Biography of Rev. Hosea Ballou
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The engrossing habits of a student, and the employment of a large portion of his time in writing, brought upon Mr. Ballou the weakness in his left side, before referred to, and which was still more augmented by his continued use of the pen. This trouble became at last a seated and irreparable one, and a source of much bodily suffering to him until the close of his life, though serious attacks of it were but transient, and usually lasting but a few hours at a time. This affection was of rather a peculiar character, so that when anything occurred, of an unpleasant nature, to trouble or distress his mind, – bad news of any sort, the sudden death of a relative or friend, or any matter of this character, – it would seem to affect the weak side, and there distress him.
Mr. Ballou was often solicited, by letters from a distance, for his autograph, with which he complied in a brief line, most generally; but personal applications for this object were very frequent during his journeyings from home. Being asked for his autograph by a young lady in one of the neighboring towns, who handed him her album for the purpose, he sat down and wrote the following verses impromptu, and which have been handed to us for insertion here. They will serve to show his ready power of versification; he never studied to be a poet, nor ever labored upon a piece of poetical composition. He found little time to plant and rear flowers along his pathway of life. At an early period the soil he tilled was of too bold and rugged a character to cultivate aught save the sterling literal seeds of truth, the sweetness of whose blossoms is fragrance to the soul. If subsequently he sometimes plucked a lily or watered a rose-bud, it has been at breathing-spells between the holding of the plough and the planting of seed in his Master's vineyard. He lacked not for refinement and delicacy of taste, or for the natural promptings of the poet, but there was more important business for him to perform, and he realized too fully his responsibility to allow himself to forget for a moment the great aim and business of his mission. The poem referred to above is entitled
We find a letter among our papers, written about the period of which we now speak.It is from his pen, and bears date New York, April 21st, 1839, on the occasion of a brief visit to that city, and was addressed to the author of these pages.
This, and a private letter previously given in these pages, are not made public for any particular information they communicate, but simply to show the reader the feelings of the writer as expressed between himself and those whom he loved and in whom he confided. These letters might be greatly multiplied, but this would perhaps serve our object no better purpose. If a hundred were to be submitted to the reader, they would convey no other spirit than is evinced by the two already given. Mr. Ballou's private correspondence was never very extensive; his letters were nearly all of a domestic nature, or brief notes relating to exchanges with other brethren at a distance. The reason that his letters were so much of this nature, was, that when he transcribed his thoughts to paper it was for the press. Most men of strong and active minds are in the practice of relieving them, as it were, by writing down their thoughts, from time to time, to valued friends; it is a sort of necessary relief that some minds could not get along without. But Mr. Ballou's writings were so universally made public, and he was so constantly supplying the public press with matter, even to the very last week of his life, that his mind and pen were quite sufficiently worked in this vein, without seeking any other channel.
During the fall of 1843, Mr. Ballou, then at the age of seventy-two years, made a long journey to the West, to attend the national convention of Universalists, held at Akron, Ohio. On the route thither, in company with Rev. Thomas Whittemore and some other friends, he visited, for the first time, Niagara Falls. Mr. Whittemore, in writing home a description of their visit to his paper, the Trumpet, said: – "When we came to Table Rock, Father Ballou stood in amazement, and when we urged him to go back over the river before dark, 'Oh!' said he, 'how can I go away?' He said his thoughts were like those of Peter on one occasion: 'It is good to be here; let us build tabernacles, and dwell upon the spot.' A prism was handed to him, through which he could see the rapids in colors ineffably glorious. 'Oh! my soul! oh! glory to God!' were his exclamations."
No man had a more thorough appreciation of all that was grand and noble in nature, no one a keener eye for her myriads of charms that gladden our daily lives and illumine the pathway of life.
"We heard him, for the first time," says the editor of the American Phrenological Journal, "at a Universalist general convention, Akron, Ohio, in September, 1843, where he preached to a very large gathering, with the ablest men in the denomination preceding and following him. Many of them delivered more elaborate and carefully studied discourses, but there was no other who made the brown faces of the old farmers so fairly shine with admiration and delight as 'Father Ballou.' Many of them had heard him in New England thirty or forty years previous, and now, hearing that he was to attend the convention, had come thirty or forty miles to listen to him once again, and for the last time on earth. Though then past man's allotted period of 'threescore years and ten,' his distinctness of utterance, clearness of statement, aptness of illustration, and force of argument, might well have been taken as a model by a young preacher; and, though he spoke more than an hour, a very general regret was evident that he closed so soon. In person Mr. Ballou was tall and slight, with a bearing of unaffected meekness and humility."
