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Title: James Frederick Ferrier
Author: Haldane, Elizabeth Sanderson
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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underscores: _italics_.



_The following Volumes are now ready_--







The designs and ornaments of this volume are by Mr. Joseph Brown, and
the printing from the press of Morrison & Gibb Limited, Edinburgh.




INTRODUCTION                                                        7


EARLY LIFE                                                         11


HIS LITERARY WORK                                                  27


PHILOSOPHY BEFORE FERRIER'S DAY                                    41


'FIERCE WARRES AND FAITHFUL LOVES'                                 56


NEW'--FERRIER AS A CORRESPONDENT                                   72






PROFESSORIAL LIFE                                                 122


LIFE AT ST. ANDREWS                                               138


LAST DAYS                                                         152



Mr. Oliphant Smeaton has asked me to write a few words of preface to
this little book. If I try, it is only because I am old enough to have
had the privilege of knowing some of those who were most closely
associated with Ferrier.

When I sat at the feet of Professor Campbell Fraser in the Metaphysics
classroom at Edinburgh in 1875, Ferrier's writings were being much read
by us students. The influence of Sir William Hamilton was fast
crumbling in the minds of young men who felt rather than saw that much
lay beyond it. We were still engrossed with the controversy, waged in
books which now, alas! sell for a tenth of their former price, about
the Conditioned and the Unconditioned. We still worked at Reid,
Hamilton, and Mansel. But the attacks of Mill on the one side, and of
Ferrier and Dr. Stirling on the other, were slowly but surely
withdrawing our interest. Ferrier had pointed out a path which seemed
to lead us in the direction of Germany if we would escape from Mill,
and Stirling was urging us in the same sense. It was not merely that
Ferrier had written books. He had died more than ten years earlier, but
his personality was still a living influence. Echoes of his words came
to us through Grant and Sellar. Outside the University, men like
Blackwood and Makgill made us feel what a power he had been. But that
was not all for at least some of us. Mrs. Ferrier had removed to
Edinburgh--and I endorse all that my sister says of her rare quality.
She lived in a house in Torphichen Street, which was the resort of
those attracted, not only by the memory of her husband, but by her own
great gifts. She was an old lady and an invalid. But though she could
not move from her chair, paralysis had not dimmed her mental powers.
She was a true daughter of 'Christopher North.' I doubt whether I have
seen her rival in quickness, her superior I never saw. She could talk
admirably to those sitting near her, and yet follow and join in the
conversation of another group at the end of the room. She could adapt
herself to everyone--to the shy and awkward student of eighteen, who
like myself was too much in awe of her to do more unhelped than answer,
and to the distinguished men of letters who came from every quarter
attracted by her reputation for brilliance. The words of no one could
be more incisive, the words of no one were habitually more kind than
hers. She had known everybody. She forgot nobody. In those days the
relation between Literature and the Parliament House, if less close
than it had been, was more apparent than it is to-day, and
distinguished Scottish judges and advocates mingled in the afternoon in
the drawing-room, where she sat in a great arm-chair, with such men as
Sellar and Stevenson and Grant and Shairp and Tulloch. But her
personality was the supreme bond.

Those days are over, and with them has passed away much of what
stimulated one to read in the _Institutes_ or the _Philosophical
Remains_. But for the historian of British philosophy Ferrier
continues as a prominent figure. He it was who first did, what Stirling
and Green did again at a stage later on--make a serious appeal to
thoughtful people to follow no longer the shallow rivulets down which
the teaching of the great German thinkers had trickled to them, but to
seek the sources. If as a guide to those sources we do not look on him
to-day as adequate, we are not the less under a deep obligation to him
for having been the pioneer of later guides. What Ferrier wrote about
forty years ago has now become readily accessible, and what has been
got by going there is in process of rapid and complete assimilation.
The opinions which were in 1856 regarded by the authorities of the Free
and United Presbyterian Churches as disqualifying Ferrier for the
opportunity of influencing the mind of the youth of Edinburgh, from the
Chair of Logic and Metaphysics in succession to Sir William Hamilton,
are regarded by the present generation of Presbyterians as the main
reliable bulwark against the attacks of unbelievers. If one may judge
by the essays in the recent volume called _Lux Mundi_, the same
phenomenon displays itself among the young High Church party in
England. The Time-Spirit is fond of revenges.

But even for others than the historians of the movement of Thought the
books of Ferrier remain attractive. There is about them a certain
atmosphere in which everything seems alive and fresh. Their author was
no Dryasdust. He was a living human being, troubled as we are troubled,
and interested in the things which interest us. He spoke to us, not
from the skies, but from among a crowd of his fellow human beings, and
we feel that he was one of ourselves. As such it is good that a
memorial of him should be placed where it may easily be seen.




It may be a truism, but it is none the less a fact, that it is not
always he of whom the world hears most who influences most deeply the
thought of the age in which he lives. The name of James Frederick
Ferrier is little heard of beyond the comparatively small circle of
philosophic thinkers who reverence his memory and do their best to keep
it green: to others it is a name of little import--one among a
multitude at a time when Scotland had many sons rising up to call her
blessed, and not perhaps one of the most notable of these. And yet,
could we but estimate the value of work accomplished in the higher
sphere of thought as we estimate it in the other regions of practical
work--an impossibility, of course--we might be disposed to modify our
views, and accord our praises in very different quarters from those in
which they are usually bestowed.

James Ferrier wrote no popular books; he came before the public
comparatively little; he made no effort to reconcile religion with
philosophy on the one hand, or to propound theories startling in their
unorthodoxy on the other. And still we may claim for him a place--and
an honourable place--amongst the other Famous Scots, for the simple
reason that after a long century of wearisome reiteration of tiresome
platitudes--platitudes which had lost their original meaning even to
the utterers of them, and which had become misleading to those who
heard and thought they understood--Ferrier had the courage to strike
out new lines for himself, to look abroad for new inspiration, and to
hand on these inspirations to those who could work them into a truly
national philosophy.

In Scotland, where, in spite of politics, traditions are honoured to a
degree unknown to most other countries, family and family associations
count for much; and in these James Ferrier was rich. His father was a
Writer to the Signet, John Ferrier by name, whose sister was the famous
Scottish novelist, Susan Ferrier, authoress of _The Inheritance_,
_Destiny_, and _Marriage_. Susan Ferrier did for high life in Scotland
what Gait achieved for the humbler ranks of society, and attained to
considerable eminence in the line of fiction which she adopted. Her
works are still largely read, have recently been republished, and in
their day were greatly admired by no less an authority than Sir Walter
Scott, himself a personal friend of the authoress.[1] Ferrier's
grandfather, James Ferrier, also a Writer to the Signet, was a man of
great energy of character. He acted in a business capacity for many
years both to the Duke of Argyle of the time and to various branches of
the Clan Campbell: it was, indeed, through the influence of the Duke
that he obtained the appointment which he held of Principal Clerk of
Session. James Ferrier, like his daughter, was on terms of intimate
friendship with Sir Walter Scott, with whom he likewise was a colleague
in office. Scott alludes to him in his Journal as 'Uncle Adam,' the
name of a character in Miss Ferrier's _Inheritance_, drawn, as she
herself acknowledges, from her father. He died in 1829, at which time
Scott writes of him: 'Honest old Mr. Ferrier is dead, at extreme old
age. I confess I should not like to live so long. He was a man with
strong passions and strong prejudices, but with generous and manly
sentiments at the same time.' James Ferrier's wife, Miss Coutts, was
remarkable for her beauty: a large family was born to her, the eldest
son of whom was James Frederick Ferrier's father. Young Ferrier, the
subject of this sketch, used frequently to dine with his grandfather at
his house in Morningside, where Susan Ferrier acted in the capacity of
hostess; and it is easy to imagine the bright talk which would take
place on these occasions, and the impression which must have been made
upon the lad, both then and after he attained to manhood; for Miss
Ferrier survived until 1854. In later life, indeed, her wit was said to
be somewhat caustic, and she was possibly dreaded by her younger
friends and relatives as much as she was respected; but this, to do her
justice, was partly owing to infirmities. She was at anyrate keenly
interested in the fortunes of her nephew, to whom she was in the habit
of alluding as 'the last of the metaphysicians'--scarcely, perhaps, a
very happy title for one who was somewhat of an iconoclast, and began a
new era rather than concluded an old.

          [1] In a _Life of Susan Ferrier_, lately published, an
          account of the family is given which was written by Miss
          Ferrier, for her nephew, the subject of our memoir.

James Frederick Ferrier's mother, Margaret Wilson, was a sister of
Professor John Wilson--the 'Christopher North' of immortal memory,
whose daughter he was afterwards to marry. Margaret Ferrier was a woman
of striking personal beauty. Her features were perfect in their
symmetry, as is shown in a lovely miniature, painted by Saunders, a
well-known miniature painter of the day, now in the possession of
Professor Ferrier's son, her grandson. Many of these personal charms
descended to James Ferrier, whose well-cut features bore considerable
resemblance to his mother's. And his close connection with the Wilson
family had the result of bringing the young man into association with
whatever was best in literature and art. While yet a boy, we are told,
he sat upon Sir Walter's knee; the Ettrick Shepherd had told him tales
and recited Border ballads; while Lockhart took the trouble to draw
pictures, as he only could, to amuse the child.

In surroundings such as these James Frederick Ferrier was born on the
16th day of June 1808, his birthplace being Heriot Row, in the new town
of Edinburgh--a street which has been made historic to us by the
recollections of another child who lived there long years afterwards,
and who left the grey city of his birth to die far off in an island in
the Pacific. But of Ferrier's child-life we know nothing: whether he
played at 'tig' or 'shinty' with the children in the adjoining gardens,
or climbed Arthur's Seat, or tried to scale the 'Cats' Nick' in the
Salisbury Crags close by; or whether he was a grave boy, 'holding at'
his lessons, or reading other books that interested him, in preference
to his play. Ferrier did not dwell on these things or talk much of his
youth; or if he did so, his words have been forgotten. What we do
know are the barest facts: that his second name was given him in
consideration of his father's friendship with Lord Frederick Campbell,
Lord Clerk Register of Scotland; that his first name, as is usual in
Scotland for an elder son, was his paternal grandfather's; and that he
was sent to live with the Rev. Dr. Duncan, the parish minister of
Ruthwell, in Dumfriesshire, to receive his early education. Dr. Duncan
of Ruthwell was a man of considerable ability and energy of character,
though not famous in any special sphere of learning. He is well known,
however, in the south of Scotland as the originator of Savings Banks
there, and his works on the Seasons bear evidence of an interest in the
natural world. At anyrate the time passed in Dumfriesshire would appear
to have left pleasant recollections; for when Ferrier in later life
alluded to it, it was with every indication of gratitude for the
instruction which he received. He kept up his friendship with the sons
of his instructor as years went on, and always expressed himself as
deeply attached to the place where a happy childhood had been passed.
Nor was learning apparently neglected, for Ferrier began his Latin
studies at Ruthwell, and there first learned--an unusual lesson for so
young a boy--to delight in the reading of the Latin poets, and of
Virgil and Ovid in particular. After leaving Ruthwell, he attended the
High School of Edinburgh, the great Grammar School of the metropolis,
which was, however, soon to have a rival in another day school set up
in the western part of the rapidly growing town; and then he was sent
to school at Greenwich, where he was placed under the care of Dr.
Burney, a nephew of the famous Fanny Burney, afterwards Madame
d'Arblay. From school, as the manner of the time was, the boy passed to
the University of Edinburgh at the age of seventeen,--older really than
was customary in his day,--and here he remained for the two sessions
1825-26 and 1826-27, or until he was old enough to matriculate at
Oxford. At Edinburgh, Ferrier distinguished himself in the class of
Moral Philosophy, and carried off the prize of the year for a poem
which was looked upon as giving promise of literary power afterwards
fulfilled. His knowledge of Latin and Greek were considered good (the
standard might not have been very high), but in mathematics he was
nowhere. At Oxford he was entered in 1828 as a 'gentleman-commoner' at
Magdalen College, the College of his future father-in-law, John Wilson.
A gentleman-commoner of Magdalen in the earlier half of the century is
not suggestive of severe mental exercise,[2] and from the very little
one can gather from tradition--for contemporaries and friends have
naturally passed away--James Ferrier was no exception to the common
rule. That he rode is very clear; the College was an expensive one,
and he was probably inclined to be extravagant. Tradition speaks of
his pelting the deer in Magdalen Park with eggs; but as to further
distinction in more intellectual lines, record does not tell. In this
respect he presents a contrast to his predecessor at Oxford, and friend
of later days, Sir William Hamilton, whose monumental learning created
him a reputation while still an undergraduate. Sir Roundell Palmer,
afterwards Lord Selborne, was a contemporary of Ferrier's at Oxford;
Sheriff Campbell Smith was at the bar of the House of Lords acting as
Palmer's junior the day after Ferrier's death, and Sir Roundell told
him that he remembered Ferrier well at College; he described him as
'careless about University work,' but as writing clever verses, several
of which he repeated with considerable gusto. Of other friends the
names alone are preserved, William Edward Collins, afterwards
Collins-Wood of Keithick, Perthshire, who died in 1877, and J. P.
Shirley of Ettington Park, in Warwickshire;[3] but what influences were
brought to bear upon him by his University life, or whether his
interest in philosophical pursuits were in any way aroused during his
time at College, we have no means of telling. A later friend, Henry
Inglis, wrote of these early days: 'My friendship with Ferrier began
about the time he was leaving Oxford, or immediately after he had left
it--I should say about 1830 or thereabout. At that University I don't
think he did anything more remarkable than contracting a large tailor's
bill; which annoyed him for many years afterwards. At that time he was
a wonderfully handsome, intellectual-looking young man,--a tremendous
"swell" from top to toe, and with his hair hanging down over his
shoulders.' Though later on in life this last characteristic was not so
marked, Ferrier's photographs show his hair still fairly long and
brushed off a finely-modelled square forehead, such as is usually
associated with strongly developed intellectual faculties.

