[To “Voices from 19th-Century America”]

Star Papers,
by Henry Ward Beecher (1855)

In the 1850s, Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887) was an outspoken and controversial minister and writer contributing unsigned pieces to The Independent, an anti-slavery periodical. Unsigned, that is, by a name: almost all the pieces are signed by an asterisk. Thus, when 32 of the essays were collected, the book was titled Star Papers.

The book is a wide-ranging collection of rambling essays on European tourist attractions and New England life, fishing, trees, birds, and travel, filtered through Beecher’s thoughts and emotions. Especially emotions: a major theme of “Letters From Europe” is how the sights in England and France make him feel. The Sunday service in the church where Shakespeare is buried sends him into a religious ecstasy, heightened by knowing that he kneels on “the dust of Shakspeare” as he takes communion; the Louvre puts him into a spiritual trance; he experiences a “transcendent excitement” as he walks the battlements of a castle where William the Conqueror walked.

New England is more amusing. Beecher is eloquent on the frustrations of catching (or failing to catch) grasshoppers for bait while fishing; he is empathetic on the miseries of attending school in summer; stranded by a snowstorm, he finds humor in his fellow travelers, the man who sits so still that he seems “entirely occupied in breathing,” the old farmer “that fell asleep sitting bolt upright, but gradually, like an apple roasting before a good old-fashioned fire, slept himself down to a heap.” “The Wanderings of a Star” contains wry passages on the difficulties of railway travel. His description of public school (“School Reminiscence”) reinforces the depiction in The District School As It Was, published 20 years earlier.

The universe of Star Papers is a very male universe: boys are referred to over 40 times, girls only five (mothers fare better than fathers). Boys are active, having snowball fights, chasing chickens, running through the woods. Girls comfort boys, sew patchwork, and pick berries. Beecher feels, however, that women should wear “the Bloomer dress,” which would allow them to wander the woods as easily as men can.

Star Papers is presented here as a single file, with the original page numbers. And the original spelling: as in all early American books, spelling and hyphens could be erratic. Beecher spells “height” as “hight” all through the “Letters from Europe,” but not in the other essays. He uses the word “piccaninies,” to refer to children in general (p. 189), not as a slur against children of a particular race. My copy is of the 1857 printing.

Notices and reviews of the book are on a separate page.

The essays appeared first in The Independent, available as part of the American Periodicals Series database, listed here in the order in which they appear in the book:

“A Discourse of Flowers.” 5 (June 23, 1853): 98.

“Death in the Country.” As untitled letter. 3 (July 31, 1851): 127.

“Inland vs. Seashore.” 3 (August 21, 1851): 138

“New England Graveyards.” As unsigned letter. 3 (September 4, 1851): 147.

“Towns and Trees.” As “A Discourse of Towns and Trees.” 3 (September 11, 1851): 150.

“First Breath in the Country.” 5 (July 21, 1853): 115.

“Trouting.” 5 (August 11, 1853): 126.

“A Ride.” As “Letters from the Country.” 5 (August 18, 1853): 130.

“The Mountain Stream.” As “Letters from the Country: The Mountain Stream.” 5 (September 1, 1853): 138.

“A Country Ride.” as “Letters from the Country.” 5 (September 8, 1853): 142.

“Farewell to the Country.” 5 (September 22, 1853): 150.

“School Reminiscence.” 5 (September 29, 1853): 154.

“Value of Birds.” 5 (April 25, 1850): 68.

“A Rough Picture from Life.” 5 (November 3, 1853): 173.

“A Ride to Fort Hamilton.” 5 (December 1, 1853): 191.

“Sights from My Window.” 5 (December 8, 1853): 194.

“The Death of Our Almanac.” 6 (January 5, 1854): 1.

“Fog in the Harbor.” 6 (February 9, 1854): 41.

“The Morals of Fishing.” 6 (June 22, 1854): 193.

“Wanderings of a Star.” 6 (July 6, 1854): 209.

“Book-Stores, Books.” As “Book-Auctions, Book-Stores, Books.” 6 (May 25, 1854): 161.

“Gone to the Country.” 6 (August 3, 1854): 241.

“Dream-Culture.” 6 (August 10, 1854): 249.

“A Walk Among Trees.” 6 (August 17, 1854): 257.

“Building a House.” 6 (September 28, 1854): 306.

“Christian Liberty in the Use of the Beautiful.” 6 (March 9, 1854): 73.

“Nature a Minister of Happiness.” As “True Happiness.” 6 (September 7, 1854): 281.

“Springs and Solitudes.” As “The Power of Silence.” 6 (August 31, 1854): 273.

“Mid-October Days.” 6 (October 19, 1854): 330.

“A Moist Letter.” 6 (November 16, 1854): 361.

“Frost in the Window.” 7 (March 1, 1855): 66.

“Snow-Storm Traveling.” 7 (February 8, 1855): 41.

Star Papers | reviews of the book

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