« ForrigeFortsæt »
But it will be useful to contemplate this great man in the se. veral spheres in which his talents were developed, in order to form a fair estimate of their magnitude and variety.
As an instructer, such were his merits,' that we can hardly believe that he was ever excelled by any who have gone before him. Where, among all the records of the many great and good, who have devoted themselves to the same dignified employment, can a man be found, who united in his own person a more won. derful assemblage of those qualities which fit one for forming the characters of youth? Who has ever united in a higher degree, the dignity that commands respect, the accuracy that inspires confidence, the ardour that kindles animation, the kindness that wins affection, and has been able at the same time, to exhibit before his pupils the fruits of long and profound research, of an extensive and profitable intercourse with the world, and of great experience in the business of instruction? These powers, rare as they may seem in the same individual, are still but a part of those which so eminently qualified President Dwight for the station he filled. He taught much also by example. He exhibited a vast memory, and showed the pupil how it might be acquired. He urged the importance of observing and retaining facts, explained the principles of association, and the various arts which would contribute to fix them in the mind, and also displayed in his various reasonings and illustrations, both the efficacy of his rules, and the utility of the practice which he so earnestly recommended. If he insisted on the importance of thinking in a train, and of adhering to an exact method in the arrangement of one's acquisitions, and in communicating his thoughts to others; the value of these directions he proved by the readiness with which he assembled his own thoughts to elucidate a point in discussion, and the clearness with which he unfolded them.
In his cleportment towards the students, so well did he maintain the post of real dignity, that while the most timid approach. ed him with confidence, the boldest were awed into profound respect. His feelings towards them all were truly parental. His counsels, his warnings, his solicitude, his sympathy, were entirely in unison with such feelings. The student who uniformly merited approbation, was encouraged by his smiles; he who had only been surprised into some unaccustomed neglect or violation of duty, was reclaimed in a gentle and persuasive tone; but the incorrigible offender trembled at his voice.
If President Dwight has gained greater celebrity as an Instructer than as a Divine, it is because those talents which shone in the former sphere, are more rare than those which attach to eminence in theology. Amid cares so various, and with literary objects before him so attractive in their nature, and so alluring to'ambition, it might be suspected, that he would be diverted from the studies of his sacred office. So far, however, was this from the truth, that theology was the one great subject that filled his mind, and constituted the business of his life. Provi. dence had destined him to come upon the stage, when infidelity had already erected a standard, and was enticing, in rapid succession, the fashionable, and the philosophic, the wavering veteran, and the adventurous youth. For many following years, the evil genius, animated by a vast succession of numbers; and aided by a universal spirit of innovation, which had been engendered by many political vicissitudes, stalked through our land, threalening to erase every vestige of Christianity. At a crisis so portentous, the divine, whose character we are contemplating, remained not an idle spectator. He surveyed the bulwarks of Christianity; he rallied the slumbering soldiers of the cross; and clad in impenetrable armour, he led the way to the field of combat. The enemy, so feeble were his weapons, spent them idly on the victors, deserted the ground, and returned no more. Our champion was now ready to thwart the covert attacks of infidelity, by showing that religion was not invested with gloom, but arrayed in majesty and loveliness. He dispelled the delusion that blinded men of taste, by exhibiting the narrow views of infidelity, and the lofty and ennobling ideas that characterise the very genius of Christianity. He broke the charms which infidels, by the splendour of talents, had thrown around them, by displaying in glowing, but real colours, the fatal tendency of their principles, and the deformity of their lives.
But his thoughts were not all expended in establishing the evidences of his faith, and defending it against the assaults of its
enemies. Accustomed for many years to direct the studies, and hear the recitations of students in theology, he became familiar with the various difficulties that lie in their way. By extensive reading, with the aid of a very retentive memory, he had made himself acquainted with the different views of theologians; and by the daily and attentive perusal of the Holy Scriptures, he had imbibed truth at the fountain. Thus furnished, after many years of reflection, he matured in one hundred and seventy-three discourses, a system of theology, probably more copious and more replete with instruction, than any which the present age has seen.
