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Horae subsecivae. Rab and his friends, and other papers online

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Hamath as Arpad ? is not Samaria as Damascus ? — He
is come to Aiath, he is passed to Migron ; at Michmash
he hath laid up his carriages : Ramah is afraid ; Gibeah of

140 Iborae &ubsecfx>ae.

Saul is fled. Lift up thy voice, O daughter of Gallim :
cause it to be heard unto Laish, O poor Anathoth ! Mad-
menah is removed ; the inhabitants of Gebim gather
themselves to flee. — The fields of Heshbon languish, the
vine of Sibmah ; I will water thee with my tears, O
Heshbon and Elealeh." Any one may prove to him-
self that much of the effect and beauty of these passages
depends on these names ; put others in their room, and
try them.

We remember well our first hearing Dr. Chalmers. We
were in a moorland district in Tweeddale, rejoicing in the
country, after nine months of the High School. We heard
that the famous preacher was to be at a neighbouring
parish church, and off we set, a cartful of irrepressible
youngsters. " Calm was all nature as a resting wheel."
The crows, instead of making wing, were impudent and sat
still ; the cart-horses were standing, knowing the day, at
the fieldgates, gossiping and gazing, idle and happy ; the
moor was stretching away in the pale sunlight —vast, dim,
melancholy, like a sea ; everywhere were to be seen the
gathering people, " sprinklings of blithe company ;" the
country-side seemed moving to one centre. As we
entered the kirk we saw a notorious character, a drover,
who had much of the brutal look of what he worked in,
with the knowing eye of a man of the city, a sort of big
Peter Bell.

" He had a hardness in his eye,
He had a hardness in his cheek.' 1

He was our terror, and we not only wondered, but were
afraid when we saw him going in. The kirk was full as
it could hold. How different in looks to a brisk town
congregation ! There was a fine leisureliness and vague
stare ; all the dignity and vacancy of animals ; eyebrows
raised and mouths open, as is the habit with those who
speak little and look much, and at far-off objects. The
minister comes in, homely in his dress and gait, but hav-
ing a great look about him, like a mountain among hills.
The High School boys thought him like a " big one of
ourselves," he looks vaguely round upon his audience, as
if he saw in it one great object, not many. We shall

Dr. Cbalmers. 141

never forget his smile ! its general benignity ; — how he
let the light of his countenance fall on us ! He read a
few verses quietly ; then prayed briefly, solemnly, with his
eyes wide open all the time, but not seeing. Then he
gave out his text ; we forget it, but its subject was,
" Death reigns." He stated slowly, calmly, the simple
meaning of the words; what death was, and how and
why it reigned ; then suddenly he started, and looked like
a man who had seen some great sight, and was breathless
to declare it ; he told us how death reigned — everywhere,
at all times, in all places, how we all knew it, how we
would yet know more of it. The drover, who had
sat down in the table-seat opposite, was gazing up
in a state of stupid excitement ; he seemed restless,
but never kept his eye from the speaker. The tide
set in — everything added to its power, deep called to
deep, imagery and illustration poured in ; and every now
and then the theme. — the simple, terrible statement, was
repeated in some lucid interval. After overwhelming us
with proofs of the reign of Death, and transferring to us
his intense urgency and emotion ; and after shrieking, as
if in despair, these words, " Death is a tremendous neces-
sity." — he suddenly looked beyond us as if into some
distant region, and cried out, "Behold a mightier! — who
is this? He cometh from Edom, with dyed garments
from Bozrah, glorious in his apparel, speaking in right-
eousness, travelling in the greatness of his strength,
mighty to save." Then, in a few plain sentences, he
stated the truth as to sin entering, and death by sin, and
death passing upon all. Then he took fire once more,
and enforced, with redoubled energy and richness, the
freeness, the simplicity, the security, the sufficiency of the
great method of justification. How astonished and im-
pressed we all were ! He was at the full thunder of his
power ; the whole man was in an agony of earnestness.
The drover was weeping like a child, the tears running
down his ruddy, coarse cheeks — his face opened out and
smoothed like an infant's ; his whole body stirred with
emotion. We all had insensibly been drawn out of our
seats, and were converging towards the wonderful
speaker. And when he sat down, after warning each one of

142 Iborae Subsecfvae.

us to remember who it was, and what it was, that followed
death on his pale horse,* and how alone we could escape —
we all sunk back into our seats. How beautiful to our eyes
did the thunderer look — exhausted — but sweet and pure 1
How he poured out his soul before his God in giving
thanks for sending- the Abolisher of Death ! Then a
short psalm, and all was ended.

