Page images
PDF
EPUB
[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

[We depart from our usual and almost invariable rule, in announcing the name of the distinguished author of this Article. We do so, because of its personal and individual character, wbich takes it out of the range of an ordinary Review Article. It was prepared for another destination; but, owing to unforeseen circumstances, and by the request of some distinguished friends of its honored subject, it has been submitted to our use, as it now appears. In this we acquiesce, not without some special approbation of its propriety. Dr. Griffin was a Presbyterian. He belonged to our branch of the Church. His theology was like that of Richards, Dwight, Payson, Fisher, and other worthies, whose names we omit, because they belong to men still living. The document was written by a friend, and a co-presbyter, who knew him well, and who seems to have rather coerced his admiration within regulated limits, than permitted it to sweep its way in all the naturalness of friendship and grateful memories. Griffin was no common man. In person his magnitude was as lofty and distinguishing, as in character his qualities were superior and rare and excellent. Such a memory ought not soon to be permitted to fade from the tablets of the Church, or the nation, or the age to which, as a minister of Christ, he was an ornament very seldom surpassed.]

To the task of preparing a sketch of President Griffin, I have acceded with much hesitation and self-distrust, in view of what I judge should be the character of the performance. I feel incompetent to it; fearing to fail, where I ought to succeed, or never undertake. One may be extravagant, using adulation and undue applause ; or some way unfaithful in narrative, or in omission, or in the very style of the truth. If love and profound appreciation may be no disqualification, I hope to be availed of their influence in the portraiture I now attempt.

I came from Philadelphia to Newark, New Jersey, as a student of the law, in 1811, about two years after the translation of Dr. Griffin, from his honored pastorate there, to his profes

sorship in the Theological Seminary, at Andover. The atmo•sphere was redolent of his memory and his praise—his enemies also retaining and diffusing a lively recollection of him. I soon heard him variously described ; by the good, however, and the judicious, only in a style of approbation or lofty panegyric. I then began to read his sermons. Soon I was so happy, after I had become interested in the things of Christ, to hear his preaching ; subscribing then to all I had heard in his praise. To me he seemed a giant in stature, and a greater giant in mind. His oratory was imperial. The audience seemed enchanted; and he, as he stood and spake to the people all the words of this life, showed the moral centre of a dependent circle of arrested and confluent attention. Stately, natural, massive, in all; matter, manner, method, everything, told us of a master in Israel. He appeared great in every good sense, and in all original.

I have ever viewed it as an honor and an advantage, as well as a matter of happy memories, that I was so well acquainted with Dr. Griffin. When I became a co-presbyter with him, about four years, in the Presbytery of Jersey, till my pastorate in New York, commencing there in 1820, having been ordained by that venerated body, its members were numerous and its jurisdiction wide; while, for stars of pure radiance and of the first magnitude, there were few Presbyteries in this country, or any other, that showed superior. I mean for sound and useful qualities, befitting the ministry of the glorious Gospel of the blessed God. Griffin, Richards, Fisher, Armstrong, Perrine, Hillyer, Ogden, McDowell, King, and others, all practically one, in doctrine, in love, in usefulness, in fraternal harmony, and mutual help, presented a galaxy of rare attractions, of devout and exalted worth. Among them, the first named was distinguished as the first name, facile princeps, honored in his eminence by all his official peers. In the statistics, the practics, and the ecclesiastics of presbyterial business, and in deliberative debate and counsel, several were both superior and perhaps more useful, especially the second and the third I have named. But, as a preacher, a divine, a scho

lar, a writer, and a person of address and influence, as well as general celebrity, his place was then supreme.

Not, I think, in that circle named, but in some larger relations, he was not rightly appreciated; detraction and invidious jealousy, connected, indeed, with something of ecclesiastical party spirit and the odium theologicum, disparaged his nobler qualities, and seemed to rejoice in efforts of adroit meanness to degrade him. “Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous, but who is able to stand before envy ?” Prov. 27 : 4. Its report reached him, and vulnerable enough, as well as refined and exquisite, was the nature that felt it. But here his behavior was admirable. He envied no one! His lips were sealed against calumny, and even in self-defence he said studiously little. We who knew him, only loved him the more, as we observed his magnanimous and Christian superiority in the contrast. His defamers, oh, how comparatively small and mean!.

