Слике страница
PDF
ePub

Not unfrequent is the remark, that the life of the scholar and the savan is necessarily and uniformly barren of spirit-stirring incident. Cloistered and contined within the dozy seclusion of his four-walled dormitory, the bold adventure and the blood-curdling encounter, the reversing vicissitude, and the hair-breadth escape, all the sensible forms of physical power and material action, that strike the eye and thrill the imagination, enter not into their life's drama.

No; the scholar who consecrates himself to the classic bower and the academic halls, qualified though he may have been for the loftiest triumphs in life's most giant battles, must bid an unsighing adieu to the thrilling peals of national applause that pour their rapture upon the statesman's ear, or the stately processions that lead the conqueror's triumph, as he marches home, to hang his blood-stained trophies in the capitol. His victories are the unostentatious victories of mind; and so unostentatious and destitute of objective pomp are these, that it requires not only a chastened spirit to aspire to their acquirement, but a purified and ennobled taste to appreciate their innate yet infinite superiority. They have no dazzle for the vulgar eye. They are no idols for the reeking incense of the multitude's breath. Apart and consecrate—their dignity is their worth intrinsic and essential—the dignity of holiness, which none but the pure in heart can see—the dignity of knowledge, which none but the endowed mind can realize the dignity of truth immutable, and right eternal. Hence, he who writes the biography of the intellectual hero, chronicles not a series of eventful adventures, but delineates a train of mental progressions; he maps not the movements of a body, but pictures the marches of a mind. To trace the faculties development—to contemplate the character's formation to mark how some electric idea, at some instant's crisis, thrilling across the thought, possesses at once the soul, impregnates the whole being, and constitutes for ever the life's great purpose,—these are the elements which constitute what is the history of—in the loftiest sense—the man; for it is the history of the mind. And what worth are the historic details of sieges and assaults, of battles lost and won, nay of empires' rise and fall, but as they are the tracings of onward marching idea, and the deve. lopings of master principle ?

Of Wilbur Fisk may it be said both that his life was the exemplification of a principle, and his history a history of mind. His life was the exemplification of a principle. From the hour after the youthful exordium of his life was closed, and its real action commenced from the moment that, purifying himself from every worldly purpose, he dedicated his soul to his life's great work, his course was onward, and upward, in an ever ascending and never retrograding series; rising in continuous and climactic unity, to its final, culminating acme. He identitied himself with a cause which, feeble indeed at the commencement, by a beautiful synchronism, strengthened with his strength, rose as he mounted, and triumphed in his triumph. That cause-if I may pronounce it unequivocally was New-England Methodism. Yet

, while he was the advocate of a cause, he was not the bigot of a dogma. Just the reverse ;the very nature of his creed served to foster the original liberalities of his mind. Of that creed, unlike many others, we think that it Vol. X.-Oct., 1839.

49

may be fearlessly affirmed, that it is not usually merely assented to as a cold speculation of the head, but that it is embraced as a loved sentiment by the affections. Both believing and feeling that Methodism was the purest existent identity with New Testament Christianity, he enshrined it in his heart's core; and from that central source it flung out the impulses of that heart into the widest expansions of charity most sweet, of liberalities most generous, of philanthropy most unlimited. Thus inspired, his character was shaped and his onward course before him. He had his missionhis life's great responsibility—and he pursued his calling as if he had a part to perform, which to be well done, must be quick done ; and if in its beautiful and rapid continuity, it seems to be broken with a strange abruptness ere its full completion—it was not because he was not in the full and high career of his commission's great performance; but because so it seemed good to his omnipotent Commissioner. Struck down, alas! with his harness on, in the open field of conflict, we might sigh, "How are the mighty fallen!” but we exult as we remember, that thus to fall is most triumphantly to conquer.

His history, we have said, is emphatically the history of a mind. All that we have loved or revered in the departed had their substratum in the native original essence of his mind. True, that substratum may have been polished by education, and sanctified by religion ; but neither science nor piety annihilate the original, and substitute a factitious man. Religion no more recreates the substance of the soul, than it reconstructs the fabric of the body. In Dr. Fisk's nature there was a genuine simplicity, an unaffected charm, which no affectation can reach-which effectually divested him of all artificial assuming, and preserved in him, in every exigency, a centred propriety, and a well poised self-possession. Hence the meaning remark, “ Dr. Fisk is always himself." This lucid siMPLICITY formed the basis of his whole character; it was at the bottom of his acquirements as a scholar, his manners as a gentleman, his intellect as a thinker, of his eloquence as an orator, and of his style as an author; and we hesitate not to say, that, from this as the centre and starting point, we might deduce the great pervading outlines of his character, through all its varieties. He stood before you his simple, unpretending self: and if you could bare fancied something greater, he offered no help for it; but then you found quite good reason to be satisfied, just because it was selfevident that he never assumed to be any thing more. You never were pained at the discrepancy between the pretended and the actual-between the attempt and the performance. Hence the secret of his unfailing, yet unostentatious self-dependence; and of that ever-wakeful readiness that made him capable of a master effort, at a minute's warning; and hence, too, the confidence of his friends in him. If in this sober self-poise there ever appeared to be any thing like reserve and inapproachableness, it arose not, certainly, from coldness of sympathy.

