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The Scottish Nation

HENDERSON, ALEXANDER, one of the most eminent ministers of the Church of Scotland in the most important period of her history, namely, previous to the middle of the seventeenth century, was born in 1583. Of his parents and the circumstances of his early life we have no authentic information; but he is supposed to have been descended from the Hendersons of Fordel, in Fifeshire. He completed his studies at the university of St. Andrews, where he took the degree of M.A.; and some time previous to 1611 he was elected regent, or professor, of philosophy, in that ancient seminary. Ambitions of preferment, he early adopted the principles of the prelatical party, then dominant in the church, and having completed the usual course of attendance on the divinity classes, he was, through the patronage of Archbishop Gladstanes, presented to the parish of Lauchars, in fife. His settlement, which took place previous to 1615, was so unpopular, that, on the day of ordination, the church-doors were shut and secured by the people, and the ministers who attended with the presentee were obliged to enter by the window. He was at this time strongly prejudiced in favour of Episcopacy.

      Mr. Henderson at first showed but little concern for the spiritual interests of his people; but his sentiments and character soon underwent a complete change. Having learned that the celebrated Presbyterian preacher, Mr. Bruce of Kinnaird, was to assist at a communion in a neighbouring parish, Mr. Henderson, desirous of hearing him, went to the place, and, to prevent being recognised, concealed himself in the dark corner of the church. Mr. Bruce chose for his text these remarkable words, “He that entereth not in by the door, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.” This passage, so applicable to his situation, and the sermon which followed, made such an impression on his mind as led to an entire change in his views and conduct. He now became thoroughly convinced that he proceedings of the prelatical party were injurious to the interests of religion, and he resolved at once to take part with the Presbyterians. An opportunity of publicity declaring his change of sentiments did not present itself till August 1618, when the obnoxious five Articles of Perth having been carried at a packed Assembly held in that city, Mr. Henderson was among those ministers who had the courage to oppose them as episcopal innovations, though the utmost wrath of the Government was threatened against all who persisted in rejecting them. In the month of August 1619 he and two of his brethren were cited before the court of high commission of St. Andrews, charged with having composed and published a book against the validity of the Perth Assembly, On their appearance, Mr. Henderson answered the accusation with so much eloquence and truth, that the bishops could gain no advantage over him and his friends, and were obliged to dismiss them with threatenings. From this period till 1637 he seems to have lived retired in his parish, employed in the sedulous discharge of his pastoral duties, and taking no part in any of the public transactions of the period.

      The rash and ill-judged attempt of Charles the First, in 1637, to force the liturgy or service book on the church of Scotland, recalled him from his retirement, and caused him to take that leading part in the affairs of the church which has made his name so celebrated. In common with other ministers, he had been charged to purchase two copies of the liturgy for the use of his parish within fifteen days, under the pain of rebellion. He immediately went to Edinburgh, and, August 23, presented a petition to the privy council, representing that the service book had not received the sanction of the General Assembly, nor was recognised by an act of parliament, and praying a suspension of the charge. To this remonstrance the council returned a favourable answer, and the reading of the liturgy was ordered to be suspended until the king’s farther pleasure should be known. Charles, however, only the more peremptorily insisted that the service book should be received; and from this time forward Mr. Henderson took a prominent share in all the proceedings of the nonconformists. A great number of the nobility, gentry, clergymen, and representatives of burghs, with others, had assembled in Edinburgh from all parts of the country; and after another supplication had been presented to the privy council, praying them to bring the matter again before the king, a proclamation from his majesty was made, requiring all persons to depart to their homes within twenty-four hours, on pain of being denounced rebels. Instead of dispersing, the leaders of the popular party, after some farther ineffectual petitions to the king, resolved to appeal to the people, and the result was the renewal of the National Covenant of 1580 and 1581, with only some slight changes adapted to the circumstances of the times. It was prepared by Mr. Henderson, assisted by Archibald Johnston, afterwards of Warriston, an advocate in whom, we are told, the suppliants chiefly confided, and was sworn and subscribed in the Grey Friars’ church of Edinburgh, on February 28, 1638, by thousands of the nobility, gentry, ministers of the gospel, burgesses, and others. Mr. Henderson addressed the vast multitude assembled with great fervour and eloquence, and the enthusiasm of the people knew no bounds. He was subsequently sent with several noblemen, and Messrs, Cant and Dickson, to Aberdeen, to prevail on the inhabitants of that city to take the Covenant, and, after urging upon them the strongest arguments in favour of the document, no less than 500 persons subscribed it, many of them being of the highest respectability.

