Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

His biographer, on p. 384, speaks of the intense abhorrence and disgust which the Professor ever showed to seminary drones." It is evident, however, the severity, such as it was, of Dr. Alexander, amused the students more than it either frightened or offended them. This appears from the humorous way in which his pupils commonly refer to this subject. Dr. Moore, of Richmond, tells us,

"On one occasion, after a very lame recitation in Genesis, which tried his patience no little, he abruptly brought it to a close, and announced that he would give a lesson for the next day adapted to the capacities of the class, and they would, therefore, take the next verse! The usual lesson being from twelve to twenty verses, the rebuke was keenly felt, and he had no more such recitations. Sometimes he used his satire severely, though I do not think unjustly. On one occasion, a young gentleman gave a discourse in the oratory, on the destruction of Sodom, that was very pretentious; and Dr. A., being in the chair, thought it needful to perforate his mental cuticle somewhat, and remarked when it came his turn to criticise, that Mr. D's. discourse consisted of two parts: that which everybody knew, and that which nobody knew; and that he did not think that under either head Mr. D. had added to the stock of our knowledge."

Professor Charles Phillips, of Chapel Hill, N. C., says:

"I was a pupil of Dr. Addison Alexander for one year only, and that, the first year of the course at the seminary. It was fashionable then to be afraid of him.

used to say that he went into his recitation-room thinking of the signboard on a railroad, Look out for the locomotivel' Once when he asked me at the close of a recitation to come to his study at a certain hour, the members of my own little coterie bade me an affectionate farewell. When I returned safe, they pretended to be very much astonished, and to be incredulous that the awefull professor only wanted me to study Arabic. But I had been taught to admire Dr. Alexander before I went to Princeton, so that I had only to learn to love him, and this I did easily and quickly, as any Freshman will a great professor who is courteous to him and inspires him with the hope of doing something in this world."

On this subject it is to be remarked, that these complaints of his severity were confined alınost exclusively to the first few years of his professional life. These exhibitions were moreover impulsive and momentary. The impression they made was counteracted by the clear manifestations of goodness and real kindness of heart, and especially by the discovery which the students did not fail to make, that he himself regretted them. Much of the effect produced by his censures was due to the inherent power of the man. If you lift the lid from a tea-kettle the steam escapes in harmless vapor; but,

if you raise the safety-valve of a boiler, the rush of scalding steam is impetuous, and excoriates any living tissue it touches. It was so with him. He could not fail to give force and pungency to what he said. Dr. Green tells us that Dr. Alexander disliked presiding when the students delivered their orations, because “criticise as gently as he could, the students who had undergone the process were sure to be coming to his room to ask if he did not think they had mistaken their calling, in seeking the ministry.” Whatever of blemish must be conceded in this matter, we know that the students as a body loved, reverenced, and trusted him, and regarded it as an honor and a blessing to be under his instructions.

Dr. Alexander was licensed by the Presbytery of New Brunswick, April, 1838, and at once took his place in the foremost rank of preachers. His power in the pulpit did not depend on elocution. There are men who, in reading a familiar hymn, will arrest the attention and sway the feeling of an audience. There are others who, as speakers, have their hearers completely at command, whose discourses when read are found to be below mediocrity. It was not so with Dr. Alexander. He owed little to his manner of delivery. He was even apparently often careless and indifferent until excited by his subject. His power was due to his thoughts, his feelings, to his imagination, to his pure, faultless, and most felicitous diction. A great part of the charm of his sermons belongs to his printed discourses. Dr. Moore records his disappointment on hearing in Richmond, sermons which he had previously heard elsewhere with deeper emotion. But Dr. Alexander was then suffering under the ravages of the disease which, a few months later, carried him to his grave. And a distinguished physician, quoted by his biographer, says:-

"I remember hearing him deliver a sermon on the text, 'Remember Lot's Wise,' which I shall never forget while I live, if I forget it ever. The effect upon the audience was visible and audible; all present seemed drawn forward in their seats, and holding their breath; and when he paused to breathe, you could hear the inhalation of the mass of his hearers over the whole church. It always seemed to me that if there ever was a man whose sermons would read as well as they sounded, it was Addison Alexander; but many years after I read this very sermon, printed among others in the volume of his sermons, and I must say that I felt as if a portion surely had been left out. I missed something—which something I now feel must have been the intense biotic force, magnetism, brainpower of the man. This sermon was one which no one but himself could have produced, or have delivered with the same effect.”

