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upon one whose confidential intercourse with Mr. Hall in later life, and entire harmony of religious sentiment with the subject of his memoir, better fitted him, in other respects, to do justice to the moral and religious features of his character. Of Dr. Gregory's very able and interesting memoir, occupying 115 closely printed pages, we shall attempt a brief abstract.
Robert Hall was born at Arnsby near Leicester, on the 2d of May, 1764. His excellent father was the Baptist minister of that village, and his name is well known as the Author of a valuable little work entitled, “ Helps to Zion's Travellers,” which has passed through several editions, and sufficiently attests his correct judgement and solid piety. He died in the year 1791. Robert, though named after his father, was the youngest of fourteen children; and while an infant, he was so delicate and feeble, that it was not expected he would reach maturity. Until he was two years of age, he could neither walk nor talk; and he was taught to speak and to spell at the same time, by an intelligent nurse, who, observing that his attention was attracted to the inscriptions on the grave-stones of a burial ground adjacent to his father's house, adopted this singular expedient of tuition. No sooner was his tongue thus loosed, than his advance was marked. He became a rapid talker and an incessant questioner; and under the village dame, his thirst for knowledge soon manifested itself in his passion for books. In the summer season, after school hours were over, he would put his richly prized library (including an Entick's Dictionary) into his pinafore, and steal into his first school-room, the burial-ground, where, extended on the grass with his books spread around him, he would remain till the shades of evening compelled him to retire into the house. To this practice, we may trace with too great probability, the origin of that disease which rendered his whole life a conflict with physical suffering. When only six years of age, he was placed as a day scholar under the charge of a Mr. Simmons, who resided four miles from Arnsby; and at first he walked to school in the morning, and back in the evening. But the severe pain in his back from which he suffered through life, had even then begun to distress him, and to render him incapable of the fatigue of walking so far. He was often obliged to lie down on the road; sometimes, his brother or one of his school-fellows would carry him. At length, on his father ascertaining the state of the case, Robert and his brother were placed under the care of a friend in the village, spending the Sunday only at home. The seat of Mr. Hall's disease was the aorta and the kidney on the right side; and nothing, we apprehend, could be more likely to give rise to it, than rheumatic affections occasioned by his lying on the rank grass of a burial-ground. The only wonder is that, with his feeble constitution, he survived.
On starting from home on the Monday morning, Robert was in the practice of taking with him two or three books from his father's library, to read in the interval between school hours. His choice of books at this early age, was most extraordinary. The works of Jonathan Edwards were among his favourites; and before he was nine years old, he had perused, and re-perused, with intense interest, the treatises of that acute reasoner upon the “Religious Affections", and the “Freedom of the Will", as also Bishop Butler's “ Analogy."
Analogy." His early predilection for this class of studies was in great measure determined and fostered by intimate association, in mere childhood, with a member of his father's congregation, a tailor by trade, but a very shrewd, wellinformed man, and an acute metaphysician.' Before he was ten years old, our young student had written many essays on religious subjects, and had occasionally invited his brothers and sisters to hear his first attempts at preaching; and when he was only eleven, a friend, at whose house he was spending a few weeks for the benefit of a change of air, astonished at his precocity of talent, was so indiscreet as to request him to perform, more than once, before a select auditory, invited to hear the boypreacher ! 'I never call the circumstance to mind', Mr. Hall has been heard to say, but with grief at the vanity inspired; nor, when I think of such mistakes of good men, am I inclined to question the correctness of Baxter's language, strong as it is, where he says: “Nor should men turn preachers as the river Nilus breeds frogs (saith Herodotus), when one half moveth ' before the other is made, and while it is yet but plain mud.”' We have known instances of similar injudiciousness in cases of similar precocity, so far as the gift of fluent speech was concerned in the display; but nothing can be more equivocal than the promise afforded by such early efflorescence. The native vigour and genuine superiority of the mental constitution are tested by the manner in which it comes out of the fever of juvenile vanity, and gradually recovers a healthful tone. In some, the intellectual growth is stunted for life, and vanity becomes the chronic disease of the character. In the few, the temporary self-elation operates as a beneficial stimulant, and sobers down into a proper self-confidence.
When young Robert was about eleven, Mr. Simmons conscientiously informed the father, that he was unable to keep pace with his pupil, declaring, that he had often been obliged to sit up all night, to prepare the lessons for the morning; a practice he felt unable to continue ! He was in consequence of this candid intimation removed, and was next placed, as a boarder, at the school of the Rev. John Ryland of Northampton, a man whose excellencies and eccentricities were strangely balanced. There he remained for little more than a year and a half, during which
he made considerable progress in Latin and Greek; and after passing some time at home, in the study of divinity and some collateral subjects, under the immediate guidance of his father, was, in Oct. 1778, placed at the Bristol academy, with a view to his being prepared for the ministerial office among the Baptists, being then in his fifteenth year. In that institution, as in others of a similar nature, the divinity students are appointed in turn to deliver an address or discourse upon subjects selected by the president. Mr. Hall's first essay in this exercise proved an humiliating failure, which, if avocations so unlike may be compared, reminds us of young Nelson's failure of courage in the first engagement. • After proceeding for a short time, much to the gratification of his auditory, he suddenly paused, covered ' his face with his hands, exclaiming, “Oh! I have lost all my ‘ideas”, and sat down, his hands still hiding his face. A second attempt, in the following week, was attended by a similar failure of self-possession or recollection, still more painful to witness, and still more humiliating. The effect upon his own mind seems to have been that of salutary mortification, while his tutors appreciated his talents too justly, to entertain any doubt of his ability and future success. Not long after, he delivered a discourse in a village pulpit, in the presence of several ministers, which excited the deepest interest.
