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T ORD GIFFORD'S munificent endowment of a U Lectureship of Natural Theology, to which I have had the undeserved honour of being elected by the Senate of this ancient and illustrious University, must be reckoned among the signs of the times, pregnant with meaning.
This lectureship, with three others in the Universities of Edinburgh, St. Andrews, and Aberdeen, was founded, as you know, by the late Lord Gifford, a Scotch lawyer, who by ability, hard work, and selfdenial had amassed a large fortune, and attained the dignified position of a seat on the Bench.
I have not been able to gather from his friends much information about his personal character and the private circumstances of his life. Nor do they all agree in the estimate they formed of him. Some represented him to me as a keen, hardworking, and judicious man, engrossed by his professional work, yet with a yearning for quietness, for some hours of idleness that should allow him to meditate on the great problems of life, those ancient problems which the practical man may wave away from
year to year, but which knock at our door louder and louder as we grow old, and will not allow themselves to be turned into the street, like beggars and vagabonds. We all know the practical man of the world, who tells us that he has no time to listen to these inward questionings, that he is satisfied with what the Church teaches or with what men wiser than himself have settled for him, that he has tried to do his duty to his neighbours, and that he trusts to God's mercy for all the rest. Men like to entrench themselves in their little castles, to keep their bridges drawn and their portcullis ready to fall on any unwelcome guests. Or, to quote the words of my friend, Matthew Arnold,
'I knew the mass of men conceal'd
Their thoughts, for fear that, if reveal'd,
But this was not the impression which Lord Gifford left on the mind of those who knew him best. Some of his relations and a few of his more intimate friends seem to have been startled at times by the fervour and earnestness with which he spoke to them on religious and philosophical topics. Even when he was in full practice as a lawyer, the first thing he did, I am told, when he returned from the Parliament House on Saturdays, was to lock the door of his library, and devote himself to his own favourite authors, never looking at a professional book or paper till it was necessary to begin work on Monday. He had a separate set of books altogether in his bedroom, amongst
which he spent every moment of his spare time during session, and probably almost his whole vacation. He was devoted to Plato as well as to Spinoza, and read philosophy both ancient and modern in all directions, as well as poetry and the best current literature of the day.
But the world at large knew him chiefly as a successful lawyer, as a man always ready to help in any useful and charitable work, and satisfied to accept the traditional forms of public worship, as a necessary tribute which every member of a religious as well as of a political community must pay for the maintenance of order, peace, and charity. During the last seven years of his life, when confined to the sick-room by creeping paralysis, his mind, always active, bright, and serene, became more and more absorbed in the study of the various systems of philosophy and religion, both Christian and non-Christian, and he made no secret to his own relatives of his having been led by these studies to surrender some of the opinions which they and he himself had been brought up to consider as essential to Christianity. There can be no doubt that he deliberately rejected all miracles, whether as a judge, on account of want of evidence, or as a Christian, because they seemed to him in open conflict with the exalted spirit of Christ's own teaching. Yet he remained always a truly devout Christian, trusting more in the great miracle of Christ's life and teaching on earth than in the small miracles ascribed to him by many of his followers. Some of his lectures and manuscript notes are still in existence, and may possibly some day be published, and throw light on the gradual development of his religious opinions.