We went home quieter than we came ; we did not re-
count the foals with their long legs, and roguish eyes,
and their sedate mothers ; we did not speculate whose
dog that was, and whether that was a crow or a man in
the dim moor, — we thought of other things. That voice,
that face ; those great, simple, living thoughts ; those
floods of resistless eloquence ; that piercing, shattering
voice, — that " tremendous necessity."

Were we desirous of giving to one who had never seen
or heard Dr. Chalmers an idea of what manner of man he
was — what he was as a whole, in the full round of his
notions, tastes, affections, and powers, we would put this
book into their hands, and ask them to read it slowly, bit
by bit, as he wrote it. In it he puts down simply, and at
once, what passes through his mind as he reads ; there is
no making of himself feel and think — no getting into a
frame of mind ; he was not given to frames of mind ; he
preferred states to forms — substances to circumstances.
There is something of everything in it — his relish for
abstract thought — his love of taking soundings in deep
places and finding no bottom — his knack of starting
subtle questions, which he did not care to run to earth —
his penetrating, regulating godliness — his delight in
nature — his turn for politics, general, economical, and
ecclesiastical — his picturesque eye — his humanity — his
courtesy — his warm-heartedness — his impetuosity — his
sympathy — with all the wants, pleasures, and sorrows of
his kind — his delight in the law of God, and his simple,
devout, manly treatment of it — his acknowledgment of
difficulties — his turn for the sciences of quantity and num-
ber, and indeed for natural science and art generally —

* "And I looked, and behold a pale horse ; and his_ name that sat on
him was Death, and Hell followed with him." — Rev. vi, 8,

5>t\ Cbalmers. 143

his shrewdness — his worldly wisdom — his genius ; all
these come out — you gather them like fruit, here a little,
and there a little. He goes over the Bible, not as a phi-
losopher, or a theologian, or a historian, or a geologist, or a
jurist, or a naturalist, or a statist, or a politician — picking
out all that he wants, and a great deal more than he has
any business with, and leaving everything else as barren
to his reader as it has been to himself ; but he looks abroad
upon his Father's word — as he used so pleasantly to do
on his world — as a man, and as a Christian ; he submits
himself to its influences, and lets his mind go out fully and
naturally in its utterances. It is this which gives to this
work all the charm of multitude in unity, of variety in
harmony ; and that sort of unexpectedness and ease of
movement which we see everywhere in nature and in
natural men.

Our readers will find in these delightful Bible Readings
not a museum of antiquities, and curiosities, and laborious
trifles ; nor of scientific specimens, analysed to the last
degree, all standing in order, labelled and useless. They
will not find in it an armoury of weapons for fighting
with and destroying their neighbours. They will get less
of the physic of controversy than of the diet of holy living.
They will find much of what Lord Bacon desired, when
he said, " We want short, sound, and judicious notes upon
Scripture, without running into commonplaces, pursu-
ing controversies, or reducing those notes to artificial
method, but leaving them quite loose and native. For
certainly, as those wines which flow from the first treading
of the grape are sweeter and better than those forced
out by the press, which gives them the roughness of the
husk and the stone, so are those doctrines best and sweet-
est which flow from a gentle crush of the Scriptures,
and are not rung into controversies and commonplaces."
They will find it as a large pleasant garden ; no great
system ; not trim, but beautiful, and in which there are
things pleasant to the eye as well as good for food —
flowers and fruits, and a few good esculent, wholesome
roots. There are Honesty, Thrift, Eye-bright (Euphrasy
that cleanses the sighO, Heart's-ease. The good seed in
abundance, and the strange mystical Passion-flower ; and

144 Iborae Subsecfvae.

in the midst, and seen everywhere, if we but look for it,
the Tree of Life, with its twelve manner of fruits — the
very leaves of which are for the healing- of the nations.
And perchance, when they take their walk through it at
evening-time, or at " the sweet hour of prime, " they may
see a happy, wise, beaming - old man at his work there —
they may hear his well-known voice ; and if they have
their spiritual senses exercised as they ought, they will
not fail to see by his side " one like unto the Son of

2>r. (Beorge TOlson. 145


Among the many students at our University who some
two-and-twenty years ago started on the great race, in the
full flush of youth and health, and with that strong hunger
for knowledge which only the young, or those who keep
themselves so, ever know, there were three lads — Edward
Forbes, Samuel Brown, and George Wilson — who soon
moved on to the front and took the lead. They are now
all three in their graves.