This is true and forcible. No doubt the orations of Cicero and Webster had a power as delivered before an excited audience, which we miss on the printed page. Every thing is comparative. All we mean to say is, that the success of Dr. Alexander as a preacher was less due to what was physical--to tone, intonation, manner—and far more to what was intellectual and spiritual, than is the case in the great majority of distinguished speakers.

His brother James once remarked that Addison was very unequal in his preaching. This is of course true in a measure of every public speaker; but we think that it was less true of Dr. Addison Alexander than of any other preacher whom we ever heard. His sermons were of very different kinds, and therefore their appropriate effects were different. Such graphic and emotional discourses, as those on “ Remember Lot's Wife," "There is a City which hath Foundations," "It doth not yet appear what we shall be,” had of course a power of a very different kind from that which belonged to his exegetical sermons.

But the intellectual and moral power of the latter was not a whit less than that of the others, etc. We select a few of the many testimonies given by his biographer of the impression produced by Dr. Alexander in the pulpit. His colleague Dr. Green, says :

"The first time he ever saw Dr. Addison Alexander, was in the pulpit at Trenton, shortly before he came himself as a student to the seminary. He had no suspicion who the strange minister was when the service began, but he had not proceeded far in his discourse before he felt sure that he was listening to the prince of American preachers.' His text was, ' Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light,' one of the most striking and masterly of his discourses. Dr. Green's admiration of him as a speaker was always mingled with wonder."

Dr. Hall, of Trenton, his intimate friend, and himself one of our best preachers and best judges of preaching, was one of his greatest admirers. He thus writes :

"It was a fault of his doings in the pulpit that he seemed to be afraid of the least approach to mannerism. There was a sort of carelessness in his reading and preaching which sometimes gave the appearance of hurry or negligence.

[ocr errors]

He would not try to give effect to a hymn or chapter by his mode of reading, and usually tumbled into his sermon as if it was to be dispatched as soon as possible. But he soon showed that he felt his subject, and though he got no nearer to artificial oratory or elocution, there came an earnestness and often an awful solemnity in bis tones which literally thrilled his audience. His voice was delightful, and to me more melting in pathetic parts than any I ever heard, excepting perhaps Jenny Lind's. Some of his long sentences, rolling on to a grand climax, occur to me, which have made me put my handkerchief to my mouth lest I should scream. It of course happens with his printed sermons, as with all others that were delivered with feeling and melody, that their effect can be realized only by those who are so familiar with his manner of delivery that they can hear kim while they read.”

Rev. Dr. T. L. Cuyler thus describes the effect of his preaching in Philadelphia :

" The second evening, which now comes before me, was passed, not beside Dr. Alexander at the fireside, but before him in the pulpit. It was during that winter of 1847 when he supplied the pulpit of the Rev. Dr. Boardman, then travelling in Europe. All Philadelphia flocked to hear him. The most distinguished lawyers of that city were glad to find seats in the aisles, or a standingplace in the crowded vestibule. It was during that season that he delivered nearly all of his most celebrated and powerful discourses. Among them were his sermons on "The Faithful Saying,' 'The Broken and Contrite Heart,' 'Awake, Thou that Sleepest,' 'It doth not yet appear what we shall be,' and 'Remember Lot's Wife.' The first-mentioned of these was the most perfect; but the last one was the most popular. The impressions produced by the matchless discourses of that series can never be effaced. Finer displays of concinnate exegesis, of bold imaginative flights, of soul-moving appeals, of rich, strong, arousing presentation of Calvary and Christ, the Presbyterian pulpit of our day has not heard. His manner, at that period of his life, was exceedingly animated. He was in his splendid prime. His voice often swelled into a volume that rolled through the lobbies of the church, and reached to the passers-by in the street. In pathetic passages, that same voice had the plaintive melody of a lute. The rising inflection with which he was wont to close his sentences will at once occur to many of my readers. This peculiarity was sometimes insensibly imitated by the seminary students, who betrayed thus their Princeton origin by this rising Addisonian inflection. Well would it be if all the superb attributes of Professor Alexander's ministrations could be transferred to every pulpit in the land! On the evening of which we write, his theme was "The Broken Heart.' That whole marvellous discourse, with its pictures of the scenes behind the veil' where the sacrifices were being offered; with its wailing outcry of contrite spirits; with its melting exhibitions of the soul's penitence and the Saviour's love; all moved before us like one of the inspired panoramas of the Apocalypse. When the sermon was over, a clergyman wbispered to me, 'No such preaching as that has been heard since the days of Dr. Mason.'"

