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I had the pleasure of your letter by Messrs. Stennett and Hall last week. They appear to me pleasant young men, and I should have been happy to have had further opportunities of showing my regard to the children of so worthy parents, than their short stay here allowed. Though there are many excellent teachers at Aberdeen, and both they and the ministers are remarkable for purity of morals, I have some fears, from different accounts, that the general strain of preaching there is less evangelical than in several pulpits in Glasgow or Edinburgh. Principal Campbell and Dr. Beattie are, in my opinion, able and worthy men ; and my difference with the first, as to the American War and the Popish Bill, has not impaired our mutual esteem. I wrote letters to introduce the young gentlemen to both."
Mr. Hall, for many years afterwards, used often to speak of the affectionate attentions of Dr. Erskine, on this occasion ; and of his own feelings, when, on taking leave, the venerable man of God exhorted him to self-vigilance, kissed him, laid his hand upon his head, blessing him and commending him to the watchful care of the great Head of the Church.
At the time when he went to Aberdeen, the reputation of the two colleges, King's and Marischal College, was almost equally balanced. At the latter, Principal Campbell and Dr. Beattie, Professor of Moral Philosophy, had attained a high and merited celebrity both on account of their lectures and their writings: while at King's College, the Divinity lectures of Dr. Gerard were much and greatly esteemed ; and some of the other professors were men of eminence. Many, therefore, especially of the divinity students, attended the appropriate lectures at the two colleges.*
Mr. Hall, in a letter addressed to his deservedly prized friend, the late Dr. Ryland, towards the end of this first session at college, speaks thus of his studies and of two of the professors :
At King's College, during Mr. Hall's studies there, Mr. John Leslie was Professor of Greek; Mr. Roderick Macleod, Professor of Philosophy, including Mathematics; Mr. W. Ogilvie, Professor of Humanity; Mr. James Dunbar, Professor of Moral Philosophy; and Dr. Alexander Gerard, Professor of Divinity. Though some of these were highly distinguished men, Dr. Gerard was most known to the world of English literature. Among his works are “ An Essay on Genius," “ An Essay on Taste,” two volumes of valuable Sermons, and hig “ Lectures on the Pastoral Care," published in 1799 by his son, Dr. Gilbert Gerard
“ We entered the Greek class under Mr. Leslie, who, though a man of no apparent brightness of parts, is, notwithstanding, wellfitted for his office, being a good grammarian, and attentive to the interests of his pupils. We have been employed in the class in going over, more accurately, the principles of the Greek language, and reading select passages in Xenophon and Homer: and I have privately read through Xenophon's Anabasis, and Memorabilia of Socrates, several books of Homer, and some of the Greek Testament; and am now reading Longini de Sublimitate liber, which I hope to finish next week.”
In the same letter he mentions his reading with Professor Ogilvie, whose versions of the Latin poets he characterizes as “extremely elegant.” He laments the want of religious advantages in this seat of learning, and deplores the profanity and profligacy of many of the students; one of whom, he assures his friend, affirmed that he knew no use even in the word “God,” except to give point to an oath! To make up for this sad deficiency, he adds, "we have found some agreeable acquaintances in the New Town, and among them the sister of Mr. Cruden, the author of the Concordance."
The same letter contains evidence that he did not confine his attention solely to classical and mathematical studies. After expressing his admiration of the devotional as well as rational spirit that “lives and breathes in every page of Edwards,” he adds :
My thoughts are at present too much immersed in literary exercises to admit of long or close application of thought to any thing else. I have, however, been thinking a little on the distinction of natural and moral ability, and have in my mind an objection upon which I should be glad to have your thoughts. It is, briefly, this: If, according to Edwards, the will always follows the last dictate of the understanding, and if it be determined, directed, and biassed by the view of the understanding, what room then is left for any notion of moral ability, as distinct from natural ? or how can there, in this case, be any depravity of the will, without supposing a prior defect in the understanding ? Since the will, if it be wrong in its bias, is first led to that bias by the understanding; and where then the possibility of a moral inability consisting with a natural ability ? This I hope to have some conversation with you upon, when I have the happiness of seeing you. I have with me Edwards on the Will, and have lately perused it often ; and the more I read it, the more I admire."
The lamented death of Sir James Mackintosh has left a blank which none can adequately fill, with regard to Mr. Hall's character, habits, and the developement of his intellectual powers at this period. On application, however, to an esteemed friend, Professor Paul, he has kindly communicated a few particulars, which I shall give in his own language.
