Henry Ward Beecher's Fondness For Nature
( Originally Published 1902 )
KNOWING that Rev. Samuel Virgin, D.D., had been a warm personal friend of Henry Ward Beecher, I wrote him a letter, asking him if he would not relate to me an incident or two connected with the life of the great Brooklyn divine. I received an answer from him, at his summer home at Chelmsford, Mass., containing the following story :
" The New York and Brooklyn Association of Congregational Ministers was for many years the annual guest of Capt. Tremper, both on his boats to Rondout and at his hotel at Phoenicia. The railroad, also, from Rondout to Stamford, was included in the provision made for our comfort and pleasure. This trip was made in connection with the summer opening of the Tremper House. Henry Ward Beecher was always one of the party—really, the chief guest. Friends and the country people came from far and near and lingered about the hotel, hoping to see him and hear him speak, and they were not disappointed. He taught them something, too, about apples, or soils, or the best way of viewing life, and they had enough to think about for a year. But the choicest companionship was with his fellow-guests, whom he loved because they loved him and trusted him. He was like a child on such occasions, and enjoyed everything with all his being. He used eyes, ears, brain and heart. His tongue was an important member, but he could be silent—so silent that no one would for a moment think of breaking the silence. When going up the river, as we passed from mist to sunlight, or there was some special beauty of nature, he fed upon it as upon delicious food. One morning we were taken to Margaretville for a trout breakfast in the woods. As the train climbed Pine Hill, Mr. Beecher took a seat on the lower step of one of the cars and soon was lost in admiration of the beauty of the scenery. His great eyes dilated, his soul was filled with a sense of God's glory, and as a seraph might gaze upon the splendors of the eternal throne he looked and looked and worshiped. Men saw him as they passed from car to car, but no one spoke to him. No one joined him. He who drew men to him by a resistless magnetism could hold them aloof as Moses did the multitudes when he went into the mount. What visions he had from that carstep he did not tell till in the heat of his wonderful speech on platform or pulpit they once more glowed before him, and then hearers were charmed by descriptions of scenes apparently imagined, but really the rehearsal of those morning views. He always loved the beautiful, and carried precious stones, unmounted, with him to admire them at his leisure. And there was not a cloud-form or shadow, nothing in earth or sky, that told of the beauty-loving nature of God that was not photographed on that sensitive spirit. And when, one morning, we were gathered in the parlors of the hotel for prayers, after he had seen the glory of the morning, one of the most wonderful prayers passed his lips that mortals in this world are ever privileged to hear. A strange sense of God in his creative power and glory and loving personal ministries entered every spirit and made the place hallowed ground. Men feel the thrill of that morning's devotion in their souls still."