THE LATE PROFESSOR SCOTT.
[FROM A Conmoroscstrr.] TN recalling while in its first freshness the distinct and vivid 1 impression which was left upon the minds of those who knew him by the late Professor A. J. Scott, his friends must for the most part lament that with his departure from this world all op- portunity of communicating this impression is lost. It cannot be justified to others by any record of the thoughts which to them appear fertile .and luminous almost beyond any utterance from a contemporary thinker. He has left some writings of considerable value. But those who know him only through those writings will re- ceive an impression not only slighter than, but different from, that which now fills so large a part of the minds of those who have come in contact with his mind. The word unique will :hardly seem appropriate to any one who knows him only through his writings: Perhaps a nature like this, which can only communicate itself directly, is not the fitting subject of any memorial words, and the very few which follow are a mere attempt (made by one who pretends to no peculiar advantages in the opportunity of forming a judgment on his character) to-suggest the qualities of his mind which were at once the highest, and, in their combina- tion, the least adapted to any kind of adequate utterance. He was, beyond almost any other thinker of our time, a catholic. As the names of our other .great thinkers rise before
us, how easy to specify the subjects on which we might indeed care to hear what they had to say, as an interesting revelation of their character, but which we should never expect to find illumi- nated by any flash from their minds, subjects which would elicit chiefly or merely the lacunw in their sympathies, and which we should prefer to hear discussed by common-place men, who, rais- ing no great expectations in any direction, would not give rise to great disappointment in any. Now nothing of this was applicable to Mr. Scott. His nature presented a surface so evenly sympa- thetic, the attention of his mind was so unimpeded by any barrier of mere personal taste, that it is difficult to indicate the form of mind which was specially _interesting to him, or even (though this is less markedly the case) the kind of subject which had a special attraction for him. Like Henry V. :-
"Hear him but reason in divinity,
And all-admiring, with an inward wish You would desire that he were made a prelate : Hear him debate of commonwealth affairs, You would say—it bath been all his study : List his discourse of war, and you shall hear A fearful battle rendered you in music : Turn him to any cause of policy, The Gordian knot of it he will unloose Familiar as his garter, that, when he speaks, The air, a chartered libertine, is still, And the mute wonder lurketh in men's ears."
Whatever subject happened to call forth any utterance from him would appear to his hearer to be just that subject which had some peculiar attraction for him. Of course he had special centres of interest, but in the wide diffusion of this feeling over the whole range of human thought these special centres were not conspicuous. So strong was the glow where it was weakest, that it was not always easy to believe in any concentration remote from the region where that glow had been felt.
Now, width of sympathy and a deep sense of the many- sidedness of Truth, —except so far as they are rare always,— are
not rare qualities at the present day. We may venture to call this moral and intellectual width of view the distinctive excellence of our own time, but we pay a price for this, as for most other valuable things. The sympathy that has expanded has weakened itself, and the stream of thought has grown shallow at the same time that it has grown broad. We have learnt to worship "the relative spirit," to borrow a significant phrase from a recent review, and we forget that the spirit which is truly relative is the absolute spirit. This paradox was entirely harmonized in the mind that has just gone from us. He had all the breadth of
tolerance and all the depth of bigotry. Knowing nothing of him but his width of sympathy, you would have thought feeling so wide-spread must be shallow. Knowing nothing of him but his intense conviction, you would have been prepared to make allow- ance for a very narrow channel for so strong a current. Knowing both, you would find it easier to understand why such a man was so silent.
