Lyman Beecher.

Autobiography, correspondence, & c. .. online

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admire them. But when Lyman Beecher enters you have
a new sensation. There is mystery and majesty about that
plain, ruddy, nervous old man, which begets awe and rev-
erence. Have we not all felt this in his best days, and had
a shading of it on us even to the close of his life? We

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have felt that, like a great sea or a great moantain, Lyman
Beecher had heights and depths of greatness which we had
never exhausted. He was most ready and frank in comma-
nication, bat the depth, and force, and fertility of the stream
only led as to a higher estimate of the resources of the hid-
den, ezhaastless fountain. I mean no disrespect to any body
when I express the opinion that in massive talent Lyman
Beecher stood among his brethren like Daniel Webster in
the Senate — alone.

" I have no space here to trace any proper delineation of
Dr. Beecher. I owe to the memory of his love, confidence,
and steady friendship a debt which I shall not attempt to
discharge. In what remains of this communication I desire
to recall him to his friends and to his ministerial brethren
in some of his marked peculiarities. l5r. Beecher's wit was
perennial, and it derived an attraction from his blunt, quaint
mode of expression. I close with a few specimens, which
I heard from his own lips. I could famish a great store of
similar ones.

^* I was dining with him in Cincinnati in 1 833. His daugh-
ter, coming in from a ride, told how a little dog had started
from a door-step as she passed, rushed through the door-
yard, around through the fence, came to her horse, opened
his mouth, and was — silent. ^ Don't you know the cause of
that ?' said the doctor. ' No,' said Catharine. * Why, it was
a case of vox IubsU faucibua^^ said the doctor.

*'A brother minister was making a lame argument in
Presbytery. * Brainerd,' said the doctor, * I had rather be
before that gun than behind it.'

"Another minister of the Presbytery, who, by-the-by, was
a New England man, but greatly alarmed for the orthodoxy
of the Church, had a habit of looking up and swinging his
head to and fro while he belabored the New School In the

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midst of one of his prosy speeches the doctor grew impa-
tient. * Brainerd,' said he, ' did you ever know a man who
looked to heaven so much for light and got so little ?'

^^ A newspaper at Oberlin had said that other seminaries
only sent out great theological babies. ^Better send oat
great babies than little ones,' he remarked.

** Rev. Dr. Wilson wished us to try Dr. Beecher x>n com-
mon fame of heresy in the West. Dr. Beecher replied that
this common fame was made by Wilson himself. 'One
. wolf,' said he, ' will howl on the mountains in so many tones
you'd think there were a dozen.'

''In traveling with him in the deep mud of Kentucky, in
1834, our stage stuck. The doctor started across the ditch
for a rail. ' Stop,' said I, ' doctor, let me go. I have boots
on, and you shoes.' 'No,' says he, 'I haven't shoes on ; they
are both there sticking in the ditch.' On the same journey
we were twice upset. Some were timid, but the doctor was
entirely unmoved. 'My passage,' said he, 'is paid.' He
seemed incapable of fear.

"I once asked him if he found any difficulty in sustaining
himself amid the pulpit competitions of great cities. ' No,'
said he ; ' I have had the hardest race with myself.'

" The question was up in the Presbjrtery of Cincinnati
whether we should divide a village church ? ' Make two,'
says Dr. Beecher ; ' Adam and grace will do twice as much
as grace alone.'

" He was urging meekness on his Church in Cincinnati
He told them ' that in the entire constellation of their Chris-
tian virtues it would require a telescope of unusual power
to discern the grace of meekness.' While he said this he
suited the action to the word, as if peering into the heavens.

" In discussing before his class whether the planets were
peopled, he said : ' Kany body was there and saw our earth.

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and inferred it was inhabited, tbey would be rigbt, for we
are here. Now,' says he, ' we'll put the bullet into the oth-
er end of the gun and fire it back again.'

*^ I have written enough for the present. I shall be satis-
fied if this crude sketch shall avail to recall the blessed mem-
ory of the dear old doctor to his friends."

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As early as 1843 Dr. Beecber had resigned his pastoral
relation to the Second Church. In his letter to the Session
he had said,

*' This can not be done, I find, without an emotion such
as I have never experienced before in resigning a pastoral
charge. Each of my three resignations hitherto has been
with reference to the anticipated formation of another in
the bosom pf an affectionate people, while this closes prob-
ably my pastoral relations and labors, and consigns me
wholly to another sphere of employment, that I may be
permitted to consecrate my energies wholly to the rear-
ing up a ministry for the West. In this, though my heart
must make sacrifices, my judgment and conscience are sat-

He still continued, however, to preach on the Sabbath as
occasion offered, either at the seminary chapel or in some
of the newly-organized churches of the city.

In 1847 (March 22) he writes, ^^ I have been preaching for
two months in the Seventh Street Church. Numbers at
first small ; all Church-members nearly ; almost no congre-
gation. I began, six weeks ago, to preach strong revival
sermons to the Church and also to sinners, with as strong
revival fullness as I ever had, and as great power in preach-
ing. By God'ii mercy, it has raised up the Church to pray-
er and effort, in as favorable a state as I ever knew a Church.
The congregation is increasing, and sinners begin to be

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awakened. I attended an inqaiiy meeting yesterday, and
expect to once or twice a week.

^' As I have not been able to get my wbole salary at the
seminary for a number of years past, and as they are now
getting out of debt by the rise of land and property, so that
they will soon be endowed and able to pay me, I have be-
come quite unexpectedly rich in my old age ; so that, if I
should be incapable of self-support for a season before being
called home, I may perhaps piece out life without calling on
children or others for aid." ' '

April 30 of the same year he writes' to Esther, then visit-
ing at Port Wayne : " A letter from you is the greatest of
novelties, and of all most welcome. This winter, for the first
time since I had children, I have been without one at home
or near me, and really good as my wife is, it wilhseem lone-
ly, and makes time often hang heavy on my spirits. At
length I made up my mind firmly to write and tell you it
did not signify, you must come on and help to fill the aching
void, when lo ! your letter came, the more welcome because
spontaneous, and evidently the result of vacancies and long-
ings somewhat like my own, and especially as you seemed
to have such a kind of longing for me as was prompting me
to write to you.

^^ Our arrangements for the summer are to stay at home
and keep house, so come quick and see if we can not aUevi-
ate the leaden weight of time by communing of the present
and of the* unforgotten past, which at length begins to loom
up, and seem bigger and brighter in the distance. So pleas-
ant is retrospection, I wonder we did not enjoy it more
when we had it in possession.

^'As for Scotland, about which you ask, they are all
Scotch Yankees; and as for London, they — the middle
classes — are well-bred Americans, and London itself is as


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pretty a city as any in America except New Haven, which
is the prettiest in the worlds seen or unseen."

Then, after mentioning the conversion of Thomas and the
encouraging condition of James, he continues : '* Oh what
mercies of our Gk)d and Savior, in giving us heart and wis-
dom to guide and guard so large a family, of so much mind
and impetus, through such a world as this to himself and to
heaven ! And how precious to you must be the thought
that your presence, and that of your mother in and around
my family, with your care, counsel, example, and prayers,
will no doubt be found in the last day to have had a deep
and decisive inj9uence in their conversion and usefulness, and
preparation for heaven. So I, and so all of us think, and in
thinking so, I can not open my mouth to thank you, because
words are inadequate to express my coniftant and rinsleep-
ing gratitude for your love and care of me and mine in those
vicissitudes of sorrow when none but you could have filled
a mother's place.

^^ But pen and ink are cold. Come and let us pray to-
gether, and give thanks together for what ihe Lord has
done for us, and, if the Lord will, come to be no more- separ
rated from me till he shall call us home to be reunited to
those happy spirits, Roxana, Mary Hubbard, Harriet Porter,
George Beecher, and the multitude with whom we have
taken sweet counsel in joy and sorrow, and Sabbath wor-
ship, and missions, and revivals, which have filled up so
many of our days.

" Love to all at Fort Wayne. Ask Charles why he don't
write to me in my lonely, childless state — ^that old gentle-
man that rode seventy miles in twenty hours to see him safe-
ly launched in the ministry."

May 6, 1847, he writes to his son William: "I have re-
ceived a letter from the moderator of Erie Presbytery, say-

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in^ they have deolined to send commissioners to the ap-
proaching Assembly at Cincinnati, from disbelief in some,
and doubt in others, of the constitutionality of the Assem-
bly, and we hear of some others doing the same ; while all
accounts agree that the slaveholding portion will send every
man, so as to rule Graham's case against us,* which, if they
should do it, would split off half our Western Church and
more too, and, between vexation and discouragement, send
many to Congregationalism, and some to Old School and
some tP Independent Presbyterianism, and, on the whole,
leave us but a remnant to be saved.

^^ It is not safe to risk it. Analogy shows that the South
and West slaveholders in civil matters are mad, and will do
what they can. Constitution or no Constitution, and the cler-
gy are bound hand and foot to their chariot-wheels, drive
they never so furiously. I hope, therefore, yon will be able
to make arrangements to come.''

July 3, 1847, to his son at Fort Wayne he writes, "Tour
account of your two children, in their developments, seems
as if yon had got some of my old letters to Grandmother
Foote, from 1808 to 1817, when a succession of young peo-
ple began to give premonition of an order of mind such as
Boxana and I had not seen. Their elements of language
are doubtless innate knowledge, or else the dim reminiscen-
ces of their pre-existent state, fast vanishing away by the
diversions and exigencies of this world. God speed them to
good scholarship, and a copious assortment of good thoughts
and powerful and burning words, till they shall pass from the
dialect of earth to that of heaven — the old forgotten lan-
guage, I suppose. Don't you think, if we could any how
get a peep at the libraries above, we could make some splen-

* Mr. Graham had written a book in defense of BlaTehoIding, which
the Cincinnati Presbytery ha4 condemned.

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did dlBCoyeries, whioh exist, spite of onr telescopic minds,
very much not ' tw,' but ^uUra nvbibuaf^ "

November 2, 1847. The following is from aletter to Henry
Ward : *'*' Here I am in my study all alone, not a child at
home, and having now until bedtime nothing in particular
to do, I have concluded to write a letter to every one of my
children as fast as I can write them, so as to get an answer
at least once a month or six weeks — a swamp of letters
around me, the best compensation for their presence ; and
having now your bright, loving, witty countenance beaming
down upon me, I begin to write to you, because, also, yon
have so recently passed away to other interesting scenes
in Brooklyn, about which I wish you to tell me, as historic-
ally and chronologically as you can — ^a letter full, and quick,
or I shall soon have another letter after you. I know yon
have many cares, but I have never given a quit-claim to all
your time, and I believe your conscience and heart will both
say you ought to give me the run of your doings, and con-
tribute your portion to keep me somewhat filled with the
conversation of my children.

" For the first time in my public life I have now no pas-
toral responsibilities and stated preaching on the Sabbath,
when my month shall be out at the seminary chapel. What
shall I do — a soul without a body ? But the Lord will pro-
vide, for preach I must, so long as flesh and heait fail not."

January 2, 1848. To the same he writes, ^'You are a
good boy for writing me that long, comforting letter. It
cheered us all. I thank you for your Thanksgiving sermon ;
and though I could not write as you do, it is a pleasure to
think that perhaps you have breathed an atmosphere with
me without which you might not have been able to do it.
You can not conceive how much joy your successful revi-
val labors afford me, and that efficient influence you are be-

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COBBBSPONDBNCB, 1847-61. 641

ginning to exert on the public mind, somewhat in the way
God has helped me to do ; and that so near the close of my
day I see the wisdom of God and the power of God in
yomiger hands, to send on the glorions, growing work down
through another generation. God preserve and bless you !''

In the summer of 1860 Dr. Beecher resigned the Theolog-
ical Professorship in Lane Seminary. His views and feel-
ings in so doing are expressed in the following extract of a
letter written some months previously :

" I approach this change, not with the regrets of mortified
ambition, but with the concurrence of my sober judgment
in respect to its expediency at my time of life, and from a
long-cherished purpose and earnest desire to withdraw from
any considerable responsibility as soon as the finances of the
seminary would permit, that I may give undivided attention
to some of my own writings, which without my revision
must be useless, and which, if it pleases God to spare me
with health a little longer, I think may be useftd to the
Church of God, in which I am sustained by the opinions and
wishes of many."

Appropriate resolutions were adopted by the trustees, in
which, after expressing their high esteem and affection, they
declare "that without his generous co-operation they do not
believe this school of the Prophets could have been estab-
lished on its present broad and liberal basis, and appoint him
* Emeritus Professor of Theology,' requesting him, at the
same time, to retain the presidency of the institution."

In December, 1860, he writes to Dr. Taylor, expressing
his views and feelings in relation to a recent attack on Yale
College, with which he had been represented as sympathiz-
ing. " * * * As for Tale, she is my mother, the au-
thor of my literary and theological being, and of all my la-

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bors for the Charch of God, aud if I do not defend her when
assailed, let my tongue cleave to the roof of mj mouth.

" And as to you, my brother, with whom for forty years
I have been associated in affection, and confidence, and coun-
sels, and prayers, and revivals, and missions, and reforma-
tions, and joys, and sorrows, till the shades of evening be-
gin to fall upon us, and the light of other suns through faith
begin to brighten upon our upward vision, what shall I say ?
Had others seen and known what I have seen and known
of the integrity of your heart and the grief of your soul from
the commencement of these trials, you would need no other
exposition or advocate ; and all that now I have to say or
need to say is, very precious hast thou been unto me, my
brother, and precious art thou still, and precious forever
wilt thou be, I doubt not, in the presence and glory of our
common Lord."

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In May, 1851, Dr. Beecher left the West and returned to
New England. His son-in-law, Professor Stowe, had pre-
ceded him, and was now residing in Brnnswiok, Maine.
Thither the doctor at first turned his steps, and spent the
summer in preparing his writings for the press, with the as-
sistance of his danghtor-in-law, Mrs. Louisa Dickinson. In
the fall he returned to Boston, where his son. Dr. Edward
Beecher, was residing as pastor of Salem Church, having,
since 1844, resigned the presidency of Illinois College.

Here, " in his own hired house,'* at No. 18 Hayward Place,
Dr. Beecher pursued his literary labors, issuing the first vol-
ume of his works in 1852, and the third in 1853, comprising
his Lectures on Political Atheism, his Sermons on Intemper-
ance, his Occasional Sermons, and his Views in Theology.

These volumes were brought out by John P. Jewett &
Co., just after the publication, by the same firm, of Uncle
Tom's Cabin, and just before the appearance of The Con-
flict of Ages, formidable competitors, both, for the public at-
tention. The series of volumes, however, was not destined
to be completed. The Autobiography was still to be writ-
ten. Considerable progress was made, however, in the prep-
aration of materials for the same. Assisted by his daughter-
in-law, he collated, endorsed, and arranged a vast mass of
papers, and it is truly surprising, considering his apparently
careless habits, how careful in some things he was found act-
ually to have been. Of the numerous long and important

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letters written at different times in his life, he had rarely
failed to preserve copies. His papers and MSS. might be,
as has been described in a previous chapter, in admirable
confusion, bat, in spite of the chaos, he held on upon all doc-
uments of real yalue with a tenacity and vigilance nothing
could elude. Moreover, although he might generally neg-
lect to cross his t's and dot his i's, it is worthy of special
notice that he never &iled to dcUe his leiters^ giving both
the year, the month, and the day of the month, which is
more than can be said of some of his posterity. Hence,
when he came to collect and file the correspondence of his
life, there was found, together with what came from col-
lateral sources, enough for two biographies. The whole pe-
riod of his Western life might almost be written anew, with
equal fullness, without using any of the material already

^ During this period of his second residence in Boston, al-
though his memory of names and places, and the copious-
ness of language necessary for public speaking were filing,
his inward trains of thought seemed as strong and as vivid
as ever. It was in the course of 1853 and onward that,
during successive visits at Mrs. Stowe's, in Andover, he re-
lated the reminiscences which have been incorporated with
these pages. That his memory was at this time entirely re-
liable, except in relation to proper names and the chrono-
logical order of events, is certain, his statements being in
every instance fully corroborated, at a subsequent period,
by his correspondence and other infallible data. In some
cases we have found incidents better told in contemporary
documents, but never contradicted or fiftlsified in any mate-
rial particular, while in repeated instances the oral narrative
was most comprehensive, vivacious, and exact.
Nor was he at this time at all indifferent to the theolog-

