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قراءة كتاب The 'Blackwood' Group

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‏اللغة: English
The 'Blackwood' Group

The 'Blackwood' Group

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 5

responsibilities of a position which he cannot long have looked forward to occupying, the newly-made Professor at once devoted himself to preparation for the discharge of his duties. Whilst thus engaged, his application was intense,—as well it might be, for it was stipulated that he was to deliver some hundred-and-fifty lectures during the forthcoming Session, and he had but four months in which to prepare them. Native genius, pluck and perseverance, however, carried him triumphantly over every obstacle. His first lecture has thus been described by one who was present on the occasion.[2]

'There was a furious bitterness of feeling against him among the classes of which probably most of his pupils would consist, and although I had no prospect of being among them, I went to his first lecture prepared to join in a cabal, which I understood was formed to put him down. The lecture-room was crowded to the ceiling. Such a collection of hard-browed, scowling Scotsmen, muttering over their knobsticks, I never saw. The Professor entered with a bold step, amid profound silence. Everyone expected some deprecatory or propitiatory introduction of himself, and his subject, upon which the mass was to decide against him, reason or no reason; but he began in a voice of thunder right into the matter of his lecture, kept up unflinchingly and unhesitatingly, without a pause, a flow of rhetoric such as Dugald Stewart or Thomas Brown, his predecessors, never delivered in the same place. Not a word, not a murmur escaped his captivated, I ought to say his conquered, audience, and at the end they gave him a right-down unanimous burst of applause. Those who came to scoff remained to praise.'

And from henceforth the Professor's enemies were silenced.

It can scarcely fail to strike the reader that into Wilson's election to the professorship there had entered not a little of what was casual, or the result of impulse; still his lucky star must have ruled at the moment, for the sequel far more than justified his rashness. As poet he had been mediocre, and as lawyer 'out of his element,' but there exists abundant testimony to prove that as lecturer and instructor of youth he was the right man in the right place. As was the way of his spirited and generous nature, he threw himself heart and soul into his new work; but though we are assured that his attainments in that department left nothing to be desired, it was far less to these than to character and personality that he owed the success which he undoubtedly won. Certainly philosophers more profound, and probably men of greater general attainments have occupied his Chair, but assuredly never one who united his happy powers of breathing life into the instruction which he imparted and inspiring his scholars with a keen and quickening enthusiasm for himself. And that he succeeded so well in this was perhaps due to the fact that, in addition to his wide and general humanity, there was about him a certain boyishness, which, when joined with the dignity and character of manhood, seldom fails in its appeal to youth.

From among the multitude of pupils who cherished grateful and happy recollections of his class, his biographer has presented us with the testimony of three. The first of these is Hill Burton, the historian of Scotland, who warmly acknowledges his kindness, and whose future eminence the Professor would seem to have divined; for, though at all times accessible to his pupils and conscientious in the discharge of his duties, he appears to have made a friend of Burton almost at the first meeting. Another of his students, Mr Alexander Taylor Innes, has left a picture of North in his lecture-room, from which, though it belongs by rights to a later date, I make no apology for quoting here.

'His appearance in his class-room,' says that gentleman, 'it is far easier to remember than to forget. He strode into it with the professor's gown hanging loosely on his arms, took a comprehensive look over the mob of young faces, laid down his watch so as to be out of the reach of his sledge-hammer fist, glanced at the notes of his lecture, and then, to the bewilderment of those who had never heard him before, looked long and earnestly out of the north window towards the spire of the old Tron Kirk; until, having at last got his idea, he faced round and uttered it with eye and hand, and voice and soul and spirit, and bore the class along with him. As he spoke the bright blue eye looked with a strange gaze into vacancy, sometimes sparkling with a coming joke, sometimes darkening before a rush of indignant eloquence; the tremulous upper lip curving with every wave of thought or hint of passion, and the golden-grey hair floating on the old man's mighty shoulders—if, indeed, that could be called age which seemed but the immortality of a more majestic youth. And occasionally, in the finer frenzy of his more imaginative passages—as when he spoke of Alexander, clay-cold at Babylon, with the world lying conquered around his tomb, or of the Highland hills, that pour the rage of cataracts adown their riven cliffs, or even of the human mind, with its "primeval granitic truths," the grand old face flushed with the proud thought, and the eyes grew dim with tears and the magnificent frame quivered with a universal emotion.'

Yet another pupil, the Reverend Dr William Smith, of North Leith, has thus recorded his impressions:—

'Of Professor Wilson as a lecturer on Moral Philosophy, it is not easy to convey any adequate idea to strangers,—to those who never saw his grand and noble form excited into bold and passionate action behind that strange, old-fashioned desk, nor heard his manly and eloquent voice sounding forth its stirring utterances with all the strange and fitful cadence of a music quite peculiar to itself. The many-sidedness of the man, and the unconventional character of his prelections, combine to make it exceedingly difficult to define the nature and grounds of his wonderful power as a lecturer. I am certain that if every student who ever attended his class were to place on record his impressions of these, the impressions of each student would be widely different, and yet they would not, taken all together, exhaust the subject, or supply a complete representation either of his matter or his manner.... The roll of papers on which each lecture was written, which he carried into the class-room firmly grasped in his hand, and suddenly unrolled and spread out on the desk before him, commencing to read the same moment, could not fail to attract the notice of any stranger in his class-room. It was composed in large measure of portions of old letters—the addresses and postage-marks on which could be easily seen as he turned the leaf, yet it was equally evident that the writing was neat, careful and distinct; and, except in a more than usually dark and murk day, it was read with perfect ease and fluency.'

And, in reference to a certain specific lecture, the same gentleman adds, 'The whole soul of the man seemed infused into his subject, and to be rushing forth with resistless force in the torrent of his rapidly-rolling words. As he spoke, his whole frame quivered with emotion. He evidently saw the scene he described, and such was the sympathetic force of his strong poetic imagination, that he made us, whether we would or not, see it too. Now dead silence held the class captive. In the interval of his words you would have heard a pin fall. Again, at some point, the applause could not be restrained, and was vociferous.' The writer concludes by stating that he has heard some of