          [2] The gentlemen-commoners at Magdalen, as elsewhere, paid
          higher fees and wore a distinctive costume; at Magdalen they
          had a common room of their own, distinct from that of the
          Fellows, or the Demies or Scholars, and seldom read for
          honours. In Ferrier's days Magdalen College admitted no
          ordinary commoners, and there were but few resident
          undergraduates, many of the thirty demies being graduates
          and non-resident. In the year of his matriculation there
          were only ten gentlemen-commoners; thus, as far as
          undergraduates went, the College was a small one.

          [3] Mr. Shirley was Member of Parliament for South
          Warwickshire, a well-known genealogist, and the author of
          _The Noble and Gentle Men of England_.

It is known that Ferrier took his Bachelor's degree in 1832, and that
he had by that time managed to acquire a very tolerable knowledge of
the classics and begun to study philosophy, so that his time could not
have been entirely idle. For the rest, he probably passed happily
through his years at College, as many others have done before and after
him, without allowing more weighty cares to dwell upon his mind.
Another friend of after days, the late Principal Tulloch, after noting
the fact that Oxford had not then developed the philosophic spirit
which in recent years has marked her schools, and which had not then
taken root any more than the High Church movement which preceded it,
goes on: 'It may be doubted, indeed, whether Oxford exercised any
definite intellectual influence on Professor Ferrier. He had imbibed
his love for the Latin poets before he went there, and his devotion to
Greek philosophy was an after-growth with which he never associated his
Magdalen studies. To one who visited the College with him many years
afterwards, and to whom he pointed out with admiration its noble walks
and trees, his associations with the place seemed to be mainly those of
amusement. There is reason to think that few of those who knew him at
Magdalen would have afterwards recognised him in the laborious student
at St. Andrews, who for weeks together would scarcely cross the
threshold of his study; and yet to all who knew him well, there was
nevertheless a clear connection between the gay gownsman and the
hard-working Professor.'

In 1832, Ferrier became an advocate at Edinburgh, but it does not
appear that he had any serious idea of practising at the Bar. This is
the period at which we know that the passion for metaphysical
speculation laid hold of him,--a passion which is unintelligible and
inexplicable to those who do not share in it,--and as Ferrier could not
clearly say in what direction this was leading him, as far as practical
life was concerned, he probably deemed it best to attach himself to a
profession which left much scope to the adopter of it, to strike out
lines of his own. What led Ferrier to determine to spend some months of
the year 1834 at Heidelberg it would be extremely interesting to know.
The friend first quoted writes: 'I cannot tell of the influences under
which he devoted himself to metaphysics. My opinion is that there were
none, but that he was a philosopher born. He attached himself at once
to the fellowship of Sir William Hamilton, to whom he was introduced by
a common friend--I think the late Mr. Ludovic Colquhoun. I know that he
looked on Sir William at that time as his master.'

Probably the friendship with Hamilton simply arose from the natural
attraction which two sympathetic spirits feel to one another. It is
clear that at this time Ferrier's bent was towards metaphysics, and
that, as Mr. Inglis says, this bent was born with him and was only
beginning to find its natural outlet; therefore it would be very
natural to suppose that acquaintance would be sought with one who was
at this time in the zenith of his powers, and whose writings in the
_Edinburgh Review_ were exciting liveliest interest. A casual
acquaintanceship between the young man of three-and-twenty and the
matured philosopher twenty years his senior soon ripened into a
friendship, not perhaps common between two men so different in age. It
is perhaps more remarkable considering the differences in opinion on
philosophical questions which soon arose between the two; for it is
just as difficult for those whose point of view is fundamentally
opposed on speculative questions to carry on an intercourse concerning
their pursuits which shall be both friendly and unconstrained, as for
two political opponents to discuss vital questions of policy without
any undercurrent of self-restraint, when they start from entirely
opposite principles. Most likely had the two been actually
contemporaries it might not have been so easy, but as it was, the
younger man started with, and preserved, the warmest feelings to his
senior; and even in his criticisms he expresses himself in the
strongest terms of gratitude: 'He (Hamilton) has taught those who study
him to _think_, and he must take the consequences, whether they think
in unison with himself or not. We conceive, however, that even those
who differ from him most, would readily own that to his instructive
disquisitions they were indebted for at least half of all they know of
philosophy.' And in the appendix to the _Institutes_, written soon
after Sir William's death, Ferrier says: 'Morally and intellectually,
Sir William Hamilton was among the greatest of the great. A simpler and
a grander nature never arose out of darkness into human life; a truer
and a manlier character God never made. For years together scarcely a
day passed in which I was not in his company for hours, and never on
this earth may I expect to live such happy hours again. I have learned
more from him than from all other philosophers put together; more, both
as regards what I assented to and what I dissented from.' It was this
open and free discussion of all questions that came before
them--discussion in which there must have been much difference of
opinion freely expressed on both sides, that made these evenings spent
in Manor Place, where the Hamiltons, then a recently married couple,
had lately settled, so delightful to young Ferrier. He had
individuality and originality enough not to be carried away by the
arguments used by so great an authority and so learned a man as his
friend was reckoned, and then as later he constantly expressed his
regret that powers so great had been devoted to the service of a
philosophic system--that of Reid--of which Ferrier so thoroughly
disapproved. But at the same time he hardly dared to expect that the
labours of a lifetime could be set aside at the bidding of a man so
much his junior, and to say the truth it is doubtful whether Hamilton
ever fully grasped his opponent's point of view. Still, Ferrier tells
us that from first to last his whole intercourse with Sir William
Hamilton was marked with more pleasure and less pain than ever attended
his intercourse with any human being, and after Hamilton was gone he
cherished that memory with affectionate esteem. A touching account is
given in Sir William's life of how during that terrible illness which
so sadly impaired his powers and nearly took his life, Ferrier might be
seen pacing to and fro on the street opposite his bedroom window during
the whole anxious night, watching for indications of his condition, yet
unwilling to intrude on the attendants, and unable to tear himself from
the spot where his friend was possibly passing through the last agony.
Such friendship is honourable to both men concerned.

Perhaps, then, it was this intercourse with kindred spirits (for many
such were in the habit of gathering at the Professor's house) that
caused Ferrier finally to determine to make philosophy the pursuit of
his life--this combined, it may be, with the interest in letters which
he could not fail to derive from his own immediate circle. He was in
constant communication with Susan Ferrier, his aunt, who encouraged his
literary bent to the utmost of her power. Then Professor Wilson, his
uncle, though of a very different character from his own, attracted him
by his brightness and wit--a brightness which he says he can hardly
bring before himself, far less communicate to others who had not known
him. Perhaps, as the same friend quoted before suggests, the attraction
was partly due to another source. He says: 'How Ferrier got on with
Wilson I never could divine; unless it were through the bright eyes of
his daughter. Wilson and Ferrier seemed to me as opposite as the poles;
the one all poetry, the other all prose. But the youth probably yielded
to the mature majesty and genius of the man. Had they met on equal
terms I don't think they could have agreed for ten minutes. As it was,
they had serious differences at times, which, however, I believe were
all ultimately and happily adjusted.'

The visits to his uncle's home, and the attractive young lady whom he
there met, must have largely contributed to Ferrier's happiness in
these years of mental fermentation. Such times come in many men's lives
when youth is turning into manhood, and powers are wakening up within
that seem as though they would lead us we know not whither. And so it
may have been with Ferrier. But he was endowed with considerable
calmness and self-command, combined with a confidence in his powers
sufficient to carry him through many difficulties that might otherwise
have got the better of him. Wilson's home, Elleray, near the Lake of
Windermere, was the centre of a circle of brilliant stars. Ferrier
recollected, while still a lad of seventeen years of age, meeting there
at one time, in the summer of 1825, Scott, Wordsworth, Lockhart, and
Canning, a conjunction difficult to beat.[4] Once more, we are told,
and on a sadder occasion, he came into association with the greatest
Scottish novelist. 'It was on that gloomy voyage when the suffering man
was conveyed to Leith from London, on his return from his ill-fated
foreign journey. Mr. Ferrier was also a passenger, and scarcely dared
to look on the almost unconscious form of one whose genius he so warmly
admired.' The end was then very near.

          [4] This meeting occurred after the Irish tour of Scott,
          Miss Anne Scott, and Lockhart, when they visited Wilson at
          Elleray. Canning was staying at Storre, in the

Professor Ferrier's daughter tells us that long after, in the summer of
1856, the family went to visit the English Lakes, the centre of
attraction being Elleray, Mr. Ferrier's old home and birthplace. 'The
very name of Elleray breathes of poetry and romance. Our father and
mother had, of course, known it in its glorious prime, when our
grandfather, "Christopher North," wrestled with dalesmen, strolled in
his slippers with Wordsworth to Keswick (a distance of seventeen
miles), and kept his ten-oared barge in the long drawing-room of
Elleray. In these days they had "rich company," and the names of
Southey, Wordsworth, De Quincey, and Coleridge were to them familiar
household words. The cottage my mother was born in still stands,
overshadowed by a giant sycamore.'

We can easily imagine the effect which society such as this would have
on a young man's mind. But more than that, the friendship with the
attractive cousin, Margaret Wilson, developed into something warmer,
and an engagement was finally formed, which culminated in his marriage
in 1837. Not many of James Ferrier's letters to his cousin during the
long engagement have been preserved; the few that are were written from
Germany in 1834, the year in which he went to Heidelberg; they were
addressed to Thirlstane House, near Selkirk, where Miss Wilson was
residing, and they give a lively account of his adventures.

