« PrécédentContinuer »
tue, the most sublime genius, and the highest literary attainments are sometimes discovered in men of the most unobtrusive habits, who having but little collision with the general world, are seldom allured by its amusements, or interested greatly in its pursuits“ its pomps, its pleasures, and its nonsense all;" but, following the bent of their own minds, with an ardour equally innocent and honourable, extend the bounds of human knowledge, and cultivate the talent which God has given them, for the benefit of His creatures, while they retain their primitive purity and simplicity of character, “ in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.” Of such persons it may with propriety be said, that their “ kingdom is not of this world.” Hence, as they seldom venture upon the busy theatre of life, they furnish, comparatively, but few incidents for the per of the Biographer. “ The life of a scholar," says Goldsmith in his Life of Dr. Parnell, “ seldom abounds with adventure. His fame is acquired in solitude, and the historian, who only views him at a distance, must be content with a dry detail of actions, by wbich he is scarcely distinguished from the rest of mankind.” This remark applies with peculiar propriety to the Subject of this brief memoir. His studious and contemplative disposition kept him retired from the bustle of the busy world; but though he could not act so conspicuous a part as the Hero, or the Statesman, he has nevertheless amply demonstrated by his literary labours, that the purposes to which he dedicated his life were not less caleulated than those of his superiors in rank, to promote the best and most permanent interests of his fellow creatures. To this great object were all his views, and all his endeavours devoted.
Mr. Williamson was born at Strathmiglo, in the county of Fife, on the 12th day of September, 1763. His father was a respectable farmer, and, having no other offspring, was determined to give his son a liberal education. Being himself a Dissenter from the Church of Scotland, his ambition was that the young man should be a Minister of the Secession Church; and, accordingly, the boy was, when very young, placed under the tuition of his uncle, (by the father's side) who was himself a Minister. Mr. Williamson gave early proofs of
superior talents, and such was the rapidity of his progress, that at the age of fourteen, he was removed to the College at Alloa, for the purpose of being instructed in Natural Philosophy, &c. In this Seminary, his literary career was equally brilliant; and his acquisitions in every department of his studies were such as had been anticipated from his studious habits, and comprehensive mind. Even before his removal to Alloa, he is said to have made considerable progress in the Latin and Greek classics, and when he entered the Hall of Divinity at Edinburgh, being then only eighteen, he had very few competitors in these branches of learning. Having studied there about two years, he began to manifest some dissatisfaction with the tenets or conduct of the Secession Church, for it is affirmed that, at this period, he expressed his earnest desire of becoming a Minister of the Church of Scotland; but considering that it was his duty to yield to the injunctions of his father, whose opinions he greatly revered, and for whom he entertained the most exemplary affection and respect, he continued at the Hall, and in due time was regularly licensed as a preacher. About a month after this event, he received two Calls , one from a congregation of Seceders, at Whitehaven; the other, from a similar congregation at Montrose. Under these circumstances, the two Calls were laid before the Synod, who, after due deliberation, appointed him to the pastoral charge at the former place-his own wishes, in this particular, having been over-ruled. His ordination took place in the beginning of the year 1787; and about the same time, he married Miss Isabella Brydie, the daughter of a respectable inerchant in Alloa ; and settled at Whitehaven.
The detail of the common incidents of the life of a Minister of such a congregation, as that over which our author was appointed to preside, would afford neither instruction nor gratification to our readers in general—even were such a detail in our power. We therefore proceed to notice that portion of his life in which he is exhibit. ed as an author. In the year 1792, a period in which party spirit and political animosities prevailed in almost every part of his Majesty's dominions, Mr. Williamson published his “ Lectures on Civil and Religious Liberty," a work as judiciously written, as it was
well-timed. In this work the author displays a minute acquaintance with the principles of Government in general, and with those of the British Constitution in particular ; and while he writes with the boldness of a man conscious that he is breathing the air of a free country, he utters not a single sentiment which can give the least countenance to Latitudinarianism in political matters. This publication procured the author some highly powerful friends, and among others, the late Lord Muncaster, who offered him the living of Whicbam, in this county, estimated at £400 per annum. Though Mr. Williamson entertained an exalted opinion of the English Liturgy, and a profound respect for many of the Divines of the Church of England, yet his sensitive soul shrank from the imputation of tergiversation; and though the voluntary proposal of his Lordship had made a deep and abiding impression on his grateful heart, he felt that it would be considered as a dereliction of his principles, were he to embrace the offer; and he therefore begged leave to decline it. His Lordship afterwards gave him a general invitation to his house and library-an offer of which he occasionally availed himself till nearly the period of his Lordship’s dissolution. Were we permitted to allude to other marks of favour from exalted individuals, we might relate anecdotes equally interesting ; but the voice of gratitude is hushed in the slumbers of the grave, and genuine benevolence shrinks from ostentation. We have adverted to these particulars, because we consider it the duty of his Biographer to demonstrate the regard which the disinterested liberality of the Great manifested to “merit in a low estate."
