The Man Himself
“The Doctor was a remarkable man, and was the instrument of a remarkable work, which required strongly-marked characteristics for its accomplishment. The work is patent to all who know and love the truth. He performed the work of an apostle, and lived log enough to see that work placed upon a permanent basis. The peculiarities necessary to do the work were: —firstly, a clear, well-balanced, scientific intellect, and a non-emotional, executive nature, enabling him to reason accurately, and perceive and embrace conclusions in the teeth of prejudice and sentiment; secondly, self-reliance and an independence almost to the point of eccentricity, disposing him to think and act without reference to any second person, and if need be, in opposition to friend as well as foe; thirdly, a predominating conscientiousness impelling him in the direction of right and duty; and fourthly, great boldness and fluency of speech which qualified him for the enunciation of the truth discovered in the face of the world in arms.”
“These qualities fitted him to follow the pursuit of truth, uninfluenced by the social forces that are all-powerful with ordinary men. Without them he would have been liable, at all stages of his career, to be turned off the track. Veneration for antiquated opinions and a prevailing sympathy with his kind, would have embarrassed him in the acceptance of conclusions adverse to those of religious society, and, probably, deterred him from pursuing his researches to a sufficient length even to perceive these conclusions. They would certainly have interfered with their effective promulgation. Mildness of speech would have been incompatible with that pronounced and definite expression of conviction which was necessary at a time of universal self-complacency.”
“Yet the qualities that fitted him for the work in hand made him appear to a disadvantage in other relations, and, undoubtedly, unsuited him for other kinds of good work. Like a tool shaped and tempered for a particular purpose, he was out of place away from that purpose, and this negativeness, under such circumstances, has given his enemies occasion for cavil. The part of friends has been rather to hide than expose infirmity. Gratitude threw the fold of protection over what mat have been deemed the faults of an otherwise great, and noble, and extraordinary character. Good sense has looked at the entire situation, and acted accordingly. What was wanted was a man to break the clods: to open war against the world; to do the rough work connected with the nineteenth-century re-sowing of the good seed of the kingdom, and these qualities were such as to unfit him for some others. But cruel, and ungrateful, and small has been the policy that has searched out and magnified the faults of such an instrument; and still worse, which has sedulously tried to ignore the work he accomplished. He is now beyond the reach of uncharitable sayings, nearly all of which we personally know to be untrue. We have sustained intimate relations with him for many years, more particularly during the last few, and have had large opportunity of knowing and understanding him.”
“One thought is suggested by the acquaintance: how possible it is for a man to be entirely misunderstood. I would be difficult to conceive a character more unlike the idea which some have formed of Dr. Thomas than Dr. Thomas himself. He was fatherly, kind, domestic, disinterested, and truly humble. How came it, then, that he should sometimes appear so opposite? This is susceptible of explanation. His mind acted in so high a sphere that he could not stoop in fellowship with vulgarity or ignorance. His manner was distant and cold to those with whom he could hold no intercourse; but this latterly more than formerly. He was naturally very frank and confiding, but had, in the course of his life, been so often and so grievously bitten, that he became very reserved. Yet this reserve he could only maintain when parties were at a distance. If circumstances threw them into contact with him, his natural tendencies came into play. He was either too confiding or too austere—the intenseness of the austerity arising from the consciousness of his weakness in the other direction, and the necessity for exertion.”
“The same embittered experience gave him a low opinion of human nature, and this, acting with his penetrating logic, made him more readily seek an evil than a good motive. This was, perhaps, a weakness. Then he was lacking somewhat in patience under opposition. He quickly and keenly felt the sting of an enemy. These were defects in the natural man which gave the enemy an advantage often, and which, in some quarters, have left so unfavourable an estimate of his character. But now he rests from his labour, and in a common but large sense of the phrase, his works follow him. These will be more appreciated now that reason is able to sit in dispassionate judgment on a remarkable career. The infirmities of nature will be forgotten in the greatness and durability of the work he has accomplished. The great numbers who rejoice in an enlightenment attained through his labours will hold him in grateful and venerated remembrance; and should they appear as soon as they hope before the only tribunal which he held in any respect, they will rejoice to hear the Judge pronounce his career a worthy one, his work a great one, his infirmities overlooked, and his crown well earned; and it will be to them a joy and rejoicing should it please the Lord to make them constituents of that crown, in the donation of them to him, for eternal society in that state in which the frailties and imperfections of the flesh will be known no more for ever. This blessed hope keeps up the heart in sorrow. It is a hope with promise of early realisation. The signs of the times betoken its sure approach. The last words in the last letter we received from the Doctor (dated Feb. 7, 1871) are: -
“’The time of the end is developing, finely; waiting and watching, I remain,’ etc. A short time before that he wrote: ‘This . . . leaves me not free from bodily infirmity, but improving slowly. My wife’s health is very shaky. The only cheering outlook is the near apocalypse of the Lord. We earnestly desire his appearing, to deliver us from the present evil world. We have the enemy on every side, within also and without. If we have to stay here or go there, it cannot be anywhere for long. At present it is here, with no ability to heave anchor. I do not feel at home, but as I suppose John did in Patmos. God’s will be done in all things. We are but pilgrims and sojourners here, as all the fathers were. Christ Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He had few friends, and was misunderstood by all. My experience has been in accord with this for the last thirty-seven years. It is a consolation, however, that if we suffer with him we shall also reign with him. Love to all.’”
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So far his original biographer; the following paragraphs convey the impressions made on the last reviser.
The foregoing appreciation deals principally with Dr. Thomas in relation to his one great work, a work essentially of a religious character. It is desired to add impressions that have been made in the work of revising, and extending, this biography—particularly in relation to the latter.
One of the most important points in the character of Dr. Thomas was his disregard of worldly position. Had he continued to follow his profession there is little doubt that he would have been a successful physician. A professor in the city of Richmond, speaking of him said, “What a fool Dr. Thomas is. If he would only devote himself to his profession he might ride in the best carriage in Richmond.” Had he acted in that way he would have been respected and praised by all. By his search for the answer to the question “What is truth?” he gave up all prospects of worldly success, and brought upon himself the opposition, often venomous, of those who had been friends. But to him truth was everything; where it led, he followed.
Closely connected with this love of truth was an appreciation of what was grand and beautiful in nature. Illustrations of this have been given in preceding pages. The sublime, and the beautiful spoke to him of God, their Author. No one can read his works without seeing an intense reverence for God, who created the heavens and the earth. Connected with this was his appreciation of good and grand music, as illustrated by remarks made in his record of a Continental tour.
Another feature which has been illustrated in relation to him was his wide acquaintance with literature, prose and poetry. He seems to have been specially attracted by the prose writings of Milton, in which he saw, as comparatively few others have done, Milton’s actual views concerning human nature. In the Herald of the Kingdom extracts from Milton’s works appeared showing the poet’s real views about the nature of man; man was mortal; death was real. One brief quotation from one of the extracts printed will be read with interest. “If then the Scriptures be in themselves so perspicuous, and sufficient of themselves to make men wise unto salvation . . . what infatuation is it that even Protestant divines persist in darkening the most momentous truths of religion by intricate comments?” In the pages of the Herald, quotations are given from Justin Martyr, the Epistle to Diognetus, Francis Bacon, Sir Isaac Newton, Chillingworth, Hobbes, de Quincey, and others. From the poets there are quotations from Byron, Butler’s “Hudibras,” Cowper, Burns, and Thomas Hood. This speaks of a wide knowledge of literature, whether that was gained in early life or later. His familiarity with Gibbon’s Decline and fall of the Roman Empire is obvious to every reader of Eureka.
Archaeology was, in his days in its comparative infancy, but the Doctor reproduced a long article on the discoveries of Layard in Mesopotamia, and various notes on ancient manuscripts of the Bible. As previously mentioned, he also reproduced a long lecture by Tregelles, a celebrated Biblical scholar, on the Historical Evidence of the Authorship and Transmission of the Books of the New Testament.
Yet another indication of the versatility of Dr. Thomas was a series of notes on various Roman emperors and Grecian philosophers; whilst his acquaintance with the writings of the Apostolic Fathers is evident from the first volume of Eureka.
It will be seen from these points, and those referred to in the first part of this chapter, that there was something very attractive about Dr. Thomas, notwithstanding the brusqueness that sometimes marked his treatment of opponents.
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