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Memoirs of John Urquhart
Preface to the First Edition



I had scarcely received the intimation, alike unexpected and distressing, of the death of my beloved young friend, when I was importunately solicited to give some account of him to the world. The reasons for making this application to me, will be sufficiently apparent to the reader of the volume, so that no explanation on that point is required in this place. Prompted at once by my love for the individual, and by a sense of duty to God, whose grace and goodness were eminently illustrated, I assented to the request, before I knew what it would involve. I had then no correct idea of the nature of the materials which existed, and supposed that a very small number of pages might include all that I could furnish of sufficient interest. No sooner, however, was my purpose made known, than, besides the papers left by himself, which were more numerous and valuable than I had supposed, his friends and fellow-students poured in upon me such a number of letters and communications, that I have found great difficulty in keeping my selection even within the bounds to which the work has finally extended.

The individuals who have thus supplied some of the most valuable parts of the volume, and have contended who should bear the most decided testimony to the character and talents of him whom "they admired when living, and adored when lost," though occasionally mentioned, in connection with the correspondence, will, I am sure, experience some gratification, in having their names more distinctly connected with this memorial of their departed friend. It is due from me to say, that without their aid, I must have failed in doing justice to his character and history. It is due from the readers of this volume, if they shall experience any gratification from those letters, which, I consider, to be no less beautiful as compositions, than they are admirable in sentiment. And it is especially due to that sacred and Christian friendship, which subsisted between them and him who has gone to receive an early, but a full reward. I earnestly pray, that the band of youthful spirits, united at St. Andrew’s, may, "when the dispersed of Israel are gathered into one," be again united, to rejoice together in the fruits of their sacred association.

The following are entitled to an honourable place in this statement:—Mr. John Adam of Homerton, between whom and the deceased there was a solemn agreement to labour together among the heathen, should Providence permit. Mr. Alexander Duff, still, I believe, a student, the earliest friend of John, at the University. Mr. William Alexander, his latest companion while there, and who is still prosecuting his studies with a view to the Christian ministry. Mr. Henry Craik, now at Exeter, between whom and John, a most powerful attachment appears to have subsisted, which rendered his death almost overwhelming. Mr. William Tait, son of the Rev. William Tait, of the College Church, Edinburgh. Mr. William Scott Moncrieff, of Edinburgh; Mr. Herbert Smith, of Egham, Surrey; Mr. James Lewis, Mr. Alexander Reid, and Mr. Robert Trail.

To other individuals, besides these, I have also been indebted for some valuable contributions; but whose names, I could not, with propriety, mention. They will accept of my affectionate acknowledgments for the readiness with which they allowed me the use of the letters which I have published.

Besides those testimonies, which I have used throughout the work, both to support my own opinion of the talents and character of the deceased, and to illustrate the points of view in which they were contemplated by others, there is one, which is entitled to a distinguished place in this memorial. Knowing that John had been a favourite pupil of Dr. Chalmers; and that, between the Doctor and him, a very intimate friendship had obtained, before I did anything myself, I wrote to Dr. Chalmers to inquire if he could undertake the office of biographer, and offering him, in that case, all the information and documents I possessed. In answer to this, I received the following letter, which confers a high value on the work that contains it, and shows the estimate which was formed of this admirable youth, by one of the most eminent men of the age.

ST. ANDREW’S, Feb. 27th, 1827.

"My Dear Sir—I received your letter some days ago, but have been prevented, by various engagements, from replying to it so soon as I could have wished.

"I had been previously applied to, from another quarter, for a Memoir of John Urquhart; and felt myself obliged to decline, in consequence of other engagements. I have less difficulty in pleading the same apology to you; for your superior opportunities, and earlier acquaintance with him, point you out as the person on whom the task is most properly devolved.

"He is altogether worthy of the biographical notice which you purpose. My first knowledge of him, was as a student, in which capacity, he far outpeered all his fellows; and in a class of uncommon force, and brilliancy of talent, shone forth as a star of the first magnitude.

"I do not recollect the subjects of his various essays; but the very first which he read in the hearing of myself, and of his fellow-students, placed him at the head of the class in point of estimation: a station, which he supported throughout, and which was fully authenticated at the last, by the highest prize being assigned to him for those anonymous compositions, which are submitted to my own judgment, and among which, I decide the relative, and respective merits, without any knowledge of their authors.

"For several months, I only recognised him as a person of fine taste, and lofty intellect; which, teeming forth, as they did from one who had not yet terminated his boyhood, gave the indication, and the promise, of something quite superlative in future life. It was not till after I had, for a time, admired his capacities for science, that I knew him as the object of a far higher admiration, for his deep and devoted sacredness.

"It was in the second session of my acquaintance with him, that I devolved upon him the care of a Sabbath-school, which I had formed. In the conduct of this little seminary, he displayed a tact, and a talent, which were quite admirable, and I felt myself far outrun by him, in the power of kind and impressive communication; and in that faculty, by which he commanded the interest of the pupils, and could gain, at all times, the entire sympathy of their understanding. Indeed, all his endowments, whether of the head or of the heart, were in the best possible keeping. For example, he was alike literary and mathematical, and combined the beauty of composition, with the rigour and precision of the exact sciences. But his crowning excellence was his piety; that virtue, which matured him so early for heaven, and bore him in triumph from that earth on which he hath so briefly sojourned. This religious spirit gave a certain ethereal hue to all his college exhibitions. He had the amplitude of genius, but none of its irregularities. There was no shooting forth of mind in one direction, so as to give a prominency to certain acquisitions, by which to overshadow, or to leave behind, the other acquisitions, of his educational course. He was neither a mere geometer, nor a mere linguist, nor a mere metaphysician; he was all put together; alike distinguished by the fullness, and the harmony of his powers.

"I leave to you, sir, the narrative of his higher characteristics. I have spoken, and fully spoken, of the attainments of his philosophy; to you it belongs, to speak of the sublimer attainments of his faith.

"Had I needed aught to reconcile me to the transition which I have made, from the state of a pastor to that of a professor, it would just be the successive presentation, year after year, of such students as John Urquhart; nor, in giving up the direct work of a Christian minister, can I regret the station to which Providence has translated me, at one of the fountain heads of the Christian ministry in our land.

"Yours, very truly,


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