No three minds could well have been more diverse in
constitution or bias ; each was typical of a generic differ-
ence from the others. What they cordially agreed in, was
their hunting in the same field and for the same game.
The truth about this visible world, and all that it contains,
was their quarry. This one thing they set themselves to
do, but each had his own special gift, and took his own
road — each had his own special choice of instruments and
means. Any one man combining their essential powers,
would have been the epitome of a natural philosopher, in
the wide sense of the man who would master the philoso-
phy of nature.

Edward Forbes, who bulks largest at present, and de-
servedly, for largeness was of his essence, was the observer
proper. He saw everything under the broad and search-
ing light of day, white and uncoloured, and with an un-
impassioned eye. What he was after were the real ap-
pearances of things ; phenomena as such ; all that seems
to be. His was the search after what is, over the great
field of the world. He was in the best sense a natural
historian, an observer and recorder of what is seen and of
what goes on, and not less of what has been seen and
what has gone on, in this wonderful historic earth of ours,

146 Iborae Subsectoae.

with all its fulness. He was keen, exact, capacious, —
tranquil and steady in his gaze as nature herself. He
was, thus far, kindred to Aristotle, to Pliny, Linnaeus,
Cuvier, and Humboldt, though the great German, and the
greater Stagirite, had higher and deeper spiritual insights
than Edward Forbes ever gave signs of. It is worth
remembering that Dr. George Wilson was up to his death
engaged in preparing his Memoir and Remains for the
press. Who will now take up the tale ?

Samuel Brown was, so to speak, at the opposite pole —
rapid, impatient, fearless, full of passion and imaginative
power — desiring to divine the essences rather than the
appearances of things — in search of the what chiefly in
order to question it, make it give up at whatever cost the
secret of its why ; his fiery, projective, subtle spirit, could
not linger in the outer fields of mere observation, though
he had a quite rare faculty for seeing as well as for look-
ing, which latter act, however, he greatly preferred ; but
he pushed into the heart and inner life of every question,
eager to evoke from it the very secret of itself. Forbes,
as we have said, wandered at will, and with a settled pur-
pose and a fine hunting scent, at his leisure, and free
and almost indifferent, over the ample fields — happy and
joyous and full of work — unencumbered with theory or
with wings, for he cared not to fly. Samuel Brown, whose
wings were perhaps sometimes too much for him, more
ambitious, more of a solitary turn, was for ever climbing
the Mount Sinais and Pisgahs of science, to speak of
Him whose haunt they were,— climbing there all alone
and in the dark, and with much peril, if haply he might
descry the break of day and the promised land ; or, to vary
the figure, diving into deep and not undangerous wells,
that he might the better see the stars at noon, and possi-
bly find Her who is said to lurk there. He had more of
Plato, though he wanted the symmetry and persistent
grandeur of the son of Ariston. He was perhaps liker his
own favourite Kepler ; such a man in a word as we have
not seen since Sir Humphry Davy, whom in many things
he curiously resembled, and not the least in this, that the
prose of each was more poetical than the verse.

