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Applying, as it does, to a period later than that which I am principally to consider, it must, for the present, give place to the opinions of others respecting Mr. Knox's state of mind at the most important period -chiefly during his last illness; but, in some measure, during the interval between 1829 and the time of his death. I preface all, however, with the record of his death.
On the 17th of June, 1831, Mr. Knox died, at his house in Dawson Street, Dublin. His death was thus announced, in a letter from the Rev. Charles Dickinson, for the information of the Bishop of Limerick, and of Mr. Forster; to whom the letter was addressed. This was a communication, made at the moment, to two of Mr. Knox's most attached friends; it came from one, who, on the spot, had every opportunity of observing; and it spoke, without care or reserve, whatever was then fresh in the mind of the writer. I am indebted to the friendship of Mr. Forster, for permission to make its contents public. It runs thus :
TO THE REV. CHARLES FORSTER.
MY DEAR SIR,
21 Bagot Street, June 17th, 1831. I hasten to inform you of an event, which I know will be a solemn one to you and to the good Bishop of Limerick ; but which, under all the circumstances, you will not long regard as a melancholy occurrence. It has pleased our merciful God to take to himself one who has been long and deeply prepared for his presence, - our valued friend, Alexander Knox.
This morning, towards nine o'clock, he was permitted to breathe his last. On Wednesday, the first symptoms of this last illness began to present themselves. I observed an oppression of his breathing, and a thickening of his articulation. I called on his medical attendants, but I found they were not under alarm. You may conclude from this, that his usual illness was not much increased.
During Thursday, the oppression continued; but he
sat up or lay on the sofa during that day, and did not retire to bed till towards eleven o'clock. Michael sat in the drawing-room during the night. He slept : but towards morning his breathing became very heavy, and he seemed not to notice any one. Mr. James Scott and Mrs. Scott were sent for ; they immediately came to him, but I am not certain that he recognised them. sent for about half-past eight o'clock, but, before I could get to his house, the event had occurred.
You will rejoice to hear, that for some months back I have not heard him express a desponding or impatient word.
He even stated several grounds on which he conceived that his God and Saviour had communicated decided improvement to his mind. He has been, indeed, calm ; and was latterly of opinion (I ought to say under hope), that it was the intention of Providence to remove him by a less tedious illness than he once anticipated. I never was so struck by his countenance as this morning, when I contemplated the remains of one whom I greatly loved. There was the most perfect composure of features : and I thought even that the soul still breathed divinely in his countenance. You felt, at once, there was genius and every exalted quality of soul.
I feel it an awful event to myself, because I am convinced I am deeply responsible for the improvement which Providence gave me the opportunity of deriving from him during the last nine years.
The excellent Bishop, for whom his friendship was so warm and lively, will feel it deeply; but he will rejcice in the mercy that his illness was not permitted to be one which might have oppressed his shattered nerves. God was kind indeed to him ; and never, surely, was there a soul, to whom the presence of his God and Saviour could constitute higher happiness.
I write in haste, and under fatigue. I beg you will convey to his lordship the assurances of my highest respect.
Believe me very truly yours,
In this letter, Mr. Dickinson speaks exactly as one should have expected to hear him speaking. He speaks of Mr. Knox, as of one ripely fitted for his removal to a higher state; "it has pleased our merciful God to take to himself one who has been long and deeply prepared for his presence." Mr. Knox died as he had lived, with the power of grace reigning in his heart; that power, in which his mind had been long established.
“ For some months past I have not heard him express an impatient or desponding word. He has been, indeed, calm; and was latterly of opinion (I should say under hope), that it was the intention of Providence to remove him by a less tedious illness than he had once anticipated.” (Mr. Knox's “ mental discomforts,” it will be remembered, “ were never such as to awaken religious terrors, except that, of his nervous distresses rising above patient endurance.” That was now removed.) "
« The excellent Bishop will rejoice in the mercy that his illness was not permitted to be one which might have oppressed his shattered nerves." (Here is just that fear expressed, which I should suppose would have occurred to friend's mind - the fear of bodily depression ; but no thought of religious alarms or doubts. It never came into his friend's mind that Mr. Knox had doubted.) There is not an expression that has any direct reference to permanence of opinion, or the remotest allusion to change of opinion. His friend knew that, though his opinions were fixed, his preparation was based far more strongly than in opinions. This preparation, he well knew, was deep and long abiding: and, in such preparedness as this, “never, surely,” says he, “ was there a soul, to whom the presence of his God and Saviour could constitute higher happiness.”
