology. He would probably have disowned the claim to be a theologian; he was rather a humanist than a theologian, yet his influence on theology was great. He helped to deliver us from barbaric formulæ he made us conscious of the magnanimity of God. For myself, I bless his memory. He was one of the greatest and one of the best of men. The further we remove from him in time the more clearly do we see the dimension of his genius. I believe that America has produced no greater man, that the pulpit has boasted no more fruitful force. No homage done to his memory can be extravagant, and I rejoice, in the name of multitudes of my countrymen, to lay this humble wreath to his memory.
IN December, 1867, Mr. Beecher entered into contract with the publishing firm of J. B. Ford and Company to write “The Life of Jesus, the Christ”; and the undertaking was an intimate part of his life until he died, in 1887. Indeed, it was about the latest subject of his thought; the day before his fatal attack he asked me to meet him the next evening with reference to the renewal of his work upon it. From the outset it meant much to him: it formed the basis of his studies; it gave fresh inspiration to his pulpit effort and enrichment to his thought, and was at once the stimulus and the conservative check in his use of the new evolutionary philosophy, which was gradually changing his views of things human and divine.
This and the other publications that rapidly ensued—Plymouth Pulpit, The Christian Union, and the issue of volumes of sermons, lectures, and other matters new and renewed (altogether about forty volumes) — entailed upon the members of the firm a familiarity with his ways of working. One can hardly speak of his “methods,” since the exigencies of his life precluded him from system — except as to sermon-making and preaching, always his main business.
Yet he worked on general principles, too. “Reading maketh a full man;” and this man’s habit of reading — not in preparation for specific productions so much as for broad comprehension of departments and phases of thought — furnished his mind and stimulated its powers. Witness in early manhood his Indianapolis experiences.
When at one time he had continued daily preaching during eighteen consecutive months, for relaxation after preaching he took up the Loudon encyclopædias — of horticulture, agriculture and architecture; also Lindley’s “Horticulture” and Gray’s “Structural Botany”; all of which he says he read, “not only every line, but much of it many times over.” Thus he confirmed his original love of nature and acquired an understanding of it, so that his much-praised work, when shortly after he edited The Western Farmer and Gardener, was out of well-earned knowledge.
Most of Mr. Beecher’s books were but the printing of his spoken words; “Norwood,” and “The Life of Jesus, the Christ,” together with sundry volumes of “Star Papers,” etc., are exceptions. The first is a charming series of chapters on New England scenery and life, with enough of a story to hold it together, and more wit, wisdom, philosophy and religion than often get into a “novel.” This required no study of material, but was a weary labor of pen-work to his unaccustomed hand. The “Life” is a most luminous and suggestive exposition of the deeds and words of the Master.
The work on the Life of Christ was begun in a fashion like his early horticultural studies. He had already kept well abreast with the orthodox and the skeptical schools of England, France and Germany, while maintaining interest in the new lines of the evolutionary writers, but now undertook to familiarize himself thoroughly with them. He welcomed these varied lights of criticism and philosophy; yet he recognized what he called “the chill mist of doubt” arising from them, while his spiritual nature craved and held to the truths of the other world; so that he took the materials of the Gospels as his final and unquestioned basis. Moreover, he felt that too many of the attempts to write the Life of Christ had been dialectical and critical in spirit, and, as he wrote, “while they may lead scholars from doubt into certainty, they are likely to lead plain people from certainty into doubt, and to leave them there. I have, therefore,” he continued, “studiously avoided a polemic spirit, seeking to produce conviction without controversy.”
While carefully considering the works of critical objectors, then, he did not argue against them, but endeavored, as far as possible, so to state the facts as to take away the grounds from which the objections were aimed; in brief, to depict not the modern subject of discussions, but the Jesus of the four Evangelists, in his disposition, his social relations, his deeds and his doctrines.
But all this laying out of the ground took time, and he wrote but little for a year or two. The first volume, however, was published in June, 1871, and in 1872-3 he had written about two-thirds of the second; after that, nothing.
In discussing Mr. Beecher as author and editor some drawbacks to his performance of pen-duties must be noted. First, there was his great church. Such cares as this entailed, together with his preaching and lecture-room services, were his chief interest at all times. Besides this, there were the incessant demands upon him from the public to be the voice on all important occasions; there were interviews with reporters, and such a multiplicity of applications for sympathy and aid from citizens beyond his parish and from strangers as probably few men have ever been subject to.
