Maturin Ballou.

Biography of Rev. Hosea Ballou



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In illustration of the feelings which influenced him as it regarded intercourse with his children, and consideration for their enjoyment, and sympathy with them even in many seeming trifles, we relate the following anecdote, which, though perhaps trifling in itself, is by no means without value in point of application.

When Mr. Ballou engaged, in 1834, to go to New York and Philadelphia, it became known to one of his parishioners, who desired to send his child, a young lady, to the latter city, on a visit to some relations or friends. His request to take charge of the young person was cheerfully acceded to by Mr. Ballou. It so happened that the person who was to accompany him was a classmate at school and a very intimate companion of one of his own daughters, the eldest then at home. When this daughter learned that her classmate was to accompany her father on his journey, she could not but express a wish that she were going also. There were no railroad conveniences then, nor were scarcely any of the present accommodations for travelling perfected. It was not only considerable of an undertaking to commence a journey of three hundred miles, but it necessarily involved not a trifling expense.

It came to the ears of Mr. Ballou that his child really desired to accompany him; and, when he understood the circumstances, he immediately gave his consent, – telling her, playfully, not to say anything to her young friend of this, but that he would manage an agreeable surprise for her. The stage came to the house very early on the morning appointed for starting, – long before daylight. Mr. Ballou and his daughter got in, and took their places on the back seat, the latter well wrapped up about the face. They then drove to the house of her schoolmate, who was to accompany them. She also took her place in the vehicle, exchanging a salutation with Mr. Ballou, and they drove off in the darkness. It was not long before the young lady took occasion to remark, casually, to Mr. Ballou, how agreeable it would have been could Elmina (the daughter) have accompanied them. "Very, – very indeed," said Mr. Ballou; and they still drove quietly on. At last, the city being now left far behind, and daylight having appeared, Mr. Ballou asked the young lady if she knew the person by her side. On hearing this inquiry, she turned to see her neighbor's face, and lo! it was her classmate and dearest friend with whom she had been thus seated so long without recognizing her! The daughter has since often declared that she knew not which enjoyed the ruse most on this occasion, – father or child.

During the year 1845, Mr. Ballou, being then seventy-four years of age, wrote and published two or three essays in the Universalist Quarterly, upon certain passages of scripture which had seemed to be a stumbling-block to many of his own denomination. One of these texts was that commencing, "In my Father's house are many mansions," etc. This, by some of the order of Universalists, was supposed to signify that in the future state there would be different degrees of blessedness, in proportion to the worthiness of the spirit, or to its moral character and mental cultivation.

This idea was thoroughly exploded, as it regarded many minds, by the article referred to, which was thus the means of converting many doubtful minds, as they acknowledged, some of them orally, and some by letters addressed to him from at home and abroad. The clear, logical style of reasoning evinced in this essay, and in one published by him not long subsequent in the Quarterly, relative to the question as to what influence our present being may have on our future existence, showed conclusively that the full strength and vigor that originally rendered his writings so forcible were with him still, that his mental vision was as keen as ever, and that none of his powers of intellect had waned in their fire.

These articles were penned as correctly and distinctly, as it regarded the chirography, as was his early custom, and generally written, if not at one sitting, within the space of a few hours; for, when he had anything to do, he could not feel contented until it was done. The article completed, he would carefully fold it, and wend his way personally to the publishing-house in Cornhill, and deposit it there, never failing at the appointed time to read the proof, concerning which he was very sensitive, and very correct. It was but a few days prior to his decease that he read thus the proof-sheets of his last article, furnished for the Universalist Quarterly.

In the manuscript which Mr. Ballou furnished the author of this biography, there appears written about this period, the fall of 1845, the following interesting paragraph relative to the immense change that he had lived to see transpire in the religious world about him.

"Since I came to this city, I have enjoyed the happiness of seeing the cause of religion prosper, and the different denominations growing more liberal and more charitable towards each other. I have seen, too, my own peculiar views received very generally, and regarded very favorably by the denomination to which I have belonged from the commencement of my public labors. Since I came here I have been rejoiced to see the wonderful increase of Universalist societies in Boston and the neighboring towns, as well as in the other States of our Union. There are firmly established ones now in Roxbury, Cambridgeport, East Cambridge, Medford, Malden, etc., besides five or six in Boston, to the commencement and building up of which I have had the pleasure of adding my mite by way of labor."

