The Minister Plenipotentiary

MR. HENRY WARD BEECHER went to Great Britain already well known at home as the favorite preacher of a large parish, an ardent advocate of certain leading reforms, one of the most popular lecturers of the country, a bold, outspoken, fertile, ready, crowd-compelling orator, whose reported sermons and speeches were fuller of catholic humanity than of theological subtilties, and whose sympathies were of that lively sort which are apt to leap the sectarian fold and find good Christians in every denomination. He was welcomed by friendly persons on the other side of the Atlantic, partly for these merits, partly also as “the son of the celebrated Dr. Beecher” and “ the brother of Mrs. Beecher Stowe.”

After a few months' absence he returns to America, having finished a more remarkable embassy than any envoy who has represented us in Europe since Franklin pleaded the cause of the young Republic at the Court of Versailles. He kissed no royal hand, he talked with no courtly diplomatists, he was the guest of no titled legislator, he had no official existence. But through the heart of the people he reached nobles, ministers, courtiers, the throne itself. He whom the “ Times ” attacks, he whom “ Punch” caricatures, is a power in the land. We may be very sure, that, if an American is the aim of their pensioned garroters and hired vitriol-throwers, he is an object of fear as well as of hatred, and that the assault proves his ability as well as his love of freedom and zeal for the nation to which he belongs.

Mr. Beecher’s European story is a short one in time, but a long one in events. He went out a lamb, a tired clergyman in need of travel; and as such he did not strive nor cry, nor did any man hear his voice in the streets. But in the den of lions where his pathway led him he remembered his own lion’s nature, and uttered his voice to such effect that its echoes in the great vaulted caverns of London and Liverpool are still reaching us, as the sound of the woodman's axe is heard long after the stroke is seen, as the light of the star shines upon us many days after its departure from the source of radiance.

Mr. Beecher made a single speech in Great Britain, but it was delivered piece-meal In different places. Its exordium was uttered on the ninth of October at Manchester, and its peroration was pronounced on the twentieth of the same month in Exeter Hall. He has himself furnished us an analysis of the train of representations and arguments of which this protracted and many-jointed oration was made up. At Manchester he attempted to give a history of that series of political movements, extending through half a century, the logical and inevitable end of which was open conflict between the two opposing forces of Freedom and Slavery. At Glasgow his discourse seems to have been almost unpremeditated. A meeting of one or two Temperance advocates, who had come to greet him as a brother in their cause, took on, “quite accidentally,” a political character, and Mr. Beecher gratified the assembly with an address which really looks as if it had been in great measure called forth by the pressure of the moment. It seems more like a conversation than a set harangue. First, he very goodhumoredly defines his position on the Temperance question, and then naturally slides into some self-revelations, which we who know him accept as the simple expression of the man’s character. This plain speaking made him at home among strangers more immediately, perhaps, than anything else he could have told them. “ I am born without moral fear. I have expressed my views in any audience, and it never cost me a struggle. I never could help doing it.”

The way a man handles his egoisms is a test of his mastery over an audience or a class of readers. What we want to know about the person who is to counsel or lead us is just what he is, and nobody can tell us so well as himself. Every real master of speaking or writing uses his personality as he would any other serviceable material; the very moment a speaker or writer begins to use it, not for his main purpose, but for vanity’s sake, as all weak people are sure to do, hearers and readers feel the difference in a moment. Mr. Beecher is a strong, healthy man, in mind and body. His nerves have never been corrugated with alcohol ; his thinking - marrow is not brown with tobacco-fumes, like a meerschaum, as are the brains of so many unfortunate Americans ; he is the same lusty, warm-blooded, strong-fibred, bravehearted, bright-souled, clear-eyed creature that he was when the college boys at Amherst acknowledged him as the chiefest among their football - kickers. 1 Ie has the simple frankness of a man who feels himself to lie perfectly sound in bodily, mental, and moral structure ; and his self-revelation is a thousand times nobler than the assumed impersonality which is a common trick with cunning speakers who never forget their own interests. Thus it is, that, wherever Mr. Beecher goes, everybody feels, after he has addressed them once or twice, that they know him well, almost as if they had always known him; and there is not a man in the land who has such a multitude that look upon him as it he were their brother.