There were other — at first subtle, and afterwards outbreaking and volcanic — obstructions to the equability of mind needed for such work. These are familiar, and need not be rehearsed, but enough has been suggested to show how impossible it was for Mr. Beecher to have regular methods of literary labor. He had to work as he could, and, lacking the habit of system, he was obliged to await the mood. When it came, his quill flew over the paper with impatient leaps and dashes, and he produced very rapidly.
Perhaps a reminiscence, which I find in an old journal of mind kept at that time, will give a clear idea of his way of working as author. After the completion of Volume I of this book, in June, 1871, he meant, after the summer’s rest, to go right on into Volume II; but in January, 1872, he commenced the first of his three series of “Lectures on Preaching” before the Yale Divinity School, so that he did very little writing—on the book, none. He was reading, however. One day I went in and found him deep in a book, before the fire. “I’m reading up on miracles,” he cried, with a kind of glee; “I feel the swellings of new buds; I shall have to begin again soon!”
But he did not. On April 29 I said to him, “Do you know that March 1st is gone, and April 1st is gone, and May 1st is at hand, and that new writing is not even begun?” “I do, to my sorrow,” he answered. “And to-morrow, unless the Lord hates me, I shall begin upon it.”
So the next morning, when I called in, he was up in his study. He had his “Volume I” before him, his “Consolidated Gospels,” and a clean lot of paper. “The next thing,” said he, “is the Gadarenes and the pigs,” and he gave a funny snuffle. “I don’t know exactly how to treat that episode. If I come at it from the critical and explanatory side, I invite attack from all quarters—for I can’t agree with everybody, and as to fighting in this book, I won’t! There is a graphic and dramatic way of treating all these strange and miraculous elements, as Shakespeare treated the supernatural — using it for his purpose, but leaving it without an attempt to explain or make it intelligibly real. In fact, these things occur in the New Testament history in much that way. They come quietly into view, like a cloud — which looms up, casts its shadow on the landscape for a time, and passes away without effort or commotion. Treated thus, they offend no darling theory; no critic is agitated to attack the view, and the moral and spiritual effect aimed at is achieved. , I don’t know what the critics would have done with my book without that chapter on ‘The Doctrinal Basis.’ That seems their only hold; to all the rest they are mild as milk. After all, this attempting to theologize on God and his manifestation in Jesus is but the meagerest and poorest way of getting at him. The theory— any theory of that problem — never made a man a Christian yet; but the simple statement that God so loved the world that he sent his own Son to die for it, that is intelligible to the heart of man. It is at once a force, a motive. The attempt to commute a moral impulse into an intellectual idea is about like changing grapes into wine. The wine is good for some purposes, undoubtedly, but it isn’t grapes — the form is changed and it becomes an entirely different thing.”
And, in fact, that single chapter was the only portion objected to by anybody; it was theological, and that was enough to invite dissent. The volume stands to-day a fit memorial of the intellectual and spiritual nature of the man; a treasury of noble thoughts, of delicate imaginings, of stimulating suggestions, shrewd readings of human nature, a profound insight into the character of Jesus. It is a great example of Mr. Beecher’s wonderfully combined common sense and lofty spirituality.
After some more talking about the topic in hand, he said, “Well, now you shall see me begin Volume Second,” and with his spattering quill he dashed off the title of the next chapter.
He had two “good days,” and when I saw him on the evening of the second, he said, “I had expected to have a severe tussle with those maniacs and devils among the Gadarenes, but I think I’ve finished them; another such day and I'll have finished my chapter.”
I mentioned a certain book we had been discussing previously, and asked if he found it of any special use. “No,” he replied, “I find no single book helpful when I am actively at work. I do not generally like to read studiously any one book when I am writing. I am very sensitive to books, and do not wish to get myself impressed in any given direction. I prefer to take up one after another, especially books of original investigation, and get the general effect of their views. Thus I am able to form my own opinion under the cross-lights of all these others, and the result is that my way of stating it, when completed, is more likely to be true and less likely to be offensiye to any. I try to find the elements of truth in each, and so to get a many—sided view.”