The summer vacation of 1780 was passed by young Hall under his father's roof, who, having now become fully satisfied of his son's genuine piety, as well as of his qualifications for the office to which his paternal hopes had always devoted him *, expressed to many friends, a desire that he should be set apart to the
sacred work'. Agreeably to his views of popular ordination, he resolved that the
church of which he was pastor, should judge
The writer of the Article in the Christian Observer, 'can scarcely * understand how this could comport with the sentiments of an Anti' pædo-baptist minister'; and asks, in a note, Can Dr. Gregory tell • us when, where, or how Robert Hall was baptized ?' We may venture to answer this inquiry, without any specific knowledge of the circumstances : by immersion, probably at Arnsby, and certainly prior to his being admitted as a communicant by the church' which subsequently recognised its youthful member as fit to discharge the function of a public teacher. It is strange that this Writer should be so unacquainted with the sentiments of Anti-pædo-baptists as not to know, that baptism is universally regarded as a pre-requisite to partaking of the Lord's Supper, and that it is administered to the adult on his public confession of faith. In what respect this view of the baptismal ordinance could interfere with the pious father's wishes respecting his son, and his resolution to educate him for the ministry, we can scarcely understand'.
of his son's fitness for the sacred function, and recognise their conviction by a solemn act.
Accordingly.”, as the following extract from the Church-book testifies, on the 13th of August, 1780, "he was examined by his father before the church, respecting his inclination, motives, and end in reference to the ministry, and was likewise desired to make a declaration of his religious sentiments. All which being done to the entire satisfaction of the church, they therefore set him apart, by lifting op their right hands, and by solemn prayer. His father then delivered a discourse to him, from 2 Tim. ii. 1. Thou, therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Being thus sent forth, he preached in the afternoon from 2 Thes. i. 7, 8. May the Lord bless him, and grant him great success !”' p. 9.
It 'sadly baffles the notions' of persons accustomed to the mode and rules of episcopal ordination, to find a mere boy of sixteen thus brought forward as a public instructor, and then, almost immediately afterwards, sent as a pupil to college. To such persons, it seems better that the order of proceedings had been reversed. That is to say, they would deem it better, that a young man should complete his academical training, before the point is ascertained and certified, that he possesses the grand and most indispensable qualification for the sacred office-piety. We cannot say that such is our opinion. Without undertaking to decide, whether a pious boy of sixteen or an irreligious man of three and twenty is fitter to ascend the pulpit, we must think that it is the safer plan, to select a pious youth as a candidate for the ministry, and, after a certain measure of religious training and probation, to send him to college, than to bestow the college education first, and ascertain the moral fitness afterwards. We are very far from wishing to countenance boy-preachers; but we cannot help remarking, that if a lad of sixteen is deemed capable of intelligently subscribing the Thirty-nine Articles, it ought not to be thought so very preposterous, that he should be qualified to deliver a religious discourse as a probationary specimen of his attainments and piety. That young Hall was not, by this solemn recognition of his fitness for the sacred function, invested with the character of a public instructor, is evident from the circumstances of the
He was still a student at the Bristol Academy, to which he returned at the close of the vacation ; and in the autumn of 1781, he was sent to Aberdeen, to complete his theological education at King's College, on Dr. Ward's foundation. In fact, the object of the appeal to the church, and the bearing of its decision, related to the expediency of his prosecuting his studies with a view to his becoming a minister of the Gospel. Dr. Gregory does not employ the word ordination in mentioning this public designation of Mr. Hall as a preacher; nor should we
contend for the propriety of using that term in such a reference; since ordination is generally understood as an appointment to a specific charge. But, dismissing that word from consideration, with all the polemical associations that it suggests, we would ask, what was there in the proceeding here narrated, that could have any tendency to inflate the mind of a pious youth with self-importance, or that could be deemed, in any respect, offensive, injudicious, or' perilous'?
Mr. Hall entered King's College in the beginning of November, 1781. His first year was spent principally, under the tuition of Professor Leslie, in the study of the Greek language; his second, third, and fourth years, under Professor Macleod, in the study of mathematics, natural philosophy, and moral philosophy. Here it was that he first became acquainted with his eminent friend Mackintosh ; and some interesting particulars of their friendship and joint studies have been gathered by his Biographer from Sir James himself, of which we have in part availed ourselves in our last Number *. While he was still at Aberdeen, he received from the Baptist Church at Broadmead, Bristol, an invitation to become their assistant pastor ; "an invitation which 'he accepted with much doubt and diffidence', on the understanding that it should not interfere with the completion of his course of studies. He accordingly passed the interval between the college sessions of 1784 and 1785, at Bristol; and then returned to Aberdeen, where he took his degree of Master of Arts, March 30, 1785. On resuming his labours at Broadmead, in conjunction with Dr. Evans, his preaching excited unusual attention. . The place of worship was often crowded to excess, and many of the most distinguished men in Bristol, including several clergymen, were among his occasional auditors.'+ In August of the same year, only three months after his quitting Aberdeen, he was appointed classical tutor in the Bristol Academy, on the resignation of the Rev. James Newton. This office he held for more than five years, discharging its duties with honourable zeal and activity.
At this period of his life, however, Mr. Hall appears to have been
* Eclectic Review, Feb. Art. Sir James Mackintosh, p.
98. + We cannot refrain from expressing our surprise and regret, that the Reviewer in the Christian Observer should have taken occasion from this circumstance to introduce a homily against clergymen wandering after a popular (i. e. Dissenting) preacher. Does he mean to say, that clergymen did wrong in occasionally going to hear Mr. Hall preach ? If so, we pity his contemptible bigotry. If not, his anecdote is at all events irrelevant and mal à propos. "Is there no difference between venturing into a licensed chapel to hear such a man, and running after a mountebank?