Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

issued at length in a persuasion that the Holy Spirit is really and truly God, and not an emanation. It was not, however, until 1800, that he publicly included the personality of the Holy Spirit, in his statements of the doctrine of spiritual influence.'

• His prayers were remarkable for their simplicity and their devotional feeling. No person could listen to them without being persuaded, that he who uttered them was really engaged in prayer, wa§ holding communion with his God and Father in Christ Jesus. Hi* tones and his countenance throughout these exercises, were those of one most deeply imbued with a sense of his unworthiness, and throwing himself at the feet of the Great Eternal, conscious that he could present no claim for a single blessing, but the blood of atonement, yet animated by the cheering hope that the voice of that blood would prevail. The structure of these prayers never indicated any preconceived plan. They were the genuine effusions of a truly devotional spirit, animated by a vivid recollection of what, in his own state, in that of the congregation, of the town and vicinity, needed most ardently to be laid before the Father of Mercies.. Thus they were remarkably comprehensive, and furnished a far greater variety on the successive occasions of public worship, than those of any other minister whom I have ever known. The portions which were devoted to intercession, operated most happily in drawing the affections of his people towards himself; since they shewed how completely his Christian sympathy had prepared him to make their respective cases his own.

'The commencement of his sermons did not excite much expectation in strangers, except they were such as recollected how the mental agitation produced by diffidence, characterised the first sentences of some of the orators of antiquity. He began with hesitation, and often in a very low and feeble tone, coughing frequently, as though he were oppressed by asthmatic obstructions. As he proceeded, his manner became easy, graceful, and at length highly impassioned; his voice also acquired more flexibility, body, and sweetness, and, in all his happier and more successful efforts, swelled into a stream of the most touching and impressive melody. The farther he advanced, the more spontaneous, natural, and free from labour, seemed the progression of thought. He announced the results of the most extensive reading, of the most patient investigation, or of the profoundest thinking, with such unassuming simplicity, yet set them in such a position of obvious and lucid reality, that the auditors wondered how things so simple and manifest should have escaped them. Throughout his sermons he kept his subject thoroughly iu view, and so incessantly brought forward new arguments, or new illustrations, to confirm or to explain it, that with him amplification was almost invariably accumulative in its tendency. One thought was succeeded by anuther, and that by another, and another, each more weighty than the preceding, each more calculated to deepen and render permanent the ultimate impression. He could at pleasure adopt the unadorned, the ornamental, or the energetic ; and indeed combine them in every diversity of modulation. In his higher flights, what he said of Burke, might, with the slightest deduction, be applied to himself, "that his imperial fancy laid all nature under tribute, and collected riches from every scene of the creation, and every walk of art"; and at the same time, that could be affirmed of Mr. Hall, which could not be affirmed of Mr. Burke, that he never fatigued and oppressed by gaudy and superfluous imagery. Whenever the subject obviously justified it, fie would yield the reins to an eloquence more diffusive and magnificent than the ordinary course of pulpit instruction seemed to require; yet, so exquisite was hia perception of beauty, and so sound his judgement, that not the coldest taste, provided it were real taste, could ever wish an image omitted which Mr. Hall had introduced. His inexhaustible variety augmented the general effect. The same images, the same illustrations, scarcely ever recurred. So ample were his stores, that repetition of every kind was usually avoided ; while in his illustrations he would connect and contrast what was disjointed and opposed, or distinctly unfold what was abstracted or obscure, in such terms as were generally intelligible, not only to the well-informed, but to the meanest capacity. As he advanced to his practical applications, all his mental powers were shewn in the most palpable but finely balanced exercise. His mind would, if I may so speak, collect itself and come forth with a luminous activity, proving, as he advanced, how vast, and, in some important senses, how next to irresistible those powers were. In such seasons, his preaching communicated universal animation: his congregation would seem to partake of his spirit, to think and feel as he did, to be fully influenced by the presence of the objects which he had placed before them, fully actuated by the motives which he had enforced with such energy and pathos.

