Biography of Rev. Hosea Ballou
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We have already given, in these pages, some remarks from the pen of the editor of the Trumpet, who, in a notice of Mr. Ballou's life, given on the occasion of a full-length portrait being completed of him, for the School-street Society, at the age of seventy-six, says of his companion: – "Sept. 15, 1796, he was married to his present wife, a woman of unsurpassable goodness, concerning whose praise it would be almost impossible to speak too highly." Mr. Whittemore was, some years since, an inmate of the family for a considerable period of time, and his words must therefore have weight, as coming from one who spoke advisedly.
Many of us know from personal experience how great is the influence upon our lives and actions of her to whom we have been bound by the holy tie of matrimony. Characters are often made or marred by this association. The calm dignity of demeanor, the evenness of temper, the perfect contentment and general life of the subject of this biography, all manifested the true character of his home relations, influences, and associations. Had those relations been different from what they were, a sterner hue would have tinged his character, and a different spirit doubtless have imbued his whole career in life; at least the inference is but natural.
The following lines were written by Mr. Ballou, then at the age of seventy-four years, in an album which he had presented to his wife, and are introduced here to show the affectionate regard that existed between them at this advanced period of life. No comment is necessary, save that the lines were written by a husband to his wife after fifty years' companionship.
TO MY WIFE
The patient reader who has followed us thus far in this desultory memoir, must feel more than a passing interest in her who was the bosom companion of Mr. Ballou; and in this connection we therefore introduce the following extract from a communication to the Christian Freeman, dated Sept. 5, 1851, which refers to a visit to the house of Mr. Ballou, who had been indisposed for a few days. After a brief introduction, the writer says: —
"I wish to say a word through you respecting our venerable and beloved father in Israel, H. Ballou. As your report last week spoke of the indisposition of this good brother, and knowing there would be a great desire, both at home and abroad, to know how he might be at this time, I did myself the pleasure, last Thursday, August 20, to call upon him at his own peaceful home.Here I met this aged saint, with his faithful companion, who have lived together over half a century, enjoying that undisturbed domestic peace and felicity, which it is to be feared that but few, comparatively speaking, attain to. Indeed, Father Ballou's family may well be called a 'model' family, for love and attachment, fidelity and trust; while the happiness of all is that of each, and the happiness of each is that of all. They have had eleven children, and eight are living to bless their declining years.
"Mrs. Ballou has not been so extensively known to the world as some; but as a wife and mother, none can excel her, and her amiable and happy disposition has enabled her to retain her former pleasant and affable manner, so that she is the same interesting and agreeable company that she was when I first knew her, thirty years ago. And hers is the privilege to have her children rise up and call her blessed.
"And now, with regard to the present health of Father Ballou. I was pleased to find him much more comfortable than I had expected. He has been suffering very much from a severe cold which he took about two weeks since, and which has been attended with a bad cough. He was quite unwell last Sabbath, and fears were entertained that he would be obliged to relinquish some of his appointments, which his friends are depending upon with such deep interest. But the simple remedies which have been applied, finding such a perfect and unimpaired constitution to work upon, have wrought a very favorable and happy result; so that, on Thursday, he seemed very comfortable, though his cough was not wholly removed. He seemed to have no apprehension but that he should yet, for some time to come, be able 'to be about his Father's business.' And many will be the fervent prayers that will ascend from the altar of pure and devoted hearts, that this faithful watchman on the walls of our spiritual Zion may be yet spared to us, to teach us the blessed truths of that glorious doctrine which, for sixty years, he has most faithfully and perseveringly preached, never shunning to declare the whole counsel of God.
This communication is from the pen of the sympathizing lady of Rev. Sylvanus Cobb. It is sufficient to show the opinion held by other people of Mrs. Ballou, and will also evince the general anxiety and interest realized at any symptoms of illness experienced by one whom so many loved and revered.
The only game that Mr. Ballou ever engaged in at all was the very simple one of chequers. This he would sometimes, though very seldom, sit down to on a long winter's evening, with one of his children, or perhaps some aged companion who was fond of the game. It is the most common thing for two persons, who are good players and thus engaged, to evince not a little feeling at the result of the game, either of pleasure at success, or of chagrin at being defeated. But as it regards this matter, we never saw him evince the least feeling either way, beyond one of his pleasant smiles, as often caused by defeat as by victory. He was what would be called an excellent player, but he evinced only a passing interest in the game.
At the age of seventy-eight Mr. Ballou was still as fluent and distinct a speaker as at the age of forty. His sermons were still characterized by the same powerful reasoning on every point, as well as bearing evidence of constant study, showing also most conspicuously one peculiarity of his, that of the practical as well as philosophical character of his investigations. One might think that, having preached for a term of nearly sixty years at the date of which we write, there would from necessity be a disagreeable sameness and repetition of ideas in his sermons; but this was far from being the case. We have heard old members of his society, who have listened to his public communications for more than thirty consecutive years, say that they have never heard him deliver a discourse without learning from his lips some fresh and beautiful evidence of the gospel truths, – some new and touching illustration of the ennobling sentiments he professed.
He has himself often remarked that each successive year of study made him happier than before, in the fresh truths and manifestations of divine goodness developed in that never-failing source of knowledge, – that flowing river of wisdom, – the Bible.
In his style of speaking, Mr. Ballou was very peculiar. There was none of the study and pomp of declamation in his delivery, – no attempt at effect; but he ever spoke to the people, before whom he raised his voice as that which he professed to be, an humble servant of all men. And yet he was eloquent, at times brilliantly so, and his oratory has been cited by competent judges as a rare example to follow. There are comparatively few men in these days, when the style of ranting, and tearing plain, straightforward sentiment to tatters, is so prevalent, who can so absorb an audience as he always did. When he commenced to speak, he would lay the subject before his hearers in a quiet but distinct tone, so as to place it within the capacity of a child, calmly and with judgment. Then as he proceeded he grew by degrees animated, and anon enthusiastic, yet ever to the purpose, while the expressive countenances of his hearers evinced how fully they entered into the spirit of the speaker. And when they retired from the place of meeting, the people were accustomed to feel that they had listened to profitable matter, and to follow out the theme which he had so distinctly and legibly marked for them.
In this connection, and as being illustrative of that which we have just remarked, we quote here from the sermon of Rev. Otis A. Skinner, of Boston (having been kindly permitted to do so), delivered before his society, relative to the decease of the subject of this biography. These remarks are as follows: —
"His sermons were all characterized by strength. They were not pretty, not declamatory; but noble, grand, strong. The hearer always felt as though his arguments were unanswerable, his conclusions above dispute. Who can gainsay that? That is unanswerable! Such has been the feeling of thousands at the close of his sermons. I question whether there was ever a preacher who made so many converts by his pulpit labors, as Father Ballou. Thousands on thousands have been convinced by him; and his converts were always those most remarkable for ability to reason, and for hearts of benevolence. He was ingenious as well as strong. The moment he began to open his subject, you began to be interested. You saw so much ingenuity in his mode of reasoning, in exposing error, in illustrating truth, that whatever you might think of his subject, you could not refrain from listening with marked attention. It was no uncommon thing for him to excite a smile, to move his whole congregation; but usually that was done by some ingenious argument that would electrify every mind present. In his preaching he was never light, never irreverent, but always grave, serious, devout; but he was ingenious, and his ingenuity often created a smile."
