The New Zealand Evangelist
Biographical Sketches.—No. IV — The Rev. R. W. Hamilton, L.L.D., D.D.
Biographical Sketches.—No. IV.
The Rev. R. W. Hamilton, L.L.D., D.D.
The Congregational body in England, and the cause of Evangelism generally, have sustained a deep loss by the death of Dr. Hamilton. The following sketch is abridged from the Leeds Mercary: —
Dr. Hamilton was a native of London, where he was born on the 6th of July, 1794. His father was the Rev. Frederick Hamilton, Independent Minister, of Brighton; and his mother Martha, the daughter of the Rev. Richard Winter, B.D., who for the long space of forty years was pastor of the Independent Church, Newcourt, Carey-street, London.
Richard Winter Hamilton was educated partly at a school in the Isle of Wight, and partly at the Protestant Dissenter's Grammar school, Mill-Hill, near London, in the latter of which Serjeant Talfourd was his school-fellow. It is remembered of his childhood, that he was slow in learning to read, — a fact, which, considering his natural quickness and power of memory, can only be ascribed to boyish volatility of spirits.
He was admitted a member of his father's church on the 21st. November, 1809. His early piety and speaking talents, caused him to devote himself to the ministry.
His theological education was received at Hoxton College, then under the presidency of the Rev. Dr. Simpson.
The great abilities and prodigious memory of young Hamilton made his acquisition of knowledge extremely rapid; he had entered the college in August, 1810, when only sixteen years of age, and he left it before he had completed his twentieth year. He was invited to Leeds to supply the pulpit of Albion Chapel, where he was so much admired, that he received a call from the church and congregation of that place, dated on the 5th June, 1814, — a month before he was twenty years of age. He accepted the call, and was ordained the minister of the chapel on the 15th March, 1815.
His eloquence, his high attainments, his generous warmth of disposition, and even his extreme youth, caused him to be popular at the very commencement of his ministry. But he was destined to sustain a speedy reverse, which was painful at the time, though salutary in its effect on his subsequent character. He had, in his ministerial capacity, attended with assiduity and kindness Mr. Joseph Blackburn, an attorney of Leeds, who was executed for forgery in the spring of 1815; and he preached a sermon to an immense audience in the Cloth-hall yard, to improve the melancholy event. Being pressed to publish the sermon, which had not been previously written, he wrote it out in the course of a visit to London, and sent off the manuscript piecemeal to the printer page 200 without any opportunity for revision. For this imprudence, the juvenile author paid dear. The sermon was one of great ability, its doctrines and reasonings were unimpeachable; its narrative was extremely interesting; but unhappily it was disfigured by faults of taste in composition, and especially by a learned phraseology and somewhat inflated style, which brought upon the author merciful criticism. Forthwith it became fashionable to cry down the young preacher as a pedantic and bombastic declaimer; and the impression for a considerable time thinned his congregation.
He profited by the lesson. Not that he was ever to free his diction from its learned character and Johnsoniah rotundity, or to castigate sufficiently an imagination which revelled among all natural and moral beauties; but that he did in some degree tame down his faculties and his style; whilst the public found out his sterling greatness, and indulged him in a peculiarity of eloquence which in him was obviously not affected, but perfectly natural.
The vigorous intellect and large soul of Mr. Hamilton exereised themselves not only in the discharge of the sacred and all-important duties of the ministry, but also in other methods of promoting the welfare of his fellow-men. He was alive to the events passing around him, and, without being a very active politician, he sympathised in every public movement on behalf of civil and religious liberty, the emancipation of the slave, the evangelization of the healtier, the spread of education, the improvement of the condition of the working classes, and the reform of our national institutions.
The laborions discharge of his duties as a minister, combined with the attraction of his eloquence, and of his character, filled Albion Chapel inconveniently; and his people accordingly erected another and far more spacious building. This structure, named Belgrave Chapel, was handsome and commodious; it was opened on the 6th January, 1836; and in that place did the Reverend gentleman carry on his instructive and valuable ministry till the elose of his life.
The first work of any magnitude published by Mr. Hamilton was a volume of “Sermons” in 1833. It is a treasure of special eloquence. The following year, he published a small volume entitled “Pastoral Appeals on Personal, Domestic, and Social Prayer.” Some years later, he put forth a volume of domestic prayers, entitled “The Little Sanctuary.” In the year 1841, he published several of his papers real before the Philosophical Society, together with other papers and poems, under the title of “Nugæ Literaæ;” prose and verse. In 1842 appeared his work on “Missions: their authority, scope, and encouragement: an Essay to which the second prize, proposed by a recent Association in Scotland, was adjudged”—(the first prize having been won by that consummate essayist, the Rev. Dr. Harris, of Chesh unt College.) In 1844 he received from the University of Glasgow the diploma of L.L.D., and from the University of New York, the degree of D.D.page 201
The next work published by Dr. Hamilton was his Essay entitled “The Institutions of Popular Education,” to which a prize of one hundred guineas, given by “a patriotic Churchman of Man-chester,” was adjudged.
In the year 1846, the Doctor published a “second series of Sermons,” on some of the highest subjects of Christian contemplation, and characterised by all his excellence.
“The Revealed Doctrine of Rewards and Punishments,” being the twelfth series of “The Congregational Lecture,” for 1846, was published in the year 1847. It is the most elaborate and learned of all his works. It is especially directed against the doctrine of the annihilation of the wicked at death, which some time since appeared to be gaining ground.
When the “Minutes of the Committee of Council on Education” were published, early in the year 1847, Dr. Hamilton resisted them with all his might. He delivered lectures on the subject, attended public meetings in Leeds and other towns, went on a deputation to London to oppose the Government measure, and spoke at a great meeting at Exeter-hall in the strongest reprobation of it.
The advances making by the Establishment principle, in England and the colonies, led Dr. Hamilton to join the “British Antistate Church Association,” in the principles of which, as a consistent Voluntary, he had always concurred, though he did not like the name, and had not hitherto thought it expedient to join the Association.
In the beginning of the present year Dr. Hamilton published a small but valuable treatise— “Horæ et Vindiciæ Sabbaticæ,” or Familiar Disquisitions on the Revealed Sabbath.”
His last publication was the “Introduetory Memoir,” prefixed to the “Posthumous Works of the late Rev. Joha Ely,” of which he was the Editor.
At the meeting of the Congregational Union in May last, the Rev. Doctor read a paper on the literature of the Congregational body—a subject which had been assigned to him by the Board.— There can be little doubt that the paper will be published, among other writings which Dr. Hamilton has left behind him, and the whole of which are committed to his friend, the Rev. Dr. Raffles.
We have now brought the subject of this sketch to the closing scene of life. His last sermon to his own people in Belgrave Chapel was preached on the morning of the 7th of May, from the strikingly appropriate text—“For here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come“—Heb. xiii. 14. In his sermon he gave a glowing description of the heavenly state and city, and concluded by the exclamation of Bunyan, after describing the same happy place—“which, when I had seen, I wished myself among them!“In the afternoon of the same day, he administered the Lord's Supper, which formed the solemn and delightful close to his services among his own people. On the following day, he went to London to attend the meeting of the Congregational page 202 Union. It was on the Saturday of that week, the 13th of May, that he perceived the small boil on his wsist, which was the commencement of his complaint (cellular erysipelas in the left arm.) Neglecting it as of no importance, he staid another week in London, then went to Leamington for a few days; and on his return home fulfilled an engagement by preaching a missionary sermon at the Wesleyan Chapel, Rotherham, on Thursday, the 25th of May, from the text—“For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ”—1 Cor. iii. 11. This was his last sermon. He preached it against the earnest dissuasions of his wife, and was so ill that he was obliged to go to bed between preaching in the morning and attending the public meeting in the evening. He declared that he would have given up the engagement if it had been in his own religious connexion, but that he could not as it was on behalf of another body. He returned to Leeds on the 26th, in such a state of suffering that when he saw his medical attendant he told him he had come home to die.