If there were about him a constant personality that ever made you feel his presence, it was not because he imperiously demanded deference, but because you spontaneously paid it. His nearest associates we know, and his undoubted equals in talent and in station, we are sure, were at no

moment in contemplating him unconscious of the central worth that radiated its dignity from him, and of the noble associations of intellectual achievement and moral nobleness which gathered their presence around him. No earthly majesty is surely greater than the simple moral grandeur of the man who, unencircled by the pomp of rank, is girt with the silent thunders of his own masterly achievements.

The simple practical nature of Dr. Fisk qualified his character as a SCHOLAR. The scholarship of Dr. Fisk was varied, well balanced, soundly fixed, and ready at his command. But it could not be called profound. He was not the mere scholar; nor, were that his only claim, would it have secured him a commanding eminence. His scholarship was a means, and not the end; it was his minister, and not his master. He had not the ultra finish ad unguem, in which the fastidious purist rejoices. There are your intellectual epicures, who have a taste divine for only intellectual ambrosia ; and there are your critical Sybarites, with so nice a sense of occult blemish as to die of a rose, in aromatic pain: and Dr. Fisk was not one of either. We would not speak contemptously even of the class of the literary exquisite; they have their place, and exert a refining influence no doubt over the republic of letters; only let them not be bigots as well as virtuosi; let them not adjudge to tor. ture, without benefit of clergy, every thing that belongs not to their own dainty and delicate little species, nor break every thing but their own brother butterflies upon the wheel.

For the anxious accuracy in every ultimate particle—for the painful perfection, faultless to a fault, in every paragraph—for the ceaseless torsionbalance weighing of semi-syllables, and nice elaboration of clause. carving and period-pointing. Dr. Fisk, however much he might have had the taste and the talent, had neither the time nor the mission.

But, if there be critics who are only critics, there are scholars who are only, and wholly, and nobly scholars-silent devotees of the profound-pure and separate dwellers apart in the deep recesses of knowledge--home occupants of the penetralia of studentship. There are thoughtful spirits, even in this age of the objective and the active, who live only in the world of lore; who have so impregnated their minds with study, so impersonated science in their own beings, that they stand the living oracles of knowledge. Dr. Fisk was not so much the oracle in whom dwelt the response, as the hierophant who expounded it. He did not so much dwell in the penetralia as stand upon the portico. He stood rather the mediator and interpreter between the inner sanctuary and the outer world, capable of comprehending in his intellect the profundities of the former, and of sympathizing with and making all intelligible to the capacities of the latter. We mean not that he was the mere compiler from other minds; for his mind, on the contrary, was eminently creative and original. We do mean that he was not one of the class of pure scholastics, who apply themselves with cloistered seclusion and German patience to the sole business of research; and that he did, in addition to a hundred other subsidiary resources, avail him. self, as he was justly entitled, of the material which the infinite and infinitessimal investigations of others afforded, to bring an effective

moral enginery to bear upon the public mind. He had doubtless tho. roughly acquired, and his situation enabled him to retain the usual collegiate amount of scientific and classical erudition ; but he had not run a very extensive ad libitum course through the range of ancient literature. Of systematic theology, it is unnecessary for me to say how admirably he was master ; but his researches did not lead him far out of the circle of our own language; nor, as far as voluminous reading is concerned, is there reason to suppose that he was much a student of the great leading English theologians of former centuries. He studied topics rather than books; and he acquired his excellence more by mastering the fewer more standard authors, and applying the powers of his own mind directly upon the subject, than by devoting studious days to the patient perusal of tomes and libraries. His views of course were therefore in a noble sense utilitarian. All his acquisitions were made for use; all his studies were prosecuted for practical dis. cipline; and the powers of his mind were trained, and its stores accumulated, specially in view of the cotemporary aspects of the great topics that are at present drawing the attention of the world. The two great problems of his life were, promptly to acquire all those intellectual resources which would be most transmutable into energetic action, and then not to leave one particle of his whole operative stock undeveloped in the most effective exertion. Hence every fibre of the intellectual man was trained and exercised to its fullest tension : his whole muscle was compact and athletic; the whole spirit, as if vital in every part, was elastic and alert. He was the business man,—the every-day man,—the minute-man.

