Page images

of its narratives were so well fitted to imprint upon so susceptible a mind and heart. Almost as soon, however, as he could form or announce a purpose, he declared that he would be a minister. He saw and heard too much of ministers not to have early suggested to him the idea of becoming one; and as soon as it was suggested, it was embraced. The sister of one of his school-fellows at Anstruther still remembers breaking in upon her brother and him, in a room to which they had retired together, and finding the future great pulpit orator (then a very little boy) standing upon a chair and preaching most vigorously to his single auditor below. He had not only resolved to be a minister—he had fixed upon his first text-"Let brotherly love continue." Altogether, though the school did little for him, and his parents' wishes and prayers as to his spiritual estate were as yet ungranted, that free, fresh, unconstrained, social, and happy boyhood spent by him at Anstruther was not without its fruits; nor can we tell how much, in the building up of his natural character during these earlier years, was due to the silent impress of parental example, or to that insensible education, more important and influential by far than the education of the school-room, daily carried on by the general spirit and order of a well-regulated and very cheerful home.

In November 1791, whilst not yet twelve years of age, accompanied by his elder brother, William, he enrolled himself as a student in the United College of St. Andrews. He had but one contemporary there who had entered college at an earlier age, John, Lord Campbell, and the two youngest students became each, in future life, the most distinguished in his separate sphere. However it may have been in Lord Campbell's case, in Dr. Chalmers extreme youth was not compensated by any prematureness or superiority of preparation. A letter written to his eldest brother James, during the summer which succeeded his

fortunate in the person who at that time discharged the duties of the mathematical professorship at St. Andrews. As he has himself told us in his preface to Mr. Coutts' Sermons, "The professor, Mr. Vilant, had long been a retired invalid, and his classes were taught for many years by a series of assistants, several of whom became afterwards more or less known in the world. The first was Mr. Glennie, author of a work on Projectiles. He was followed by West, who spent the greater part of his life as Rector in one of the parishes of Jamaica, and whose Treatise on Geometry has long been admired, both for its structure as a whole, and for the exceeding beauty of many of its demonstrations. He was succeeded by Dr. James Brown, for some time Professor of Natural Philosophy in Glasgow, a person of singularly varied accomplishments, and gifted with such powers of conversation as to have drawn forth the testimony from Dugald Stewart that he never met with any one who expressed himself with greater elegance, and at the same time with greater precision, on mathematical and metaphysical subjects." Sir James Ivory, Sir John Leslie, and Dr. James Brown, all studied together at St. Andrews, and were all pupils of Mr. West; and though Dr. Brown has not left behind him a reputation equal to that of his two pre-eminent classfellows, this would seem to have been due to a constitutional infirmity, which constrained him, after a single year's trial, to relinquish the Chair of Natural Philosophy at Glasgow, and to retire into private life, rather than to any natural inferiority of talent. In common with all who enjoyed the benefit of his instructions, or were admitted to the privilege of his friendship, Dr. Chalmers retained throughout his afterlife the liveliest gratitude and affection towards him. Another of his pupils, Mr. Duncan, the present Professor of Mathematics at St. Andrews, had, in 1833, dedicated to Dr. Brown his "Elements of Plane Geometry." Dr. Brown, while praising the volume in a letter to Dr. Chalmers,

