Page images
PDF
EPUB

232 THEODORE PARKER

force : the understanding, the imagination, and the reason—the understanding, dealing with details and methods; the imagination, with beauty, with power to create; reason, with first principles and universal laws. We must deny to Mr. Webster the great reason. He does not belong to the great men of that department, the Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, Leibnitz, Newton, Descartes, and the other mighties. He seldom grasps a universal law. His measures of expediency for to-day are seldom bottomed on universal principles of right which last forever. I cannot assign to him a large imagination. He was not creative of new forms of thought or of beauty; so he lacks the poetic charm which gladdens the loftiest eloquence. But his understanding was exceedingly great. He acquired readily and retained well; arranged with ease and skill; and fluently reproduced. As a scholar he passed for learned in the Senate, where scholars are few ; for a universal man with editors of political and commercial prints. But his learning was narrow in its range, and not very nice in its accuracy. His reach in history and literature was very small for a great man seventy years of age, always associating with able men. To science he seems to have paid scarcely any attention at all. It is a short radius that measures the arc of his históric realm. A few Latin authors whom he loved to quote make up his meagre classic store. He was not a scholar, and it is idle to claim great scholarship for him. As a statesman his lack of what I call the highest reason and imagination continually appears. To the national stock he added no new idea, created out of new thought ; no great maxim, created out of human history and old thought. The great ideas of the time were not born in his bosom. He organized nothing. There were great ideas of practical value seeking lodgment in the body; he aided them not. What a sad life was his At Portsmouth his house burned down, all uninsured. His wife died,—a loving woman, beautiful and tenderly beloved Of several children, all save one have gone before him to the tomb. Sad man; he lived to build his children's monument Do you remember the melancholy spectacle in the street when Major Webster, a victim of the Mexican War, was by his father laid down in yonder tomb, —a daughter, too, but recently laid low ! How poor seemed then the ghastly pageant in the street,_empty and hollow as the muffled drum. For years he has seemed to me like one of the tragic heroes of the Grecian tale, pursued by fate, and latterly—the saddest sight in all this Western World,—widowed of so much he loved, and grasping at what was not only vanity, but the saddest vexation of the heart. I have long mourned for him as no living or departed man. He blasted us with scornful lightning. Him, if I could, I would not blast, but only bless continually and evermore,

HENRY WARD BEECHER (1813-1887)
PLYMOUTH'S FAMOUS PASTOR AND ORATOR

HE eloquence of the modern pulpit reached its culmination in T Henry Ward Beecher, who for forty years made Plymouth Church, Brooklyn, the central point of a great weekly pilgrimage of the lovers of fine pulpit oratory. In breadth of mind, originality of thought, racy and often humorous expression, underlined with a deep moral and spiritual earnestness, Beecher dwelt unsurpassed. His fame as an orator was not confined to the pulpit. On the lecture platform he was equally great and popular. Impelled by his training, environment, and hatred of all things evil, he entered earnestly into the crusade against slavery, and won the reputation of being one of the greatest, if not distinctively the greatest, orators of the Civil War period. Certainly, no more splendid bursts of oratory than those of Beecher were called forth by the events of this dread conflict. In the cause of temperance he was also noted, and no reform, social or political, was left without his powerful support.

LINCOLN DEAD AND A NATION IN GRIEF

[Of Beecher's secular orations may especially be named, as among his ablest and most striking efforts, that called forth on the replacing of the flag of on Fort Sumter, and that of two days later (April 16, 1865,) on the death of Lincoln. In the former the note of triumph prevails, in the latter the note of pathos. We append the Lincoln oration as one of the finest examples of elegiac oratory.]

In one hour joy lay without a pulse, without a gleam or breath. A sorrow came that swept through the land as huge storms sweep through the forest and field, rolling thunder along the sky, disheveling the flowers, daunting every singer in thicket and forest, and pouring blackness and darkness across the land and up the mountains. Did ever so many hearts, in so brief a time, touch two such boundless feelings 2 It was the

264 HENRY WARD BEECHER

uttermost of joy; it was the uttermost of sorrow—noon and midnight, without a space between. The blow brought not a sharp pang. It was so terrible that at first it stunned sensibility. Citizens were like men awakened at midnight by an earthquake and bewildered to find everything that they were accustomed to trust wavering and falling. The very earth was no longer solid. The first feeling was the least. Men waited to get straight to feel. They wandered in the streets as if groping after some impending dread, or undeveloped sorrow, or someone to tell them what ailed them. They met each other as if each would ask the other, “Am I awake, or do I dream P’’ There was a piteous helplessness. Strong men bowed down and wept. Other and common griefs belonged to some one in chief; this belonged to all. It was each and every man's. Every virtuous household in the land felt as if its first-born were gone. Men were bereaved and walked for days as if a corpse lay unburied in their dwellings. There was nothing else to think of. They could speak of nothing but that ; and yet of that they could speak only falteringly. All business was laid aside. Pleasure forgot to smile. The city for nearly a week ceased to roar. The great Leviathan lay down and was still. Even avarice stood still, and greed was strangely moved to generous sympathy and universal sorrow. Rear to his name monuments, found charitable institutions, and write his name above their lintels; but no monument will ever equal the universal, spontaneous, and sublime sorrow that in a moment swept down lines and parties, and covered up animosities, and in an hour brought a divided people into unity of grief and indivisible fellowship of anguish. . Even he who now sleeps has, by this event, been clothed with new influence. Dead, he speaks to men who now willingly hear what before they refused to listen to. Now his simple and weighty words will be gathered like those of Washington, and your children and your children's children shall be taught to ponder the simplicity and deep wisdom of utterances which in their time passed, in party heat, as idle worlds. Men will receive a new impulse of patriotism for his sake and will guard with zeal the whole country which he loved so well. I swear you, on the altar of his memory, to be more faithful to the country for which he has perished. They will, as they follow his hearse, swear a new hatred to that slavery against which he warred, and which, in vanquishing him, has made him a martyr and a conqueror. I swear you, by the memory of this martyr, to hate slavery with an unappeasable hatred. They will admire and imitate the firmness of this man, his inflexible conscience for the right, and yet his gentleness, as tender as a woman's, his moderation of spirit, which not all the heat of party could inflame, nor all the jars

