Изображения страниц

connected with me that he was still at work; and on one occasion, after a Sabbath morning service, some one in a congratulatory way said to the venerable and meek old patriarch, Well, Doctor, how did you like your son's sermon ?' It was good-good as I could do myself.' And then, with an emphatic pointing of his forefinger, he added, *If it had not been for me, you would never have had him.'” That was perfectly true, and tolerably patent to all; but had the mother been living she could have uttered the words with more appropriateness and emphasis still. The elements which have made Mr. Beecher one of the most popular and influential men in America came to him from his mother. He has inherited strength, ruggedness, determination, a disposition to adhere to, and proclaim the right in spite of all opposition, from his father ; but it is to his mother that he owes his perception and love of the beautiful, his poetic fervour, his glowing imagination, and his yearning sympathy for perishing men. He is greatest in heartqualities, and these came down to him along the line of apostolic succession from his mother.

Given such a father and such a mother, each the opposite of the other in temperament, education, and experience, and each neutralizing the defects as well as perfecting and glorifying the virtues of the other, it would not have been at all presumptuous to prophesy that their offspring would rise to extraordinary eminence, and that some of them would be an improvement on both the parents. It is the object of these pages to trace the career of the most distinguished of them— Henry Ward.

[graphic][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

VERY living thing has its infancy, from which it

opens out into fulness of size and beauty and power;

and we find that infancy, childhood, youth, is always the most interesting and edifying period in the history of every life. With what wondering delight do we linger in the garden or the orchard in early spring, as before our eyes the lovely buds are bursting and slowly expanding into full bloom and glory. Even flowers have their babyhood. How we admire the mighty oak as it stands in front of us, in the zenith of its strength and splendour, firm enough to do successful battle with all the storms and hurricanes of heaven; but it was once a tiny acorn, no bigger than a hazel-nut, the plaything of little children. Human life also has a most interesting process of development. Here again childhood is a formative, germinating, developing, prophetical period, an Old Testament of promise, preparing, waiting, yearning for expansion and fulfilment in a New Testament of ripe and manly age. The child is father-mother—to the man.

This was peculiarly true of the boy Henry Ward. Springing from the grandest and noblest of aristocracies, the aristocracy of pure blood and vigorous health, he was from his earliest days a child of unusual promise. Eccentricity was stamped with indelible ink


his tution. From the first faintest dawn of intelligence it was

very consti

perfectly evident to every one that he was destined by Providence to become a mighty power in some important sphere. His chief characteristics were vivacity, cheerfulness, good humour, mirthfulness. In describing this period he says: “I was, from my earliest recollection, healthy, buoyant, active, good-natured, and mirthful. I had a large stock of animal spirits, which impelled to mere motion for the sake of the pleasure of motion, or rather from the impatience of sitting still.” Again : “I thank God 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.” What a noble testimony! How delightful it is to think of a man who can thus refer to the days of his childhood ! Here is another reference to the same period, characterised by great tenderness and beauty: “I never was sullied in act, nor in thought, nor in feeling 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. But in his

early training and education, the presence of that mother to whom he owes so much was very deeply missed. Though his father and stepmother were exceedingly conscientious and pious, as well as anxious to train him in the way of truth and godliness, they both lacked genuine genial sympathy with youthful feelings and aspirations, and could not appreciate or even excuse the intense repugnance felt by a healthy, active, and mirthful child to ceremonial restrictions and arbitrary rules. His whole nature rebelled against all restraint, and this constant rebellion against the restraints put upon him by his parents must have retarded somewhat his progress in mental and spiritual excellencies. There was an aunt who was a minister of more good to him than anybody else, and to her he often pays a tribute of esteem and affection. Referring to this point, he says:


“So far as religious restraint was brought to bear upon me, I think it was painful, for physical reasons mainly. There was something inexpressibly attractive to me in the stillness of the Sabbath day ; and yet the Sabbath day was rather a burden to me. There was nothing so pleasant as to have my aunt sit down and read stories from the Scriptures to me; and yet there was nothing less tolerable than to be obliged to read the Bible. There were very few subjects on which I liked to talk so little as the subject of religion ; and yet among the grievances of my childhood was the heart-swell, the wish, that somebody would let me talk to him, or would talk to me on this very subject. My childhood was doubly strong, deep, religious, both inbred and cultured ; and at the same time there was a good deal of impatience and some waywardness in my disposition.” There was nothing he dreaded more than the Sunday Catechism, which entered so largely and, so extravagantly into the religious education of children in those days. His hatred of the exercise knew no bounds; and speaking of it in mature years he can hardly restrain his indignation : “I think to force children to associate religion with such dry morsels is to violate the spirit not only of the New Testament, but of common sense as well. I know one thing, that if I am ‘lax and latitudinarian,' the Sunday Catechism is to blame for a part of it. The dinners I have lost because I could not go through 'sanctification, and justification, and adoption, and all such questions, lie heavily on my memory. I do not know that they have brought forth any blossoms. I have a kind of grudge against many of those truths that I was taught in my childhood, and I am not conscious that they have worked up a particle of faith in

In the same breath he makes this touching mention of his dear aunt Esther: “My good old aunt in heaven—I wonder what she is doing. I take it that she now sits beauteous, clothed in white, that round her sit chanting cherub children, and that she is opening to them from her larger range sweet stories, every one fraught with thought, and taste, and feeling, and lifting them up to a higher plane. One Sunday afternoon with my aunt Esther did me more good than forty Sundays in church with


father. He


thundered over my head, and she sweetly instructed me down in my heart. The promise that she would read Joseph's history to me on Sunday was enough to draw a silver thread of obedience through the entire week; and if I was tempted to break my promise, I said, “No! Aunt Esther is going to read on Sunday;' and I would do, or I would not do all through the week, for the sake of getting that sweet instruction on Sunday.”

It is a grand thing to educate children into a lively sense of the sacredness of moral obligations, to show them that duty is too divine to be trifled with ; but it is quite possible to go about the task in so legal, rigid, and pharisaic a spirit as to make sacred religious realities the most repulsive things conceivable. Parents often spoil their offspring by exercising undue authority over them. Love, not law, is the best instructor of the young. Obligation is sacred, but the heart of man is more sacred still; and rather than make duty look ugly and disagreeable, we had better keep it in the background, or out of sight altogether. If it be presented, let it be clothed with every beauty and charm imaginable.

"Men must be taught as though you taught them not,

And things unknown proposed as things forgot." Children should be instructed to observe the right on every occasion, but it may be necessary not to remind them of their duty in the matter. Tell them that duty is the most charming and lovely of all realities in God's universe. Upon this vital point Mr. Beecher makes this retrospective, personal reference: “During the whole of my early life, almost, I was brought up to do things because I must. I went to church because I must. I kept Sunday, so far as I did keep it, because I must. I do not know that there was one effort made by my father or mother to make the Sabbath day pleasant to me; and for the most obvious reasons. My father was a clergyman, and Sunday was to him the most laborious day of the week, and it was absolutely impossible for him to take charge of the children at home. My second mother--the one that brought me up -was one of the most devoted women that I ever knew,

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »