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ART. VII.-1. The Life of Edward Irving, Minister of the
National Scotch Church, London. Illustrated by his Journals and Correspondence. By Mrs. OLIPHANT. 2 vols. London:
1862. 2. Memoir of the Life of the Rev. Robert Story. By ROBERT
HERBERT STORY, Minister of Rosneath. Cambridge: 1862. A GOOD deal has been said, as to the uniformity of belief
characteristic of the Scotch Church. The common idea of Presbyterianism north of the border is that it has been always, and is even now, everywhere marked by the same stern rigidity of feature, and the same stiff adherence to a hard, abstruse, and somewhat morose creed. However it may differ as to certain questions of ecclesiastical polity, it is supposed to be closely united in theological opinion - to be free from those divergencies of doctrine and extremes of religious sentiment and feeling which characterise other and larger sections of the Christian Church.
There is some truth, but there is also some ignorance and exaggeration, in this view. There is less breadth of Christian thought, and, consequently, less diversity of theological opinion, on the north than on the south of Tweed. Puritanism prevails on the one side — although in modified forms to that in which it excited the vituperative eloquence of Mr. Buckle - while on the other side, Puritanism is only one among various elements of religious influence and culture. It is far from the truth, however, to suppose that this prevalence has at any time amounted to uniformity, or that the stream of Calvinistic and Puritan thought in the Scotch Church has not been frequently crossed by varying currents, some of them intellectual and sceptical, and some of them rich, catholic, and warm as any that have entered into the more composite religion of the south.
The two religious biographies at the head of this article are sufficient evidence of our assertion. They are both directly associated with one of the most novel, original, and singular paroxysms of religion which have anywhere occurred within the present century, and which had its origin in the very heart of that Scotch faith notorious for its devotion to the letter of the Covenant and the narrowest form of Puritanism. Nay, Edward Irving, of whom we are particularly to speak, remained to the last something of a Covenanter in his heart; the ring of the old Puritan watchwords awoke echoes in him,
and thrilled him to patriotic music after the Church of his fathers had cast him off, and he had placed himself at the head of a movement which, whether we regard it on its intellectual, its spiritual, or its professedly miraculous side, was infinitely removed from the old Presbyterianism in which he had been bred. He is a striking and picturesque figure, whom our age, in the multiplicity of its distractions, had well nigh forgotten, but whom it is worth while on many accounts to recall.
We have placed the life of the late Mr. Story of Rosneath along with that of Edward Irving at the head of these pages, because the men were at the most interesting periods of their lives closely associated, and especially because the spiritual movement with which Irving became identified, and which gave birth to the Catholic Apostolic Church,' sometimes known by his name, began in the quiet parish by the Gairloch, of which Mr. Story was minister.
The memoir of Mr. Story's life by his son is a graphic and extremely interesting volume. The life of a Scotch minister in a sequestered parish -- well known to the tourist now, but during a great part of Mr. Story's ministry lying far away from the busy world - is set forth in a series of picturesque and effective sketches, which serve to bring before the reader with remarkable vividness a saintly, elevated, character, and a career at once singular in its spiritual contrasts and external circumstances. There is an ever-graceful tenderness and heroic gentleness in the minister of Rosneath, scarcely less rare in character than the soft and peaceful loveliness of his parish is rare amidst the ruder or grander scenery of Scotland. Such a man must have had in all his activities a Christian influence in the district where he dwelt. The angularities of his native creed melt into harmonious and attractive proportions in his life of faithful earnestness and watchful love for his parishioners and friends. His face, like his character, is one of peculiar elevation; gleams of poetic depth blending in it with a wrapt spiritual simplicity and grace. His son has done well, in these days of religious biography, in which so much that is one-sided in zeal and doctrine is admiringly set before the public, to present us with a memoir of such a life and character – so free from all sectarianism; especially as he has performed his task with taste (if also with some tartness here and there where the Free Church is his theme), and with reflective discernment as well as literary skill.
Mrs. Oliphant's Life of Edward Irving' supplies a long-felt desideratum. It is copious, earnest, and eloquent, carrying the reader along with something of the same excited. admiration and pathetic sensibility with which it is written. On every page there is the impress of a large and masterly comprehension, and of a bold, fluent, and poetic skill of portraiture. Irving as a man and as a pastor is not only fully sketched, but exhibited with many broad, powerful, and life-like touches which leave a strong and even exaggerated impression. Exaggeration is in fact the fault of the book exaggeration of admiration for the hero, and of censure or contempt for others who either unhappily crossed his path, or were brought into conflict with him. Mrs. Oliphant seldom balances her judgments with a scrupulous caution, or pauses to analyse the complex motives and influences which are felt at every step of Irving's later history. The result is that while she draws so full and vivid a picture, she leaves many parts of it under a strange bewildering haze which the reader tries in vain to penetrate. The sort of -nimbus' which enwrapped Irving from the time that he came upon the stage of public life-- which many of his contemporaries, not without sympathy to appreciate and welcome such a man, found infinitely puzzling-still surrounds him everywhere in Mrs. Oliphant's Life.' He moves through her pages in a cloud of admiring incense, which exalts but at the same time shrouds his figure. You wish to understand him, and trace some thread of intelligible if not rational connexion through all the strange phases of his career; but Mrs. Oliphant's applauding rhetoric fails to supply it. She is ingenious, ardent, and brilliant, but seldom expository. And you are not much nearer at the last than at the first from comprehending how a man of Irving's extraordinary powers and elevation of character should have made such a wreck as he did. For that he made a wreck of his fame and influence, we hold to be indisputable. It is impossible to read the deeplytouching narrative of his closing years, and not feel that he had sunk from the leadership which was his natural right even in the small sect which had gathered around him. It is difficult to see what there remained for him to do but to die disappointed and broken-hearted— as he did die in Glasgow.
Mrs. Oliphant has formed an entirely different idea of Irving's life. In her view it was a great martyr-tragedy — a heroic self-sacrifice from beginning to end. Its very failures were only the culmination of his mission to render up everything in conflict with the shows of things, and vehement pro
testation for the reality. Her whole book is constructed upon this idea. Even when she finds it necessary to apologise, she Joes so as for an inspired prophet - ' a passionate, splendid, human soul, obeying its own law of action, and justifying its own conduct, however abnormal and extraordinary. We do not think that anywhere in the course of her two volumes she judges Irving to be in the wrong, or even dubiously in the right, in the various oppositions which he encounters. The world misunderstands him; the press defames him; Chalmers, Coleridge, Carlyle, alike fail to comprehend him, and how he must prove, amid agony and passion, the devotion of a loyal heart to his Master's name and person.' The Scotch Church, the London Presbytery, even his own session, who accompanied him with a touching loyalty to the very verge of his last extravagances, all fail to appreciate him, and even treat him with cruel misapprehension and severity. Mrs. Oliphant has worked out this conception of her hero with great resource and fluency of style. But she has nowhere vindicated it; she has nowhere rendered reasons for the ideal which she draws. She has had a dream of Edward Irving, and she paints her dream with fitting accessories, and (less excusably) with bold, scornful dashes in the face of those who might otherwise mar the harmony of her composition. There is no abatement to the strain of hero-worship throughout. The tone never falls. The glory around her hero never dies down. His very personal peculiarities, even to his squint, are exalted and touched with a certain vague magnificence. This, we are bound to say, is rather the art of the novelist than the skill of the biographer.
Edward Irving was born on the 4th of August, 1792, in a little house near the old town-cross of Annan. The times were exciting; but no excitement had penetrated to the rural capital of Annandale, lying insignificant and unforgotten at the head of the Solway and under the shadow of Criffel. The political and ecclesiastical atmosphere alike stagnated in Irving's native parish. Moderatism, reputable and dignified in Edinburgh, and even capable of a gentle spiritual excitement in those sermons of Blair's which were once found in every drawingroom, had sunk in many rural parishes into a half-decent, half-profane observance of religious rites. It is a curious picture, if we had time to dwell upon it. In Annandale, however, there were also the remnants of a more vigorous faith. The spirit of the Covenanters survived in a small community of seceders from the National Church, who met for worship at the little village of Ecclefechan, about six miles from Irving's native town. His lofty spirit was caught by the stories of heroic endurance and conquering principle that were still told round many a fireside. He felt as a boy al thu nobleness of tạe martyr-traditions that lived in the cilsages, and ciunr to mans a sacred spot in the country round. This couil. ik toid from his after-writings, if from nothing els Jue o those richly poetic passages which gem his sermons, celebrates thu digod of martyrs which mingled - riti. or brooks: and whose hallowed bones, mouldering in "per rith their silent tombs, were dressed by the reve- renta, nantss es pics and patriotic people. Mis Oliphant nuk she ne conexion with the littée land of seceders who praisal, u imneri: tief covenanting spirit, and to keep alive the genuin power a: Testert. I was his DESI babit to mozommary thas warties to their pince a worship at the nanourng rilan an. to holc, grave and high quererse with Ihan * t Wam ciurm & tise voutinial associations wwvæ ut. At ang pinted. lit. Ther iets their inefaceable imma min mammans amt character. The wing elders, no * Wut, amran Att rart the gern odd-world * Stims a rea ai dignit e mame which stierwards - Annuusik: ther muni. ani tret, ani. mne stroas to - 1 hr mi 2 tengive mens, me nI sbe higher 2 ani T O lift II. KE I imi Annan.'
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