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print his sermon, he was enabled to acknowledge in the Preface his obligations to the Unitarian congregation at Newport, and also to the two Messrs. Shore, by whose liberality he had been able to accept with honour his present station.
His settlement in the neighbourhood of London at this time opened to him many social and intellectual pleasures, of which he partook with very keen relish. Hackney itself was the residence of several persons of high cultivation, Rev. Thomas Belsham, Dr. Pett, Rev. John Pickbourn, Mr. Rutt, and occasionally Rev. — Dewhurst. In neighbouring villages, within the reach of an easy walk, were Mr. and Mrs. Barbauld, of Newington, and her brother, Dr. Aikin; Rev. Jeremiah Joyce, of Highgate; Rev. John Evans, of Islington; Rev. Dr. James Lindsay, of Bow; and the learned and amiable Rev. El. Cogan, of Walthamstow, the only survivor of the group. In London, in addition to his old friends, he now enjoyed the society of Dr. Abraham Rees; and at Essex House, the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Lindsey, in occasional morning visits, he not only saw the venerable confessor of Unitarianism, but many other distinguished friends of libera tianity. He renewed and improved into intimacy his acquaintance with the biographer of Robert Robinson, the upright, learned, amiable, but very eccentric George Dyer.*
To the House of Commons he sometimes went, when there was the prospect of a debate, and was upon several occasions rewarded by hearing Charles Fox, Lord Henry Petty and Mr. Grattan. He was at this time an occasional (though rare) visitor to Covent Garden Theatre, attracted by the noble acting of John Kemble and Mrs. Siddons.
He entered on his duties at Hackney simply as morning preacher. For a time the congregation indulged the hope that Mr. Belsham would be at liberty, and not be indisposed, to accept the afternoon preachership at the Gravel-Pit. When it became evident that Mr. Belsham's services were secured by his friends at Essex Street, other candidates were heard for the afternoon preachership at Hackney. That change in the hours and domestic habits of the Dissenters about London had not taken place (although there were even then some symptoms of its approach) which prevents a large portion of our congregations from attending an afternoon service. Being disengaged in the afternoon, he was applied to to undertake the afternoon duty at Worship Street, and subsequently was invited by the congregation of Newington Green to become their afternoon preacher. In making this application, they reminded him that his great predecessor, Dr. Price, had sustained the proposed relation to them whilst minister of the Gravel-Pit.
He saw fit to decline both applications, knowing that it was the anxious wish of many of his friends at Hackney that he should be their
Well did Charles Lamb say of his friend Dyer, that " for integrity and singleheartedness he ranked among the best patterns of his species.” He was the kindest and gentlest of men, with a soul full of admiration for all that is truly great. His eccentricity was greatly increased by his defective eye-sight, and by his extraordinary absence of mind. His whole life was one of learned poverty and selfdenial, borne with uncomplaining cheerfulness. For eleven years he was almost incessantly engaged on Valpy's Edition of the Classics, in 141 vols. His eye-sight entirely failed him shortly after the completion of this work. He died in his chambers at Clifford's Inn, March 2, 1841, aged 85, within a few days of the death of two octogenarian friends, Mr. Rutt and Mr. William Frend.
sole pastor, and not thinking himself at liberty to defeat their wishes by making any other engagement for the afternoon. Before the close of the year, the matter was satisfactorily settled by his being elected the afternoon preacher. That the election was not unanimous (44 to 17 upon the ballot), only shewed that there were some in the congregation still anxious for the services of two ministers, to which they had been so many years accustomed.
During his early years in the ministry at Hackney, Mr. Aspland was not without his difficulties and anxieties. The taste of some of the aged members of the society had been formed on a model of preaching very different from his. Mr. Belsham's calm, well-argued and condensed appeals to the intellect of his hearers, and his lucid expositions of Scripture, had indisposed them to appeals to feeling, and the episodical introduction of topics not necessarily connected with the subject in hand, which sometimes characterized his successor's early sermons.
Those who felt any of their spiritual wants or tastes ungratified at the Gravel-Pit, could with little difficulty place themselves anew under their former pastor at Essex Street. There were also a few timid persons who were alarmed at the prospect of changes in the hour of the second service, and other lesser points proposed by their young and ardent pastor. From these and from other (as the result shewed, mere accidental) causes, there was within the first twelvemonth of his ministry a diminution in the number of families in the Hackney congregation. There is no reason why these things should not be disclosed. The statement, taken in connection with Mr. Aspland's subsequent success, may be the means of guiding and consoling others pressed by a similar anxiety. In what spirit he bore this trial, a large extract from a letter to the Treasurer of the congregation will shew. The first portion of it relates to an inadvertent irregularity on the part of that Officer, which had been made the occasion of secession by a dissatisfied member. Rev. R. Aspland to John Towill Rutt, Esq.
