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Dissertation on the History, Eloquence and Poetry of the Bible,” which at the age of twenty procured him so much honor.
From the age of six to twelve,* he made such rapid and extraordinary advances in every kind of knowledge, that he would have been ready for admission into Yale College at eight; and when he actually did enter at thirteen, he was already master of history, geography, and the classics.t
The last two years of his college life, he devoted fourteen hours each day to close study. His acquisitions were very great; but his sight was irreparably injured by this excessive application. He was graduated in 1769, among the first of his class. For two years afterwards, he taught a grammar school at New Haven with great reputation. His time here was regularly divided, and occupied, --six hours each day in school; eight in close and severe study; ten in exercise and sleep.
In 1771, he was chosen tutor of Yale College, a station which he filled for six years with such distinguished ability and success, as to form a new era in the history of the College. Besides other studies, he carried his class into Newton's Prencipia; himself demonstrating in course all but two propositions in that profound and elaborate work. In the second year of his tutorship, he made an experiment, how far the necessity of exercise might be avoided by abstemiousness, which nearly proved fatal to his constitution. For six months he restricted himself even at dinner, to twelve mouthfuls ; when not feeling satisfied, he, without increasing the quantity, confined himself wholly to vegatable food. The consequence of this diet, at the end of a year, was, that he had nineteen severe attacks of the bilious colic, in the space of two months; and was reduced so low, that to save bis life, he was compelled to walk, the next twelve months, upwards of two thousand miles, and ride on horseback, upwards of three thousand,-a lesson of the last importance to every aspiring student, who is tempted to set aside the order of nature, established by Supreme Wisdom and Good
Perseverance in systematic exercise confirmed his health for forty years.
Mr. Dwight was twenty one years of age when, under the deep conviction of sin, his lofty spirit bowed in humility at the foot of the Cross. He united with the church in the Summer of 1774. It was, at this time, his intention to pursue the practice of law, toward which his studies were accordingly directed. In March, 1777, he was married to Miss Mary Woolsey, daughter of Benjamia Woolsey, Esquire, of Long Island, by whom he had eight sons, six of whom survived him. In May, of the same year, the College was broken up, in consequence of the war.
* While listening to the conversation in his father's house, on the character of the great men of the age, both in the Colonies and in Europe, his youthful emulation was strongly excited; "and he then forined a settled resolution, that he would make every effort in his power to equal those, whose talents and character he heard so highly extolled.”
+ Yet near the close of life, and in full view of eternity, in an address to his stodents, he makes this ingenuous and monitory confession in regard to his motives,– “I have coveted reputation, and influence, to a degree which I am unable to justify.'
In June, he was licensed as a preacher, by a Committee of the Northern Association, in his native county of Hampshire, Mass. and commenced his labors in Kensington, (Conn.) a parish of Weathersfield. At this time, the students, ascertaining the existing Head of the College would resign, drew up and signed, as a body, a petition to the Corporation, that he might be elected to the Presidency. By his own interference alone, it was stopped. Full of generous enthusiasm for his country, he joined Gen. Parson's Brigade at West Point, as Chaplain, in October, 1777. While discharging the duties of this office, he wrote several popular patriotic songs, among which, his “Columbia” had a brilliant and happy effect. Here also he enjoyed the friendship of Washington. But the death of his father, the next year, induced him to leave the army, and devote himself to the care of his mother and her numerous family, at Northampton; which he did for five years, laboring personally on a farm, superintending a school of great celebrity, and preaching also occasionally in Deerfield, Westfield, and South Hadley. His income he generously expended in the support of the common family. In 1781, and 1786, he was a member of the Massachusetts Legislature; and by his personal influence obtained a grant for Harvard University.
“Politics,” it has been recently said, by a distinguished American statesman, “ are, beyond all dispute, the master topic of the
Was this less true in 1783? * Yet, with the most flattering inducements to devote himself to public employments, and against the earnest solicitations of distinguished and even pious friends, who wished him to take a seat in Congress, Mr. Dwight, from a decided conviction of its superior usefulness, gave himself
to the service of God, in the Gospel Ministry; correctly judging that man is of infinitely higher importance in his moral and religious relations, than in either his legal or political. He was accordingly ordained, Nov. 5, 1783, minister of Greenfield, a parish of Fairfield, (Coon.) where he remained for twelve years. Here his small salary made it necessary for him to open an Academy, which was filled with pupils of both sexes, and attained an unexampled reputation. Female education, in particular, was carried to an extent before unknown. Probably to the exertions and influence of no one individual, are the ladies of our country so much indebted.
In 1787, he received the degree of D. D. from the College of New Jersey. In 1791, he succeeded in effecting an intimate union between the Congregational and Presbyterian churches throughout the United States, the influence of which has been to this day exceedingly beneficial.
But it was not until 1795, that he was fixed in the station, where his talents and attaininents found their full expansion and proper scope. The death of the Rev. Dr. Stiles at that time, was the occasion of his being unanimously appointed to the presidency of Yale College, which thenceforward became the theatre of his genius, and the centre of his widely diffused usefulness. In
addition to his duties as presiding officer, he voluntarily officiated as professor of Belles-Lettres and Oratory, and was appointed also professor of Theology. His accession to office was at a period when, among other evils, Infidelity prevailed among the students, io such an extent, that a large proportion of the class he first taught, had assumed, and were familiarly known, by the names of the principal French and English Infidels. But Dr. Dwight was soon favored with an opportunity, in forensic debate, of entering, with all his powers of reason and eloquence, into the defence of Christianity. “ The effect was electrical. Unable to endure the exposure of evidence and argument, Infidelity fled from the retreats of learning, ashamed and disgraced."
Such was the success of his peculiar system of discipline and instruction, that the number of students rose, during his Presidency, from 110 to 313; an increase, probably, without a parallel in the history of similar institutions in this country. Yet, notwithstanding the vigor of his administration, such was its parental mildness, that his pupils farniliarly spoke of the President, under the honorable appellation of “ The Young Man's Friend.”
Dr. Dwight's method of preaching was—to write the heads of his discourse, and the leading thoughts of which it was to be composed, and to fill up the body of it at the time of delivery. While at Greenfield, he in this manner prepared and preached a course of lectures on Systematic Theology, in about one hundred sermons; and at New Haven, went through them twice in the same state, frequently adding to their number, until they amounted to one hundred and seventy-three, when, by the aid of an amanuensis, they were written out, and finished in 1809; but they were not published until after his death.
In 1796, he commenced journeying in the College vacations of May and September, through New England and New York, and continued this practice till the last year of his life. From the notes taken in these journies, and alterwards written out for the gratification of his family, originated his celebrated book of “ Travels.” The last journey was in September, 1815, when he proceeded as far as Hamilton College, near Utica, (N. Y.) In February, 1816, he was seized with a most ihreatening diseasean affection of the bladder; and in April, was deemed past recovery. But in June he seemed better, and preached again in the College chapel. His disease, however, was only mitigated, and not removed; and, from its agonizing severity, made frightful ravages in a constitution, the vigor of which, had given reason to hope for the long continuance of his invaluable life and labors. November 27th, he caught cold, while hearing the Senior Class, and did not go out again. He still continued to hear the Theological Class, *t his own house. " Their last recitation was only a week before his death: bis sufferings were extreme; his debility scarcely permitted hiin to utter himself at all: but again his mind abstracted itself from its sympathy with an agonized frame; and in a discourse of one hour and a half, on the doctrine of the Trin
ity, he reasoned and illustrated, in the most cogent and interesting manner, and left an indelible impression on the minds of his pupils. It was his last effort in his delightful employment of instruction." On the 11th of January, 1817, he expired, at the age of sixty-five.
We know of but one instance that has occurred in this country, in which such extensive public expressions of sorrow for the death of any individual, or respect for his memory, has appeared. And no wonder. “He was, indeed,” in the language of one of his pupils, “a father to New England-her moral legislator."
As a man of genius, his talents were of the first order, and capable of alınost universal application. “Industry was one of his most striking characteristics; but it was the industry of a mind conscious of its powers, and delighting in their exercise. Never was a mind under better discipline. In one particular, he excelled most men of any age, -in the entire command of his thoughts. In one instance, a pressing necessity obliged him to dictate ihree letters at the same time. He did so. Each amanuensis was fully occupied, and the letters needed no correction but pointing."
As an instructer of youth, he assisted in the education of between three and four thousand pupils. In this department, he was, perhaps, without a rival.
As a preacher of the gospel, his sermons were characterized by originality of conception, lucidness of arrangement, intelligibleness of style, and constant regard to practical effect. fined by notes, th whole field of thought was before him. Into that field he entered, conscious where his subject lay, and by what metes and bounds it was limited; and enjoying also that calm self-possession and confidence of success, which trial alone can give, and which every successive effort had only served to increase. Of his eloquence, as with most other great orators, few can judge correctly but those who have heard him. They will never forget him, either in this world or the next. To simplicity in manner and matter, he added dignity; to ease, he added energy ; to fervor, he added humility. Preaching, too often, seems with ministers the work of a day, or an hour; but with him it was the work of eternity. He preached as a sinner and dying man himself; he preached as in the presence of God and of the spirits of just men made perfect; he preached as though he saw his crown of glory ever before him, as though he heard the Saviour saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” Nor did he preach in vain. Multitudes, especially of his College pupils, will be his joy and his crown. Indeed, a single sermon of his, on Jer. viii. 20, has been known, on four different occasions, to have been divinely blessed to produce an extensive revival of religion.
As a professor of Theology, the “system” which he has left behind, is his best monument. It is composed of a series of sermons that cost him vast labor and research. Their primary object is to explain and enforce the great truths of Theology; their
second, to enforce them on the conscience, and show their
practical influence on the heart and life. In this respect, they are the best model for Theological Lectures, and their popularity is as deserved as it is great. They are not free from faults; the sermons on Baptism especially, are not worthy of his greatness; but, as a whole, it is admitted, generally, to be the best System of Theology that has yet appeared in the English language, or, probably, in any other.
As a man and a Christian, his distinguishing traits were, the richness of his conversational stores,—the purity of his sentiments and language,—the most conscientious regard for the truth,—the most delicate attention to the decorums of society,-unceasing charities,-sincere, constant, and fervent friendship,-independence and decision of character, --evangelical catholicism,-eminent disinterestedness,—subdued passions,-and the interest which he took in the great and splendid Christian charities, which characterize the present era,
-an interest which was extinguished only with the lamp of life. To enumerate the various literary, charitable, and pious institutions, which he was active in founding or promoting, would be a laborious task. By his exertions and influence, aided by those of other distinguished men around him, “ The Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences,'
-" The Missionary Society of Connecticut, "-" The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions,”—“The Andover Theological Seminary,”—and “ The American Bible Society,”! besides various minor institutions were originated and established.
In the nearest relations of private life, as a son-a brother-a husband—a father—a friend and neighbor-President Dwight was a rare example of almost every thing desirable and lovely. Under trials well calculated to determine the character, his life was a steady course of submission, and cheerfulness, and affectionate endeavors to make all around him happy. “ Those who witnessed his sufferings during the last two years of his life, were not more struck with their severity, nor with the fortitude which he discovered under them, than with the marked effect of them upon his mind. Accustomed for many years to the daily contemplation of death, he now witnessed its gradual approach with serenity and peace.
In the midst of his sorrow, he found consolations that were neither few nor small. He grew continually more and more humble, gentle, meek, and resigned; more and more disposed to give up every trust but in his Saviour. Though his intellect retained all its vigor, yet his temper became, in an eminent degree, that of a lovely child. His affections were exquisitely tender. Their native character seemed entirely gone, and they resembled
*“ Religion he viewed as having its seat only in the heart; and all men by nature as entirely destitute of it, and remaining so voluntarily, until renewed by God, the Holy Ghost. Wherever it existed, he supposed it to be comprehended in love; and proved to exist only by the fruits of love visible in the life.” These vital sentiments pervade his Theology, and are unfolded fully in the sermons on the Nature of Faith Regeneration, and the Two Great Commandments.