Page images

will forget Chalmers when it has forgotten KNOX, and when it forgets the worthies of its age of martyrs; or to say what we mean in a word, when Scotland shall be Scotland no more.

In thus speaking, we (let the writer just say it) are not borne aloft above the level of sobriety by the prejudices of national feeling; for we are not of North Britain; nor again do we loose sight of cold realities, blinded by exaggerated notions of Dr. Chalmers's merits, powers, or accomplishments, as a philosopher, or as a writer, or as a statesman. We shall use no disguise in showing our entire freedom from any such tumid suppositions, as to the precise place which should be assigned him in some of the above-named characters. There may be room here for differences of opinion, and our own opinion may differ a little, in certain respects, from that of his most ardent admirers, or of his countrymen generally; but among those-at least among any whose happiness it may have been to pass an entire day in his company, there will be no difference of opinion when we say -THOMAS CHALMERS was a Great Man. All the characteristics of genuine greatness marked him as he stood among others. It was not that he surpassed all men around him in pure intelligence, or in any single element of moral excellence; but, taken altogether, mind and heart, and visible bearing-you gave him involuntarily, and he naturally took, the foremost position in almost any assemblage of notable persons with whom he had to do. The unassumingness of a child did not avail to screen him from that homage of which he was the object. The admitted merits and talents of others, on the right hand or the left, did. not render that homage ambiguous-did not abate it. There might often be men near him who surpassed him in talent, but they did not dislodge him, in the view of others, from his place.

All was harmony in CHALMERS's conformation. His figure and attitude very nearly accorded with the IDEAL of such a man, after Michael Angelo; and if it showed a rusticity to which that great artist would have applied his chisel, there was beneath the rugged surface a refinement, an intellectuality, to which only the hand of Raphaelle could have given expression. On an occasion dating not many days before his death, he stood in the midst of a company urging an argument—with hands uplifted, just as a Michael Angelo, or a Raphaelle, might have wished to catch him, when in search of a study. With his broad build, and square massive contour-shoulders, cranium, chevelure and all, he seemed to take immovable possession of the ground that sustained his weight—not in elegant antithesis of limb to limbnot in easy mobile equipoise of the person, as if floating in air; but solidly, and as if really he had a muscular consciousness of the round world beneath him, and stood, statue-like, surmount

Personal Qualities.


ing its great curvatures. Yet this man of mass and weight was flexible toward every human sympathy. He remembered you, even as to the items of your individual and domestic weal; he felt with you; and in a moment he was on your level; he was courteous as the most polished; genuine and sincere as the most home-bred. He was firm as man should be, loving as woman, transparent as a child.

We have said, that whatever abatements there might be room to make on certain grounds, THOMAS CHALMERS was a Great Man. And what does this greatness which we claim for him imply? It has these elements: first, it implies amplitude of soul in the three dimensions of height, depth, and breadth; and what we mean is this.—He who is great, intellectually, and morally, has a stature loftier than that of other men, so that he commands a clearer view of the high heavens above him; and, so that his thoughts tend thither, as if by a spontaneous upward gravitation. Leave him alone at any time, distract him not with the things of earth, let his soul go whither it would go whither it is wont to go, and you will be sure to find that he is conversing with the upper world-that he has soared-not, indeed, as if to spurn the earth, but as if to bespeak his entrance upon heaven. That we may show that we do not thus speak of Chalmers at the impulse of a mindless inflation, we say his mind had this altitude more by moral instinct, or tendency, than absolutely by intellectual stature; and thus also depth was his. John Foster's depth was that which makes a man tranquilly at home while treading, or exploring, the lowest profound of sombre meditation. Chalmers's depth was not of this sort: he was far too buoyant in temper to follow easily where Foster went; but he could approach the brink of the abyss, and gaze into that chaos, long enough to bring thence a settled solemnity of spirit, an awe, a seriousness, that gave force to his every energy while labouring for the good of his fellow-men.

Breadth, that other characteristic of greatness, most conspicuously belonged to Chalmers, both in mind and heart. Whether or not we go with him in his doctrines, as a political economist, or as an ecclesiastical theorist, the view he took of social interests was always wide, comprehensive, statesmanlike. Right or wrong in his principles, it was never a narrow ground that he occupied : never was it a pinched-in aspect of things that held his attention. He thought of INSTITUTIONS with approval, or with disapproval, according to their bearing, in his view, upon the social system at large. In heart, and as to his sympathies, his benign affections, his hopeful temperament, his laborious benevolence, his scorning of selfish cavils, and over-caution, when good on a great scale might be done, or attempted, what breadth of soul

was his! How wide was that bosom! So wide was it, that within its compass, thoughts and purposes embracing the welfare of the human family, found their constant home and lodgement! In breadth of soul, even more than in height or depth, Chalmers was great. Great, also, in that further characteristic, so constant in all the instances to which, with a spontaneous readiness, we apply the term:-that is to say, MOMENTUM. He to whom this property belongs, how mild soever he may be in temper, and even if he be sweet-natured as a child, yet inspires, among all around him, not merely respect, and awe, but a sort of dread ;-for one feels, that to stand in his path, or to hold up the hand, as if to beckon him to stop in his course, is to risk, for one's-self, the being crushed. A mass, ample in its dimensions, is in rapid movement; it is speeding itself onward by its own forces :-it is power in progress: it will not easily be turned aside; it will not wait for the tardy, for the inert, for the half-hearted, for the double-minded.

