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ART. III.— The Life of Hugh Heugh, D.D., with a Selection
from his Discourses. By his Son-in-Law, HAMILTON M. MacGill, Minister of the United Presbyterian Congregation, Montrose Street, Glasgow. In two volumes. Edinburgh, 1850.
We have heard it publicly stated, as the opinion given of these memoirs by a living theologian, fully competent, equally from his sound judgment, and his extensive reading, to form a just estimate, that there had issued from the press no biography so much fitted to stimulate and benefit students and young ministers of the gospel, since the publication of the Life of Philip Doddridge. We happen to have learned that the very same judgment, even to its comparative element, was expressed by an excellent and intimate departed friend of Dr. Heugh. The unconcerted coincidence is curious: and itself no inconsiderable presumption in favour of the accuracy of the opinion formed independently by two able minds with so ininute an agreement. Leaving out of view, however, the comparison involved, we have no hesitation in recording our deep conviction, that the volume of biography before us is singularly full of the most valuable lessons for every one who would discipline aright his intellect and heart. We shall make it our principal aim in the few following pages to gather up some of these hints; conceiving that we can perform no more important service than that of directing the general public, and especially students of theology, and the younger clergy, to a fresh source of sanctified excitement and instruction.
The fitness of the volume of biography before us for the study of the younger pastors of the Church of Christ, is enhanced by two considerations, the mention of which may seem, for a moment, but doubtful commendation. First, it is not the biography of genius. In saying so, we are far, certainly, from intending to disparage the intellectual endowments of the late Dr. Heugh. He was not one of those lights whose splendour dazzles and amazes, but, what is principally valuable, he was one of those whose beams shine and guide. Let the balance, however, be adjusted as it may between genius and gifts less brilliant, in regard of the power lent to their respective living possessors, it might be shewn, we think, by obvious considerations, that the biography of a man of genius must form, generally speaking, an inferior field for imitative study. Even were the majority of readers themselves "great wits,” endowed with this “mens divinior,” if we must call it so, it might well be questioned whether the best Not the Biography of Genius.
culture for their young strength would be found in the contemplation of those ethereal models presented by the life of genius. But the mass of readers are ordinary mortals, and to the youthful aspirant after eminence, himself' no winged soul, it is of less importance to learn how the eagle on his own strong and swift pinion can reach the mountain crest, than to acquire a knowledge of the path by which, with slower and more laborious course, yet not less surely, a man may plant his footstep on the summit. Or if there should be some height inaccessible to pedestrian toil—incapable of approach save by a pathway of air, it is well to know it, and eschew the “ unearthly fluttering” of vain attempts to reach it. Most men need lessons, not how to soar, but how to climb. There is a twofold effect, incidental to the study of the life of genius, disastrous to the young reader. On the one hand, juvenile vanity may whisper, as he reads, that the same fire burns within himself, and the mistaken apprehension lead to the waste of his faculties in the pursuit of an unattainable position, to the neglect of that which is within his reach. Or, on the other hand, conscious that he lacks this ethereal inspiration, the ingenuous youth wonders and admires, indeed, but rises from his reading without stimulus to actiort
, concluding that the lessons of such a life can only be for the aristocracy of intellect. The biography is to him a spectacle, not a pattern. It will be hard for the readers of the present memoirs to glide into either error. We do not mean that the mental gifts of their subject belonged to the common level of endowments, so that the ordinary reader, in supposing himself equally equipped, should run no hazard of thinking more highly of himself than he ought to think. On the contrary, we are inclined to think that faculties individually so high as his -and in their combination so felicitously balanced-mental powers, especially, so finely under control, so promptly and nicely obedient to the helm, are rarer than, in one form or other, genius itself is. But then Dr. Heugh's talents were precisely of that sort which a man cannot dream himself into the belief of possessing; there is a daylight, a distinctness, a practicalness about them, which defy the persuasive tongue of vanity itself to argue a man into the seeming consciousness of inheriting them. We believe, that for every half-dozen young readers who, in perusing memoirs of some great orator or poet, might fancy themselves born to rival him, hardly one will be found imagining bimself such a man as the subject of this biography. Something higher, to his idea, he might suppose himself to be, but not quite this. Yet, while scarcely any reader will miss the lessons of this book by supposing, against truth, that he was born to be all its subject was—while the majority of readers will naturally look on the standard here exhibited as too difficult of attainment for themselves to reach, the feeling superinduced will be far from one of discourageinent or despondency. For, perhaps, the prominent instruction of the book consists in the exhibition it gives of what resolute system, and discipline based on principle, may make a man, whatever they find him. The ingenuous reader of these volumes will readily say to himself,-I may never equal this model ; my starting point, in respect of natural endowments, may be far lower than his, but with similar plans, pursued in a similar spirit, I may conquer faults, supply defects, and strengthen powers possessed, so as to reach a position honourable and useful, and higher, it may be, than all my present hopes.
