Page images
[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors]

MEN of letters pass their lives in a course so tranquil and uniform, it is generally supposed, as to furnish but few incidents for the labours of the biographer or the entertainment of his readers. Mankind are attracted rather by what is brilliant in character and daring in action, than by the less splendid achievements of learning and piety. The exploits of the hero are recounted with applause while he is living, and after his death are enrolled with admiration on the records of nations, but the Minister of Christ must usually wait to receive his honours in eternity, and expect the due estimate of his labours only as they are written on the tablet of the skies.

There are, however, exceptions to this remark. Sometimes the good man, by the uncommon powers of his mind, by peculiar incidents in his life, by having exerted a commanding influence on the interests of the public, or by having acquired an unusual share in their affections ; presents the most attractive subject of biography. Contemporaries indulge a strong desire to view more minutely the life and character of the man, whose living excellence they have often felt and acknowledged ; and posterity receive with admiration the history of one who so widely blessed a preceding generation.

The AUTHOR of the following Discourses claims a high rank among men of this class. The testimonies, far and wide, given by the public to his excellence, the heart-felt sorrow so extensively occasioned by his death, and the honours so profusely poured upon his memory; persuade us that we shall be listened to with lively interest, while we attempt, in the following Memoir, to sketch the most important incidents of his life, and to delineate the most striking traits of his character.

Timothy Dwight was born at Northampton, in the county of Hampshire, state of Massachusetts, on the 14th day of May, A. D. 1752. His parents were Timothy and Mary Dwight. The first ancestor of his father's family in this country, John Dwight, came from Dedham in England, and settled at Dedham in Massachusetts, in 1637. From him, the subject of this Memoir was descended in the oldest male line; and he was able to look back on each individual in tha: line, including five generations, and reflect that he

was a member of the Church of Christ, and had a fair reputation for piety.

His father received his education at Yale College, where he entered on his bachelor's degree in 1744. He was by profession a merchant, and owned a handsome landed estate in the town in which he lived. He was a man of sound understanding, of fervent piety, and of great purity of life. His mother was the third daughter of Jonathan Edwards, for many years the minis. ter of Northampton, and afterwards president of Nassau-Hallwell known in this country and in Europe as one of the ablest divines of the last century. She possessed uncommon powers of mind, and for the extent and variety of her knowledge, has rarely been exceeded by any of her sex in this country. Though married at an early age, and a mother at eighteen, she found time, without neglecting the ordinary cares of her family, to devote herself with the most assiduous attention to the instruction of this son, and her numerous family of children, as they successively claimed her regard. Perhaps few instances can be found, in which this great duty has been performed with more scrupulous fidelity, than in the case now under consideration. With a mind originally vigorous and discriminating, she had been accustomed from infancy to the conversation of men of literature, who resorted in great numbers to her father's house; and thus was forcibly taught the importance of that learning, the effects of which she had so often had opportunity to witness. It was a maxim with her, the soundness of which her own observation through life fully confirmed, that children generally lose several years, in consequence of being considered by their friends as too young to be taught. She pursued a different course with her son. She began to instruct him almost as soon as he was able to speak; and such was his eagerness as well as his capacity for improvement, that he learned the alphabet at a single lesson; and, before he was four years old, was able to read the Bible with ease and correctness. His father was so extensively engaged in mercantile and agricultural pursuits, that he was necessitated to confide the care of his family, and particularly the superintendence of the early education of his children, chiefly to their mother. With the benefit of his father's example constantly before him, enforced and recommended by the precepts of his mother, he was sedulously instructed in the doctrines of religion, as well as the whole circle of moral duties. She taught him, from the very dawn of his reason, to fear God and to keep his commandments; to be conscientiously just, kind, affectionate, charitable, and forgiving; to preserve, on all occasions and under all circumstances, the most sacred regard to truth ; and to relieve the distresses and supply the wants of the poor and unfortunate. She aimed, at a very early period, to enlighten his conscience, to make him afraid to sin, and to teach him to hope for pardon only through the righteousness of Christ. The impressions thus made upon his mind in infancy were never effaced.

A great proportion of the instruction which he received before he arrived at the age of six years, was at home with his mother. Her school-room was the nursery. Here, he had his regular hours for study as in a school; and iwice every day she heard him repeat his lesson. Here, in addition to his stated task, he watched the cradle of his younger brothers. When his lesson was recited, he was permitted to read such books as he chose, until the limited period was expired. During these intervals, he often read over the historical parts of the Bible, and gave an account of them to his mother. So deep and distinct was the impression which these narrations then made upon his mind, that their minutest incidents were indelibly fixed upon his memory. His relish for reading was thus early formed, and was strengthened by the conversation and example of his parents. At the age of six, he was sent to the grammar-school, where he early began to importune his father to permit him to study Latin. This was denied, from an impression that he was too young to profit by studies of that description, and the master was charged not to suffer him to engage in them. It was soon found to be in vain to prohibit him : his zeal was too great to be controlled. Not owning the necessary books, he availed himself of the opportunity when the elder boys were at play to borrow theirs; and, in this way, without his father's knowledge or the master's consent, studied through Lilly's Latin Grammar twice. When his master discovered the progress he had made, he applied earnestly to his father, and finally obtained a reluctant consent that he might proceed; though every effort short of compulsion was used to discourage him. He pursued the study of the languages with great alacrity, and would have been prepared for admission into College at eight years of age, had not a discontinuance of the school interrupted his progress, and rendered it necessary for him to be taken home, and placed again under the instruction of his mother. By her, his attention was now directed to the study of Geography and History. With no other help than Salmon's Grammar, the only work on the subject then to be procured in the country, and a set of valuable maps of the four quarters of the globe, under the faithful tuition of his mother, he became thoroughly versed in the former science. In the latter, his father's library furnished him with the requisite books; and the wisdom and affection of his mother with the necessary guidance. He was previously familiar with the historical parts of the Bible. She first turned his attention to Josephus and Prideaux, and the more modern history of the Jews. After this he read Rollin, Hooke's History of Rome, Histories of Greece and England, and accounts of the first settlers of New-England, and their wars with the Indians. Often has he been heard to say, that almost all his knowledge of Geography and History was acquired at this period ; and it is believed, that few persons have possessed a more extensive or accurate acquaintance with either of these sciences. This domestic


