HANNA'S LIFE OF DR. en Al.atEn.s.s THE first volume of
this varied and interesting hiography brought down the life of Mr. Chalmers to his removal from the rural parish of Kilmany to the Trois. Church of Glasgow, in 181J. The present volume narrates his busy-and conspicuous career in the metropolis of Western Scotland, until his acceptance of the chair of JQj Philosophy in the University of St. Andrews, in the course of 184a. The nine years of his life embraced in this volume were full of active and practical -business, or of great works. When he had settled down in Glasgow, he found, two considerable interruptions to the pastoral and studious wain:144ns of a minister of religion, —he was beset by idle calls and,hospitable or lionizing invitations.; he was overwhelmed by secular demands upon his time and facul- ties.
"This, Sir," he writes to an old friend and neighbour, the Reverend Mr. Watson of Leuchars, "is a wonderful place ; and I am half entertained and half provoked by some of the peculiarities. of its people. The peculiarity, which bears hardest upon me is the incessant demand they have upon all occasions for the personalattendance of the ministers. They must have four to every funeral, or they do not think that it haabeen genteelly gene through; they must have one or more to all the committees, of all the societies ; they must fall in at every procession ; they must attend examinations innumer- able, and eat of the dinners consequent 'awn these exeminntions ; they have a niche assigned them in almost every public doing, and that niche must be filled up by them, or the doing loses all its solemnity in the eyes of the pub- lic. There seems to be a superstitious charm in the very sight of them ; and such is the manifold officiality with which they are covered that they must be paraded among all the meetings and all the institutions. I gave into all this at first, but I am beginning to keep a suspicious eye upon these repeated demands, ever since I sat nearly an hour in grave deliberation with a number of others upon a subject connected with the property of a corporation, and that subject was a gutter; and the question was, whether it should be bought and covered up, or let alone and left to lie open. I am gradually separating myself from all this trash."
But notwithstanding the energy and determination of Chalmers, he found it easier to resolve than to do. Some ill-will arose from
• Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Thomas Chalmers, D.D., LL.D. By his Son-in-law, the Reverend William Hanna, LL.D. Volume II. Published by Ha- milton and allisunr; and Sutherland and Knox, Edinburgh.
his partial withdrawal, and his attacks upon custom from the pulpit were imperfectly successful. It was not till the Town-Council of Stirling offered him their first ministerial charge, with total freedom from the annoyances to which his discourses proved that he was exposed at Glasgow, that the men of the West succumbed, and yielded to fear what they would not give to right or to kindliness; which is the way with many persons, and most bodies.
One use Chalmers made of his emancipation from secular and social demands, was to carry out more thoroughly than he had before been able at Glasgow, the custom obtaining in Scottish rural parishes of an annual visitation by the minister from house to house, in order to inquire into the condition, temporal as well as spiritual, of all his flock. The scenes of vice, ignorance, idle- ness, profligacy, and distress, which these visitations laid open to Chalmers in a poor and closely-peopled district in Glasgow, turned his mind to the poor-laws of Scotland and Fngland ; converted him to the Malthusian doctrine in its broadest form; convinced him that poor-laws were alike impolitic and unnecessary ; gave rise to his work on the Christian and Civic Economy of Large Towns ; and enabled him eventually, such was his influence m Glasgow, to have a new parish constituted, where he might carry out his sys- tem of supporting the poor from the collections at the church and private charity. To the same source of actual observation must be traced his various works on the condition of the poor and the means of ameliorating it. For, among his other merits, Chalmers is entitled to the credit of being one of the first, if not the first, to call attention to the ignorance, the vice, and the 'wretchedness of the urban population, to point to the danger of the unenlightened brute strength of the masses, to urge attention to their claims upon society, and to propound plans which, whatever may be thought of their practicability, originated in "strong benevolence of soul." To him too, we think, more than to any living contem- porary, belongs the praise of originating Ragged Schools.
