Biography of Rev. Hosea Ballou
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"Though I enjoyed the meeting very much, yet my enjoyment was still greater on the following week, in the society of our aged friend and father, at my own home and the homes of our mutual friends in this town.
"It may be proper to state that Father Ballou had no very near relatives here. None, I believe, by the name of Ballou. He was a cousin of Father Luke Harris, and with him and his family he spent a portion of the time quite pleasantly. He seemed happy in being once more in his 'native Richmond.'
"Three days the writer accompanied Father Ballou while he made calls upon various families in different parts of the town. We were uniformly kindly received; and those not acquainted with Father Ballou can hardly conceive the ease and success with which he familiarly approached all, – the young, the middle-aged, and the aged. We had brief interviews, but they were agreeable and profitable. Prayer was offered with and consolation afforded to the sick. In one or two instances we met with those whose minds were in doubt on doctrinal points: these, of course, listened to a few words of explanation. Then there was the going back to former days, and a rehearsal of time's numerous changes. We visited the old burying-ground, and stood by the graves of the parents of my aged companion. We visited the old homestead, the place where he was born, and spent his boyhood. This was changed, and unchanged. The buildings, fences, and some of the fields, presented a new aspect, but the valleys and hills remained as before. At the homestead we entered the orchard, where the owner was engaged picking apples. We walked about and found apples, of which my companion ate, though he declined taking any, a short time previous, on an adjoining farm. We also, by invitation, dined here, and had a pleasant chat with the family. This farm is a mile and a half east of our meeting-house. Grassy Hill is on its eastern border, and overlooks the valley in which it is situated. Some will recollect the poetry of our friend, 'My native Richmond.' He repeated this, at my suggestion, at a dwelling in full view of this eminence; and as the words 'Grassy Hill' were spoken, he gracefully waved his right hand in that direction, his countenance expressing satisfaction and delight.
"Several times, during his stay, the inquiry was agitated, – 'Will you come to Richmond again?' His reply was, ''Tis uncertain, – I may; should life be spared, and my health remain as good as it is at present, I think I may.' But, as we had some reason to expect, this proved to be his last visit. He was conveyed to Winchester on Friday, where he preached on the following Sabbath. He returned on Tuesday, Oct. 21st. I made a few calls with him on the afternoon of that day, and in the evening he spent an hour at our singing-school, tarrying with us at night. On the following morning we bade him 'good-by,' and he proceeded homewards to visit a daughter, rejoined his wife, and in due time reached their home in Boston."
In Mr.Ballou's letter to the Trumpet, describing this visit, he says: —
With other numerous calls upon his time and attention, and in addition to his never-ceasing professional and parochial labors, Mr. Ballou has had at various times over twenty ministerial students, who, for the time being, generally became residents of his family, and who studied the profession with him. To these young men he devoted his powers with the same untiring zeal that characterized his other professional labors. His mode of instruction with these students was peculiar; he went with them always, to use one of his favorite phrases, "to the root of the matter," and was never content until he had imbued their minds with at least a portion of the realizing sense he himself experienced relative to all the main points of the faith he advocated. His words of advice to them were few, but they were just what each one needed, and no more. He was never fulsome with them, but complimented when it was deserved, checked when it was necessary, and suggested when improvements might be made, but ever inculcating those Christian qualities which shone forth as a burning light in his own loveliness of character. Nearly all of those students are now teachers of the gospel of Christ, men honored for their Christian spirit, and as true disciples of the gospel. Most of these are settled in the New England States; and, as we write, we easily recall the names of numbers who are much respected and beloved by the denomination to which they belong.
In the instruction and guidance of so large a number of candidates for the sacred calling of the ministry, he assumed a very weighty addition to his constant labors. We have seen that his parochial, ministerial, scholastic and editorial duties, were exceedingly onerous, and many would have shrunk from the idea of adding to such an accumulation of labors. But it was a principle of Mr. Ballou's life never to neglect a single opportunity of serving the great and sacred cause in which he had embarked; he felt the full force of his mission, and to it he was constantly ready to devote every energy of his physical and mental nature, every moment of his time, looking to the source of all power for the strength and inspiration necessary to sustain him in his task. Among those who felt a vocation to preach the word of God, there was an earnest desire to pursue its study under the guidance of one who was the father and oracle of the creed they had espoused. They felt that, transmitted through other mediums, many of the rays of light that beamed from his original mind must necessarily be lost; they sought to derive directly from him the clear instructions, the vigorous reasoning, the straightforward mode of investigation, which distinguished him. They wished to be near him, to follow his example in everything pertaining to a Christian's duty. As to himself, he was never so happy as when imparting instruction to those who really desired and sought it. His inquiring and intelligent spirit constantly sympathized with minds of kindred stamp, nor did he ever lose his warm sympathies for youth. With the motto progress inscribed upon his banner, he was at heart and in soul as much with the young as the hoary-headed. The child-like simplicity of his nature brought ardent youth very near to his vigorous and green old age, harmonizing the two extremes in a wonderful manner.
In biographical writing there is often an obvious and studied obscurity in regard to some certain portion of the subject's life. The reason for such a course, on the part of the author, is very plain; for there are few public men, who are deemed worthy the notice of a biographical record, who do not look back with regret, and often with deep mortification, to some heedless act of early life; – some deed wherein the laws of right and wrong have been disregarded, and honorable and upright principles trampled under foot; some thoughtless moment, when the tempter has found them with their armor off, and has led them into contact with evil that has pierced their defenceless bodies, and left there scars deep and rankling, as monuments of the frailty of their nature. In reference to this subject as it relates to Mr. Ballou, there is not one hour of his life which will not bear the scrutiny of strict justice. From his very boyhood he was remarkable for firmness of principle, and unwavering integrity of purpose. Had he a personal enemy in the world, that person could not point to a single act of his life that it would not give us pleasure to chronicle here!
We know that this is saying much, and that the reader will be apt to look back and re-read the last passage; but, while we write this strong language, we wish to be understood as doing so in all calmness and judgment; each word, as written, is duly set down and abided by. Now, we humbly ask, how many are there, among those to whom the world accords the meed of greatness, that can have this language applied to them and their characters in truth? I do not mean to signify that there are no such men; but to say – and the experience and personal knowledge of all will bear testimony to the fact – that such cases are very rarely found in this every-day world.
When we go back and consider Mr. Ballou's early life, the very limited means he enjoyed of mental cultivation, and all the vicissitudes through which he has passed, and contrast this view of his life with the station which he ultimately filled, and consider the works of his pen and mind, we are led to remember that it has ever been the fate of genius to climb the rugged steeps of fame and honor under the greatest disadvantages; that the brightest gems the exploring mind has brought from the caves of knowledge have been wrought, before they were given to the world, with the poorest means, and the least available tools. It is the circumstance of those very disadvantages that has elicited more mental diamonds than all the schools and richly-endowed institutions in the world.
Though the difficulties and impediments that thus environ the path of genius seem like a heavy stone about the neck, yet they are very often like the stones used by the hardy pearl-divers, which enable them to reach their prize, and to rise enriched. Adversity is to genius what the steel is to the flint, – the fire concealed in the one is brought out only by contact with the other. "Hard is the task," says Coleridge, "to climb into the niches of Fame's proud temple; rough and cold is the road; but rougher and stronger than the rocks that strew it are the men who toil over it. Up they climb from the cottages and lowly homes of the world; over Alps and Alps do they stride, heaving the millstone of persecution from their towering heads, and bursting into the sunshine of glory, despite of all that circumstances could do to keep them down."
The experience of all mankind shows that nothing great can be accomplished without labor. The original difference between men who have achieved greatness, and those who have died in obscurity, is, perhaps, after all, very inconsiderable; but the same ideas which in the latter died in their birth for want of culture, in the former, fostered, sustained and developed, by assiduous labor, flourished, and produced both flower and fruit. Uncultivated genius is a melancholy spectacle; it is like the light of a shooting star, brilliant, flashing, but evanescent, dazzling the eye for a moment, and then sinking into outer darkness; while cultivated genius, blazing with a steady, constant and pure flame, dispenses a surer and vivifying warmth far around it, – its light is not that of the meteor, but the planet. All history and all experience go to show that the bane of genius is not adversity, but prosperity. It was not Alpine toils, but "Capuan delights," that decimated the ranks of Hannibal's army, and wasted them away; it is not the cold north wind, but the genial sunshine, that destroys the mighty avalanche. The soul of genius, like the iron of the mine, must undergo the ordeal of fire, ere it can become steel. We might quote many examples of history to prove that this is a universal law of our nature. It is true that some have achieved greatness when their worldly circumstances were easy and affluent; but in such cases the gift of genius has been accompanied by a mental organization which imposed internal struggles, and hence the rule may be said to be without exceptions.
