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HENRY WARD BEECHER.
HENRY WARD BEECHER is one of the most popular men in America, and at the same time he is one of our most radical reformers. He is the pulpit reformer-the man who thunders forth the most unpopular truths, every Sunday, from his pulpit, to an audience consisting not of independent country farmers, who have little temptation to do wrong, or young enthusiasts without prudence or position in society, but of sober, staid merchants, and their sons and daughters. No pulpit orator in this country is more fearless in his utterance of truth than Mr. Beecher; yet he is loved and admired by his church and congregation. The reason is, that while he always insists upon being independent, he is at the same time manly and honest. His denunciations of oppression and oppressors do not proceed from a soured mind, but from a profound sympathy with the oppressed. It is at once evident to his hearers that he is agonizing over the wrongs of the poor; and in that frame of mind, with his great heart, it is impossible for him not to pour forth with astonishing power his convictions of right--his hot censures upon those who de
liberately and purposely tread the poor beneath their feet. To gain any just idea of Mr. Beecher's style of eloquence he must be seen in the pulpit. The moment that he arises to commence religious service the listener is struck with his manly, vigorous appearance. There is nothing soft or bland in his manners ; he reads a hymn, or a chapter from the bible, in a clear, firm tone of voice, or utters a prayer, not as if he were studying to so modulate his sentences as to create an effect, but as if he were really wrestling with his Maker. We by no means would give the idea that he is harsh, coarse, and without a proper manner, for such is not the case. We have heard him pray when every word sounded like the moaning sob of a child upon the heart of its mother; so too we have heard him launch his electrical eloquence at the heads of notorious sinners in the most impassioned, declamatory manner. But we were saying, when he rises in the pulpit his manliness strikes first upon the attention of the stranger, and next his eager, almost terrible earnestness. He scarcely ever writes out his sermons, but comes into the pulpit with but a few rough notes before him. This allows him a command over his audience which he could not hold were he confined to written sermons. He seems to be talking directly to each individual hearer. There is no escape; he bends over the pulpit and looks you in the face; he intends that
you shall not go home without appropriating a portion of the discourse to yourself. You come perhaps prejudiced against him. You have heard that he is harsh, impudent, and an unpleasant orator ; but when you have heard his opening prayer, you feel inclined to give a candid hearing to what so sincere, so honest a man can say. To tell the truth, your prejudices have half melted before a word of the sermon is uttered. He does not open abruptly, but in a clear, straightforward manner lays the subject before his congregation. By and by he warms up with his subject. Is it upon intemperance or slavery? With what vigor does he expose the wickedness of the rum-traffic, or the traffic in human flesh! How clearly he unfolds the law of God! How plainly exhibits the loving humanity of Christ! He draws a picture of the poor hunted fugitive; he leads you among the cotton fields of the fair, sunny south, where the breezes are scented with orange blossoms; and there he asks you to listen to the heart-broken sighs of some miserable slave mother, parted from her children. His voice and manner are not vehement, though solemnly in earnest. His manly tones are modulated by feeling; there is a slight tremble in his words; his eyes overrun with tears! You are weeping yourself, for your sympathies are touched. He grows more impassioned-passes from the slave to the master ! His voice changes ; his manner
grows more declamatory; his tears are dried. You leap along with him, and as he smites the oppressor with God's truth, you have no thought of rebuking him for vehemence; he expresses your own thoughts in better language than you could command. But before he is done he smites you; he charges those before him with indifference to this giant wrong; he tells them that the blood of the oppressed will be found on their skirts, for conniving at the servitude of three millions of their fellow-men.
It is the same with every subject; he is fearless yet tender, vehement yet gentle. He preaches few of what are called doctrinal sermons, but he dwells often and fully upon the wonderful love of Godupon the every day duties of men.
He never preaches upon “the exceeding sinfulness of sin,” but addresses himself to sinners. But though he is bold, he rarely offends any honest inquirer after truth. Such a mind likes his frankness-is charmed by his boldness is moved to tears by his pathos.
There are some who charge Mr. Beecher with attering irreverent, witty things in the pulpit. He is sometimes almost humorous in the pulpit, but it is because he cannot help it. It is as natural for him to speak his thoughts in an original manner, as it is for some clergymen to preach stupidities. Occasionally a sentence drops from his lips which starts the smile upon the faces of his audience. He intended no wit, but
the odd comparison, or the sparkling sentence bursts forth involuntarily. To set down and snarl over this feature of his pulpit oratory, when there are others so rare and attractive, is the mark of a small intellect and a still smaller heart.
We have spoken of the contrasts presented in Mr. Beecher's sermons—they are in the man. character is full of contrasts—his writings are the
No man has a more refined love of the beautiful. We cannot resist the temptation to copy one of his most exquisite sketches of a country scene, and when we have done that we will contrast it with one of his vehement, magnificent outbursts against despotism and wrong. The article which we quote is entitled
Where shall we go? Here is the More brook, the upper part running through bushy and wet meadows, but the lower part flowing transparently over the gravel, through the grass and pasture grounds near the edge of the village, where it curves and ties itself into bow knots. It is a charming brook in which to catch trout, when you catch them, but they are mostly caught.
“Well, there is the Caney brook. We will look at that. A man might walk through the meadows and not suspect its existence. The grass meets over the top of its upper section and quite hides it; and below, through that iron tinctured marsh land, it expands only a little, growing open-hearted by