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LYMAN BEECHER, D. D.
We believe it was Theodore Parker who said that Dr. Beecher was “the father of more brains than
any other man in America.” The saying is a just one; and not only is Lyman Beecher the father of brains, but he is the possessor. If he were simply the father of such an illustrious set of children, it would not be out of place for us to sketch him here; but inasmuch as he is one of the pioneers of reform in this country, it would be improper not to say a few words about him.
Dr. Beecher is a thoroughly original character. He is unlike any one else,—unless it be his own children, upon whom he has impressed his own character. He is one of the most popular public men in the country, though he is one of the boldest thinkers and most earnest actors. His energy of character is greater than that of any other living American. He was born just as the fires of the revolution were kindling, and it would seem as if the energy, patriotism, and ardor of those days were stamped at an early age upon his character. The date of his birth is October 12, 1775; the place, a house still standing
on the corner of George and College streets, New Haven. His ancestors were godly men, men of strong constitutions and iron frames. His father was a blacksmith; his mother was a woman of fine, joyous spirits, always full of hope. He was named after his mother's family-Lyman-and was brought up by his uncle, Lot Benton, of North Guilford, Connecticut. He was a feeble, seven months' child, his mother dying four days after his birth. His uncle Lot was an erratic, yet kind-hearted old man. He one day asked Lyman if he wanted to go to College, and upon his answering in the affirmative, without another word he sent him to a preparatory school, and, when he was fitted, to college. He entered Yale college in September, 1793, at the age of eighteen. Many stories are told of him while in college, illustrating his energy and eccentricity of character.
He was first settled, we believe, in East Hampton, L. I., where several of his children were born. He next removed to Litchfield, Connecticut, where Mrs. Stowe and Henry Ward Beecher were born. While in Litchfield he wrote and preached his famous "Six Sermons” on temperance. It required a vast deal of genuine courage at that day to preach total abstinence from the pulpit, but having become thoroughly convinced of his duty, the brave man did it, and left the consequences with his Maker.
From Litchfield the doctor went to an influential Presbyterian church in Boston ; soon after, he went through with a trial for heresy, being guilty of believing in what are termed new school theological doctrines. He next accepted the presidency of Lane Seminary, and remained at that post, accomplishing a vast amount of good by his example and his instructions, until 1850. A thousand anecdotes are told of the good man, which exhibit his singular yet noble character. A few of them we will quote, as they show us the man better than mere description can. The following illustrates his comical nature :
“ One dark night, as he was driving home with his wife and Mrs. Stowe in the carriage, the whole party were upset over a bank about fifteen feet high. They had no sooner extricated themselves from the wreck, than Mrs. Beecher and Mrs. Stowe, who were unhurt, returned thanks for their providential escape. "Speak for yourselves,' said the doctor, who was feeling his bruises, 'I have got a good many hard bumps any how.'
This one his liberality :
“ One day his wife had given him from the common purse twenty-five or thirty dollars in bills, with particular instructions to buy a coat, of which he stood in need.
He went down to the city to make the purchase, but stopping on the way at a meeting in behalf of foreign missions, the box was handed round, and in went his little roll of bills. He forgot his coat in his anxiety for the Sandwich Islanders.”
The following is a college anecdote:
“One night Mr. Beecher was awakened by a sound at his window, as if some one were drawing a cloth through a broken pane of glass; springing up, he dimly saw his clothes disappearing through a broken window-a thief having taken a fancy to them. Waiting for no ceremonies of toilet, he dashed out through the door after him. The rascal dropped the clothes at once, and put hinself to his best speed. But Lyman was not the man to be easily out-run, especially when thus stripped to the race. After dodging a few times, and turning several corners, the caitiff was seized and marched back by the eager student. He ushered him into his room, compelled him to lie down on the floor by the side of his bed, while he, more comfortably ensconced in his bed, lay the night long watching him ;—the silence being broken only by an occasional “ Lie still, sir.” In the morning the culprit was taken before a magistrate, who was evidently a lineal descendant of Justice Shallow. The magistrate, after hearing the particulars, asked Mr. Beecher, whether in turning the corners he lost sight of the man at all.' He replied, that he was out of sight but a second, for he was close upon him. 'Ah, well, if you lost sight of him at all, you cannot swear to his identity,' and so the man was discharged. Mr. B. met the fellow several times afterward, but could not catch his eye."
The anecdotes which follow, have floated singly or in pairs over the country for years. J. Ross Dix has gathered them together in his “Pulpit Portraits," and they are too good to be overlooked :
“ In a trip along the coast of Connecticut in a small craft for his health, being detained by baffling winds, it was in the midst of church service, on a sabbath morning, that he landed at a village where only the clergyman knew him. His was in full sea rigging. His entrance to the audience room attracted no attention. But when, during the prayer, after sermon, he walked
the aisle, and began to ascend the pulpit steps, all eyes were on him. The young people tittered, and the tithing men began to look authoritative, as if business was on hand. The officiating clergyman, at the close of his prayer, cordially shook him by the hand, to the growing surprise of spectators-not lessened by the doctor's rising to make some 'additional remarks.' When I began,' we once heard the doctor say, I could see all the good and sober people looking rather grave at such an appearance, while all the young people winked at each other, as if they expected some sport. But it was not long before I saw the old folks begin to look up and smile, and the young folks to look sober. If any one has heard Dr. Beecher in one of his best moods, in an extemporaneous outburst, they can well imagine with what power an application would come from him, and how the sudden transitions of feeling, and the strange contrasts between his weather-beaten appearance and seaman's garb, and his impassioned eloquence, would heighten the effect. When he concluded, he turned to the pastor and said, ‘how could you have such a grand sermon without any application?' ‘I wrote out the body of the sermon, meaning to extemporize the application, but after you came in it scared it out of my head.
“He once received from several ladies of his church a sum