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Significant Scots
James Fordyce


FORDYCE, James, D.D., author of the Sermons to Young Women, was a younger brother of the subject of a separate article, and the fourth son of his parents. He was born at Aberdeen in 1720, and received the education requisite for a minister of the Scottish church at the Marischal college. In 1752, he was appointed minister of Brechin, but soon after was removed to Alloa, where at first he had many prejudices to encounter, though his popular manners and captivating style of pulpit oratory enabled him very speedily to overcome them. During his brief residence in this parish, he published three occasional sermons, which attracted much notice; and in 1760, he increased his fame to a great degree by a discourse "On the Folly, Infamy, and Misery of Unlawful Pleasures," which he preached before the General Assembly, and afterwards gave to the public. The novelty of this sermon in a country where all the best sermons were evangelical, and the elegance of its style and sentiments, produced a great impression throughout the country. The preacher soon after went to London, and notwithstanding the difference between the Scottish Confession of Faith and the tenets of the English dissenters, offered himself on a vacancy at the meeting in Carter Lane, but without success. About this time, he received the degree of D. D. from the university of Glasgow, and was invited by the meeting in MonkwellStreet to be co-pastor with Dr Lawrence, then aged and infirm. This invitation he accepted, and upon Dr Lawrence’s death, which happened soon after, he became sole pastor, and entered into the enjoyment of a very respectable income. During his ministry in this place, he acquired a higher degree of popularity than probably ever was, or ever will be attained by the same means. The strong force of his eloquence drew men of all ranks and all persuasions to hear him. His action and elocution were original, and peculiarly striking, being not a little assisted by his figure, which was tall beyond the common standard, and by a set of features which in preaching displayed great variety of expression and animation. Besides his regular attendants, who subscribed to his support, his meeting was frequented by men curious in eloquence; and it is said, that the celebrated David Garrick was more than once a hearer, and spoke of Dr Fordyce’s skill in oratory with great approbation. With respect to his theological sentiments, he appears to have possessed that general liberality which is civil to all systems, without being attached to any. From his printed works, it would be easier to prove that he belonged to no sect, than that he held the principles of any. As to the matter, morality appears to have been his chief object; and as to the manner, he ardently studied a polish and a spirit, which was then seldom met with in English pulpits, although it had not been unusual in those of France.

In 1771, Dr Fordyce married Miss Henrietta Cummyngs; and in 1775, he was involved in an unhappy dispute with his coadjutor, Mr Toller, son-in-law to Dr Lawrence. This misunderstanding originated in some omission of ceremonial politeness between the two reverend gentlemen, and from the want of mutual concession, the breach widened, till reconciliation became impossible. Dr Fordyce appears, indeed, to have been of an irritable temper, which led him on this occasion to be guilty of an act which ultimately he had reason deeply to regret, as it proved most injurious to his own interest. For, on undertaking to perform the whole duty of the chapel, he possessed sufficient influence to have Mr Toller ejected from the pastoral charge. The consequence was, that the congregation became dissatisfied, split into parties, and gradually dispersed, when Dr Fordyce was obliged to resign the ministry. It is true, that bad health and the infirmities of old age had their share in constraining him to this step, but the congregation had previously almost entirely deserted the chapel, which was soon after shut up. Finding himself no longer useful as a preacher, Dr Fordyce, in the year 1783, left London, and retired first to Hampshire, and finally to Bath, where he continued to reside until his death, which took place on the 1st of October, 1796, in the 76th year of his age. We have, in the following letter from Mrs Fordyce, a very interesting and instructing narrative of this melancholy event, while it presents, at the same time, a lively picture of Dr Fordyce’s piety and of some of the more amiable traits of his character.

"My dear sir, being now able to sit up, I can only say, that had the state of my health, when your last soothing but affecting letter came to hand, admitted of my writing at all, such a letter from a favourite friend, would have impelled me to give it an immediate reply. Accept, dear sir, of my gratitude for what it contained, especially for that sympathy I so much stand in need of; it is the balm of true friendship; and though it reaches me from various quarters, still the wound bleeds, and will continue to bleed, till God shall heal it by that re-union of souls which must take place ere long.

"Hardly two people accost each other without an eulogium on his character, and a sigh for his death—but death it was not. To all human appearance, he was translated. We spent a most agreeable evening together in my dressing-room, in which he was fond of sitting, on account of the fine air of the vale behind and the prospect: for he still kept his relish for all that was beautiful in nature. We were both engrossed with William Cowper’s sermon to the Jews.

"I read the hymns and psalms in the little pamphlet.—‘Ah!’ said he, ‘this carries me back to Monkwell Street, where we sang it together with my beloved flock; the strain shall be exalted when next we sing it.’ Then turning to me he said, ‘we have read enough for to night—before you call for supper, let us have some music.’ My niece is a very fine performer—she immediately sat down to accompany him in some of his favourite airs on the piano-forte; and a very fine cadence she sung, so delighted him, that he made her do it over again, and turning to me, he said, ‘How many things have we to be grateful for! The musical ear is a gift peculiar to some, withheld from others; there are many things in life richly to be enjoyed; all that leads up to God we may delight in; but whatever has no reference to him, we should avoid. There are books called religious offices, preparations for the sacrament, and preparations for death, &c.; but for my own part, I never could think that such preparations consisted in such times being set apart for offices, and then returning to the world, as having done with heaven for the time being. A man is not truly prepared for death, unless by the tenor of his life he feels himself so wholly given up to God, that his mind is in heaven, before he goes hence; and he can only bring himself to that, by the perpetual silent reference in all his words, thoughts, and actions, to his Creator, which I have so often mentioned to you.’ I replied, ‘That indeed, doctor, is the test or criterion, to judge himself by, for a man dare have no reference or appeal for his actions to God, if his deeds condemn him to his own conscience.’—‘God be praised,’ said he, ‘if I should leave you, I desire you may avail yourself of them.’ In addition to religion and the Scriptures, there are books, friendships and music: I would name more, but these are sufficient;—cast yourself on God through your Redeemer. He will care for you and raise you up friends.’ I aimed at changing the conversation, and said, ‘But you are better, my dear.’ ‘I am certainly easier,’ he replied, and have had less pain and better symptoms for two or three weeks past; and I assure you, my beloved, I am not tired of life, at all: for though the Almighty knows I have been long ready for the summons, yet if it is his pleasure to let the lamp of life burn on a little longer, I am satisfied, and I am his.’

"He sat his usual time after supper, which he partook of in a moderate way, without any disrelish. About eleven he rang for the servants, who with my niece and myself attended him every night to his bed-chamber. To my unspeakable joy, it seemed to cost him much less effort than common to mount the stairs; which formerly was so painful a task, that at every landing place a chair was set for him to rest on, ere he could ascend to the next. He joined us all in observing with gratitude and wonder, that he should gain more ease by living longer. He and I conversed in a very pleasing style on various subjects till about one o’clock, and then he urged my going to bed, lest I should be hurt by such late hours. He also forbade me to get up in the night, as anxiety about him had often made me do, unless I should hear him call me; he made me promise I would not, after which we embraced. I left him very happy, comfortable, and serene; I might add even cheerful. We both slept in our different apartments, and mine had a door of communication with his, so he could not stir without my hearing. He awoke about two o’clock and lighted a wax bougie at his lamp, one of which stood on a dumb waiter, at his bed-side, with his medicines and cordials. He lighted it to take the ethereal spirit; but forgetting to blow it out, it unluckily took fire in the bunch; the smell of which awoke him perhaps in some alarm. He then called to me, who was just in my first sleep, and springing up eagerly in the dark, I stumbled, and struck my head against the door; the blow for a few minutes stunned me and made me reel in coming up to him. I affected to be well that he might not be alarmed. ‘I called to you, my love, lest the smell of fire which the bougie occasioned, might have frightened you. You have paid dear for coming to me by this blow.’ Saying so he got up, and calling the women with a firm voice three or four times, they and my niece were all at once with us. I was praying him to return to bed, but he refused until he should get me, from their hands, some sal volatile. He then said, ‘Are you better?’ I answered ‘O well, well.’—‘God be praised,’ said he, raising his hands, and with the words in his mouth he fell in our arms without a groan, a sigh, or so much as the rattle in the throat. The spirit was instantly fled and for ever, to the God that gave it. He was taken from my arms, who will ever live in my heart, and I saw him no more."

Dr Fordyce’s first literary attempt was made as editor of the posthumous work of his brother, Mr David Fordyce, published in 1752, entitled the "Art of Preaching." But he is best known to the world by the ingenious and elegant sermons which he addressed to young women; and his addresses to young men. He was author, however, of several other publications, and was remarkable for the energy and usefulness of his pulpit instructions. His private character was amiable, his manners those of a gentleman and Christian. He blended great cheerfulness with sincere and ardent piety. He possessed a cultivated understanding, a warm heart, and great liberality of sentiment. He was a steady friend of civil and religious toleration—not from indifference but from a true spirit of Christian philanthropy.

The following is a list of Dr Fordyce’s works.

1. "The eloquence of the Pulpit, an ordination sermon, to which is added a charge," 12mo, 1752.

2. "An essay on the action proper for the pulpit," 12mo. Both these are published at the end of Theodorus, a Dialogue concerning the art of preaching, by David Fordyce, 3d edition, l2mo, 1755.

3. "The method of edification by public instruction," an ordination sermon to which is added a charge, l2mo, 1754. These were delivered at the ordination of Mr John Gibson, minister of St Ninians, May 9th, 1754.

4. "The Temple of Virtue, a dream, 12mo, 1747. 2d edition, much altered, 1755.

5. " The folly, infamy, and misery of unlawful pleasures," a sermon preached before the general assembly of the church of Scotland, 25th May, 1760—8vo, 1760.

6. "A Sermon occasioned by the death of the Rev. Dr Samuel Lawrence, who departed this life 1st October, 1760, with an address at his interment," 8vo, 1760.

7. "Sermons to young women, 2 vols. l2mo, 1760.

8. "The character and conduct of the female sex, and the advantages to be derived by young men from the society of virtuous young women; a discourse in three parts, delivered in Monkwell Street chapel, 1st January, 1776, 8vo, 1776.

9. "Addresses to young men, 2 vols. l2mo, 1777.

10. "The delusive and persecuting spirit of popery;" a sermon preached in the Monkwell Street chapel on the 10th of February, being the day appointed for the general fast, 8vo, 1779.

11. "Charge delivered in Monkwell Street chapel, at the ordination of the Rev. James Lindsay," 8vo, 1783. Printed with the sermon delivered by Dr Hunter on that occasion.

12. "Addresses to the Deity," l2mo.

13. "Poems " l2mo, 1786.


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