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WORKS AND LIFE OF THE REV. ROBERT HALL.*
Next in power and activity to the press, the Dissenting Clergy of England have, since the civil wars, been the most enlightened and vigi. lant guardians of constitutional liberty; and hence, as a body, the most obnoxious of any class of men to High Tories and zealous Churchmen. The Dissenting Clergy, collectively, may not at all times have been ani. mated by the most enlarged spirit, or the highest motives; but however complicated the originating impulse, the effect has been uniform ; and, whether Puritans, Non-conformists, Baptists, or Unitarians, the cause of right and of Freedom has in them found a phalanx of zealous partisans ; keen-sighted to discern the signs of the times, active to seize every advantage ; and opposed, by their interests, their position, and their natural instincts and hereditary bias, to the domination of Church and State, and to those slavish principles of Government promulgated by the priests of all establishments, Papist or Episcopal, and whether of Brahma or of Mahomet. As Protestant Christians they are opposed to the abuses and corruptions engendered by the monstrous alliance between Church and State that mystery of iniquity designated by Hall as “a compact between the Priest and the Magistrate to betray the liberties of mankind ;" and as men of like passions with the laity, the Dissenting Ministers have not been superior to those just feelings of indignation kept alive by the jealous policy of the State Church, and the intolerance, contumely, and
persecution to which they have been exposed, almost down to the present hour ; emancipation from which, they owe mainly to their own efforts, and not to the growing liberality of their malignant opponents. Happily for Bri. tain, since the principles of free Government began to be understood, and to take a definite form, she has never wanted a succession of leading and guiding spirits among this body of the natural guardians of her rights. Widely different as their religious tenets have been, this illustrious line has been continued to our own day, descending through Priestley to Hall, whose part in politics, though less prominent, and though he at one time betrayed symptoms of wavering, has been even more influential and diffusive than his whom we name his immediate predecessor; and to whose services for mankind he has done such generous homage.
This collected edition of the works of Mr. Hall is published under the superintendence of Dr. Olinthus Gregory, who furnishes a memoir of his friend. For the imperfections of the memoir the biographer makes numerous apologies. It was a task devolved upon him by the lamented death of Sir James Mackintosh, and hastily executed under many obstacles and interruptions. Our objections rest on points which we conjecture the Doctor's apologies were not intended to reach ; but we shall come to them in order, having first told the reader something of the private history of one of the most eminent men among the English Dissenters for the first thirty years of this century.
The ancestors of Robert Hall were respectable Northumbrian yeomen. His father was the pastort of a small Baptist congregation at Arnsby,
* Holdsworth and Ball, London.
+ It is not a little remarkable that many of the eminent men of the present time have been sons of Dissenting Clergymen; Hazlitt, Hall, John Galt, Leigh Hunt, John Gibson Lockhart, and many more, bred in comparative poverty beneath the shade of the humble altar of Dissent or of Presbyterianism.
Northamptonshire, where Robert, the youngest of fourteen children, was born, in 1764. The elder Hall was not a man of classical learning, but one of great natural powers, pious and eloquent; a man, in the powerful words of his son, “the natural element of whose mind was greatness." The infancy and childhood of Hall, like that of many great men, were feeble and sickly; and he was two years old before he could either walk or speak. His first preceptor was Dame Scotton ; and at nine years old, his biographer tells us that he read the works of Jonathan Edwards “ with intense interest,” and Butler's Analogy “with like interest." Our precocious poets are nothing to this. That he should write religious essays at ten, preach to his brothers and sisters at the same age, and be exhibited by injudicious friends as a sort of religious learned pig at eleven, is, however, not in the least surprising, and quite credible. After passing a short time at a country school, where, at ten years of age, he tasked the teacher so severely, that even with sitting up all night he could not keep pace with his pupil, young Hall was placed under the care of the Rev. Mr. Ryland of Northampton, when he ceased to be a prodigy and became an attentive student. This fervid-minded classical tutore was exactly the kind of man with whom boys of extraordinary capacity are not lost. Dr. Gregory, though a worshipper of the proprieties and decorums, appreciates aright the man who first awakened the mind of Hall. “ In him," he remarks, “ were blended the ardour and vehemence of Whitfield, with the intrepidity of Luther.-In his school he was both loved and feared ; his prevailing kindness and benevolence exciting affection, while his stern determination to do what was right, as well as to require what he thought right, too often kept alive among his pupils a sentiment of apprehension and alarm.”
