29 MAY 1869, Page 18


THERE is in the minds of a large and perhaps the best class of readers, a feeling which amounts to positive annoyance when a new memoir is pressed upon their notice. A novel may be ever so trashy, a new theory ever so wild, a new history ever so little dependable, but the same feeling is not excited, the same sense of resentment is not roused. The reasons which lie at the bottom of this are not without their interest. First, there is the latent idea that the memoir of any man is only a posthumous mode of selfassertion,—and self-assertion, even when successful, as it very generally is, is never forgiven ; then there is the confident anticipation that the book will be in nowise a revelation. A novel may be ever so poor, but it may chance to reveal some subtle shade of human thought or passion which else had passed us unaware. The new theory may be never so wild, but it may chance to supply the hungry want of some ill-fed spiritual nature, but the ordinary memoir will do nothing of the kind ; its central figure is draped with rigid propriety ere it be exposed to the public gaze, and even actions which should be the exponents of character become its mere garments, well or ill fitting, as may hap. A third objection, and perhaps the most universal, rises in the form of a question, what right has the individual so canonized to be obtruded on the notice of the public at all ?

And this is the thought which will be uppermost in most minds at the first sight of the somewhat bulky volume before us, the more especially as the style of the biographer as not attractive, and is disfigured by all the angularities of the theological school to which he belongs. Yet after reading the book through carefully, we can see reasons, sufficient at least to satisfy many minds, why the subject of it should receive at the hands of his fellows more than a passing notice. Alexander Thomson was a simple country gentleman, living the greater part of his life at his own place at Banchory, neither seeking celebrity nor attaining it, but in bequeathing, as he has done, to the Free Church College of Aberdeen a most valuable museum and noble library, besides the bequest of some £30,000 to the Free Church Divinity Hall, which he helped so materially to establish, he has conferred a sufficiently great national obligation upon Scotland to have his name enrolled among the many sons whom she delights to honour. On the whole, we think it worth while briefly to glance at some of the main points in these reminiscences of a quiet life. As his biographer ism not inaptly put it, this man, living almost exclusively on his patrimOniat estate, yet " touched life at many points." He wee an archaeologist of no mean powers of research, contributing from time to time valuable papers on new discoveries, which he patiently sifted. A Calvinist of the most Conservative type, he laid his scientific studies beside his theological ones in parallel lines which could never touch ; he did not want them to touch, he was disturbed by no misgivings that they didn't. When called to live through the rough days of Scottish history which saw the rending in twain of the National Church, he entered heartily into the cause of the Free Church, and brought considerable influence to bear on its behalf. With the quietest unconsciousness he could plead for equal rights, quoting that " Oppression maketh a wise man mad," without a thought that the same principle applied to Catholic Emancipation, which he so bitterly opposed. An almost inconceivable narrowness iu the theological, we will not say spiritual, side of his mind injured, if it did not render altogether useless, one side of his judgment. As when be enters in his diary, " Putting papers and letters in order ; burnt Channing's works." Or again, " Reading Buckle on Scotland ; incredibly ignorant and perverse." "I have now finished the perusal of this work [the History of Civilization], the most pretentious farrago of, rubbish I ever read, the worst authorities selected, the beat facts misquoted or misapplied, the logic generally petitio principii, the whole book the most grovelling materialism, and the bitterest enmity against revealed truth and moral excellence,— Voltaire hia model idol." And yet—Is any one of our readers inclined to turn away in contemptuous displeasure, he may well remember that contempt is the child of ignorance, and that a wider knowledge looks (as one has well said) behind and beyond it, and conquers it utterly. This man, who uttered with a quiet mind much he deemed unchallenged truth, who, in all his life, probably never felt a doubt, yet filled no unworthy niche in God's world. Ho laboured incessantly at social reforms, wrote papers full of admirable suggestions which leavened much subsequent action on the subject. He was the great promoter of the feeding schools of Aberdeen, which were conducted on the sound principle that if real good was to be done to the juvenile delinquents in the way of reform, good food and sufficient work must go together. He found that if one main element of juvenile crime was idleness, another was hunger ; it was useless to offer starving children instruction till they had given them food. The system proved an excellent one. The attendance at the schools was to be voluntary, but " the child who is absent from morning hours receives no breakfast, absent from forenoon hours receives no dinner, and if absent from the afternoon receives no supper." Miserable as were the homes of these children, it was yet (we think with admirable judgment) decided that it was better to let them return to them to sleep than to provide dormitories. Of course the cry was raised, the good done in the day would all be undone by the pernicious influence of these wretched homes ; but it was (we thick wisely) thought a less evil than the banding the children together in the formal masses which destroy all individuality of character. The results, at least, have confirmed the soundness of the theory. During the first five years of these schools it was proved that not one child who had been in attendance there was committed to prison or fell into the hands of the police for any offence. But Mr. Thomson's efforts were not directed to the pauper and criminal classes alone. The welfare of the Universities of Aberdeen was a subject of the deepest interest to him, he took an active part in the question of their union ; but as Dean of Faculty, to which post he was early elected, he had devoted his attention to internal reforms much needed. For one thing especially he strove, to throw open for competition bursaries of a much larger amount than then existed, doing.away with the small ones. He had noticed that many of the poor students who are the glory of Scotland came to the Universities too poor to supply themselves with the amount of food and comfort so essential to support the mental strain. Many of the moat promising died off just as the object of so much self-denial seemed obtained. It was no light labour to try and touch to good purpose this phase of human life ; how deeply the poorer students of the University are indebted to him can only be faintly known by the many who will benefit by his munificent bequest. In social life he gathered round him men of culture from every rank in society. His Calvinism and the sternness of his theological creed never interfered with his hospitality, or with the genuine liking which he had for men like Bunsen and Tholuck, if brought into personal contact with them. It was his habit even late in life, Dr. Duff records, to ascertain the predilections of any guest, and then ransack his extensive library for the subjects he knew. would interest him, so that every morning a fresh batch of books should be on table for his use, till at last a considerable library was accumulated in his bedroom. The same witness says, " From all I had seen and known of him in the course of a quarter of a century, I could not but regard him as perhaps the most variedly accomplished lay Christian proprietor in Scotland,"—no mean testimony from so acute an observer. His memoir will not be widely read, he belonged to a school fast passing. away ; but it will be long before his name perishes out of the country to whose best interests he gave a quiet, unostentatious, but lifelong service.