We have already given the reader to understand, that the members of the congregation over whom he presided in Whitehaven were not in aftuent circumstances, and we may now add, that an unhappy misunderstanding took place between him and the trustees of the meeting-house respecting the arrears of his salary, which ended in an appeal to the law. Of the merits of the case, it is not our duty to express any opinion ; but we are bound to state, that after the trial had stood over two assizes, the plaintiff succeeded in recovering the amount contended for, which was a considerable sum. This unplea
sant altercation, and other circumstances connected with his situ- · ation, induced him to relinquish his appointment; and, though now declining into the vale of years, he took the resolution of retiring to America. It may be presumed, that he reflected upon the ingratitude of the leading members of his congregation, with very painful sensations; as it is affirmed that he had, on various occasions, rejected offers of more lucrative situations from the Dissenters, on account of his attachment to his own flock.
On the 13th day of June, 1820, the Author took his departure from Liverpool to New York, accompanied by his wife, and two of his daughters, and on the 31st of the following month, arrived at his destination. He was now literally “a stranger in a strange land,” not having a single friend to whom he was known, and but one letter of introduction. But there is “ a friend that sticketh closer than a brother," and in that friend his confidence was unshaken. His finances were low, which is not to be wondered at, when it is considered that the Plea with the Trustees, for the arrears of his salary, was still coram judice when he left his native kingdom. It, however, providentially happened, that his work on Civil and Religious Liberty was well known in New York, and the Author was soon bailed with a hearty welcome.
He was quickly invited to take the temporary charge of a congregation, whose Minister had died a short time before his arrival: and, after some deliberation, he acceded to the proposal. But, alas! his earthly career was now quickly drawing to a period! He had not continued with his new friends more than three weeks, when a severe cold, contracted on his passage from England, settled on his lungs, and in a few months terminated his existence.
For some time previous to his death, he was convinced that his recovery was hopeless; but he contemplated death with the fortitude of a Christian Minister, and though he would not amuse his wife and daughters by expressing any hopes of his own recovery, he endeavoured to the last to administer to them the language of consolation, exhorting them to retain a firm reliance on that Providence that guards the good.” “I am about to leave you, and that, too, in a
strange country, but be assured that though I die, God will not die !"" These were among the last words he is recorded to have - used.
The Congregation in New York continued to the last to show the most friendly attention to him; nor did their kindness to his family terminate with his death. His funeral took place on the 15th day of May, 1821, and was attended by an immense concourse of people, among whom were several Clergymen. He was interred in a vault belonging to one of the principal families in New York.
Mr. Williamson was a man who dedicated his time and talents to study, and to the conscientious discharge of his professional duties : he had, of course, but little acquaintance with the world. He was, for several years previous to his death, evidently attached to the Church of England, and seldom omitted an opportunity of attending Divine Service in her Sanctuary, when the duties of his own Chapel did not require his presence. His temper, it has been said, was somewhat hasty, but he was aware of his own imperfections, and was much more severe in his reflections on his own conduct, than on that of others. On the latter, indeed, he was always disposed to put the most charitable construction. Comparatively speaking, he was always a poor maa—but he never courted fortune, and did not die disappointed.
For a considerable period before he thought of embarking to America, he dedicated all the time he could set apart from his professional avocations, to the compilation of the work now introduced to the public. To expatiate on its merits is an unnecessary task. Whatever
may be its excellencies-or whatever its defects will be speedily decided by that tribunal from which it is in vain to appeal.