'All was doubtless heightened by his singular rapidity of utterance, —by the rhythmical structure of his sentences, calculated at once for the transmission of the most momentous truths, for the powers of his voice, and for the convenience of breathing at measured intervals,—• and, more than all, by the unequivocal earnestness and sincerity which pervaded the whole, and by the eloquence of his most speaking countenance and penetrating eye. In his sublimer strains, not only was every faculty of the soul enkindled and in entire operation, but hia very features seemed fully to sympathise with the spirit, and to give out, nay, to throw out, thought, and sentiment, and feeling.'

Vol. VI. pp. 51—55.

Such was the man, in the very morning of his fame, whom some worthy persons of the episcopalian persuasion, fondly imagine to have been indebted for his celebrity beyond the circle of hin own communion, to the accident of his being stationed at Cambridge!! Had he lived in a country town, 'the occasional 'discourses which have been rapturously applauded by the highest 'tribunals of criticism, and been eagerly devoured by statesmen, 'divines, and philosophers, might have been heard of only in the * neighbouring bookseller's shop, and among the deacons and 'communicants of a Baptist meeting!' But, 'as our universities 'radiate intelligence to every part of the land, a name which was 'so well known at Cambridge, would not fail to become well 'known throughout the country.' * The Class-mate of Mackintosh, the Preacher who at the age of one-and-twenty seduced Bristol clergymen to wander into a Baptist meeting for the purpose of hearing him, the Author of the sermon on Modern Infidelity, would, possibly, never have made his way into open celebrity, but for the irradiation shed upon him by his local connexion with Cambridge! Most philosophical and academical conclusion .' That his residence at Cambridge gave many individuals an opportunity of listening to his pulpit eloquence, who would otherwise not have taken the trouble to go after him, is certain. So far did his reputation break down 'even the pale of collegiate 'order', that, 'when the heads of houses met to consider the 'expediency of preventing the gownsmen attending his meeting', 'the proposition was overruled %—prudently, but not very graciously. The fact is, that a grudging and reluctant homage was paid to the great sectarian Preacher, while living, by the members of the Establishment, with a few illustrious exceptions; and even now, the plaudit of admiration is tainted with the breath of detraction. Is it not remarkable, that the first notice which the works of this 'master of English' ever received in the London Quarterly Review, should appear in the XCVth Number of that journal, and should consist of an elaborate tissue of eulogy and calumny, artfully woven, for the purpose of rendering, if possible, the posthumous fame of the Great Dissenter innocuous? This writer, whose 'wonderful compositions,—wonderful both for the scale 'and the variety of the powers they display ', combine ' declama'tion so impassioned with wisdom so practical, touches of pathos 'so tender, with such caustic irony, such bold invective, such 'spirit-stirring encouragement to heroic deeds ;—and all in lan'guage worthy to be the vehicle of such diverse thoughts,— 'more massive than Addison, more easy and unconstrained than 'Johnson, more sober than Burke'f;—the subject of this fervent eulogy was scarcely, if ever, named, while living, by the Quarterly Review. No one would have learned from its records of our literature, that such a writer existed. To hear such a man preach, was an offence against the Establishment: to praise his writings, except in a whisper, required an apology from a churchman. So strong is the influence of the sectarian feeling gendered by the pride of ecclesiastical caste!

Our present business, however, is with Mr. Hall's personal character, rather than his writings; and as we have been led to advert to the article in the Quarterly Review, we cannot refrain

* Christian Observer, Feb. p. 96.
t Quarterly Rev. No. XCV. p. 120.

