“Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?”
“Books are not made for furniture, but there is nothing else that so beautifully furnishes a house.”
“We should not judge people by their peak of excellence; but by the distance they have traveled from the point where they started.”
“Never forget what a man says to you when he is angry.”
“All words are pegs to hang ideas on.”
“The unthankful heart discovers no mercies; but the thankful heart will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings.”
“A library is not a luxury but one of the necessities of life.”
“Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures.”
“Hold yourself responsible for a higher standard than anybody else expects of you. Never excuse yourself. Never pity yourself. Be a hard master to yourself-and be lenient to everybody else.”
“Love cannot endure indifference. It needs to be wanted. Like a lamp, it needs to be fed out of the oil of another's heart, or its flame burns low.”
“The art of being happy lies in the power of extracting happiness from common things.”
“The difference between perseverance and obstinacy is, that one often comes from a strong will, and the other from a strong won't.”
“Hold yourself to a higher standard than anyone else expects of you. Never excuse yourself.”
“Adversity, if for no other reason, is of benefit, since it is sure to bring a season of sober reflection. People see clearer at such times. Storms purify the atmosphere.”
“A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs, jolted by every pebble in the road.”
“A book is a garden, an orchard, a storehouse, a party, a company by the way, a counselor, a multitude of counselors.”
“There are more quarrels smothered by just shutting your mouth, and holding it shut, than by all the wisdom in the world.”
“Young love is a flame; very pretty, often very hot and fierce, but still only light and flickering. The love of the older and disciplined heart is as coals, deep burning, unquenchable.”
“No man is sane who does not know how to be insane on the proper occasions."
“Troubles are often the tools by which God fashions us for better things.”
“No man is more cheated than the selfish man.”
“Greatness lies not in being strong, but in the right use of strength. ”
“Now comes the mystery! (last words)”
“If a man harbors any sort of fear, it percolates through all his thinking, damages his personality, makes him landlord to a ghost.”
“No man can tell whether he is rich or poor by turning to his ledger. It is in the heart that makes a man rich. He is rich according to what he is, not according to what he has”
“There is no friendship, no love, like that of the mother for the child.”
“I can forgive, but I cannot forget, is only another way of saying, I will not forgive. Forgiveness ought to be like a cancelled note - torn in two, and burned up, so that it never can be shown against one. ”
“Books are the windows through
which the soul looks out.”
which the soul looks out.”
“A little library, growing every year, is an honorable part of a man’s history. It is a man’s duty to have books.”
“I never knew how to worship until I knew how to love.”
“The soul without imagination is what an observatory would be without a telescope.”
“Tears are often the telescope by which men see far into heaven.”
“Of all the music that reached farthest into heaven, it is the beating of a loving heart”
“There are joys which long to be ours. God sends ten thousands truths, which come about us like birds seeking inlet; but we are shut up to them, and so they bring us nothing, but sit and sing awhile upon the roof, and then fly away.”
“Every tomorrow has two handles. We can take hold of it with the handle of anxiety or the handle of faith.”
“Pride slays thanksgiving ... A prideful man is seldom a grateful man, for he never thinks he gets as much as he deserves.”
By DEBBY APPLEGATE
The Reverend Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887) was the most popular and controversial Christian minister in the United States for more than three decades, from the 1850s through the 1880s. A notoriously paradoxical figure, Beecher was famous both for both his warmhearted liberal theology, which he dubbed “The Doctrine of Love,” and his fiery public crusades. As he liked to joke, “I am a peace-man, except when I wish to fight.”
Beecher earned international notoriety as a “political preacher” in the tempestuous decade prior to the American Civil War. He was a flamboyant antislavery activist, an early champion of the fledgling Republican Party, and an outspoken supporter of the war against the Confederacy, at a time when all of these stands were extremely contentious. In an era when many Christians believed the Old Testament sanctioned race-based slavery, he showed how the New Testament could be interpreted as repudiating human bondage. Along with his sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of the bestselling novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, Beecher convinced thousands of Americans that the antislavery movement was both godly and socially respectable.
Beecher’s influence extended far beyond religious and political matters. His irreverent and often iconoclastic opinions on science, psychology, art, entertainment, and popular culture helped liberate Americans from stifling prejudices and outworn conventions, and usher in modern patterns of thought. As one admirer wrote after his death in 1887, "Abraham Lincoln emancipated men's bodies; Henry Ward Beecher emancipated their minds. The one delivered them from injustice; the other, from superstition.”