The voyage from Leith to Rotterdam, judging from the first letter
written from Heidelberg, and dated August 1834, would appear to have
begun in inauspicious fashion. Ferrier writes: 'I have just been here a
week, and would have answered your letter sooner, had it not been that
I wished to make myself tolerably well acquainted with the surrounding
scenery before writing to you, and really the heat has been so
overwhelming that I have been impelled to take matters leisurely, and
have not even yet been able to get through so much _view-hunting_ as I
should have wished. What I have seen I will endeavour to describe to
you. This place itself is most delightful, and the country about it is
magnificent. But this, as a reviewer would say, _by way of
anticipation_. Have patience, and in the meantime let me take events in
their natural order, and begin by telling you I sailed from Leith on
the morning of the second of this month, with no wind at all. We
drifted on, I know not how, and toward evening were within gunshot of
Inchkeith; on the following morning we were in sight of the Bass, and
in sight of the same we continued during the whole day. For the next
two or three days we went beating up against a head-wind, which forced
us to tack so much that whenever we made one mile we travelled ten, a
pleasant mode of progressing, is it not? However, I had the whole ship
to myself, and plenty of female society in the person of the captain's
lady, who, being fond of pleasure, had chosen to diversify her
monotonous existence at Leith by taking a delightful summer trip to
Rotterdam, which confined her to her crib during almost the whole of
our passage under the pressure of racking headaches and roaring
sickness. She had a weary time of it, poor woman, and nothing could do
her any good--neither spelding, cheese, nor finnan haddies, nor bacon,
nor broth, nor salt beef, nor ale, nor gin, nor brandy and water, nor
Epsom salts, though of one or other of these she was _aye takin'_ a wee
bit, or a little drop. We were nearly a week in clearing our own Firth,
and did no good till we got as far as Scarborough. At this place I had
serious intentions of getting ashore if possible, and making out the
rest of my journey by means that were more to be depended on. Just in
the nick of time, however, a fair wind sprang up, and from Scarborough
we had a capital run, with little or no interruption, to the end of our
voyage.' An account of a ten days' voyage which makes us thankful to be
in great measure independent of the winds at sea! Holland, our
traveller thinks an intolerable country to live in, and the first
impressions of the Rhine are distinctly unfavourable. 'The river
himself is a fine fellow, certainly, but the country through which he
flows is stale, flat, though I believe, not unprofitable. The banks on
either side are covered either with reeds or with a matting of rank
shrubbery formed apparently out of dirty green worsted, and the
continuance of it so palls upon the senses that the mind at last
becomes unconscious of everything except the constant flap-flapping of
the weary paddles as they go beating on, awakening the dull echoes of
the sedgy shores. The eye is occasionally relieved by patches of naked
sand, and now and then a stone about the size of your fist, diversifies
the monotony of the scene. Occasionally, in the distance, are to be
seen funny, forlorn-looking objects, trying evidently to look like
trees, but whether they would really turn out to be trees on a nearer
inspection is what I very much doubt.' At Cologne he had an amusing
meeting with an Englishman, 'whom I at once twigged to be an Oxford
man, and more, even, an Oxford tutor. There is a stiff twitch in the
right shoulder of the tribe, answering to a similar one in the hip-bone
on the same side, which there is no mistaking.' The tutor appears to
have done valiant service in making known the traveller's wants in
French to waiters, etc., though 'he spent rather too much of his time
in scheming how to abridge the sixpence which, "time out of mind," has
been the perquisite of Boots, doorkeepers, etc.' 'But,' he adds in
excuse, 'his name was Bull, and therefore, as the authentic epitome of
his countrymen, he would not fail to possess this along with the other
peculiarities of Englishmen.' From Cologne, Ferrier went to Bonn, where
he had an introduction to Dr. Welsh, and then proceeded up the Rhine to
Mayence. He does not form a very high estimate of the beauty of the
scenery. He feels 'a want of something; in fact, to my mind, there is a
want of everything which makes earth, wood, and water something more
than mere water, wood, and earth. We have here a constant and endless
variety of imposing objects (imposing is just the word for them), but
there is no variety in them, nothing but one round-backed hill after
another, generally carrying their woods, when they have any, very
stiffly, and when they have none presenting to the eye a surface of
tawdry and squalid patchwork,' thus suggesting, in his view, a series
of children's gardens--an impression often left on travellers when
visiting this same country. His next letters find him settled in the
University town of Heidelberg.



In the present century in Germany we have seen a period of almost
unparalleled literary glory succeeded by a time of great commercial
prosperity and national enthusiasm. But when Ferrier visited that
country in 1834 the era of its intellectual greatness had hardly passed
away; some, at least, of its stars remained, and others had very
recently ceased to be. Goethe had died just two years before, but Heine
lived till many years afterwards; amongst the philosophers, though Kant
and Fichte, of course, were long since gone, Schelling was still at
work at Munich, and Hegel lived at Berlin till November of 1831, when
he was cut off during an epidemic of cholera. Most of the great men had
disappeared, and yet the memory of their achievements still survived,
and the impetus they gave to thought could not have been lost. The
traditional lines of speculation consistently carried out since
Reformation days had survived war and national calamity, and it
remained to be seen whether the greater tests of prosperity and success
would be as triumphantly undergone.

We can imagine Ferrier's feelings when this new world opened up before
him, a Scottish youth, to whom it was a new, untrodden country. It may
be true that it was his literary rather than his speculative affinities
that first attracted him to Germany. To form in literature he always
attached the greatest value, and to the end his interest in letters was
only second to his attachment to philosophy. German poetry was to him
what it was to so many of the youth of the country from which it
came--the expression of their deepest, and likewise of their freshest
aspiration. The poetry of other countries and other tongues--English
and Latin, for example--meant much to him, but that of Germany was
nearest to his heart. French learning did not attract him; neither its
literature nor its metaphysics and psychological method appealed to his
thoughtful, analytic mind; but in Germany he found a nation which had
not as yet resigned its interest in things of transcendental import in
favour of what pertained to mere material welfare.

Such was the Germany into which Ferrier came in 1834. He did not, so
far as we can hear, enter deeply into its social life; he visited it as
a traveller, rather than as a student, and his stay in it was brief.
Considering the shortness of his time there, and the circumstances of
his visit, the impression that it made upon him is all the more
remarkable, for it was an impression that lasted and was evident
throughout all his after life. Since his day, indeed, it would be
difficult to say how many young Scotsmen have been impressed in a
similar way by a few months' residence at a University town in Germany.
For partly owing to Ferrier's own efforts, and perhaps even more owing
to the 'boom'--to use a vulgarism--brought about by Carlyle's writings,
and by his first making known the marvels of German literature to the
ordinary English-speaking public, who had never learned the language or
tried to understand its recent history, the old traditional literary
alliance between Scotland and France appeared for the time being to
have broken down in favour of a similar association with its rival
country, Germany. The work of Goethe was at last appreciated, nothing
was now too favourable to say about its merits; philosophy was suddenly
discovered to have its home in Germany, and there alone; our insularity
in keeping to our antiquated methods--dryasdust, we were told, as the
old ones of the schools, and perhaps as edifying--was vigorously
denounced. Theology, which had hitherto found complete support from the
philosophic system which acted as her handmaid, and was only tolerated
as such, was naturally affected in like manner by the change; and to
her credit be it said, that instead of with averted eyes looking
elsewhere, as might easily have been done, she determined to face the
worst, and wisely asked the question whether in her department too she
had not something she could learn from a sister country across the sea.
Hence a great change was brought about in the mental attitude of
Scotland; but we anticipate.

Ferrier, after leaving Heidelberg, paid a short visit to Leipzig, and
then for a few weeks took up his abode at Berlin. From Leipzig he
writes to Miss Wilson again: 'How do you like an _epistola_ dated from
this great emporium of taste and letters, this culminating point of
Germanism, where waggons jostle philosophy, and tobacco-impregnated air
is articulated into divinest music? It is fair-time, and I did not
arrive, as one usually does, a day _behind_ it, but on the very day it
commenced. It will last, I believe, some weeks, and during that time
all business is done on the open streets, which are lined on each side
with large wooden booths, and are swarming with men and merchandise of
every description and from every quarter of the world. It very much
resembles a _Ladies' Sale_ in the Assembly Rooms (what I never saw),
only the ladies here are frequently Jews with fierce beards, and have
always a pipe in their mouths when not eating or drinking. As you walk
along you will find the order of the day to be somewhat as follows. You
first come to pipes, then shawls, then nails, then pipes, pipes again,
pipes, gingerbread, dolls, then pipes, bridles, spurs, pipes, books,
warming-pans, pipes, china, writing-desks, pipes again, pipes, pipes,
pipes, nothing but pipes--the very pen will write nothing but pipes.
Pipes, you see, decidedly carry it. I wonder they don't erect public
tobacco-smoke works, lay _pipes_ for it along the streets, and smoke
away--a city at a time. Private families might take it in as we do

Ferrier appears to have spent a week at Frankfort before reaching his
destination at Leipzig. He describes his journey there: 'At Frankfort I
saw nothing worthy of note except a divine statue of Ariadne riding on
a leopard. After lumbering along for two nights and two days in a
clumsy diligence, I reached Leipzig two days ago. I thought that by the
way I might perhaps see something worthy of mention, and accordingly
sometimes put my head out of the window to look. But no--the trees, for
instance, had all to a man planted their heads in the earth, and were
growing with their legs upwards, just as they do with us; and as for
the natives, they, on the contrary, had each of them filled a
flower-pot, called a skull, full of earth, put their heads in it, and
were growing _downwards_, just as the same animal does in our country;
and on coming to one's recollection in the morning in a German
diligence you find yourself surrounded by the same drowsy, idiotical,
glazed, stained, and gummy complement of faces which might have
accompanied you into Carlisle on an autumn morning after a night of
travel in His Majesty's mail coach.'

Berlin impressed Ferrier by its imposing public buildings and general
aspect of prosperity. It had, of course, long before reached a position
of importance under the great Frederick's government, though not the
importance or the size that it afterwards attained. Still, it was the
centre of attraction for all classes throughout Prussia, and possessed
a cultivated society in which the middle-class element was to all
appearances predominant. Ferrier writes of the town: 'Of the inside of
the buildings and what is to be seen there I have nothing yet to say,
but their external aspect is most magnificent. Palaces, churches,
mosque-like structures, spires and domes and towers all standing
together, but with large spaces and fine open drives between, so that
all are seen to the greatest possible advantage, conspire to form a
most glorious city. At this moment a fountain which I can see from my
window is playing in the middle of the square. A _jet d'eau_ indeed!!
It may do very well for a Frenchman to call it that, but we must call
it a perfect volcano of water. A huge column goes hissing up as high as
a steeple, with the speed and force of a rocket, and comes down in
thunder, and little rainbows are flitting about in the showery spray.
It being Sunday, every thing and person is gayer than usual. Bands are
playing and soldiers are parading all through the town; everything,
indeed, is military, and yet little is foppish--a statement which to
English ears will sound like a direct contradiction.'

Our traveller had been given letters to certain Berlin Professors from
young Blackie, afterwards Professor of Greek in Edinburgh University,
who had just translated Goethe's _Faust_ into the English tongue. 'I
went about half an hour ago to call upon a sort of Professor here to
whom I had a letter and a _Faust_ to present from Blackie--found him
ill and confined to bed--was admitted, however, very well received, and
shall call again when I think there is a chance of his being better. I
have still another Professor to call on with a letter and book from
Blackie, and there my acquaintance with the society of Berlin is likely
to terminate.' One other introduction to Ferrier on this expedition to
Germany is mentioned in a note from his aunt, Miss Susan Ferrier, the
only letter to her nephew that has apparently been preserved: whether
or not he availed himself of the offer, history does not record. It
runs as follows:--

    'EDINR., _1st August_.

    'I could not get a letter to Lord Corehouse's German sister
    (Countess Purgstall), as it seems she is in bad health, and not fit
    to entertain vagabonds; but I enclose a very kind one from my
    friend, Mrs. Erskine, to the ambassadress at Munich, and if you
    don't go there you may send it by post, as it will be welcome at
    any time on its own account.'

It was, as has been said, only about three years previously to this
visit that Hegel had passed away at Berlin, and one wonders whether
Ferrier first began to interest himself in his writings at this time,
and whether he visited the graveyard near the city gate where Hegel
lies, close to his great predecessor Fichte. One would almost think
this last was so from the exact description given in his short
biography of Hegel; and it is significant that on his return he brought
with him a medallion and a photograph of the great philosopher. This
would seem to indicate that his thoughts were already tending in the
direction of Hegelian metaphysics, but how far this was so we cannot
tell. Certainly the knowledge of the German language acquired by
Ferrier during this visit to the country proved most valuable to him,
and enabled him to study its philosophy at a time when translations
were practically non-existent, and few had learned to read it. That
knowledge must indeed have been tolerably complete, for in 1851, when
Sir Edward Bulwer (afterwards Lord Lytton) was about to republish his
translation of Schiller's Ballads, he corresponded with Ferrier
regarding the accuracy and exactness of his work. He afterwards, in the
preface to the volume, acknowledges the great services Ferrier had
rendered; and in dedicating the book to him, speaks of the debt of
gratitude he owes to one whose 'critical judgment and skill in
detecting the finer shades of meaning in the original' had been so
useful. Ferrier likewise has the credit, accorded him by De Quincey, of
having corrected several errors in _all_ the English translations of
_Faust_ then extant--errors which were not merely literary
inaccuracies, but which also detracted from the vital sense of the
original. As to Lord Lytton, Ferrier must at this time have been
interested in his writings; for in a letter to Miss Wilson, he advises
her to read Bulwer's _Pilgrims of the Rhine_ if she wishes for a
description of the scenery, and speaks of the high esteem with which he
was regarded by the Germans.

It was in 1837 that Ferrier married the young lady with whom he had so
long corresponded. The marriage was in all respects a happy one. Mrs.
Ferrier's gifts and graces, inherited from her father, will not soon be
forgotten, either in St. Andrews where she lived so long, or in
Edinburgh, the later home of her widowhood. One whose spirits were less
gay might have found a husband whose interests were so completely in
his work--and that a work in which she could not share--difficult to
deal with; but she possessed understanding to appreciate that work, as
well as humour, and could accommodate herself to the circumstances in
which she found herself; while he, on his part, entered into the gaiety
on occasion with the best. A friend and student of the St. Andrews'
days writes of Ferrier: 'He married his cousin Margaret, Professor's
Wilson's daughter, and I don't doubt that a shorthand report of their
courtship would have been better worth reading than nine hundred and
ninety-nine out of every thousand courtships, for she had wit as well
as beauty, and he was capable of appreciating both. No more charming
woman have I ever seen or heard making game of mankind in general, and
in particular of pedants and hypocrites. She would even laugh at her
husband on occasion, but it was dangerous for any volunteer to try to
help her in that sport. A finer-looking couple I have never seen.[5]

          [5] Another sister married William Edmondstoune Aytoun, the
          poet. It was regarding Professor Aytoun's proposal for Miss
          Wilson's hand that the following story is told. When the
          engagement was being formed, Aytoun somewhat demurred to
          interviewing the father of the lady, and she herself
          undertook the mission. Presently she returned with a card
          pinned upon her breast bearing the satisfactory inscription,
          'With the author's compliments'! Aytoun, as is well known,
          was extremely plain, and it was of his bust in the
          Blackwoods' saloon, a recognisable but idealistic likeness,
          that Ferrier remarked, 'I should call that the pursuit of
          beauty under difficulties.'

During her infancy Edinburgh had become Mrs. Ferrier's home, though she
made frequent visits to Westmorland, of whose dialect she had a
complete command. The courtship, however, had been for the most part
carried on at the picturesque old house of Gorton, where 'Christopher
North' was temporarily residing, and which, situated as it is
overlooking the lovely glen made immortal by the name of Hawthornden,
in view of Roslin Chapel, and surrounded by old-fashioned walks and
gardens, must have been an ideal spot for a romantic couple like the
Ferriers to roam in. Another friend writes of Wilson's later home at
Elleray: 'In his hospitable house, where the wits of _Blackwood_
gathered at intervals and visited individually in season and out of
season, his daughter saw strange men of genius, such as few young
ladies had the fortune to see, and heard talk such as hardly another
has the fortune to hear. Lockhart, with his caricatures and his
incisive sarcasm, was an intimate of the house. The Ettrick Shepherd,
with his plaid and homely Doric, broke in occasionally, as did also De
Quincey, generally towards midnight, when he used to sit pouring forth
his finely-balanced, graceful sentences far on among the small hours of
the morning. There were students, too, year after year, many of them
not undistinguished, and some of whom had, we doubt not, ideas of their
own regarding the flashing hazel eyes of their eloquent Professor's
eldest daughter.' But her cousin was her choice, though wealth offered
no attraction, and neither side had reason to regret the marriage of

At the time of his marriage Ferrier had been practising at the Bar,
probably with no great measure of success, seeing that his heart was
not really set upon his work. It was at this period that he first began
to write, and his first contribution to literature took the form of
certain papers contributed to _Blackwood's Magazine_, the subject being
the 'Philosophy of Consciousness.' From that time onwards Ferrier
continued to write on philosophic or literary topics until his death,
and many of these writings were first published in the famous magazine.

Before entering, however, on any consideration of Ferrier's writings
and of the philosophy of the day, it might be worth while to try to
picture to ourselves the social conditions and feelings of the time, in
order that we may get some idea of the influences which surrounded him,
and be assisted in our efforts to understand his outlook.

In the beginning of the nineteenth century Scotland had been ground
down by a strange tyranny--the tyranny of one man as it seemed, which
man was Henry Dundas, first Viscount Melville, who for many long years
ruled our country as few countries have been ruled before. What this
despotism meant it is difficult for us, a century later, to figure to
ourselves. All offices were dependent on his patronage; it was to him
that everyone had to look for whatever post, advancement, or concession
was required. And Dundas, with consummate power and administrative
ability, moulded Scotland to his will, and by his own acts made her
what she was before the world. But all the while, though unperceived, a
new spirit was really dawning; the principles of the Revolution, in
spite of everything, had spread, and all unobserved the time-spirit
made its influence felt below a surface of apparent calm. It laid hold
first of all of the common people--weavers and the like: it roused
these rough, uneducated men to a sense of wrong and the resolution to
seek a remedy. Not much, however, was accomplished. Some futile risings
took place--risings pitiable in their inadequacy--of hard-working
weavers armed with pikes and antiquated muskets. Of course, such rebels
were easily suppressed; the leaders were sentenced to execution or
transportation, as the case might be; but though peace apparently was
restored and public meetings to oppose the Government were rigorously
suppressed, trade and manufactures were arising: Scotland was not
really dead, as she appeared. A new life was dawning: reform was in the
air, and in due time made its presence felt. But the memory of these
times of political oppression, when the franchise was the privilege of
the few, and of the few who were entirely out of sympathy with the most
part of their countrymen or their country's wants, remained with the
people just as did the 'Killing-time' of Covenanting days two centuries
before. Time heals the wounds of a country as of an individual, but the
operation is slow, and it is doubtful whether either period of history
will ever be forgotten. At anyrate, if they are so as this century
closes, they were not in the Scotland known to Ferrier; they were still
a very present memory and one whose influence was keenly felt.

And along with this political struggle yet another struggle was taking
place, no less real though not so evident. The religion of the country
had been as dead as was the politics in the century that was gone--dead
in the sleep of Moderatism and indifferentism. But it, too, had
awakened; the evangelical school arose, liberty of church government
was claimed, a liberty which, when denied it, rent the Established
Church in twain.

In our country it has been characteristic that great movements have
usually begun with those most in touch with its inmost life, the
so-called lower orders of its citizens. The nobles and the kings have
rather followed than taken the lead. In the awakening of the present
century this at anyrate was the case. 'Society,' so called, remained
conservative in its view for long after the people had determined to
advance. Scott, it must be remembered, was a retrogressive influence.
The romanticism of his novels lent a charm to days gone by which might
or might not be deserved; but they also encouraged their readers to
imagine a revival of those days of chivalry as a possibility even now,
when men were crying for their rights, when they had awakened to a
sense of their possessions, and would take nothing in their place. The
real chieftains were no more; they were imitation chieftains only who
were playing at the game, and it was a game the clansmen would not join
in. Few exercises could be more strange than first to read the account
of Scottish life in one of the immortal novels by Scott dealing with
last century, and then to turn to Miss Ferrier or Galt, depicting a
period not so very different. Setting aside all questions of genius,
where comparison would be absurd, it would seem as if a beautiful
enamel had been removed, and a bare reality revealed, somewhat sordid
in comparison. The life was not really sordid,--realism as usual had
overshot its mark,--but the enamel had been somewhat thickly laid, and
might require to be removed, if truth were to be revealed.

So in the higher grades of Edinburgh society the enamel of gentility
has done its best to prejudice us against much true and genuine worth.
It was characterised by a certain conventional unconventionality, a
certain 'preciosity' which brought it near deserving a still stronger
name, and it maintained its right to formulate the canons of criticism
for the kingdom. Edinburgh, it must be recollected, was no 'mean city,'
no ordinary provincial town. It was still esteemed a metropolis. It had
its aristocracy, though mainly of the order of those unable to bear the
greater expense of London life. It had no manufactories to speak of, no
mercantile class to 'vulgarise' it; it possessed a University, and the
law courts of the nation. But above all it had a literary society. In
the beginning of the century it had such men as Henry Mackenzie, Dugald
Stewart, John Playfair, Dr. Gregory, Dr. Thomas Brown, not to speak of
Scott and Jeffrey--a society unrivalled out of London. And in later
days, when these were gone, others rose to fill their places.

Of course, in addition to the movement of the working people, there was
an educated protest against Toryism, and it was made by a party who, to
their credit be it said, risked their prospects of advancement for the
principles of freedom. In their days Toryism, we must recollect, meant
something very different from what it might be supposed to signify in
our own. It meant an attitude of obstruction as regards all change from
established standards of whatever kind; it signified a point of view
which said that grievances should be unredressed unless it was in its
interest to redress them. The new party of opposition included in its
numbers Whig lawyers like Gibson Craig and Henry Erskine, in earlier
days, and Francis Jeffrey and Lord Cockburn later on; a party of
progress was also formed within the Church, and the same within the
precincts of the University. The movement, as became a movement on the
political side largely headed by lawyers, had no tendency to violence;
it was moderate in its policy, and by no means revolutionary--indeed it
may be doubted whether there ever was much tendency to revolt even
amongst those working men who expressed themselves most strongly. The
advance party, however, carried the day, and when Ferrier began to
write, Scotland was in a very different state from that of twenty years
before. The Reform Bill had passed, and men had the moulding of their
country's destiny practically placed within their hands. In the
University, again, Sir William Hamilton, a Whig, had just been
appointed to the Chair of Logic, while Moncreiff, Chalmers, and the
rest, were prominent in the Church. The traditions of literary
Edinburgh at the beginning of the century had been kept up by a circle
amongst whom Lockhart, Wilson, and De Quincey may be mentioned; now
Carlyle, who had left Edinburgh not long before, was coming into
notice, and a new era seemed to be dawning, not so glorious as the
past, but more untrammelled and more free.

How philosophy was affected by the change, and how Ferrier assisted in
its progress, it is our business now to tell; but we must first briefly
sketch the history of Scottish speculation to this date, in order to
show the position in which he found it.



In attempting to give some idea of philosophy as it was in Scotland in
the earlier portion of the present century, we shall have to go back
two hundred years or thereabout, in order to find a satisfactory basis
from which to start. For philosophy, as no one realised more than
Ferrier, is no arbitrary succession of systems following one upon
another as their propounders might decree; it is a development in the
truest and highest significance of that word. It means the gradual
working out of the questions which reason sets to be answered; and
though it seems as if we had sometimes to turn our faces backwards, and
to revert to systems of bygone days, we always find, when we look more
closely, that in our onward course we have merely dropped some thread
in our web, the recovery of which is requisite in order that it may be
duly taken up and woven with the rest.

At the time of which we write the so-called 'Scottish School' of Reid,
Stewart, and Beattie reigned supreme in orthodox Scotland; it had
undisputed power in the Universities, and besides this obtained a very
reputable place in the estimation of Europe, and more especially of
France. As it was this school more especially that Ferrier spent much
of his time in combating, it is its history and place that we wish
shortly to describe. To do so, however, it is needful to go back to its
real founder, Locke, in order that its point of view may fairly be set

In applying his mind to the views of Locke, the ordinary man finds
himself arriving at very commonplace and well-accustomed conceptions.
Locke, indeed, may reasonably be said to represent the ideas of common,
everyday life. The ordinary man does not question the reality of
things, he accepts it without asking any questions, and bases his
theories--scientific or otherwise--upon this implied reality. Locke
worked out the theory which had been propounded by Lord Bacon, that
knowledge is obtained by the observation of facts which are implicitly
accepted as realities; and what, it was asked, could be more
self-evident and sane? It is easy to conceive a number of perceiving
minds upon the one hand, ready to take up perceptions of an outside
material substance upon the other. The mind may be considered as a
piece of white paper--a _tabula rasa_, as it was called--on which
external things may make what impression they will, and knowledge is
apparently explained at once. But though Locke certainly succeeded in
making these terms the common coin of ordinary life, difficulties crop
up when we come to examine them more closely. After all, it is evident,
the only knowledge our mind can have is a knowledge of its own
ideas--ideas which are, of course, caused by something which is
outside, or at least, as Locke would say, by its _quality_. Now, from
this it would appear that these 'ideas' after all come between the mind
and the 'thing,' whatever it is, that causes them--that is to say, we
can perhaps maintain that we only know our 'ideas,' and not things as
in themselves. Locke passes into elaborate distinctions between primary
qualities of things, of which he holds exact representations are given,
and secondary qualities, which are not in the same position; but the
whole difficulty we meet with is summed up in the question whether we
really _know_ substance, or whether it is that we can only hope to know
ideas, and 'suppose' some substratum of reality outside. Then another
difficulty is that we can hardly really know our _selves_. How can we
know that the self exists; and if, like Malebranche, we speak of God
revealing substance to us, how do we know about God? We cannot form any
'general' impressions, have any 'general' knowledge; only a sort of
conglomeration of unrelated or detached bits of knowledge can possibly
come home to us. The fact is, that modern philosophy starts with two
separate and self-existent substances; that it does not see how they
can be combined, and that the 'white-paper' theory is so abstract that
we can never arrive at self-consciousness by its means.

