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WRITINGS OF REV. WILLIAM BRADFORD HOMER.
Writings of Rev. WILLIAM BRADFORD HOMER, late Pastor of the Congregational Church in South Berwick, Me. With a Memoir, by EDWARDS A. PARK, Bartlet Professor in Andover Theological Seminary. Andover Allen, Morrill & Wardwell. New York: Dayton & Newman. 1842. pp. 420.
WE have read this volume with intense interest. The memoir is one of the most beautiful and instructive that have appeared in our country. It is singularly unique in its character. We can think of no biography that bears any resemblance to it.
The friends of Mr. Homer will be grateful to Prof. Park, that he has gathered together these memorials of one whom they so highly esteemed, and caused them to be issued in so attractive a form; and those who did not know, personally, the subject of the memoir, will be made better by their acquaintance with a life that was so well spent.
There was something exceedingly mournful in Mr. Homer's death. Possessed naturally of a superior mind, he had cultivated it to the highest degree of which it was capable. In the extent of his researches, he had gone far beyond his years; and the fruits of his studies were so at his command that he could use them at his will. His plans for the future were far-reaching, and based upon a solid foundation. He had finished his preparatory course of study, and had begun to act efficiently upon the minds of his fellow-men. But the wind passed over him and he was gone. The bright visions, which had gathered around his future years, vanished in a moment, and the hearts of his friends were sad and desolate.
How much was then lost to the church and to the world few can know,-none indeed, can fully know; but in the volume before us, something of what he was still remains; and it will speak, we doubt not, to many a thoughtful reader, in tones that will not soon be forgotten.
We propose, from the materials furnished by Prof. Park, to give our readers some account of the life and character of Mr. Homer.
It is often said that we have few good biographies. Sometimes the character is presented in a distorted form; and while we think ourselves reading biography, we are in fact reading fiction. In other cases, we see nothing but the outward life. Incidents are strung together without any apparent relation to the inward springs of action, and we obtain no real acquaintance with the subject of the memoir. What we want to see in a biography is—the character. We want to know the man. The mind of the person in all that it was, and just as it was, we wish to have revealed to us. In the memoir of Mr. Homer, we have the biography of a mind—a mind laid open to our view by one who understood it, and observed its developments during a period when its powers were most rapidly unfolding themselves. Indeed we may say that, properly speaking, it is nothing but the biography of a mind.
Never was there a life, one would think, more free than Mr. Homer's from such incidents as are usually considered essential to the interest of a memoir. "There is no remarkable feat of his performance, no foreign travel, not even a personal accident, not so much as the overturning of a stage-coach in which he was journeying, nor the loss of a book, nor a week of serious illness, nor any imminent danger or hair-breadth escape, which can be mentioned to change the scene in the drama of his life. His whole biography must be spun out from his intellectual and hidden existence". We are glad that it had to be spun out from this source. Why should not the inward life of a student and a Christian afford materials enough for biography? Let the soul be seen, in its searchings for truth-in its wanderings through eternity-let it be seen what contributed to build up that intellectual and hidden existence, and we shall be made acquainted with what we should most of all desire to know. The life of a student, particularly of one who had just entered upon the duties of his profession, cannot, ordinarily, be one of much incident. The greatest incident may perhaps be the perusal of a book, which gave a new impulse or a new direction to his thoughts; and this may have a more important influence upon his whole
being, than the "foreign tour," or the "hair-breadth escape." Prof. Park has shown how interesting the biography of the Christian and man of letters may be made, when truly written, though there be little to "change the scene in the drama of his life."
Mr. Homer was a Christian scholar. There have been few young men, in our country, who have made so extensive and thorough acquisitions. We are astonished, that in a life of twenty-four years, he was able to do so much. Some of
the results of his scholarship are summed up in the following paragraph:
"Before he had closed his twenty-second year, he had accumulated much that would have quickened his mental growth for a long time to come. He had written numerous essays and orations, four quarto volumes of notes on his collegiate studies, eight volumes of abstracts and theses upon the topics of his seminary course, had acquired six foreign languages, some of which he had mastered, had studied with philosophical acumen, the writings of Hesiod, Herodotus, Dionysius Halicarnassus, Aeschylus and Euripides, and many of the old English prose authors; had written an analysis of each book in the Iliad and of the Odyssey, with copious annotations upon them, a critical disquisition also upon each of the minor poems and fragments ascribed to the father of poetry, an analysis of the orations of Demosthenes and Acschines, with extensive criticisms upon each, and various translations from Latin and German commentators upon the sacred and classical writings. He had also collected materials for at least three courses of lectures upon Homer and Demosthenes, and thought himself prepared to finish these courses with but little additional study and within a short time." -pp. 55, 56.
