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James Frederick Ferrier
By E S Haldane


Mr. Oliphant Smeaton has asked me to write a few words of preface to this little book. If I try, it is only because I am old enough to have had the privilege of knowing some of those who were most closely associated with Ferrier.

When I sat at the feet of Professor Campbell Fraser in the Metaphysics classroom at Edinburgh in 1875, Ferrier's writings were being much read by us students. The influence of Sir William Hamilton was fast crumbling in the minds of young men who felt rather than saw that much lay beyond it We were still engrossed with the controversy, waged in books which now, alas ! sell for a tenth of their former price, about the Conditioned and the Unconditioned. We still worked at Reid, Hamilton, and Mansel. But the attacks of Mill on the one side, and of Ferrier and Dr. Stirling on the other, were slowly but surely withdrawing our interest. Ferrier had pointed out a path which seemed to lead us in the direction of Germany if we would escape from Mill, and Stirling was urging us in the same sense. It was not merely that Ferrier had written books. He had died more than ten years earlier, but his personality was still a living influence. Echoes of his words came to us through Grant and Sellar. Outside the University men.

Blackwood and Makgill made us feel what a power he had been. But that was not all for at least some of us. Mrs. Ferrier had removed to Edinburgh—and I endorse all that my sister says of her rare quality. one lived in a house in Torphichen Street, which was the resort of those attracted, not only by the memory of her husband, but by her own great gifts. She was an old lady and an invalid. But though she could not move from her chair, paralysis had not dimmed her mental powers. She was a true daughter of { Christopher North.1 I doubt whether I have seen her rival in quickness, her superior I never saw. She could talk admirably to those sitting near her, and yet follow and join in the conversation of another group at the end of the room. She could adapt herself to everyone—to the shy and awkward student of eighteen, who like myself was too much in awe of her to do more unhelped than answer, and to the distinguished men of letters who came from every quarter attracted by her reputation for brilliance. The words of no one could be more incisive, the words of no one were habitually more kind than hers. She had known everybody. She forgot nobody. In those days the relation between Literature and the Parliament House, if less close than it had been, was more apparent than it is to-day, and distinguished Scottish judges and advocates mingled in the afternoon in the drawing-room, where she sat in a great arm-chair, with such men as Sellar and Stevenson and Grant and Shairp and Tulloch. But her personality was the supreme bond. Those days are over, and with them has passed away much of what stimulated one to read in the Institutes or the Philosophical Remains. But for the historian of British philosophy Ferrier continues as a prominent figure. He it was who first did, what Stirling and Green did again at a stage later on make a serious appeal to thoughtful people to follow no longer the shallow rivulets down which the teaching of the great German thinkers had trickled to them, but to seek the sources. If as a guide to those sources we do not look on him to-day as adequate, we are not the less under a deep obligation to him for having been the pioneer of later guides. What Ferrier wrote about forty years ago has now become readily accessible, and what has been got by going there is in process of rapid and complete assimilation. The opinions which were in 1856 regarded by the authorities of the Free and United Presbyterian Churches as disqualifying Ferrier for the opportunity of influencing the mind of the youth of Edinburgh, from the Chair of Logic and Metaphysics in succession to on Sir William Hamilton, are regarded by the present generation of Presbyterians as the main reliable bulwark against the attacks of unbelievers. If one may judge by the essays in the recent volume called Lux Mundi, the same phenomenon displays itself among the young High Church party of England. The Time-Spirit is fond of revenges.

But even for others than the historians of the movement of Thought the books of Ferrier remain attractive. There is about them a certain atmosphere in which everything seems alive and fresh. Their author was no Dry as dust. He was a living human being, troubled as we are troubled, and interested in the things which interest us. He spoke to us, not from the skies, but from among a crowd of his fellow human beings, and we feel that he was one of ourselves. As such it is good that a memorial of him should be placed where it may easily be seen.

R. B. Haldane.

Chapter 1
Early Life

Chapter 2
Wanderjahre, Social Life in Scotland, Beginning of his Literary Work

Chapter 3
Philosophy before Ferrier's Day

Chapter 4
Fierce Warres and Faithful Loves

Chapter 5
Development of Scottish Philosophy, The Old and the New, Ferrier as a Correspondent

Chapter 6
Ferrier's System of Philosophy, His Philosophical Works.

Chapter 7
The Coleridge Plagiarism, Miscellaneous Literary Work

Chapter 8
Professional Life

Chapter 9
Life at St Andrews

Chapter 10
Last Days

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