“ Hackney Terrace, May 2, 1806. “Dear Sir, I thank you for a sight of Mr. 's letter. It does not surprise me.
“ You ought not for a moment to take to yourself an iota of blame for his secession. The notice was, it is true, irregular, but no man of common sense or common feeling wou make that irregularity a subject censure after the notice was revoked, and an apology made for its being irregularly issued. If all the congregation had withdrawn their subscriptions on this occasion, you might have lamented their folly, but you ought not in justice to have reproached yourself. If an inadvertence is to be reckoned in all cases a misdemeanour, it is high time for us to quit society and to commence anchorites.
“I think the business should be got rid of on Sunday, not on Mr. -'s account, but on account of some remaining subscribers who are perplexed with fear of change;' though having paid rather dearly for our object, it is vexatious to fall short of it.
“I consider, my dear Sir, the latter part of your letter a new proof of your friendship, which, I assure you, I regard and have ever regarded as one of the greatest privileges of my present situation.
“ The state of our congregation is, I confess, truly lamentable. Were we called upon to make any great exertion, we should, I fear, find our weakness. This, however, grieves me, I assure you, less with regard to myself than to our cause. I should, indeed, be mortified, if I found that my inability for a situation which I had presumptuously accepted should prejudice the interests of truth and afflict my friends; but I shall never allow myself to repine at any desertion as a preacher, because it is the tenure of my profession, and I have made up my mind to it. Perhaps the more I am driven back by such desertion upon other exertions, the better it may be for my moral and intellectual improvement.
“ I beg, my dear Sir, you will consider that I am fully aware that the withdrawment of so many families from the Gravel-Pit must materially injure our finances, and consequently that the minister's salary must undergo a proportionate reduction. I entreat, therefore, that your delicacy may not be permitted to throw upon you a greater burden than you ought, relatively to the rest of the congregation, to bear. I thought it my duty to touch on this topic, considering you for a moment in your official capacity as Treasurer of the meeting. Be assured, my dear Sir, that I feel nothing of despondence; it is not, happily, in my nature so to feel. Providence may, after a little temporary adversity, give us, as a congregation, a season of prosperity. If not, we have meant weli and endeavoured earnestly, and have therefore no reason on any side to be dissatisfied. I sometimes, however, ask myself, not in reproach, but simply in curiosity, whether I may not have mistaken the situation for which nature intended me. She, I sometimes think, has fitted me for a more obscure and quiet life than I now occupy, and may mean to punish my ambition in aspiring to the Gravel-Pit pulpit, by forcing me to see from thence empty pews. Since this little tumult has arisen, I have compared myself to the country mouse, on a visit to the town mouse, whom the racket of London so disturbed, that she parted, notwithstanding her rich living and luxuriant abode, for her hollow tree and the fare of the open fields."
The public and political events of the years 1805 and 1806, made a very deep impression on his mind. He was particularly struck with the removal by death of not less than four chiefs and leaders, “ two eminent in counsel and two in arms." The latter were Lords Cornwallis and Nelson; the former, Mr. Pitt and Mr. Fox. Towards the latter he was habituated to indulge feelings approaching in their warmth to personal attachment. He was fascinated by the venerable simplicity of Mr. Fox's character—"the vast comprehension of his mind-his natural, heartfelt, convincing and commanding eloquence—his political wisdom, amounting almost to prophetic sagacity.” On Mr. Pitt's death, it was with satisfaction and hope that he saw Mr. Fox called to administer the embarrassed affairs of the nation, distress having at length forced the Sovereign to set that value upon his talents which he had been so reluctant to acknowledge. When, in a few months' time, Mr. Fox's valuable life was closed by death in September, 1806, Mr. Aspland was deeply impressed and even affected by the nation's loss. Knowing the feelings of his flock on this subject to be in unison with his own, he took the occasion to address them on “ The Fall of Eminent Men in Critical Periods,” and dwelt on the bright features of Mr. Fox's character as a friend to popular liberty, as guided by moderation, as the advocate of justice and humanity, and the steady promoter of peace. The remarks that follow on the two latter topics were favourably received by the public.
