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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 exbibted 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 correspond ing facility in bringing them out again, whenever it was neces. sary 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 m ate care, and retained with unfailing certainty.
But it will be useful to contemplate this great man in the several 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 inore wonderful 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. hibited a vast memory, and showed the pupil how it might be acquired. He urged the importance of observing and retaining faats, 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 deportment 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 uniform
ly 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