Byline: Ernest W. Lefever, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Cliches notwithstanding, Debby Applegate's fact-studded and fast-paced portrait of one of America's most famous preachers from one of America's most famous 19th-century families is a remarkably authentic mirror of the times. It was America's Victorian era and like Britain's, it seethed with a lively mixture of despair, reform and hope. Henry Ward Beecher was a dynamic creature of his times and here he is portrayed in exquisite and honest detail.
The mid-1800s was a utopian era of secular and religious utopianism. It produced the hard utopianism of Karl Marx's "Communist Manifesto" (1948) and the soft utopianism advocated by the American writer, Edward Bellamy, in his "Looking Backward," published a year after the death of Beecher. Bellamy's bestseller vied with Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin," the century's best seller.
Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887) shared the limelight with contemporary influentials, including his sister Harriet, who vigorously opposed slavery, and Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) who fought a war to abolish it. And there was the redoubtable Mark Twain (1835-1910) who, while usually on the side of the angels on the big …