Having magnetized his Glasgow audience, he continued the subject already opened at Manchester by showing, in the midst of that great toiling population, the deadly influence exerted by Slavery in bringing labor into contempt, and its ruinous consequences to the tree workingman everywhere. In Edinburgh he explained how the Nation grew up out of separate States, each jealous of its special sovereignty; how the struggle for the control of the united Nation, after leaving it for a long time in the hands of the South, to be used in favor of Slavery, at length gave it into those of the North, whose influence was to be for Freedom; and that for this reason the South, when it could no longer rule the Nation, rebelled against it. In Liverpool, the centre of vast commercial and manufacturing interests, he showed how those interests are injured by Slavery, — “that this attempt to cover the fairest portion of the earth with a slave-population that buys nothing, and a degraded white population that buys next to nothing, should array against it the sympathy of every true political economist and every thoughtful and far-seeing manufacturer, as tending to strike at the vital want of commerce, — not the want of cotton, but the want of customers.”

In his great closing effort at Exeter Hall in London, Mr. Beecher began by disclaiming the honor of having been a pioneer in the anti-slavery movement, which he found in progress at his entry upon public life, when he “ fell into the ranks, and fought as well as he knew how, in the ranks or in command.” He unfolded before his audience the plan and connection of his previous addresses, showing how they were related to each other as parts of a consecutive series, He had endeavored, he told them, to enlist the judgment, the conscience, the interests of the British people against the attempt to spread Slavery over the continent, and the rebellion it has kindled. He had shown that Slavery was the only cause of the war, that sympathy with the South was only aiding the building up of a slave-empire, that the North was contending for its own existence and that of popular institutions.

Mr. Beecher then asked his audience to look at the question with him from the American point of view. He showed how the. conflict began as a moral question ; the sensitiveness of the South; the tenderness for them on the part of many Northern apologizers, with whom he himself had never stood. He pointed out how the question gradually emerged in politics; the encroachments of the South, until they reached the Judiciary itself; he repeated to them the admissions of Mr. Stephens as to the preponderating influence the South had all along held in the Government. An interruption obliged him to explain that adjustment of our State and National governments which Englishmen seem to find so hard to understand. Nothing shows his peculiar powers to more advantage than just such interruptions. Then he displays his felicitous facility of illustration, his familiar way of bringing a great question to the test of some parallel fact that everybody before him knows. An American statequestion looks as mysterious to an English audience as an ear of Indian corn wrapt in its sheath to an English wheatgrower. Mr. Beecher husks it for them as only an American born and bred can do. He wants a few sharp questions to rouse his quick spirit. He could almost afford to carry with him his picadores to sting him with sarcasms, his chulos to flap their inflammatory epithets in his face, and his banderilleros to stab him with their fiery insults into a plaza de taros, — an audience of John Bulls.

Having cleared up this matter so that our comatose cousins understood the relations of the dough and the apple in our national dumpling, — to borrow one of their royal reminiscences, — having eulogized the fidelity of the North to the national compact, he referred to the action of “ that most true, honest, just, and conscientious magistrate, Mr. Lincoln,” — at the mention of whose name the audience cheered as long and loud as if they had descended from the ancient Ephesians.

Mr. Beecher went on to show how the North could not help fighting when it was attacked, and to give the reasons that made it necessary to fight, — reasons which none but a consistent Friend or avowed non-resistant can pretend to dispute. His ordinary style in speaking is pointed, staccatoed, as is that of most successful extemporaneous speakers ; he is “ short - gaited ” ; the movement of his thoughts is that of the chopping sea, rather than the long, rolling, rhythmical wave-procession of phrase-balancing rhetoricians. But when the lance has pricked him deep enough, when the red flag has flashed in his face often enough, when the fireworks have hissed and sputtered around him long enough, when the cheers have warmed him so that all his life is roused, then his intellectual sparkle becomes a steady glow, and his nimble sentences change their form, and become long-drawn, stately periods.

