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destiny of nations. Its subject was a theologian and a secluded inan of letters. His sphere was comparatively limited; and the number of those disposed to concern themselves with his history may be small compared with the mass of our teeming, agitated population, who seldom raise their eyes from the ground on which they tread. Nevertheless, the delineation of the character and work of a great and good man of eminence and usefulness in the sphere in which he moved, is a matter of high interest to all to whom greatness and goodness are attractive.
The task of the biographer in the present case was, in some respects, easy. He had a great subject, and his materials were abundant. In other respects his task was peculiarly difficult. The character with which he had to deal was so manifold or many sided ; its peculiarities were so marked; it was so different from itself at different times, that to do it full justice was no easy matter. The biographer has done his work admirably. If any man in the world knew Dr. Addison Alexander thoroughly, we thought we did. We lived in the same town with him from the time he was three years old until we saw bim die. For nearly a quarter of a century we were his colleague. We were associated with him during all that time in different enterprises. Yet we acknowledge that after reading this book our conception of the man is more comprehensive, and in some respects more just than it ever was before.
The materials at the command of his biographer, although abundant, were scattered, disjointed, and fragmentary. These have all been woven together with consummate skill.
The style of the work also is excellent. It is clear, pure, and racy. There is no prolixity; no amplification, all is rapid and vivacious. There is at times the introduction of unimportant or irrelevant details. But the movement is so rapid, the reader is neither impeded nor annoyed by these small matters.
Having expressed our opinion of the book before us, we feel inclined to lay down our pen. We have so often, on different occasions, expressed our estimate of the greatness and worth of Dr. Addison Alexander, that it seems unnecessary to say any thing more on that subject. Our readers would regard it
as a work of supererogation to attempt a synopsis of the life or sketch of the character of a man of whom they have such a biography as this. No one wants to look at a photograph when he has before him a full-length portrait from the hands of a first-rate artist.
Nevertheless, Dr. Alexander was ours; our friend; our colleague ; our decus et tutamen. He was a Princeton man ;
. and the Princeton Review cannot refrain from placing its chaplet, though withered and tear-bedewed, upon his grave. His memory is loved, reverenced, and cherished here, as it can be nowhere else.
Dr. Alexander was a truly great man, without being a prodigy. That term is commonly applied to those who seem to be endowed with some faculty denied to other men ; or who possess some one mental power in an abnormal degree. It may be a talent for numbers, for language, for music, or any thing else. Dr. Alexander did not belong to that class. He was not thus one-sided. He had great power for every thing he chose to attempt. His acquisitions were determined by his tastes. He studied what was agreeable to him, and left unnoticed what did not suit his fancy. After leaving college he had a strong inclination to study law. Had he done so, there can be no rational doubt he would have become one of the greatest jurists and advocates our country has produced. Few men were ever less indebted to instruction or external educational influences. He was taught what he learned in the same sense that he was taught to walk. He needed and received as little assistance in the one case as in the other. His father, seeing his precocious and extraordinary ability, and his disposition to study, left him very much to himself. He went to the grammar school and afterward through college; but a very small part of his time or attention was given to the prescribed curriculum in those institutions. He walked the course absorbed with other things.
The three departments to which his taste and providential circumstances led him to devote his principal attention, were language, history (sacred and secular including interpretation), and general literature. It was in the first of these that his earliest, and perhaps his most extraordinary attainments were
made. Finding an Arabic grammar in his father's study be took it down, and began to study it; and, before be was fourteen years old, we are told, he had read the whole Koran through in the original. Shortly after he took up the Persian, and soon attained a familiarity with language, which he continued to cultivate as long as he lived. Hebrew, Chaldee, Syriac, were soon added to his acquisitions. And subsequently, Coptic, Rabinnical Hebrew, Sanscrit, and even in a measure Chinese. Most of the languages of modern Europe were early mastered: French, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Danish, etc., the majority of which he wrote as well as read.
His biographer gives a list of twenty languages with which he was more or less familiar. In Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and Arabic, he was a thorough and accomplished master. To no language, however, did he devote so much attention as his own. Its history, its authors, its resources, were all at his command. One of his great excellences was his English style. He was almost unequalled for clearness, conciseness, felicity, and force. It would be a great mistake to regard him as mere prodigy in the acquisition of languages. He was a scholarly linguist, critically acquainted with the structure, origin, and affinities of the languages which he studied.
