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ART. VI.-ROBERTSON AND HIS SERMONS.*
It may seem a late day in which to speak in any formal manner of Robertson or of his published Discourses. It is now nearly fifteen years since his earthly life ended,-more than ten years since the first volume of his sermons was reprinted in this country, and almost two years ago Mr. Brooke gave us the long-promised and eagerly-expected Memoir and Letters. Edition after edition of his Sermons has been called for, and they are not only taking a prominent and permanent place among the highest literature of the class to which they belong, but are doing not a little to vitalize and modify the public instruction of many thinking and influential occupants of the pulpit. They are remarkable Sermons. They follow no model and furnish none. They are often incomplete, sometimes fragmentary; and now and then they offer us not much besides the mere outline of the course of thought which was so carefully elaborated in the author's mind, so filled with intense life as it passed through the preacher's soul on its way to his audience, and rendered so effective through his magnetic utterance. They were not written out before their delivery. Some of them were reported by hearers not much accustomed to the service, others were reproduced by Mr. Robertson himself at the urgent request of parishioners and friends, so far as he was able to reproduce them wlien the special stimulus supplied by the audience had been followed by exhaustion, and he could be induced to enter upon what was to him an unwelcome service; while others still are imperfectly constructed from the brief notes left at his decease. But in spite of all these drawbacks the discourses have made an extraordinary impression wherever they have been read and studied, and awakened an intense desire to know as much as possible of a man who was only beginning to be known abroad while he lived, but whose fame seemed to spring so suddenly out of his grave and command the homage of men throughout the whole broad field of letters. Mr. Brooke has sought to meet this desire in the very interesting and well executed piece of biography before us; and in the numerous letters of Mr. Robertson here presented in whole or in part, he has afforded a view of the preacher's personality and special traits which interpret and emphasize more or less of what appears in the Sermons themselves. Partly because of the intrinsic interest attaching to the man and his utterances, and partly because of our conviction that the clerical readers of the Quarterly especially may be greatly benefited by a study of these volumes, we give them the prominence which a brief notice will afford. Having recently read the Life and Letters" with an interest little less than absorbing, and re-read many of the Sermons with a heightened conviction of their suggestiveness and power, we could not feel satisfied without calling special attention to the volumes which have so much to offer of just what many a man stands in sore and vital need. We can present nothing more than a mere outline sketch of the man, draw out here and there a somewhat salient fact from his unexciting life-story, and afford a few fragmentary specimens of his thought and his style of expressing it. If we succeed in inducing an interest that leads to the careful study of these seven volumes, we shall have reached our object and opened a source of instruction and profit such as does not every day offer itself.
* LIFE AND LETTERS OF FREDERICK W. ROBERTSON, M. A. Incumbent of Trinity Chapel, Brighton, 1847—°53. Edited by Stopford A. Brooke, M. A. Late Chaplain to the Embassy at Berlin. In two volumes. Boston: Ticknor and Fields. 12mo. pp. 352, 359.
SERMONS, preached at Trinity Chapel, Brighton, by the late F. W. Robertson, M. A., the Incumbent. In five volumes. Same publishers.
Frederick W. Robertson was born in London, in 1816, and died in Brighton, in 1853, at the early age of 37. His father was a captain in the Royal Artillery, and the son never wholly outgrew the fondness for military life which was early developed in him. He looked upon the heroic and poetical side of the profession of arms, and even after he had been long in the ministry the old love and ambition would every now and then return upon him and make him almost long to actualize his noble and extravagant ideal of the soldier. He had really applied for a military commission, and had been sometime waiting for it, when he finally yielded to the judgment and solicitation of his family and others, and accepted the ministry from which he suffered a sort of instinctive shrinking. His first prompt and decisive answer, when the sacred profession was first urged upon his attention, indicated his reluctance to accept it. “ Anything but that,” said he, in his crisp and incisive way; “I am not fit for it.” All his life long he w' a true soldier at heart, though not such as to interfere with his duties as a clergyman ; but it rendered both his experiences and his work in the clerical sphere marked and peculiar. He described himself truly when he said:
“There is something of combativeness in me which prevents the whole vigor being drawn out, except when I have an antagonist to deal with, a falsehood to quell or a wrong to avenge. Never till then does my mind feel quite alive. Could I have chosen my own period of the world to live in, and my own type of life, it should be the feudal ages, and the life of a Cid, the redresser of wrongs.”
And yet when, only four days after he had matriculated at Brazenose College, Oxford, as a student for the ministry, the opening to a military career was presented, it was a fair illustration of his resolute and positive nature that he would not now regard the question of going into the army an open one. He had put his hand to the plough and it was not in him to look back. He had taken his vow, and in something of the spirit of a mediæval knight or a true disciple of Loyola, he would keep it at all hazards. If he sometimes groaned over the bitterness of the cup or staggered under the weight of the burden, he drained the one to the dregs without hesitation, and took up the other without a protest when he heard the call of the Master.
In this spirit he went to Oxford to fit himself for his duties as a clergyman in the Established Church of England. He was a close and successful student, though as yet he gave no very clear proof of the remarkable powers which were developed during his later years. Immediately on leaving college he was ordained and accepted a curacy at Winchester. A year of hard and anxious service so wore upon his energies that he was forced to undertake a tour over the Continent for the sake of recuperation. He was married in Geneva during this trip, and soon afterward · found a sphere of labor at Cheltenham. Four years of service in this sphere developed somewhat the latent element
d a power.
of strength in his mind and character, but brought such frictions in his work and so multiplied discomforts in his experience that he decided to remove.
Two months of service at Oxfordshire sufficed to arrest the attention of the students and others, and make his pulpit an attraction
A vacancy occurring in the incumbency of Trinity Chapel, Brighton, at this time, he yielded to the suggestion of his Bishop and the wishes of the congregation, and, in Aug., 1847, entered upon that remarkable six years' ministry, the character, significance and fruitfulness of which are still the study and the wonder of men.
Brighton is the Newport of England; but the transatlantic Newport boasts a far more self-complacent and perhaps a more intellectual aristocracy than its copyist at the mouth of Narragansett Bay. Fashion, wealth, fast-living and free-thinking are thoroughly represented in that noted seaport, as also are conformity and intellectual routine. It has its full share of gossip as well as gluttony, and both assume airs and play off their dignity. There are many in such a town who are perpetually on the lookout for a fresh sensation, and every new phenomenon is promptly reported and vigorously discussed. Mr. Robertson was such a phenomenon. His first public word broke like a prophet's voice; his Sabbath services were generally sufficient to stir the currents of thought, and nearly every sermon sent the blood leaping through the veins of his crowded congregation and furnished material for not a little criticism and discussion.
The six years spent here were eminently laborious. He devoted himself earnestly to every department of the work connected with his sphere as a clergyman, and took a deep and active interest in whatever had to do with the more general welfare of the community at large. He was the counsellor of the working men and most heartily entered into their plans and efforts for self-improvement. Literature and science were by no means overlooked by him, and there was scarcely one of the great practical questions that came up in social or political life that he did not effectually grapple with and on which he failed to have something of real significance to say. His powers seemed to burst at once into full blossom, in this Brighton air. His sermons were weighty with thought, fresh in style and method, and
not less marked with boldness than with beauty. ran into commonplace, nor followed routine, nors ambition merely to be a popular preacher. Fami of Scripture became like new revelations as he dre deeper lessons, and the platitudes of the mere clergyr changed for the vital and practical speech of an intent upon reaching and profiting his hearers. His intense and his labors too abundant and taxing to la: up his vital resources much faster than they could lated, and so he was early consumed in the flames lighted up the community in which he lived and lat stituted as Mr. Robertson was, his inner life was intense and earnest and wearing ; surrounded as he who often touched him only to stimulate or sting ] intense activity, it was inevitable that he should be to the highest pitch of enthusiasm and the
clin He was thoroughly alive in every nerve of soul and sensibility was quick and powerful. His intellect w ly wary and critical even when it seemed to leap to sions, but his heart was set aflame by the friction hardly be noticed by many other men.
All public terested him and enlisted his attempts to understan them. The struggle between capital and labor w drew out his effort. He made politics a study. I felt the antagonism between the formal teaching of and the drift of public thought, and sought to med its hostile and contending representatives.
He seemed also to have a presentiment that his be a brief one,—that its very intensity which he co cape would kill him in a few years. And so he ad self to it with an energy that is rarely equalled, an seemed little less than desperation itself. And the he laid
his brain was such as few men could 1 In December, 1849, he preached sixteen times, being all fresh and strong, special and striking. At of them were written out for a friend, from memory they were delivered, and are found among those these volumes. Such strains were enough to breal