Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Barnum in the Pulpit

While his sister Harriet sunned herself in Florida after the War, brother and preacher Henry Ward Beecher remained in Brooklyn. But as David Goldfield explains in America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation, Henry, too, "backed off from crusades after the war."
He had always interspersed his sermons with secular humor, and some critics complained he was Barnum in the pulpit. After the war, his sermons at Plymouth Church dwelt on topics such as civic duty, child rearing, and voting rights. It was nondenominational entertainment, punctuated by such aphorisms as "The mother's heart is the child's schoolroom" and "The difference between perseverance and obstinacy is that one often comes from a strong will, and the other from a strong won't." Fellow Brooklynite Walt Whitman stated flatly, "It was only fair to say to Beecher that he was not a minister." Showmanship and fortune-cookie advice overtook theology, and most northerners welcomed the transition.
Head-and-shoulders portrait of Chief Justice Joseph Neilson surrounded by head-and-shoulders portraits of 17 people, including S.D. Morris, Theodore Tilton, Francis D. Moulton, and Henry Ward Beecher.

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