I find among my fragmentary memoranda of those days one dated “Christmas, 1874,” which gives one of his suggestive ways of looking at the familiar gospel story, which I do not believe he ever put upon paper. He said:
“I have just been planning out a new chapter.” With the publisher’s instinct, I asked, “Did you jot it down?” “No; it is a very clear line of thought. It is the development of contrast between the apparent literalness and the real mysticism of Christ’s teachings. All through his life and sayings ran a double line. He, himself, knew it and avowed it. He taught them in parables, that hearing they might not understand; and they felt it, too, for they came to him and asked, ‘How long makest thou us to doubt?’ Now, in view of this, look back at the Sermon on the Mount. There was proclaimed a line of ethics in regard to personal morality, to honesty, to self-defense, etc., that if taken literally would be utterly subversive of society. See how it comes out in John’s Gospel and grows more and more strong to the very end! How he plays with the figures of the vine, the life, the light, bread, wine, mansions, etc., flashing them here and there like illusions! He was the most mystical and figurative of teachers. In face of this, when people come to some single point, like the finality of punishment, see how they pin you down to the literal words given in translation as the words of Jesus — ‘He said so and so’ — as if he were usually given to saying the exact, literal thing that he meant !”
During 1872-3 Mr. Beecher wrote seven or eight chapters of the Second Volume; then other matters broke in, the building process was stopped, and although he several times tried to start it again — notably in the last year of his life — the grand work stands uncompleted, except as it was pieced out, in most interesting fashion, from his sermons, by his son, William C. Beecher, and his son-in-law. Rev. Samuel Scoville. And the possibility of that, by the way, shows how his interests and studies kept him upon the line of the Master’s words and works through many years.
Despite the fact that Mr. Beecher did a vast amount of writing, the mechanical effort of putting pen to paper so lagged behind his thought that it was a perpetual hindrance and annoyance to him. In proof-reading, too, he suffered the disadvantage of having his words come back to him as something not altogether his own. At the time of utterance, his thinking pressed for outlet so that he gave little heed to form. Although the general matter was prepared beforehand, and long habit had given him command of a noble vocabulary and a forceful style, his plan often changed while he was preaching; its presentation was incited by the moment, and its mode was in all details a matter of “unconscious cerebration.” It was somewhat so, too, in writing, for be wrote as he spoke, in heat; and when the material came before him in cold printer’s ink it was, in a manner, strange to him; so that instead of merely “correcting,” he found stimulus to fresh thinking, and was apt to make havoc with the printer’s work. All these things hindered him, both in authorship and in journalistic work. His sermons he rarely saw until they came to him in the Plymouth Pulpit pamphlet; he left to others their correcting, a certain rough editing of obvious tongue-slips, and the giving of titles.
Yet, that his discourses were thoroughly planned was made evident when the manuscript report of one of his “Yale Lectures on Preaching” had been lost, and the stenographer had by some fatality mislaid or destroyed his notes. Mr. Beecher sat patiently and reproduced the lecture — of course, not in the original words, but in the distinct line of thought — while it was stenographically taken over again for publication. His ideas were clear to his own mind; when he changed during preaching, it was because he came upon something that he considered more important than his original preparation. In writing, he did less of this than most men. His manuscripts and proofs of the Life of Christ show many changes of expression, but not many alterations in the idea he had chosen to put forward.
One of Mr. Beecher’s editorial labors should be at least mentioned — the “Plymouth Collection of Hymns and Tunes,” the pioneer of Congregational singing in America, with a word as to its courageous inclusion, greatly to the enrichment of worship, of hymns from Catholic, Unitarian and other sources, then unusual to the orthodox Protestant.
Mr. Beecher’s editing of The Christian Union deserves more than a final sentence or two. He had had experience in journalism. While a theological student he had for some months edited The Cincinnati Journal, in Indianapolis, The Western Farmer and Gardener, and both with noticeable ability. He had written much for The New York Independent, with national effect, and was for some time its editor. He had his own ideas about a religious paper, and infused them into The Christian Union. He made it purely unsectarian, although he himself was a sturdy Congregationalist, with firm belief in the independence and the fellowship of the churches. As he announced, he did “breathe, through the columns of The Christian Union, Christian love, courage, equity, and gentleness.” He aimed to abolish the “sacred” and “secular” discrimination, and to bring the spirit of Christ to bear upon all the interests of man.
