BEECHER, HENRY WARD: Congregationalist, fourth son of Lyman Beecher; b. at Litchfield, Conn., June 24, 1813; d. in Brooklyn Mar. 8, 1887. He was graduated at Amherst 1834, and at Lane Theological Seminary 1837; became pastor of the Presbyterian Church at Lawrenceburg, Ind.,1837, at Indianapolis 1839, and of Plymouth Church (Congregational), Brooklyn, 1847. The congregation was newly formed at that time, but soon became famed for its numbers and its influence, while Beecher attained to the position of the most popular and widely known preacher in America.. As a public lecturer he was no less successful. In his sermons he disregarded conventionalities both in subject and manner. His wit and humor appeared in his preaching, which, nevertheless, was earnest and edifying, and revealed a great character, sincere and reverent; his public prayers in particular were truly devotional (cf. Prayers from Plymouth Pulpit, New York, 1867). No slight dramatic power, robust health and physical strength, and a striking personal appearance added to the effect of his eloquence. Personally he was a most estimable and attractive man, of generous instincts, of rare humanity, and catholic sympathies. He was active in the antislavery contest, but deprecated revolutionary measures. In 1863 he publicly advocated the Union cause in a series of addresses in the cities of England at a time when the sympathies of the people of England were strongly with the Southern Confederacy, and his success at this time before bitterly hostile audiences is one of the greatest feats of intellectual and oratorical achievement (these addresses were published as The American Rebellion: Report of the Speeches delivered in Manchester, etc., Manchester, 1864, and are reprinted in Patriotic Addresses from 1850 to 1885 by Henry Ward Beecher, edited, with a review of Mr. Beecher's personality and influence in public affairs, by John R. Howard, New York, 1889).
In later life the development of Beecher's mind led him to desire a freedom which he thought could not be attained within strictly denominational lines, and, actuated also by the wish not to compromise his brethren by alleged heresies, in 1882, with his church, he withdrew from the Congregational Association to which he belonged. The chief points of his divergence from the orthodox position of the time related to the person of Christ, whom he considered to be the Divine Spirit under the limitations of time, space, and flesh; to miracles, which he considered divine uses of natural laws; and to future punishment, the endlessness of which he denied, inclining to a modification of the annihilation theory.
Beecher was a regular contributor to The Independent from its foundation in 1848 to 1870, and its editor for not quite two years (1861-63). He was editor of The Christian Union (since 1893 known as The Outlook), 1870-81, and made it the pioneer non-denominational religious paper. He also wrote much for The New York Ledger. His sermons were published weekly after 1859 (under the title The Plymouth Pulpit), and have appeared in book-form in numerous volumes. Sermons . . . selected from published and unpublished discourse and revised by their author, edited by Lyman Abbott (2 vols., New York, 1868), is a representative collection. His addresses, lectures, and articles were also gathered into many books, such as Lectures to Young Men (Indianapolis, 1844; rev. eds., New York, Boston, 1850 and 1873); the Star Papers, or experiences of art and nature (selections from The Independent; so called from his signature; *; 2 vols., New York, 1855-58); Eyes and Ears (re- printed from The New York Ledger, Boston, 1862); Lecture-Room Talks (New York, 1870); A Summer Parish (1875); Evolution and Religion (1885). His books of most permanent value were The Life of Jesus the Christ (i, New York, 1871; ii, left incomplete at his death and supplemented by extracts from his sermons, 1891), and the Yale Lectures on Preaching (Lyman Beecher lectures before the Yale Divinity School, 1872-74; 3 vols., also collected edition in one volume, New York, 1881). He compiled The Plymouth Collection of Hymns and Tunes (1855), and wrote Norwood, or Village Life in New England, a novel (1867).