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A BRIEF MEMOIR
THE REV. ROBERT HALL, A. M.
ROBERT HALL, whose Works are collected in the volumes now published, was born at Arnsby, a village about eight miles from Leicester, on the 2d of May, 1764. His father was descended from a respectable family of yeomanry in Northumberland, whence he removed to Arnsby in 1753, on being chosen the pastor of a Baptist congregation in that place. He was not a man of learning, but a man of correct judgment, and solid piety, an eloquent and successful preacher of the gospel, and one of the first among the modern Baptists in our villages who aimed to bring them down from the heights of ultra-Calvinism to those views of religious truth which are sound, devotional, and practical. He was the author of several useful publications, of which one, the “Help to Zion's Travellers,” has gone through several editions, and is still much and beneficially read, on account of its tendency to remove various often-urged objections against some momentous points of evangelical truth. He was often appointed to draw up
the “Circular Letters " from the ministers and messengers of the Northampton Association. One of these letters, published in 1776, presents, in small compass, so able a defence of the doctrine of the Trinity, that it might be advantageously republished for more general circulation. This excellent man died in March, 1791. His character has been beautifully sketched by his son,* who, in one sentence, while portraying his father, with equal accuracy depicted himself :-"He appeared to the
greatest advantage upon subjects where the faculties of “most men fail them; for the natural element of his mind " was greatness."
• See Vol. IV. p. 262-267.
The wife of this valuable individual was a woman of sterling sense and distinguished piety. She died in December, 1776.
Robert was the youngest of fourteen children, six of whom survived their parents. Four of these were daughters, of whom three are still living; the other son, John, settled as a farmer at Arnsby, and died in 1806.
Robert, while an infant, was so delicate and feeble, that it was scarcely expected he would reach maturity. Until he was two years of age he could neither walk nor talk. He was carried about in the arms of a nurse, who was kept for him alone, and who was directed to take him close after the plough in the field, and at other times to the sheep-pen, from a persuasion, very prevalent in the midland counties, that the exhalations from newly ploughed land, and from sheep in the fold, are salubrious and strengthening. Adjacent to his father's dwelling house was a burial ground; and the nurse, a woman of integrity and intelligence, judging from his actions that he was desirous to learn the meaning of the inscriptions on the grave-stones, and of the various figures carved upon them, managed, by the aid of those inscriptions, to teach him the letters of the alphabet, then to group them into syllables and words, and thus, at length, to read and speak. No sooner was his tongue loosed by this unusual but efficient process, than his advance became constantly marked. Having acquired the ability to speak, his constitutional ardour at once appeared. He was incessantly asking questions, and became a great and a rapid talker. One day, when he was about three years old, on his expressing disapprobation of some person who spoke quickly, his mother reminded him that he spoke very fast; “No," said he, " I only keep at it.”
Like many others who were born in villages, he received his first regular instructions (after he left his nurse's arms) at a dame's school. Dame Scotton had the honour of being his first professional instructor. From her he was transferred to a Mrs. Lyley, in the same village. While under their care he evinced an extraordinary thirst for knowledge, and became a collector of books. In the summer season, after the school-hours were over, he would put his richly prized library, among which was an Entick's Dictionary, into his pinafore, steal into the grave yard, (which, from an early and fixed association, he regarded as his study,) lie down upon the grass, spread his books around him, and there remain until the deepening shades of evening compelled him to retire into the house.
At about six years of age he was placed, as a day-scholar, under the charge of a Mr. Simmons, of Wigston, a village about four miles from Arnsby. At first, he walked to school in the mornings and home again in the evenings. But the severe pain in his back, from which he suffered so much through life, had even then begun to distress him; so that he was often obliged to lie down upon the road, and sometimes his brother John and his other school-fellows carried him, in turn, he repaying them during their labour by relating some amusing story, or detailing some of the interesting results of his reading. On his father's ascertaining his inability to walk so far daily, he took lodgings for him and his brother at the house of a friend in the village: after this arrangement was made they went to Wigston on the Monday mornings, and returned to Arnsby on the Saturday afternoons.