It was very natural that he should then contrast the state and condition of the cause with its feebleness when he first came to Boston. A few scattered believers were all it numbered then; persecution and obloquy greeted its defenders at every step. To be called a Universalist was equivalent to being called anything vile and wicked, and the name was held as one of reproach by nearly all. But how vastly different was the prospect that presented itself to his view in the closing days of his life, and how grateful this must have been to him who had borne the burthen and the heat of the day! He saw the denomination vastly extended. He saw Universalists respected not only for numbers, but for the goodly influence they exerted far and wide.

He saw that there were now nineteen annual state conventions, eighty-two associations, eight missionary societies, ten hundred and seventy societies, professing the doctrine; seven hundred and ninety-nine meeting-houses devoted to this worship, and some seven hundred preachers in his Master's vineyard, who taught the doctrine of God's impartial grace. These, and other facts equally illustrating the wonderful change he had witnessed, caused him, when toasted and called upon at the late festival of brethren in Boston, to speak to them, to say, that as he gazed on the crowd before him, and thought of the multitude they represented, he was reminded of the beginning of Universalism in New England, and to quote the words of the prophet: "There was a handful of corn in the top of the mountain, but its fruit shall shake like Lebanon!"

How apt and true the quotation.

We have seen that the vigor and keenness of Mr. Ballou's mind had in no way abated, that every mental faculty still shone brightly as at the prime of his manhood. Let us show the reader statistically what that mind had performed in its time. During his professional life he delivered over ten thousand sermons. This calculation, which at first appears to be so very large, is nevertheless strictly correct, and will not seem to be overrated, when we call to mind the fact that for more than thirty years of his ministration he not only preached three times every Sabbath, but frequently for several consecutive days of the week beside. Until within five or ten years past, three sermons on the Sabbath has been his usual performance, in the line of his professional duty. And after his sermons in country towns, the answering of questions, and the conversation he was obliged to hold in private with honest seekers after truth, were quite as laborious, in fact, as were his public services in the pulpit. We have known him to occupy nearly half the night, not unfrequently, in this manner, patiently and zealously.

Including his essays and treatises upon doctrinal subjects, his fugitive sermons furnished for the different magazines and papers of which he was editor for a long period of time, and afterwards a constant contributor to the very end of his life, beside a large number which appeared in pamphlet form, and of which no particular mention is made in these pages, and the works herein referred to, Mr. Ballou has written and published enough to make one hundred volumes, containing the same amount of matter as the one now in the hands of the reader. The mere mechanical labor of writing such a mass of composition is in itself a Herculean task; but when we consider that each page is characterized by careful reasoning upon points that required much thought and study, and that the whole is largely original; that the author was unaided by any other books, save the Bible, in the formation of his arguments and opinions; and that he was a self-made man withal, we shall come to the conclusion, that, to say the least of it, the subject of these memoirs was particularly blessed and aided by Divine Providence.

One secret of his having accomplished so much, is the fact that he was never idle, never contented to sit down with folded arms in his chair and do nothing; a book or a pen was ever in his hands, except when he was taking the ordinary and necessary daily exercise. His life had been too stirring and active for him ever to relapse into dormancy, while his faculties were left to him. How well we can see him at this moment, in the mind's eye, as he used to appear at the centre-table, with his book close by the lamp, of an evening, and his wife opposite to him, listening to the work which he was reading aloud to her; such is almost the last evening scene we can recall in connection with him; his clear, distinct pronunciation, proper emphasis, and fine voice, even in old age, seeming to portray with singular accuracy the author's ideas, and to add a charm to the subject treated upon.

Mr. Ballou had always deprecated the idea of capital punishment, believing the law based on a wrong principle that would take the life of a human creature, while none but God could give it. During the winter of 1845, there was more than the usual interest evinced by the public on this subject, and numerous public meetings were held relative to the subject, and to endeavor to bring about a reform in the criminal code, so as to exclude the death penalty altogether. At several of these assemblies Mr. Ballou made eloquent addresses upon the subject, and wrote a number of articles, which were published, advocating the cause, in which he felt a very great interest. We subjoin the following poem, written by him at this time. It is peculiarly illustrative of his plain, straightforward style of composition.