His fate has been a mournful and a strange one, but he

Dr. (Seorcjc Milson. 147

knew it, and encountered it with a full knowledge of what
it entailed. He perilled everything- on his theory ; and if
this hypothesis — it may be somewhat prematurely uttered
to the world, and the full working out of which, by rigid
scientific realization, was denied him by years of intense
and incapacitating suffering, ending only in death, but the
"relevancy" of which, to use the happy expression of Dr.
Chalmers, we hold him to have proved, and in giving a
glimpse of which, he showed, we firmly believe, what has
been called that " instinctive grasp which the healthy im-
agination takes of possible truth," — if his theory of the
unity of matter, and the consequent transmutability of the
now called elementary bodies, were substantiated in the
lower but essential platform of actual experiment, this,
along with his original doctrine of atoms and their forces,
would change the entire face of chemistry, and make a
Cosmos where now there is endless agglomeration and
confusion, — would, in a word, do for the science of the
molecular constitution of matter and its laws of action and
reaction at insensible distances, what Newton's doctrine of
gravitation has done for the celestial dynamics. For, let it
be remembered, that the highest speculation and proof in
this department — by such men as Dumas, Faraday, and
William Thomson, and others — points in this direction ;
it does no more as yet perhaps than point, but some of
us may live to see " resurgam" inscribed over Samuel
Brown's untimely grave, and applied with gratitude and
honour to him whose eyes closed in darkness on the one
great object of his life, and the hopes of whose " unac-
complished years" lie buried with him.

Very different from either, though worthy of and capa-
ble of relishing much that was greatest and best in both,
was he whom we all loved and mourn, and who, this day
week,* was carried by such a multitude of mourners to
that grave, which to his eye had been open and read}' for

George Wilson was born in Edinburgh in 1818. His
father, Mr. Archibald Wilson, was a wine merchant, and
died sixteen years ago ; his mother, Janet Aitken, still lives

* Monday, 28th November 1859.

148 Iborae Subsecfvae.

to mourn and to remember him, and she will agree with
us that it is sweeter to remember him than to have con-
verse with the rest. Any one who has had the privilege
to know him, and to enjoy his bright and rich and beauti-
ful mind, will not need to go far to learn where it was
that her son George got all of that genius and worth and
delightfulness which is transmissible. She verifies what
is so often and so truly said of the mothers of remarkable
men. She was his first and best Alma Mater, and in
many senses his last, for her influence over him continued
through life. George had a twin brother, who died in
early life ; and we cannot help referring to his being one
of twins, something of that wonderful faculty of attracting
and being personally loved by those about him, which was
one of his strongest as it was one of his most winning
powers. He was always fond of books, and of fun, the
play of the mind. He left the High School at fifteen and
took to medicine ; but he soon singled out chemistry, and,
under the late Kenneth Kemp, and our own distinguished
Professor of Materia Medica, himself a first-class chemist,
he acquired such knowledge as to become assistant in the
laboratory of Dr. Thomas Graham, then Professor of
Chemistry in University College, and now Master of the
Mint. So he came out of a thorough and good school,
and had the best of masters.

He then took the degree of M.D., and became a Lecturer
on Chemistry, in what is now called the extra-academical
school of medicine, but which in our day was satisfied
with the title of private lecturers. He became at once a
great favourite, and, had his health and strength enabled
him, he would have been long a most successful and pop-
ular teacher ; but general feeble health, and a disease in
the ankle-joint requiring partial amputation of the foot,
and recurrent attacks of a serious kind in his lungs, made
his life of public teaching one long and sad trial. How
nobly, how sweetly, how cheerily he bore all these long
baffling years ; how his bright, active, ardent, unsparing
soul lorded it over his frail but willing body, making it do
more than seemed possible, and as it were by sheer force
of will ordering it to live longer than was in it to do, those
who lived with him and witnessed this triumph of spirit

Dr. George tKHtteon. 149

over matter, will not soon forget. It was a lesson to every
one of what true goodness of nature, elevated and cheered
by the highest and happiest of all motives, can make a
man endure, achieve, and enjoy.

As is well known, Dr. Wilson was appointed in 1855
to the newly-constituted Professorship of Technology, and
to the Curatorship of the Industrial Museum. The ex-
penditure of thought, of ingenuity, of research and man-
agement — the expenditure, in a word, of himself — involved
in originating and giving form and purpose to a scheme
so new and so undefined, and, in our view, so undefinable,
must, we fear, have shortened his life, and withdrawn his
precious and quite singular powers of illustrating and
adorning, and, in the highest sense, sanctifying and bless-
ing science, from this which seemed always to us his
proper sphere. Indeed, in the opinion of some good
judges, the institution of such a chair at all, and especially
in connexion with a University such as ours, and the at-
taching to it the conduct of a great Museum of the Indus-
trial Arts, was somewhat hastily gone into, and might have
with advantage waited for and obtained a little more con-
sideration and forethought. Be this as it may, Dr. Wilson
did his duty with his whole heart and soul — making a
class, which was always increasing, and which was at its
largest at his death.