During the first year (1870) he wrote much for the paper (and none on the book); after that he kept his eye, his mind and his heart on the former—and his hand, too — influencing its workers much as he did Plymouth Church. His spirit informed and guided it, and, no less than his name, was the power that swept it to its great success, although ably supplemented by the clear-eyed management and admirable editorial writing of Mr. George S. Merriam, the working editor for five and a half years, who furnished, of course, an indispensable element.
There is no space to detail Mr. Beecher’s many peculiarities — of rapid and forceful writing, of either reluctant or destructive and reconstructive proof-reading, the alternations of despair and exaltation among his co-workers at getting nothing from him, or being rejoiced by an article or inspired by an hour of eloquent talk at the office. The field is wide, but this corner of it is fenced in by the limits of a brief article. And here we must leave it.
The memory of the man, in the consciousness of one who knew him intimately for forty years and worked beside him for twenty, is one of boundless mental resource, perennial humor and sunniness of temper, a profound spirituality, and an amazingly practical embodiment of the spirit of Christ in living goodness. Here was a sweet-souled, great-hearted, Christian, manly man, a life employed with rare singleness of purpose in bringing Christ to men and men to Christ.
LOOKING over my large Beecher library I am at a loss to tell what to omit in a relative estimate. Mr. Beecher himself disclaimed rank among men of letters as he disclaimed place among professional theologians. We cannot imagine Mr. Beecher hanging around a country churchyard seven years to produce one poem, as did Gray. He wrote spontaneously out of his mood and vision, as Burns wrote much of “Tam O’Shanter” during a few moments when Jean Armour stole along quietly behind him in the broom-corn on the bank of the Nith. He was a prose poet, endowed for work of the first order. Like his Master, he wrote on the popular heart rather than on parchment. He spoke in parables to the whole man instead of risking content with more limited influence. Literature as the incarnation rather than the dress of thought, he held in high esteem. From this point of view his literary work has been vastly underestimated. His humanism is so unique that his books will abide. The odium theologicum, not above bringing to its aid false witness and scandal, has only a little delayed a more just estimate of his literary work.
Even in the chance fragments culled from his sermons he was great. He rose in spite of the “periodical misreports of the reporters.” Many well-arranged anthologies have appeared. One extensive selection of five hundred indexed pages was compiled by Rev. G. D. Evans, of London (1870), and entitled, “One Thousand Gems,” veritable “apples of gold in pictures of silver.” The English publishers have often been more diligent to gather Mr. Beecher’s sermons and scatter them over the world than have our own. Mr. Dickinson, of Farringdon Street, London, sold me two volumes entitled, “Forty-eight Sermons by Henry Ward Beecher, Preached Previous to 1867.” Up to that time, on this side of the sea, no enterprise corresponds to that period save the elephantiasis issues of The Independent and some old-time journals.
About 1867 Dr. Lyman Abbott began a better selection. From five hundred sermons he, with the aid of Mr. Beecher, chose forty-six, representing much variety of theme, construction and treatment. The next series of sermons is now published in ten volumes under five covers, containing two hundred and sixty-three sermons. This treasure mine is so much of it pure gold that no one has proposed to smelt it over, certainly not into forty-six sermons for this period between 1869-73.
If a theological student can get only one series of Mn Beecher’s sermons, his choice should fall upon the series from 1873-75, being one hundred and four sermons in four volumes, representing the height of his personality and pulpit power.
From 1875 on, the authorized publication of his sermons continued in unabated power, as found in the weekly issue of Plymouth Pulpit. Special note should be made of the anticipation of the newer Bible study in his “Bible Studies,” or the publication of certain Sunday evening lectures. The volume, “Evolution and Religion,” dealt with nature, revelation and the background of mystery, and other related themes. It was his last great message to a generation of youth trained in scientific studies or indirectly affected by them. It was the message of a teacher calmly unfolding the results of the long brooding and practical years; a teacher who taught what he termed a “seminal theory of development” long before the publication of the “Origin of Species.”
The best work of Mr. Beecher’s life, before, during, or after the war, was done under fire. The “Life of Christ” was written during his trouble of the seventies. Asked why he did not write about the later scenes as well as the earlier in the life of our Lord he replied, “Perhaps God has a Gethsemane for me to pass through as a preparation for that work.”
