Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 29.djvu/61

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ful speech.’ But whose native tongue was it? Miss Campbell conjectured, for unknown reasons, the Pelew Islanders'. The whole story is a curious instance of religious delusion.

Irving had never been on cordial terms with the religious world, and since the delivery in 1826 of a powerful sermon advocating the prosecution of missions by strictly apostolic methods, he had been regarded by it with suspicion and dislike. An attempted prosecution for heresy in December 1830 had failed for the time in consequence of Irving's withdrawal from the jurisdiction of the London presbytery, but he was now helpless. The church trustees, who disapproved of the tongues, were clearly bound to take steps for the abatement of what they regarded as an intolerable nuisance, and as Irving was not prepared ‘défendre à Dieu de faire miracle en ce lieu,’ no course but his removal was possible. He defended himself with an imperious haughtiness little calculated to conciliate his judges, most of whom were probably inimical to him on other grounds, but the most friendly tribunal could hardly have come to any other decision, and he was removed from the pulpit of Regent Square Church on 26 April 1832. The larger part of the congregation, numbering no less than eight hundred communicants, nevertheless adhered to him, and found temporary refuge in a large bazaar in Gray's Inn Road, which was shared with them, much to their dissatisfaction, by Robert Owen. In the autumn Irving's followers, reconstituted (as they asserted) with ‘the threefold cord of a sevenfold ministry,’ and assuming the title of the ‘Holy Catholic Apostolic Church,’ removed to the picture gallery in Newman Street which had formerly been used by Benjamin West. Though now the minister of a dissenting congregation, Irving retained his status as a clergyman of the church of Scotland until his deprivation by the presbytery of Annan, on 13 March 1833, on a charge of heresy respecting the sinlessness of Christ. The tribunal was not a highly competent one, and its decision carried little moral weight. It broke Irving's heart nevertheless. He travelled for some time through his native county, addressing crowded audiences in the open air, and then returned to London to find himself suspended and almost deposed by his own congregation, of which the world naturally supposed him to be prophet, priest, and king. It was far otherwise. Irving himself had never been favoured with any supernatural gifts; he was consequently bound, on his own principles, to give place to those who had. When, therefore, immediately upon his return an inspired voice proclaimed that, having lost his orders in the church of Scotland, he must not administer the sacraments until he had received fresh ones, he could only acquiesce and stand aside. He accepted the situation with the utmost meekness, consenting without a murmur to be controlled and on occasion rebuked by inferior men, whose alleged revelations on points of ceremonial were often in violent contrast with his own ideas and the traditions of the church to which he had hitherto belonged. He still preached, and occasionally undertook missions at the bidding of the authorities who had assumed the direction of his conscience, but never came prominently before the world, and his own rank in his community was only that of an inferior minister. His health declined rapidly. The last glimpse of him as a writer is obtained, in the autumn of 1834, from a series of letters written to his wife while he was on a journey through the west midland counties and Wales in search of health, and preparing for another mission to Scotland. These letters, in every way more simple, natural, and human than the more celebrated epistles of former years, convey a most affecting picture of the man sinking into the grave. After his arrival at Glasgow his strength entirely failed, and he expired on 7 Dec. 1834, his last words being, ‘If I die, I die unto the Lord.’ He was buried in the crypt of Glasgow Cathedral. Few of his children survived to adult age, but he left a son, Martin Howy Irving, who obtained distinction as a professor in Australia.

The ‘Irvingite’ or ‘Holy Catholic Apostolic Church’ still survives. A fine Gothic church, built in Gordon Square in 1854, is the chief home of the denomination.

Irving's character offers a paradox in many respects. As a general rule, a person in whom the moral qualities are greatly in excess of the intellectual may be a pleasing figure, but not a picturesque or imposing one. The person, too, who obtains a large share of public notice by mere eloquence, without solid acquirements or valuable ideas, is usually something of a charlatan. Irving was one of the most striking figures in ecclesiastical history, and as exempt from every taint of charlatanism as a man can be. He cannot be acquitted of an enormous over-estimate of his own powers and a fatal proneness to believe himself set apart for extraordinary works; but this mistaken self-confidence never degenerated into conceit, and on many occasions he gave evidence of a most touching humility. Morally his character was most excellent; his life was a succession of tender and charitable actions, in so far as his polemics left him