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magistrates, and set an official example of well-doing. When his son got whipped or pinched at school, he had no solaces or coaxing for him, but rightly took the teacher's part, and trained the boy in all due hardness, as became a Scotch father in the beginning of the century. It has been stated that Irving's manners, even thus early, had a touch of stateliness and undue solemnity,- a tradition which Mrs. Oliphant is inclined to discredit. 'I can find no traces of any such precocity,' she says; ‘nor is it easy to fancy how a natural boy in such a • shrewd and humorous community, where pomp
of 'would have been speedily laughed out of him, could have • shown any such singularity.' It is not easy to fancy such a thing, but it may be true nevertheless. For there was, as we shall have more occasion to show, a strange depth of eccentricity in Irving's nature, and a total absence of humour. Whatever may be the touch of comedy in the kept-in' schoolboy having his piece ' hoisted to him in at the school-room window, there is no evidence that Irving himself felt the fun of the business, or that he could feel it. He had a deep affinity for the lofty and tragic — for all mystery and magnificence — but no perception of the ridiculous, no faculty, apparently, which could perceive it.
In 1805, when he was only thirteen, Irving entered the University of Edinburgh. Chalmers entered St. Andrews at an equally early age. The habit was nearly universal at the time, and was not of course conducive to the acquirement of accurate learning, or those more scholastic habits associated with the English Universities. Edinburgh College, in the beginning of the century, presented even fewer traces of academic life, as it is known in the south, than the other Scottish Universities. As Mrs. Oliphant truly says, “it was
a mere abstract mass of class-rooms, museums, and libraries, * and the youths or boys who sought instruction there were • left in absolute freedom to their own devices. They lived, all untended, in lodgings throughout the city, and were expected to make their appearance at the class-rooms with such preparation of their daily tasks as they best could. They supported themselves often on very small pittances, now and then receiving a box from home full of oatmeal, cheese, and
other homely necessities. Thus lived Irving and an elder brother, and passed from stage to stage of his academic course, taking his degree, after four years'study, when he was only sevenyears
of age. There is the same lack of minute information about his university as about his school career, save the fact of his taking his degree with apparent ease,--a circumstance which
marks the facility of the process at the time as much as the extent of his acquirements. There is nothing to show what sort of a student he was. The library records, consulted by his biographer, do not tell any tale of studious research. "The Arabian Nights, 6 and sundry books with forgotten but suspicious titles,' indicate a very natural course of reading for a boy, but scarcely for a graduate in arts. One trait recorded of him by a surviving college companion is very significant. He used to carry con“tinually in his waistcoat pocket a miniature copy of Ossian; passages from which he read or recited in his walks in the country, or delivered with sonorous elocution and vehement 'gesticulations.' There is also a story told of his having found about this time a copy of Hooker's Ecclesiastical Polity,' in a farm-house in the neighbourhood of Annan, which powerfully attracted him, and gave an impulse to his thoughts. There can be no doubt of his early acquaintance with Hooker, nor of the remarkable influence which his lofty argument and grand periods exercised upon his mental development.
Sir John Leslie was his Mathematical Professor, and along with Dr. Christison, the Professor of Humanity, took a friendly interest in him. These teachers had, no doubt, already discovered his peculiar aptitude for mathematical study; and this with other circumstances served to fix their choice upon him when asked to recommend a teacher for a new mathematical school at Haddington. In the spring of 1810 Irving entered upon the duties of the school, having in the meantime, after taking his degree, pursued his studies for a session in divinity. He never received any further theological training. According to a singularly absurd system, which still prevails in Scotland, he was enabled to complete his theological studies by a series of partial sessions, as they are called; that is to say, by merely matriculating and delivering certain prescribed discourses. Yet, strangely, Irving afterwards describes, with the enthusiasm characteristic of him, the elaborate courses of study which his Church demanded of her members.
Irving's career as a schoolmaster, first at Haddington and then at Kirkcaldy, fills the next eight years of his life. It was a period upon the whole of happy and earnest activity ; it must have been a period of varied study, theological and literary, as his subsequent writings prove. Yet we have no clear intimations of his intellectual progress — the kind of books that interested him, the kind of questions that he pondered. His intellectual life, as it appears in these volumes, is a singularly
a abstracted life; rich, fertile, exuberant, and for a time at least strong and healthy, but nowhere clearly showing its sources and
There is a want of intelligible connexion between his successive theological speculations — those openings in the field of Christian thought which captivate bis mind, and in which he triumphs as higher discoveries — and any advancing course of theological study. Was he much of a student at any period of his career? We are unable to answer this from any direct evidence. But, judging from his earlier writings, we can have little doubt that during his Kirkcaldy, and probably his Haddington residence, he was a close student of the older English literature, both theological and secular. It is to this time that his own statement must refer---the statement which he flung with such a grand defiance in the face of the critics of his Orations'- I fear not to confess that Hooker, and Taylor, and Baxter in theology, Bacon, and Newton, and Locke in 'philosophy, have been my companions, as Shakespeare, and Spenser, and Milton have been in poetry. ... These books 'were to me like a concert of every sweet instrument of the soul, and heart, and strength, and mind.' It is remarkable that there is so little trace of his study of these writers at the time -- of those intellectual sympathies and antipathies and confident criticisms that generally characterise the progress of youthful genius. The only scrap of his correspondence that survives during these years is not only devoid of any such trace, but a singularly crude and unintellectual production; yet
a with a strange anticipation of the man too. It is a letter to his friend Mr. Story, in which he communicates, in absurdly magniloquent language, his despair in reference to a young lady with whom he was disappointed in having a solitary walk. This want of literary association with the formative period of Irving's life serves to mar its interest, and moreover increases the perplexity of his later character and career. Here, when, if ever, broader and more natural and varied elements must have entered into his life and made up its activity, we get a very bare, uncertain, and shadowy glimpse of him.
The general impression is that of a tall and somewhat magnificent youth, of very lofty and honest purpose, carrying his pretensions, physical and otherwise, very high, and cherishing proud dreams of future greatness amid all the disadvantages and toils of his ecclesiastical position, and the unpopularity of his first efforts as a preacher. There is a species of sublimity about the youth, even as there was afterwards about the man. There is also a want of nature of simple, youthful carelessness.
, There are few or none of hose light touches that not only reveal the heart, but reveal an unconscious as well as honest heart, thinking of itself little if at all, rather merely giving
vent to its own impulses of feeling or taste. There is, if we must say it, a kind of attitudinising about the young schoolmaster at Haddington and Kirkcaldy — a self-importance which
– breaks out at many points. The air of grandeur is at times ridiculous - a subject for laughter and not for admiration. The stories which are meant to be most pleasantly characteristic of him show this significantly. We are told, for example, of an interesting girl-pupil that he had at Haddington, the daughter of Dr. Welsh, since united to a man whose literary fame is in every mouth, and whose relations with Irving are well known. In superintending the lessons of his pupil, it was a rule that the young teacher should give a daily report of her progress, and when the report was pessima, punishment was the consequence. One day he paused long before putting his sentence upon paper. The culprit sat on the table, small
, downcast, and conscious of failure. The preceptor lingered “ remorsefully over his verdict, wavering between justice and
mercy. At last he looked up at her with pitiful looks, “ Jane, 'my heart is broken !” cried the sympathetic tutor, “but I must * tell the truth ;” and, with reluctant pen, he wrote the dread deliverance pessima!' One cannot help smiling at the misplaced solemnity of the language, and the self-exaltation that it betrays.
In the very same way, when he addresses the astonished door-keeper who was guarding the entrance to St. George's Church, where Chalmers was preaching, and he wished to get in with some of his pupils whom he had taken to hear the great orator, · Remove your arm, or I will shatter it in 6 pieces !? - the suggestion is one of grotesque pretension and brutal violence rather than of impressive loftiness. There was evidently a dangerous element of demonstrative egotism in this young theological hero.
One point in the scholastic career of Irving has been touched very slightly by Mrs. Oliphant, but still survives so strongly as a tradition, and suits so little with our common conceptions of him, that it might have deserved more inquiry,– we mean his alleged severity and even cruelty as a disciplinarian. The story told * of the joiner appearing at the door of the schoolroom in Kirkcaldy with an axe on his shoulder one morning, asking, “Do ye want a hand (some assistance) the day, Mr. * Irving ?' is still gravely repeated, although the scene of the incident is sometimes transferred to Haddington. And there are living men in Fife who are said to recall Irvingos punitive performances with something of a shudder. All this is probably
* P. 53, vol. i.
to be accounted for by some wrong theory of scholastic training, such as that under which he himself had suffered at Annan, or perhaps by the impatient and semi-unconscious vehemence with which he carried through any action to which he was once aroused.
Having accomplished his due number of partial sessions at the Divinity Hall in Edinburgh, Irving was licensed' to preach. This process of license he has himself also described, clothing it with a kind of solemn and judicial severity, borrowed no doubt from his own imaginative retrospect.* He soon began to preach at his native place, at Kirkcaldy, and elsewhere. A humorous accident is related regarding his first sermon at Annan:
The “haill town," profoundly critical and much interested, turned out to hear him; even his ancient teachers, with solemn brows, came out to sit in judgment on Edward's sermon. A certain excitement of interest, unusual to that humdrum atmosphere, fluttered through the building. When the sermon was in full current, some incautious movement of the young preacher tilted aside the great bible, and the sermon itself - that direful“paper” which Scotch congregations hold in high despite - dropped out bodily, and fluttered down upon the precentor's desk underneath. A perfect rustle of excitement ran through the church ; here was an unhoped-for crisis. What would the neophyte do now? The young preacher carelessly stooped his great figure over the pulpit, grasped the manuscript as it lay broadways, crushed it up in his great hand, thrust it into a pocket, and went on as fluently as before.'
This, as may be imagined, proved a great success for the young preacher. His triumph was unbounded in his native parish. It was so far from being general, however, that he remained for some years altogether unknown, and in Kirkcaldy and elsewhere very unpopular, when he appeared in the pulpit. A certain Kirkcaldy baker is remembered to have kicked his pew-door open with characteristic. Scotch irreverence, and to have bounced out of church when he saw Irving was to be
* The passage is contained in his sermon preached previously to the laying of the foundation of the National Scotch Church in Regent Square, wbich was built for him after he had been a few years in London. The sermon was printed, with others, some of the best that Irving ever preached, from the accurate notes of Mr. T. Oxford, short-hand writer,' and bear internal evidence of being very close transcripts of Irving's language. A singular error, however, has crept into the passage in question quoted by Mrs. Oliphant, p. 65, vol. i. 'Ecce Jesum' is printed instead of Exegesis, as the name of the Latin discourse prescribed to students in divinity.