But there is another consideration which commends the “Life” before us to the earnest study especially of the young pastor. It is the record of a life of action. The reader of this biography is not conducted into the intellectual laboratory of some copious author; deep research, vast learning, years spent in the library, profound and masterly written works, are not the objects he is called to contemplate. He will find Dr. Heugh, indeed, in his study, and, beyond many, busy there. Few things have surprised us more than the evidences produced in this life of his untiring industry in his retirement, by his pen in the study, as truly as otherwise on the arena of public life. But he wrote chiefly for the pulpit; or, if for the press, it was in those forms, and on those occasions, which demand not patient plodding investigation, but energetic readiness: the prompt tact and power of one to whom, as he seizes the passing juncture, printing his present thoughts, is just another form of action. His writings, after all considerably numerous, are the extempore of the press, bearing, to more elaborate works, something like the relation which the unpremeditated speech bears to the set oration; the former, in both cases, being often the more effective production. The prominent type, therefore, of his character is not associated with the seclusion of the library. His life is not contemplative, but active. Now, we certainly have no intention to disparage profound learning, or to underrate the value of those productions which bespeak large consumption of the midnight oil. Nor are we indifferent to the great importance of obtaining, universally, a well-educated ministry. But the majority of Christian pastors cannot be pre-eminent for learning. Our men of varied lore we must have, competent to deal with any question, archæological, critical, or philosophical—able to meet, if need be, the perverted thought and learning of scepticism or pantheism on its own ground. But to have the mass of our ecclesiastical workmen such, is neither possible nor desirable. We do not need a whole army of sappers and miners; His Life Active rather than Studious.
71 nor would the available force of the host be increased, could we arm every soldier with a piece of ordnance. In different words, and away from figure, the designs of the Christian ministry are such as to preclude the propriety or possibility of the majority of the pastors of the Church being men of learned and laborious leisure: their duties call for action. · Studious they must be, but chiefly in connexion with the immediate demands of their current pastoral work. And if these sentiments, as we believe, must prove just at all times, there are features in the present aspect of society which give them special applicability to the passing age. These days cry, trumpet-tongued, for holy action. If the existence of a very general expectation on the part of religious men of all classes, founded on various facts, according to the special direction of their individual inquiries and observations, may be held as constituting true augury, then a conflict of no ordinary character with the powers and principles of evil is awaiting the Church. Now, without undervaluing or denying the need of ripe scholarship, extensive acquirements, scientific knowledge, and bookish research, we are persuaded that not by these weapons must the battle be fought in the main. We rely less upon the arguments of the pen in the imminent struggle, than upon the eloquence of the life. Self-denying, selfsacrificing action-love begirt with high-souled purpose, casting itself into the midst of perishing multitudes, not reasoning, so much as proclaiming and beseeching, exhibiting the proof of the truth it utters in its own very attitudes and activities-strong in faith and prayer withal—this is an agency we specially need. The best answer, we are persuaded, to many a sceptic cavil will be found in working zeal, that leaves no doubt of the sincerity and depth of our faith. And, practically, the most effective breakwater against the tide of modern infidelity, pantheistical or socialist, would be an increase in the number of persons ready from their own experience to confess, “ whereas we were blind, now we see." In every other department of human avocations, the age is one of restless action, and whatever thought would impress itself on the bosom of society must stand out in the embodiment and relief of deeds. Now Dr. Heugh belonged to the active rather than the studious class of ministers. His pattern is, accordingly, peculiarly seasonable. He furnishes a fine model of the accomplished, inventive, unwearied workman, asserting in its highest and holiest walk, the dignity of labour.
The book is in essence, though not in form, an autobiography. Dr. Heugh tells his own history. Extracts from copious diaries, and an extensive correspondence, leave not much room for the biographer appearing in his own person, except to supply the needful links for connexion. It is difficult to say whether the
“ Journals” or the “ Letters” contribute more to the delightful impression which the well-arranged whole produces on the mind. The epistolary correspondence is very charming: full of graceful ease, innocent playfulness, large-hearted affection, and holy sentiment; we read it often with a pleasurable smile, always with instruction. The merest note, if it sparkles with a flash of humour, drops some solemn striking thought, throwing the soul back on the realities of the unseen world. But with all this, it is, we think, in his diaries that Dr. Heugh will be perused with deepest admiration of the writer, and with greatest profit to the reader. It is rare to meet with so full and prolonged a record of patient, resolute, successful discipline of mind and heart, resulting in that kingly rule of a man's own spirit, which makes him better than the mighty.
The extracts made from these journals suggest two inquiries. The first relates to the propriety or importance of a man's keeping such a record of his inner history. Dr. Heugh's opinion on this subject was very decided, as appears not only from his own practice, but from express and repeated recommendation of the habit to others. He began at an early period of his life to pen memoranda in the form of a journal; soon gave these notes a more regular and continuous shape; and when, as repeatedly happened, his avocations led to the interruption of his jottings, he resumes them with unfailing expression of regret for the temporary disuse of a means of selfcultivation in his eyes so important. And once and again we find him addressing to young friends the counsel, to keep a diary. Thus he says to one,
“Let me suggest one thing more; keep a diary, or something like it : not certainly for the use of others, but for your own. I believe every person who has gone through life with any considerable benefit, either to himself or others, has done something of this sort. To note facts which would otherwise prove fugitive, and would soon fly into oblivion ; to give some permanence to emotions which might be forgotten almost as soon as they had subsided ; above all, to turn the eye of his mind inwards upon itself, and to gain fresh acquaintance with the depths of the heart, and its operations towards God and man -all this is worth trying, and if tried in earnest, and accompanied with prayer, will prove successful. * Do keep a diary, and try thoroughly to know yourself, to watch, and, through grace, subdue the tendencies of the heart to evil, and to endeavour through that grace to set your affections on the objects which above all others deserve them.”
His own life is one of the strongest arguments that can well be conceived in enforcement of the advice tendered in this extract. One cannot read it through without carrying away the