His biographer gives the following glowing account of his own experience under his uncle's preaching :VOL, XLII.-NO, I.

9

“One Sunday night, the preacher, who had been expected to officiate in the First Church in Princeton, was absent, or for some reason unable to speak, and Mr. (then Dr.) Addison Alexander was applied to take his place. Seeing at once how the matter stood, he swiftly ascended the steps of the pulpit, and after the preliminary services, in which he seemed to be altogether at his ease, poured out one of the most enrapturing and overwhelming discourses to which I ever had the privilege of listening. It was spoken of by some as an extempore effort, but was the famous sermon on the 'City with Foundations, which is printed in his works. He fairly ravished me with his enchanting imaginative pictures, and his wild bursts of music and pathos. He went through it as a summer wind goes through the trees before the outbreak of a thunderstorm. His voice was plaintive, but too low for the greatest popular impression. His tones, however, were diversified, and to him perfectly natural; though his intonation was singularly peculiar, and by the rules of rhetorical elocution, faulty. But it was the best manner for him, and with its wailing cadence and rising inflection was ex. tensively copied by his students, much to their own detriment, and somewhat to the astonishment and amusement of their audiences. But there was no time to see or think of faults. The speaker was in breathless baste, and was going at • railroad speed.' Sometimes he would glide in nobly and gracefully to the end of a paragraph or period, very much as a locomotive glides in through a fair prospect to the swinging bell which indicates the next stop. Now and then he would suddenly lift his right hand with a sort of upward wave, and then drop it again. This was almost his only gesture. To change the figure used just now, the sermon was a widening and foaming torrent, and closed in a perfect cataract of glorious imagery and high religious feeling.

“Of all Mr. Alexander's sermons this one is the most imaginative, in the popular sense of that term, that the most ornate and highly sht, the most full of rare and captivating fancy. It is, also, in the strictest sense of the term, a noble work of imagination. It is, from beginning to end, a mass of gorgeous imagery, describing the kindred yet opposite illusions of the saint and the world. ling. The peroration is descriptive of the rupture (fearful in the one case, and transcendent in the other) of these life-long deceptions. The Christian who had sought the glimmering city in the sky, with faint heart but steadfast purpose, finds that all beneath that city is shadow, and that this alone is substance. He awakes from his dream to pass an eternity in transport. The wicked man awakes from his dream also; he had thought the world was every thing, and had made light of the celestial vision as a puerile vanity. He awakes to shame and everlasting contempt.

" It is as sustained a description as any thing in Bunyan; but is not at all quaipt, not primitive, not antique, homely, or crude. It is perfectly modern ; and very rich in its elaborate coloring, as well as superb in its minute finish. The difference between the two in these respects is analogous to the difference between Perugino and Paul de la Roche. It was one of the earlier and more florid fforts for which, in after life, he had a supreme contempt. Macaulay thus ?spised the essay ou Milton, and pronounced its poble ornaments gaudy."

Dr. Alexander's reputation as an interpreter of the Bible s, so far as his pupils are concerned, largely on the impres

« ElőzőTovább »