“ What I now transmit is drawn from the College records, from the recollection of Dr. Jack, Principal of King's College, and formerly for three years a class-fellow of Mr. Hall, and from my own knowledge ; for I, also, was a cotemporary of Mr. Hall, having commenced my first year's studies when he commenced his fourth. It appears from the album that Mr. Hall entered college in the beginning of November, 1781. His first year was spent principally under the tuition of Mr. Professor Leslie, in the acquisition of the Greek language; his second, third, and fourth years under that of Mr. Professor Macleod, when he studied mathematics, natural philosophy, and moral philosophy. He took his degree in arts (i. e. A. M. degree) on the 30th of March, 1785. Principal Jack says that he attended the Professor of Humanity, Mr. Ogilvie, during the four years he was at college, both for Latin and Natural History; but, as there is no record of the students of the humanity and natural history classes, this fact depends wholly on the Principal's recollection. I learn from the same source that Sir James Mackintosh and Mr. Hall, while at college, read a great deal of Greek in private, and that their reputation was high among their fellow-students for their attainments in that language. Principal Jack also bears testimony to Mr. Hall's great success in his mathematical and philosophical studies, and affirms that he was the first scholar of his class, in the various branches of education taught at college. During one of the sessions the Principal was member of a select literary society, consisting of only eight or ten students, of which society Sir James and Mr. Hall were the distinguished ornaments. None of Mr. Hall's college exercises are now to be found in this place ; but my impressions correspond with those of the Principal, that his acquirements were of the very first order; and as Sir James had left college before I entered, having received his A. M. degree 30th March, 1784, there was no one at college in my time who could be at all put in competition with Mr. Hall. But, it was not as a scholar alone that Mr. Hall's reputation was great at college. He was considered by all the students as a model of correct and regular deportment, of religious and moral habits, of friendly and benevolent affections."
To this concise summary, I subjoin the few particulars which I gathered from Sir James Mackintosh himself.
When these two eminent men first became acquainted, Sir James was in his eighteenth year, Mr. Hall about a year older. Sir James described Mr. Hall, as attracting notice by a most ingenuous and intelligent countenance, by the liveliness of his manner, and by such indications of mental activity as could not be misinterpreted. His appearance was that of health, yet not of robust health ; and he often suffered from paroxysms of pain, during which he would roll about on the carpet, in the utmost agony; but no sooner had the pain subsided than he would resume his part in conversation with as much cheerfulness and vivacity as before he had been thus interrupted. Sir James said he became attached to Mr. Hall, “ because he could not help it.” There wanted many of the supposed constituents of friendship. Their tastes, at the commencement of their intercourse, were widely different; and upon most of the important topics of inquiry, there was no congeniality of sentiment: yet notwithstanding this, the substratum of their minds seemed of the same cast, and upon this, Sir James thought, the edifice of their mutual regard first rested. Yet he, ere long, became fascinated by his brilliancy and acumen, in love with his cordiality and ardour, and “awe-struck” (I think that was the term employed) by the transparency of his conduct and the purity of his principles. They read together; they sat together at lecture, if possible ; they walked together. In their joint studies, they read much of Xenophon, and Herodotus, and more of Plato; and so well was all this known, exciting admiration in some, in others envy, that it was not unusual, as they went along, for their class-fellows to point at them and say, “There go Plato and Hērodotus.” But the arena in which they met most frequently was that of morals and metaphysics; furnishing topics of incessant disputation. After having sharpened their weapons by reading, they often repaired to the spacious sands upon the sea shore, and still more frequently to the picturesque scenery on the banks of the Don, above the old town, to discuss with eagerness the various subjects to which their attention had been directed. There was scarcely an important position in Berkeley's
Minute Philosopher, in Butler's Analogy, or in Edwards on the Will, over which they had not thus debated with the utmost intensity. Night after night, nay, month after month, for two sessions, they met only to study or to dispute; yet no unkindly feeling ensued. The process seemed rather, like blows in that of welding iron, to knit them closer together. Sir James said, that his companion as well as himself often contended for victory, yet never, so far as he could then judge, did either make a voluntary sacrifice of truth, or stoop to draw to and fro the serra doyouaylas, as is too often the case with ordinary controvertists. From these discussions, and from subsequent meditation upon them, Sir James learnt more as to principles (such, at least, he assured me, was his deliberate conviction) than from all the books he ever read. On the other hand, Mr. Hall through life reiterated his persuasion, that his friend possessed an intellect more analogous to that of Bacon, than any person of modern times; and that if he had devoted his powerful understanding to metaphysics, instead of law and politics, he would have thrown an unusual light upon that intricate but valuable region of inquiry. Such was the cordial, reciprocal testimony of these two distinguished men. And, in many respects-latterly, I hope and believe, in all the most essentialit might be truly said of both "as face answereth to face in a glass, so does the heart of a man to his friend.”
It will be seen from the first of the series of letters inserted in the fifth volume,* that, shortly after Mr. Hall's return to Aberdeen in November, 1783, he received an invitation from the church at Broadmead, to associate himself with Dr. Caleb Evans, as the assistant pastor; an invitation which he accepted with much doubt and diffidence. After some correspondence it was arranged that Mr. Hall should reside at Bristol, in the interval (of nearly six months) between the college sessions of 1784 and 1785, and then return to Aberdeen to complete his course. In this important session, from the beginning of November 1784 to May 1785, he seems to have devoted himself most sedulously to his studies; especially the Greek language, with moral and intellectual philosophy, and those other departments of inquiry which are most intimately related to theology. During the session, too, he attended Dr. Campbell's lectures at Marischal college, and frequently profited by the Doctor's
See Vol. V. p.