THE LIFE OF DR. ROBERT LEE.* ONE of the greatest evils attending a great empire is the semi- obscurity into which its vast extent and the magnitude of its imperial concerns consign many men who would be remarkable in a smaller sphere. Of such is the subject of the memoir which now lies before us. And this book is a curious example how not only a notable individual but an important movement suffers from the same cause, and by reason of its distance from the great central point of national activity is cramped into merely local eminence, while possessing qualities which might interest the widest audience. We have heard much lately of the sentimental grievances which heighten to Irish eyes all the real misfortunes of that unlucky island ; but Scotland—prosperous, uncomplaining, and even complacent as she is—has her full share of the sentimental griev- ances. She is like a wife whose name and identity is swept away in that of her husband. It does not much affect her comfort, but when she thinks of it, it hurts her pride ; and there are some Scotch writers who attempt to ignore this fact by substituting, as they have a perfect right to do, the northern horizon, with all its peculiarities, its imperfectly known mountains, its characteristic landscapes, the fitful aurora of its sterner skies, for that wider horizon which, to be sure, is local too, but which we in the heart of England call the world. They have, we repeat, a perfect right to do so, but it has a slightly bewildering effect upon the reader. This peculiarity may in some degree impair the interest of the memoir of Dr. Lee, which perhaps takes for granted an amount of knowledge of recent events in Scotland and ecclesiastical personages there, which can exist only on the other side of the Border. But it is not the less a very curious and im- portant chapter of contemporary history, as well as the story of a good and able life devoted to the service of God and man.
Dr. Robert Lee was not a man of such genius as to rise entirely above the level of his contemporaries. He never could have filled the place or exercised the influence of Chalmers, an influence which extended far beyond local limits, and has found him an unques- tioned place in the list of men about whom the whole world more or less interests itself. But Dr. Lee was, as men upon a secondary level so often are, a better representative of a class than his great countryman could ever have been,—a class which is, perhaps, pecu- liar to Scotland. We know no corresponding development in the wealthier, more highly trained and better-bred clergy of England ; neither is there anything among Dissenting bodies which can justly be placed beside the Scottish minister to whom his position in the Established Church gives a certain sense of security, of modest rank and national importance, which dignifies and elevates his standing in the outside world, notwithstanding that his endowments are small, his hopes of preferment nil, and his claim to clerical position but lightly esteemed in the country most closely connected with his own. But though he is politely (or impolitely) scorned by his Anglican brothers, his place is not the less distinct and important within his own borders. The wider atmosphere of general life seems somehow to have a better chance of getting at him in his special circumstances, than it does either to the members of a hierarchy or to the congregation-ridden pastors of Dissent ; and the conditions of Presbyterian Church-government develop in him faculties which, if not evangelical, are very characteristic. He has a share of real governing power in his hands, he has to exercise now and then the office of a judge, he is bound, if he would fully discharge his duties, to understand something of law, and the necessities of life force him into the practice of debate and public discussion. We do not mean to assert that the common mass of Scotch ministers show signs of this wide and really fine training, but there is a class which does, and of that class Robert Lee was the fittest type. His mind was thoroughly cultivated, but in the Scotch rather than in the English sense, not in the way of delicate and fine scholarship, but of general knowledge. His clear and somewhat rigid intelligence was more disposed towards the sharp definitions and shadowless outlines of science than to any- thing emotional. He was full of administrative capacity within a limited circle, though entirely devoid of the statesmanlike breadth of conception which distinguished Chalmers. He did his work with conscience rather than with enthusiasm, and yet a certain ardour, steady and pertinacious and unflagging, was in him, too. A Scotch clergyman, as distinguished from all other members of the clerical
Life and Remain of Robert Lee, Vi)., Minister of Old Greyfriars,and Chaplain in Ordinary to the Queen, 1-c. By E. Story, Minister of Bosneath. London: Hurst and Blickett. 1869.
profession, whether priests or pastors,—strongly ecclesiastical, yet claiming very little privilege or personal sacredness from his orders, preferring to meet men upon equal ground, and impatient of all sacerdotal assumptions,—liberal and tolerant in respect to the liberal opinions of others, yet disposed to be somewhat contemptuous of the narrow-minded,—objecting to the endless definitions of old- fashioned theology, yet himself rather apt to define,—such was Dr. Lee ; and the reader who desires to make acquaintance with the native clergy of Scotland, a class in which there is very much that is interesting and characteristic, could not do better than study it in these records of a serious and busy life.