HENRY WARD BEECHER 265

and disturbances of his country shake out of place. I swear you to an emulation of his justice, his moderation and his mercy. You I can comfort; but how can I speak to that twilight million to whom his name was as the name of an angel of God 2 There will be wailing in places which no minister shall be able to reach. When, in hovel and in cot, in wood and in wilderness, in the field throughout the South, the dusky children, who looked upon him as that Moses whom God sent before them to lead them out of the land of bondage, learn that he has fallen, who shall comfort them 2 O thou Shepherd of Israel, that didst comfort thy people of old, to thy care we commit the helpless, the longwronged and grieved. And now the martyr is moving in triumphal march, mightier than when alive. The nation rises up at every stage of his coming. Cities and States are his pallbearers, and the cannon beats the hours with solemn progression. Dead, dead, dead, he yet speaketh. Is Washington dead 2 Is Hampden dead? Is David dead 2 Is any man that was ever fit to live dead P Disenthralled of flesh, and risen in the unobstructed sphere where passion never comes, he begins his illimitable work. His life now is grafted upon the infinite, and will be fruitful as no earthly life can be. Pass on, thou that hast overcome. Your sorrows, O people, are his peace. Your bells and bands and muffled drums sound triumphant in his ear. Wail and weep here; God made it echo joy and triumph there. Pass on. A CORRUPT PUBLIC SENTIMENT A corrupt public sentiment produces dishonesty. A public sentiment in which dishonesty is not disgraceful; in which bad men are respectable, are trusted, are honored, are exalted, is a curse to the young. The fever of speculation, the universal derangement of business, the growing laxness of morals are, to an alarming extent, introducing such a state of things. If the shocking stupidity of the public mind to atrocious dishonesties is not aroused; if good men do not bestir themselves to drag the young from this foul sorcery; if the relaxed bands of honesty are not tightened, and conscience tutored to a severer morality, our night is at hand—our midnight not far off. Woe to that guilty people who sit down upon broken laws, and wealth saved by injustice Woe to a generation fed by the bread of fraud, whose children's inheritance shall be a perpetual memento of their father's unrighteousness; to whom dishonesty shall be made pleasant by association with the revered memories of father, brother and friend | But when a whole people, united by a common disregard of justice, conspire to defraud public creditors, and States vie with States in an

266 HENRY WARD BEECHER

infamous repudiation of just debts, by open or sinister methods; and nations exert their sovereignty to protect and dignify the knavery of the commonwealth, then the confusion of domestic affairs has bred a fiend before whose flight honor fades away, and under whose feet the sanctity of truth and the religion of solemn compacts are stamped down and ground into the dirt. Need we ask the cause of growing dishonesty among the young, the increasing untrustworthiness of all agents, when States are seen clothed with the panoply of dishonesty, and nations put on fraud for their garments 2 Absconding agents, swindling schemes, and defalcations, occurring in such melancholy abundance, have at length ceased to be wonders, and rank with the common accidents of fire and flood. The budget of each week is incomplete without its mob and runaway cashier—its duel and defaulter, and as waves which roll to the shore are lost in those which follow on, so the villainies of each week obliterate the record of the last. Men of notorious immorality, whose dishonesty is flagrant, whose private habits would disgrace the ditch, are powerful and popular. I have seen a man stained with every sin, except those which required courage; into whose head I do not think a pure thought has entered for forty years; in whose heart an honorable feeling would droop from very loneliness; in evil, he was ripe and rotten ; hoary and depraved in deed, in word, in his present life and in all his past; evil when by himself, and viler among men ; corrupting to the young; to domestic fidelity, recreant; to common honor, a traitor; to honesty, an outlaw; to religion, a hypocrite—base in all that is worthy of man and accomplished in whatever is disgraceful, and yet this wretch could go where he would—enter good men's dwellings and purloin their votes. Men would curse him, yet obey him ; hate him, and assist him ; warn their sons against him, and lead them to the polls for him. A public sentiment which produces ignominious knaves cannot breed honest men. We have not yet emerged from a period in which debts were insecure; the debtor legally protected against the rights of the creditor; taxes laid, not by the requirements of justice, but for political effect, and lowered to a dishonest inefficiency, and when thus diminished, not collected ; the citizens resisting their own officers; officers resigning at the bidding of the electors; the laws of property paralyzed ; bankrupt laws built up, and staylaws unconstitutionally enacted, upon which the courts look with aversion, yet fear to deny them lest the wildness of popular opinion should roll back disdainfully upon the bench to despoil its dignity and prostrate its power. General suffering has made us tolerant of general dishonesty, and the gloom of our commercial disaster threatens to become the pall ofour morals,

« PreviousContinue »