Изображения страниц

had then resolved to be a minister, with “ Let brotherly love continue" for his first text. His infancy was most unhappy, from the cruelty of his nurse, the memory of whom was to him an unmitigated horror, and he was glad to escape to school at the age of only three years. At this early age, the power of imagination, which gave such an intensity to his thought and preaching in all periods of his life, was manifested, as after hearing the story of the death of Absalom read, when he was but three years old, he was found in his nursery, after dark, walking the room impetuously, repeating to himself the exclamation, “O my son Absalom! 0 Absalom, my son, my son!"

The school into which he entered did little for him; the principal master being almost blind, and addicted to much flogging, and the other was too easy a soul to distrust any one. Yet Chalmers seems always to have cherished a regard for his teacher here, so opposite to the cruelty of his nurse, and many a pound note was acknowledged in after years, as a present from the pupil to the teachers in memory of olden times. The want of method, and the poor instruction of these early years, rendered the schoolboy a perfect dolt for all his youth, so far as the school was concerned; but, freed from that, he was strong and active, merry and generous, full of fun and frolic, but never malicious. All his ardency of mind was thrown into his sports, and when he entered St. Andrews' College, at twelve, the first efforts of his pen showed only a miserable serawl, abounding with errors of orthography and grammar. Here he was the same volatile, sportive, dull in-door and enthusiastic out-door creature, ready for all fun, but no mischief; and when jeered at, as though wanting in courage, when courage was to be shown in cruelty, his answer was simply, “ Well, well, my good


Here were elements of a noble ardor, that might have been directed to beautiful results by a generous and humane religion ; but he was living amid formality and skepticism, and there was no channel into which the generous ardor of youth could be turned, that would not modify its noblest qualities. But there came an influence that affected his mental being, so that he woke to sleep

He listened to the lectures, on Natural Philosophy, of Dr. James Brown, and became an enthusiastic student, excited and absorbed in the pursuit of the won. ders and beauties of this science; and he always owned, that to this gentleman, more than to all others, he owed the direction which formed his intellectual tastes and habits. He was now the foremost boy inhis class; but he formed habits of thinking, which led him into the skepticism that was prevalent at the time—the fatal period of the French Revolution. He did not see the difference between matters of experimental philosophy and matters of revelation; and his career only added an illustration to the many examples of all ages, that where religion is deemed a philosophy, it ends in reasonings, and the soul is rated no higher than logic. Chalmers became deeply interested in Godwin's Political Justice, and mathematics and metaphysics were the fields in which he labored, and from which he reaped all his stores. Dr. Brown was drawn to his enthusiastic pupil, and took much notice of him, inviting him to his house, and introduced him to his special friends who, like himself, were “free-thinkers” in politics and religion. Referring to this time, in one of his letters, he acknowledges that he read the Bible with heedlessness, when he read it all, and passages which afterward became very precious to him, he then read with disgust.

no more.

In this condition of mind, he became a Divinity student-with energy for mathematics, with disgust for portions of the Bible; so inevitable seems to be the evil, where the ministry becomes a profession for which men are to be “educated," as they are drilled into the mechanical performance of the duties of a trade, or an art. Yet, at this time, he appears to have had great fervor in the public devotions of the college, where it was the custom for the students to conduct the worship of their class by turns; for, when Chalmers was to pray, there was always a larger attendance and greater attention than at any other time. His custom was invariably to paraphrase the Lord's Prayer. He had no patience with the efforts at conforming religion to the “Standards,” rather than to the demands of truth; and when the lecturer, one day, spoke against bringing Calvinism too broadly into the pulpit, lest it should become repulsive, Chalmers remarked, “If it be truth, why not be above-board with it ?”-a very sensible question. He became interested in the scheme of Jonathan Edwards, but only in one point of view, and that the one which holds most of the powerful minds that give in their suffrages to Calvinism,the sovereignty of God. This could go well with his rapt thoughts of the God of nature and of the sciences, and he looked back to this time, twenty-four years afterward, as to nearly a twelvemonth spent 66 in a sort of mental elysium; where the one idea which ministered to his 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.” But he took no interest in the exposition of this scheme by the lecturer, and on being asked why he had not given attention to an able disquisition, he replied, “ Because I question the sincerity of the lecturer." And why should he not, when the lecturer had so little confidence in what he declared to be the truth, as not to wish it made prominent in the pulpit ? Chalmers accepted Edwards' doctrine of Necessity, as harmonizing with his ideas drawn from Godwin on political necessity; and, in 1821, expressed the desire to be inspired with a like season of intellectual rapture, by views of God in harmony with the doctrine of the New Testament; but such a desire was vain, for his views of the teachings of the New Testament took away the sight of the all-controlling and ever-successful God. While the power of the sovereignty of God, as taught by Edwards, was on him, he went into the country to give freer scope to his imagination, and to revel in the glory of his thoughts.

It is remarkable, that this time of intellectual dreaming was followed by a season of purely practical pursuits, on a visit to his brother. His journal would seem to indicate an utter abandonment of his former pursuits, and that the philosophical enthusiast was no more.

The debating societies connected with St. Andrews', gave him the stimulus he needed to induce him to attend to composition, but his literary efforts at this time, gave him no credit. Efforts at expression seemed to dry up imagination; but all this time a discipline was going on, by which he mastered the difficulties in his way, till the

time came when he gave himself only to the fervor of his thought and the management of his subject, for his style was formed. . When seventeen, Chalmers seems to have fashioned his style ; and the intellects, with which he had to contend in the debates, aroused all his energy; and it is remarkable, that forty years afterward, when he desired to make the most powerful impression on four hundred ministers, he used a portion of one of his essays, written at this time, in praise of the enthusiasm of the early Christians :

“ 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."

When he left St. Andrews', for a vacation, he resolved to lessen the labors of his parents in the support of their children, and engaged to act as tutor in a family. The time of his leaving home was well rememembered from the fact, that the confusion of tears and farewells was so great, that when he was about to start off, he was found facing the tail of the horse, which accident gave a merrymaking to what was altogether too sad a scene. He found himself in no situation for comfort; his letters to his father are beautiful compositions, though it is evident that he had rather too much pride, as well as the family whose conduct he strongly condemns. A disruption took place after a conversation with his employer, who declared the tutor was too proud,

and was answered, “ There are two kinds of pride, sir. There is that pride that 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."

After his return to St. Andrews', he obtained a license to become a preacher, though he wanted more than a year of the age required by the church, he not having finished his nineteenth year. He obtained this privilege, under the rule of exception, which provided for rare cases, and the friend who recommended him to the Presbytery, described him as a “lad o' pregnant parts.”

On his way, by foot, to Liverpool, to meet four brothers, he preached his first sermon in Wigan, which, when repeated in Liverpool, was regarded as prophetic of success. His brother James describes him, at this time, as being unmindful of his dress and manner, and as giving his attention rather to mathematics than to religon. From here he was called to Edinburgh with the hope of obtaining a situation, but he was disappointed. He remained in Edinburgh attending the lectures of Professor Playfair, dreading any interruption that might call him to the employments of the ministry. His whole mind seemed absorbed in the pursuit of chemical studies, and extraordinary facilities were granted him. He considered himself as having discharged his obligations to the ministers by preaching twice at St. Andrews', and writes, “ There are applications pouring in from all quarters, but I find there is a necessity for resisting them. I have already exhausted all the different terms of expression which soften or give grace to a refusal, and I must now content myself with using peremptory and decided terms." It is evident he was looking for eminence in the professor's chair, rather than in the pulpit, finding new vigor and alacrity given to his exertions by conversations with the literati of the neighborhood. He preserved in manuscript the chemical lectures he attended, and thus showed his diligence; and, during the same winter, he heard Stewart on Moral

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »