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LIFE AND WRITINGS
Rev. AUGUSTUS MONTAGUE TOPLADY, A. B.
The rise of Methodism in England, formed a new and important era, in the ecclesiastical history of the country *. However variously different individuals may judge of the comparative merits, or demerits, of the opinions and the character of Whitefield and of Wesley, and their coadjutors and successors, it must be acknowledged by all, that their ardent zeal, and their Herculean labours, gave a powerful impulse to the religious world, in all the departments into which it is divided. The spirit by which they were animated, soon forced its way beyond its original sphere; and, besides the effects produced on their immediate followers, kindled, in many others, a zeal for godli. ness, which has since burned, if not with a brighter, yet with a steadier flame.
The church of England itself was indirectly, but greatly benefited by the very men, who, in the first instance, drew many from the pale of its communion. By a very natural re-action, its dormant spirit was roused; the fire, which had been well nigh extinguished on many an altar, was rekindled; offerings
* See Southey's Life of Wesley.
of righteousness were presented ; and in not a few churches on which Ichabod had long been inscribed, many worshippers now felt constrained, to exclaim,
Surely the LORD is in this place; this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven *."
The apostolic ROMAINE had to lament, that, at the commencement of his career, there were comparatively few clergymen to sympathize and co-operate with him in his ardent zeal and evangelical labours. But, it gave him great pleasure, in the prospect of his demise, that he was to leave behind him hundreds of ministers to plead the cause of Christ, and to maintain the honour, and secure the strength and stability of the church of England. Every friend to real Christianity, whatever be the party to which he belongs, will rejoice that the number of such clergymen, has, since that period, been greatly augmented, and is still increasing, not only in England, but throughout the British dominions.
Of those evangelical divines, who were so ornamental to the establishment, and so useful in the world, about the middle of last century, the author of these volumes will be allowed to have occupied a very high, if not a pre-eminent place t.
AUGUSTUS MONTAGUE TOPLADY descended from a family, of which it does not appear, that any detailed account was ever given to the world.
All that can be known respecting his father, Richard Toplady, is, that he was a major in the army, and died at the siege of Carthagena, soon after the birth of his son. His mother, whose maiden name was Catharine Bate, belonged to a respectable family, residing in the vicinity of London. Two of her brothers were ministers in the establishment. One of them held the rectory of St. Paul's, Deptford, and by bim her marriage was solemnized, in his own church, Dec. 21, 1737. The fruit of this marriage was two sons, Francis, who died in infancy, and Augustus Montague, the subject of this Memoir.—Mrs. Toplady appears to have been a woman of singular piety and prudence. She gave good proof of the one, in the manner of conducting the education of her son, and of the other, by the way in which she managed her secular affairs. Early involved in the sorrows of widowhood, she received “ everlasting consolation and good hope through grace" from Him who is “ the Judge of the widow," and “in whom the fatherless findeth mercy.” Her Maker thus became her husband, and the Father of her only surviving
* “ Mr. Whitefield,” says Mr. Toplady himself, whom the gracious Spirit and providence of God raised up, and sent forth to begin that great work of spiritual revival in the church of England, which has continued ever since, and still continues with increasing spread, to replenish and enrich the evangelical vineyard by law established.” Works, vol. iv. pi
130. + Southey, though not without a sneer, tells us that his admirers speak of him as “the ever memorable Toplady, who stands paramount in the plenitude of dignity above most of his contemporaries.” Life of Wesley, vol. ii. p. 374.
This son was born at Farnham, in Surrey, on the 4th of November, 1740: and was baptized by the name of Augustus Montague, in honour of the two gentlemen, who stood as his godfathers, receiving the Christian name of the one, and the surname of the other. These gentlemen were, Augustus Middleton, and Adolphus Montague, Esquires.
It has been remarked by Dr. Johnson, that “not to name the school or the masters of men, illustrious for literature, is a kind of historical fraud, by which honest fame is injuriously diminished.” It is much to be regretted, that but few particulars are known, respecting Mr. Toplady's education. We do know, indeed, that he received the first rudiments of it at Westminster school. But of the names of his masters, or of the plans pursued by them, in laying the foundation of his future eminence in literature, nothing can be told, because nothing can now be
known. This is a defect greatly to be lamented in any biographical narrative of distinguished men, and for reasons much more important, than that to which Dr. Johnson adverts. The character of the scholar, and even of the man, is often determined by the exercises and discipline of the juvenile seminary. And detailed accounts of this kind should not be withheld; because those plans, which have been successfully employed in the case of one, or of many, may be reasonably expected to prove of equal advantage to more, in future generations.
It is certain that young Toplady was a very apt scholar; and that neither want of talent nor want of diligence prevented him from making the most of whatever advantages he enjoyed. Discovering from the first a vigorous intellect, and uncommon application, he soon attained a degree of proficiency in the languages, which raised him high above his compeers.—Some of the idlers, or the dissipated among the young nobility, perceiving his superiority, applied for his aid: and at by-hours, he was in the habit of writing the prescribed exercises for some of those who were either too indolent, or too ignorant to write them for themselves. His services, in this way, were duly appreciated; and he is said to have received from his employers, at the rate, sometimes, of three or four shillings a day.
His proficiency at Westminster school was the more remarkable, that when called to leave it, he could hardly be said to have past the years of boyhood. His mother, having some title to an estate in Ireland, found it necessary in prosecution of her claims, to remove her residence into that kingdom. Thither she was accompanied by her young son, who was, shortly after, entered a student in Trinity Col. lege, Dublin ; at which seminary, in consequence of his previous preparation, and continued diligence, he was soon fitted for receiving academical honours, and took his degree of Bachelor of Arts, accordingly.
Possessing, as he now did, every advantage for cultivating his genius, and improving his taste and talents, he prosecuted, with singular avidity and success, all those studies, which were calculated to be most useful or ornamental, in future life. Amid bis more severe exercises, he found time, by way of relaxation, to pay court to the Muses : and between the age of fifteen and eighteen, he wrote a small volume of poems, which was published at Dublin, when he was yet only in his nineteenth year. Hume has remarked it, as a very usual indiscretion in authors to put their works to the press too early. This remark applies, perhaps, with more force to poetical works, than to any other species of literary composition. Mr. Toplady's volume was, indeed, allowed, by competent judges, to have been highly creditable to his genius. Yet it has contributed nothing to his posthumous fame. It shared the fate of most juvenile productions of a similar class; and is now little known, and never sought after.
While, however, he amused himself with these comparatively elegant trifles, Mr. Toplady bent all the force of his mind towards the acquisition of solid learning and useful science. But having, at an early period, resolved to serve God in the ministry of the gospel, he devoted his chief attention to those studies which were best calculated to make him, what he indeed became, “a scribe well instructed unto the kingdom of heaven.” With this view, he was particularly careful to acquire an extensive and accurate knowledge of the Hebrew and Greek languages, that he might be able to study the inspired oracles in the originals, and thus to draw from the purest sources, for his own edification, and that of others, “ things new and old.”
This is a qualification of which it is surely discreditable for any clergyman to be destitute. No graduate in any university, it is true, can be altogether ignorant of the Greek language. It is, however, a