      At the memorable General Assembly which met at Glasgow the same year, November 21, 1638, the first that had been held for a long period, Mr. Henderson, now the acknowledged leader of the clergy, was unanimously chosen moderator. And in that difficult and trying situation, he conducted himself with a resolution and prudence, and at the same time with a forbearance and moderation, befitting the occasion. After the deposition and excommunication of the bishops, and the formal abolition of Episcopacy, Mr. Henderson terminated the proceedings with an eloquent and impressive address to the members of the Assembly, concluding with these striking words: – “We have now cast down the walls of Jericho; let him that rebuildeth them beware of the curse of Hiel the Bethelite!”

      Before the rising of the Assembly two supplications were given in, the one containing a call to Mr. Henderson from St. Andrews, and the other from Edinburgh. Being much attached to his own parish of Leuchars, of which he had been minister for eighteen years, he expressed his unwillingness to remove from it, pleading that he was now too old a plant to take root in another soil. It was carried, however, by seventy-five votes, that he should be translated to Edinburgh; to which he consented, on condition that when old age should overtake him, he should again be removed to a country charge.

      In 1639 he was one of the commissioners appointed by the Church to treat regarding the articles of pacification with the king; and during the whole of the difficult negotiations that ensued, he behaved with great prudence and candour. At the subsequent meeting of the Assembly, in August of that year, the earl of Traquair, commissioner from his majesty, earnestly desired that Mr.  Henderson might be re-elected moderator, a proposition strenuously opposed by Mr. Henderson himself, and rejected by the Assembly, a constant moderatorship being contrary to the constitution of the Church. On the 31st of the same month, he was called upon to preach at the opening of parliament, on which occasion he delivered an excellent discourse, in which he treated, with consummate ability, of the end, duties, and utility of magistrates.

      In 1640 the town council of Edinburgh, with the view of rendering the system of education at the university more efficient, resolved to appoint annually a rector of that institution, and unanimously elected Mr. Henderson to the situation. He was empowered to superintend all matters connected with the conduct of the principal and professors, the education of the students, and the disposal of the revenues. In this office, which he appears to have enjoyed, by re-election, to his death, he exerted himself sedulously to promote the interests of that learned seminary. Besides devoting his especial attention to the education of candidates for the ministry, he instituted a professorship of oriental languages, a department previously much neglected.

      The king having refused to ratify some of the points agreed upon at the late pacification, suddenly prorogued the parliament, denounced the Covenanters as rebels, and prepared again to invade Scotland. But the success of the Scots army, which entered England in August 1640, compelled him to accede to another proposition for peace and a conference was begun at Rippon, which, in a short time after, was transferred to London. Mr. Henderson was appointed one of the commissioners, on the part of the Church, to conclude the treaty, and during all the time of his residence in London, which was protracted for nine months, he exerted himself, by preaching and otherwise, to promote the views of the commissioners; and wrote a variety of able tracts and papers, some of which were published without his name, while others were laid before the commissioners and parliament of England. Before he left London he was admitted to a private conference with the king, the special object of which was to procure assistance to the Scottish universities from the rents formerly appropriated to the bishops, when he was graciously received by his majesty.

      On his return to Edinburgh, in July 1641, he was again chosen moderator of the General Assembly. Having delivered in a letter from a number of ministers in London, requesting advice as to the proper form of church government to be adopted, several of their brethren being inclined towards Independency, the Assembly instructed him to answer it; and in his reply he earnestly urged a uniformity of church government in the two kingdoms. The Assembly unanimously approved of a motion which he brought forward, to the effect that they should take steps for drawing up a Confession of Faith, Catechism, Directory of Worship, and Form of Government; and remitted to him to prepare the necessary drafts of these documents. On the 14th of August the king arrived at Edinburgh to be present at the parliament; on which occasion, wishing to conciliate the presbyterian party, he appointed Mr. Henderson his chaplain. During his majesty’s residence in Edinburgh he performed family worship every morning and evening at the palace. And frequently preached before him in the chapel-royal at Holyroodhouse. At this parliament the revenues of the bishoprics were divided; and by Mr. Henderson’s exertions, what belonged to the bishopric and priory of Edinburgh were bestowed on the university. As a recompence for his own laborious and expensive services in the cause of the public, the emoluments of the chapel-royal, amounting to about 4,000 merks a-year, were conferred upon him.

      Some reports injurious to his character having been industriously circulated, in the ensuing Assembly he entered into a long and impassioned vindication of his conduct. His brethren unanimously expressed their sympathy, and assured him of their continued confidence; on which we are told he recovered his cheerfulness.