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ioal oontroversiefl of the iiour. On the contrary, he felt in
them a peculiar interest, as being the logical seqtfel of those
in which he had borne so prominent a part. The same
great battle was still raging between Absolutism and Moral
€k>yemment, although the leading champions and the field
of confUot were singularly changed. Around Andover now
was concentrating the fire that a while before had blazed
against New Haven, and upon the successor of Dr. Woods
was beating the storm of accusation which had formerly
burst upon Dr. Taylor.

The Panoplist, a thin and airy shadow of the ancient
magazine of that name, had recently arisen to proclaim a
new crisis Hke that which had aroused the zeal of a Morse
and of an Evarts, and to assert the existence of a wide-
spread and fatal apostasy begun in the nominally orthodox
churches of New England.^ In defense of the great body of
New England churches and ministers, an important part
was performed by the Congregationalist, a weekly newspar
per established in 1850 for that purpose. In a masterly
series of articles, through a period of several years, the real
character and history of New England theology was set
forth with comprehensiveness of survey, fullness of reading,
and accuracy of discrimination.

Among other articles was one on the philosophy of self-
contradiction. Several of the most distinguished New En-
gland divines, ancient and modem, were sho^v^n to have writ-
ten on two, and some on three sides of the same question.
The causes of the phenomenon were pointed out. One aft-
er another of the former assailants of New Haven, now
leagued against Andover, was stretched upon the rack by
the imperturbable Congregationalist, with the utmost sang
froid. Not a syllable of all this was lost on Dr.Beecher,
who, while in his third volume successfully retorting a sim-

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ilar charge npon his Princeton accnsers, saw more than po<
etical justice meted out to their New England allies. The
closing portion of his third volume, to which we have just
referred, entitled ^' Remarks on the Princeton Review,'' was
the last effort at composition in which the mind of Dr.
Beecher was efficiently engaged. Traces of the same band
that indited the leaders of the Congregationalist are through-
out that article apparent. It was a joint production, in
which is fulfilled the saying of the Psalmist, ^^As arrows
in the hand of a mighty man, so are children of the youth;
happy is he that hath his quiver fulUof them ; they shall not
be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the

For several years after his return to Boston, Dr. Beecher
continued to preach occasionally wherever his services were
required ; attending divine worship, when not thus engaged,
at Park Street, under the highly-appreciated ministrations
of Rev. A. L. Stone, D.D. Nor were his labors at this time
barren nor unfruitful in the Lord. Several churches in the
vicinity were materially strengthened by his instrumentality.
To have a revival was still his bean ideal of earthly felidty,
and not a few gems, it is believed, were added to his crown
in these autumn gleanings.

The foUowiDg incident is .mentioned by Mrs. Beecher :
^' Before your father went to the West, at the time when he
was laying the foundations of churches all around Boston,
he and Dr. Chaplin, of Cambridgeport, had their eye on Wa-
tertown, about three miles and a half from the college.
There was but one Congregational Church in the place, and
that was Unitarian, and as all the influential men belonged
to that Church, it was difficult to gain a foothold there.
They, however, rode out there one day to see if a location
could be found on which to build a church, and see what

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could be done. They fopnd a desirable lot, bat somehow it
become known that they had been there, and what their ob-
ject was, and the ground was at once bought by one of the
existing society. Dr. Chaplin died soon after, and your fa-
ther finally left for the West without seeing his intentions

" On our return from the West, after an interval of twen-
ty-five years, a gentleman called on your fiither to ask him
if he would go to Watertown and preach in the Town Hall
to a few persons who felt they must have the Gospel estab-
lished there, and they had confidence, if he would come and
preach for them, their number would soon be increased.
^ Yes,' he exclaimed, ^ that I will ; I know of no place where
I will so gladly bestow my labors;' and then related to the

Online LibraryLyman BeecherAutobiography, correspondence, & c. .. → online text (page 39 of 42)