THE CRIMINAL CODE
 
If in the heart the virus dwell
Of murder, can we that expel
By dire revenge, or shall we find
We miss the law that governs mind?
 
 
To quench a flame should we engage,
And fuel add, behold the rage!
Now fiercer still the flame ascends,
And fear with consternation blends.
 
 
Man kills his neighbor. Why? Because
His passions rise against the laws,
Which God hath written on his soul,
Unmanned the man, and made a fool.
 
 
To cure the evil, now the law,
With tiger rage and open jaw,
Cries out for blood, for blood it cries,
Seizes the culprit, and he dies.
 
 
Two men are dead in room of one;
And now the work is but begun:
The virus spreads, and everywhere
The deadly taint infects the air.
 
 
And murder now becomes more rife;
Lighter esteemed is human life
And he who could not just before,
Now coolly looks on human gore.
 
 
Revenge is wrong; cannot subdue
The vile affections, but renew
Their actions to a flame more dire,
To rage like a consuming fire.
 
 
When will our legislators learn,
That blessed, heavenly truth discern, —
When will it well be understood,
That evil is o'ercome with good?"
 

Mr. Ballou always had a purpose in view when he wrote, whether prose or poetry, and to this end, more than to the musical cadence of the verse, he exerted his ability at composition, and always successfully.

The subject of this biography was far from being loquacious, and seldom talked without some important and definite purpose in view. Yet, though he might be said to be somewhat reserved in speech, he was by no means secluded or abstracted in his habits, but, on the contrary, generally evinced the liveliest interest in the conversation of those about him. He was not one to break in upon the conversation of others, and if his opinion was given at all, it was almost always because it was solicited. There is such a thing as eloquent silence; and when we see a mind, much enriched by study and experience, offered as it were uninvited, at all times and on all occasions, we see very plainly that there is something wanting. Sidney Smith said of Macaulay, that he only wanted a few brilliant flashes of silence to make him perfect!

There are few old people, or such as have reached the advanced age of threescore and ten, who have not stored up in their memories a fund of stories and personal anecdotes, many, perhaps, of their own individual experience. These they are in the habit of relating frequently as they go on their way of life, and often do so over and over again to the same individuals, through mere forgetfulness. This is perhaps one of the earliest evidences of mental decay. Although, in the course of his long and chequered life, Mr. Ballou had experienced many interesting incidents, and learned many curious anecdotes, yet it was a very rare thing for him to relate one, unless when, in conversation or argument, some one peculiarly applicable to the subject in hand, suggested itself to his mind as illustrative of some feeling or passion of our natural dispositions. When he did speak, those about him always listened. It was on such occasions, that, like the sage of "Rasselas," he spoke, and attention watched his lips; he reasoned, and conviction closed his periods. This was particularly the case in his large family circle, where his opinion, as we have before observed, was sought and repeated, on all subjects and on all occasions. While there never was a parent more truly respected, there never was one more dearly beloved. This could not be brought about by an iron rule, and a stern, inflexible character. No. It was accomplished on his part by the exercise, in his domestic relations, of that holy fatherly love which formed the basis of his creed, and which he worshipped in his God.

For a number of years Mr. Ballou was in the habit of carrying a snuff-box in his pocket, and of using the article as freely as is generally the case with those who carry it about them. We all know, doubtless, how very easy a matter it is to contract a habit, and more particularly is this the case in advanced years. But if it is difficult for young people to abandon any bad habit, when the practice has once been fairly contracted, – if it is hard for them to conquer a pleasant but baleful appetite, with the many channels of amusement, occupation, and substitutes that youth and physical vigor present, – how much more difficult must it be for those who are aged and infirm, and who are thrown so much upon their own resources for amusement, and the means of agreeably passing their leisure moments. After having made habitual use of snuff for several years, Mr. Ballou found that it cloyed the nasal organs or passage, and thus slightly affected his voice as to distinctness in public speaking. Perceiving this, he laid by the article at once, without a murmur, and did not use it at all for three years, and never again habitually. This instance of resolution simply serves to show the natural firmness of his character, and the complete self-control which he exercised over himself.

There is still another illustration of this spirit, which we will give here.

About a year subsequent to the period of his discontinuing the use of snuff, a physician suggested to him the propriety of smoking tobacco after each meal, and being at that time slightly dyspeptic, it was thought that it might aid and stimulate the digestive organs. The suggestion was therefore adopted, and Mr. Ballou consequently soon acquired the habit of smoking regularly after each meal, three times a day, which practice he continued for a period of some two years. This habit is universally acknowledged to be one of the most seductive in its character, and one which will draw stronger upon the inclination and appetite than any other, except perhaps the use of ardent spirits. One day we observed that the old gentleman did not light his pipe as usual, after dinner, and we asked him if he had forgotten it. "No," said he. "I have been thinking that I am becoming a slave to this habit, inasmuch as I find that I have to do it regularly every day at certain periods. It is no longer a medicine, but a pleasant habit, and I shall leave it off until I find that I require it again for my health's sake." His pipe was thenceforth laid aside, as his snuff-box had been, without a murmur, or any external advice to influence him; thus showing the strict self-denial he exercised.

The careful reader will follow out the application of this spirit, for it was adopted by Mr. Ballou in every bearing in which it was possible to affect himself, in accordance with the dictates of his better judgment, not only as it related to simple appetite and agreeable habit, but it was one of his fixed and fundamental principles of character, often evinced. Probably no person who possessed the means, ever desired more to travel over his own and foreign countries, than did the subject of this biography. Well read in ancient and modern history, and familiar with geography, frequent reference was made by him to this desire to visit more particularly Palestine and the East generally. But when urged to gratify what his children knew to be so strong a wish, and with every facility offered him, and one or more of his children to accompany him, his spirit of self-denial caused him to say: – "How much there is to do yet, that I may accomplish in my Master's vineyard. To gratify this desire would indeed be delightful to me, but what benefit could it ever be to my fellow-men?"

He was assiduously kind and thoughtful in relation to animals. For many years, and until latterly, he kept a horse and vehicle for his own use, and he was always particular to see personally that the animal was properly fed and protected. He was accustomed daily to prepare from his own plate, after dinner, food for a large dog that belonged to a member of the family, as late as his seventy-eighth year. This kindly solicitude and thoughtfulness for the dumb animals about him was an evidence of the natural goodness of his heart. Animals soon learn to love those that are kind to them, and even the family cat purred more cheerfully when resting by his feet, while he often gave it a kind caress.

Mr. Ballou was very regular as to his personal habits, particularly during the last twenty years of his life. We refer to the taking of his meals, his sleep, exercise, and the like. In late years he was accustomed to retire early at night, and to rise very early in the morning. In former years, as we have shown, he borrowed much of the night for his hours of study. This was particularly the case when he was engaged in his earlier writings, and when acting as sole editor of the various papers with which he was at different times connected. He was indeed remarkably frugal in his diet, and to this may be attributed, in a large degree, the constant good health he enjoyed. He ever preferred the most homely and simple food, partaking of little meat, and more freely of milk and bread. Before the noon-day meal on the Sabbath, with his family assembled about the board, he always asked the divine blessing, in a most impressive manner, but on no other day was he accustomed to do so aloud.

His hand upon the door, or his footfall upon the sill, was a sweet sound to us all; for it was with him as Dr. Doddridge said of his venerable friend Dr. Clark, of St. Albans, – "He brought joy into every house which he entered, but most of all into his own house, when he returned to it."

We have once already referred in these pages to Mr. Ballou's wife. Our feelings would naturally prompt a much more elaborate allusion to her many virtues, both as a mother and as a wife. But as we design this biography to be strictly a memoir of Mr. Ballou, we only refer in these pages to such other matters as are deemed necessary to mention, in furtherance of the main object of the work. Mr. Ballou was fortunate in allying himself to a companion who was in every way worthy of him, one whom he loved with the most tender and undying affection through his whole life, and who was to him all that a wife should be. Her characteristics were remarkable industry, simplicity of heart, devotedness to him, and untiring domestic assiduity. With a naturally strong intellect and good judgment, she also coupled the agreeable attraction of personal beauty; but the outward comeliness of her person was far eclipsed in his eyes by more enduring loveliness.



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