      During the year 1642 Mr. Henderson was employed in managing the correspondence with England respecting ecclesiastical reformation and union. He was soon after chosen one of the commissioners appointed to proceed to that country, but was for some time delayed by the civil war. Anxious to effect a reconciliation between Charles and his English subjects, he joined with some other leading men in an invitation to the queen to come to Scotland; but this proposition was rejected by the king. Accompanied by the other commissioners, he next went to Oxford, where his majesty then was, to offer him the mediation of Scotland; but the infatuated monarch, instead of making some concessions for the sake of peace, endeavoured to convince him of the justice of his cause, defended all his proceedings, and expressed his high indignation at the interest which the Scots took in the reformation of the church in England. On Henderson’s return to Edinburgh, his conduct throughout this delicate negociation was pronounced by the General Assembly to have been “faithful and wise.”

      In 1643 he was, for the third time, chosen moderator of the General Assembly – an occasion which was rendered remarkable by the presence of the English commissioners sent down by the parliament to crave their aid and counsel in the then critical circumstances of both kingdoms. He was appointed one of the commissioners who soon after went to London to attend the Assembly of divines at Westminster, to represent there the Church of Scotland, and to obtain the ratification of the Solemn League and Covenant by that Assembly and by both houses of parliament; which was accordingly done on the 25th of September. During the three following years he remained in London, unremittingly engaged in assisting the Westminster Assembly in preparing the public formularies for the religious union between the three kingdoms.

      In the beginning of 1645 he was appointed to assist the commissioners of the parliament of England and Scotland in conducting the treaty between them and the king at Uxbridge. On the breaking off of the treaty he returned to London. In the spring of 1646, when the king had thrown himself into the hands of the Scottish army, he sent for Mr. Henderson, who was considered the most competent person to deal with his majesty in his then circumstances. He arrived at Newcastle about the middle of May, and received a welcome reception from the king, but soon perceived that Charles was as unwilling as ever to consent to the establishment of Presbyterianism. It was agreed that the scruples which the king entertained should be discussed in a series of papers between his majesty and Mr. Henderson. These continued from May 29 to July 15. They are eight in number, five by the king, who was assisted by Sir Robert Murray, and three by his reverend opponent. Mr. Henderson’s health being much impaired, he was obliged to remove by sea to Edinburgh, where he died, August 19, 1646, in the 63d year of his age. His body was interred in the Greyfriars churchyard, where a monument was erected by his nephew to his memory. Subjoined is Henderson’s portrait:

[portrait of Alexander Henderson]

HENDERSON, THOMAS, an eminent astronomer, whose name is connected with the discovery of the parallax of the fixed stars, was the son of a tradesman at Dundee, where he was born December 28, 1798. He received his education in his native town, and both at the grammar school and the academy was distinguished for his attainments, and for the propriety and modesty of his demeanour. At the age of fifteen, he was apprenticed, for six years, to a writer (attorney or solicitor) in Dundee. During this period he began in his leisure hours the study of practical astronomy, and the history and literature of that science, to which he was so much attached that he prosecuted it often to the injury of his health. In 1819, at the age of twenty-one, he went to Edinburgh, and obtained a situation in the office of a writer to the signet. His intelligence and abilities procured for him the patronage of Sir James Gibson Craig, baronet, by whose recommendation he was appointed clerk to the celebrated John Clerk, advocate, afterwards a lord of session, under the title of Lord Eldin. On his lordship’s retirement from the bench, he was for a time private secretary to the earl of Lauderdale, and subsequently clerk to the lord advocate, Jeffrey. In these employments he continued till 1831, still prosecuting in his leisure hours the study of astronomy. Having procured an introduction to Professor Wallace, he had free access to the Observatory on the Calton Hill, at that period a small establishment, but sufficiently equipped with instruments to afford valuable opportunities to a learner.

      In spite of weak health and a tendency to disorder in the eyes, Mr. Henderson soon brought himself into notice as an astronomer. His first contribution to astronomical science was a method of computing an occultation of a fixed star by the moon, communicated in 1824 to Dr. Young, then secretary to the Board of Longitude, of which the latter thought so highly as to cause it to be published in the Nautical Almanac (of which he was superintendent) for 1827 and the four following years. About the same time he also contributed other papers on kindred subjects to the Quarterly Journal of Science. In 1827 he sent a paper to the Royal Society of London, ‘On the Difference of Meridians of the Observatories of London and Paris,’ in which he pointed out a small error that had crept into one of the observations, and which, without greatly affecting the result, yet exposed the whole to much doubt. In the following year, in conjunction with Mr. Maclear, he furnished the Astronomical Society with an ephemeris of the occultations of Aldebaran by the moon, in 1829, calculated for ten different observatories in Europe. He subsequently furnished other lists of lunar occultations computed for the meridian of Greenwich, these phenomena being of much use in determining longitudes.

