Henry Ward Beecher,

from the Contemporary Review

It would be no compliment to call Henry Ward Beecher the American Spurgeon. He may be that, but he is more. If we can imagine Mr. Spurgeon and Mr. John Bright with a cautious touch of Professor Maurice and a strong tincture of the late F.W. Robertson—if, I say, it is possible to imagine such a compound being brought up in New England and at last securely fixed in a New York pulpit, we shall get a product not unlike Henry Ward Beecher....

Mr. Beecher was brought up in the country. His novel, Norwood—not very readable, by the way, although full of charming passages—abounds in woods and streams, hills and dales, and flowers. "The willows," he tells us somewhere, "had thrown off their silky catkins, and were in leaf; the elm was covered with chocolate-colored blossoms, the soft maple drew bees to its crimson tassels." Would that all preachers and writers used no more offensive and superfluous flowers of speech than such as these....

When he wants to illustrate the comfort of a powerful, unseen, though protective love, he tells us how, as a boy, he woke up one midsummer night and listened, with a sense of half-uneasy awe, to the wild cry of the marsh birds, whilst the moonlight streamed full into his room; and then, as he grew more and more disturbed, he suddenly heard his father clear his throat "a-hem," in the next room, and instantly that familiar sound restored his equanimity. The illustration is simple, but it hits the mark and goes home. His affectionate tributes to his father and mother are constantly breaking forth in spite of himself. "I thank God," he says, "for two things. First, that I was born and bred in the country, of parents that gave me a sound constitution and a noble example. I never can pay back what I got from my parents. Next I am thankful that I was brought up in circumstances where I never became acquainted with wickedness." How delightful it is to think of a man who, without a taint of conscious insincerity, but simply out of the fulness of his heart, can get up before four thousand people, and say:

"I never was sullied in act, nor in thought when I was young. I grew up as pure as a woman. And I cannot express to God the thanks which I owe to my mother, and to my father, and to the great household of sisters and brothers among whom I lived. And the secondary knowledge of those wicked things which I have gained in later life in a professional way, I gained under such guards that it was not harmful to me." ...

He has a wonderful way of importing his leisure hours into the pulpit, and making the great cooped-up multitude feel something of the joy and freshness of his own exhilaration. One golden day above others seems to have dwelt in his mind. He refers to it again and again.

"When I walked one day on the top of Mt. Washington—glorious day of memory! Such another day I think I shall not experience till I stand on the battlements of the New Jerusalem—how I was discharged of all imperfections; the wide far-spreading country which lay beneath me in beauteous light, how heavenly it looked, and I communed with God. I had sweet tokens that he loved me. My very being rose right up into his nature. I walked with him, and the cities far and near of New York, and all the cities and villages which lay between it and me, with their thunder, the wrangling of human passions below me, were to me as if they were not."

Some of his sermons are full of vacation-rambles. He passes through woods and gardens and plucks flowers and fragrant leaves, which will all have to do service in Brooklyn Church; he watches the crowded flight of pigeons from the treetops, and thinks of men's riches that so make themselves wings and fly away. As he scales the mountains and sees the summer storms sweep through the valleys beneath him, he thinks of the storms in the human heart—"many, many storms there are that lie low and hug the ground, and the way to escape them is to go up the mountain sides and get higher than they are."

Mr. Beecher's travels in Europe were not thrown away upon his ardent and artistic temperament. He has stood before the great pictures to some purpose, and has not failed to read their open secret.

"Have you ever stood in Dresden to watch that matchless picture of Raphael's, the 'Madonna di San Siste'? Engravings of it are all through the world; but no engraving has ever reproduced the mother's face. The Infant Christ that she holds is far more nearly represented than the mother. In her face there is a mist. It is wonder, it is love, it is adoration, it is awe—it is all these mingled, as if she held in her hands her babe, and yet it was God! That picture means nothing to me as it does to the Roman Church; but it means everything to me, because I believe that every mother should love the God that is in her child, and that every mother's heart should be watching to discern and see in the child, which is more than flesh and blood, something that takes hold of immortality and glory."

—Selected from the Contemporary Review.