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Notices & Reviews of Star Papers, Henry Ward Beecher (1855)

Reviews and notices of Star Papers were generally good, with reviewers praising the “air of absolute reality,” the “overflowing natural spirits,” the “eloquent thoughts.”

Except for the Liberator, which printed two pieces lambasting Henry Ward Beecher for writing a “unbolted, unshelled, unhusked hodge-podge of philosophy, morality and religion” and being a “sham” and a “humbug” who was “shallow,” “malignant,” “coarse,” and “vulgar.” (The first piece also takes a swipe at Northern readers.) Why? Probably because Beecher wrote for the competition: the Independent was the other anti-slavery paper (see Debby Appleton. The Most Famous Man in America; p. 235). Even periodicals attempting to do good aren’t always above trying to side-swipe each other.

The Independent. 10 May 1855

New York Evangelist. 21 June 1855

Liberator. Reprinted from the Mobile Daily Register. 29 June 1855

The Knickerbocker. July 1855

Liberator. 6 July 1855

Peterson’s Magazine. Aug 1855

The Methodist Quarterly Review. Oct 1855

“Star Papers.” The Independent 7 (10 May 1855); p. 148.

Mr. Henry Ward Beecher’s first volume of “Star Papers,” will contain his letters from Europe and his Experiences of Nature. The work will be published in two or three weeks. J. C. Derby, publisher.

“Ecclesiastical Drifts in New-England.” New York Evangelist 26 (21 June 1855); p. 1.

The “Star Papers” of Rev. H. W. Beecher have come to hand, and sell in considerable numbers. Their life and freshness will render the book popular. Whether it will do any good is another, and with too many, a secondary question.

“Henry Ward Beecher.” Liberator 25 (29 June 1855); p. 104. Reprinted from the Mobile Daily Register.

Our New York correspondent has sent us a long extract from a forthcoming work of Henry Ward Beecher, entitled ‘Star Papers, or Experiences of Art and Nature’—and sends us, also, a panegyric upon the author, with not one word of which do we agree. We think our correspondent misconceives Beecher altogether. He is a sham, and nothing more—in common parlance a humbug, and one of the most nauseating of the class, simply because he is a religious humbug. Mr. Beecher is a very shallow man—a very malignant man—and, withal, a coarse, vulgar man. This combination of circumstances accounts for the ‘surgical skill’ which our correspondent ascribes to him.

The extract sent us is a fair specimen of Mr. Beecher’s caliber. The title of the book is like his eloquence, intended to catch the eye and ear of the soft-headed multitude, and the contents appear to correspond with the title. They seem to be a combination of frivolity, piety and impudence in the most approved rhetorical proportions, to produce startling effects upon those who do not understand the tricks of oratory. The extract sent us commences with a careless, sportive account of abortive trout fishing, catching grasshoppers, &c., and ends with the fisherman stretching himself on the grass, looking up ‘into the sky,’ and praying. ’Tis an arrant piece of balderdash, without one spark of true eloquence in it. Nothing is more common, and, we may add, a more vulgar trick of oratory, than that of producing strong effects by sudden contrasts. It is sometimes natural to deal in these contrasts, but the moment we discover that they are not natural, and elaborated merely to produce an effect, as they habitually are by Beecher, they become flat and disgusting. Eugene Sue, with the entire class of hyperbolists to which he belongs, has carried this style of literature to its absurdest extreme, and completely surfeited the public appetite, which at first was keen enough for it. It is a species of sham oratory, bad enough anywher, but utterly intolerable in the pulpit, or in the book of a clergyman. However, the stomach of a buzzard is no stronger than the literary palates of certain portions of the North. The fouler a thing savors, the more it will be relished in some parts of the country, and, no doubt, Mr. Henry Ward Beecher has not written without a very clear perception of this fact.

Review. The Knickerbocker 46 (July 1855); pp. 80-81.

Star Papers: or Experiences of Art and Nature. By Henry Ward Beecher. In one volume: pp. 359. New-York: J. C. Derby, Nassau-street.

One of the most attractive features, for a long time past, in the columns of ‘The Independent’ weekly religious, semi-literary, and semi-secular journal, has been the ‘bright particular’ star which indicated the especial contributions of Mr. Henry Ward Beecher, one of the editors, also, in a less distinctive way, if we are rightly informed. These ‘Star Papers’ are here collected in a handsome volume, and they will be cordially welcomed, in this form, by very many readers who ‘would n’t touch with a pair of tongs’ his occasional sermons and eloquent discourses upon certain irregular and morbidly-exciting topics of the day. We shall hope to have something to say hereafter, and soon, touching portions of this volume, which we have read with the greatest pleasure; so natural and simple are they—so far removed from any thing like a pumped-up feeling, or extemporized enthusiasm. ad interim, we indorse every word of the following from an able contemporary: ‘The author comes forward as a man of contemplation and sentiment. He displays an equal passion for nature and love of art. His pages finely alternate between humor, pathos, and æsthetic discussion. Flashes of fun suddenly gleam out from exquisite descriptions of rural scenery or passages