“ Standing by my cradle, standing by my hearth, standing by the altar of the church, standing by all the places that mark the name and memory of heroic men who poured their blood and lives for principle, I declare that in ten or twenty years of war we will sacrifice everything we have for principle. If the love of popular liberty is dead in Great Britain, you will not understand us; but if the love of liberty lives as it once lived, and has worthy successors of those renowned men that were our ancestors as much as yours, and whose example and principles we inherit to make fruitful as so much seed-corn in a new and fertile land, then you will understand our firm, invincible determination — deep as the sea, firm as the mountains, but calm as the heavens above us — to fight this war through at all hazards and at every cost.”

When have Englishmen listened to nobler words, fuller of the true soul of eloquence ? Never, surely, since their nation entered the abdominous period of its existence, recognized in all its ideal portraits, for which food and sloop are the prime conditions of well-being. Yet the old instinct which has made the name of Englishman glorious in the past was there, in the audience before him, and there was “ immense cheering,” relieved by some slight colubrine demonstrations.

Mr. Beecher openly accused certain “ important organs ” of deliberately darkening the truth and falsifying the facts. The audience thereupon gave three groans for a paper called the “ Times,” once respectably edited, now deservedly held as cheap as an epigram of Mr. Carlyle’s or a promise to pay dated at Richmond. He. showed the monstrous absurdity of England’s attacking us tor fighting, and for fighting to uphold a principle. “On what shore has not the prow of your ships dashed? What land is there with a name and a people where your banner has not led your soldiers ? And when the great resurrection-reveille shall sound, it will muster British soldiers from every clime and people under the whole heaven. Ah ! but it is said this is war against your own blood. How long is it since you poured soldiers into Canada, and let all your yards work day and night to avenge the taking of two men out of the Trent ? ” How ignominious the pretended humanity of England looked in the light of these questions! And even while Mr. Beecher was speaking, a lurid glow was crimsoning the waters of the Pacific from the flames of a great burning city, set on fire by British ships to avenge a crime committed by some remote inhabitant of the same country, — an act of wholesale barbarity unapproached by any deed which can be laid to the charge of the American Union in the course of this long, exasperating conflict !

Mr. Beecher explained that the people who sympathized with the South were those whose voices reached America, while the friends of the North were little heard. The first had bows and arrows; the second have shafts, but no bows to launch them.

“ How about the Russians ? ”

Everybody remembers how neatly Mr. Beecher caught this envenomed dart, and, turning it end for end, drove it through his antagonist’s shield of triple bull’s-hide. “ Now you know what we felt when you were flirting with Mr. Mason at your Lord Mayor’s banquet.” A cleaner and straighter “counter” than that, if we may change the image to one his audience would appreciate better, is hardly to be found in the records of British pugilism.

The orator concluded by a rather sanguine statement of his change of opinion as to British sentiment, of the assurance he should carry back of the enthusiasm for the cause of the North, and by an exhortation to unity of action with those who share their civilization and religion, for the furtherance of the gospel and the happiness of mankind.

The audience cheered again, Professor Newman moved a warm vote of thanks, and the meeting dissolved, wiser and better, we hope, for the truths which had been so boldly declared before them.

What is the net result, so far as we can see, of Mr. Beecher’s voluntary embassy ? So far as he is concerned, it has been to lift him from the position of one of the most popular preachers and lecturers, to that of one of the most popular men in the country. Those who hate his philanthropy admire his courage. Those who disagree with him in theology recognize him as having a claim to the title of Apostle quite as good as that of John Eliot, whom Christian England sent to heathen America two centuries ago, and who, in spite of the singularly stupid questionings of the natives, and the violent opposition of the sachems and powwows, or priests, succeeded in reclaiming large numbers of the copper-colored aborigines.