The period embraced by this book includes some of the most im- portant events which have lately happened to the Church of Scot- land. Dr. Lee was ordained in 1833, a time when the religious world everywhere was full of emotion and disturbance. His previous academical career had been one of great promise, and its commence- ment was distinguished by an incident which is worth recording. He was a poor man's son, a boatbuilder, on the Tweed, eager for learning, but not able to procure it without an effort. Probably his earlier years had been tantalized by hopes of getting to the University by help of friends, but at all events when he was twenty he felt that there was no longer any time to lose. "He built a boat," says his biographer, '' sold it, and with the price in his pocket started for St. Andrew's." On this honest foundation his life was built. He began his work in a chapel of ease, but was soon "translated," as it is termed in Scotland, to the parish of Campsie, a place half rural, half mining, where he had a population of 6,000 to watch over, and much work to do. The time was full of agitation and tumult, for the great controversy which ended in the Secession of the Free Church was just then in full force. This controversy managed to secure a little attention from the general public out of Scotland at the moment, on account of the singular and picturesque event in which it culminated ; but by this time our knowledge has grown somewhat dim, and it requires an effort to realize the extraordinary excitement produced in Scotland by a con- flict which rent families and parishes, the country and the Church alike in twain, and which was, perhaps, to a majority of the Scotch nation, a more important matter than anything else which was hap- pening at the moment on the civilized globe. The popular side of the auestion with strangers is, no doubt, that of the men who proved their sincerity by giving up their living ; but yet there is a great deal to be said on the other side, which Mr. Story says with perhaps a little more heat than is necessary at this long distance ; but for this we must refer our readers to the book itself. Dr. Lee took no part in the controversy, but set himself with characteristic activity to work his parish. He did this not so much with the exuberant bodily exertion of a country minister, though of that there seems to have been no lack in his life, but with curious attempts to systematize and improve the theory and practice of public worship, to build up a homely hierarchy of labourers each supplementing the work of the other, and to organize and com- bine the working power of the Church in a way curiously distinct from the other combinations which belonged to the crisis. Thus we find this Scotch country minister, most moderate-minded, clear- sighted, unromantic of men, projecting the establishment of an. Order,—a brotherhood, with a General holding something like absolute authority, in the very heart of the democratic Church of Scotland! And while the thunder of ecclesiastical warfare was rolling over his head, he was concocting the first germ of a modern liturgy, to be used in the prayer-meetings held among the Campsie miners ; and contriving means of reaching the people under his care by a revival of primitive Scriptural offices, such as those of evangelists, catechists, deaconesses, &c., with a true sense at once of the immense work which there was to do, and of the unemployed strength that might be made use of to do it. These plans were all floating in his mind during the earliest period of his labours; they became at a later period his prevailing work and purpose, and as such may probably be the germ of great changes in Scotch religions history.
We are tempted to regret that at a moment such as the present Mr. Story has not taken more full advantage of the opportunity afforded to him of setting forth dispassionately the effect upon a portion of his Church of sudden disendowment, a question of the deepest interest, and which there are so few means of throwing any practical light upon. But the other question, which he does treat fully, and which, though not of such striking political importance, is perhaps more fundamentally momentous to the Church of Scotland itself, has also a curious human interest, and throws strange reflections upon the stormy records of the past. That a country which has been more than once convulsed by
determined efforts to reject the liturgies which unwise zeal attempted to force upon it, and which has sent forth humble martyrs from almost every part of its extent to die for principles which were, no doubt, the fundamental principles of political and religious liberty, but which to many of the sufferers meant chiefly the right to worship God in their own homely way—should be brought at last of its own free-will to receive, and discuss, and deliberate over, and even desire a book of common prayer is a very curious fact ; and this was the result of Dr. Lee's persevering labours. Within sight of the venerable building in which Jenny Geddes' three-legged stool was launched at the head of the trembling priest with Laud's " mass-book " in his hand, a printed prayer-book has been actually received and brought into permanent use, not by any imposition of authority, but by the popular wish and impulse—as quaint an example of time's revenges as could well be found. And the way in which it was accomplished is very characteristic. Dr. Lee's mind was not moved by that enthusiasm for the beautiful Liturgy of the Church of England which is, fortunately, so universal. It was not, indeed, enthusiasm for anything which moved him, but a curious abstract sense of fitness and propriety. And nothing can be more different from the English Prayer-Book than the new, grave, unpicturesque example of a liturgy, which he succeeded in establishing in his church. It is wanting in beauty, having little of the old tender fervour and holy grace of the prayers of the saints—and it wants the grandeur of emotion altogether, that almost impassioned action of the sinner throwing himself at the feet of the Pardoner of sin, which thrills us in the first petitions of our own Litany. Its prayers have a conventional solemnity which reminds the reader of sermons, and are almost more doctrinal than human, the reflection of a mind which, though full of all kindly sentiments and tried with the deepest personal sorrows, yet retained throughout all its unimpassioned nature, and allowed the intellect more freedom than the heart even in its prayers. Notwithstanding the perfervidum ingenium Seotorum, there is, no doubt, something congenial to the Scotch mind in this curious gravity and formalism. The discus- sions about this prayer-book, the perturbation and excitement it caused, the debates in the General Assembly of which it was the occasion, all the vicissitudes of a great ecclesiastical controversy, are given in Mr. Story's book at full length. And though the reader may not be quite qualified to understand the little arrows of satire occasionally aimed at Dr. Muir, or Dr. Pine, or Mr. Phin, or Mr. Stewart, and may, indeed, have some difficulty in identifying these personages, still, the entire picture is one which out of the bosom of a totally different ecclesiastical constitution we may well examine with interest. Even the personal feeling, which 'seems to be occasionally too hot and lively, heightens the reality of the novel scene, and Dr. Muir and Mr. Phin, though hazy to us, are very real to Dr. Lee and his biographer. Altogether, this memoir fulfils one of the best uses of biography, in making us acquainted not only with a man of remarkable character, talent, and energy, but in throwing light upon a very distinct phase of society, and in showing us how the problems of our common life change colour according to the circumstances under which they are considered. England and Scotland, though so intimately con- nected in many things, are in others as far from understanding each other as if they were separated by the breadth of a world, and Scotch Church matters are to the great majority of English masters wrapped in a darkness as complete as those of Kamtschatka or
Madagascar. Such a book as the present is admirably fitted to supply the knowledge which is necessary to any true compre- hension of the aims and reasonings of the common mass of the Scotch people,—and as such we recommend it to the intelligent reader.
Besides this—if we may use the expression—historical interest, Mr. Story has succeeded in calling forth a very distinct individual portrait. The extracts from Dr. Lee's common-place book are full of a serious and genuine thoughtfulness ; without any particular beauty of style, there is much reality and life in them, and nothing can surpass their good sense and unexaggerated liberality of tone. His mind deals chiefly with the subjects which might be supposed to be most interesting to a man of his profession and country, but the impartial breadth of his understanding is very remarkable in such notes as those upon orthodoxy, upon the difference between an endowed clergy, and the voluntarily-paid ministers of Dissenting bodies,—upon the distinctive theories of Protestantism and Catholicism, and many other cognate subjects. The only extract which our space permits us to make is one quaintly indicative of his intellectual constitution :—
" 'Though fond of books,' he says, 'I cannot say I am a determined, thorough-going reader. My eyes will not permit it ; did I attempt the thing, I should soon finish my reading for ever ; neither, in truth, will my patience. My curiosity generally outruns the writer's pace, so I take the liberty of outgoing my guide. Unless in literary works of art, such--,oetry, oratory, dec.. when the very thought depends upon the words, I should much prefer to have the notes and memoranda from which the book was composed than the book itself. Very few books are worth reading quite through. Most authors give you all the thoughts they have to give, I mean that are peculiarly theirs, long before the end of their books is reached.'"
This preference for the naked elements of thought, and want of intellectual sympathy with the ways of working of other minds, no doubt helped to deprive Dr. Lee of the potent aid of enthu- siasm in the movement originated by him. It has remained a calmly reasonable movement, uninspired by any fiery impulse of feeling ; but yet has awakened in Scotland, or at least helped to bring into being, a new sense of spiritual want and necessity which there is every ground for believing will yet develop into better things.