The mental powers now unfolded, and the passion for knowledge fully
In a work entitled Reminiscences of the Rev. Robert Hall, by John Greene, a book which, we presume, Dr. Gregory does not admire, since he has no where noticed it, we have the following extraordinary relation :
“ One evening, our conversation turned on the subject of the war with America, previously to the acknowledgment of the independence of the United States. Mr. Hall said, “ Sir, that war was very unpopular, and considered to be very unrighteous by men of true liberty principles. My father, Sir, warmly advocated the American cause. When I was a little boy be took me to the school of Mr. Ryland at Northampton, the father of Dr. Ryland, of Bristol: this Mr. Ryland was very eccentric, and a violent partisan of the Americans ; it was in the hottest period of the American war, Sir, and many persons were very indigo nant at the conduct of the English Government. That war, Sir, was considered as a crusade against the liberty of ihe subject and the rights of man. The first night we arrived at Northampton from Arnsby, Sir, the two old gentlemen (my father and Mr. Ryland) talked over American politics until they both became heated on the same side of the question. At length, Mr. Ryland burst forth in this manner :.Brother Hall, I will tell you what I would do if I were General Washington. Well,' said my father, what would you do? Why, brother Hall, if I were Gen. Washington, I would summon all the American officers : they should form a circle around me, and I would address them, and we would offer a libation with our own blood; and I would order one of them to bring a lancet and a punch bowl ; and he should bleed us all, one by one, into this punch-bowl ; and I would be the first to bare my arm; and when the punch-bowl was full, and we had all been bled, I would call upon every man to consecratė himself to the work, by dipping bis sword into the bowl, and entering into a solemn covenant and engagement, by oath, one to another; and we would swear by Him that sits upon the Throne, and liveth forever and ever, that we would never sheathe our swords while there was an English soldier in arms remaining in America ; and that is what I would do, Brother Hall.' Mr. Hall said to me, Only conceive, Sir, my situation : a poor little boy that had never been out of his mother's chimney corner before, Sír, sitting by these two old gentlemen, and hearing this conversation about blood. Sir, I trembled at the idea of being left with such a bloody, minded master. Why, Sir, I began to think he would no more mind bleeding me, after my father was gone, than he wonld killing a fly. I quite expected to be bled, Sir.'
inspired, at the age of fifteen young Hall was sent to the Baptist seminary at Bristol ; and shortly afterwards, by a rather singular transition, went to King's College, Aberdeen, on Dr. Ward's foundation. In Mr. Stuart's ~ Residence in America,” which is at present in every body's hands, there is a delightful anecdote of a gentleman who shewed the traveller great attention and hospitality, in memory of the kindness of his venerable grandfather, Dr. Erskine, some forty years before. In passing through Edinburgh to Aberdeen, young Hall saw the same excellent clergyman, and, for many year's afterwards, used to speak of the affectionate attentions of Dr. Erskine on this occasion ; and of his own feelings when, on taking leave, the venerable man of God exhorted him to self-vigilance, kissed him, laid his hand upon his head, blessing him, and commending him to the care of the Great Head of the Church.
At Aberdeen, Mr. Hall remained for four or five years, and acquired (a possession for life) the esteem and cordial friendship of his fellow-stu. dent, Sir James Mackintosh. Dr. Gregory's account of the two youths, nicknamed by their fellow-students Plato and Herodotus, of their rambles about the Don, and friendly disputes, and “search of deep philosophy," and generous emulation in study, is extremely pleasing and interesting. At this period the fine imagination of Hall banqueted so high on the bold mountain scenery of the north, that we are seriously told the flats of Cambridgeshire, to which he was afterwards consigned, actually affected his spirits, and partly induced him to leave Cambridge, after being long settled there as a preacher.