But it must not for one moment be supposed, that because Provi. dence shaped the destiny of Dr. Fisk to more active duties, he had little relish, or a low estimate for profound and minute scholarship. On the contrary, he was its unreserved and whole-souled advocate ; and would himself gladly have been its most patient devotee. Had he possessed the power of living two parallel lives, the one would have been that of the most searching study, the other that of the most ar. dent activity.

The simplicity we have mentioned was the basis of his manners as a GENTLEMAN. If conversation be an art susceptible, as some think, (we say not whether justly or unjustly,) of systematic and improving cultivation, the unstudied spontaniety of Dr. Fisk's colloquial remark betrayed very little indeed of any such deliberate elaboration. Unpre. pared appropriateness was its prevailing characteristic. He affected no polished points, or quick sprung antitheses. There were no pre. viously adjusted plans-no conversational ambushes-no prepared accidents, and premeditated impromptus. You carried from his intercourse an impress of interest, as if you had experienced a sense of diffusive fascination ; but you retained no one outstanding gem of surpassing brilliancy, flinging a shade over the surrounding lustre, and itself endowed with a diamond indestructibleness. seldom flung out the elastic jeu de’sprit, to be rebounded around the circle, reverberated into publicity, and stereotyped into a proverb. He was not of the Johnsonian school a professed converser, nor needed he borrow from the Boswell school a colloquial reporter. He never found it necessary to assert his social dignity, by arrogating the

He

whole conversation : he dealt forth no elbow.chair orations, as if the sound of his own voice were the sweetest of music to his ear, transforming the parlor into a lecture-room, the social circle into an auditory, and the dialogue into soliloquy. Bland, cordial, animate, recollected, and dignified; flexible to all the varieties of rank or character; sympathizing with the humblest, and courteous to the dignitary ; dexterous in every difficulty, felicitous in every exigency, and self-possessed in every surprise, he diffused around his daily presence and converse the atmosphere of his own pure, gentle, yet high toned spirit; ever ready with the judicious counsel, the lucid illustration, or the even-handed discussion ; now brightening up the scene with a cheery, yet chastened humor; now sobering it away with the recollective monition, checking the possibly rising impropriety by the powers of severely silent rebuke; or even when it would surge up into rebel. lion, capable of rising into a subduing mastery over the rampant elements :—these are the traits which, it is conceived, should all the memories qualified by near acquaintance delineate the original, would be found visible in every picture.

From the fact that Dr. Fisk did not indulge in colloquial harangue, it is not to be inferred that, in assuming the PUBLIC SPEAKER, the transition was a transformation. On the contrary, the man in public was just the unchanged man of private life, in both states appropriate to the situation. As a public speaker, his style was the natural and spontaneous product of his personal qualities, flowing out from his true individuality, and not artificially assumed upon it. A more extended audience required, of course, more elevated elocution, a wider range of thought, and a loftier personal bearing. He usually began with the clear annunciation of his starting points : then ranged through a train of consecutive logic, so accurate as generally to evince its own justice, yet so relieved by fancy, or illustrated by analogies, or impregnated with a feeling glow as to secure the attention ; and as he passed through the process, gathering fervor from its rapidity, and gathering intenser rapidity from its fervor, he generally rose into flights of surpassing grandeur, or wound off with periods of thrilling appeal. And this style of thought was accompanied with its correspondingly appropriate delivery. First, rising with a simple, collected, saint-like presence, (preceded, however, usually by the almost convulsive cough, which usually awakened, for the moment, a painful sympathy from the unaccustomed part of his audience,) his manner was for the time easy and equable; but as he warmed with his subject, the feeling flowed out in the natural gesture, the eye lighted up with new animation, the countenance beamed with a glowing expression, the frame dilated into a loftier bearing, and the whole man seemed impregnate and luminous with the subject.

The description which we have here given is of course more parti. cularly applicable to the successful order of Dr. Fisk's pulpit oratory. In the efforts of his latter days, especially those exhibited in the chapel of the University, either from the state of his health, or from views of practical usefulness, he seemed to adopt a style of less highly sustained and more colloquial character. With his pupils and asso. ciate officers around him, as if in a family coterie, he seemed to indulge the privilege of a more easy and familiar style, less prepared and ela

« ПретходнаНастави »