Puslapio vaizdai

man should be pronounced happy before his death. We might, indeed, attempt to supply what the biographer has left unrecorded of Dr. Chalmers' life, from his own writings and from the journals of the period, but we prefer to wait for the fuller information, with its more personal colouring, which Dr. Hanna alone can supply.

Thomas Chalmers, born March 17, 1780, in Anstruther, in the county of Fife, was the sixth child in a family of fourteen. His father, John Chalmers, a pious and worthy man, though apparently with some peculiarities that formed part of the probation of his quicker and more impetuous son, is described as a dyer, ship-owner, and general merchant, in that seaport. We suspect from some occasional mention of the back-shop, and other such symptoms, that these general designations do not convey very distinct information of the first scenes of the child's experience. We regret this, for such knowledge is always deeply valuable; and that the father, whatever might be his surroundings, was a man to be honoured for his rare union of piety, wisdom, and tenderness, one letter to an erring son* is sufficient to display. As one of the symptoms we refer to, it is said that neither parent had time to give him even ordinary care, the consequence of which was the almost complete abandonment of the child, though under its parents' roof, to a ruffian nurse whose cruelty and deceitfulness he used to describe with fresh torrents of indignation in his very latest days, and to escape from whose brutalities he was sent to school, on his own earnest petition, at the tender age of three years. This seems incredible, for infant schools did not exist in Scotland or elsewhere in 1783; and the poor child is represented as having only made the doubtful exchange of an inhuman nurse for a diabolical parish schoolmaster, a blind savage who nursed his selfimportance, and avenged his insignificance, and consoled his despised sufferings, by despotic tyranny and self will exercised on helpless children. It was a miracle, a miracle wrought perhaps by the drop of parental love, some weekly moments of tenderness, in the midst of all this poison, that the child was not utterly ruined: and God must make human nature very good, the child's heart very nigh to the Kingdom of Heaven, to withstand such treatment, so * Vol. I. p. 35.

often as it does, and come out of it true, pure, and loving. In this school he remained till his twelfth year, with as little gain either of knowledge or of intellectual training as was possible, but establishing for himself the undisputed reputation of the idlest, strongest, merriest, most generoushearted, and withal the cleverest, boy in Anstruther. Before this time he had long fixed his destination in life. Perhaps the clerical profession more than any other takes at an early age its votaries or its victims, as the only one that has the opportunity of impressing the imagination of childhood. It shows how deep is nature's imprint that young Chalmers, whose latest power lay very much in sounding and flowing sentences, when missed one evening at the age of three, was found pacing his nursery in the dark, in a fever of excitement, pouring out the words, "O my son Absolom! O Absolom, my son, my son !" The ordinary story is told of his preaching from a chair to an infant auditor, but his favourite text, on which he had already made up his mind to preach his first sermon, was unusually mild for such precocious ardour,-"Let brotherly love continue."

Not yet twelve years old, and not yet having learned to spell, he was enrolled a student in the United College of St. Andrew's. One of his contemporaries who had entered College at a still earlier age was John Campbell, the present Chief Justice of the Queen's Bench. At that period the Colleges of Scotland supplied the place of upper schools to their youngest students: an evil that remains but partially unabated to this day. St. Andrew's was not without an accomplished scholar and teacher in Dr. John Hunter, but the boy had not enough of the rudiments of Latin to profit by his instructions. We doubt whether the wanting knowledge was ever very liberally supplied. Many years after he became a minister we find him making some preparations to enable him to read the New Testament in Greek. The first two years of his college course were largely occupied, as was not improper at his age, with

[ocr errors]

golf, football, and particularly handball, in which latter he was remarkably expert, owing to his being left-handed." In the third year of his course he had his intellectual birth-time under the fascination of mathematics, to the study of which, and of the natural sciences generally, he

always continued to exhibit a strong bias. He was fortunate in an eminent teacher, Dr. James Brown, in whose rooms he enjoyed the excitement of occasional intercourse with Sir John Leslie, and Mr. James Mylne, afterwards Professor of Moral Philosophy in Glasgow. Young Chalmers, through some revulsion of taste and animal spirits from the narrow Toryism and severe Calvinism of the domestic minds at Anstruther, delivered himself up for a time to the liberal tendencies in Religion and Politics of these eminent men, though he never fully understood their principles.

In his fifteenth year he was enrolled a student in Divinity Hall, though as yet he was far enough from being a student of Divinity. Dr. Hill, the Professor, whose Lectures on Theology are now a text book in Scottish Colleges, smitten with some sense of the natural repulsiveness of Calvinism, and hence led to some doctrine of Reserve, had cautioned his young divines against bringing it too broadly forward in the Pulpit. This was far more repulsive to the ingenuous boy than Calvinism. "If it be truth, why not be aboveboard with it?" He seems ever after to have treated what fell from Dr. Hill as so much idle air,-in Mr. Carlyle's pet phraseology to have looked on the Professor as a windbag. And when asked why it was that in his class-room his thoughts were always occupied with something else, he replied, that he questioned the sincerity of the Lecturer. This is note-worthy of a lad of fifteen. We may well suppose that there was some inward fountain of inspiration that sustained him in this independence, and led to his involuntary rejection of whatever seemed formal and hollow. "I remember," he says, "when a student of divinity, and long ere I could relish evangelical sentiment, I spent nearly a twelvemonth in a sort of mental elysium, and the one idea which ministered to my soul all its rapture was the magnificence of the Godhead, and the universal subordination of all things to the one great purpose for which He evolved and was supporting creation."-The peculiar eloquence which won his renown, and which was inflated and juvenile to his latest day, displayed itself very early. It was the custom at St. Andrew's for the more pious of the townspeople to attend the daily prayers in the Divinity Hall conducted by the Theological Students,

and Chalmers' turn to pray, though only a youth of sixteen, always produced a full hall, and the prayers as described were high-wrought rhetorical declamations on the works of God, and the miseries of society, and the horrors of the French war. He is perhaps the only instance of a man of real eminence who, in the maturity of his mind, found it possible to use the compositions of his boyhood. Dr. Hanna tells of him, that in his sixty-second year, "Dr. Chalmers met in solemn convocation with upwards of 400 of the Evangelical ministers of the Church of Scotland, assembled in Edinburgh to deliberate in prospect of the Disruption; and when, standing in the midst of them, the veteran leader of that noble band sought to stir up all around him to an enthusiasm equal to the great occasion which they were about to face, he took up the very words of an old College exercise, and no passage he ever wrote was uttered with more fervid energy or a more overwhelming effect." This is really a remarkable anecdote; but it gives an air of unreality to the whole scene. Here is the objectless effusion of his youth, which Dr. Chalmers used as if it had just been struck out into life and utterance by the excitements and responsibilities of a great occasion:

"How different the langour and degeneracy of the present age from that ardour which animated the exertions of the primitive Christians in the cause of their religion. That religion had then all the impressive effect of novelty. The evidences which supported its divine origin were still open to observation. The Miracles of Christianity proclaimed it to be a religion that was supported by the arm of omnipotence. The violence of a persecuting hostility only served to inflame their attachment to the truth, and to arouse the intrepidity of their characters. Enthusiasm is a virtue rarely produced in a state of calm and unruffled repose. It flourishes in adversity. It kindles in the hour of danger, and rises to deeds of renown. The terrors of persecution only serve to awaken the energy of its purposes. It swells in the pride of integrity, and, great in the purity of its cause, it can scatter defiance amid a host of enemies. The magnanimity of the primitive Christians is beyond example in history. It could withstand the ruin of interests, the desertion of friends, the triumphant joy of enemies, the storms of popular indignation, the fury of a vindictive priesthood, the torments of martyrdom. The faith of immortality emboldened their profession of the gospel, and armed them with contempt of death. The torrent of opposition they had

to encounter in asserting the religion of Jesus, was far from repressing their activity in his service. They maintained his cause with sincerity-they propagated it with zeal-they devoted their time and their fortune to its diffusion. Amid all their discouragements they were sustained by the assurance of a heavenly crown. The love of their Redeemer consecrated their affections to his service, and enthroned in their hearts a pure and disinterested enthusiasm. Hence the rapid and successful extension of Christianity through the civilized world. The grace of God was with them. It blasted all the attempts of opposition. It invigorated the constancy of their purposes. It armed them with fortitude amid the terrors of persecution, and carried them triumphant through the proud career of victory and success.”—Vol. I. p. 24.

From College, in his eighteenth year, Chalmers went to be private tutor to ten children in a family where from unbecoming treatment, and his own high temper, he found a most uncomfortable residence. He quarrelled with the ladies, because he would not spare and injuriously indulge his elder pupils. He quarrelled with the master, because he would not submit to be treated as a menial, to keep in his own room when visitors were expected, and hold his tongue in company. He quarrelled with the servants, because they were inoculated with the insolence of their employers. The natural man was evidently very strong in him at this period, and he was far enough from being meek and chastened in a wise dignity, but the arrogance that wounded and provoked him was far more unjustifiable than the proud spirit of the youth. "Sir," said his employer, "you have too much pride." "There are two kinds of pride," was the reply; "there is that pride which lords it over inferiors, and there is that pride which rejoices in repressing the insolence of superiors. The first I have none of the second I glory in." Such scenes could have but one termination, and Chalmers, at the age of nineteen, now licensed as a preacher, the objection of his youth being overcome by the consideration, that he was "a lad o' pregnant pairts," betook himself from the ungenial tutorship, after a brief interval at Edinburgh, where he studied under Playfair, Hope, Stewart, and Robinson, to the more dignified offices of Assistant Minister at Cavers, and Assistant Mathematical Professor at St. Andrew's. He devoted himself to his

« AnkstesnisTęsti »