While still at Aberdeen, Mr. Hall was invited to become assistant minister of the Baptist Church of Broadmead, Bristol ; and here he officiated for one or two years, during the recesses of his College, and became, young as he was, exceedingly popular and beloved, though not exempt from the faults of a very young man of lively temperament, conscious of great powers, not yet disciplined by wisdom or experience. He was somewhat sarcastic, a lively heedless talker, full of wit and imagination, which he could not always restrain within the bounds of cleri.. cal discretion. Frank, moreover, in the avowal of his opinions, whether speculative or actual heresy, he was soon taught, that “ the imprudent should never come into company with the malicious.” His talents and powers appear to have absolutely startled while they commanded his timid and less gifted admirers among his brethren ; and, in their journals, we find such entries as these of Mr. Fuller, and Dr. Ryland, the son of Hall's tutor. “1784: Heard Mr. Robert Hall, jun. : • He that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow;' felt very solemn in hearing some parts. · The Lord keep that young man !'” “ June, 1785: Robert Hall preached wonderfully from Romans, viii. and 18. I admire many things in that young man, though there are others that make me fear for him. Oh! that the Lord may keep him humble, and make him prudent!"
There is little doubt that the young preacher, about this time, his mind still in a state of effervescence, displayed some of the extravagancies and petulancies of young genius. He at one time took the fancy of imitating Mr. Robinson, a fine-mannered, sonorous preacher of his own sect. This is a besetting sin with young divines; but Hall's pride soon recalled him from the unseemly absurdity, and his good sense, from other affectations as ridiculous, as the imitation of the pompous and lofty manner of Dr. Johnson, of which he could only know at second-hand. This whim, at one time, carried him the length of swallowing thirty cups of tea in an afternoon !
Mr. IIall, unfortunately, had a serious misunderstanding with his colleague at Bristol, Dr. Evans; and was suspected, moreover, of heresy, or of abandoning the standard of orthodoxy; of which, when about to leave Bristol for Cambridge, he indeed made no secret.*
In 1790 he succeeded Mr. Robinson in care of the Baptist Church of Cambridge. Half the members of the congregation were Unitarians, according to Dr. Gregory, in which belief their pastor had died. But with the changes of Mr. Hall's theological opinions, and the tenets he finally embraced, we do not propose to interfere. It was now that he entered the political arena, and took that prominent part in public affairs which the worthy Doctor. as painfully explains, and as elaborately apologizes for, as if the memory of Mr. Hall required vindication for some of the noblest acts of his life. The political principles of Hall can nei. ther be hidden nor explained away: they are, with one memorable exception, blazoned on nearly every page of his writings. The Doctor labours rather strenuously to prove that he was entrapped, or betrayed, into the unbecoming act of writing and publishing his sentiments; though, as we think, not very successfully. Mr. Hall, at this time a man still under thirty, already one of the most distinguished of the Dissenting Clergy, of high intellectual powers, great natural ardour, and of undaunted spirit, required neither prompting nor abetting in the part his conscience compelled him to act ; nor was he one likely, in a great crisis, to conceal his opinions. A time, in his own words, had arrived, " when attention to the political aspect of the world, was not the fruit of an idle curiosity, or the amusement of a dissipated and frivolous mind.
The scenes of Providence,” he says, “ thicken upon us so fast, and are shifted with such strange rapidity, as if the great drama of the world were drawing to a close. Events have taken place of late, and revolutions have been effected, which, had they been foretold a few years ago, would have been viewed as visionary and extravagant; and their influence is yet far from being spent. Europe never presented such a spectacle before ; and it is worthy of being contemplated with the profoundest attention by all its inhabitants. The empire of darkness and despotism has been smitten with a stroke which has resounded through the universe. When we see whole kingdoms, after reposing for centuries on the lap of their rulers, start from their slumbers, the dignity of man rising up from depression, and tyrants trembling on their thrones, who can remain entirely indifferent, or fail to turn his eyes towards a theatre so august and extraordinary! These are a kind of throes and struggles of nature, to which it would be sullenness to refuse our sympathy.”