“Never, during the whole of his long Parliamentary life, was his voice lifted up to justify oppression or persecution: never did the injured or oppressed appeal to the British senate that he did not exert his noble eloquence on their behalf. He made the cause of all that were wronged his own; and, even where he failed, through the perverseness of the times, of procuring justice for them, he in a measure compensated their sufferings by lending his great talents to their cause, and by drawing towards it the sympathy of mankind. In him, the most discordant sects and the most distant provinces found an ever-ready defender and a generous patron : he pleaded (and with what strength of argument, what rich variety of illnstration, what dignity of sentiment, what majesty of diction !) for the equitable privileges of the Roman Catholic and the Protestant Dissenter; and he contended, with an eloquence alternately indignant and pathetic, for the rights of the harassed Irish, the oppressed Hindoos, and the suffering Africans. He brought into office the same just and benevolent principles which he had maintained while out of power. One of the first acts of his late administration, (too short, alas ! for his own glory and our happiness!) was a measure for the restriction of the Slave-Trade, and by his means, a solemn resolution was voted by the Senate and laid before the Sovereign, on the justice and policy, the duty and necessity of the total abolition (to use his own strong expression) of the abominable traffic. In discussing the former of these measures, he declared on behalf of himself and such of his colleagues as had voted with him on the subject when out of office, in a fervour of philanthropy, which quickly communicated itself to the breast of the country, and rekindled our warmest hopes, that they still felt the total abolition of the Slave Trade as a step involving the dearest interests of humanity, and as one which, however unfortunate this administration might be in other respects, should they be successful in effecting it, would entail more true glory upon their administration, and more honour upon their country, than any other transaction in which they could be engaged. Could party-spirit so far blind this nation as to render it insensible to his merits, the
grateful African would commemorate his name, and plead with the Parent of the Universe, in language which is not disregarded in Heaven, for a blessing on it.
“He was on all occasions the STEADY PROMOTER OF PEACE, and, as a peacemaker also, our religion enjoins us to bless his memory. He reprobated the wickedness, he deplored the calamities of war, begun unjustly or protracted unnecessarily. He opposed, with all the vigour of his great mind, that unnatural and violent struggle between America and England, which terminated in the disruption of the Colonies from the mother country; he unmasked the false pretences, demonstrated the utter injustice, and foretold the ruinous consequences of the late war—a war which impoverished this nation, desolated a great part of Europe, filled the world with misery, and sowed every where the seeds of future hostilities; and he deprecated with all his profound wisdom, all his manly eloquence, the contest in which we are now unhappily involved, beginning with a violation of the national faith, and likely to end in the aggrandizement of that overgrown and menacing power which it was designed to check and reduce. On every favourable opportunity he interposed his pacific counsels. He was the advocate of human nature; he spoke its wishes and sustained its cause; and mankind looked up to him as their patron. When, at length, the necessity and distress of his country, which, let it be remembered, he predicted, imperiously demanded the aid of his great powers, and he took the helm of affairs, he began, in the true spirit of his character, negociations for peace; and Providence, in its inscrutable justice, has removed him from us, while the event of those negociations is yet uncertain. He expired, breathing those wishes for peace which it had been the purpose of his life to carry into effect; and peace, whenever we obtain it, will be considered by a grateful country as the legacy which he has bequeathed to us: his memory will be associated with the blessing, and will be for ever honoured in the association.
“We feel and cannot but feel-we lament and must deeply lament his loss --but we do not feel or lament alone; ALL EUROPE sympathizes with us! for there is not a civilized nation that did not confide in his integrity and revere his wisdom."
The sermon was printed and published, “in testimony of the admiration felt by the Gravel-Pit congregation for Mr. Fox's character as a statesman.” In the Preface, the author expressed a hope “that this token of the warm sympathy of a considerable society of Protestant Dissenters might afford a ray of comfort to the disconsolate minds of Mr. Fox's personal friends, and especially to that illustrious Nobleman who was not more nearly related to Mr. Fox by consanguinity than by congeniality of talent and principle.”
Lord Holland acknowledged the sermon in the following letter, which was the beginning of a correspondence continued at intervals, with frankness and kindness, to the closing years of his life. Lord Holland to Rev. Robert Aspland.
“Holland House, Oct. 9, 1806. “Sir,—I have to thank you, which I do most sincerely, for your feeling and eloquent sermon. You are kind enough to say that one of your motives in publishing was to soothe my uncle's immediate and personal friends, and I hope, therefore, you will not consider it vanity in me, on whom you have bestowed such flattering and undeserved expressions, saying that you have had the gratification of fully attaining your object as far as I am concerned. For of the various productions the late melancholy event has given rise to, none have afforded me such real pleasure as this warm and affecting testimony paid to his public character ; and the topics you have selected from his public life are those which were nearest to his heart, and which I hope those who were attached to him will never forget or abandon. His public exertions in the cause of humanity and toleration are well known, and most justly described in your work, but none but those who knew him intimately and privately can judge or even believe how anxious he was to promote them, and how secondary to them every other political object was in his mind during the whole of his life up to the very close of it. “I am, Sir, with great truth, your very obliged, humble, servant,
THE CLAIMS OF DUTY.
(From the Truth-Seeker).
When he hears thy heavenly call,
And life's evening shadows fall.
Uttering mandates from the sky,
Bidding mortals live or die:
With the hosts of sin and woe,
Guilt and error overthrow:
Truth and freedom to maintain,
Though by demons they are slain.
Privilege to Virtue given :
Earthly loss the gain of heaven!