« ForrigeFortsæt »
Hill. But we profess only to give a brief outline, and hasten to attend him to that high and responsible station in which he found an ample theatre for the display of his vast powers, attained the summit of his usefulness, and closed his mortal career. Dr. Dwight was now in the meridian of life. The extensiveness of his acquisitions, the weight of his character, his well known talents for educating youth, and the celebrity of his name, combined to fix on him, with one consent, the public eye, to supply the vacancy occasioned at Yale College, by the lamented death of the Reverend President Stiles. To this station he was transferred in 1795.
As was universally anticipated, the Institution rose immediately to a degree of reputation quite unprecedented in former times. He altered so far as he thought necessary, and consistent with prudence, the whole tone of government. It was his aim to found it on the basis of affection—a source of influence which he deemed more consonant with the pursuits of learning and virtue, more salutary in its effects on the youthful disposition, and more effectual to the promotion of its object, than that distance of deportment, and severity of treatment which academical usages had previously sanctioned. How well he succeeded, the uninterrupt. ed tranquillity of his administration during a period of twenty-one years, the numbers he was instrumental in reclaiming from vice, and the indelible impressions that are still left on the minds of hundreds of his pupils, testify in a manner which no words can express.
But from the commencement of his Presidency, Dr. Dwight had great difficulties to contend with. The funds of the College were small, and the views of the public were not sufficiently elevated to correspond with his own, or to second his exertions. He succeeded however, after many fruitless trials, in procuring means to extend the library and philosophical apparatus, and to establish two new professorships, one of Chemistry and Mineralogy, the other of Languages and Ecclesiastical History. Beside the advantages accruing from these new sources, the whole tone of education, has been, under his direction, greatly elevated; the sciences have been studied more systematically and extensively, the ancient classics have been perused more thoroughly, and rhe
toric and polite literature have imparted to the academical course, accomplishments unknown to former times.
As a relaxation from the arduous duties of the presidency, Dr. Dwight spent many of his vacations in making repeated tours through New-England and New-York. The peculiar interest he felt in the labours of the husbandman,-his taste for mingling in the active scenes of life, his desire to know the world from observation as well as from books—his extensive acquaintance with the most intelligent part of the community,—and his uncommon qualifications for enjoying social happiness, conspired to render these excursions peculiarly salutary, profitable and delightful. He looked at nature also with the eye of a poet, a philosopher, and a Christian. The majestic mountain and roaring cataract, the morning twilight and evening cloud, the shady grove and flowery meadow, were objects which raised his soul to ecstasy, or filled him with ever new delight. Nor were his views of nature limited to scenes of beauty and grandeur; be loved also to mark the laws that regulate the various works of God, from the minutest insect to the starry heavens. In them all, he saw proofs of His existence, power, and wisdom; and, with grateful praise recognised His goodness in the morning sun and falling shower and springing herb.
With such qualifications and such opportunities, it is difficult to conceive how he could have possessed more advantages for making a delineation of the regions through which he passed; and it gives us peculiar pleasure to reflect that what he could perform so well, he has actually done. A copious journal of these travels was just completed, which will soon be given probably to the public.
Advancing in this happy and useful career, he seemed like the sun, rolling indeed in his western orbit, but still with undiminished brightness, and far from “the dark mountains.” The uncommon vigour of his constitution, the salutary habits of living which he had established, and his exemption from the least mark of the infirmities of old age, seemed to furnish a strong security that he would long be continued in his important station, a blessing to his country and the world. But God, who seeth not as VOL. IV.
man seeth,' hath shown, how vain is our trust when we forget, that diseases and death await His holy pleasure.
Nearly two years have now elapsed since the disease first made its appearance, which terminated his life. He was immediately impressed with a sense of his danger, and apparently looked forward to a speedy dissolution, or to a long period of hopeless anguish. We must leave to his biographer to trace its progress, and to describe the alternations of fear and hope that for a long time alarmed or animated his friends.
From the late public Commencement until his death, he was affected with severe pain, which, for the last six weeks of his life, confined him to the house. He continued, however, writing a number of Theological Dissertations, which he had long had in view, and completed a Poem, which served to divert him from those sufferings that unfitted him for severer studies. He also heard the recitations of a Theological class, once a-week during his confinement. They recited, for the last time, a week before his death. One of their number read a dissertation on the doctrine of the Trinity. Although, when the discussion commenced, the President seemed exhausted with pain, and hardly able to speak, yet as it proceeded, all present were astonished to see him kindle, forget his agony, and carry on an argument of great length, in an animated strain of eloquence.