Berkeley followed out the logical consequences of Locke, though perhaps
he hardly knew where these would carry him. He acknowledged that we
know nothing but ideas--nothing outside of our mind. But he adds the
conception of self, and by analogy the conception of God, who acts as a
principle of causation. Whether there is necessary connection in his
sensations or not, he does not say. Hume followed with criticism,
scathing and merciless. He states that all we know of is the experience
we have; and by experience he signifies perceptions. Ideas to him are
nothing more than perceptions, and whether they are ideas simply of the
mind, or ideas of some object, is to him the same. If we begin to
imagine such conceptions as those of universality or necessity, of God
or the self, beyond a complex of successive ideas, we are going farther
than experience permits. We cannot connect our perceptions with an
object, nor can we get beyond what experience allows. Custom merely
brings about certain conclusions which are often enough misleading. It
connects effect and cause, really different events: it brings about
ideas of morality very often deceptive. We have our custom of regarding
things, another has his--who can say which is correct? All we can do
is, what seems a hopeless task enough--we can try to show how these
unrelated particulars seem by repetition to produce an illusionary
connection in our minds.

Both mind and matter appear, then, to be wanting, and experience alone
is suggested as the means of solving the difficulty in which we are
placed--a point in the argument which left an opportunity open to Kant
to suggest a new development, to ask whether things being found
inadequate in producing knowledge, we might not ask if knowledge could
not be more successful with things. But it is the Scottish lines of
attempted solution that we wish to follow out, and not the German.
Perhaps they are not so very different.

Philosophy, as Reid found it, was in a bad way enough, as far as the
orthodox mind of Scotland was concerned. All justification for belief
in God, in immortality, in all that was held sacred in a century of
much orthodoxy if little zeal, was gone. Such things might be believed
in by those who found any comfort in so believing, but to the educated
man who had seriously reflected on them, they were anachronisms. The
very desperateness of the case, however, seemed to promise a remedy.
Men could not rest in a state of permanent scepticism, in a world
utterly incapable of being rationally explained. Even the propounder of
the theories allowed this to be true; and as for others, they felt that
they were rational beings, and this signified that there was system in
the world.

A champion arose when things were at their worst in Thomas Reid, the
founder, or at least the chiefest ornament, of the so-called Scottish
School of Philosophy. He it was who set himself to add the principle of
the coherence of the Universe, and the consequent possibility of
establishing Faith once more in the world. Reid, to begin with, instead
of looking at Hume's results as serious, regarded them as necessarily
absurd. He started a new theory of his own, the theory of Immediate
Perception, which signified that we are able immediately to
apprehend--not ideas only, but the Truth. And how, we may ask, can this
be done?

It had been pointed out first of all that sensations as understood by
Locke--that is, the relations so called by Locke--might be separated
from sensation in itself; in fact, that these first pertained to mind.
Hence we have a dualistic system given us to start with, and the
question is how the two sides are to be connected? What does this
theory of Immediate Perception, which Reid puts forward as the
solution, mean? Is it just a mechanical union of two antitheses, or is
it something more?

As to this last, perhaps the real answer would be that it both is, and
is not. That is, the philosophy of Reid would seem still dualistic in
its nature; it certainly implies the mechanical contact of two
confronting substances whose independence is vigorously maintained, in
opposition to the idealistic system which it superseded; but in
reference to Reid we must recollect that his theory of Immediate
Perception was also something more. As regards sensation, for example,
he says that we do not begin with unrelated sensations, but with
judgment--that is, we refer our sensations to a permanent subject, 'I.'
Sensations 'suggest' the nature of a mind and the belief in its
existence. And this signifies that we have the power of making
inferences--how we do not exactly know, but we believe it to be, not by
any special reasoning process, but by the 'common-sense' innately born
within us. Common-sense is responsible for a good deal more--for the
conceptions of existence and of cause, for instance; for Reid
acknowledges that sensations alone must fail to account for ideas such
as those of extension, space, and motion. This standpoint seems indeed
as if it did not differ widely from the Kantian, but at the same time
Reid appears to think that it is not an essential that feelings should
be perceptively referred to an external object; the first part of the
process of perception is carried on without our consciousness--the
mental sensation merely follows--and sensation simply supposes a
sentient being and a certain manner in which that being is affected,
which leaves us much where we were, as far as the subjectivity of our
ideas is concerned. He does not hold that all sensation is a percept
involving extension and much else--involving, indeed, existence.

Following upon Reid, Dugald Stewart obtained a very considerable
reputation, and he was living and writing at the time Ferrier was a
young man. His main idea would, however, seem to have been to guard his
utterances carefully, and enter upon no keen discussions or
contentions: when a bold assertion is made, it is always under shelter
of some good authority. But his rounded phrases gained him considerable
admiration, as such writing often does. He carried--perhaps
inadvertently--Reid's views farther than he would probably have held as
justifiable. He says we are not, properly speaking, conscious of self
or the existence of self, but merely of a sensation or some other
quality, which, by a _subsequent suggestion_ of the understanding,
leads to a belief in that which exercises the quality. This is the
doctrine of Reid put very crudely, and in a manner calculated to bring
us back to unrelated sensation in earnest. Stewart adopted a new
expression for Reid's 'common-sense,' _i.e._ the 'fundamental laws of
belief,' which might be less ambiguous, but never took popular hold as
did the first.

There were many others belonging to this school besides Reid and
Stewart, whom it would be impossible to speak of here. The Scottish
Philosophy had its work to do, and no doubt understood that work--the
first essential in a criticism: it endeavoured to vindicate perception
as against sensational idealism, and it only partially succeeded in its
task. But we must be careful not to forget that it opened up the way
for a more comprehensive and satisfactory point of view. It was with
Kant that the distinction arose between sensation and the forms
necessary to its perception, the form of space and time, and so on. As
to this part of the theory of knowledge, Reid and his school were not
clear; they only made an effort to express the fact that something was
required to verify our knowledge, but they were far from satisfactorily
attaining to their goal. The very name of 'common-sense' was
misleading--making people imagine, as it did, that there was nothing in
philosophy after all that the man in the street could not know by
applying the smallest modicum of reflection to the subject. Philosophy
thus came to be considered as superfluous, and it was thought that the
sooner we got rid of it and were content to observe the mandates of our
hearts, the better for all concerned.

What, then, was the work which Ferrier placed before himself when he
commenced to write upon and teach philosophy? He was thoroughly and
entirely dissatisfied with the old point of view, the point of view of
the 'common-sense' school of metaphysicians, to begin with. Sometimes
it seems as though we could not judge a system altogether from the best
exponent of it, although theoretically we are always bound to turn to
him. In a national philosophy, at least, we want something that will
wear, that will bear to be put in ordinary language, something which
can be understood of the people, which can be assimilated with the
popular religion and politics--in fact, which can really be _lived_ as
well as thought; and it is only after many years of use that we can
really tell whether these conditions have been fulfilled. For this
reason we are in some measure justified in taking the popular estimate
of a system, and in considering its practical results as well as the
value of its theory. Now, the commonly accepted view of the
eighteenth-century philosophers in Scotland is that there is nothing
very wonderful about the subject--like the _Bourgeois Gentilhomme_ of
Molière, we are shown that we have been philosophising all our lives,
only we never knew it. 'Common-sense'--an attribute with which we all
believe we are in some small measure endowed--explains everything if we
simply exercise it, and that is open to us all: there has been much
talk, it would seem, about nothing; secrets hidden to wise men are
revealed to babes, and we have but to keep our minds open in order to
receive them.

We are all acquainted with this talk in speculative regions of
knowledge, but we most of us also know how disastrous it is to any true
advancement in such directions. What happens now is just what happened
in the eighteenth century. Men relapse into a self-satisfied indolence
of mind: in religion they are content with believing in a sort of
general divine Beneficence which will somehow make matters straight,
however crooked they may seem to be; and in philosophy they are guided
by their instincts, which teach them that what they wish to believe is

Now, all this is what Ferrier and the modern movement, largely
influenced by German modes of thought, wish to protest against with all
their might. The scepticism of Hume and Gibbon was logical, if utterly
impossible as a working creed and necessarily ending in absurdity; but
this irrational kind of optimism was altogether repugnant to those who
demanded a reasonable explanation of themselves and of their place in
nature. The question had become summed up in one of superlative
importance, namely, the distinction that existed between the natural
and supernatural sides of our existence. The materialistic school had
practically done away with the latter in its entirety, had said that
nature is capable of being explained by mechanical means, and that
these must necessarily suffice for us. But the orthodox section adopted
other lines; it accepted all the ordinarily received ideas of God,
immortality, and the like, but it maintained the existence of an
Absolute which can only be inferred, but not presented to the mind,
and, strangest of all, declared that the 'last and highest consecration
of all true religion must be an altar "To the unknown and unknowable
God."'[6] This so-called 'pious' philosophy declares that 'To think
that God is, as we can think Him to be, is blasphemy,' and 'A God
understood would be no God at all.' The German philosophy saw that if
once we are to renounce our reason, or trust to it only within a
certain sphere, all hope for us is lost, as far as withstanding the
attack of outside enemies is concerned. We are liable to sceptical
attacks from every side, and all we can maintain against them is a
personal conviction which is not proof. How, then, was the difficulty

          [6] _Philosophy of the Unconditioned_ (Sir William
          Hamilton), p. 15.

Kant, as we have said, made an important development upon the position
of Hume. Hume had arrived at the point of declaring the particular mind
and matter equally incompetent to afford an ultimate explanation of
things, and he suggested experience in their place. This is the first
note of the new philosophy: experience, not a process of the
interaction of two separate things, mind on the one hand, matter on the
other, but something comprehending both. This, however, was scarcely
realised either by Hume or Kant, though the latter came very near the
formulation of it. Kant saw, at least, that things could not produce
knowledge, and he therefore changed his front and suggested starting
with the knowledge that was before regarded as result--a change in
point of view that caused a revolution in thought similar to that
caused in our ideas of the natural world by the introduction of the
system of Copernicus. Still, while following out his Copernican theory,
Kant did not go far enough. His methods were still somewhat
psychological in nature. He still regarded thought as something which
can be separated from the thinker; he still maintained the existence of
things in themselves independent and outside of thought. He gives us a
'theory' of knowledge, when what we want to reach is knowledge itself,
and not a subjective conception of it.

Here it is that the Absolute Idealism comes in--the Idealism most
associated with the name of Hegel. Hegel takes experience, knowledge,
or thought, in another and much more comprehensive fashion than did his
predecessors. Knowledge, in fact, is all-comprehending; it embraces
both sides in itself, and explains them as 'moments,' _i.e._
complementary factors in the one Reality. To make this clearer: we have
been all along taking knowledge as a dualistic process, as having two
sides involved in it, a subject and an object. Now, Hegel says our
mistake is this: we cannot make a separation of such a kind except by a
process of abstraction: the one really implies the other, and could not
possibly exist without it. We may in our ordinary pursuits do so,
without doubt; we may concentrate our attention on one side or the
other, as the case may be; we may look at the world as if it could be
explained by mechanical means, as, indeed, to a certain point it can.
But, Hegel says, these explanations are not sufficient; they can easily
be shown to be untrue, when driven far enough: the world is something
larger; it has the ideal side as well as the real, and, as we are
placed, they are both necessarily there, and must both be recognised,
if we are to attain to true conceptions.

Without saying that Ferrier wholly assimilated the modern German
view,--for of course he did not,--he was clearly largely influenced by
it, more largely perhaps than he was even himself aware. It
particularly met the present difficulties with which he was confronted.
The negative attitude was felt to be impossible, and the other, the
Belief which then, as now, was so strongly advocated, the Belief which
meant a more or less blind acceptance of a spiritual power beyond our
own, the Belief in the God we cannot know and glory in not being able
so to know, he felt to be an equal impossibility. Ferrier, and many
others, asked the question, Are these alternatives exhaustive? Can we
not have a rational explanation of the world and of ourselves? Can we
not, that is, attain to freedom? The new point of view seemed in some
measure to meet the difficulty, and therefore it was looked to with
hope and anticipation even although its bearing was not at first
entirely comprehended. Ferrier was one of those who perceived the
momentous consequences which such a change of front would cause, and he
set himself to work it out as best he could. In an interesting paper
which he writes on 'The Philosophy of Common-Sense,' with special
reference to Sir William Hamilton's edition of the works of Dr. Reid,
we see in what way his opinions had developed.

The point which Ferrier made the real crux of the whole question of
philosophy was the distinction which exists between the ordinary
psychological doctrine of perception and the metaphysical. The former
drew a distinction between the perceiving mind and matter, and based
its reasonings on the assumed modification of our minds brought about
by matter regarded as self-existent, _i.e._ existent in itself and
without regard to any perceiving mind. Now, Ferrier points out that
this system of 'representationalism,' of representative ideas,
necessarily leads to scepticism; for who can tell us more, than that we
have certain ideas--that is, how can it be known that the real matter
supposed to cause them has any part at all in the process? Scepticism,
as we saw before, has the way opened up for it, and it doubts the
existence of matter, seeing that it has been given no reasonable
grounds for belief in it, while Idealism boldly denies its
instrumentality and existence. What then, he asks, of Dr. Reid and his
School of Common-Sense? Reid cannot say that matter is known in
consciousness, but what he does say is that something innately born
within us forces us to believe in its existence. But then, as Ferrier
pertinently points out, scepticism and idealism do not merely doubt and
deny the existence of a self-existent matter as an object of
consciousness, but also because it is no object of belief. And what has
Reid to show for his beliefs? Nothing but his word. We must all,
Ferrier says, be sceptics or idealists; we are all forced on to deny
that matter in any form exists, for it is only self-existent matter
that we recognise as psychologists. Stewart tries to reinstate it by an
appeal to 'direct observation,' an appeal which, Ferrier truly says, is
manifestly absurd; reasoning is useless, and we must, it would appear,
allow any efforts we might make towards rectifying our position to be
recognised as futile.

But now, Ferrier says, the metaphysical solution of the problem comes
in. We are in an _impasse_, it would appear; the analysis of the given
fact is found impossible. But the failure of psychology opens up the
way to metaphysic. 'The turning-round of thought from psychology to
metaphysic is the true interpretation of the Platonic conversion of the
soul from ignorance to knowledge, from mere opinion to certainty and
satisfaction; in other words, from a discipline in which the thinking
is only _apparent_, to a discipline in which the thinking is _real_.'
'The difference is as great between "the science of the human mind" and
metaphysic, as it is between the Ptolemaic and the Copernican
astronomy, and it is very much of the same kind.' It is not that
metaphysic proposes to do _more_ than psychology; it aims at nothing
but what it can fully overtake, and does not propose to carry a man
farther than his tether extends, or the surroundings in which he finds
himself. Metaphysic in the hands of all true astronomers of thought,
from Plato to Hegel, if it accomplishes more, attempts less.

Metaphysic, Ferrier says, demands the whole given fact, and that fact
is summed up in this: 'We apprehend the perception of an object,' and
nothing short of this suffices--that is, not the perception of matter,
but our apprehension of that perception, or what we before called
knowledge, ultimate knowledge in its widest sense. And this given fact
is unlike the mere perception of matter, for it is capable of analysis
and is not simply subjective and egoistic. Psychology recognises
perception on the one hand (subjective), and matter on the other
(objective), but metaphysic says the distinction ought to be drawn
between 'our apprehension' and 'the perception-of-matter,' the latter
being one fact and indivisible, and on no account to be taken as two
separate facts or thoughts. The whole point is, that by no possible
means can the perception-of-matter be divided into two facts or
existences, as was done by psychology. And Ferrier goes on to point out
that this is not a subjective idealism, it is not a condition of the
human soul alone, but it 'dwells apart, a mighty and independent
system, a city fitted up and upheld by the living God.' And in
authenticating this last belief Ferrier calls in internal convictions,
'common-sense,' to assist the evidence of speculative reason, where,
had he followed more upon the lines of the great German Idealists, he
might have done without it.

Now, Ferrier continues, we are safe against the cavils of scepticism;
the metaphysical theory of perception steers clear of all the
perplexities of representationalism; for it gives us in perception one
only object, the perception of matter; the objectivity of this _datum_
keeps us clear from subjective idealism.

From the perception of matter, a fact in which man merely participates,
Ferrier infers a Divine mind, of which perceptions are the property:
they are states of the everlasting intellect. The exercise of the
senses is the condition upon which we are permitted to apprehend or
participate in the objective perception of material things. This,
shortly, is the position from which he starts.



'If Ferrier's life should be written hereafter,' said one, who knew and
valued him, just after his death,[7] 'let his biographer take for its
motto these five words from the _Faery Queen_ which the biographer of
the Napiers has so happily chosen.' Ferrier's life was not, what it
perhaps seems, looking back on its comparatively uneventful course,
consistently calm and placid,--a life such as is commonly supposed to
befit those who soar into lofty speculative heights, and find the
'difficult air' in which they dwell suited to their contemplative
temperaments. Ferrier was intrepid and daring in his reasoning; a sort
of free lance, Dr. Skelton says he was considered in orthodox
philosophical circles; a High Tory in politics, yet one who did not
hesitate to probe to the bottom the questions which came before him,
even though the task meant changing the whole attitude of mind from
which he started. And once sure of his point, Ferrier never hesitated
openly to declare it. What he hated most of all was 'laborious dulness
and consecrated feebleness'; commonplace orthodoxy was repugnant to him
in the extreme, and possibly few things gave him more sincere pleasure
than violently to combat it. The fighting instinct is proper to most
men who have 'stuff' in them, and Ferrier in spite of his slight and
delicately made frame was manly to the core. But, as the same writer
says, 'though combative over his books and theories, his nature was
singularly pure, affectionate, and tolerant. He loved his friends even
better than he hated his foes. His prejudices were invincible; but,
apart from his prejudices, his mind was open and receptive--prepared to
welcome truth from whatever quarter it came.' Such a keen, eager nature
was sure to be in the fray if battle had to be fought, and we think
none the worse of him for that. Battles of intellect are not less keen
than battles of physical strength, and much more daring and subtlety
may be called into play in the fighting of them; and Ferrier, refined,
sensitive, fastidious, as he was, had his battles to fight, and fought
them with an eagerness and zeal almost too great for the object he had
in view.

          [7] The late Sir John Skelton, K.C.B.

After his marriage in 1837, Ferrier devoted his attention almost
entirely to the philosophy he loved so well. He did not succeed--did
not perhaps try to succeed--at the Bar, to which he had been called.
Many qualities are required by a successful advocate besides the subtle
mind and acute reasoning powers which Ferrier undoubtedly possessed:
possibly--we might almost say probably--these could have been
cultivated had he made the effort. He had, to begin with, a fair junior
counsel's practice, owing to his family connections, and this might
have been easily developed; his ambition, however, did not soar in the
direction of the law courts, and he did not give that whole-hearted
devotion to the subject which is requisite if success is to follow the
efforts of the novice. But if he was not attracted by the work at the
Parliament House, he was attracted elsewhere; and to his first
mistress, Philosophy, none could be more faithful. In other lines, it
is true, he read much and deeply: literature in its widest sense
attracted him as it would attract any educated man. Poetry, above all,
he loved, in spite of the tale sometimes told against him, that he
gravely proposed turning _In Memoriam_ into prose in order to ascertain
logically 'whether its merits were sustained by reason as well as by
rhyme'--a proposition which is said greatly to have entertained its
author, when related to him by a mutual friend. Works of imagination he
delighted in--all spheres of literature appealed to him; he had the
sense of form which is denied to many of his craft; he wrote in a style
at once brilliant and clear, and carelessness on this score in some of
the writings of his countrymen irritated him, as those sensitive to
such things are irritated. He has often been spoken of as a living
protest against the materialism of the age, working away in the quiet,
regardless of the busy throng, without its ambitions and its cares.
Sometimes, of course, he temporarily deserted the work he loved the
best for regions less remote; sometimes he consented to lecture on
purely literary topics, and often he wrote biographies for a
dictionary, or articles or reviews for _Blackwood's Edinburgh
Magazine_. As it was to this serial that Ferrier made his most
important contributions, both philosophic and literary, for the next
fifteen years, and as it was in its pages that the development of his
system may be traced, a few words about its history may not be out of
place, although it is a history with which we have every reason to be
familiar now.

About 1816 the _Edinburgh Review_ reigned supreme in literature. What
was most strange, however, was that the Conservative party, so strong
in politics, had no literary organ of their own--and this at a time
when the line of demarcation between the rival sides in politics was so
fixed that no virtue could be recognised in an opponent or in an
opponent's views, even though they were held regarding matters quite
remote from politics. The Whig party, though in a minority politically
and socially, represented a minority of tremendous power, and possessed
latent capabilities which soon broke forth into action. At this time,
for instance, they had literary ability of a singularly marked
description; they were not bound down by traditions as were their
opponents, and were consequently much more free to strike out lines of
their own, always of course under the guidance of that past-master in
criticism, Francis Jeffrey. Although his words were received as
oracular by his friends, this dictatorship in matters of literary taste
was naturally extremely distasteful to those who differed from him,
especially as the influence it exerted was not a local or national
influence alone, but one which affected the opinion of the whole United
Kingdom. For a time, no doubt, the party was so strong that the matter
was not taken as serious, but it soon became evident that a strenuous
effort must be made if affairs were to be placed on a better footing,
and if a protest were to be raised against the cynical criticism in
which the Reviewers indulged. Consequently, in April 1817, a literary
periodical called the _Edinburgh Monthly Magazine_ was started by two
gentlemen of some experience in literary matters, with the assistance
of Mr. William Blackwood, an enterprising Edinburgh publisher, whose
reputation had grown of recent years to considerable dimensions. This
magazine was not a great success: the editors and publisher did not
agree, and finally Mr. Blackwood purchased the formers' share in it,
took over the magazine himself, and, to make matters clear, gave it his
name; thus in October of the same year the first number of _Blackwood's
Edinburgh Magazine_ appeared. From a quiet and unobtrusive 'Miscellany'
the magazine developed into a strongly partisan periodical, with a
brilliant array of young contributors, determined to oppose the
_Edinburgh Review_ régime with all its might, and not afraid to speak
its mind respecting the literary gods of the day. Every month some one
came under the lash; Coleridge, Leigh Hunt, and many others were dealt
with in terms unmeasured in their severity, and in the very first
number appeared the famous 'Chaldee Manuscript' which made the hair of
Edinburgh society stand on end with horror. In spite of the immoderate
expression of its opinions, the magazine flourished--it was fresh and
novel, and much genius was enlisted in writing for its pages. The
editor's identity was always matter for conjecture; but though the
contributors included a number of distinguished men, such as Mackenzie,
De Quincey, Hogg, Fraser Tytler, and Jameson, there were two names
which were always associated with the periodical--those of John Gibson
Lockhart and Ferrier's uncle and father-in-law, John Wilson. The latter
in particular was often held to be the real editor whom everyone was so
anxious to discover, but this belief has been emphatically denied.
Although the management might appear to be in the control of a
triumvirate, Blackwood himself kept the supreme power in his hands,
whatever he might at times find it politic to lead outsiders to infer.

When Ferrier began to write for it in 1838, _Blackwood's Magazine_ was
not of course the same fiery publication of twenty years before; nor
were Ferrier's articles for the most part of a nature such as to appeal
strongly to an excitable and partisan public. Things had changed much
since 1817: the Reform Bill had passed; the politics of the country
were very different; the Toryism of Ferrier and his friends was quite
unlike the Toryism of the early part of the century: it more resembled
the Conservatism or Traditionalism of a yet later date, which objected
to violent changes only owing to their violence, and by no means to
reform, if gradually carried out. This policy was reflected in _Maga's_
pages, to which Ferrier would naturally turn when he wished to reach
the public ear, both from family association and hereditary politics.
His first contribution was certainly not light in character; nor did it
resemble the 'bright, racy' articles which are supposed to be the
requisite for modern serial publications. The subject was 'An
Introduction to the Philosophy of Consciousness,' and it consisted of a
series of papers contributed during two successive years (1838 and
1839), which really embodied the result of the work in which Ferrier
had during the past few years been engaged, and signified a complete
divergence from the accepted manner of regarding consciousness, and a
protest against the 'faith-philosophy' which it became Ferrier's
special mission to combat. Perhaps it is only in Scotland that a public
could be found sufficiently interested in speculative questions to make
them the subject of interest to a fairly wide and general circle, such
as would be likely to peruse the pages of a monthly magazine like
Blackwood's. But of this interesting contribution to metaphysical
speculation, in which Ferrier commenced his philosophical career by
grappling with the deepest and most fundamental questions in a manner,
as Hamilton acknowledges, hitherto unattempted in the humbler
speculations of this country, we shall speak later on, as also of his
further contributions to the magazine.