I owe him another tribute, which gratitude and justice alike prescribe, and which many another young man, as I then was, in the ministry, might with me unite to accord him, for the wise and tender care he evinced for my proficiency and accomplishment, as a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. When I preached for him, or before him and the Presbytery, his censures, expressed to me alone, so faithful, so discriminating, so apposite, so condescending, so useful, so kind, deserve this simple record of my often and deeply felt gratitude. No other person ever benefited me so much. None was ever so severe or so endearing; so inexorable to a fault, or so benignant in teaching me to avoid it. I never doubted his motives. He was unselfish, seeking not his own, in all his animadversions; and I was grateful, and I loved him more and more; I profoundly esteemed him!

On some metaphysically theological points, I really differed from him. Yet, such was my respect for his character, that I felt embarrassment, rather than ease, in attempting to state or argue the difference with him. This he saw, and instantly endeavored to relieve me. He was above the sordidness of .

keeping his position by tricks of affectation, or assumptions of dignity and state. He was a paragon of fair and impartial reasoning, on such occasions, as his principles at all times evinced.

What he was as a gentleman, as a scholar, as a Christian, as a preacher, as a theologian, if quite incompetent to finish a full portrait, and make it lifelike and exact, I can at least display and attest what I knew or thought of him; and will endeavor to write only the truth. As to faults, I have no doubt of their existence, especially in myself; but in him, whatever they were, it seems less my duty, or my function, or my memory, or my motive, at all, to do more than cordially to ignore them, in this document.

1. As a gentleman, Dr. Griffin was a person of lofty and dignified appearance, mingled with all the utterances of benignity and unaffected benevolence. In height, his person was two or three inches over six feet, and not slender; his weight was probably two hundred and fifty pounds. His bearing was at once stately and natural, and his manners remarkably easy, graceful, unstudied, inoffensive. If politeness consists much, as some one says, in a temper to find your own in promoting the happiness of others, and especially theirs who are about you and with whom you converse, then Dr. Griffin was, I think, a truly polite man. He knew how to charm, to enliven, and to cheer, his guests at home, and to enhance the pleasures of every circle that inclosed him, no matter where. The magnitude of some renders them awkward and mechanically massive in all gesture; so that, when they attempt to be urbane and elegant in manners, the effort is portentous and porous, and the man shows at once as ponderous, and as polite, and as irresistible, as an educated elephant. I never recollect to have seen a person of the immense form of Dr. Griffin, who seemed so little obstructed or annoyed by it, in those successful habits of polished and well-bred behavior, from which his friends around him forgot the giant of stature, because they were occupied and enamoured with the giant and the gentleman of

mind. He was complete in both, factus ad unguem; as says Horace of a perfect statue.

Once only had I the pleasure of witnessing the scenery of Commencement, when Griffin presided there, conferred the degrees, and figured as the master of the assembly, with a grace and an awe-inspiring presence, not only unsurpassed, but never equalled by any other personage, so far as I have had opportunity to observe. I have seen Lord Brougham on the woolsack in the House of Lords, and on the throne of the Chancery of the British realm in Westminster Hall; and have witnessed many occasions of Commencement in different places, as well as Speakers and Presidents in Congress, in Legislatures, and on special occasions, administering order and ceremony with elevation and felicity of manner; but, for entire success, and almost histrionic power of display and influence, I always recur to that scene, at Williams, though all raining and storming without, in 1828, as the cap of the climax of majesty, propriety, and excellence. Not for nicety, or dotage, or adulation, do I write this; but from a conviction, that in not a few social sceneries of the sort, the recital may have a wholesome admonitory application, where all æsthetic proprieties are piously, that is, stupidly ignored, as if there was no duty or pertinence in the inspired canon, Let all things be done decently and in order. We have had to feel ashamed sometimes, to see a classical and worthy president on the platform, twisting his limbs into all grotesque forms, enacting awkwardness of movement, as if it was part of his office, or his conscience, or his prayer; or as if it must be fatally contagious, among all his facile undergraduates, if he, their incomparable president, should so far forget himself as to enact the well-bred gentleman, as often as once a year, for scenic display, on the jubilant, and the grand, and the classic occasion of Commencement.

2. As a scholar, Dr. Griffin would rank among the upper ten of all the official primes that have graced the colleges of our country. In every branch of the encyclopedia of liberal learning, distinctively, none of them was equal to himself, much less to some others. All have their fortes, and all their faults, while

« PreviousContinue »