p. 81

of pensive reflection. An air of absolute reality pervades the volume. This, perhaps, is its most remarkable distinction. The author is perfectly at home with Nature, and takes no knowledge of her second-hand. He not only looks at nature with his own eyes, but looks minutely, fondly, reverently, and hence his sketches have a matter-of-fact character, blended with purely ideal associations, which is not common with many would-be descriptive writers. Indeed several of his word-pictures have the effect of a good landscape-painting, presenting the enchantment of an actual scene, though without the aid of color or persppective.’ Pending a notice which shall do more elaborate justice to the volume before us, we cannot help even now calling the reader’s attention to the ‘Experiences of Nature,’ and ‘there-about especially’ of them, wherein the writer speaks of ‘Death in the Country,’ ‘Snow-Storm Travelling,’ ‘New-England Grave-Yards,’ and ‘Trouting.’ A ‘lunch’ from these will impart ‘the appetite of an anaconda’ for the book in its entirety. We subjoin the preface of the work, which succinctly indicates the character of its contents:

‘The author has been saved the trouble of searching for a title to his book from the simple circumstance that the articles of which the work is made up appeared in the columns of the ‘New-York Independent’ with the signature of a Star, and, having been familiarly called the ‘Star Articles,’ by way of designation, they now become, in a book form, ‘Star Papers.’

‘Only such papers as related to Art and to rural affairs have been published in this volume. It was thought best to put all controversial articles in another and subsequent volume.

‘The ‘Letters from Europe’ were written to home-friends, during a visit of only four weeks—a period too short to allow the subsidence of that enthusiasm which every person must needs experience who, for the first time, stands in the historic places of the Old World. An attempt to exclude from these letters any excess of personal feeling, to reduce them to a more moderate tone, to correct their judgments, or to extract from them the fiery particles of enthusiasm, would have taken away their very life.

‘The other papers in this volume, for the most part, were written from the solitudes of the country, during the vacations of three summers. I can express no kinder wish for those who may read them, than that they may be one half as happy in the reading as I have been in the scenes which gave them birth.’

“Castigation.” “Henry Ward Beecher.” Liberator 25 (6 July 1855); p. 107.

Mr. Editor:

Sir,—I see on the fourth page of last week’s Liberator, a short criticism on Henry Ward Beecher and his ‘Star Papers.’ It is severe, but, I am sorry to say, too truthful. Mr. Beecher has said many good things, but all that he has said and written, when taken in the gross, is but a pile of unwinnowed wheat. In literary matters, he goes it on the Graham system, and fills the voracious maw of the reading community with an unbolted, unshelled, unhusked hodge-podge of philosophy, morality and religion. The grain is there; but then, he metes it out to his hungry admirers, stalks, cobs, husks and all; and finding them ready to swallow any thing he sanctions, says or writes, no doubt concludes that ‘he is the man,’ &c. Mr. B. is like a spoiled child. His surroundings, position and relationship have all had something to do with the formation of his character, he having no inherent greatness of mind. His ‘Star Papers’ are full of froth and transcendental twaddle. He makes the little folks—and the big folks, too—say and do the most improbable things imaginable. One time he fills the world with mincing, lisping, hopping, skippinb beaux and belles—sentimental innocents, pure as angels who have kept their first estate. In the next sentence, perhaps, the gossamer portraiture is blown away by the breath of his nostrils, and instead, wehave a world of renegades, ragamuffins, rascals, and revellers of all countries and all castes. All this kind of stuff might be pardonable and passable in men like Barnum or Ossian Dodge, who are mountebanks by profession, voluntarily making fools of themselves for the avowed purpose of ‘putting money in their purse.’ But in one who has taken upon himself the responsible office of a preacher, a teacher, and a leader of the people, it is pitiful, it is humiliating, and a sad commentary on the weakness of poor human nature. I hope Mr. B. may see his error, and reform. He has really many sincere friends, whose hearts would be gladdened to find him ‘clothed and in his right mind,’ sitting at the feet of the Great Teacher, and reverently inquiring, ‘Lord, what wouldst thou have me to do?’

Review. Peterson’s Magazine 28 (Aug 1855); p. 141.

Star Papers. By Henry Ward Beecher. 1 vol. New York: J. C. Derby.—A collection of articles on art and nature, originally contributed to a religious paper over the signature of a star. They abound in eloquent thoughts, and exhibit a hearty love for the beautiful, whether in nature or in art. It is a delightful book.

“Short Reviews and Notices of Books.” The Methodist Quarterly Review (Oct 1855); p. 632.

(36.) “Star Papers; or, Experiences of Art and Nature, by Henry Ward Beecher.” (New-York: J. C. Derby, 1855; 12mo., pp. 359.) It is hardly necessary for us to notice a book which everybody will have read before our journal can appear. These Beechers are certainly wonderful people, and Henry is the most wonderful of them all. With exuberant fancy, inexhaustible feeling, overflowing natural spirits, and keen powers of observation he unites a faculty of description, of word-painting, unrivalled among recent writers. Above all, he is rich in that abounding sympathy with “man and woman, and sun, and moon, and stars and trees,” which is the essential attribute of true genius. If, by chance, there be any among our readers that have not read “Star Papers,” we advise them, at once, to buy, beg, or borrow it.

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