Maturin Ballou.

Biography of Rev. Hosea Ballou

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"Will you answer me one question, Mr. Ballou?"

"Certainly, if I can do so at such short notice," said Mr. Ballou, smiling at the man's impetuosity.

"Well, sir," said the deacon, "what will become of a man who goes out of the world cursing and swearing, and calling on God to damn his soul to hell?"

"Do you believe, my dear sir," said Mr. Ballou, "that a righteous God would answer the vile prayer of such a wicked wretch?"

"Why no," said the deacon, "of course not."

"You have answered your own question then," said Mr. Ballou, quietly, while the deacon turned away much disconcerted.

It is so true that Folly's shallow lip can ask the deepest question, that it is well to remember sometimes, that a fool should be answered according to his folly.

"The frequency of his times of preaching, in the former part of his ministry," says the editor of the Repository, "can be but ill imagined now, nor the intense interest with which his message was listened to by the multitude. At times he would preach between two appointments, while his horse was feeding, – his pulpit the base of a noble oak, and the congregation reverently standing in its broad shadow. Taking advantage of his haste in leaving, some question would be asked him by some restive, dogmatic deacon, and the undreamed of answer, that came as the lightning's flash, would add new fuel to the fire of interest he had kindled in the midst of the people."

In this connection we are reminded of an anecdote, for which we are indebted to Rev. Sylvanus Cobb, of the Christian Freeman. We introduce it here to show Mr. Ballou's power of argument without the least tincture of ostentation. It was often his way in debate to ask some apparently simple but natural question, which his opponent answering, as he obviously must do, would almost certainly refute his own fragile creed or position, and himself and others would be led to see where the truth really was. Mr. Cobb says: —

"The world at large have known much of the powers and genius of Mr. Ballou's mind from his published works, but he had most lovely traits of character which a personal acquaintance only could discover. While an intellectual giant in strength, he was unaffectedly modest and unassuming, and never engaged in mere disputations. He would never enter into a combat for mere personal mastery, nor pursue a noisy contest with one who showed himself to be insincere and trickish; while his own meekness and simplicity of spirit, combined with his clearness of perception, would generally cut down the swaggering, cavilling spirit, if he came in contact with it.

"An interesting incident, illustrative of this amiable trait of character, once occurred in a brief exchange of words between him and Abner Kneeland. Mr. Kneeland had become an atheist, and one day came into an apartment where there was a little company of our ministering brethren, among whom was Mr. Ballou. Mr. Kneeland was forward to communicate this supposed new light to those with whom he was formerly associated in the ministry of Christ.

He could dispense with the use of a creator of the world and of man, regarding the physical universe and the human species as eternal in their being without beginning. Yet he got in the idea, in the course of the conversation, that man is composed of the elements of nature.

"Mr. Ballou had been sitting in silence, with his elbows resting upon his knees (an attitude he often assumed when listening attentively to an argument). At this point he raised his head, and assumed an erect position of body, and said: —

"'Bro. Kneeland, you seem to have thought a great deal on these subjects, and perhaps you can give me some useful information. Now we see around us, in the city and country, a great many wooden houses. Of what are these houses made?'

"'They are made of timbers, boards, shingles, and the like,' answered Mr. Kneeland.

"'And out of what,' said Mr. Ballou, 'are these boards and shingles made?'

"'Out of trees,' replied Mr. K.

"'Then,' said Mr. Ballou, 'all wooden houses were made out of trees. If so, must there not have been trees before there was a wooden house?'

"'Yes,' said the other, 'of course.'

"'Well, I thought so,' said Mr. Ballou; 'and now,' continued he, 'here are many brick houses, – of what are they made?'

"'They are made,' answered Mr. Kneeland, 'out of bricks, which are composed of clay and sand.'

"'Well, then,' said Mr. Ballou, 'if all brick houses are made of bricks, which are composed of clay and sand, must there not have been bricks before there was a brick house, and clay and sand before there was a brick?'

"Mr. Kneeland now, perceiving what application Mr. Ballou was about to make of his concessions, to explain his philosophy of having men composed of the elements of nature and yet having no elements of nature before there were men, began to equivocate! He would not admit the inference from the fact that all brick houses were made of bricks, etc., and he even retraced his steps, and took back what he had admitted in respect to wooden houses.

"'What!' said Mr. Ballou, 'if all wooden houses were made of trees, must there not have been trees before there were wooden houses?'

"'No,' replied Mr. Kneeland, 'that need not follow!'

"'Well, then,' said Mr. Ballou, 'how stupid I am!'

"And as he uttered these words, he dropped his head again, and let himself back into a posture of quiet rest. Mr. Kneeland at the same time choked and blushed, and attempted to recover himself for renewed conversation, but he evidently could not, and so took his departure.

"This is but one of many incidents which might be cited to illustrate Mr. Ballou's simplicity in the pursuit and love of truth, his readiness with argument for its support and advancement, in connection with a modest, unassuming habit, and a hatred of bluster and noisy strife."

A volume might be filled with anecdotes equally characteristic of Mr. Ballou's manner and style of argument, had we the necessary time to collect them. But we trust that the few that are compiled and given to our readers herewith, may sufficiently familiarize them with the subject's character, both as a Christian and as a theologian. Since commencing this work, a vast number of anecdotes have suggested themselves to the writer's mind, and others, new to him, have been submitted by friends; but only such as have been considered valuable as illustrating his character, and which are known to be authentic, have been selected for publication in these pages.


All who knew Mr. Ballou intimately, can bear witness that his home was a happy one. This, of course, was owing to the manner in which he had framed and modeled that home after his own heart and the dictates of the religion he professed. He was the master mind there; his word was law, his simplest wish strictly complied with. He was looked up to with a degree of respect and veneration by his children, that was an abiding evidence of his true character. In the government of his family, he led, but never drove, his children, endeavoring, to the utmost of his ability, to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and, taking his divine Master for his example, he governed them by love and kindness alone.

He was strongly characterized for his fondness of domestic enjoyment, and throughout his whole life, to the very end, evinced the most constant and tenderest solicitude for each and all of his children. Even after they had married and settled in life, with families about them, this solicitude continued as ardent as ever; nor was there one of those children who would undertake any matter of importance without first consulting his wishes in the premises, and seeking his advice upon the subject; so highly were both respected and esteemed. This is mentioned in this connection, not as an encomium upon the family, but simply to show the reader the universal love and respect that its head always commanded. We find this subject referred to by Rev. Henry Bacon, in his published remarks concerning the decease of the subject of this biography. He refers to the respect in which his advice was held upon secular matters, not only in his own family, but by others of his acquaintance.

"He was great," says Mr. Bacon, "in the clearness with which he saw the essential truths of the gospel, and in the power with which he communicated them to others, by that spirit of calm earnestness, and that wondrous faculty to make himself intelligible, which peculiarly distinguished him. He was great as a logician; great in wisdom that penetrates to the reality of character, and opens the real motives that sway the man; and his counsel in matters far removed from his peculiar walk in life was weighed as the utterance of an oracle that must not be slighted. Simple in his habits, he lost nothing of life in indulgences that rob existence of its serenity; fixed in a few great principles, he made everything contribute thereto for the enlargement of his views of men and things; and, reverencing the Scriptures with a depth of reliance that was beautiful to behold, he brought forth the harmonies of the divine Word in a manner that suggested more than he ever expressed, though he expressed enough to satisfy millions of souls."

May we add here, how grateful such words of appreciation are to the hearts of his family.

The following was furnished us by Rev. Thomas Whittemore, and would seem to come most properly under this chapter of Domestic and Personal Characteristics. Mr. Whittemore was solicited for something relative to the subject, being so old and valued a friend of the deceased, and he thus speaks: —

"The life of Hosea Ballou is, in almost every respect, pleasing to contemplate. It was a very active life. He travelled much, he preached often, he studied continually, and he wrote not a little. In the earlier part of his life he joined teaching of the young in the common sciences to his other avocations. No small portion of his leisure time he spent in reading; but he thought more than he read. He was always digging for gold; not, however, in books, but in the mine of his own intellect. His mind was very active.

"The most pleasing part of his life was his serene old age. The writer of this remembers him well when he was forty years of age. Ten years afterwards, the writer entered his family to pursue a course of studies for the ministry. Mr. B.'s mind at fifty seemed never at rest. If not reading, he was busily engaged in mental effort. Often, when he was walking in the streets, have we seen his lips move, as if he were talking. At his home, he would sit frequently with his eyes closed, his lips moving, as if holding conversation with some invisible person; and when he apparently came to some crisis in his meditations, he showed some outward sign of his feelings, sometimes by a smile, at others by suppressed laughter, at others by a sigh.

