Henry Ward Beecher

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Biographical Sketch/Description

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Henry Ward Beecher was born on June 24, 1813 in Litchfield, Connecticut and one of eight children to his parents Lyman and Roxana Foote Beecher.

As a boy, the last occupation that would have been predicted for Beecher would have been that of an orator. "`When Henry is sent to me with a message,' said a good aunt, `I always have to make him say it three times. The first time I have no manner of the idea than if he spoke Choctaw; the second, I catch now and then a word; by the third time I begin to understand'" (Henry Ward Beecher: A Sketch of his Career,134). Beecher explains his speech impediment, "`I had from childhood a thickness of speech arising from a large palate, so that when a boy I use to be laughed at for talking as if I had pudding in my mouth'" (135).

A physical description, (and more), of Beecher - "`The forehead is high rather than broad; his cheeks bare; his mouth compressed and firm, with humor lurking and almost laughing in the corners; his collar turned over a la Byron, more perhaps for the comfort of his ears (as he is exceedingly short-necked) than for any love for that peculiar fashion. His voice is full of music, in which, by the way, he is a great proficient. His body is well-developed, and his first maxim is to keep it in first rate working order, for he considers health to be a Christian duty, and rightly deems it impossible for any man to do justice to his mental faculties without at the same time attending to his physical. His motions are quick and elastic, and his manners frank, cordial, and kind, such as to attract rather than repel the advantages of others. With children he is an especial favorite; they love to run up to him and offer him little bundles of flowers, of which they know him to be passionately fond, and they deem themselves more than rewarded by the hearty `Thank you,' and the tender look of loving interest that accompanies his acceptance of their gift. Add to this that his benevolence is limited only by his means, and our readers will have a pretty good idea of his general character and personal appearance'" (187-189).

The following quote is a description of Beecher's character traits. "`His wonderful vigor; his fullness of bodily power; his voice, which can thunder and whisper alike; his sympathy with nature, which is so intimate and confidential that she tells him all her secrets, and supplies him with continual images; and, above all, put as the crown upon the whole, that enthusiasm for Christ to which he has himself referred this evening, and which has certainly been the animating power in his ministry-the impression upon his soul that he, having seen the glory of the Son of God, has been sent here to reflect that glory upon others; to inspire their minds with it; to kindle their souls with it, and so to prepare them for the heavenly realm-put all these things together, and you have some of the elements of power in this great Preacher-not all of them, but some, snatched hurriedly from the great treasure house. There you have a few, at any rate, of the traits and forces of him whose power has chained you, and quickened and blessed you, during all these years'" (159).

During an address on September 28, 1886, at a meeting of the Board of London Congregational Ministers, Beecher says of himself the following, "`I do not know what it is in me-whether it is my father or my mother, or both of them-but the moment that you tell me that a thing that ought to be done is unpopular, I am right there every time.'" Following this statement was a "loud applause" (610).

Speeches

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Beecher's Style

"The illustrations are fresh and happy, frequently humorous, and throughout the lectures there is such genuine interest in and sympathy with the lives of young people, that they at once feel the writer's earnestness and integrity of purpose and recognize the truth of his teachings. The style is vigorous, forcible, earnest, abounding in life-like pictures that convey a fuller meaning and a stronger moral than any amount of abstract treatise on immortality. The forcible and realistic scenes that he describes in the lecture on Gambling, for instance, carry such a weight of meaning in their words, and are so full of significance, that they need no extended explanation to bring home to his hearer's hearts the sad moral they convey" (137-138).

Beecher on Women's Rights

Beecher attended a speech by a woman, Miss Willard..."Miss Willard's lecture was given as announced, and after she had finished, having been interrupted by frequent applause, he slowly ascended the platform, looking at her with evident approval, and moving his head with significant emphasis, he said, `And yet she can't vote!' When the burst of applause which followed had subsided, he added, turning toward the audience, `And are you not ashamed of it'" (191)?

Responses

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"The almost universal expressions of esteem, love and affection which the death of Mr. Beecher has called forth from every part of the country, every class in society, and every religious denomination, indicate how wide and deep a hold he had upon the American people. It cannot be questioned that no other man has exerted so wide and profound an influence on the progress of thought-moral, political, and religious-in this country for the past fifty years, as has Mr. Beecher."

Click here for reviews of Beecher's lectures made in African American newspapers during the 1850s.

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