Illa tanquam cycnea fuit divini hominis vox et oratio. Monday and Tuesday, he employed his amanuensis in writing several letters in answer to communications respecting the death of President Backus. It is worthy of remark, that these were his last compositions. Tuesday afternoon he sewed the leaves of a manuscript, which completed his Theological Dissertations, (a work in which he had been engaged for several months,) and observed to his family, as he laid it down, “ I have now finished.”
Wednesday morning soon after he rose, he was seized with a tremor, which severely shook his whole frame. It was no new disease that produced this sudden change; but his constitution, unable longer to sustain the load of anguish which pressed upon it, broke all at once, and was born away, like a mighty mound that had long withstood the gathering flood. During the remainder of
his life, his mind was either so much occupied by intense suffering, or clouded by approaching delirium, that we are to learn his death-bed views, not from the closing scene, but from a most interesting discourse which he preached last summer, on his recovery from an attack, which threatened his life with immediate extinction. Thursday was a day of extreme distress. Friday, his pains were considerably allayed; a circumstance which increased the apprehension of his friends, but diminished his own. At 3 o'clock, Saturday morning, his eyes were sealed in death.
The panegyric that is vainly wasted to dignify and exalt an tinworthy name, is only the breath of some partial friend, or wel. come dissembler, and never transcends his native hills; but when the same note returns from the north, and is re-echoed from the distant regions of the south,* surely this is the voice of well earn. ed praise.
In approaching this great character, I feel like the traveller, who draws near to some stupendous temple or palace, whose lostiness makes him giddy, and whose amplitude bewilders. He would fain convey the image to his friend, wide, towering and splendid, as he beheld it; but where shall he begin the description—where shall he end it? Elevated as he may feel by the magnificence of his theme, and warmed as he may be by the glowing image stamped on his mind, yet at last he leaves the picture in despair, conscious that many a column is wanting that nobly supported the original, and many an arch that contributed to its grandeur.
But how mutilated soever may appear the character we are contemplating, when the several parts are detached from the fabric in which they were united in so much harmony, still I should be conscious of executing no unwelcome task, should I be successful in exhibiting each of these in its own proper dimensions.
With a mind of vast capacity, President Dwight grasped at universal knowledge. At an early age he had entered, with great
* Had the Eulogy, which appeared in the Charleston Times, earlier met the eye of the writer, such is his opinion of its merits, that it would probably have deterred him from the subsequent part of his undertaking. He thought indeed of omitting what remains; but he has at length consented, with some reluctance, to insert the whole.
avidity, the field of literary criticism and mathematical science; but he was soon arrested by a weakness of the eyes, from which he never recovered. For the greater part of his life, he was able neither to read nor write. In ancient learning therefore, he was not as great a proficient as Bentley, nor in science, as profound as Horsley. He was more like Bacon and Boyle; being distinguished for the same originality, the same thirst for knowledge, and the same partiality for inductive philosophy. No one who knew him, would hesitate to ascribe to him very superior intellectual faculties; yet it was his own opinion, that whatever success he had exhibted in the acquisition of knowledge, and in the power of communicating it to others, was owing chiefly to the exact method to which he had trained his understanding, and in which he had arranged all his ideas. To such perfection had he carried this art, that his mind resembled an ample and well regulated storehouse of various wares, so well assorted, and so systematically arranged, that the owner would lay his hand immediately on any article that might be inquired for. He availed himself in a wonderful degree of the advantages, which so perfect an arrangement was fitted to confer. A few moments of reflection would enable him to place in their proper cells, along with kindred articles, the acquisitions of a single day, as the printer, with surprising dexierity, restores his types to their several compartments.Such skill in laying up his ideas, was attended with a corresponding facility in bringing them out again, whenever it was necessary to use them. Few men, I believe, ever had their acquisitions so completely at command, or could so readily bring them to illustrate a subject in debate. His memory was either remarkably retentive by nature, or had become so by art. It was stored with a prodigious variety of numbers, though it was in the power of retaining numbers, that Dr. Dwight considered it most defective. He has been heard to say, that he formerly made repeated efforts to remember a certain point of latitude, but was finally unsuccessful. His own thoughts, however, he could remember with the greatest ease and exactness, even to a distant period; a proof of the distinctness and force with which they were conceived. Facts also he collected with great assiduity, arranged with minute care, and retained with unfailing certainty.