Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

And as sermons they appear under disadvantages. They were not, like Robert Hall's, even written for the press—not One of them. Besides, we believe we are correct in affirming that the whole of the set writings of Dr. M'All, up to the period of his coming to Manchester, would not fill an octavo volume. He never practised composition; and these two volumes contain nearly all the productions of his pen, save his skeletons. Those who know from experience the necessity of careful and frequent writing and revision, to the formation of a perfect style, and are aware of the immense labour to which our great masters, Addison, Burke, Dugald Stewart, Brougham, &c. submitted, to secure the excellence they attained, must at once perceive that the capabilities of our author must be very imperfectly indicated by these, in many cases, hastily woritter discourses.

Again, Dr. W. seems to question the correctness of Mr. Roberton's statement, that sometimes his “ extempore effusions, in richness, copiousness, and energy, surpassed his read sermons." Mem. p. 99. We are prepared, however, to confirm Mr. R.'s opinion, and deliberately to affirm, that we have heard from him spontaneous addresses, which, in every point of view, would sustain a comparison with any of the discourses found in these volumes, and that those who form their judgment of his powers from the latter alone, will have a very faint idea of the order of his mind. And it is easily accounted for. His biographer, in a beautiful passage, has furnished the explantion :

“ His digressions ... were sometimes, if I may so express myself, not lateral excursions on the same level, but flights upward. The suggestive thought, os which his mind laid hold, was one, we shall suppose, of an elevating character, leading heavenward, leading Godward. Then came the moments of inspiration: Thought succeeded thought, each surpassing that which preceded it in lofty grandeur; every fresh suggestion an additional plumage to his soaring pinion; his spirit kindling and expanding in its sublime ascent, and giving utterance as if he had the tongues of men and of angels' to thoughts that breathed' in' words that burned,' till he seemed to reach the very throne of the Majesty on High," and to be filled with all the fulness of God.'”—p. 105.

The fact is, that every word in the vocabulary was at his absolute command, and with it every shade of meaning came to his aid, whilst he was evoking it. When excited, the entire subject on which he was speaking was before his mind, perceived in all its minute and latent, not less than in its prominent features, with the clearness of intuition ; you might almost see the movements of his spirit; his gleaming eye and ethereal countenance told you of the fixedness, the intentness, the familiarity with which he was gazing on objects you saw not, and indicated the brightness and vividness of that light in which he alone beheld them. If he spake of the cross of Christ, or of the nature and worth of the soul; if he would describe the inward conflicts of the believer, or reveal the mysterious workings of his own mind in relation to his office; if he were led to dwell on the hopes and prospects of the church, or to describe the glories of the heavenly state, he seemed to be giving utterance to conceptions as distinctly realized and as fully substantiated by him as are those

of the philosopher, who, with the aid of the microscope, is made to see the structure of the most delicate objects of the material universe, without losing aught of the impressions of that vastness and grandeur which are revealed by the mightier instrument of the astronomer. His extempore discourses, too, were frequently pervaded by a peculiar unction, an unction from the Holy One, which extended itself beyond his tone and manner, (which it might have affected equally, had his address been precomposed,) to his words and metaphors, suggesting the most appropriate and beautiful which the language could supply. The sympathy thus awakened was often intense, and the effect indescribable, on those who listened to what was then, in the highest sense, holy eloquence. Such a man then could speak, at times, better than he could write. In his study the stimulus to eloquence was wanting. Whilst speaking, he uttered what he saw ; it was then before him, invisible to all but himself, but in close and intimate contact with his own mind, which never tired of holding its visions; they necessarily vanished, however, or lost their brightness, when he had to select his thonghts for paper and choose their dress. The first mechanical act was the natural and easy and proximate channel, by which the mind sought to discharge the current, and disburden itself of its crowding thonghts and images ; the second disenchanted the scene, and cut off the communication. It is impossible to describe the sweetness, the pathos, the grace, with which he would express what was tender, and say “ adieu," or the concentrated power and masculine energy with which he would give utterance to the grand or sublime. If he was sometimes " discursive and copious," yet, when compelled to a “brief and hurried close” of a sermon or address, he could be as nervous and vehement as Demosthenes himself; as sententious and austere as the warmest admirer of Tacitus or Sallust could desire. There was no kind of speaking of which sometimes, in one oration, he did not show himself master - the humorous, the satirical, the argumentative, the brilliant, the didactic, the impassioned, the beautiful, the sublime; and those who have heard him on every kind of subject, passing from the one to the other with the utmost ease and naturalness, cannot say in which he excelled. Now all this, the Discourses do not-could not give, and therefore we have not M‘All. We have sometimes laid the volumes down, wishing they had not appeared, but we have again opened and read them with the deepest interest, and rejoiced at their publication. On the whole, we must hail them as a treasure, and warmly recommend them to the perusal and re-perusal of our friends, admonishing them, however, of the principle suggested by the admirable biographer, and that, “ ex ungne," they must judge “ leonem."

Dr. M'All is said to have borne, in person, temperament, and mind, a very considerable likeness to the late Dr. Thomas Brown."-p. 88. We think, however, that between our friend and Lord Brougham, though in mind alone, there was a still greater similarity. He was like that eminent philosopher in the power of nice discrimination and perceptivity, in opulence of imagination, and in delicately benevolent moral sensibility: but between him and the noble and learned lord the points of resemblance were numerous and exact, those of dissimilarity few and accidental; the most remarkable resulting from the opposite influences under which they lived and moved. We should like to see an analysis of the two minds from the pen of some competent physiologist; it must, however, be one who knew how to estimate the forces which acted on each. Every feature should be illustrated by passages from their writings. It is true we want M“All's speeches, to render the comparison perfect; but if the author of the Sketch in the Sheffield Iris would undertake the task, his surprising memory, perhaps, with the aid of existing reports and notes, might enable him to recover enough for that purpose. If we mistake not, such a document would be hailed with satisfaction by the public.

It in early life the mind of Lord Brongham had been subjected to the operation of divine truth, and educated for the ministry of the gospel ; or if M‘All had spent his days at the bar, and his nights within the walls of St. Stephen's; if the worldly ambition of the one had been checked by the higher and holier desire of winning souls; or if that of the other had been stimulated by the hope of gaining the highest honours which a British senator can secure the likeness, we are persuaded, would have been so exact, that the chief discernible difference would have consisted in the superior elegance of person, taste, and mental mien, which must have attached to our departed friend.

The same surprising versatility of talent distinguished each; the same remarkable powers of comprehension and acquisition. In each, as Mr. Griffin, in his admirable sketch, has said, of one "perceptivity or apprehensiveness was exquisitely keen, instantly and perpetually active, and all but illimitably penetrating .... it was a perspicacity that looked like intuition ;” (p. 39,) whilst the suggestive faculty was so strong, that either of them, on getting merely the clue to a writer's argument, or the scent of his track, might have composed his book, adding to it freely from his own stores, and “ following out facts and ideas to applications and uses DEW even to the author.” In each, every mental power was great and commanding ; each could hold subject to his own volition the whole of his mental treasures, and use them at pleasure ; each could abstract himself from all around, retire into the region of thought, and, as long as he chose, continue his revels, and then, with like felicity and copiousness, return to tell us what he had seen and handled. That the one should have been thoroughly versant in all departments of theology, as the other is in every branch of law, might be expected; but what astonished men profoundly learned in science, literature, &c. was (to apply again the language of Mr. G.) “ that they could not touch on any of their peculiar professions, or employments, or subjects of inquiry," but either of them - displayed as much acquaintance with each respectively, as if that one had been the sole study of his life.” (p. 41.) Was M'All's an incessantly active spirit of observation and inquiry? so is Brougham's.

Did M All delight to grapple with difficulties, and choose for solution those problems that promised to task his vigorous powers ? so does Brougham. And is it true of M‘All, that

“He could pass, by the most rapid transitions, from subject to subject; and that whether he spake of the most ordinary or the most abstruse, there was a rapidity of conception, an originality and a diversity of thought, and a varied appropriateness of diction, elegant without ostentation, familiar without meanness, and every word and phrase the best that could be chosen, without the appearance of selection—such as astonished strangers, and gave ever-fresh delight to familiar friends; that there was the sparkling of wit, the playfulness of humour, and the happy hits of innocuous raillery, and the gravity of serious reflection, and the pathos of exquisite sensibility, and the vivacity of graphic anecdote, and the eloquence of picturesque description, and the accuracy and clearness of scientific statement, and the lofty flights of fancy, and the quick and penetrating pursuit, apprehension, and hair-splitting dissection of some abstract nicety of metaphysics, all blending in rapid and returning succession, according as the different members of the social coterie might purposely or accidentally supply the varied impulse ?" (Mem. p. 82.) such, with slight modifications, may be affirmed of Brougham.