had taken exception to the introduction of his own name. He received the following reply:-" I agree in all you say on the subject of Mr. Duncan's work, with the single exception of your remark upon its dedication, than which he could have done nothing more rightly and appropriately. It is the common feeling of us both, that whatever of the academic spirit, or of the purely academic enthusiasm either of us may possess, we are far more indebted for it to you than to all our other teachers put together. Of all my living instructors, I have ever reckoned first yourself, then Professor Robison of Edinburgh, and lastly, Dr. Hunter of St. Andrews, as far the most influential both in the formation of my taste and intellectual habits." Nor was this the temporary effusion of feeling evoked by having the object of it in presence. Three years afterwards, Dr. Brown was removed by death; and in writing to his widow on that occasion, the sentiment is reiterated-"I cannot adequately express the deep emotion which I felt on receiving the melancholy intelligence of Dr. Brown's death-one of my most respected and earliest friends, and of whom I have often said, that of all the professors and instructors with whom I have ever had to do, he is the one who most powerfully impressed me, and to the ascendency of whose mind over me, I owe more in the formation of my tastes and habits, and in the guidance and government of my literary life, than to that of all the other academic men whose classes I ever attended. But in addition to his public lessons, I had the privilege of being admitted to a long intimacy with your departed husband, and enjoying the benefit, as well as the charm, of his most rich and eloquent conversation."* When such a teacher met with such a pupil, and had as the subject of his instructions such a science as mathematics, it was not wonderful that more than ordinary interest should be excited, and more than ordinary proficiency *See Appendix A.

realized. Dr. Chalmers became excited and absorbed. Pure geometry had especial attractions for him. With the higher powers of the modern analysis he became afterwards familiarly acquainted; but he never lost his relish for the demonstrations of geometry, nor did he ever cease to think that from the closeness and consecutiveness of its successive steps, geometry furnished one of the very best instruments of intellectual training.

Other subjects, however, besides those of his favourite science, were pressed upon his notice, not so much by the prelections of the class-room, as by the conversation of Dr. Brown and his accomplished friends. Ethics and politics engaged much of their attention. Yielding to the impulses thus imparted, Dr. Chalmers, at the close of his philosophical studies, became deeply engaged with the study of Godwin's Political Justice, a work for which he entertained at that time a profound, and as he afterwards felt and acknowledged, a misplaced admiration. His father was a strict, unbending Tory, as well as a strict, and as he in his childhood fancied, a severe religionist. By the men among whom he was now thrown, and to whom he owed the first kindlings of his intellectual sympathies, Calvinism and Toryism were not only repudiated but despised. "St. Andrews" (we have his own testimony for it) "was at this time overrun with Moderatism, under the chilling influences of which we inhaled not a distaste only but a positive contempt for all that is properly and peculiarly gospel, insomuch that our confidence was nearly as entire in the sufficiency of natural theology as in the sufficiency of natural science."* It was not unnatural that, recoiling from the uncompromising and unelastic political principles with which he had been familiar at Anstruther, and unfortified by a strong individual faith in the Christian salvation, he should have felt the power of that charm

* Preface to Mr. Coutts' Sermons.

which the high talent of Leslie and Brown and Milne threw around the religious and political principles which they so sincerely and enthusiastically espoused; that his youthful spirit should have kindled into generous emotion at the glowing prospects which they cherished as to the future progress of our species, springing out of political emancipation; and that he should have admitted the idea that the religion of his early home was a religion of confinement and intolerance—unworthy of entertainment by a mind enlightened and enlarged by liberal studies. From the political deviation into which he was thus temporarily seduced, he soon retreated: from the religious, it needed many years and other than human influences to recall him.

In November 1795, he was enrolled as a student of Divinity. Theology, however, occupied but little of his thoughts. During the preceding autumn he had learned enough of the French language to enable him to read fluently and intelligently the authorship in that tongue, upon the higher branches of mathematics. His favourite study he prosecuted with undiminished ardour. Not even the powerful spell of one of the ablest of theological lecturers-to whose ability he afterwards rendered so full a tribute of praise-could win him away from his mathematical devoteeism. The present venerable minister of Kilsyth, the Rev. Mr. Burns, who entered the Divinity Hall along with him, writes as follows:-" He had got the idea strongly into his mind, that the orthodoxy of the lecturer was formed in conformity to the Standards, rather than as the truth most surely believed. The professor had expressed the sentiment that Calvinism should not be too broadly brought forward in pulpit addresses, lest it should be repulsive. Chalmers said to me, 'If it be truth, why not be above-board with it?' I think he added, you are a sincere Calvinist. There is none in St. Andrews that I know. Come down to Anstruther with me on

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »