STEVENSON'S MASTER IN STYLE.*
IN a note prefixed to this volume Dr. Alexander Whyte, one of the most popular of Free Church, and indeed of all Scottish, preachers of the present day, describes Boston's Memoirs as "a book to be always at hand in every Scottish
manse. as well as in every well-read, patriotic, and pions Scottish home," and that in virtue not only of its author's "sound and commanding common-sense, his immense industry, his great learning, his life of faith and prayer, and his pulpit and pastoral efficiency and success," but also of his "sometimes Shakespearian style." Thereby, indeed, hangs the tale of a curious revival. Thomas Boston was during his own time and immediately after it—he died in 1732 minister of the pic- turesque parish of Ettrick at the comparatively early age of
fifty-six—the most popular theologian in Scotland. His Fourfold State, which was published only twelve years
before his death, and discourses of man in his "fourfold state" of primitive integrity in Eden, of depravity (through the Fall), of partial recovery (through Christ), and of perfect happiness or misery consummated hereafter, was long regarded as the beet exposition of Calvinistic or Presbyterian theology. Within the memory of living men, it was to be found among the closet-treasures of almost every grave-living and devout Scottish peasant. Of late, however, Boston, at least as a theologian, has, for various reasons, fallen into neglect even in Scotland. But he is now being revived, on account mainly of what Dr. Whyte, as has been seen, terms his "sometimes Shakespearian style." R. L. Stevenson has admitted that of all his masters in style Boston had influenced him more than others, although these included Montaigne and Sir Thomas Browne. Boston was, when he chose, a master of phrase-making, succeeding marvellously in com- bining quaintness of expression with shrewdness of judgment. "A leap out of Dalilah's lap into Abraham's bosom," which
appears in The Crook in the Lot as a description of a moral adventure against which the profligate must be warned, is as happy as any phrase even Stevenson ever coined, and that although the younger man's insight into what one of his biographers, Mr. Cope Cornford, terms the "squalid-pictur- esque" side of the Scottish nature was as keen as the elder's.
Probably the best memorial to Boston—that best calcu- lated at all events to keep his memory green, and to preserve his style for imitation for future generations, if not for all time—would be that which should take the now rather unpopular, though not necessarily vulgar, form of "Beautiful Thoughts." His works, at least of the kind which are not fundamentally autobicgraphical, lend them- selves with more than common readiness to quotation. But,
in addition to this, one must read his Memoirs, for there Boston is seen at his best as a man, as a thinker, as a stylist,
perhaps even as a preacher. For Boston was as appallingly frank in regard to himself as Rousseau, or Burns, or Amiel, although he has no sad or terrible tale to tell of "the mutiny of chance desires." But his life is probably as near the ideal placed before himself by a Scotch minister as—at all events during the days of "simple faith" which preceded those of "theological unrest "—has ever been spent in a Northern manse. We have here, too, such an edition of Boston's auto- biography as ought to meet the wishes not only of the Scottish, but of the English public. We have not before heard of Mr. Morrison who edits it. But his notes clearly show him to be a judicious as well as enthusiastic commentator, while his introduction, which is in many respects the best essay on Boston that has ever appeared, proves him to have a thorough
command of a singularly (for a Scotch preacher) lucid and crisp style. Here, for example, is his description of one of his hero's churches; Boston, by the way, was singularly fortunate in having to minister in districts which were either picturesque in themselves or interesting in virtue of their historical associations :— " About a mile and a half southwards from Swinton village, and so about eight miles south-east of Duns, nestling in a clump of elm and ash trees, and surrounded by a graveyard, not a few of whose stones carry us back to Boston's time, are the ruins of the little church of Simprin where Boston preached. It would be difficult to picture a sweeter situation for any house of God. To the north the eye catches the slopes • Memoirs of the Life, Ttme, and Writings of the Reverend and Learned Thomas Boston, A.M. New Edition, with Introduction and Notes by Rev. George IL Morrison. M.A. Edinburgh : Oliphant, Anderson, and Ferrier. f is. id.1 of the Lammermuirs. Southward the country rolls away, by Flodden Field, into the heights of Cheviot. A few miles off rise the towers and battlements of Twizel Castle ; while all round is the rich country of the Merse, with here a farm and there a manor-horse, bosomed high 'mid tufted trees.' Of the church itself little is standing to-day but the east gable. The roof is gone. The walls are crumbling away. Nettles and thorns, with here and there the seedling of a plane-tree, ramble and root among the corner stones. And the whole structure is on a scale so diminutive that five short paces carry one from wall to wall, and twenty from end to end. When we remember that, on his first round of visitation, Boston dis- covered but eighty-eight examinable persons ; and when we find that in 1761 the total population of the parish was one hundred and forty three, we cease to wonder at the modest proportions of the rained sanctuary."