Books, thoughts, deeds, imperishable memorials of their author, so laboriously accomplished, do not die with the body. No; a thought once expressed never dies; – it must exert its influence, and be the pioneer to many more. Like the gentle ripple upon a calm, placid lake, it starts upon the world a speck, but ceases not to expand its force until it reaches over all extent. Man does not die with the body; as the soul shall live forever, so does the influence he has exerted upon society live after him, and by that influence is he judged. Is not this thought in itself a strong incentive to virtue and well-doing? What man or woman is there, however humble be their sphere of action, but desires most earnestly to leave behind a good and honored name?
An ancient maxim avers that "spoken words fly away, but written ones are permanent." But modern science teaches us that no sound uttered by the lips of man is lost, – that the vibration of the air bears it onward and onward, through all time. How very few there are in this world whose words, written and spoken, are so considered that they are willing to have them consigned to immortality! How few whose utterance of a year old will bear the test of their own judgment! There are moments of existence, generally the closing ones, when all our words and deeds crowd back upon the memory with overwhelming force. There are records of men in seasons of extreme casualties, who have testified to the painful accuracy of memory under such imminent circumstances; and there are few, indeed, who so shape their lives as to be enabled to bear with equanimity a retrospective glance on the panorama of their existence. So to have lived that, in ceasing to live, they have no reason to blush for their existence, as it regards the daily duty of the Christian. – Alas! in seasons of trial and temptation this duty is often, very often, forgotten; the way-side of life is strewn thick with temptations and allurements to win us from the straight and narrow path. Fruits of golden promise tempt the hand to pluck them, and it is only after tasting that we discover them to be only dust and ashes, like those which grow on the fated shores of the Dead Sea. Happy, then, and worthy of all reverence, is he whose unwavering course through life has ever been onward and upward. The summit gained, whence both the promised land and that of his earthly pilgrimage are in view, he can turn back and say, as his vision embraces the line which his feet have trod so toilsomely, yet ever so cheerfully: – "I have held that path without variation; no temptation has seduced my footsteps to the right or to the left, nor have my lips uttered aught upon that journey which a wish, in this trying moment, would recall!"
There have been, at various times, and in different works, short biographical sketches of Mr. Ballou's life given, from various pens; – these, of course, contemplate only his public career, and are quite brief. In the third volume of the Universalist Miscellany, published in 1846, there appear the following remarks from the pen of the editor, which we subjoin. After giving a short account of his public career, the writer of the sketch referred to goes on to say: —
"We have not time, even if we had the ability, to give a just description of him as a man, a Christian, and a preacher. We will not, however, permit the occasion to pass without offering a word on each of these points.
"We presume no one was ever more highly beloved and truly respected by his acquaintances than Mr. Ballou. Pleasant in his disposition, and honest in his dealings, he has uniformly enjoyed their confidence and esteem. Though he always sustains a becoming dignity of character, and is never light or trifling, he has a pleasantry and shrewdness which render his company peculiarly agreeable.
"As a Christian, Mr. Ballou is firm in faith, and catholic in spirit. While he believes with undoubting confidence what he preaches, and has no respect for what he considers error in doctrine, he never manifests a want of kindness towards those of an opposite faith. We are aware that many entertain a different feeling; but they misjudge him. It is true that for the insincere and hypocritical he has no feeling; and, if he had, he would not be faithful to his ministry.
"As a preacher, Mr. Ballou, for clearness of conception and power of argument, has few, if any, superiors. We have often heard him preach with an unction and power that we have never heard surpassed. But we do not design, in this article, to speak at length of his qualities as a preacher.
"No man ever enjoyed the respect of our denomination more than does Mr. Ballou. He is cordially loved and esteemed by all who believe in the salvation of the world."
These remarks are valued the more highly as coming from one who was intimate with the subject of this biography for a long period, and also as a fair and unprejudiced tribute to his character and life by a brother-laborer in the vineyard of Christ. The number of the Miscellany which contains the remarks we have quoted is embellished by a mezzotint likeness of Mr. Ballou, from a painting by E. H. Conant, and engraved in the finest style of art by Sartain. This picture, however, is inferior, as to likeness, to many others which are preserved of him.
We conceive the following, from the pen of the venerable and beloved Father Streeter, the oldest minister in the Universalist denomination now among us, to be of great interest; the work in hand would be quite incomplete without it. It is the impression of a faithful brother concerning the deceased, from the commencement to the close of his professional career.
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