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When the class was dismissed, I was pushing my way to the door, anxious to escape from the gaze of the students, for some of them were still disposed to laugh at me; but as I approached the door, Dr. A. called to me, beckoning with his finger, Mr. J. P.! Mr. J. P.!! I was afraid not to go to him, and yet only expected to hear him say. 'Young ma you had better go home, you are too much of a ninny for this place,' or something else that would be as bad."
Instead of this, he asked him about two other young men in Tennessee, who he had heard were coming to Princeton (sons of Drs. Edgar and Lapsley, of Nashville).
"While this was going on, the class passed out, and then he said, 'Mr. P., I will remain in the class-room a few minutes each day after the recitation, to an. swer any inquiries the students may have to make concerning difficult points they may meet with, and I hope you will feel perfectly free to ask me any questions relating to your studies at such times. And at any other time that I am not engaged in class, I would be glad to have you call at my study, whenever you want any explanations or assistance.' It was all done with such simplicity and with a countenance and voice so full of kindness, that I choked with emotion, stammered my thanks, and when he had passed out, hurrying to my room, I locked the door and sat down and wept like a child."
From that moment all his feelings toward him changed, and while he still revered the dreaded professor of Hebrew beyond any man he ever saw, he loved him with a deep and abiding affection.
Mr. Park's own language is essential to the effect of what follows:
"When my emotion subsided, and I had washed my face and brushed my hair, a rap on the door led me to open it.
came in, his countenance bright with good humor, to explain the conduct of the class during my recitation. He said every one saw my excitement when I was called up; my first answer was given in full voice, tremulous from agitation; the second in a tone loud enouglı to have been distinctly heard at a distance of forty yards; and the third, as if Dr. A. was in a mill in full clatter, and I on the outside, thirty or forty feet from the door.
"His kindness and sympathy overpowered me, and ever afterward I felt indignant at the bare suggestion of his being unfeeling or ungenial. As long as I remained in the seminary, nothing ever occurred to cause me to change my opinion. His heart was as great as his head. No man ever won my affections so completely, and it was an instantaneous transformation. The terrible dread and dreadful terror of him up to that time was never afterward experienced by me. Still, I had lost none of my profound reverence for him, nor did my
desire to appear well before him abate one whit; but I had a new motive."
The testimony of his pupils is unanimous as to his preeminent success as a teacher. His biographer has brought together an array of testimony on this point, which leaves the
matter beyond dispute. They regarded him with reverence, “ with awe,” with fear, with admiration and confidence. Dr. Sprague, of Albany, says Dr. Addison Alexander“ was a man of so much mark, and in some respects stood perhaps so entirely alone, that it was hardly possible to move in any intellectual circle without having a definite idea of him. So often as I met a Princeton student during the period of his professorship, I was sure to hear the highest possible testimony rendered to his great talents and learning, and to his almost matchless facility at communicating knowledge.”
The testimony is almost equally strong and equally unanimous as to his severity in the class-room. On this point we confess ourselves to be surprised. We had of course heard of his being now and then irritated, and impatient, and on occasions painfully sarcastic, but we were not aware of this trait of his character being so prominent as his biographer, in his honesty, has represented. He tells us on p. 336, “The amount of truth I have arrived at in the premises is this: Mr. Alexander made his first classes in Hebrew work like Trojans; and was out of patience with gross negligence, vanity, or dulness, and sometimes treated the offenders without measure or mercy. But he was very peaceable after all was over, and gradually he became more and more tolerant and gentle, until toward the last his steady meekness was more noticeable than the occasional flashes of his first or mistaken resentment.” Dr. Lyon, of Mississippi, one of his earlier pupils, says :
"He was not considered amiable during the first years of his service in the seminary, but, on the contrary, rather severe and unforbearing. The students were afraid of him. How he became afterward, I am not able to say. Doubtless, however, he became more patient as he grew older. He was sometimes fearfully sarcastic, having no tolerance for the proud, impertinent, or self-conceited, whom, indeed, he did not hesitate to cut in twain with a word, or a look, or a speer."
Dr. Rice, of Mobile, a student of a later date, says :“He seemed to entertain toward the very dull or incorrigibly stupid youths, who are found in almost every academical class, a feeling akin to resentment or indignation; and he frequently showed them no mercy. There are, I believe, several traditions in the seminary, of his unsparing severity to some very pious, good brethren, or who were esteemed such, which (so run these traditions) aroused the feeling of the class against him."
His biographer, on p. 384, speaks of “the intense abhorrence and disguist 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 wlien 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 locomotive!' 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 almost 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 barmless vapor; but,
if yon 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 Wife,' wbich 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. IIall, of Trenton, his intimate friend, and himself one of our best preachers and best judges of preaching, was one of his greatest admirers. Ile 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.