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Henry Ward Beecher
by [?]

Byron’s diary was destroyed, and he remains and will remain with a stain of suspicion about him, which revives and will revive, and will never be wholly obliterated. “The truth shall make you free” in biography as in everything else. Falsehood and concealment are a great man’s worst enemy.

* * * * *

Henry Ward Beecher was born at Litchfield, Connecticut, June Twenty-third, Eighteen Hundred Thirteen. He was the eighth child of Lyman and Roxana Foote Beecher. Like Lincoln and various other great men, Beecher had two mothers: the one who gave him birth, and the one who cared for him as he grew up. Beecher used to take with him on his travels an old daguerreotype of his real mother, and in the cover of the case, beneath the glass, was a lock of her hair–fair in color, and bright as if touched by the kiss of the summer sun. Often he would take this picture out and apostrophize it, just as he would the uncut gems that he always carried in his pockets. “My first mother,” he used to call her; and to him she stood as a sort of deity. “My first mother stands to me for love; my second mother for discipline; my father for justice,” he once said to Halliday.

I am not sure that Beecher had a well-defined idea of either discipline or justice, but love to him was a very vivid and personal reality. He knew what it meant–infinite forgiveness, a lifelong, yearning tenderness, a Something that suffereth long and is kind. This he preached for fifty years, and he preached little else. Lyman Beecher proclaimed the justice of God; Henry Ward Beecher told of His love. Lyman Beecher was a logician, but Henry Ward was a lover. There is a task on hand for the man who attempts to prove that Nature is kind, or that God is love. Perhaps man himself, with all his imperfections, gives us the best example of love that the universe has to offer. In preaching the love of God, Henry Ward Beecher revealed his own; for oratory, like literature, is only a confession.

“My first mother is always pleading for me–she reaches out her arms to me–her delicate, long, tapering fingers stroke my hair–I hear her voice, gentle and low!” Do you say this is the language of o’erwrought emotion? I say to you it is simply the language of love. This mother, dead and turned to dust, who passed out when the boy was scarce three years old, stood to him for the ideal. Love, anyway, is a matter of the imagination, and he who can not imagine can not love, and love is from within. The lover clothes the beloved in the garments of his fancy, and woe to him if he ever loses the power to imagine.

Have you not often noticed how the man or woman whose mother died before a time that the child could recall, and whose memory clusters around a faded picture and a lock of hair–how this person is thrice blessed in that the ideal is always a shelter when the real palls? Love is a refuge and a defense. The Law of Compensation is kind: Lincoln lived, until the day of his death, bathed in the love of Nancy Hanks, that mother, worn, yellow and sad, who gave him birth, and yet whom he had never known. No child ever really lost its mother–nothing is ever lost. Men are really only grown-up children, and the longing to be mothered is not effaced by the passing years. The type is well shown in the life of Meissonier, whose mother died in his childhood, but she was near him to the last. In his journal he wrote this: “It is the morning of my seventieth birthday. What a long time to look back upon! This morning, at the hour my mother gave me birth, I wished my first thoughts to be of her. Dear Mother, how often have the tears risen at the remembrance of you! It was your absence–my longing for you–that made you so dear to me. The love of my heart goes out to you! Do you hear me, Mother, crying and calling for you? How sweet it must be to have a mother!”