And in those features in which they differed, there were affinities. Some of those differences were original, some accidental. M‘All's material frame, the casket in which the jewel was lodged, was, of the two, the more delicately adjusted and the more beautifully fragile ; the depository of Brougham's is more firm, compact, and muscular; but both betrayed strong nervous susceptibilities, and both were remarkably free (for of the single tendency imputed to Lord Brougham we are total sceptics) from sensual passions. The mind of the latter manifests less compass than did that of our friend; we think it has less; but we say manifests, because it is impossible to determine how far the differenee arose from the influence of the different topics of thought to which each devoted his life. We do not, however, recollect hearing from Brougham any of those fine and delicate strokes of pathos, on the one hand, which frequently occurred in the speeches of M'All, nor, on the other, those outbreaks of sublimest eloquence, as if the soul hac. passed out of the region of material existences, and stood before us, not only as the personation of truth, but set on fire by it, kindling, at the same time, the sympathies of every hearer, awakening brighter or more shadowy perceptions of new and unimagined trains of thought, and inspiring him with a momentary consciousness of latent capabilities never before entertained. The peroration of the speech on slavery delivered by Henry Brougham at York or Leeds, we forget which, comes the nearest to what we mean. His power, we think, arises principally from the singular strength and truthfulness of his conceptions, put into language as singularly appropriate and forcible ; but he wants the fine moral enthusiasm which rendered Chatham and Wilberforce—both his inferiors in mental power-at times more sublime and impressive, and which, we think, gave to M‘All a lofty grandeur which Brougham does not reach.

Even in style there are points both of difference and of striking similarity. That of the senator has been formed with care, by the frequent and long-continued study of the great masters of antiquity, M.S. VOL. IV.

5 E

by actual writing and revision, together with a designed conformity to the Greek orators. The preacher's, however, was rather according to Roman example, and, as we have said, was never per fected by writing. The one, therefore, is racy, caustic, nervous, terrible; the other, with its great strength, has more of copiousness, and with equal precision, more of melody and rythm, whilst it is less thoroughly English. At the same time, who that has ever heard M'All, when he has been putting a subject “ in different lights, unfolding all its imaginable relations, and reducing it to its elements .... never losing himself for an instant in the mazes into which be had voluntarily wandered, but easily returning to this or that particular step of the process or apposite illustration, when it suited bis purpose,” (Mem. p. 88,) has not been reminded of Brougham ? Or who that has read one of the vehement addresses of the thunderer, or of the happy sarcastic speeches of him whose “ tongue cannot gloze," has not been interrupted by the thought-these are the very words and thoughts, parentheses and involutions, which MʻAll, in the same circumstances, would have employed ?

But the chief difference arose, undoubtedly, from the moral causes by which they were respectively acted upon. We would not wrong his lordship, but it appears to us that the chief moral inflaences by which his character has been moulded, have been supplied by the pages of Seneca, Epictetus, &c. refined and exalted by the preceptive portions of the New Testament. To these he has undoubtedly given much attention, and aimed, we believe, to conform himself. We are not, we confess, of the number of those who can for a moment suppose him to have been all his days a deceiver, or who, in consequence of a few delinquencies, can venture on the supposition that his public life has been a lie. To put down, as some unceremoniously have put down, all that he has said and done in the cause of humanity and goodness for nearly forty years, either to hypocrisy or mere ambition, requires suppositions far too monstrous for our philosophy. He must a thousand times have betrayed his wickedness and vileness. Besides, it would be gratuitously to libel human nature. Were all that is alleged against him true, (one part in ten, however, of which, hath not been proven,) it might be aocounted for otherwise. He has adopted a defective moral system, and that system is insufficient to subdue and keep in check pas sions like his. It has done much for him, undoubtedly: and in his attachment and subjection to it we believe him to be sincere; but he is undoubtedly ambitious, whilst he lives and moves amidst great temptations ; but if redeemed and holy men are sometimes snared and taken, is it to be wondered at, that where evangelical motives and principles are wanting, there should be such occasional, and even serious departures from rectitude as are charged, though we know not with what truth, on him ? M'All, however, had seen the cross, had felt its power, and knew the meaning of that passage, “Ye are not your own, ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your bodies and spirit which are his.” There was as much, perhaps, in him as in the former to suppress and to destroy; nor was it without encountering much stubborn resistance that the gospel secured over

« VorigeDoorgaan »