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The Anecdotage of Glasgow
Rev. Dr. Chalmers' astronomical discourses in Tron church


IN the early part of this century it was the custom that the clergymen of Glasgow should preach in rotation on Thursday in the Tron Church. On Thursday, the 23rd of November, 1815, this week-day service devolved on Dr. Chalmers. The entire novelty of the discourse delivered upon this occasion, and the promise held out by the preacher that a series of similar discourses would follow, excited the liveliest interest, not in his own congregation alone, but throughout the whole community. He had presented to his hearers a sketch of the recent discoveries of astronomy, distinct in outline, and drawn with all the ease of one who was himself a master in the science, yet gorgeously magnificent in many of its details, displaying amid the brilliant glow of a blazing eloquence, the sublime poetry of the heavens.

In his subsequent discourses, Dr. Chalmers proposed to discuss the argument, or rather prejudice, against the Christian revelation which grounds itself on the vastness and variety of those unnumbered worlds which lie scattered over the immeasurable fields of space. This discussion occupied all the Thursday services allotted to him during the year 1816. The spectacle which presented itself in the Trongate upon the day of the delivery of each new astronomical discourse was a most singular one.

Long ere the bell began to toll, a stream of people might be seen pouring through the passage which led into the Tron Church. Across the street and immediately opposite to this passage was the old reading-room where all the Glasgow merchants met. So soon, however, as the gathering and quickening stream upon the opposite side of the street gave the accustomed warning, out flowed the occupants of the coffee-room. The pages of the Herald or the Courier were for a while forsaken, and during two of the best business hours of the day the old reading-room wore a strange aspect of desolation.

The busiest merchants of the city were wont, indeed, upon those memorable days, to leave their desks, and kind masters allowed their clerks and apprentices to follow their example. Out of the very heart of the great tumult an hour or two stood redeemed for the highest exercise of the spirit, and the low traffic of earth forgotten. Heaven and its high economy and its human sympathies and eternal interests engrossed for a while the mind and fancy of congregated thousands.

This series of discourses was published on the 28th January, 1817. In ten weeks six thousand copies had been disposed of, the demand showing no symptoms of decline. Nine editions were called for within a year, and nearly twenty thousand copies were in circulation. Never previously, nor since, has any volume of sermons met with such immediate and general acceptance. The Tales of My Landlord had a month’s start in the date of publication, and even with such a competitor it ran an almost equal race. Not a few curious observers were struck with the novel competition, and watched with lively curiosity how the great Scottish preacher, and the great Scottish novelist, kept for a whole year so nearly abreast of one another.


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