His manner of preaching was distinct, forcible, and free from any appearance of affectation, either in action or utterance. It will not be difficult to discriminate the peculiar features of his pulpit eloquence. His voice was unusually heavy and sonorous. Its inflexions were highly musical and agreeable, but limited to a comparatively small number. A very strong and frequent emphasis, though it imparted dignity, conspired with some uni. formity of tones, occasionally to tire the ear, and to lull attention. When every thing is emphatic and elevated, it is not easy to surprise by those sudden flashes, “which, like heaven's artillery, dazzle while they strike” At times, however, President Dwight rose to an almost unequalled height, and exhibited the finest examples of oratory. Whenever his soul was filled with peculiar transport, as in contemplating the capacities and employments of the holy angels, and glorified saints, his eloquence resembled a mighty stream, flowing majestically through meadows of living verdure, or groves of spices and golden fruits; whenever he was roused by viewing the awful nature and consequences of the infidel philosophy, it resembled the same stream, augmented to a mighty flood, and hurrying its way onward in an overwhelming torrent.
We purposed here to descant on the fidelity with which Dr. Dwight discharged the duties of the pastoral office;—on his sympathy for the afflicted, which often denied him utterance;—on the zeal with which he promoted works of benevolence;-on the fervency of his prayers at the sacramental table, by the bed of sickness, and in the court of justice: but, borne along in a delightful current, we have already been carried far beyond our limits.
It only remains, therefore, to attend him into the retirement of private life, and to take a transient view of him in his various social and domestic relations. · The transition from the writings of authors, who are distinguished for the excellency of their moral and religious instructions, to their private fire-sides, is compared, in the eloquent Rambler, to our entrance into a large city after a distant prospect: “ Kemotely we see nothing but spires of temples, and turrets of palaces, and imagine it the residence of splendour, grandeur, and magnificence; but when we have passed the gates, we find it perplexed with narrow passages, disgraced with despica. ble cottages, embarrassed with obstructions, and clouded with smoke.” A disappointment like this, is often felt on our introduction to men who have attained eminence for talents and piety. By habits of seclusion and abstraction, they have perhaps lost the ability to mingle with interest in the concerns of the passing day. It was not so with President Dwight. In his manners he was in the highest degree dignified, affable, and polite. Like Johnson, he shone, in no place, with more distinguished splendour, than in the circle of the friends he loved, when the glow of animation lighted up his countenance, and a perpetual stream of knowledge and wisdom flowed from his lips. As his had been a life of observation and reflection rather than of secluded study, his acquisitions were all practical, they were all at hand, ready to enrich and adorn his conversation. In Theology and Ethics, in Natural Philosophy and Gengraphy, in History and Statictics, in Poetry and Philology, in Husbandry and Domestic Economy, his treasures were equally inexhaustible. Interesting narration, vivid description, and sallies of humour; anecdotes of the just, the gond, the generous, the brave, the eccentric: these all were blended in fine proportions to form the bright and varied tissue of his discourse. Alive to all the sympathies of friendship, faithful to its claims, and sedulous in performing its duties, he was beloved by many from early life, with whom he entered on the stage, and whom, as Shakspeare says, he “grappled to his soul with hooks of steel.” It is no small proof of his uncommon amiableness, that all who gained the most intimate access to him,
whether associates, or pupils, or amanuenses, admired, revered, and loved him most.
No love of study and abstraction, ever detached him long from his family, or prevented his taking the deepest interest in their welfare. The multiplicity of his engagements did not hinder his being to the partner of his bosom, with whom he had been united from early life, a tender and affectionate companion. His children approached him with reverence, but still with the utmost freedom. They daily shared his conversation, and received his counsels. Nothing which promoted their enjoyment, or which gave them pain, was too minute to affect his feelings. His brothers and sisters also, and more reinote connexions, uniformly received the proofs and benefits of his strong attachment. Indeed the meanest domestic in his household, regarded him with an attachment almost filial, and received a correspondent return from his feeling and benevolent heart.
After a rehearsal of so many virtues, the reader may demand, what faults must be named, to shade this outline, to make it a picture of real life.
The imperfections of President Dwight were chiefly such as arose from that peculiar ardour of temper, which also imparted a mighty activity to his virtues. In his own view they were so heinous, that he has often been heard, in the confidence of friendship, to deplore them with tears. But he tried his own heart by a perfect law. To others, who compared him with his fellow men, they appeared in a different light. Even to the eye of prejudice, they were neither numerous, nor heinous. To the eye of friendship, they were hidden beneath his virtues, like the shades that are dimly descried beneath the brightness of the moon, shining with full orb in a cloudless sky.
Hard indeed is it for those who have long enjoyed his friendship, and listened to his counsels, to realize that those lips, on which dwelt, the law of kindness, are closed in long silence: that that tongue of eloquence is mute that eye of fire quenched, to beam no more.