The change of opinion wrought by Mr. Beecher in England is far less easy to estimate ; indeed, we shall never have the means of determining what it may have been. The organs of opinion which have been against us will continue their assaults, and those which have been our friends will continue to defend us. The public men who have committed themselves will be consistent in the right or in the wrong, as they may have chosen at first. To know what Mr. Beecher has effected, we must not go to Exeter Hall and follow its enthusiastic audience as they are swayed hither and thither by his arguments and appeals; we must not count the crowd of admiring friends and sympathizers whom he. like all personages of note, draws around him: the fire-fly calls other fire-flies about him, but the great community of beetles goes blundering round in the dark as before. Mr. Cobden has given us the test in a letter quoted by Mr. Beecher in the course of his speech at the Brooklyn Academy. “You will carryback,” he says, “ an intimate acquaintance with a state of feeling in this country among what, for [want of] a better name, I call the ruling class. Their sympathy is undoubtedly strongly for the South, with the instinctive satisfaction at the prospect of the disruption of the great Republic. It is natural enough.” “But,” he says, “our masses have an instinctive feeling that their cause is bound up in the prosperity of the States,—the United States. It is true that they have not a particle of power in the direct form of a vote ; but when millions in this country are led by the religious middle class, they can go and prevent the governing class from pursuing a policy hostile to their sympathies.”

This power of the non-voting classes is an idea that gives us pause. It is one of those suggestions, like Lord Brougham's of the “unknown public,” which, in a single phrase, and a sentence or two of explanation, tell a whole history. This is the class John Bunyan wrote for before the bishops bad Ids Allegory in presentable calf and gold-leaf,—before England knew that her poor tinker had shaped a pictured urn for her full of such visions as no dreamer had seen since Dante. This is the class that believes in John Bright and Richard Cobden and all the defenders of true American principles. It absorbs intelligence as melting iee lenders heat latent; there is no living power directly generated with which we can move pistons and wheels, but the first step in the production of steam-force is to make the iee fluid. No intellectual thermometer can reveal to us how much ignorance or prejudice has melted away in the fire of Mr. Beecher’s passionate eloquence, but by-and-by this will tell as a working-force. The non-voter’s conscience will reach the Privy Council, and the hand of the ignorant, but Christianized laborer trace its own purpose in the letters of the royal signature.

We are living in a period, not of events only, but of epochs. We are in the transition-stage from the miocene to the pliocene period of human existence. A new heaven is forming over our head behind the curtain of clouds which rises from our smoking battle-fields. A new earth is shaping itself under our feet amidst the tremors and convulsions that agitate the soil upon which we tread. But there is no such thing as a surprise in the order of Nature. The kingdom of God, even, cometh not with observation.

The visit of an overworked clergyman to Europe is not in appearance an event of momentous interest to the world. The fact that he delivered a few speeches before British audiences might seem to merit notice in a local paper or two, but is of very little consequence, one would say, to the British nation, compared to the fact that Her Majesty took an airing last Wednesday, or of much significance to Americans, by the side of the fact that his Excellency, Governor Seymour, had written a letter recommending the Union Fire Company always to play on the wood-shed when the house is in flames.

But, in point of fact, this unofficial visit of a private citizen — in connection with these addresses delivered to miscellaneous crowds by an envoy not extraordinary and a minister nullipotentiarv, for all that his credentials showed — was an event of national importance. It was much more than this; it was the beginning of a new order of things in the relations of nations to each other. It is but a little while since any graceless woman who helped a. crowned profligate to break the commandments could light a national quarrel with the taper that sealed her billets-doux to his equerries and grooms, and kindle it to a war with the fan that was supposed to hide her blushes. More and more, by virtue of advancing civilization and easy intercourse between distant lands, the average common sense and intelligence of the people begin to reach from nation to nation. Mr, Beecher’s visit is the most notable expression of this movement of national life. It marks the nisus formativus which begins the organization of that unwritten and only half spoken public opinion recognized by Mr. Cobden as a great underlying force even in England. It needs a little republican pollen-dust to cause the evolution of its else barren germs. The fruit of Mr. Beecher’s visit will ripen in due time, not only in direct results, but in opening the way to future moral embassies, going forth unheralded, unsanetioned by State documents, in the simple strength of Christian manhood, on their errands of truth and peace.