All that surgical skill could do was done to check and remove the complaint. Though greatly reduced he seemed on the eve of recovery,—when the hot wenther destroyed his small stock of strength, and he was suddenly brought, to the consternation of every one but himself, to death's door. On Sunday, the 16th July, the symptoms became very alarming,—on Monday he was a dying man,—and at one o'clock on Tuesday morning, the 18th, he expired. He had just completed his fifty-fourth year.
When a friend, who had co-operated with him on many occasions, stood by his bedside twelve hours before his departure, and asked—“Do you hold all your great principles clear and firm to the last?”—the eye of the dying man kindled and opened wide, and a smile of triumphant confidence played upon his lips, whilst he said, with extraordinary emphasis,—“O yes! my principles! if those principles fail, every thing fails. I have always relied upon principle.” The look which accompanied this declaration was never to be forgot. It was the last leaping flame of the expiring lamp. After this, weakness so much prevailed that the great mind, unhinged, scarcely retained coherent thought, unless directly appealed to. The drowsiness of death, each hour, gained upon the vigorous intellect, till at length the mortal part sunk into mortality: and the immortal sprang to
“The Bosom of His Father and His God.”
The intellectual character of Dr. Hamilton was pre-eminently marked by power. His was a robust, a Herculean intellect. It was large in grasp, and vigorous in action. His apprehension was quick and penetrating; and his reflective power great. A memory which seemed to retain all that he ever read or heard, furnished an inexhaustible store-house of knowledge; whilst his quickness in producing his mental treasures was equal to his power of acquiring and retaining them. Words presented themselves to him in only too great abundance; and his choice among them too page 203 constantly, though quite unconsciously to himself, betrayed the scholar, who might seem to be ever living amongst Greek and Latin, amongst metaphysicians and schoolmen.
Dr. Hamilton was endowed with an imagination which luxuriated in all beauty and soared to all grandeur and elevation. His soul was full of poetry. He was also passionately fond of music. Yet with all these attributes of genius, and with all his exquisite susceptibilities, there was still a defect, namely, in point of taste.
A feature of Dr. Hamilton's mental constitution which cannot be omitted, was his exuberant wit. This was in him as spontaneous as thought itself. It played in his mind like sunbeams on the water. We may not deny that it sometimes appeared out of place in the minister of religion,—that its gambols were somewhat excessive and its flashes keen. But to oppose that this playful constitution of the fancy, given him by nature, implied a want of the deepest sense of serious and grand realities,—that it indicated any thing but the purest sincerity in his religion,—would be not injustice merely, but folly. It would show an ignorance of the constitution of human nature.
It is in character with Dr. Hamilton's other mental features that he should have almost entirely wanted the mathematical and arithmetical faculty. The rigid demonstration, the mechanical exactness, of so great utility in practical life and even in reasoning, were not accordant with his poetical constitution.
Dr. Hamilton's moral qualities were, a warmth of heart that made him the faithful friend, the tender relative, the affectionate pastor, the true philanthropist, and “zealously affected in every good thing,”—a generosity the most large and free,—a sense of honour which could not brook the thought of disingenuousness or meanness,—a candour the most manly,—an independence the most proud,—a love of truth which ruled his powers and his life. We do not say that he had not prejudices, sometimes freely and strongly expressed. We do not say that his chivalry of feeling and friendship was not too fervent to be always strictly just.
This is scarcely the place to discuss Dr. Hamilton's character as a theologian or as a preacher. We may remark generally that he had the firmest possible attachment to the principles commonly known as Evangelical. He regarded with extreme dread the doctrines of Unitarianism and Puseyism. Towards all Evangelical denominations he cherished the most catholic spirit. He was an active member of the Evangelical Alliance, and he was ever ready to render service (as in the last public ministration of his life,) to other religious communities. His preaching was instructive, rich in thought and sentiment, experimental, and practical. But there was this peculiarity, that when he made a great and special effort he was in danger of taking a flight above his hearers, and becoming abstruse, metaphysical, and learned, whilst his ordinary pulpit addresses to his own flock were the natural outflowing of his scriptural stores, his humble piety, and his hearty love, graced with the unbidden beauties of his rich and irrepressible imagination.