Another book indispensable for the young man entering the ministry is the “Yale Lectures on Preaching,” delivered in three series from 1872 to 1874. Comparing them with each other, the third series is the best, the first series ranks next and the second series, though valuable, is third in relative importance.
Let us not fail to note how unbiased men, for example, in Great Britain, who knew him almost entirely by his books, regarded him. For this testimony read “A Summer in England with Henry Ward Beecher” (1886), compiled by the late Major James B. Pond. There are passages in this book, quoted from Mr. Beecher, which represent a very apotheosis of friendship, heart power and benediction. Nothing in the classic memoirs of Charles Kingsley, F. D. Maurice or Norman Macleod equals them.
The volume entitled “Patriotic Addresses” is his one book appealing to all sorts of civilized and uncivilized men. It is an octavo of eight hundred and fifty-seven pages. Here lives again the victorious reformer, prophet-statesman and orator, glowing in cold type, converting the public sentiment of Britain from hate to neutrality, and finally to friendship with enthusiasm; raising the flag at Sumter, “without the loss of a single star”; making himself almost a necessity to the salvation of this whole brave nation; affording material for an American epic by an American Homer, perchance some untrammeled Burns, whose poetic genius, more likely than not, will find him in the wilderness, as Lincoln and Beecher were found.
As the light of day fades on his honest toil his words ring the angelus of a new church catholic, and chime the chant of faith and hope and love; words matchless, home-stained, radiant, condensed, sunbeams burning and beautiful; words of our great friend and commoner, the minister of racial brotherhood and divine love, Henry Ward Beecher
SUPPLEMENTARY TO BOOKS MENTIONED IN FOREGOING ARTICLE. A.B.P.
1. THE Seven Lectures to Young Men delivered at Indianapolis is the’ “eldest born” of Mr. Beecher’s books (1844). To this volume were added five more lectures of the same period. D. Appleton and Company, 1879, is the copyright mark of my copy. This is written in his early tropical style, but not overdrawn for life in the West at that time. When Dr. James Brand, of Oberlin, applied in a sermon the personification of the “corrupter of youth” (page 187) to one Thad. Rowland, reputed as a masked saloon-keeper of a drug-store in Oberlin, there was enough ginger left in the lecture on Popular Amusements to result in Dr. Brand being sued for two thousand dollars, and costing quite a little trouble. Mr. Beecher remarked at the time (during the early eighties) that his lecture was what now seemed to him like “ripping and roaring.”
2. Star Papers, or Experiences of Art and Nature, 1855. Reappeared 1873 with additional articles selected from more recent writings. These papers contain the glow of the enthusiasm of his first trip to Europe, articles on Ride to Kenilworth, Stratford, Shottery, Oxford, Luxembourg, National Gallery, etc., also his vacation experiences in America.
3. Life Thoughts, 1858. Compiled by Edna Dean Proctor. These were gathered from notes taken from the Sabbath sermons and Wednesday evening lectures. “Leaves” which happened to fall into the hands of one or two persons from a “full-boughed tree” “during two successive seasons.” — Preface.
4. Views and Experiences on Religious Subjects, or New Star Papers, 1859. “These articles were taken for the most part from The New York Independent. If unworthy of a book form the public has itself to blame, in part, for encouraging a like collection of Star Papers some years ago.”— H. W. B. They are heart talks, including a famous sermon at Burton’s Old Theater on “How to Become a Christian,” quoted in full by Dr. Abbott in his first book on Mr. Beecher, prepared with the help of Mr. Halliaday.
5. Eyes and Ears, 1862. About one hundred wide-awake articles which appeared first in The New York Ledger under the title, “Thoughts as They Occur to One Who Keeps His Eyes and Ears Open.” They are written in happy moods, and “inspire a love for nature.” It is the most miscellaneous in the topics of its chapters of all his works. It is written in an easy, offhand style, breezy and wholesome, unstudied, unpretentious, and very characteristic.
6. Norwood, 1867. Mr. Beecher’s only attempt at fiction, being an interesting tale of New England life, written as a serial for The New York Ledger at the request of Robert Bonner.
7. Pleasant Talks about Fruits, Flowers and Farming. Mr. Beecher prepared for these talks by reading Loudon’s ponderous tomes, as a let-down from excitement of public speech at Indianapolis. They are very dry reading for most people, but the “talks” are anything but dry.
