Ohio History Journal

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Lyman Beecher in Britain



The triumphant British tours of Harriet Beecher Stowe in the 1850s

and Henry Ward Beecher in the 1860s have long claimed the attention

of students of American literature and Civil War diplomacy. Yet

despite the interest of intellectual and church historians in Lyman

Beecher, the patriarch of the family, no attention has been paid to his

earlier stay in Britain in the summer of 1846.1 It is true that Beecher

was then seventy-one years old, his impact on American religion was

already largely made, and he could no longer attempt that broad

ecclesiastical influence to which he had always aspired. Even his own

distinctions were now eclipsed by those who were carrying them

further-by Charles Grandison Finney in revivals, Horace Bushnell in

liberal theology, and his own son Henry in speaking to national

issues. But Lyman did not journey to Britain on any retired gentle-

man's pleasure tour. He went as an Ohio delegate to both the World

Temperance Convention and the great organizing meetings of the

Evangelical Alliance, and his contributions to both causes were of

some importance. Moreover, in this summer's work he played his last

significant role as American ecclesiastical statesman and in it showed

that same balance of revivalism, nationalism, and discreet reform

which he had absorbed from Timothy Dwight at Yale and then

perfected in his early pastorates at Litchfield and Boston.

"President Beecher" in 1846 was nearing the end of his career as

head of Lane Seminary, having come to Cincinnati fourteen years

earlier as part of the great campaign to imprint New England values

on the "barbarous West." His reputation had subsequently suffered





Dr. James F. Maclear, Professor of History at the University of Minnesota, Duluth,

is a specialist in British and American religious history.


1. The only scholarly biography, Stuart C. Henry, Unvanquished Puritan: A Portrait

of Lyman Beecher (Grand Rapids, 1973), slights the summer in England. The

discussion by Barbara M. Cross in her introduction to The Autobiography of Lyman

Beecher, 2 vols. (Cambridge, Mass., 1961) is very brief. The treatment by Constance

Mayfield Rourke, Trumpets of Jubilee (New York, 1927), 3-86, is similarly inadequate.

Neither sketch deals with the British visit of 1846. The Beechers' own recollection of

their sojourn in Britain in Autobiography, II, 390-93 is highly subjective reminiscence

and contains minor inaccuracies, e.g., "Patten" for "Patton," "Crown Chapel" for

"Craven Chapel," etc.