In the year 1821, Sir William Hamilton had been a candidate for the
Chair of Moral Philosophy along with John Wilson, Ferrier's future
father-in-law. In spite of Wilson's literary gifts, there is probably
no question that of the two his opponent was best qualified to teach
the subject, owing to the greatness of his philosophical attainments
and the profundity of his learning. But in the temper of the time the
merits of the candidates could not be calmly weighed by the Town
Council, the electing body; and Hamilton was a Whig, and a Whig
contributor to that atheistical and Jacobin _Edinburgh Review_, and was
therefore on no account to be elected. The disappointment to Hamilton
was great; but it was slightly salved by his subsequent election--to
their credit be it said, for Whig principles were far from popular
among them--by the Faculty of Advocates to a chair rendered vacant in
1821 by the resignation of Professor Fraser Tytler--the Chair of Civil
History. In 1836, however, Sir William's merits at length received
their reward, and he became the Professor of Logic and Metaphysics.
When Ferrier probably felt the need of some more lucrative form of
employment, he applied for the Chair of History once occupied by
Hamilton, and rendered vacant by the resignation of Professor Skene; he
obtained the appointment in 1842, and held it for four years
subsequently. Large remuneration it certainly did not bring with it,
but the duties were comparatively and correspondingly light.[8] Indeed,
as attendance was not required of students studying for the degrees in
Arts, or for any of the professions, the difficulty was to form a
regular class at all. The salary paid to Sir William was £100 a year,
and even this small sum was apparently only to be obtained with
difficulty. The main advantage of holding the chair at all was the
prospect it held out of succeeding later on to some more important
office. Of Ferrier's class-work at this time we know but little. The
reading requisite for the post was likely to prove useful in later
days, and could not have been uncongenial; but probably in a class
sometimes formed--if tradition speak aright--of one solitary student,
the work of preparation would not be taken very seriously. Anyhow,
there was plenty of time left to pursue his philosophic studies; and in
1844-45, when Sir William Hamilton came so near to death, Ferrier acted
as his substitute, and carried on his classes with zeal and with
success--a success which was warmly acknowledged by the Professor. Of
course, though he conducted the examinations and other class-work,
Ferrier merely read the lectures written by Hamilton; else there might,
one would fancy, be found to be a lack of continuity between the
deliverances of the two staunch friends but uncompromising opponents.
Any differences of opinion made, however, no difference in their
friendship. The distress of Ferrier on his friend's sudden paralytic
seizure has already been described; to his affectionate nature it was
no small thing that one for whom he had so deep a regard came so very
near death's door. Every Sunday while in Edinburgh, he spent the
afternoon in walking with his friend and in talking of the subjects
which most interested both.

          [8] There was a movement amongst the students to secure the
          chair for Thomas Carlyle, then coming into fame amongst
          them; but Ferrier was chosen by the patrons, the Faculty of

Of these early days Professor Fraser writes:--'My personal intercourse
with Ferrier was very infrequent, but very delightful when it did
occur. He was surely the most picturesque figure among the Scottish
philosophers--easy, graceful, humorous, eminently subtle, and with a
fine literary faculty--qualities not conspicuous in most of them. When
I was a private member of Sir W. Hamilton's advanced class in
metaphysics in 1838-39, and for some years after, I was often at Sir
William's house, and Ferrier was sometimes of the party on these
occasions. I remember his kindly familiarity with us students, the
interest and sympathy with which he entered into metaphysical
discussion, his help and co-operation in a metaphysical society which
we were endeavouring to organise. His essays on the Philosophy of
Consciousness were then being issued in _Blackwood_, and were felt to
open questions strange at a time when speculation was almost dead in
Scotland--Reid at a discount, Brown found empty, and Hamilton, with
Kant, only struggling into ascendency.

'In these days, if I remember right, Ferrier lived in Carlton Street,
Stockbridge--an advocate whose interest was all in letters and
philosophy, a student of simple habits, fond of German, not a
conspicuous talker, of easy polished manners and fond of a joke, with a
scientific interest in all sorts of facts and their meanings, and
perhaps a disposition to paradox. I remember the interest he took in
phenomena of "mesmeric sleep," as it was called. An eminent student was
sometimes induced for experiment to submit himself to mesmeric
influence at these now far-off evening gatherings at Sir William's. To
Ferrier the phenomena suggested curious speculation, but I think
without scientific result.' The subject was one on which Ferrier
afterwards wrote in _Blackwood_, and it was a subject which always had
the deepest interest for him. It, however, as he believed, cost him the
friendship of Professor Cairns, a frequent subject at these informal
séances, and one whom Ferrier rashly twitted for what he evidently
regarded as a weakness, his easily accomplished subjection to the
application of mesmeric power.

In 1845 the Chair of Moral Philosophy in the University of St. Andrews,
then occupied by Dr. Cook, and once held by Dr. Chalmers, became vacant
by the former's death, and Ferrier entered as a candidate. Highly
recommended as he was by Hamilton and others, Ferrier was the
successful applicant, and St. Andrews became his home for nineteen
years thereafter, or until his death in 1864.

Such is a bald statement of the facts of what would seem a singularly
uneventful life. Life divided between the study, library, and
classroom, there was little room for incident outside the ordinary
incidents of domestic and academic routine. Yet Ferrier never sank into
the conventionality which life in a small University town might induce.
His interests were always fresh; he was constantly engaged in writing
and rewriting his lectures, which, unlike some of his calling, he was
not content to read and re-read from year to year unaltered. His
thoughts were constantly on his subject and on his students, planning
how best to communicate to them the knowledge that he was endeavouring
to convey--a life which came as near the ideal of philosophic devotion
as is perhaps possible in this nineteenth century of turmoil and
unrest. Still, gentleman and man of culture as he was, Ferrier had a
fighting side as well, and that side was once or twice aroused in all
the vehemence of its native strength.

Twice Ferrier made application for a philosophical chair in the town of
his birth and boyhood. In 1852, when his father-in-law, John Wilson,
retired, he became a candidate for the professorship of Moral
Philosophy in the University of Edinburgh; and then again, in 1856, he
offered himself as a successor to Sir William Hamilton as Professor of
Logic and Metaphysics. On neither occasion was he successful, and on
both occasions he suffered much from calumnious statements respecting
his 'German' and unorthodox views--a kind of calumny which is more than
likely to arise and carry weight when the judges are men of honourable
character but of little education, men to whom a shibboleth is
everything and real progress in learning nothing. On the first occasion
there were several candidates who submitted their applications, but on
Professor M'Cosh's retiring from the combat, the two who were 'in the
running' were Professor Ferrier of St. Andrews and Professor Macdougall
of the Free Church College in Edinburgh. It is curious, as instancing
the strange change which had come over the politics of Scotland since
the Reform Act had passed, that the very influences that told in favour
of John Wilson in applying for a professorship in 1821 should thirty
years later tell as strongly against his son-in-law. In 1852, nine
years after the Disruption, so greatly had matters altered, that the
Free Church liberal party carried all before it in the Corporation. And
although the liberal journals of the earlier date were never tired of
maintaining liberty of thought and action, yet when circumstances
changed, the liberty appeared in a somewhat different light; and the
qualification of being a Whig was added to a considerable number of
appointments both in the Church and in the State. Professor Macdougall,
Ferrier's opponent, had held his professorship in the Free Church
College, lately established for the teaching of theology and
preparation of candidates for the ministry. On the establishment of the
College, the subject of Moral Philosophy was considered to be one which
should be taught elsewhere than in an 'Erastian' University, and
accordingly it was thought necessary to institute the chair occupied by
Professor Macdougall. In the first instance the class was eminently
successful in point of numbers, and the corresponding class in the
University proportionately suffered; but as time went on the attendance
in the Free Church class dwindled, and it was considered that this
chair need not be continued, but that students might be permitted to
attend at the University. When Professor Macdougall now offered himself
as candidate for the University chair, there was of course an immediate
outcry of a 'job.' Rightly or wrongly it was said, 'Let the Free Church
have a Professor of her own body and opinions if she will, but why
force him upon the Established Church as well; are her country and
ministers to be indoctrinated with Voluntary principles?' There might
not have been much force in the argument had the status of the two
candidates been the same, but it was evident to all unprejudiced
observers that this was far from being the case. And it could hardly be
pleaded in justification of the Council's action that they formed their
judgment upon the testimonials laid before them; for Ferrier's far
exceeded his rival's in weight, if not in strength of expression, and
included in their number communications from such men as Sir William
Hamilton, De Quincey, Bulwer, Alison, and Lockhart--men the most
distinguished of the age. De Quincey's opinion of Ferrier is worth
quoting. He says that he regards him as 'the metaphysician of greatest
promise among his contemporaries either in England or in Scotland,' and
the testimonial which at this time he accorded Ferrier is as remarkable
a document as is often produced on such occasions, when commonplace
would usually appear to be the object aimed at. It is several pages in
length, and goes fully into the question not only of what Ferrier was,
but also of what a candidate ought to be. De Quincey speaks warmly of
Ferrier's services in respect of the English rendering of _Faust_
before alluded to, and points out the benefit there is in having had an
education which has run along two separate paths--paths differing from
one another in nature, doubtless, but integrating likewise--the one
being that resulting from his intercourse with Wilson and his literary
coterie, the other that of the course of study he had pursued on German
lines. He sums up Ferrier's philosophic qualities by saying, 'Out of
Germany, and comparing him with the men of his own generation, such at
least as I had any means of estimating, Mr. Ferrier was the only man
who exhibited much of true metaphysical subtlety, as contrasted with
mere dialectical acuteness.' For this testimonial, we may incidentally
mention, Ferrier writes a most interesting letter of thanks, which is
published in his _Remains_. As a return for the kindness done him, he
'sets forth a slight chart of the speculative latitudes' he had
reached, and which he 'expects to navigate without being
wrecked'--really an admirably clear epitome in so short a space of the
argument of the _Institutes_.

But to come back to the contest: in spite of testimonials, the fact
remained that Ferrier had studied German philosophy, and might have
imbibed some German infidelity, while his opponent made no professions
of being acquainted either with the German philosophy or language,
besides having the advantage of being a Liberal and Free Churchman; and
he was consequently appointed to the chair. Of course, there was an
outcry. The election was put forward as an argument against the
abolition of Tests, though in this case Ferrier, as an Episcopalian,
might be said to be a Dissenter equally with his opponent. It was
argued that the election should be set aside unless the necessary
subscription were made before the Presbytery of the bounds. For a
century back such tests had not been exacted as far as the Moral
Philosophy chair was concerned, nor would they probably have been so
had Ferrier himself been nominated. But though the Presbytery concerned
was in this case prepared to go all lengths, it appeared that it was
not in its members that the initiative was vested, the practice being
to take the oath before the Lord Provost or other authorised
magistrate. Consequently, indignant at discovering their impotence, the
members of the body retaliated by declaring that they would divert past
the new Professor's class the students who should afterwards come
within their jurisdiction, and thus, by their foolish action, they
probably did their best to bring about the result they deprecated so
much--the abolition of Tests in their entirety.

Ecclesiastical feeling ran high at the time, and things were said and
done on both sides which were far from being wise or prudent. But the
effect on a sensitive nature like Ferrier's is easy to imagine. This
was the first blow he had met with, and being the first he did not take
it quite so seriously to heart. But when it was followed years later by
yet another repulse, signifying to his view an attitude of mind in
orthodox Scotland opposed to any liberty of thought amongst its
teachers, Ferrier felt the day for silence was ended, and, wisely or
unwisely, he published a hot defence of his position in a pamphlet
entitled _Scottish Philosophy, the Old and the New_. On this occasion
the question had risen above the mere discussion of Church and Tests;
the whole future of philosophy in Scotland was, he believed, at stake;
it was time, he felt, that someone should speak out his mind, and who
more suitable than the leader of the modern movement and the one, as he
considered it, who had suffered most by his opinions?

Without having lived through the time or seen something of its effects,
it would be difficult to realise how narrow were the bounds allowed to
speculative thought some forty years ago in Scotland. Since the old
days of Moderatism and apathy there had, indeed, been a great revival
of interest in such matters as concerned Belief. Men's convictions were
intense and sincere; and what had once been a subject of convention and
common usage, had now become the one important topic of their lives. So
far the change was all for the good; it promoted many important
virtues; it made men serious about serious things; it made them realise
their responsibilities as human beings. But as those who lived through
it, or saw the results it brought about, must also know, it had another
side. A certain spiritual self-assurance sprang into existence, which,
though it was bred of intense reality of conviction, brought with it
consequences of a specially trying kind to those who did not altogether
share in it. As so often happens when a new light dawns, men thought
that to them at length _all_ truth had been revealed, and acted in
accordance with this belief. They formulated their systems--hide-bound
almost as before--and decided in their minds that in them they had the
standards for judging of their fellows. But Truth is a strange
will-o'-the-wisp after all,--when we think we have reached her, she has
eluded our grasp,--and so when those rose up who said the end of the
matter was not yet, a storm of indignation fell upon their heads. This
is what happened with Ferrier and the orthodox Edinburgh world. There
might, it was said by the latter, be men lax enough to listen to
reasonings such as his, and even to agree with them, but for those who
_knew_ the truth as it was in its reality, such pandering to
latitudinarian doctrines was unpardonable. And as at this time the Town
Council of Edinburgh was seriously inclined (some of the members, in
the second instance, were the same as those who had adjudicated in the
former contest), Ferrier's fate was, he considered, sealed before the
question really came before them. Whether the matter was quite as
serious as Ferrier thought, it is perhaps unnecessary to say. At
anyrate, there was a considerable element of truth in the view he took
of it, and he was justified in much--if not in all--of what he said in
his defence. The _Institutes_, first published in 1854, had just
reached a second edition, so that his views were fairly before the
world. What caused the tremendous outburst of opposition we must take
another chapter to consider; and then we must try to trace the course
of Ferrier's development from the time at which he first began to write
on philosophic subjects, and when he openly broke with the Scottish
School of Philosophy.