Among the lesser features of the life of Chalmers during this period, may be mentioned the unsolicited grant of the degree of "Doctor of Divinity" by the University of Glasgow ; his election to the General Assembly, with controversies and debates spring- ing out of that position ; several excursions to England after he had become famous, in one of which his preaching made so great an impression on the London celebrities, even on the greatest orator of the time, Canning himself; and a very singular friendship he formed for a youth of the name of Smith, a son of his Glasgow publisher, the account of which reads more like the pious passion of the Romanist mystics, or the love-feasts of the early Methodists, than any thing Presbyterian. It was during his residence at Glasgow that the literary repu- tation of Chalmers was established and perhaps culminated. His first great work was the Astronomical Discourses. They were new in the information they imparted to a popular congre- gation, for the modern discoveries in space were then unknown to all except the scientific; if not altogether new in the appli- cation of scientific wonders to the enforcement of religion, they were sufficiently so to be fresh ; the composition, if too iterative in expanding topics, and somewhat ornately diffuse, was original, striking, and full of energy. Their success was probably unex- ampled as sermons. "Nine editions were called for within the year, and nearly twenty thousand copies were in circulation. The Tales of my Landlord had a month's start in the date of publi- cation, and even -with such a competitor it ran an almost equal race." Other volumes of discourses had donsiderable though not so great success. The Edinburgh Review articles on Pau- perism, and the Christian and Civic Economy, may not have had the popular sale of the Astronomical Discourses, but they excited as much attention in a wide .sphere, and probably exercised a deeper influence. To Chalmers more than to Malthus may be as- cribed that growing opinion on the impoliey of the English poor- law as then administered, which, coupled with the increase in the rates, caused the passing of the new act. Still, the primary power of Chalmers was in the pulpit. His pen was a considerable aireiliary to his fame and his usefulness ; his visitations and personal exertions gave him great means of doing good, and furnished him with materials for literary and economical appeals ; but the pulpit was the centre whence his power emanated. Jeffrey, in a moment of admiring weakness, compared Chalmers to Demosthenes : but the comparison runs parallel a very short way. Chalmers might have the energy of Demosthenes—" action, action, action !" but he had little of the condensed vigour, not much perhaps of the all-compact genius, and none of the art of the "orator renown'd." Demosthenes de- claimed with pebbles in his mouth to cure a defect of utterance— Chalmers spoke with an accent that it required an accustomed ear to follow : the Athenian practised with a sword suspended over him to cure an awkwardness of habit—the Scotehman was odd, if not ungainly, to the last. After the lapse of two thousand years, with all the extinctions or changes is religions, opinions, arts, manners, and languages, the speeches of Demosthenes are still the model of the orator who aims at nervous strength—the attractions of Chalmers's sermons decreased somewhat during his life, and he cannot be recommended as a model to any one. However, he was a model to the modern platform school of orators ; and, pro- bably, the caricatures of his followers reacted injuriously upon their master's fame. In addition to earnest energy, Ins discourses possessed a fulness of thought, and a rich exuberance of imagery and illustration, which at the best of times tended to diffusiveness and on common occasions degenerated into a rather tedious outpouring. Some part of Chalmers's oratorical and lite- rary faults must be charged on circumstances. He was provincial in education, habits, and training, till too late in life to change. In the beginning of his career he addressed himself to those who were " native and to the manner born," and to whom perhaps a more polished manner would have been less agreeable. When his celebrity was established, metropolitan congregations discovered piquancy in his peculiarities. The outward qualities of the preacher, like those of the actor, perish with him, and description cannot do much in preserving them : such as Dr. Wardkw can describe him however, here he is. "Dr. Chalmers returned to Glasgow on Saturday the 27th December 1817, and on the following day found a prodigious crowd awaiting, his ap- pearance in the Tron Church pulpit. His popularity as a preacher was now at its very highest summit; and, Judging merely by the amount of physical energy displayed by the preacher, and by the palpable and visible effects produced upon his hearers, we conclude that it was about this period, and within the walls of the Tron Church, that by far the most wonderful exhibi- tions of his power as a pulpit orator were witnessed. 'The Tron Church contains, if I mistake not,' says the Reverend Dr. Wardlaw, who, as fre- quently as he could, was a hearer in it, about 1,400 hearers, according to the ordinary allowance of seat-room; when crowded, of course proportionally more. And, though I cannot attempt any pictorial sketch of the place, I may in a sentence or two present you with a few touches of the scene 'which I have more than once or twice witnessed within its walls : not that it was at all peculiar for it resembled every other scene where the Doctor in those days, when his eloquence was in the prime of its vehemence and splendour,
was called to preach. There was one particular, indeed, which rendered such a scene, n a city like Glasgow, peculiarly striking,. I refer to the time of it. To see a place of worship, of the size mentioned, crammed above and below on a Thursday forenoon, during the busiest -hours of the day, with fifteen or sixteen hundred hearers, and these of all descriptions of persons, in all descriptions of profemional occupation, the busiest as well as those who had most leisure on their hands, those who had least to spare taking care so to arrange their business engagements previously as to make time for the purpose, all pouring in through the wide entrance at the side of the Tron steeple, half an hour before the time of service, to secure a seat, or content, if too late for this, to occupy, as many did, standing room; this was indeed a novel and strange sight. Nor was it once merely, or twice, but month after month the day was calculated when his turn to preach again was to come round, and anticipated, with even impatient longing, by multitudes.