"A mind thus active is in danger of disturbing, if too much indulged, the proper action of the digestive powers, which, in their turn, react upon the mind, and produce lowness of spirits and gloom. Mr. Ballou at fifty was troubled in this way. His heart had an affection sympathetic with the stomach, and its action was irregular and intermittent. At this point of his life, he had lived but three or four years in Boston; and he had had occasion to perform a large amount both of mental and physical labor. He had preached three times almost every Sabbath; had edited, for two years, the 'Universalist Magazine;' had visited many parts of the country to preach the gospel, sometimes under very animating circumstances; and these complicated labors were too much for him. His most sagacious friends then had fears either that he would not live to old age, or, if he did, that his later years would be unquiet.

"We remember, with very great satisfaction, the exceeding gentleness and amiability of his wife, in the days of which we speak. While this excellent lady still survives, it is not proper for us to express all that may be justly said of her. She presided over her household with a fidelity, a blandness, a kindness, steady as the current of a river, and unruffled as a lake in the calmest day. This season of intermixture of health and sickness, joy and sadness, light and shade, continued for some half dozen years, when it was very gratifying to Mr. B.'s friends to see that each change denoted that his life might be protracted perhaps to old age, and that, peradventure, his old age should be as serene as his earlier days had been laborious and useful. Such proved to be the fact. He died in his eighty-second year, and his life grew more and more serene unto its close; like the sun, obscured somewhat by passing clouds at noon, but shining clearly during the rest of the day, making its course through the western sky, and passing away from the earth, as it were, into the boundless heavens beyond.

"This quiet old age I attribute to several circumstances. Mr. Ballou was a man of sound sense. It was his aim to make the best of everything. He was a Christian philosopher. He sought to rule his own spirit. He believed that humility and meekness were the brightest jewels in the Christian's crown. He had a firm trust in his Maker's goodness. He believed that God was the Sovereign of the universe, a Father of infinite goodness, as well as of infinite power, who executed his will in the armies of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and who, by everything which he did, and by everything which he permitted to be done, was seeking infallibly the good of his creatures. What an influence would such a faith exert on Mr. Ballou's life!

"Added to this, he had a wife whose constant effort and highest joy was to make her husband happy. Few such women have lived. It is my duty to declare, that, during thirty years' acquaintance with her, I never have heard the first unkind word from her lips, respecting any human being. Towards her husband, there was a devotion that never tired. It was her constant desire and aim to make him useful and happy. She appeared well in any society, but home was her genial sphere. Much of the quiet of Father Ballou's old age must be attributed to her. His children, also, have been sources of great comfort to him. They diligently aimed to make him happy. He loved them all with surpassing tenderness, and they loved him in consequence. Had anything unfavorable happened to either of his children, it would have been like a dart driven through his soul. We know that, even in that case, his religion and his philosophy would have come to his aid; he would have believed that God had a wise purpose in it; but, even with that alleviation, it must greatly have disturbed his life. No such affliction, however, awaited him. Two of his sons became preachers of the same gospel which he had defended, and by their prudent lives gained the respect of all who knew them. They have not, like many clergymen, moved frequently from place to place, but, for about a quarter of a century, have remained stationary pastors. In respect to the goods of this world, they have been prudent, and have prospered. * * * * The daughters have all been married to faithful, kind, and prudent husbands, of whom two are preachers of the gospel, and all, men of respectability, intelligence, and thrift.

"Such have been the circumstances of Father Ballou's family. But we have yet to mention another source of the happiness of his last days. He saw himself standing at the head of a large and prosperous body of Christians, who loved and venerated him for his labors, the purity of his character, and the good he had done. He saw their regard for him manifested at such times, and in such ways, that he had reason to believe it was not done for effect, but was the outgushing of the real feeling of their hearts. At the meetings of conventions, associations, and other public bodies, all were happy to greet the old soldier of the cross. His strength was spared to him to such a degree, that he was able to travel and preach up to the close of his life. His last sermon was delivered within eight days of his death. He used frequently to say that it seemed to him no man had more to be thankful for than he. Prudence in diet; prudence in labor; a kind heart; an affectionate companion; loving children; ease in his worldly circumstances; the homage of the class of Christians to which he belonged; the respect of mankind at large; ability to pursue his favorite calling to the end of life; a strong trust in God, whose commands he sought diligently to obey; – these were the causes of the serenity of his old age. 'Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace.' Psalm 37:37."

Especially was he fond of children and infants. This was a markedly prominent feature in his feelings; and children, too, never failed to make friends with him at once. In our own humble experience, we have made this a criterion of judgment in character. He who warmly and quickly interests a child, – whose temperament is such that infancy can easily assimilate with it, – whose sympathies are of a nature quickly to unite when brought in contact with childhood, – that man has at heart much of the real purity and innocence which are the main characteristics of those whom the Saviour blessed. We never saw a child shun or turn away from him; but we have seen scores of those who were strangers, put out their little hands and go willingly to him. In his own family circle his love of children found ample scope and a genial field for exercise.

More than forty of his own grandchildren might have been gathered together at one time during his life. But, as we have intimated, it was not with these alone that the spirit we refer to was evinced; it was the same with one as with another. All children he dearly loved, and particularly noticed. There seemed to be a magic power in his voice, and in the gentle beaming of his clear, expressive eyes, that carried assurance to their timid bosoms; and they would nestle happy and undismayed in his arms, or listen to his words, so cunningly adapted to the powers of their tender intellect.

The secret of Mr. Ballou's remarkable success in his family government, was, doubtless, his following those rules which he has so well expressed and laid down for others. It is a valuable excerpt that he has left, and we doubt not that the reader will thank us for introducing it here, and in his own words: – "When giving to your children commands, be careful that you speak with a becoming dignity, as if not only the right, but the wisdom also to command, was with you. Be careful not to discover a jealousy that your injunctions may not be attended to; for if the child sees that you have your doubts, they will lead the child to doubt too. Be cautious never to give your commands in a loud voice, nor in haste. If you must speak loudly in order to be obeyed, when it is not convenient to raise your voice you must expect to be disobeyed; and if it be convenient for you to speak loudly, you must remember it is inconvenient for others to hear it.

"But, with regard to manner, be careful to speak in a soft, tender, kind and loving way. Even when you have occasion to rebuke, be careful to do it with manifest kindness. The effects will be incalculably better. When you are obliged to deny the request that your child may make, do not allow yourself to do this with severity. It is enough for our dear little ones to be denied of what they may think they want, without being nearly knocked down with a sharp voice ringing in their tender ears.

"If you practise severity, speak harshly, frequently punish in anger, you will find your children will imbibe your spirit and manners. First you will find that they will treat each other as you treat them; and after they arrive to a little age, they will treat you with unkind and unbecoming replies. But if you are wise, and treat your little ones with tenderness, you will fix the image of love in their minds, and they will love you and each other, and in their conversation will imitate the conversation which they have heard from the tenderest friend which children have on earth."

In this connection we are reminded of a letter, lately published, from Mrs. C. A. Soule, relative to her impressions touching the death of the subject of this memoir. It will be remembered that her husband was a warm and cherished friend of Mr. Ballou's, and that he was associated with him as colleague over the Second Universalist Society, in School-street, Boston, as late as 1845.

"As vividly as though it were but yesterday, does memory bring to me that sunny April day, in 1844, when I first entered the sanctuary where he had ministered so many years. There was a dedication service, and I thought then, and I think now, that I never gazed upon a more impressive sight than was presented at that moment, when the aged pastor took in his arms the little helpless babe, and in touching words consecrated it to Him who said 'Suffer little children to come unto me.' That picture of infancy and age, – how I longed for a pencil to sketch it! Thank Heaven, memory, with faithful touch, inscribed it on my heart, and it will ever hang there, one of its most beautiful pictures. And now I see him at my own threshold. I meet him, and present him my own little one, my firstborn. How tenderly he caresses it! Long he looks into her laughing eyes, and then exclaims, in a tone I can never forget, 'How I wish I could read her thoughts!' Then, sitting down, he tells me that he never yet looked on a babe without longing to know the workings, the thoughts, of the infant mind; and afterwards gave me some excellent advice about so training that little one that when age should enable her to reveal her thoughts, they might all be pure and beautiful. How life-like is the portrait I have of him in my mind's eye! It seems so palpable that I almost feel the light as it streams from that thrilling eye, and hear the eloquent words that tremble on that 'heaven-touched tongue.'"

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