In the summer of the succeeding year he made another visit to New York and Philadelphia, in accordance with the promise made some years before, to come as often and for as long a period as was convenient to him, and also in compliance with the earnest solicitations of the societies in both these cities at that time. As we have before remarked, he had formed many personal friends in both these cities, and it was, as we have heard him often declare, refreshing to his heart to meet them and enjoy their liberal and kind hospitality. He felt, too, an earnest solicitude for the spiritual welfare of those societies, before whom he had so often spoken with such satisfaction to himself and profit to them. During this journey southward, by the solicitations of the societies in Baltimore, Mr. Ballou extended his visit to that city, where he stopped for a short period, which time he improved by the delivery of sermons day and evening. On his return to Boston, he preached a sermon, we well remember, relative to the condition of the cause of Universalism, and was made glad at heart by the state in which he found it in these cities, and at being able to make such goodly report at home. It was like the husbandman going abroad in his master's vineyard, and counting the harvest of his lord, which he had himself planted.
The kind and hospitable treatment which Mr. Ballou always received, in the cities particularly of New York and Philadelphia, seems to have made a most indelible impression upon his heart. Often has he spoken of it in his family circle, until we have felt almost as though we had individually shared the delightful reunions which he described. True, it was thus wherever he visited, as it regarded making warm and lasting friends, but he has left memorandums that signify his remembrance more particularly of the societies of these cities. He says: – "In New York and Philadelphia, I have ever been made by the brethren to feel that I was at home; kind hearts and hands have ever greeted me in either place, and some of the happiest and most profitable moments of my life I think have been passed in ministering to the beloved societies in these places. Had my Heavenly Father seen fit to render my services less happy and fortunate in their result in Boston, I should have found a happy home in either New York or Philadelphia. As it is, my frequent visits to both have afforded me undiminished satisfaction, and much social enjoyment. My sincere prayers are constantly offered for their happiness, well-being, and spiritual good." The great and moving cause of his exerting such an influence by his words and manners over the minds of people in his religious teachings, as well as his private intercourse, was the spirit of sincerity that imbued every motion, while the beauty and purity of his moral character seemed to sanctify every word and action, which emanated from him. With not the slightest stain upon his character from boyhood, he was such a being as people could afford to reverence, respect, and love.
Through the whole of his long and active career, Mr. Ballou never once turned aside from the one great object and purpose of his heart, that of promulgating God's fatherly and impartial love to all mankind, as evinced in the holy Scriptures and the dispensations of Providence.
In a poem, ending with the two following verses, he has himself expressed his devoted zeal better than we can do.
In this service he never wrote or uttered a single sentence that was not peculiar to himself for its plainness of purpose, yet depth of thought, and for strong logical reasoning to this grand end. He possessed for his purpose a large share of ready, manly eloquence, not nervous and startling, but cool and convincing; and this, coupled with a natural quickness in discovering the strength or weakness of an argument, ever insured him victory in religious controversy. No sarcasm, no reflection, no imputation could throw him off his guard for one moment. He was ever unruffled, yet forcible, evincing the spirit of the doctrine which he advocated at all times. It was perfectly impossible to so excite him in controversy as to lead him to say the least ungentlemanly, or even abrupt thing. He stood for years as a target for the poisoned arrows of malice, bigotry and envy, and bore all with a serene dignity of spirit, which a firm reliance in Heaven could alone have given.
In his public teachings he never indulged in abstractions, never ran away from his theme, upon abstruse and visionary ideas. He was in this respect, as in all others, eminently natural, eminently practical, eminently original. We do not find nature teaching us by adducing vague notions of facts, but rather by a display of the facts themselves. Abstractions and transcendentalisms are but thick fogs to cloud the mental vision, while plain matter-of-fact is the clear, bright view of truth, with the soft, rich perspective of wisdom. It is exceedingly questionable, when we hear a minister dilating upon the arts and sciences, or leading his hearers off in a vein of visionary philosophy, whether that man has a religion worth preaching, or that is congenial to his own heart.
"He was a man of great originality and remarkable power," says Rev. Mr. Miner. "He walked not in a beaten track. His method of interpretation was all his own; it was evolved by the new faith which inspired him, and maintained throughout a self-consistency unknown to biblical writers fifty years ago. Though his labor consisted in dealing with the most familiar statements, yet he never failed to shed upon his theme a new and diviner light, and to invest it with rare and universal interest. It is no condemnation of his method of interpretation to say that it seemed, to the perverted understanding of that time, to be forced and unnatural. The value of this circumstance may be justly estimated by the fact, that the current methods of the world have been constantly assimilating to his method, ever since it has been in conflict with them.