The volume which contains his writings gives evidence of the extent and accuracy of his investigations in classical literature. There is no work, we believe, of much importance in relation to the writings of the "father of poetry," which he had not studied—and his notes and remarks on Demosthenes, show how fully he had entered into the spirit of the ancient orator. His abstracts and annotations upon these authors will be of permanent value to the student.
Mr. Homer early imbibed a fondness for the classical languages. When ten years old, he went to the Mount Pleasant Classical Institution at Amherst, Mass., where he was "particularly studious," we are told, "in the Latin, ancient and modern Greek, and French languages. He conversed in modern Greek with considerable fluency. His teacher, Mr. Gregory Perdicari, a native of Greece, and now
United States consul at Athens, was in the habit of taking him to various families in the town and conversing with him. in modern Greek, thus exhibiting him as a kind of literary show." It was by an early course of rigid discipline, that Mr. Homer laid the foundation for his subsequent attainments. And such a foundation can, in ordinary cases, only be laid, we think, in early life. It is very rarely the fact, that persons who commence classical studies after the mind is mature make any considerable progress in them. This is one reason why we have so few good classical scholars. The work of preparation is too long delayed. The mind, in time, seems to become too hard to receive into itself the forms of a new language. Many a clergyman has mourned over his inability to form an independent judgment in matters of criticism, or to pursue his inquiries into church history, or the history of the doctrines of religion, through want of such a knowledge of the ancient languages, as he might readily have gained, if the days of his childhood had been devoted to it. And many more, who commenced classical study at an early period of life, have sighed over the time that was wasted, through the imperfect discipline and instructions of our schools.
This early and accurate study of language, was the groundwork of Mr. Homer's intellectual education, and contributed, greatly, we doubt not, to the just development of all the powers of his mind. When he entered the college, at Amherst, in 1832, he was prepared to take the first rank in his class, which he maintained to the end of his course. Professor Fiske bears testimony to his scholarship, in the following language:
"He had a singular felicity in penetrating the spirit of an ancient idiom, and bringing it out to view, and commending it to the feelings by an appropriate phraseology. When he had failed of making the full analysis of a construction, and did not detect all the elements of it until he had received hints or questions at the moment of reciting, it was sometimes delightful to notice how eagerly he would seize them, and comprehend at once the force and significancy of the combination, and present the meaning with singular perspicuity and elegance, clothing every idea with a fascinating drapery, at the very instant of conception. If I sometimes helped him in breaking the shell, he always seemed to find a sweeter meat than I had tasted."-p. 22.
It might be supposed, that a greater portion of time was devoted by Mr. Homer to classical studies, while a theological
student, than is justifiable in one preparing for the gospel ministry. But we are told that, in the Theological Seminary, these were the pursuits of his leisure hours. He says, in a letter, "I occupy my forenoons with theology, my afternoons. with German, and my evenings with Demosthenes." His early training and his diligent application in college, enabled him, while a theological student, to turn to his classics, as a relaxation from severer study. Not that he read them carelessly, or as a mere pastime. His writings forbid such a supposition. He read critically. He wrote down the results of his studies. Indeed all his habits of study were scholarlike. He was determined to be a scholar, and he was a scholar. He felt that a knowledge of the classic languages and literature is of great importance to the theologian and minister of the gospel. Indeed, we need scholars in the ministry. The ministry will be most successful, under God, in maintaining its influence over the public mind, by adding to a deep and living piety an enlarged and accurate scholarship. The minister must not be indebted to hearsay for much of his most valuable knowledge. He must be able to form an independent judgment, if he would show himself a workman that needeth not to be ashamed.
But we would not contemplate the subject of the memoir before us simply or mainly as a scholar. To be a scholar was not the great end with him. It was but a means to a higher end. He hoped thus better to answer the great end of his being. The memoir breathes, throughout, the hallowed spirit of the Christian. It was at Mount Pleasant, in May, 1828, that "the great and radical change occurred in his moral feelings." He united with Park Street Church, in Boston, four years afterwards. He lived, to all appearance, a blameless life, with nothing very marked in his Christian character, till the spring of 1835. Then there appears to have occurred a new period in his religious history.
There are times when the soul of the Christian is peculiarly alive to religious impressions. Solemn thoughts come rolling in upon it, as if from eternity. It seems conscious of God's presence, and hears his voice speaking within the heart. It meditates anew on life and death, on the past and the future, and summons itself to higher resolutions and to a more heartfelt consecration to God's service. There are periods of vast