But Beecher’s reputation as both a preacher and a pundit was nearly eclipsed in 1872 when he was accused of seducing one of his church parishioners. For two years, the scandal dominated the press and public conversation. For both his fans and foes, the question of his guilt became a national referendum on all that Beecher had ever said or symbolized. “We can recall no one event since the murder of Lincoln that has so moved the people as this question whether Henry Ward Beecher is the basest of men," declared the New York Herald in summer of 1874.
Henry Ward Beecher was born June 24, 1813, in Litchfield, Connecticut. His father Lyman Beecher (1775-1863) was Connecticut's most prominent Congregational preacher, at a time when the Nutmeg State was one of the country’s last remaining theocracies, in which every household was taxed to support of the state-sanctioned Congregationalist Church. Nationally, Lyman was famous as the last of the great Puritan preachers, a fierce promoter of religious revivals, a staunch defender of Calvinist theology, and a pioneering moral reformer and activist. But Lyman Beecher’s greatest claim to notoriety was as “the father of more brains than anyone in America.”
Lyman instilled all eleven of his children with his sense of divine mission. All seven of Lyman’s sons became ministers and three of his daughters became renowned public reformers. As the eighth born child, Henry was often intimidated by his brilliant, ambitious siblings and his demanding father. Although Henry adored Lyman, he felt deeply scarred by what he saw as his father’s harsh theology and his high expectations. As Henry later lamented, “I supposed myself to be a sinner in the very fact that I did not feel sinful.”
In 1826, Lyman moved the family to Boston, Massachusetts to fight the rise of religious liberalism in the City of Pilgrims. After a rebellious year attending the Boston Latin School, Henry was sent to finish high school at the Mount Pleasant Classical Institute in rural Amherst, Massachusetts.
Henry entered nearby Amherst College in 1830. It was the peak of the Christian revival movement later known as the Second Great Awakening, as well as a time of tremendous intellectual ferment on college campuses. Although a careless student in the classroom, Henry was captivated by the Romantic literature flooding in from Europe and the new popular craze for science. He learned from both the unorthodox principle that no idea is too sacred to test against practical experience. Like most of the Beechers, he was also a passionate supporter of the many idealistic reform movements that promised to bring a new moral order to America.
After graduating in 1834, Henry followed his family to Cincinnati, Ohio, the booming capital of the West, where Lyman was appointed president of the newly established Lane Theological Seminary. (Following ecclesiastical tradition, the Beechers preached in Presbyterian rather than Congregational churches when they lived in the West.)
While studying for the ministry, Henry became embroiled in the increasingly contentious battles over slavery. In 1834, Lane Seminary split bitterly over the question of whether slavery should be immediately abolished. Then in the summer of 1836, anti-abolitionist rioters swept through Cincinnati attacking blacks and white abolitionists. Despite – or perhaps because of -- these traumatic events, in these early years Henry, like the rest of his family, took a cautious stance on the slavery question. He condemned human bondage as a sin but was reluctant to embrace the radical social and political changes – and the violence -- that abolition would bring.
Henry’s first pastorate was in the rough river town of Lawrenceburgh, Indiana, where he married Eunice Bullard, his college sweetheart from Sutton, Massachusetts. Eunice went on to give birth to ten children, only four of whom survived to adulthood. In 1839 he moved to a new church in the fledgling state capital of Indianapolis.
Henry thrived on the western frontier, with its easy manners, wide-open opportunities and unashamed pursuit of happiness. Preaching constantly in log-cabins and raucous open-air camp revival meetings, he shook off his stiff Yankee training, developing an emotional, melodramatic style all his own. Soon, he found that the less he preached of his father’s fire-and-brimstone theology and the more he spoke of Christ’s unconditional love and forgiveness, the more people flocked to him. As his popularity grew and his religion beliefs grew less orthodox, his antislavery views gradually became bolder.
As his reputation rose in the west, Beecher began to attract attention back east. In 1847, when Beecher was 34, several wealthy New York businessmen recruited the promising young preacher to head a new Congregational church in the up-and-coming suburb of Brooklyn Heights, New York. Brooklyn was then known as “The City of Churches,” but no one had ever seen a minister like Henry Ward Beecher, with his odd combination of western informality, eastern education and unabashed showmanship.