8. Prayers. Several volumes. (a) Prayers from Plymouth Pulpit. A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1895. (b) Prayers in the Congregation, selected by Rev. J. R. Brown. James Clarke and Company, London, 1886. (c) A Book of Prayer. Fords, Howard and Hulbert, 1892. (d) Aids to Prayer. Beecher, Anson D. F. Randolph and Company, New York. (No date.)
9. Beecher as a Humorist, Eleanor Kirk. Fords, Howard and Hulbert, 1887. Extracts from his public utterances. Mr. Beecher owed much to the spontaneity of humor, and this is the only volume set apart for this phase of his power.
10. Lecture Room Talks, 1870. Pages 378. I. B. Ford and Company. The very best book by which to get close to Mr. Beecher as he appeared at the week-night prayer meetings of Plymouth Church. This contains his parting words on the occasion of his second trip to Europe in 1863.
11. A Summer Parish, 1875. I. B. Ford and Company. Sermons at the Twin Mountain House, New Hampshire. 1874. Very interesting, but out of print.
12. Religion and Duty. James Clarke and Company, London, 1887. “Sunday” readings from Henry Ward Beecher, selected and arranged by Rev. J. Reeves Brown. We have here, not the ordinary short selections, but fifty-two chapters.
13. Royal Truths, “reported from the spoken words of Mr. Beecher.” This has passed through very many editions, from 1866 to 1887. An anthology.
14. Henry Ward Beecher’s Last Sermons, preached in Plymouth Church, Brooklyn, after his return from England, October, 1886. London, James Clarke and Company, 1887.
As a Citizen, by Rev. Lyman Abbott, D.D.
Ruling Ideas of his Sermons, by Rev. Newell Dwight Hillis, D.D.
As an Orator, by Rev. Frank W. Gunsaulus, D.D.
An English Estimate, by Rev. W. J. Dawson, D.D.
As Author and Editor, by John R. Howard
His Contribution to Literature, by Rev. Alford B. Penniman
Mr. Beecher in Private Life, by Rossiter W. Raymond
The Henry Ward Beecher of My Childhood, by Rev. R. DeW. Mallary
Undergraduate Days, by Walter A. Dyer
Mr. Beecher and Two Plymouth Boys, by Edwaid Bok
The Beecher Rifles Church, by C. M Harger
Mr. Beecher’s Yale Lectures, by Prof. George P. Fisher
A Young Theologue’s Impressions, by Rev. Hugh Pedley
An Evening Hour at Beecher’s Home, by Rev. A. S. Walker, D.D.
An Ex-Slave’s Impressions, by Maggie Porter Cole
Rev. Amory H. Bradford, D.D
Fred W. Hinrichs
George W. Cable
Oliver Otis Howard
John White Chadwick
Julia Ward Howe
George William Curtis
Oliver Wendell Holmes
APPRECIATIONS OF MR. BEECHER ON THE OCCASION OF THE CENTENARY OF HIS BIRTH
He Changed the Conception of Religion, by Lyman Abbott
A Man of Genius, by George A. Gordon
Religion Born Anew in Him, by G. G. Atkins
A Personal Tribute, by Charles F. Aked
A Great Life and a Great Message, by Nehemiah Boynton
Why the People Love Henry Ward Beecher, by Newell Dwight Hillis
His Emphasis on the Fatherhood of God, by Charles E. Jefferson
A Champion of Freedom, by Samuel G. Smith
A Princely Man, a Peerless Preacher, by A. Z. Conrad
Still Ruling Brooklyn, by N. McGee Waters
A Great “Human,” by Daniel Evans
A Humanizer of Theology, by Raymond Calkins
My Personal Indebtedness, by Frank O. Smith
His Influence Still Felt in Plymouth Church, by Rossiter W. Raymond
Five Vivid Impressions, by Byron R. Long
Mr. Beecher in England, by James Johnston
What I Owe to Mr. Beecher, by Harry P. Dewey
A Hartford Admirer’s Word of Appreciation, by Joseph H. Twichell
A Pioneer in Social Christianity, by Harry Emerson Fosdick
He Shaped the Messages of Others, by W. C. Bitting
A Preacher of Religion, by William F. McDowell
As a Presbyterian Sees Him, by William Pierson Merrill