Availing myself of a pause after he had inquired after my intended pursuits, I leaned forward (for he was more than slightly deaf) and remarked that perhaps he would allow me to ask him a question. `Eh, sir?' `I thought that perhaps. you would allow me to ask a question about Divinity, sir.' He told me to go on. I explained that I desired a few words of counsel, if he would condescend to give them—some directions as to the best way of pursuing the study which he had himself cultivated with such signal success. Aware that my request was almost as vague as the subject was vast, and full of genuine consideration for the aged oracle, I enlarged for a minute on the matter, chiefly in order to give him time to adjust his thoughts before making reply. He inquired what I had read. `Pearson and Eusebius, carefully.'
The gravity which by this time his features had assumed was very striking. He lay back in his chair. His head sank forward on his chest, and he looked like one absorbed in thought. `Yes—I think, sir' (said he after a long pause, which, besides raising my curiosity, rather alarmed me by the contrast it presented to his recent animated manner) `I think, sir, were I you, sir—that I would—first of all—read the—the Gospel according to St. Matthew.' Here he paused. `And after I had read the Gospel according to St. Matthew—I would—were I you, sir—go on to read—the Gospel according to St.Mark.' I looked at him anxiously to see whether he was serious. One glance was enough. He was giving me (but at a very slow rate) the outline of my future course. `I think, sir, when I had read the Gospel according to St. Mark, I would go on, sir—yes! go on to—to the—the Gospel—according to—St. Luke, sir.' (Another pause, as if the reverend speaker were reconsidering the matter.) `Well, sir, and when I had read those three gospels, sir, were I in your place, I would go on—yes, I would certainly go on to read the Gospel according to St. John.'
For an instant I had felt an inclination to laugh. But by this time a very different set of feelings came over me. Here was a theologian of ninety-one, who, after surveying the entire field of sacred science, had come back to the point he had started from; and had nothing better to advise me to read than the Gospel! ...
A full year elapsed before I ventured to repeat the intrusion.... I ventured to address him somewhat as follows: `Mr. President, give me leave to ask you a question I have sometimes asked of aged persons, but never of any so aged or so learned as yourself! He looked so kindly at me that I thought I might go on. `Every studious man, in the course of a long and thoughtful life, has had occasion to experience the special value of some axiom or precept. Would you mind giving me the benefit of such a word of advice?' He bade me explain, evidently to gain time. I quoted an instance. He nodded and looked thoughtful. Presently he brightened up and said, `I think, sir, since you care for the advice of an old man, sir, you will find it a very good practice' (here he looked me in the face) `always to verify your references, sir!'
From Quarterly Review (July 1878), pp. 27-28, 29-30.
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