Beecher behaved more like a jovial farmer than a somber clergymen, without a trace of holier-than-thou. He shocked the city’s Christians by making jokes from the pulpit, bringing flowers into the church, and inviting his congregation sing the hymns rather than hiring a profession choir, all common practices today. He blasted pretension and hypocrisy of all kinds, especially religious bigotry. “What is Orthodoxy?” thundered Beecher. “I will tell you. Orthodoxy is my doxy, and Heterodoxy is your doxy, that is if your doxy is not like my doxy.”
Even more shocking to many Americans was what he called his all-forgiving “Doctrine of Love,” which upended the dogmas of his childhood. (Opponents gleefully renamed it the “Gospel of Gush.”) God, he insisted, was not an exacting judge, but a loving parent who wants his children to be happy here on earth as well as after death. “It is Love the world wants," Beecher proclaimed to startled audiences in the 1850s. "Higher than morality, higher than philanthropy, higher than worship, comes the love of God. That is the chiefest thing.”
While carefully maintaining the mantle of the Protestant establishment, Beecher’s thinking was increasingly influenced by the iconoclastic ideas of the Transcendentalists, with their emphasis on imagination over reason, spontaneity over formality, self-expression over social convention, and individual conscience over the rule of law. Ralph Waldo Emerson declared Beecher a paragon of “self-reliance,” and a true Transcendentalist in his own way. (By contrast, when Bronson Alcott and Henry David Thoreau visited Plymouth Church, Thoreau was deeply offended by Beecher’s vast confidence and flamboyant style, declaring the preacher a “pagan.”)
His fellow Brooklynite, the poet Walt Whitman, felt a great kinship with him, making sure that Beecher received a first edition of Leaves of Grass. Whitman was convinced that the preacher, in his words, “stole terrifically from it,” in his sermons.
Within months of his arrival in New York, Beecher was drawing huge audiences with emotional, soul-baring sermons. Soon his Plymouth Church became one of the first “mega-churches,” boasting some 2,000 official members and regularly filling its 3,000 seat sanctuary. He became an instant celebrity in the New York press and the building boom in telegraph and railroad lines soon extended his fame across the nation.
Before long Beecher had developed a lucrative side career as a newspaper columnist and a public speaker on the national lecture circuit. By the eve of the Civil War, Plymouth Church was New York’s number one tourist attraction, so popular that the ferries from Manhattan to Brooklyn were dubbed “Beecher Boats.”
Emboldened by his success, Beecher took up the anti-slavery cause in earnest in 1850, just as the United States Congress began debating what would become known as the Compromise of 1850. The Compromise of 1850 was a package of five legislative bills that allowed California to enter the Union as a free state, in exchange for a series of concessions to the South. The most inflammatory provisions were the Fugitive Slave Laws which required Northern citizens to hunt and return runaway slaves or face jail time and a stiff fine.
It was anger over the Compromise that inspired his older sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, to begin writing her epic antislavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Smashing the social taboo against speaking candidly about slavery, Harriet’s story became an international sensation and the best-selling book of nineteenth-century, second only to the Bible in America, sweeping a generation of readers into the antislavery camp.
Neither Henry nor Harriet were ever radical abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison, who denounced the United States Constitution as a “covenant with death and an agreement with hell” and repudiated any form of Christianity that did not call slavery a sin. Instead, Henry attracted thousands of converts to the cause by insisting that the Constitution and the Church need not be rejected wholesale, but merely needed to be reformed. But these moderate views were often overshadowed by his flamboyant stunts and electrifying rhetoric.
Beecher became infamous for sensational stunts, like bringing beautiful light-skinned slave girls up onto the pulpit and then holding “mock slave auctions”, in which he imitated an auctioneer, whipping up the audience until they filled the collection baskets with enough money to buy the freedom of girls. In the spring of 1856, he outraged even many of his supporters by raising funds to send high powered Sharps rifles – “Beecher’s Bibles” they were nicknamed -- to the antislavery settlers fighting the pro-slavery Ruffians in Kansas. He turned his massive church in Brooklyn into one of the leading antislavery institutions in the country.
Scorning the taboo against politics in the pulpit, Beecher threw himself into first the Free Soil movement then into the newly formed Republican Party, stumping for its first presidential candidate John C. Fremont in 1856. During the presidential campaign of 1860, Abraham Lincoln was thrilled when Plymouth Church invited him to speak. Perhaps fortuitously, at the last moment, snowy weather forced them to switch the venue to Manhattan’s Cooper Union, where Lincoln’s bravura performance was believed to have tipped the election in his favor. While in New York, Lincoln twice took the ferry to Brooklyn to see Beecher preach. According to one eyewitness, a church usher, Lincoln was spellbound.
When the South seceded, Beecher was a staunch supporter of the war, insisting that good Christians could and should take up arms – not simply to defend the Union but to end the scourge of slavery. In the fall of 1863, when it was feared the English might ally with the Confederates, Beecher delivered a course of internationally publicized speeches in Great Britain, making the case for the Northern cause.
By the time Henry returned to America in late November of 1863, it was clear that England would remain neutral, cutting off all arms shipments to the Confederacy. Beecher was hailed as the hero who had turned the tide of international sympathy against the South. “It is no exaggeration,” said New York Times, to say that these five speeches “have done more for our cause in England and Scotland than all that has been before said or written.”
Others, like the United States’s ambassador to the Court of St. James, Charles Francis Adams, scoffed at this claim. The preacher modestly agreed, attributing England’s reversal to the military victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg. “It was my happy fortune to be there to jar the tree,” he noted. “The fruit that fell was not of my own ripening.”
True enough, Beecher’s speeches revealed how divided were British attitudes toward the United States since the Emancipation Proclamation, making it harder for the southern sympathizing aristocracy to enact pro-Confederate policies. No less an authority than Robert E. Lee, according to his aide Roger Pryor, believed that were it not for Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Beecher’s speeches, the Confederacy would have secured diplomatic recognition by England and France, whose material and moral aid would have tipped the war to the Rebels.
President Lincoln agreed. The president considered Beecher’s support for the war so valuable that in April 1865, he personally chose Beecher to speak at the flag raising over the newly-recaptured Fort Sumter, saying, "We had better send Beecher down to deliver the address on the occasion of the raising of the flag because if it had not been for Beecher there would have been no flag to raise."
After the war, Beecher grew bolder with his unconventional ideas and behavior, promoting ideas like women’s suffrage and Darwinian evolution, and announcing that he no longer believed in many core Christian concepts, like hell. He parlayed his notoriety into a small fortune, syndicating his sermons, appearing in advertisements for products like throat lozenges and insurance companies, writing a best-selling novel and editing The Christian Union, a popular family newspaper.
Then in 1870, at the height of his career, Beecher was accused by his former friend and protégé, the journalist Theodore Tilton, of seducing Tilton’s wife Elizabeth, one of Beecher’s most pious parishioners. Elizabeth Tilton, herself, added to the turmoil by first seeming to confess to the adultery, then emphatically denying it. Beecher and his allies were able to suppress Tilton’s accusations until October, 1872, when Victoria Woodhull, the radical feminist, free-lover, entrepreneur and clairvoyant, published the story, sparking a firestorm in the national press. Suddenly Beecher’s “Gospel of Love” seemed to rationalize a life of lust.
The ensuing scandal climaxed in 1875 when Tilton sued the preacher in civil court on the charge of “criminal conversation.” After six months of heated testimony and feverish newspaper coverage, the jury deadlocked 9 to 3 in favor of Beecher’s innocence. Tilton’s charges were dismissed, leaving public opinion bitterly divided.
After the trial, Beecher continued to preach in Plymouth Church and comment on public affairs. He also continued to confound his critics with his seemingly contradictory impulses. He was decried as reactionary for criticizing the striking laborers during the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, and condemned as dangerously liberal for opposing the anti-immigrant Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. After decades of campaigning for Republic presidential candidates, in 1884 he backed Grover Cleveland, a Democrat who was accused of fathering a child out of wedlock. But such controversies only fueled the demand for him as a public speaker.
Beecher remained beloved in many quarters, despite his battered reputation. When the preacher died on March 8, 1887, the city of Brooklyn declared a day of mourning. Representatives from New York’s Jewish, Catholic, Chinese and African-American communities marched in the procession to his burial plot in Brooklyn’s historic Green-Wood Cemetery.
In the 20th century Beecher’s stature declined, as the cultural changes he had championed became so commonplace that many Americans took them for granted. Instead, Beecher was often depicted as a mere sentimental buffoon and libertine. Ironically, the man who spent his life fighting bigotry and stifling social conventions became, in death, a symbol of Victorian social hypocrisy.
While carefully maintaining the mantle of the Protestant establishment, Beecher’s thinking was increasingly influenced by the iconoclastic ideas of the Transcendentalists, with their emphasis on imagination over reason, spontaneity over formality, self-expression over social convention, and individual conscience over the rule of law.