from observing, that the mosaic portrait which, with considerable ingenuity, the Reviewer has framed out of hints and scraps in his letters and writings, is much such a likeness as might be expected to come out from such a process. From an expression in one of his letters it is gathered, that his temperament was by nature 'indolent'; while, from other parts of his writings, it is shrewdly concluded that he was 'irritable1; and from another letter, that he was ' unsocial.' But 'some allowance', it is added, 'is to be made for a little habitual spleen in a man, who, conscious of high superiority, was depressed by circumstances below his natural level of life. For such a person, so placed, not to kick against the pricks, would indeed have been a spectacle of protracted self-denial of the rarest merit, but was one which required a degree of virtue unreasonable to expect'!* The sarcastic candour, the insolent condescension of this 'allowance', harmonizes with the palpable unfairness of making a good man's confessions or complaints the basis of an estimate of his character. Upon this principle, some of the most useful men that ever lived, might be convicted of unprofitableness; and some of the holiest, of impurity of motive. To impute indolence and irritability, as distinguishing characteristics, to a man suffering under 'an in'ternal apparatus of torture', to whom exertion was pain, and in whom placidity was fortitude, is unjust and unfeeling. To call an individual unsocial, who was the life of society, who delighted in the company of his friends, and retreated only from display and debate, is not only unjust, but absurd. But, not content with this, the Reviewer must needs devise a fictitious cause for the supposititious infirmity, and ascribe the habitual spleen of the surly, discontented, lazy being he has imagined, to a depression of fortune, or rather, to the conscious degradation of being condemned, as a Dissenter, to a position below his natural level! Of this depression, Mr. Hall was assuredly unconscious. He had a mind infinitely superior to the creeping baseness and littleness which the supposition of this Reviewer betrays. He never coveted wealth; and, in consecrating himself to the Christian ministry among the Dissenters, he could never have dreamed of attaining higher eminence and dignity than he attained. The fame and consideration which he enjoyed, might have gratified an ambitious man; but he esteemed "the reproach of Christ" greater riches than the treasures of a hierarchy, purchased by what he would have deemed apostasy-f. What degree of virtue it might be

* Quarterly Rev. p. 131.

t 'Dr. Manscl, afterwards Bishop of Bristol, endeavoured to persuade Mr. Hail, through a common friend, to conform to the Established Church, in which he would not long have wanted preferment;

VOL. IX.—N.8. B B

unreasonable to expect in such a person, we will not undertake to decide; but the Reviewer ought to have recollected, before he ventured to misapply the language of Scripture, that to "kick against the pricks" is descriptive of the conduct of the persecutor, not the persecuted; of the bigot, armed with sacerdotal power, not of the despised objects of his intolerance.

To return to the narrative. In the beginning of 1799, Mr. Hall had the gratification of renewing personal intercourse with his friend Mackintosh, who, being about to deliver his course of lectures at LincolnVInn Hall, on the Law of Nature and Nations, spent a few months at Cambridge, for the purpose of consulting the university and other public libraries. Dr. Parr came to Cambridge on a visit to his friends at the same time; and Mr. Hall often spent his evenings with these two eminent men and a few members of the university who were invited to their select parties. It is a remarkable coincidence, that the Author of the Vindicice GaUicce, and the Author of the "Apology for the Freedom of the Press", both embarked, about the same time, upon the stormy sea of political debate. In both, a generous love of liberty, combined with the ardour of genius and the immaturity of youth, gave birth to a brilliant performance, which their riper judgement condemned, without any abandonment of their early principles. To both, political celebrity became a source of inconvenience, and subsequently exposed them to a charge, utterly unfounded, of political apostasy. Both, in their juvenile productions, had assailed the opinions, while they had, in some measure, imitated the style, or caught the spirit of Burke. And now about the same period, time having wrought a similar modification upon the opinions of the two friends, without any concert between them, we find Mackintosh preparing those lectures which were the chief source of his permanent reputation, and Hall preaching his splendid philippic against infidelity. That sermon was no hasty production, but, as Dr. Gregory assures us, 'the 'deliberate result of a confirmed belief, that the most strenuous 'efforts were required to repel mischief so awfully and insidiously 'diffused.' We cannot but think it highly probable, however, that his renewed intercourse with Mackintosh in the preceding year, had some effect, both in exciting him to the effort, and in influencing the tone of his sentiments; not less effect, perhaps, than Mackintosh's visit to Beaconsficld is supposed to have had upon him. After the publication of the sermon upon infidelity, which met with unanticipated and extraordinary applause, Mackintosh thus writes to his friend, Hall.

but Mr. Hall, much to the honour of his integrity, declined the invitation.' Christian Observer.

« ForrigeFortsett »