* The extreme liberality, and even laxity of opinion among the English Dissenters at that period, which is a pparent in this Life of Hall, is to us not a little surprising. When about to leave the Church of Broadmead, Mr. Hall formally writes to his brethren, that he “is no Calvinist in the strict and proper sense of that term," and denies the federal headship of Adam,“ or the imputation of sin to his posterity.” In another place he says, “ I am, and long have been a materialist, though I have never drawn your attention to the subject in my preaching. My opinion upon this subject is, that the nature of man is simple and uniform ; that the thinking powers and faculties are the result of a certain organization of matter; and that, after death, he ceases to be conscious till the resurrection." Important changes soon came over the sentiments of Mr. Hall; nor is our surprise excited by such heresies being entertained, but by the impunity with which they are confessed.
At such a crisis, Mr. Hall was not likely to require much “ abetting ” to take the part which he did in political discussion ; holding, too, as he held, that it was the duty of Dissenting Ministers to interfere in politics, as no teacher could explain or enforce the reasons of submission to governors, without displaying the proper end of government. On the proper end of government, we need not say that Mr. Hall's opinions were what we regard as most orthodox. His generous and triumphant vindi.. cation of Dr. Priestley is, of itself, sufficient to prove how far Mr. Hall conceived spiritual teachers warranted in expounding and inculcating political as well as moral ethics, unhappily too long separated. Mr. Hall's notions of the obligations of ministers to be political enlighteners, went yet farther before he declared, that "he who is instrumental in perpetuating a corrupt and wicked Government, is also instrumental in unfitting his fellow-men, for the felicity of the celestial mansions.” With such sentiments, and under such influences, Mr. Hall composed the political pamphlets which laid the true foundation of his reputation far beyond the limits of his own sect. His first pamphlet,“ Christianity consistent with the Love of Freedom,” was called forth by a time-serving sermon, in which the preacher had endeavoured to spread alarm among all dissenters, by endeavouring to shew that the principles of civil liberty had been advocated only by Dr. Priestley and the Unitarians. It abounds in noble and eloquent passages; but, as a whole, is inferior to his “ Apology for the Freedom of the Press," into writing which, Dr. Gregory alleges, that he was urged or betrayed. The origin of this pamphlet is memorable ; it is historical. Simultaneous with the riots in Birmingham, when the lives and property of Dissenters and Reformers were exposed to the fury of an ignorant and brutal rabble, (a “CHURCHAND-KING” mob, stimulated to excess and violence by the vilest arts of the AssOCIATIONS, the Conserva ve Clubs of those days,) there were riots in Manchester, and in Cambridge, where Mr. Hall was then a popu. lar minister. Mr. Musgrave, a respectable reformer, was subjected to insult and indignity, aggravated by the sarcastic notice taken of the matter in the House of Commons, by the member for Cambridge. That honourable person said, “ Mr. Musgrave had spoken seditious words, and the (loyal) mob had compelled him to sing God save the King.” Mr. Hall, in his pamphlet, denied this statement; and asserted that the whole crime of Mr. Musgrave, heinous enough in those times, was “ love for his country, and zeal for Parliamentary Reform ; and that it would be happy for the nation if a portion only of the integrity and virtue which adorned his character, could be infused into our great men.” On the evening after the outrage, Mr. Hall was at a book-society meeting, when every individual present expressed himself in the strongest terms of indignation at the insult, and argued how desirable it was that some man of talent in Cambridge should advocate the cause of the friends of liberty. To this office Mr. Hall yielded “in an evil hour ;" at least, as he says himself, if “ I had any wish to obtain reputation as a political writer.” But the principles advanced he believed correct, and they were his; and his apology is concluded by his reported saying,—"Perhaps the pamphlet had its use in those perilous times”—no very violent deprecation of his first great political transgression. This pamphlet became exceedingly popular both in Britain and Ainerica. From the advertisement prefixed to the third edition, we beg to submit an extract, as a fair specimen of Mr. Hall's forcible style, and an emphatic statement of some of his opinions.