Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 29.djvu/59

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his appointment, a proceeding speedily imitated by Carlyle, and he repaired to Edinburgh with a view to qualifying himself for some profession. He learned French and Italian, he attended lectures in chemistry and natural history, and, not wholly despairing of being a preacher yet, burned all his unappreciated Kirkcaldy sermons, and exercised himself in writing others on a new model. When, in August 1819, he found another opportunity of preaching, he succeeded so well that Dr. Chalmers, one of his audience, invited him to become his assistant at St. John's, Glasgow, where he settled in October. This congregation thus had for a time the two most famous modern preachers of Scotland; but Irving felt himself entirely eclipsed by Chalmers. The consciousness that he was unjustly depreciated combined with increased confidence in his own powers to stimulate the ambition which had always been a leading trait in his character, but which circumstances had hitherto repressed. He became restless and uncomfortable, and embraced the opportunity of a new sphere afforded by the invitation which he received in 1822 from the little chapel in Hatton Garden, London, connected with the Caledonian Asylum, although a knowledge of Gaelic should have been a requisite, and the congregation was so small and poor that it at first seemed unable to give the bond for the minister's due stipend required by the church of Scotland. These difficulties were eventually surmounted, and, ‘at the highest pitch of hope and anticipation,’ Irving removed to London in July 1822. He had already, in May 1821, given Carlyle an introduction to Jane Welsh, and had parted from his friend after an earnest conversation on Drumclog Moss, unforgotten by either.

Byron scarcely leapt into fame with more suddenness than Irving. The new preacher's oratory was pronounced worthy of his melodious and resonant voice, noble presence, commanding stature, and handsome features, which were marred only by a slight obliquity of vision. The little chapel was soon crowded, and the original congregation was almost lost in the influx of the more brilliant members of London society. His celebrity is said to have been greatly aided by a compliment paid him by Canning in the House of Commons, but, however attracted, his hearers remained. One great source of magnetism in Irving was undoubtedly the tone of authority that he assumed. Others might reason and expostulate, he dictated. The effect of Irving's success on his own character was unfavourable; it fostered that ‘inflation’ which Carlyle had already remarked in him in his obscure Kirkcaldy days, and, by encouraging his belief in his own special mission, made him a ready prey to flatterers and fanatics. His first important publication, ‘An Argument for Judgment to come,’ published along with his ‘Orations’ in 1823, is in its origin almost incredibly silly, being a protest against the respective Visions of Judgment of Southey and Byron, which Irving thought equally profane. It is no wonder that he himself soon became a mark for satirists, but their attacks only served to evince his popularity.

Irving's domestic circumstances were not satisfactory. On 13 Oct. 1823 he was married at the manse of Kirkcaldy to Isabella Martin, after an eleven years' engagement, which, as Mrs. Oliphant significantly says, ‘had survived many changes, both of circumstances and sentiment.’ It is in fact now known that Irving had been in 1821 deeply in love with Jane Welsh, who had before conceived a childish attachment to him, that she at that time reciprocated his feeling, that he had endeavoured to persuade the Martin family to release him from his engagement, that they had refused, and that he fulfilled it reluctantly, though with the best grace in his power. The marriage proved nevertheless much happier than might have been expected; but it was still the greatest of misfortunes to Irving to have missed a wife capable of advising and controlling him, and found one who ‘could bring him no ballast for the voyage of life.’ Her admiration and affection led her to surround him with worshippers, inferior people themselves, who kept superior people away. Carlyle, whose criticism might have been very valuable, found it impossible to keep up any intimate intercourse with his old friend. ‘If I had married Irving,’ said Jane Welsh Carlyle long afterwards, ‘the tongues would never have been heard.’

While Irving's extravagant assumptions in the pulpit served to provide frivolous society in London with a new sensation, the student of ecclesiastical history may see in them a premonition of the great sacerdotal reaction which occurred ten years later, a reaction grounded on very different postulates and supported by very different arguments, but equally expressive of a tendency in the times. Indeed, when Irving arrived in London in 1822, partly by inevitable reaction from the lukewarmness of the eighteenth century, partly from the marvellous political history of the preceding thirty years, a great revival of enthusiastic religious feeling was beginning. People could hardly be blamed for seeing a fulfilment of prophecy in the events of the French revolution; and, this granted,