"'Suppose the congregation thus assembled—pews filled with sitters, and
aisles to a great extent with standers. They wait in eager expectation. The preacher appears. The devotional exercises of praise and prayer having been gone through with unaffected simplicity and earnestness, the entire assembly set themselves for the treat, with feelings- very diverse in kind, but all eager and intent. There is a hush of deed silence: The text is announced, and he begins. Every countenance is up—every eye bent, with fixed in- tentness, on the speaker. As he kindles the interest grows. Every breath is held, every cough is suppressed, every fidg,etty movement is settled ; every one, riveted himself by the spell of the impassioned and entrancing elo- quence, knows how sensitively his neighbour will resent the very slightest disturbance. Then, by and by, there is a pause. The speaker stops, to gather breath, to wipe his forehead, to adjust his gown, and purposely too, and wisely, to give the audience as well as himself a moment or two of re- laxation. The moment is embraced ; there is free breathing, suppressed coughs get vent, postures are changed ; there is a universal stir, as of per- sons who could not have endured the constraint much longer : the preacher bends forward, his hand is raised ; all is again hushed. The same stillness and strain of unrelaxed attention_ is repeated, more intent still, it may be, than before, as the interest of the subject and of the speaker advance. And so, for perhaps four or five times in the course of a sermon, there is the re- laxation and the at it again' till the final winding-up.
" 'And then, the moment the last word was uttered and followed by the
let us pray,' there was a scene for which no excuse or palliation can be pleaded, but the fact of its having been to many a matter of diffioulty in the morning of a week-day to accomplish the abstraction of even so mueh of their time from business—the closing prayer completely drowned by the hurried rush of large numbers from the aisles and pews to the doer; an un- seemly scene, without doubt, as if so many had come to the house of God not to worship, but simply to enjoy the fascination of human eloquence. Even this much it was a great thing for eloquence to accomplish.'"
The following is an example of his diction, as well as of his elocution, and is curious besides for the glimpse which it gives of past manners in the moral North.
"'On Thursday the 12th February 1818,' I now quote from a manuscript of the Reverend Mr. Fraser, minister of Kikhrennan, Dr. Chalmers preached in the Tron Church before the Directors of the Magdalen Asylum. The sermon delivered on this occasion was that "On the Dissipation of Large Cities." Long before the service commenced, every seat and passage was crowded to excess, with the exception of the front pew of the gallery, which was reserved for the Magistrates. A vast number of students deserted their classes at the University, and were present. This was very particu- larly the case in regard to the Moral Philosophy class, which I attended that session; as appeared on the following day, when the list of absentees was given in by the person who had called the catalogue, and at the same time a petition from several of themselves was handed in to the Professor, praying for a remission of the fine for nonattendance, on the ground that they had been hearing Dr. Chalmers. The Doctor's manner during the whole de- livery of that magnificent discourse was strikingly animated, while the en- thiessim and energy which he threw into some of its bursts rendered them quite overpowering. One expression which he used, together with his aetion, his look, and the very tones of his voice when it came forth, made a most vivid and indelible impression upon my memory—" We at the same time," he said, "have our eye perfectly open to that great external improvement which has taken place of late years in the manners of society.. There is not the same grossness of conversation ; there is not the same impatience for the withdrawment of him who, asked to grace the outset of an assembled party, is compelled at a certain step in the process of conviviality, by the obligations of professional decency, to retire from it; there is not so frequent an exaction of this as one of the established proprieties of social or of fashion- able life : and if such an exaction was ever laid by the omnipotence of cus- tom on a minister of Christianity, it is such an exaction as ought never, never to be complied with. It is not for him to lend the sanction of his pre- sence to a meeting with which he could not sit to its final termination ; it is not for him to stand associated for a single hour with an assemblage of men who begin with