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Henry Ward Beecher
by [?]

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One might suppose that a childless woman suddenly presented by Fate with an exacting husband and a brood of nine would soon be a candidate for nervous prostration; Sarah Porter Beecher, however, rose to the level of events, and looked after her household with diligence and a conscientious heart. Little Henry Ward was four years old and wore a red-flannel dress, outgrown by one of the girls. He was chubby, with a full-moon face and yellow curls, which were so much trouble to take care of that they were soon cut off, after he had set the example of cutting off two himself. He talked as though his mouth were full of hot mush. If sent to a neighbor’s on an errand, he usually forgot what he was sent for, or else explained matters in such a way that he brought back the wrong thing. His mother meant to be kind; her patience was splendid; and one’s heart goes out to her in sympathy when we think of her faithful efforts to teach the lesser catechism to this baby savage who much preferred to make mud-pies.

Little Henry Ward had a third mother who did him much gentle benefit, and that was his sister Harriet, two years his senior. These little child-mothers who take care of the younger members of the family deserve special seats in Paradise. Harriet taught little Henry Ward to talk plainly, to add four and four, and to look solemn when he did not feel so–and thus escape the strap behind the kitchen-door. His bringing-up was of the uncaressing, let-alone kind.

Lyman Beecher was a deal better than his religion; for his religion, like that of most people, was an inheritance, not an evolution. Piety settled down upon the household like a pall every Saturday at sundown; and the lessons taught were largely from the Old Testament.

These big, bustling, strenuous households are pretty good life-drill for the members. The children are taught self-reliance, to do without each other, to do for others, and the older members educate the younger ones. It is a great thing to leave children alone. Henry Ward Beecher has intimated in various places in his books how the whole Beecher brood loved their father, yet as precaution against misunderstanding they made the sudden sneak and the quick side-step whenever they saw him coming.

Village life with a fair degree of prosperity, but not too much, is an education in itself. The knowledge gained is not always classic, nor even polite, but it is all a part of the great, seething game of life. Henry Ward Beecher was not an educated man in the usual sense of the word. At school he carved his desk, made faces at the girls, and kept the place in a turmoil generally: doing the wrong thing, just like many another bumpkin. At home he carried in the wood, picked up chips, worked in the garden in Summer, and shoveled out the walks in Winter. He knew when the dishwater was worth saving to mix up with meal for the chickens, and when it should be put on the asparagus-bed or the rosebushes. He could make a lye-leach, knew that it was lucky to set hens on thirteen eggs, realized that hens’ eggs hatched in three weeks, and ducks’ in four. He knew when the berries ripened, where the crows nested, and could find the bee-trees by watching the flight of the bees after they had gotten their fill on the basswood-blossoms. He knew all the birds that sang in the branches–could tell what birds migrated and what not–was acquainted with the flowers and weeds and fungi–knew where the rabbits burrowed–could pick the milkweed that would cure warts, and tell the points of the compass by examining the bark of the trees. He was on familiar terms with all the ragamuffins in the village, and regarded the man who kept the livery-stable as the wisest person in New England, and the stage-driver as the wittiest.