Nearly allied to this onward force, this momentum, was that UNITY OF INTENTION, or moral homogeneousness, which is the mark, always, of men of a high order-or, as we say, of Great Men; and Chalmers had it. This does not mean that there is a paucity of ingredients in the intellectual and moral structure of the man; but that all faculties, intellectual and moral, take a single direction, and obey a sovereign and unresisted law. One's recollections of some men, known and conversed with on very different occasions, do not cohere it is easier to frame two or three ideal men out of those recollections, than to cluster them into one. One's recollection of some men is simple and uniform, just because it is poor and meagre; but Chalmers lives in the memory, as do certain images of natural objects, which are great, bright, rich, and yet all of a piece:-so it is that one thinks of a sunset in the tropics, with its flaming arches over head, and its burning fringes in the West; so one thinks of the heaving of the ocean, seen in a windless swell, midway of the Atlantic; so of an Alpine precipice, when a curtain of cloud is hastily drawn up from its foot to its snowy summit.

There is yet one other feature of greatness-and in how signal a degree did it belong to Thomas Chalmers! this was the transparent simplicity of his nature. What this means, is not the contrary of duplicity; it is not precisely, or it is not merely, guilelessness and probity in speech and feeling; but rather it is the opposite of what is factitious in mind and manner. Most of us would suffer great loss if all that is conventional were, by some rude hand, torn away from us;-and as to some men, what would there be left of them at all, but a shred, if they, and the conventional, were rent asunder! Chalmers's simplicity was that

[blocks in formation]

of a full-fraught soul, that has worked out, from, and for itself, all that it is; all that it wants, as to its impulses, sentiments, and principles of action. In character he had not derived himself from other men's notions, or listened to their dictation: he was home-spun; this was his simplicity. As to speculative principles -or his philosophy, or his notions of abstract theology, we do not intend to claim for him a foremost place among those who have wrought at the forge of thought, in every case for themselves, and who have borrowed nothing from others.

Robust, forceful, impulsive, as nature had made him, he was also, by constitution, as all men are upon whose shoulders great public cares are to come-self-confiding, self-esteeming, highly susceptible of ambition, covetous of applause, impatient of control, and irritable ;—he was a man not to be sported with. Such, we think, was he by temperament; and thus the reader of his early journal and letters cannot fail to think of the "Mr. Thomas Chalmers" who is therein depicted; and the thoughtful reader of the first volume of these Memoirs will judge indulgently of that feeling, on the part of the Editor, which has given place to these personal materials so copiously, seeing that, by this means, we are shewn the vast extent of that change which Christianity effected in this instance. It is reckoned a triumph of the gospel when a man of the ordinary stamp, whose passions have carried him far from the path of virtue, is brought back thereto and reformed. But should it be thought a less triumph of the same heavenly energy, when the most intense of all the impulses to which human nature is liable-the ambition of a master spirit, yields itself gives in, and learns to submit itself to motives of a higher order? In the instance of Chalmers, this substitution of the sense of duty, as a Christian, and as a minister, and this dislodgement of the ambition and the self-seeking of the man, presents itself as, perhaps, the centre-lesson which these four volumes convey to the heart of the seriously-minded reader. This subordination of the man, and this supremacy of a motive more pure, was a revolution which (as we may well suppose) went on through many years, bringing itself gradually to its culminating point. But effectively and substantially, the change occupied a very brief transition period. The conflict between the man and the Christian was brought to a crisis, within a few months, or even weeks.

Considerations of a general kind, such as a solemn conviction of the comparative worthlessness of the best things of earth, when placed in comparison with the things that are unseen and eternal, meet us in the Journal very often.

"My confinement-wrote Mr. Chalmers, (this was in the February of 1809,) has fixed in my heart a very strong impression of the in

[merged small][ocr errors]

significance of time,-an impression which I trust will not abandon me, though I again reach the heyday of health and vigour. This should be the first step to another impression still more salutary-the magnitude of eternity. Strip human life of its connexion with a higher scene of existence, and it is the illusion of an instant, an unmeaning farce, a series of visions and projects, which terminate in nothing."-Vol. i. p. 152.

Passages such as this may be called the commonplace of religious sentiment; for every seriously-minded man has at times thus felt and spoken, especially on occasions of a similar kind, namely, when returning to life, as from the brink of the grave. The difference was, that, with Chalmers, feelings of this sort had an intensity of which ordinary minds can know nothing. But he passed on beyond this ground: he learned that to vanquish the mighty strugglings of nature within him, to bring personal ambition and the desire of distinction into the place proper to them, he needed the aid of principles that have more vitality. It was not as in a cell, with a skull poised between his fingers, and musing upon the brevity and vanity of life, that this man of commanding powers and of unrivalled gifts acquired an habitual feeling which could, with a profound sincerity, express itself in the often-cited words, "I count all things as dross for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord." It was to this higher order of motives that he desired to yield himself.

"Not much satisfied with my performance, but had a livelier glimpse this evening of the propitiation than I had before experienced; and the peace and confidence and delight in prayer which I felt while under it, convince me that this is the object which I must ever strive after and maintain. Give me, O God, to hold fast my confidence and the rejoicing of my hope firm unto the end.'


"Sunday, December 8th.-Let all vanity, O my God, be crucified within me. Let my sole aim be to win souls; and though I cannot at all times command a clear and enraptured view of Divine truth, let me fill up every interval with works which bespeak the Christian. Bring me closer and closer to Him to whom Thou hast given all power, and committed all judgment. Fill me with His fulness; and I have peace and joy with Thee through Jesus Christ my Lord." -Vol. i. pp. 229, 230.


If Chalmers the Christian man and minister, were to be held up as an example, one of many, of the working of Christian motives upon the natural dispositions, these citations must be regarded as edifying; yet not as extraordinary: the value attaching to them results from their bearing upon a public course so unusual as was his. The hinge of this great man's life, before

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »