Imágenes de páginas

and afterwards of Queen Elizabeth. Richard Stainhurst, a son of this gentleman's, was a zealous adherent of the popish religion; and, being likewise an accomplished scholar, was at one time engaged in controversy with his nephew Usher. His mother, also, in later life, went over to the Romish religion, to the great sorrow of her son.

Henry Usher, his paternal uncle, was a distinguished person. He was archbishop of Armagh, and as he was pleased with the design of planting a university in Dublin, so he used his best endeavours to promote its growth and success.

Ambrose Usher, the brother of James, is said to have made great proficiency in the Oriental languages, and to have translated much of the Old Testament from the original Hebrew into English, before our authorised translation was made. He was also well versed in the Arabic tongue.

His friends entertained great hopes that he would rise to eminence in the world of letters, but they were frustrated by his early death. Some of his writings, however, were published, and his opinions are occasionally quoted as good authority.

But, however highly the family were favoured with intellectual endowments, James was to be its brightest ornament; and happily the charge of moulding his character in childhood fell into very excellent hands. Two maiden aunts had been blind from their cradles, but the darkness did not extend itself to their minds. From the Bible they had learned in whatsoever state they were therewith to be content; by the Bible they had been taught that there was one treasure for the possession of which they might be grateful, even if they should suffer the loss of all things; from the Bible they had derived not only consolation but happiness; and they were able to repeat by heart a considerable portion of its contents. How could the soil be prepared with greater hope of a rich harvest than by being entrusted to such pious care?

These amiable ladies devoted themselves to the training of their young nephew; they soon found that they had good ground to work upon, for his disposition was quiet and docile, his memory strong, and his talents of considerable promise, even at an early age ; and they had the satisfaction of observing that the blessing of God had attended their anxious labours, by conveying to his youthful mind some strong religious impressions.

He lived to understand the importance of bringing up children in the way of righteousness; and accounted it a great mercy that he had not been suffered to fall into those habits of forgetfulness of God, which, where youth is neglected, so often end in hopeless impiety. His memory often recurred to the kindness of these earliest and best of his friends, with feelings of the fondest and most grateful affection.

At the age of ten, James Usher was sent to a grammar-school, which was then kept in Dublin by Mr. Fullerton and Mr. Hamilton.

The history of these gentlemen, as related by Dr. Parr, is rather curious. They were Scotchmen, whom · King James sent over, previous to the death of Queen Elizabeth, for the purpose of keeping up a correspondence with the chief protestants residing in or near Dublin, with a view of securing their good-will after her decease. Being of course enjoined to conceal their business and quality, (for they appear to have been highly connected), and possessing considerable capabilities as scholars, they opened a school in Dublin.*

* When King James came to the throne of England, he knighted Mr. Fullerton, and appointed him to a post of distinction in the royal household. He created Mr. Hamilton Viscount Clandebois.

Their young pupil was remarkable for his diligence, and manifested a great desire for knowledge; and he soon gained the esteem of his instructors by his profiency in Latin, rhetoric, and poetry. In after-life he frequently acknowledged himself to be deeply indebted to their attention and ability in conducting his education, and would mention it amongst the providences of God towards him, that persons who had been led to Dublin by such fortuitous circumstances should have been made the instruments of so much good to him.

At this period of his life he was a great lover of poetry, but he told Dr. Parr that he soon restrained that taste, from an idea that to indulge it would interrupt his more serious and important studies.

History is generally pleasing to the youthful mind, and seems to have been particularly interesting to young Usher. He thirsted for a knowledge of the occurrences of past times, and the pleasure which he experienced in the perusal of a work by Sleidan, made him resolve to enter upon " the study and search of antiquity, and all sorts of learning;" and he prosecuted his enquiries with spirit, and with far greater success than might have been expected, for Dr. Parr states that there was a great “ scarcity of good books and learned men” in Ireland at that time.

In the year 1593, Trinity college was finished and opened for the reception of students, and at the beginning of the roll was placed the name of James Usher, who had then attained the age of thirteen. Here he had the advantage of continuing his studies under the guidance of Mr. Hamilton, who was appointed to the first fellowship in the college.

Still pursuing his studies with renewed application and pleasure, he devoted himself to the acquisition of classical and scientific knowledge; and at the age of sixteen had made such progress in ecclesiastical history, antiquity, and chronology, that he completed the first draught of that great work, The Annals of the Old and New Testament, which afterwards spread his fame throughout Europe.

The subjects which principally occupied his thoughts at this period seemed to show that he had made choice of the sacred profession of a minister of Jesus Christ rather than of the law, which his father had wished him to pursue; and on the death of that parent, in August 1598, being left to decide for himself, he determined without hesitation to prepare himself for the work of the ministry.

The same event enables us to make mention of a striking proof of his disinterestedness and brotherly affection. A considerable estate descended to him by the death of his father ; but the greater part of it he gave up to his brother and sisters, reserving for himself only so much as might maintain him at college, and place at his command a small annual sum for the purchase of books.

Surrounded as he was by popery, having relations who adhered to that faith, and meeting frequently with books which advocated the Romish religion, his attention was naturally turned towards that subject. A book entitled The Fortress of Faith, written by a Romanist named Stapleton, was much circulated at that time, and came into the hands of our young student, while he was an under-graduate of the university. Something awakened in his mind a suspicion that the author had not fairly stated, or honestly quoted, the opinions of the Fathers; and this suspicion led him to resolve to scrutinize the matter for his own satisfaction, and, with this view, if God should spare his life, to “ read the Fathers all over, and trust none but his own eyes in the search of them.” This stupendous undertaking he was spared to accomplish. Commencing at twenty years of age with the Fathers of the first century, he read a certain portion every day in chronological order, till at the end of eighteen years he had completed this laborious task.

Writing to his uncle, he gave the following account of the studies in which he was now engaged.

“ The principal part of my study is at this time employed in perusing the writings of the Fathers, and observing out of them the doctrine of the ancient church; wherein I find it very necessary that the reader should be thoroughly informed touching his authors, what time they lived, and what works are truly, what falsely, attributed to them; either of which being mistaken must of force bring great confusion in this kind of study."

But, before this, he had reflected and read much upon the subject, and had even disputed with some of the most distinguished of the popish priests. Before the age of twenty, the protestants singled him out as their representative against a learned jesuit, named Fitzsymonds, who had sent out a challenge defying "the greatest champion and best learned, to dispute with him about the points in controversy between the Roman and Reformed churches."

That so young a man should have been fixed upon to defend the sacred cause of truth, against errors supported by subtilty and ingenuity, is a strong proof of the high estimation in which his talents and acquirements were held.

It was agreed that the disputants should meet once a week in a room in Dublin castle, which should be open to the public; and the jesuit entered into the contest

« AnteriorContinuar »