The Devil had got the start of the clergyman, as he very often does, after all. The wretches who have been for three years pouring their leperous distilment into the ears of Great Britain had preoccupied the ground, and were determined to silence the minister, if they could. For this purpose they looked to the heathen populace of the nominally Christian British cities. They covered the walls with blood-red placards, they stimulated the mob by inflammatory appeals, they filled the air with threats of riot and murder. It was in the midst of scenes like these that the single, solitary American opened his lips to speak in behalf of his country.

The danger is now over, and we find it hard to make real to our imagination the terrors of a mob such as swarms out of the dens of Liverpool and London. We know well enough in this country what Irish mobs are: the Old Country exports them to us in pieces, ready to put together on arriving, as we send houses to California. Ireland is the country of shillalahs and broken crowns, of Donnybrook fairs, where men with whiskey in their heads settle their feuds or work off their sprightliness with the arms of Nature, sometimes aided by the least dangerous of weapons. But England is the land of prize-fights, of scientific brutality, which has flourished under the patronage of her hereditary legislators and other “Corinthian” supporters. The pugilistic dynasty came in with the House of Brunswick, and has held divided empire with it ever since. The Briton who claims Chatham’s language as his mother-tongue may appropriate the dialect of the ring as far more truly indigenous than the German-French of his every-day discourse. Of the three Burkes whose names are historical, the orator is known to but a few hundred thousands. The prize-fighter, with his interesting personal infirmity, is the common property of the millions, and would have headed the list in celebrity, but for that other of the name who added a new invention to the arts of industry and enriched the English language with a term which bids fair to outlive the reputation of his illustrious namesake. Around the professors and heroes of the art of personal violence are collected the practitioners of various callings less dignified by the manly qualities they demand. The Gangs of Three that waylay the solitary pedestrian, — the Choker in the middle, next the victim who is to be strangled and cleaned out, — the larger guilds of Hustlers who bonnet a man and beat his breath out of him and empty his pockets before he knows what is the matter with him, — the Burglars, with their “jimmies” in their pockets, — the fighting robbers, with their brass knuckles, — the whole set in a vast thief-constituency, thick as rats in sewers, — these were the disputants whom the emissaries of the Slave Power called upon to refute the arguments of the Brooklyn clergyman.

It was not pleasant to move in streets where such human rattlesnakes and cobras were coiling and lying in wait. Great cities are the poison-glands of civilization everywhere ; but the secretions of those hideous crypts and blind passages that empty themselves into the thoroughfares of English towns are so deadly, that, but for her penal colonies, England, girt by water, as the scorpion with flame, would perish, selfstung, by her own venom. The legates of the great Anti-Civilization have colonized England, as England has colonized Botany Bay. They know the venal ruffianism of the fist and bludgeon, as well as that of the press. Fortunately, they are short of funds, or Mr. Beecher might have disappeared after the manner of Romulus, and never have come to light, except in the saintly fashion of relics,— such as white finger-rings and breastpins, like those which some devotees of the Southern mode of worship are said to have been fond of wearing.

From these dangers, which he faced like a man. we welcome him back to a country which is proud of his courage and ability and grateful for his services. The highest and lowest classes of England cannot be in sympathy with the free North. No dynasty can look the fact of successful, triumphant self-government in the face without seeing a shroud in its banner and hearing a knell in its shouts of victory. As to those lower classes who are too low' to be reached by the life-giving breath of popular liberty, we cannot reach them yet. A Christian civilization has suffered them, in the very heart of its great cities, to sink almost to the level of Du Chaillu’s West-African quadrumana. But the thoughtful, religious middle class of Great Britain, with their enlightened leaders and their conscientious followers among the laboring masses, have listened and will always listen to the voice of any true and adequate representative of that new form of human society now in full course of development in Republican North America. They have never listened to a nobler and more thoroughly national speaker than the minister, clothed with full powers from Nature and bearing the authentic credentials from his Divine Master, to whom, on his return from his successful embassy, we renew our grateful welcome.