For is not just this state, this sense of the absolute tempered by this appreciation of the relative, that in which utterance is most difficult to a thinker ? The man whose point of view is rigid, who can only see clearly in one direction, does not find it difficult to express the thoughts which are defined by their narrow channel ; he has something to pour out, he is not troubled by any anxious estimate of the vessels Which are to receive it. On the other hand the mere critic, the merely relative thinker, has plenty to say, and says it easily. He does not speak under a sense of responsibility. He has no constant, silencing reference to the absolute, to throw a shadow across the delicate subtleties of his analysis. No blame to either of these for being what they are ; —we want expression, the peculiar combinatioa which makes it difficult is not to be desired for all men. But where it is present, it is well to recognize to what high causes may be due the passivity which we are tempted to regret. That one of the causes which par-
tially closed to Mr. Scott the channel by which thought is now most naturally communicated was this combination of a vivid sense of the truth, and a delicate perception of all that could be said against it, is what most who knew him intimately will hardly doubt. "When a man feels that he cannot express his meaning without a speech of a quarter of an hour long, he is very naturally silent," he said once, in defending a person who was supposed not to contribute his
fair share to social intercourse, and unconsciously he was defend- ing himself from the reproach into which unsatisfied wish is so apt
to develop° itself. This sense of an almost oppressive burden of thought—at least a burden oppressive upon language—was to him more than once a silencing influence. "I should want space to answer that question," he replied another time, to a person who was pressing him for his views on the deepest subjects that can occupy the human mind. It was not space of time he meant ; other barriers were contemplated by him in that withdrawal. Those words have often recurred to the present writer, as emi- nently characteristic of the man, as recalling the largeness of thought that was conspicuous in him, and the perhaps inevitabis result—that never could be recalled without regret—that lan- guage often seemed too narrow for his thought, and it remained unspoken.
His work was to kindle thought rather than to guide it.. He communicated the spark, he did not heap on the fuel. Perhaps those who owe him most would find it difficult to exhibit any definite conviction conveyed from his mind to theirs. Were the present writer to make the attempt to express in a few words any such result upon himself, he would say that the aspect of truth which emerged most distinctly under the light of tfr. Scott's mind was the untruth of the relative apart from the abso- lute—the conviction that evravrono Cnrousrsc kayo, a9ciipou5i X °you. (a sentence which he said once was made for this time), a convic- tion that the intellect could only work at all in proportion as it recognized what lay beneath it. But in looking back on inter- course with him, it seems as if his part had been in a great measure negative,—clearing the path rather than indicating it, exposing fallacies rather than enunciating truths. His own mind was posi- tive, but his sense of weight in all truth often led him to cling to the smaller task of enfranchising from error. Perhaps this will more and more be the attitude of a wise teacher as he advances in life, seeing that the false words can be corrected by true ones, but the true thing can reach the mind only imperfectly through such a medium. It is not intended here to set him up as. a model in any respect, but we best understand any man by re- cognizing what negations are implied in his positive qualities, and those who have recognized such possessions as Mr. Scott's, will: acquiesce in any loss that was inseparable from them.
Is it out of place, in conclusion, to express the opinion that for one like the subject of these few words, memorial words can hardly be too few—that the silence which was so characteristic of him during life is the fittest reverence to his memory now ? would be a natural impulse in those who knew how great he was, and how little the world knows of him, to try and reproduce their own impression of him, and give an objective form to the- memories that impregnate all their spiritual life. Would it be a wise impulse ? The gain that has been so much to them could not be reproduced to others ; it was not of a nature to bear this. transference. We cannot kindle souls at second hand. He was a sower who went forth to sow ; the seed has sprung up in many unsuspected nooks and corners where the sower is forgotten ; it would be of little value to trace his pathway by the blades of corn that here and there bear witness to his footsteps. It is not always of little value ; there are cases in which a complete record is possible ; with him the slight and meagre attempt would only heighten the apparent extravagance of the estimate of his friends.. Let them be satisfied with the growing seed which would have. satisfied the sower—which assuredly does satisfy him. Let us not trouble the memory of one who in a feverish and noisy age, an age, which for good and for evil is prompt to utterance, and therefore wanting in calm,—kept before us the quiet trust that sows for Eternity, and leaves the seed-field of this world comparatively bare, by any attempts to make that memory do what he decided not to do, and blunt our ad- miration for his character by losing the guidance of his wishes.. That he could have made his name familiar in men's ears if he- had wished it, there can be little doubt. Let those who honoured him honour his decision in this matter, and let them be content with the feeling which will want no sympathy while any one is alive who knew him personally,—the feeling which finds its most. fitting utterance in the words of a great poet :— "Was it not great ? Did he not throw on God
(He loves the burthen) God's task to make the heavenly period Perfect the earthen ?
"Did he not magnify the mind, show clear Just what it all meant ?
He would not discount life, as fools do here Paid by instalment.
"He ventured neck or nothing—Heaven's success Found, or earth's failure : 'Wilt thou trust death or not ?' He answered, Yes Hence with life's pale lure !'
"Others mistrust, and say, But time escapes ; Live now or never !'
He said, 'What's Time ? Leave Now for dogs and apes, Man has For Ever.'"