The influence of Stevenson is perceptible here, as it is perceptible in the writing of every ambitious young Scots- man—or, for that matter, every young Englishman—of the present time. But if there are many Scotch ministers who
can write as well as Mr. Morrison then the standard of Scottish sermons must be almost as high as it was in Blair's
days, or Boston's. This introduction, at all events, is the best of preparations for a journal intime like Boston's auto- biography. It is in itself an adequate and satisfactory though not lengthy memoir ; but it will also serve—and,
indeed, is intended to be—an appetiser for the larger book.
Boston's life was not full of melodramatic, hardly of remarkable, incidents. It was not marked even by a heresy- hunt, although Boston did get into trouble by his favour for a book, The Marrow of Modern Divinity, which was suspect in rigidly Calvinistic circles. But it may be doubted if the life of any man dominated by religion—even Wesley himself—was ever so given up to strenuous labour for that " righteousness which exalteth a nation " as was that of Boston. Mr. Morrison's account of his first parish, Simprin — his second, Ettrick, was even lovelier — has already been quoted. But Boston had no time for the beauties of Nature, but only for his pastoral work. And was ever pastoral work done so thoroughly, even in Scotland ?
His parish contained only eighty-eight " examinable persons," but it must have been an all but perfect theocracy. There was a forenoon and an afternoon sermon every Sunday. (Boston, of coarse, said—and meant—Sabbath.) There was an evening service on the same day for the study of the Shorter Catechism. Every Tuesday evening in the manse there was a friendly gathering for praise and prayer. Every Thursday,
in winter in the evenings, and in summer in the daytime, there was a week-day service. Diets of catechising were held at stated intervals throughout the parish. Every household was regularly visited. At the same time Boston was giving up what
it would almost be caricature to call his " leisure " to study. "It shames us yet," says Mr. Morrison, "to read of his
passion for study that no broken weeks and no scarcity of books could quench. He struggled through the Psalms in Hebrew. He set himself to master French from a paper of roles lent by a neighbouring tutor. With little help from any ' summa ' or commentary he faced some of the stiffest questions in theology, and answered them with a surprising depth and fulness." And it is characteristic of Boston that he died preparing a book—it was published after his death under the title of Tractatus Stigmologieus—to prove that Hebrew accents are divine and the true key to the genuine sense of Scripture !
Boston's life was altogether subjective. He was absolutely what every Scotsman is theoretically,—a conscience-wor- shipper. One can readily, therefore, understand Stevenson's very real attachment to him. He also was a conscience- worshipper to the " golden art" of perfect phrase-making. Stevenson was often in agony as to a word; Boston seems to have been perpetually torturing himself as to whether be had not in anything whatsoever that he did been guilty of self-seeking, or, at the least, of inadequate consultation with the Almighty. It is hardly necessary to say that he was an affectionate husband and father. Yet it is thus that he speaks of the events that led to his marriage :- " Though I made choice of a most worthy woman, I was after- wards obliged to confess before God my sin in that I had not been at more pains to know His mind in the matter before I had proposed it. And howbeit I did frequently that summer lay it before the Lord, and consider it, yet I can never forgive myself, though I hope my God hath forgiven me, that I did not set some time or times apart for fasting and prayer for that end before I made the proposal. But God did chastise my rashness, partly by my finding that process very entangling to me in my vagrant circumstances, partly by suffering perplexing scruples to rise in my mind about it; while yet He did, in the issue of them, convincingly shew the matter to be of Himself, and bound it on my conscience as duty ; which cleared, my difficulty was not to get love to her but rather to bound it."
In "not to get love to her but rather to bound it" we have the master of phrase-making in the Stevensonian sense. And
when his first child was born " with a double hare-lip, whereby she was rendered incapable of sucking," he testifies: "My heart was struck like a bird shot and falling from a tree."
Again: " In that dear child's case, I had a singular experience of tender love melted down in pity ; as considering her teeth set on edge through the parents eating of the sour grape." That child died ; its mother was bed-ridden with an ailment
which was much more of the mind than of the body. But his faith and his power of expressing that faith in perfectly adequate phrase remain :—" Being now in a near view of the Sacrament, my wails are many; air. Davidson's frailty con-
tinned; the life of my wife seeming to hang more in doubt than for some time before; and withal Satan has given a broadside in the parish. A couple of fornicators appear
before the congregation next Lord's Day, being the Sabbath immediately before the Sacrament." Boston was a careful
student, and an admirable exponent of his own weaknesses as well as habits. " I studied my sermons with the pen in my hand, my matter coming to me as I wrote, and the bread itcreasing in the breaking of it ; if at any time I walked, it was occasioned by my sticking." But we have said enough to show that Boston was a very remarkable man, and a still more remarkable writer. His Memoirs, if read carefully and
in instalments—thus only can such a book as this be under- stood—will be, to the majority of English readers at all events, a mine of both intellectual and moral wealth.