hypocrisy and end with downright blackguardism - it is not for him to watch the progress of the coining nbaldry, and to bit well-selected moment when talk and turbulence and boisterous merriment are on the eve of bursting forth upon the company, and carrying them for- ward to the full acme and uproar of their enjoyment. It is quite in vain to say that he has only sanctioned one part of such an entertainment. He has as good as given his connivance to the whole of it, and left behind him a dis- charge in full of all its abomunatio.; and therefore, be they who they may, whether they rank annong the proudest aristocracy of our land, or are ohs- rioted in splendour along as the wealthiest of our citizens, or ,flounce in the robes of magistracy, it is his part to keep as purely and indignantly aloof from such society as this as he would from the vilest and most debasingassociations of profligacy.', "'The words which I have underlined do not appear in the sermon as printed. While uttering theni, which he did with peculiar emphasis, ac- companying them with a flash from his eye and a stamp of his foot, he threw his sight arm with clenched hand right across the book-board, and bran- dished itf'aU-in thefaeeof the Town-Council, sitting in array and in state before him. Many eyes were in a moment directed towards the magistrates. The words evidently tell upon them like s thunderbolt, and seemed to startle, like an electric shock, the whole audience.'"
An idea of his influence in Glasgow may be gathered from a letter written by Dr. Chrystal to accompany Dr. Chalmers's more formal refusal of the offer made by the Town-Council of Stirling.
"My dear Sir—I leave Dr. Chalmers's letter of this date to speak for it- self. His answer was only made known today and, the moment he made
up his mind h I e sent me a note of the result. have been with him since.
lie is confined to the house in consequence of exerting so much yesterday. The magistrates were in his church ; and he is supposed never to have ac- quitted himself so ably. No sooner was it known that you and your brethren had been here and made him the offer of your first charge, than the whole town was astir. He was like to be mobbed by solicitations, suggested by friendship, respect, gratitude, arising from clergy, laity, general session, con- gregation, urging on him duty, religion, and everything I can name or sup- pose, not to move. At first he remained firm, as his objections to certain things he has to do here were well known. Everything, however, has been done which can be done to relieve him ; and he now assures me that he has a moral certainty of getting these difficulties removed. A congregational meeting was held. They have offered him a regular assistant, to be chosen by him and twenty-one of. a committee named by themselves. This assist- ant is to do the duty ou Sabbath, and to relieve him tbroug,h the week. They bind themselves to bear this aditional burden duringDr. Chalmers's incum- bency; and although little time has elapsed since the idea was fixed, they have already subscribed nearly 200/., to be continued annually. They are to buy or rent a house for him in any place he wishes, and propose raising his stipend to I know not what. Considering what they have done and are doing, and probably will do, it was impossible for him to tear himself from people so sincerely attached, and so forward to do everything which they could think agreeable to him. It is supposed that he will not allow them to carry things to the proposed length ; but it obliged him to give the refusal to you, which was painful to him. I am persusdafi that you will see that he could not well do otherwise. I think you had his private wishes, if he could have sacrificed to private ease and emolument the strong claims which his people here have to his labours among them."
Dr. Hanna's second volume is inferior to the first in merely entertaining matter: the narrative is somewhat overlaid with dry or trivial correspondence, and with quotations from Chalmers's published works or manuscripts. The work, however, continues as fully to display the mind of the great preacher, in its energy, its earnestness, its strength or sturdiness, and its kindliness. The spirit of his diaries and his religious letters differs from that of others, not in being fuller of matter, for he pours out words as they do, if not such mere stock phrases : but the religion of Chalmers is never gloomy, though intensely earnest; it seems a business of life, to which he turns as to a customary vocation but not a task. The severe self-scrutiny of his own motives is very naive and real-looking; while ,kis scientific training and habits give a firm basis to his piety, which is commonly wanting in such effusions.