The course of instruction at Mr. Simmons's school was not very extensive; and Robert was not likely to restrict himself, as a student, to its limits. On starting from home on the Monday, it was his practice to take with him two or three books from his father's library, that he might read them in the intervals between the school hours. The books he selected were not those of mere amusement, but such as required deep and serious thought. The works of Jonathan Edwards, for example, were among his favourites; and it is an ascertained fact, that before he was nine years of age, he had perused and reperused, with intense interest, the treatises of that profound and extraordinary thinker, on the "Affections," and on the “Will.” About the same time he read, with a like interest, “Butler's Analogy." He used to ascribe his early predilection for this class of studies, in great measure, to his intimate association, in mere childhood, with a tailor, one of his father's congregation, a very shrewd, well-informed man, and an acute metaphysician. . Before he was ten years old, he had written many essays, principally on religious subjects; and often invited his brother and sisters to hear him preach. About this time, too, in one of those anticipatory distributions of a father's property, which, I apprehend, are
not unusual with boys, he proposed that his brother should have the cows, sheep, and pigs, on their father's death, and leave him “all the books.” These juvenile “dividers of the inheritance" seem to have overlooked their sisters ; unless, indeed, they assigned them the furniture. The incident, however, is mentioned simply to shew what it was that Robert even then most prized.
He remained at Mr. Simmons's school until he was eleven years of age, when this conscientious master informed the father that he was quite unable to keep pace with his pupil, declaring that he had been often obliged to sit up all night to prepare the lessons for the morning; a practice he could no longer continue, and must therefore relinquish his favourite scholar.
The proofs of extraordinary talent and of devotional feeling, which Robert had now for some time exhibited, not only gratified his excellent parents, but seemed to mark the expediency and propriety of devoting him to the sacred office; but the delicate health of the son, and the narrow means of the father, occasioned some perplexity. Mr. Hall, therefore, took his son to Kettering, in order that he might avail himself of the advice of an influential and valued friend residing there, Mr. Beeby Wallis. Their interview soon led to the choice of a suitable boarding school; but the pallid and sickly appearance of the boy exciting Mr. Wallis's sympathy, he prevailed upon his father to leave him at his house for a few weeks, in the hope that change of air would improve his health. This gentleman was so greatly astonished at the precocity of talent of his youthful visitor, that he several times requested him to deliver a short address to a select auditory invited for the purpose. The juvenile orator often afterwards adverted to the injury done him by the incongruous elevation to which he was thus raised. “Mr. Wallis," said he, “was one whom every body “ loved. He belonged to a family in which probity, candour, " and benevolence, constituted the general likeness: but con“ceive, Sir, if you can, the egregious impropriety of setting a “ boy of eleven to preach to a company of grave gentlemen, full “ half of whom wore wigs. I never call the circumstance to “ mind but with grief at the vanity it inspired; nor, when I “ think of such mistakes of good men, am I inclined to question “ the correctness of Baxter's language, strong as it is, where " he says, “Nor should men turn preachers as the river Nilus “breeds frogs (saith Herodotus), when one half moreth before “the other is made, and while it is yet but plain mud!""*
Robert's health appearing much improved from his short residence at Kettering, he was placed by his father as a boarder, at the school of the Rev. John Ryland, in the neighbouring town of Northampton. Mr. Ryland was a very extraordinary man, whose excellencies and eccentricities were strangely balanced. In him were blended the ardour and vehemence of Whitfield, with the intrepidity of Luther. His pulpit oratory was of the boldest character, and singularly impressive, when he did not overstep the proprieties of the ministerial function. In his school he was both loved and feared; his prevailing kindness and benevolence exciting affection, while his stern determination to do what was right, as well as to require what he thought right, too often kept alive among his pupils a sentiment of apprehension and alarm. So far as I can learn, from several who had been under his care, he taught Greek better than Latin, and the rudiments of mathematical science with more success than those of grammar and the languages. His pupils never forgot his manner of explaining the doctrine and application of ratios and proportions; and they who had ever formed a part of his “living orrery," by which he incorporated the elements of the solar system among the amusements of the play-ground, obtained a knowledge of that class of facts which they seldom, if ever, lost.
Our youthful student remained under Mr. Ryland's care but little more than a year and a half; during which, however, according to his father's testimony," he made great progress in Latin and Greek;” while, in his own judgement, the principle of emulation was called into full activity, the habit of composition was brought into useful exercise, the leading principles of abstract science were collected, and a thirst for knowledge of every kind acquired. It should also be mentioned here, that it was during the time Robert was Mr. Ryland's pupil, that he heard a sermon preached at Northampton, by Mr. Robins, of Daventry, whose religious instruction, conveyed “in language of the most classic purity,” at once "impressive and delightful," excited his early relish for chaste and elegant composition.
From the time he quitted Northampton, until he entered the “Bristol Education Society," or academy, for the instruction
Saint's Rest, Preface to Part II. original edition. + See Vol. IV. p. 306,