We have left ourselves no space to speak of Dr. Wil-
son as an author, as an academic and popular lecturer, as
a member of learned societies, as a man of exquisite liter-
ary powers and fancy, and as a citizen of remarkable pub-
lic acceptation. This must come from some more care-
ful, and fuller, and more leisurely record of his genius and
worth. W T hat he was as a friend it is not for us to say ;
we only know that when we leave this world we would
desire no better memorial than to be remembered by
many as George Wilson now is, and always will be. His
Life of Cavendish is admirable as a biography, full of
life, of picturesque touches, and of realization of the man
and of his times, and is, moreover, thoroughly scientific,
containing, among other discussions, by far the best ac-
count o f the great water controversy from the Cavendish
point of view. His Life of John Reid is a vivid and

150 fbovac Subeccivae.

memorable presentation to the world of the true linea-
ments, manner of life, and inmost thought and heroic
sufferings, as well as of the noble scientific achievements
of that strong, truthful, courageous, and altogether ad-
mirable man, and true discoverer — a genuine follower of
John Hunter.

The Five Gateways of Knowledge is a prose poem, a
hymn of the finest utterance and fancy — the white light of
science diffracted through the crystalline prism of his
mind into the coloured glories of the spectrum ; truth
dressed in the iridescent hues of the rainbow, and not the
less but all the more true. His other papers in the Brit-
ish Quarterly, the North British Review, and his last
gem on " Paper, Pens, and Ink," in his valued and gener-
ous friend Macmillan's first number of his Magazine, are
all astonishing proofs of the brightness, accuracy, vivacity,
unweariedness of his mind, and the endless sympathy and
affectionate play of his affections with the full round of
scientific truth. His essay on " Colour Blindness" is, we
believe, as perfect a monogram as exists, and will remain
likely untouched and unadded to, factum ad unguem.
As may be seen from these remarks, we regard him not
so much as, like Edward Forbes, a great observer and
quiet generalizer, or, like Samuel Brown, a discoverer and
philosopher properly so called — though, as we have said,
he had enough of these two men's prime qualities to
understand and relish and admire them. His great qual-
ity lay in making men love ascertained and recorded
truth, scientific truth especially ; he made his reader and
hearer enjoy facts. He illuminated the Book of Nature
as they did the missals of old. His nature was so thor-
oughly composite, so in full harmony with itself, that no
one faculty could or cared to act without calling in all the
others to join in full chorus. To take an illustration from
his own science, his faculties interpenetrated and inter-
fused themselves into each other, as the gases do, by a
law of their nature. Thus it was that everybody under-
stood and liked and was impressed by him ; he touched
them at every point. Knowledge was to him no barren,
cold essence : it was alive and flushed with the colours of
the earth and sky, and all over with light and stars. His

H>r. ecovgc TOlson. 151

flowers — and his mind was full of flowers — were from
seeds, and were sown by himself. They were neither
taken from other gardens and stuck in rootless, as chil-
dren do, much less were they of the nature of gumflowers,
made with hands, wretched and dry and scentless.

Truth of science was to him a body, full of loveliness,
perfection, and strength, in which dwelt the unspeakable
Eternal. This, which was the dominant idea of his
mind — the goodliness, and not less the godliness of all
science — made his whole life, his every action, every letter
he wrote, every lecture he delivered, his last expiring
breath, instinct with the one constant idea that all truth,
all goodness, all science, all beauty, all gladness, are but
the expression of the mind and will and heart of the
Great Supreme. And this, in his case, was not mysticism,
neither was it merely a belief in revealed religion, though
no man cherished and believed in his Bible more firmly
and cordially than he ; it was the assured belief, on purely
scientific grounds, that God is indeed and in very truth all
in all ; that, to use the sublime adaptation by poor crazy
Smart, the whole creation, visible and invisible, spiritual
and material, everything that has being, is — to those who
have ears to hear — for ever declaring " Thou Art," before
the throne of the Great I AM.

To George Wilson, to all such men — and this is the
great lesson of his life— the heavens are for ever telling
His glory, the firmane'nt is for ever showing forth His

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Online LibraryJohn BrownHorae subsecivae. Rab and his friends, and other papers → online text (page 14 of 27)