His discourses in the city generally averaged about thirty-five minutes; but in the country, where people came many miles to hear him speak, frequently crowding the place of worship to overflowing, and even standing at the windows on the outside, so thronged was the house within, he would sometimes speak from one to two hours. Inspired by the undeviating attention of the mass of honest seekers after truth who were before him, and incited by their eloquent countenances, in which he could read the influence of his words, it was difficult for him to know when to stop. At such times he was ever zealous, yet prudent, devout without ostentation, vigorous and unyielding in his opposition to error, but still always kind and conciliatory. He always complained that on such occasions he could not find one-half the time he wanted, while speaking upon the holy theme, and that minutes never flew more quickly than under such circumstances. The power of his eloquence upon the people at such times can be but poorly described; it must have been witnessed to be realized and understood. Honest countenances beamed with delight, calm and peaceful joy sat on the wrinkled brow and face of age, the eyes of the young sought each other in sympathy, full of a realizing sense of the riches of God's goodness. Even children were thoughtful, and forgot the restraint that the services had put upon them. As has been said in an extract herein, his converts were many. We do not mean that by one discourse he accomplished this reformation in their minds; but he removed the clouds from their mental vision, showed them the loveliness of the gospel as it is in Christ, and by hints shrewdly strown and arguments most potent to convince, with references beyond the point of his discourse, he led them to study and judge for themselves, when he had left them.
Rev. A. R. Abbott, in a discourse before his society, has expressed in brief, and very truthfully, some of the characteristics of his style of preaching. He says: – "His discourses were always simple, powerful, clear, perfectly intelligible to all, yet made so, apparently, without the least effort. You find there no attempt to carry his points by any artifice of oratory. Everything is plain and direct. Even the most intricate and perplexing subjects, under his treatment, gradually became clear. His thoughts were like clear waters; – their perfect transparency disguised their depth. When speaking upon any intricate topic, perhaps no one ever listened to him attentively, under favorable circumstances, without being astonished at the apparent ease with which he removed the difficulties from his subject, and at the felicity with which all his illustrations were chosen. Often, when his hearers have been wrought up to an intense and painful interest by some apparently insuperable obstacle or unanswerable objection to a point he was laboring to establish, they have been both surprised and delighted, by the application of some well-known truth or familiar text of Scripture, to see the light break in upon the dark point like sunlight through a parting cloud. And when they saw how clear the subject then appeared, they were vexed with themselves to think that so obvious an explanation had never occurred to them. His treatment of a subject was like the prophet's healing the Syrian leper; – the method was so simple that its efficacy was doubted, till its success was manifest."
Rev. A. A. Miner has kindly furnished us with the following authentic anecdote, which is very appropriate in this connection, illustrating as it does the magic-like power of Mr. Ballou's eloquence, and the delight with which he was listened to by the masses, when his mission carried him into the country.
"He had an appointment to preach," says Mr. Miner, "some years ago, in the town of Berlin, Vt. There was residing in that town a highly-respectable gentleman by the name of James Perly, with whom I was personally acquainted. Mr. Perly was exceedingly anxious to hear Mr. Ballou preach; but, unfortunately, he was so lame with the rheumatism that he could not get into his carriage. The distance to the meeting by the travelled way was some two miles; but a cross-way, through a piece of wood, was much shorter. With crutches in hand, he started at an early hour, determined, if possible, to reach the place of meeting by the cross-way. He had not proceeded far, however, – having just entered the wood, – when, to his great annoyance, he found himself arrested in his progress by a large tree, lying directly across his path. To go round it was impracticable, from the obstruction of the underbrush; to step over it was impossible, on account of his lameness. What could he do? After studying the problem for a time, he threw over his crutches, and, balancing himself on the body of the tree, managed to roll himself to the other side, and to regain his feet. At length he reached the place of meeting, and listened with even more than his anticipated delight. The speaker was all that he had been led to expect, in person, voice, and power of reasoning. He was more than pleased, – he was charmed by his doctrine. The word of divine grace found a most welcome reception in his heart, and the very glories of the upper world seemed to possess his soul.
"The meeting over, he wended his way homeward again; 'but whether in the body, or out of the body, he could not tell.' As he entered his house, every hand was upraised in astonishment; and with one voice his family exclaimed, 'Why, Mr. Perly! where are your crutches?' Sure enough, where were they? The eloquence which had enraptured his soul had heated the body, and made the lame to leap for joy. He had quite forgotten his crutches, and returned home without them!
"I give this narration," says Mr. Miner, "on the authority of a sister of Mr. Perly, herself not a Universalist. To many persons such a story may seem incredible; but those who are acquainted with the effects of an intense pleasurable excitement, will find little difficulty in believing it fully true. Few persons, sympathizing with him, could have heard Mr. Ballou, on the occasions of his visits to the country, without being able, from their own experience, to understand something of this wonderful influence. The writer of this first listened to him at the New Hampshire State Convention of Universalists, held at Walpole, in 1838; and rarely, if ever, have I seen a man so deeply interest an audience as he did on that occasion. Tears of joy rolled down the cheeks of grey-haired fathers, as the hopes of the gospel burned anew in their hearts. Such scenes are remembered with gratitude by thousands of believers throughout New England."
A certain brother in the ministry said to the writer of these pages, – "You are preparing a biography of your father?" We replied in the affirmative. "Well," said he, "you have sat down at home and listened to his preaching before his own society, and have doubtless a true appreciation of his ability; but you should have seen him before a body of ministering brethren, at a state or national convention. You should have seen him there, to write truly of him. When it was announced at such assemblies that Father Ballou would preach, we all knew what to expect, and all reaped a harvest of rich thoughts, pure doctrine, original arguments, and available material for our own future use in a more limited sphere. He was not only eloquent, he was electrifying; and while we reverenced him, we also loved him like a father." And this we feel positive is not merely the opinion of one man, but of the order generally.
"Would that I could renew the sights I have seen," says the Rev. Henry Bacon, "where thousands, in a crowded and heated assembly in New Hampshire, were held in wondering and admiring attention, as the venerated preacher set forth the 'exceeding great and precious promises' as exhibitive of creating and preserving Love. The riches of grace were poured upon the souls of the people as a refreshing shower on the earth; and hundreds of old men, who had been awakened from the nightmare of traditional theology, or the sleep of indifference to God and his service, listened, while the tears coursed down their furrowed cheeks, as he renewed in their souls the raptures of the past. O never can I forget one sermon thus delivered, when he spake to us of those who knew God's name and would put their trust under the shadow of his wings, which wings were stretched over time and eternity! Eloquent, was he? Yes, if rapt attention, if profound emotion, if lasting enthusiasm and tearful gratitude be any test of the effects of eloquence. With no exertion, that wondrously clear and silvery voice would float over the congregation, and the auditor who was the farthest removed from the speaker, caught the simple words, conveying the grandest thoughts most felicitously illustrated. There was no pretension in his oratory; he spake right on, warming with his subject, setting up the noblest claims for adoring obedience to God, in all his requirements, exhorting the people to religious duty by the mercies of God."
The effect of his words, in public delivery especially, was greatly heightened by the truly benevolent expression of his countenance, and by his remarkably venerable appearance. It has been beautifully said of President Kirkland, that his face was a benediction; and we have often heard similar comparisons made by those who have known and been familiar with Mr. Ballou. He wore his hair, white with age, parted smoothly in the centre of the forehead, and resting behind the ears, but not long in the neck. In a number of lithographs, engravings and miniatures, in the possession of his family and others, the hair is represented as short, and parted thus; but latterly he wore it long, as described above.
There was expressed in his countenance a serenity of disposition that was peculiar to him, a philanthropy of purpose which characterized all his dealings, and a wisdom and calm dignity that led even the stranger to feel a degree of respect for him at once. The blamelessness of his life and the gentleness of his disposition alone form a theme over which memory and friendship have poured their consecration. As to the matter of his personal manner and bearing, while he avoided the strict rules of forced etiquette, yet he was scrupulously attentive in society to the dictates of true politeness. His form was as straight and erect at the age of seventy-five as at twenty.
As he advanced in years, his style of delivery grew perhaps more subdued, but none the less distinct and impressive. He spoke perhaps with less of the fire of zeal, yet with none the less spirit and real effect. He could not treat of the divine love and sufferings of Christ, or of the deep and unbounded grace of God, without evincing the warmest feelings, and moving the audience to tears by his eloquence upon these touching subjects. He would not unfrequently be completely overcome himself, in dwelling upon this theme in public.
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