Page images

Presb Maga

2, 1878

These are great and worthy objects, and they may well engage the best pens amongst us. The United Presbyterian Church can boast of men of talent second to none in any denomination, and its membership is so numerous and influential that it has only to will it to make the Magazine that bears its name equal in point of circulation to any of its class.

We have very cordially to thank contributors for their able papers, and to express the pleasure we have derived from the kindly intercourse to which they have given rise. On entering on another year, we look to them for a continuance of their valued assistance.

We would also express gratification at the reception of excellent papers from some of our younger brethren. The commingling of the hopeful aspirations of youth with the sage reflections of age is necessary to the life of every Church, and should find fit and proportionate expression in the journal that is its recognised organ. Indeed, in the case of a denominational magazine, the endeavour should ever be to have the area, alike of those who write for it and those who read, as large as the capabilities of the denomination itself.

EDINBURGH, 2d December 1878.




Original Articles.

THE LATE DR. JAMES BRYCE. DR. JAMES BRYCE, whose death by an accident while he was geologizing on the shores of Loch Ness last summer, must be fresh in the recollection of many in Scotland, was born at Killeague, near Coleraine, in the north of Ireland, on 22d October 1806. He was the third son and fourth child of the Rev. James Bryce, a Presbyterian minister of the Secession body, and of what was then known as its Antiburgher section, a native of Lanarkshire, who had settled in Ireland five years previously. His father was a remarkable man, morally as well as intellectually,-a man whose geniality of manner and simplicity of character were united with a sensitive conscience and great firmness of purpose, as appeared in the resistance which he alone of all his brother clergymen in the north of Ireland maintained to the humiliating conditions on which the endowment called Regium Donum was bestowed. When all the rest had, one after another, submitted, in spite of complaints and protestations, he stood stedfast and faithful in refusing to accept what he held to be dishonouring to his office as a minister of Christ. Thus he became the founder of a Voluntary Church in Ireland, which ultimately in 1858) became incorporated with the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland. Dr. Bryce's mother, whom he greatly resembled in face (she had been Miss Catherine Annan, of Abernethy, in Fife), was a person not less remarkable, though in a somewhat different way, gifted with a strong imagination, keen literary tastes, and an amount of literary cultivation both in English and in the ancient classics which was rare in those days, and would be uncommon even now. It was from these two instructors that nearly all his book education was received ; and indeed he could have desired none better, for his father was an excellent teacher as well as an accurate scholar. Meantime he was receiving out of doors an education of another sort, which largely contributed to form in him those mental qualities and tastes which were conspicuous in his after life. While his father was occupied by the ecclesiastical work which his refusal of Regium Donum had thrown upon him, visiting and preaching to small congregations in various parts of the country, and preparing young men for the work of the ministry, James was often free to rove in the company of Robert, a brother three years his senior, to whom he was through life profoundly attached, over the surrounding country, making himself familiar with all kinds of natural objects and natural creatures. In these rambles there was acquired not only an ardent



Presb. Maga

1, 1878

love of nature and of out-door life, but that keen perceptive power which was so striking an attribute of his intellect, and contributed so largely to his scientific eminence. His mind, however, was always at work, and always easily roused to interest by a new subject. Two incidents of boyhood which illustrate this are worth recording. In his father's household there was a Roman Catholic servant, who could not read. The little fellow, then less than ten years old, was horrified at the idea of a grown-up woman so ignorant, and asked permission himself to teach her. This was willingly granted. He persevered with his self-imposed task, and in a few months was rewarded by seeing poor Jane seated among the others at family worship, able to follow the reading of the Scriptures and join in the psalm. Not long after, when he was about ten years old, his father decided that lessons must be more regular, and told him one morning that he was now to begin Latin. This encroachment on his freedom was at first very unwelcome; and his eldest brother well remembers how, starting from the house at half-past nine o'clock in the morning, he left the boy drying his eyes, and turning into the school-room at his mother's persuasion, with a look which showed he felt it was right, though not pleasant, to submit. Returning early in the afternoon, he found a face full of delight at the new study, which was pursued thenceforward with an ardour that only slackened when Greek—a language that had for him an even greater fascination—was entered on.

At the age of fourteen he was sent to Glasgow University, where his father and his eldest brother had been before him, and enrolled in the senior Greek class. That brother was then beginning the medical course, which he afterwards abandoned to become a clergyman, and under his charge the young student lived, protected by him from the sense of solitude and the temptations which might press on a boy sent so early from a quiet home into a large city. The two following years were spent in Ireland; and in 1823 he again returned to Glasgow, entered the logic class, and gained what then was and remains still one of the highest University distinctions there, the Greek Blackstone Prize, awarded to the student who passes the best examination in a number of Greek authors chosen by himself, which he is said to profess,' and in determining which, regard is had both to the quantity of the profession and to the accuracy of the knowledge shown in the passages which the examiner selects. Sir D. K. Sandford was then Professor of Greek ; and of the stimulating teaching and courteous manners of this eminent man Dr. Bryce retained through life a warm memory. He had not completed his course at Glasgow when the place of mathematical master in the Belfast Academy, at that time one of the most important endowed foundations in Ireland, was offered to bim by his eldest brother, who had been appointed to the principalship of the same institution. He accepted it in 1826, but was obliged during a succeeding year to discharge his duties by deputy, in order to take the classes of natural philosophy and chemistry at Glasgow, and to obtain his B.A. degree, which he did in 1828. Returning then to Belfast, he devoted the rest of his life to the labours of his profession, — labours which became pleasures to him, so great was his interest, not only in the intellectual process of teaching, but in the minds and characters of his individual pupils. As he was an excellent mathematician and a singularly clear expositor, his teaching of arithmetic, geometry, and algebra was always successful. But these did not prove to be the studies for which he had most affection. Geography was one of the subjects allotted to the mathematical department. He at once perceived what may seem obvious enough now-adays, but must have then been thought a fantastic novelty,—that the physical

Presb. Maga

1, 1878

side of geography is its most important side, and that on which all the rest depends; and that some acquaintance with geology is needed as a basis for the study of the physical structure of the earth. With this view, he began to give the geography class two lessons every week in mineralogy and geology, -subjects of which he had learned the outlines from the lectures of Dr. Thomas Thomson (the famous chemist) at Glasgow. Finding that to pursue geology he must know botany and zoology, he set himself, with the prompt energy that was so characteristic of him, to master both subjects, and before long introduced them also into his classes. Mineralogy, geology, and zoology he taught in the school hours as part of the regular work, while for botany he opened each April a voluntary and gratuitous class, which met at 7 A.M. on several days in the week, inviting his pupils to bring with them such of their sisters and elder brothers as might be willing to attend. Many of his friends in the town asked permission to send their sons also, and thus a large band of zealous young naturalists was formed, some of whom used to accompany him on Saturday afternoons, or at sunrise on other days of the week, in rambles over the romantic hills and shores that lie near Belfast, gaining from his companionship and example not only a knowledge of the science, but a love for natural beauty which elevated and refined their whole character. The spirit thus awakened led the boys to form among themselves a natural history society, of which they insisted on making him the president, and which soon acquired, by the exertions of its members, a valuable museum. Meanwhile, the study of natural philosophy, which his brother the principal had desired to see introduced into the school course, was not neglected. Dr. Bryce connected it with mathematics, as he had connected natural history with geography, teaching the elements of mechanics, pneumatics, and hydrostatics both experimentally and mathematically, and carrying his pupils on to chemistry and electricity. It was only the elements and general principles of these sciences that he had time to give, but elementary knowledge is a very different thing from superficial knowledge. Like all great teachers, he aimed at making the leading truths and doctrines thoroughly apprehended, knowing that when this .has been effected, the learner may be left to fill up the details for himself.

In all that has been described, there would at the present day be nothing remarkable, except indeed the quality and style of his teaching, for it is now pretty generally admitted that natural history and physics ought to be taught in every considerable school. But fifty years ago such a view had scarcely been heard of; and that it should not only have been formed by a young and inexperienced man fresh from college, but carried out with such admirable success and popularity, would of itself have stamped him as possessed of original power, and given him a place in the front rank of educational reformers. Throughout the rest of his professional career in Belfast, and afterwards in Glasgow, he adhered steadily to the same practice, and in this way was the means of forming an immense number of naturalists. With some of his pupils the study of nature remained merely an enjoyable taste, with others it became an absorbing pursuit. But many in both classes have attributed to the stimulus which they received from Dr. Bryce, no small part of the pleasure and the usefulness of their lives.

Meanwhile, Dr. Bryce was no less earnest as an investigator than as a teacher. He had resumed, on his return from Glasgow, his own geological studies, and soon began to explore the very interesting and then imperfectly known phenomena of the rocks of Antrim and Down. His first important discovery was of the remains of the Plesiosaurus in the lias formation, an


1, 1878

account of which he contributed to the Philosophical Magazine in 1834, thereby establishing the identity of the lias strata of Antrim with those of England. He was elected a fellow of the Geological Societies of Dublin and London; and at the meetings of the British Association, of which he was one of the earliest members, was soon recognised by Murchison, Sedgwick, Lyell, and other leaders of geological science, as one of the most energetic and able of its devotees. In Belfast itself he joined with several friends in establishing a Natural History Society, which still continues to flourish, and which, during the period of his residence in Ireland, owed its success mainly to the activity with which he discharged the duties of secretary, keeping up the interest of his fellow-workers, and always ready to prepare å paper himself when no one else could be found to do so, or when the appointed lecturer had failed. Although in those days a place of far smaller population and commercial importance than it has now become, Belfast was, after Dublin, the chief centre of intellectual life in Ireland, and numbered among its citizens many men of large scientific and literary culture. In the society of these men,-several of whom were his intimate friends,—he passed eighteen happy years, prosecuting every summer his geological researches, till he became known as the highest authority on the geology of north-eastern Ireland, nearly every part of which he had visited, and many of whose most interesting districts—as, for instance, that of the Giant's Causeway—he had described in papers contributed to the Transactions of the great scientific societies. In 1837 he married ; and the happiness of his domestic life was never clouded except in 1842, by the death of his second child at an early age.

In 1846 he was appointed to the mastership of the mathematical department in the High School of Glasgow,—the largest, and in some respects the most important, of the great public schools of Scotland. Its arrangements, which have within the last year been altered, were then somewhat peculiar. There was no rector ; each department was practically an independent school, managed by its head in the way he judged best. In the mathematical department, which comprised geography and arithmetic, the classes were so large that Dr. Bryce was always obliged to have two or three assistants. He organized it according to his own views, introduced improved methods of teaching and various plans for stimulating the activity of the pupils ; and though it proved impossible to find room in the too crowded day for a class expressly for the teaching of natural science or natural history, he gave occasional lectures to the geography classes on those subjects, and lost no means of awakening the interest of the boys in them. He had four great gifts as a teacher, --lucidity, ingenuity, vivacity, geniality. No one understood better that in all instruction the essential thing is to make the first principles of a subject thoroughly well understood; and it was a real intellectual pleasure to hear him explaining to a large class the theory of one of the rules of arithmetic, such as compound proportion, or the doctrine of decimals,—to watch the eager faces of the listeners as they followed step by step the explanation of the process and the apt illustrations which he interposed, till, when all was clear, they seized their slates to work out the sums which he propounded as examples of the principle they had now made their

Arithmetic is sometimes spoken of as a vulgar subject, because it is commonly taught in a mechanical and rule-of-thumb way; in his hands it became as beautiful an instrument of mental discipline as geometry or logic. Of the fertility with which he devised new and shorter methods of working the ordinary rules, the liveliness with which he roused the attention of a class


« PreviousContinue »