"It was in his style of exposition and clearness of illustration, rather than in his form of statement, that his originality consisted. It was manifested not so much by rhetorical aids, as by his vivid embodiment of the principle he would inculcate. In the early part of his ministry, he had too much hard work to do, too many open and covert foes to contend with, too many hurtful errors to overthrow, to permit him to loiter in the fields of literature for the gathering of verbal and rhetorical bouquets. He needed not these aids. His thought was rare, and burned with the truths of God. Howsoever expressed, it was sure to be remembered. The hearer might have no recollection of the dress. Whether clothed or unclothed, whether 'in the body or out of the body,' he might not be able to say. One thing, however, he could say; a new thought, glowing like the sun in the heavens, with a light all its own, had found a place in his heart. He who possesses such a power need seek no other. The trappings of literature can never do the work of truth. They may dazzle the imagination; but truth alone can warm the heart. They may lead to the admiration of man, but never to the adoration of God."
This is so much in the spirit of what we have before remarked, that the quotation is most applicable.
Several short poems are introduced into these pages from Mr. Ballou's pen. They are generally taken at random from his published fugitive pieces, unless designed to illustrate some particular trait of character or frame of mind, some cherished principle of the writer's heart. Though we claim no fame for Mr. Ballou as a poet, yet his productions in this line of composition are numerous. A volume of his poems has lately been collected and published, but these pieces were thrown off in the hurry of an editor's duty, and evince no care on the writer's part. He has left us scraps of verse, however, which show that the power was native in him, and the poet's genius a part of his natural endowment. The verses that will close the last of this volume, though written in old age, compare favorably with those of any production of the kind we have ever met with. As late as the year 1844, he was an occasional contributor of poems to the press, of a character calculated for the times. These verses were given to the public under the signature of "Spectator," and were designed to effect some prominent end, to reform some acknowledged impropriety, or to commend that which was good and useful. These, however, were never attributed to him, nor was it known out of his family circle that he had written them. Some of them were humorous, some pathetic, some patriotic. His poems were always easy and liquid in versification, full of point and meaning, expressing much in a few words, while the ideas are clothed in the sweetest garb of poesy. Witness the following, which is the only one at hand at this time:
HYMN FOR FOURTH OF JULY
We well remember to have been present on one occasion, when a conversation took place between Mr. Ballou and a visitor who had come from a distance on purpose to see and talk with him on the matter of religion. He was vacillating in his faith, but was by no means persuaded of the truth of Universalism. He was a man of wealth, had retired from business, but having had his mind brought to a serious turn by a very critical illness, which had nearly proved fatal to him, he had resolved to make the Scriptures his study until he should be able to say that he had joy and peace in believing. This he told Mr. Ballou, who commended his resolution, promised to afford him any and all light within his own power to impart, and sitting down together, they conversed for some time.
"I cannot see," said the visitor at last, "why it is that a religion which promises its believers and followers eternal life for obedience, and the woe of eternal misery for disobedience, does not make more truly religious people than your doctrine, which holds forth only temporary evil for disobedience, and temporary reward for obedience. The matter seems very plain to me."
"I will tell you the reason of this," said Mr. Ballou, "and in so doing I will give you an evidence also of the truth of the doctrine I profess. The reason is found in the very nature of man, his disposition, and natural promptings. Give to him a task to perform, threaten him with the most fearful sufferings and torment if he fail to accomplish the duty you have prescribed for him, and his calculation will naturally be to do just as little of the hated work as it is possible for him to do and avoid the punishment. Now, on the other hand, you give him an occupation which he is satisfied will be productive of his own happiness and good, that in the very nature of things will produce him an ample and abundant reward, and the selfishness natural to man will lead him to be faithful."
"It would most certainly seem to be so," answered the visitor, thoughtfully.
"Certainly this is plain philosophy," was the answer.
"But I do not exactly understand your application," said the stranger.
"That is just what I am coming to. Present to man a religion of which the services are calculated to promote his rational enjoyment, which takes nothing from him without returning more than its value, and in the spirit of which increase of duty is an increase of happiness, and there is but little danger but that they will eagerly accept it. This world is full of labor, toil, and traffic, and the whole is carried on by the power of this principle."
"I must acknowledge that religion has seemed to be too much sustained by threats and promises," said the stranger.
"To be sure it has," said Mr. Ballou. "The idea that we perform any service in order to escape punishment, renders that service tedious and irksome to us; while, on the contrary, duty is supreme delight when love is the inducement and the labor."11
The individual above referred to was an Englishman, who came often to Mr. Ballou's house afterwards, and held similar conversations. This was no unusual case. Perfect strangers came and sat for hours sometimes, evidently seekers after truth, and anxious ones too. To such Mr. Ballou was ever condescending, patient, and took delight in answering all their queries upon certain doctrinal points, explaining each passage referred to, showing its bearing upon others, and challenging the visitor's respect by his urbanity and never-varying politeness in all things.
Mr. Ballou was ever ready and prompt at an answer, and his replies were frequently tempered with a quick and pungent wit. He was on a certain occasion, on his way to deliver a lecture in the town of Reading, Vt., surrounded by a number of people, when an Orthodox deacon, confronting him suddenly, asked, with a taunting air and self-sufficient bearing, —
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