History was for several years his department in the Theological Seminary. He was familiar with the original sources of church history as well as with the works of all the principal historians in all the modern languages. And here again as in regard to language it was the hidden spirit, the life, the philosophy, of history which was the special object of interest. He was as far as possible removed from being a mere annalist. No course of lectures ever delivered by him in the seminary was more useful, more impressive, or more instructive, than that devoted to the Old Testament history. He unfolded with such clearness the organic relations of the several parts of the old economy, as to make its unity, its import, and its relation to the Messianic period, plain to the dullest minds. It was thus, as his pupils expressed it, he glorified the Word of God; exalting and enlarging their conceptions of its import, and confirming their faith in its divine origin, to a degree unattain.
able by any process of apologetic argument. He applied the same method with equal success to the New Testament history, comprising the period covered by the Gospel and the Acts. But when he came to deal with ecclesiastical history, he found the field so extensive, the materials so exhaustless, and his time so limited, he wearied of the task, and longed to get back to the study and exposition of the Bible.
It need hardly be said that he read and re-read the classical historians of Greek and Rome, and was familiar with the whole course of European history. His memory was so retentive that no leading event, civil or military, affecting the state of Europe was unrecorded in his mind, or not ready at any time for appropriate use.
In his study of languages, as we have said, it was not merely the vocabulary that interested him but their structure and relations, and still more their literature. His main object seemed to be to gain access to the productions of the great minds in all ages of the world. He became a first-rate Greek and Latin scholar, not so much for the sake of understanding the languages of those leading nations of antiquity, as for appreciating and enjoying the works of their poets, orators, and historians. The same remark is applicable to the other languages, with which he became familiar. He delighted in reading the Persian poets, and the classic works of all the nations of modern Europe, at least of England, Germany, France, Italy, and Spain. He was indeed an omnivorous reader. On one occasion when walking the streets of Paris with a young friend, he went up to one of those long tables of books which abound on the quays, and moving along, said, " read that,” “read that,” “read that,” and so on almost to the end. It was difficult to find any thing in the heterogeneous collection which he had not read.
Although thus varied in his acquirements, there were departments of which he was of choice comparatively ignorant. This, as was evident to all who knew him, and plain from the powers which he displayed, did not arise from a want of capacity, but simply from a want of interest, or rather from his interest being engrossed by more congenial subjects. He paid comparatively little attention to the natural sciences;
and still less to metaphysics. On subjects connected with the last-named department, we never heard him converse. So far as we know, he never wrote upon them. On the contrary, we have heard him avow his utter distaste for them, and his purpose not to attend to them. Still more remarkable was his deterinination to know as little as he could on every thing relating to physiology and hygiene. He constantly violated the laws of health, because he did not know what they were. The illness which resulted fatally, commenced its ravages a year or more before his death. From having been corpulent, he became thin; instead of perspiring freely, as was his habit, for months there was not a drop of moisture on his skin. For a year his mouth had been so dry he could not moisten a postage stamp. And when surprise was expressed that these symptoms had not arrested his attention, he said, “Oh, you know I never put that and that together.” Ten days or a fortnight before his death, we went into his study and found him sitting at his table with a great folio open before him and a pen in his hand. He said, "I am under the weather today. You know what I mean. It is not the state of the atmosphere. I feel perfectly comfortable. I can read and write; but I am utterly indisposed to move." Then slapping his breast, he said, “I am just as well as you are.” These incidents are of interest, as they reveal the man. They may also teach the lesson that no one is so great or good as that he can safely remain ignorant of ordinary things, etc.
The mental gifts of Dr. Alexander were greater and more varied than his attainments. What he learned and what he accomplished were far from being the measure of his ability. The most sensible impression which he made on those who came in contact with him, was that of strength ; of inental power. Whatever he did, he did with such ease, that every one felt that his ability was never taxed; that there was a reserve of unexercised strength, adequate to the production of much greater effects.
The ease with which he acquired so many languages, and his mastery over historical details, showed that his memory was very tenacious and retentive. Indeed, in this respect, he was a wonder to his colleagues. At the opening of the ses