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
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
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