      On the professorship of practical astronomy in the university of Edinburgh becoming vacant in 1828, by the death of Dr. Blair, the government, – the appointment being in the Crown, – were strongly urged by Dr. Young and other astronomers to name Mr. Henderson to the chair; but at that time no nomination took place. At Dr. Young’s death the following year, it was found that that gentleman had placed in the hands of Professor Rigand a memorandum to be communicated to the admiralty, recommending Mr. Henderson as the most competent person to be appointed his successor in the superintendence of the Nautical Almanac. The government, however, confided the trust to Mr. Pond, the astronomer royal, who offered Mr. Henderson employment, on terms of remuneration, for a great part of his time, but this offer he did not accept.

      In 1831, on the death of Mr. Fallows, he was appointed by the admiralty to succeed him in charge of the observatory then recently completed at the Cape of Good Hope, principally with a view to the determination of the places of the southern stars, for the aid of navigation. He arrived at the Cape in April 1832, and from that date he must be considered as a professional astronomer. During the thirteen months that he remained there he accumulated a large mass of valuable observations, having devoted himself assiduously to his duties, but finding his health suffering, and being far removed from his friends, he resigned his situation in May 1833, and embarked for England. After his return to Edinburgh, having no official engagements, he began the laborious task of reducing the observations he had made at the Cape. In 1834, by an agreement between the government and the Astronomical Institution of Edinburgh, the latter gave u their observatory to the university, government agreeing to appoint and provide for an astronomer, who was also to hold the professorship of practical astronomy in the university. On the recommendation of the Astronomical Society of London, to whom Lord Melbourne, then prime minister, applied for advice, Mr. Henderson was appointed the first astronomer royal for Scotland, being thus placed in the chair of practical astronomy, which had remained vacant since 1828. His regular duty did not interrupt the reduction of his Cape observations, and in 1837 he gave to the Astronomical Society a catalogue of the declinations of 172 principal fixed stars, chiefly in the southern hemisphere. The most remarkable result of his labours was the discovery of the annual parallax of one of the fixed stars, by which the distance of these bodies from our globe has been brought within the reach of calculation. In comparing his observations of a particular star, which, being near the south pole, is always above the horizon at the Cape, he found that they indicated that change of position or parallax which astronomers had been so long in search of. In 1839, after testing the accuracy of his result in various ways, he announced it in a paper read to the Astronomical Society, and the attention of astronomers being thus directed to it, the subsequent observations of Mr. Maclear, his successor in the post of astronomer at the Cape of Good Hope, and others, tended to confirm the accuracy of this important discovery.

      Thus, in the position which, of all others, he would have chosen for himself, and at a time when he was beginning to enjoy that fame and reputation which his research, application, and talents had earned for him, he was suddenly cut off, by disease of the heart, his death having taken place on 23d November, 1844. He had married in 1836, a daughter of Mr. Adie, the well-known optician of Edinburgh, but his wife died in 1842, a few weeks after the birth of their only child.

      A very full account of Mr. Henderson’s astronomical labours, with a memoir of his life, was inserted in the Annual Report of the Astronomical Society for 1845. The list of his writings consists of upwards of seventy communications, of different degrees of magnitude and importance, to various scientific publications, some of them in foreign astronomical periodicals. He also published at Edinburgh five quarto volumes of ‘Astronomical Observations made at the Royal Observatory,’ of that city, comprising the years 1834 to 1839. A sixth volume, left nearly ready for publication, was subsequently added. These six volumes are much valued by astronomers, and have conferred on the observatory a high reputation among the similar institutions of Europe. In his astronomical career, he brought to his subject the most methodical habits of business, and as the author of the memoir of his life in the Proceedings of the Astronomical Society observes, “his name will go down to posterity as an accurate observer, an industrious computer, a skilful manipulator, and an improver of the methods in that department to which he devoted himself.” He was well acquainted with astronomical literature and other branches of science, and at different times supplied the places of the professors of mathematics and of natural philosophy in the university of Edinburgh. His desire to be informed of al that was doing abroad, made him collect an astronomical library, which, for a man of his limited means, was of extraordinary extent and value. In his private character and social relations, he was modest and retiring, yet cheerful and communicative, and distinguished by great warmth of affection and amiability of disposition.

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