Mr. Dickinson's evidence is satisfactory, as far as it goes : but it is rather negative than positive, as respects the specific alleged change. It has no allusion to any supposed change. The thought of any change had never crossed the writer's mind; he could not, therefore, glance at it.
The next testimony is of a somewhat more positive
character. It is given after the supposed change had been heard of. The Rev. John Jebb, writing to me on that subject, meets the charge of altered doctrinal sentiments in terms of the strongest disclaimer. “The idea of any such change,” says Mr. Jebb, “ was a notion, which nothing but the most profound ignorance of that venerable person's (Mr. Knox's) character could for a moment have supported."
Mr. Jebb "saw Mr. Knox in the month of May, but a few weeks before his death.” He found him suffering much from nervous debility. “The conversation (as in the instance of Mr. Kelly, and as was usually the case,) began upon the state of his health. Mr. Knox expressed himself as feeling unusual discomfort ; at the same time, as clearly convinced that his malady was purely physical, a nervous derangement. This preliminary topic being finished, there was a short silence; till he introduced, of his own accord, a religious subject.” The subject on which Mr. Knox began, Mr. Jebb does not remember; but he has a clear recollection of the course which the conversation pursued, and the topics which it embraced. “On the subject which he had chosen, Mr. Knox spoke with all his accustomed vigour and decision, but with more brevity and condensation than usual. I followed up his remarks (says Mr. Jebb) by some observations of my own; to which he assented as I went on; and, when I paused, he said with considerable energy, 'Go on, you are right:' and shortly after resumed the subject himself, with all the fire and animation for which his discourse had been so remarkable."
The subject was “one of those topics which I had frequently heard him discuss; and into which, those catholic opinions of which he was so distinguished a defender, largely entered. The opinions he supported and illustrated, were those from which he had experienced comfort himself, and had taught others to seek it.”
Here is something approaching to positive. The depression continued ; it was physical, nervous depression; he could cast it off under the excitement of religious ani
mation; that excitement grew in conversation on his customary topics ; in them he maintained catholic opinions, (the views not of a party or a period, but those which had the concurrent consent of church antiquity.) And these catholic opinions were such as he experienced comfort in ; (therefore they had reference to the terms of his acceptance with God.) They were the opinions which Mr. Jebb had often heard him maintain ; such as Mr. Jebb maintained himself; and such as Mr. Knox eagerly exhorted him to go on maintaining.
This last circumstance is a strong feature in the case. Had there been a change in Mr. Knox's doctrinal views, he was bound to communicate the fact of his altered views to his young pupil : he was bound not to leave him in the delusion from which the master had freed himself; not to encourage him to go on in trains of thinking, which the experienced teacher had discovered to be fallacious in the end. “I am sure (says Mr. Jebb) that he regarded me, and listened to me, as to one in whom he took an evident interest." And could he be, at once, thus tenderly interested in behalf of his young friend, and leading him onwards by a way in which he knew he was leading him wrong? There is something in the supposition utterly inconsistent: such conduct is indefensible. He who could act thus, must have lost all moral sense and all kindly feeling. I appeal to the reason and the hearts of all men, - could this have been Mr. Knox?
What was the result of this conversation on the mind of Mr. Jebb? “So little was the idea of any feeling of misgiving as to religious truths, or of despondency as to religious comforts, communicated to my mind, that I left him with that buoyancy of spirit which his conversation never failed to communicate to me; and with an increasing conviction” (not that he had received any new light which had dispelled the clouds of former error, but) “ that he had been long and truly acquainted with that heavenly wisdom, whose ways are pleasantness, and whose paths are peace."
About the same time, Judge Jebb had an interview