education rendered him fond of home and of the company of his parents, and led him to feel a livelier interest than is usual with boys of the same age, in the conversation of those who were older than himself. It also saved him from the school-boy coarseness and effrontery, often thought, in this rough world, a necessary but by no means an ornamental appendage of the youthful character.

His father was particularly fond of the society of men of education and intelligence; and his hospitable house was the wellknown resort of gentlemen of this character. To no one of the family were they more welcome, than to his son. Even at this very early period of life, while listening to their conversation on the character of the great men of the age, both in the colonies and in Europe, a deep and lasting impression was made upon his mind; and he then formed a settled resolution, that he would make every effort in his power to equal those, whose talents and character he had heard so highly extolled.

In his twelfth year, he went to Middletown, for the purpose of pursuing his studies, under the late Rev. Enoch Huntington, a gentleman of high classical attainments. He boarded in the family, and devoted himself to his books with unusual assiduity and success. Not content with the time regularly allotted to study in the school, he spent most of his leisure hours at home in intense application. So entirely was his mind absorbed by his books, that it was no uncommon thing for the members of the family to pass through his room, and even to call him by name, without being perceived by him. During his residence at Middletown, his conduct was marked with the strictest propriety, his manners were amiable and affectionate, his attention to his studies was intense and unremitted, and his progress in them rapid and honourable. When he left Middletown, he had acquired a very accurate knowledge of the Latin and Greek languages; and had read not only those classical authors which were necessary for admission into College, but those also which were studied during the two first years collegiate life.

Io September, 1765, when he had just passed his thirteenth year, he was admitted as a member of Yale College. At that time, unfortunately, the freshman class had no stated tutor; but were dependant for their instruction, sometimes upon one officer of college, and sometimes upon another: a state of things too irregular and unsettled to produce any substantial benefit to the pupil. During the winter, he had the misfortune to break his arm; and, for several months in the spring and summer, he was prevented by sickness from pursuing his studies. Near the close of the Collegiate year, President Clap resigned his office; and the students for a short time were dispersed: a series of calamities, by which the year was in a considerable measure lost to him as a student. The discipline of College had been for several years chiefly anni. hilated. Loose opinions on morals and religion, prevailed ex

of a

tensively in the country, and their pernicious influence was too obviously felt in the various seminaries of learning. Owing to the bad state of the College commons, the students had been indulged in the practice of providing entertainments at their rooms. This naturally produced a great degree of inattention to their studies, and gave rise to scenes of revelry and riot, in the highest degree injurious to the pursuits of literature. It is not surprising, that in such a state of things the practice of gambling had become unhappily prevalent in College. Under all these disadvantages, young Dwight gained considerable reputation for genius and acquirements. His information and address rendered his society generally pleasing. It was courted, even by members of the higher classes, who strongly solicited him to join them in their pernicious amusements. But the instructions of his parents had made so deep an impression upon his mind, that no importunities of this nature could prevail upon him to engage with them in gambling. He was at length so far wrought upon, however, as to play for amusement; and, not being necessitated to study his lessons, gradually yielded to their solicitations, until much of his time .was wasted in this manner. In no instance, however, did they influence him to play for money, or to stake even a farthing. Yet playing for amusement had so far become a habit, that when he returned to College, upon the commencement of his second year, he entered upon the practice with considerable ardour. From this danger he was fortunately rescued by the exertions of his tutor and kinsman, the Hon. Stephen Mix Mitchell, late Chief Judge of the Supreme Court of Connecticut; to whom, for this and many other acts of kindness, shown him while a member of College, he ever after acknowledged himself to be most deeply indebted. During the sophomore year, he was badly poisoned; by reason of which he was confined at his father's house four months, and obli. ged to discontinue his studies during that period.

It is apparent, from the foregoing recital, that the two first years of his collegiate life must have been in a great measure lost.

On commencing his junior year, he devoted himself seriously to study. He was now fifteen: had lost a great part of the two preceding years, and had but two remaining, in which he might hope to redeem his loss, and lay the foundation for future usefulness and respectability. He entered on the studies of the year with great zeal, and pursued them with unremitting assiduity and perseverance. At that time College-prayers were attended at half past five o'clock in the morning, in the winter, and at half past four in the summer. He began the year by qualifying himself

, every morning, to construe and parse a hundred lines in Homer before prayers. This lesson, which formed no part of the regular College-ex. ercises, was, of course, acquired by candle-light; and his object in attending to it was, to render himself more thoroughly master of the Greek language, than he could expect to become in the com

« PreviousContinue »