It is probably in the main a wise rule for defeated candidates to keep
silence about the cause of their defeat. But every rule has its
exception, and there are times in which we honour a man none the less
because--contrary to the dictates of worldly wisdom--he gives voice to
the sense of injustice that is rankling in his mind. Ferrier had been
disappointed in 1852 in not obtaining the Chair of Moral Philosophy for
which he was a candidate; but then he had not published the work which
has made his name famous, and his claims were therefore not what
afterwards they became. But when in 1856, after the _Institutes_ had
been two years before the public, and just after the book had reached a
second edition, another defeat followed on the first, Ferrier ascribed
the result to the opposition to, and misrepresentation of, his system,
and claimed with some degree of justice that it was not his merits that
were taken into account, but the supposed orthodoxy, or want of
orthodoxy, of his views. For this reason he issued a 'Statement' in
pamphlet form, entitled _Scottish Philosophy, the Old and the New_,
dealing with the matter at length.

In Ferrier's view, a serious crisis had been arrived at in the history
of the University of Edinburgh, and one which might lead to yet further
evil were not something done to place matters on a better footing. Had
the Town Council, the electing body, been affected simply by personal
or sectarian feelings, it would not so much have mattered; but when
Ferrier was forced to the conclusion that what they did must end in the
curtailment of all liberty in regard to philosophical opinion, so far
as the University was concerned, he felt the time had come to speak.
For a quarter of a century he had devoted the best part of his life and
energies to the study of philosophy, and he held he had a duty to
discharge to it as one of the public instructors of the land. What
cause, he asked, had a body like the Council to say originality was to
be proscribed and independence utterly forbidden? Through their
liberalism tests had been practically abolished: was another test, far
more exacting than the last, to be substituted in their place? A
candidate for a philosopher's chair need not be a believer in Christ or
a member of the Established Church; but he must, it would appear,
believe in Dr. Reid and the Hamiltonian system of philosophy.

The 'common-sense' school, against which Ferrier's attacks were mainly
directed, too often found its satisfaction in commonplace statements of
obvious facts, and we cannot wonder that Ferrier should ask why
Scottish students should be required to pay for 'bottled air' while the
whole atmosphere is 'floating with liquid balm that could be had for
nothing?'--a question, indeed, which cannot fail to strike whoever
tries to wade through certain tedious dissertations of the time, all
expressing truths which seem incontrovertible in their nature, but all
of which are also inexpressibly uninteresting. Philosophy to Ferrier is
not the elementary science that it would appear from these discourses:
loose ways of thinking which we ordinarily adopt must, he considers, be
rectified and not confirmed. And yet he disclaims the accusation that
he has conjured with 'the portentous name of Hegel,' or derived his
system from German soil. Hegel, he constantly confesses, is frequently
to him inexplicable, and his system is Scottish to the core.

A warm debt of gratitude to Hamilton, Ferrier, it is true, acknowledges
even while he differs from his views--a debt to one whose 'soul could
travel on eagles' wings,' and from whom he had learned so much--whom,
indeed, he had loved so warmly. Hamilton had not agreed with Ferrier;
he had thought him wrong, and told him so, and Ferrier was the last to
resent this action, or think the less of him for not recanting at his
word the conclusions of a lifetime's labour. Provocation, the younger
man acknowledges, he had often given him, and 'never was such rough
provocation retaliated with such gentle spleen.'

But what most roused Ferrier's ire was, not the criticisms of men like
Hamilton, but such as were contained in a pamphlet published by the
Rev. Mr. Cairns of Berwick, afterwards Principal Cairns of the United
Presbyterian College--a pamphlet which he believed had biassed the
judgment of the electors in making their decision. We now know that
indirectly they had requested Mr. Cairns's advice, and he, considering
that orthodoxy was being seriously threatened by German rationalistic
views, had formulated his indictment against Ferrier in the strongest
possible terms. He believed that in Ferrier's writings there was an
attempt to substitute formal demonstration of real existence for
'belief,' thereby making faith of no effect; also that he denied the
separate existence of the material world and the mind, and that (and
probably this is the most serious count in the charge) the
substantiality of the mind was subverted, and consequently belief in
personal identity rendered impossible. He further said that by Ferrier
absolute existence is reduced to a mere relation, and finally, that his
conception of a Deity is inadequate, and metaphysics and natural
theology are divorced.

We cannot, of course, deal in detail with Ferrier's energetic
repudiation of the accusation brought so specifically against him. The
heat with which he wrote seems scarcely justified now that we look back
on it from the standpoint of more than forty years ahead. But we do not
realise how much such accusations meant at the time at which they were
made--how they affected not a man's personal advancement only, but also
the opinion in which he was held by those for whose opinion he cared
the most. The greater toleration of the present day may mean
corresponding lack of zeal or interest, but surely it also means a
recognition of the fact that men may choose their own methods in the
search for truth without thereby endangering the object held in view.
Mr. Cairns's attack--without intention, for he was an honourable man
and able scholar--was unjust. Ferrier does not claim to _prove_
existence--he accepts it, and only reasons as to what it is; as to the
material world, he acknowledges not a mere material world, but one
along with which intelligence is and must be known; the separate
existence of mind he likewise denies only in so far as to assert that
mind without thought is nonsense. The substantiality of the mind he
maintains as the one great permanent existence amid all fluctuations
and contingencies, and without personal identity, he tells us, there
can be no continued consciousness amid the changes of the unfluctuating
existence called the 'I'--though in this regard one feels that
something is left to say in criticism, from the orthodox point of view.
Absolute existence is indeed reduced into relations, but into relations
together constituting the truth, if contradictory in themselves; that
is, a concrete, as distinguished from an abstract truth. As to the
final accusation of the insufficiency of Ferrier's view of the Deity,
it is true he states that the Deity is not independent of His creative
powers, revelation and manifestation; but surely this is a worthier
conception than the old one of the Unknown God, which tells us to
worship we know not what.

The pity is that in this publication, and another on very similar
lines,[9] Ferrier allowed himself to turn from philosophical to
personal criticism, and to say what he must afterwards have regretted.
In the second edition of his first pamphlet these references were
modified, and in any case they must be ascribed to the quick temper
with which he was naturally endowed, and which led him to express his
feelings more strongly than he should, rather than to deliberate
judgment. No one was more sensible than he of the danger to which he
was subject of allowing himself to be carried off his feet in the heat
of argument. This is very clearly shown by a letter to a friend quoted
in the _Remains_: 'One thing I would recommend, not to be too sharp in
your criticism of others. No one has committed this fault oftener, or
is more disposed to commit it than myself; but I am certain that it is
not pleasing to the reader, and after an interval it is displeasing to
oneself. In the heat and hurry of writing a lecture I often hit a
brother philosopher as I think cleverly enough, but on coming to it
coolly next year I very seldom repeat the passage.' An admission and
acknowledgment which does a proud man like Ferrier credit.

          [9] _A Letter to the Lord Advocate on the Necessity of a
          Change in the Patronage of the University of Edinburgh._

One cannot help speculating on the effect of the mass of criticism and
counter-criticism (for there were others who took up the cudgels on
either side, once the controversy was fairly started) upon the
unfortunate Town Councillors of Edinburgh, to whom they were directed:
one would imagine them to wish their powers curtailed if they were to
involve their mastering several conflicting theories of existence, and
forming a just judgment regarding their respective merits. The exercise
of patronage is always a difficult and thankless task, but surely in no
case could it have been more difficult than in this, and we can hardly
wonder now that the electors simply took the advice of those they
deemed most worthy to bestow it; certainly the candidate finally
selected was one who did everything in the occupation of his chair to
disarm the criticism then brought to bear upon the appointment. In
cooler moments probably none would have been readier to admit this than
was Ferrier; but when he wrote he was smarting under the sense of
having failed to receive a fair consideration of his claims, and he
undoubtedly spoke more strongly than the case required.

After this controversy was over, Ferrier's interest in polemical
philosophy in great degree waned; and in the quiet of the old
University town of St. Andrews--the town which provides so rich a fund
of historic interest combined with the academic calm of University
life--Ferrier passed the remainder of his days working at his favourite
subjects. Sometimes these were varied by incursions into literature, in
which his interest grew ever keener; and economics, which was one of
the subjects he was bound to teach. His life was uneventful; it was
varied little by expeditions into the outer world, much as these would
have been appreciated by his friends. His whole interest was centred in
his work and in the University in which he taught, and whose well-being
was so dear to him. Of his letters, few, unfortunately, have been
preserved; and this is the more unfortunate that he had the gift, now
comparatively so rare, of expressing himself with ease, and in bright,
well-chosen language. Of his correspondents one only seems to have
preserved the letters written to him, Mr. George Makgill of Kemback, a
neighbouring laird in Fife and advocate in Edinburgh, whose similarity
in tastes drew him towards the St. Andrews Philosophy Professor.

Of these letters there are some of sufficient interest to bear
quotation. One of the first is written in October 1851 from St.
Andrews, and plunges into the deepest topics without much preface.
Ferrier says:--

'What is the Beginning of Philosophy? Philosophy must have had the same
Beginning that all other things have, otherwise there would be
something peculiar or anomalous or sectarian in its origin, which would
destroy its claims to genuineness and catholicity. What, then, is the
Beginning of all things and consequently the Beginning of Philosophy?


'Want is the Beginning of Philosophy because it is the Beginning of all
things. Is the Beginning of Philosophy a bodily want? No. Why not?
Because nothing that may be given to the Body has any effect in
appeasing the want. The Beginning of Philosophy, then, must be an
intellectual want--a Hunger of the Soul.

'But all wants have their objects in which they seek and find their
gratification. What then is the object of the hunger of the soul?


'Philosophy is a Hunger of the Soul after Knowledge. What is
Knowledge?--reduced through various intermediate stages to question,
what is the common and essential quality in all knowledge--the quality
which makes knowledge knowledge? Answer approached by raising question:
What is the essential quality in all food--the quality which makes food
food? This is obviously its physically nutritive quality. Whatever has
the nutritive property is food; whatever has it not is not food,
however like excellent beef and mutton it may be. So in regard to
knowledge, its common and essential quality--the quality in virtue of
which knowledge is knowledge--is its nutritive quality. Whatever
nourishes and satisfies the mind is knowledge, as whatever nourishes
and satisfies the body is food. The intellectually _nutritive property_
in knowledge is the common and essential property in knowledge. What is
the nutritive quality in knowledge? Answer (without beating about the

'What is TRUTH? Answer--Truth is whatever is supported by Evidence.

'What is EVIDENCE? Evidence is whatever is supported by Experience.
What is EXPERIENCE? Here we stop; we can only divide Experience into
its kinds, which are two, _Experience of Fact_ and _Experience of Pure
Reason_. Observe the manoeuvre in the last line by which you knaves of
the anti-metaphysical school are outwitted. You _oppose Pure Reason_ to
_Experience,_ and philosophers generally assent to the distinction.
This at once gives your school the advantage, for the world will always
cleave to experience in preference to anything else, leaving us
metaphysicians, who are supposed to abandon experience, hanging as it
were in baskets in the clouds. But _I_ do not abandon experience as the
ultimate foundation of _all_ knowledge; only I maintain that there are
_two_ kinds of experience, both of which are equally experience, the
experience of Fact and the experience of Pure Reason. You are thus
deprived of your advantage. I am as much a man of experience as you

Evidently it had been a question with Ferrier whether he should use the
expression Experience, so well known to us now, or substitute for it
Consciousness, which, as a matter of fact, he afterwards did: 'Why is
it so grievous and fatal an error to confound Experience and
Consciousness? Is not a man's experience the whole developed contents
of his consciousness? I cannot see how this can be denied. And
therefore, before you wrote, I was _swithering_ (and am so still)
whether I should not make consciousness the basis of the whole
superstructure--the raw material of the article which in its finished
state is knowledge. After all, the dispute, I suspect, is mainly

There are many evidences in these letters that Ferrier was not
neglecting German Philosophy, for taking Experience as his basis he
shows how it may be divided into _Wesen_ (_-an sich_), _Seyn_ (_für
sich_), and the _Begriff_ (_anundfürsich_) on the lines of German
metaphysics. As to the 'Common-Sense' Philosophy, he expresses himself
in no measured terms: 'I am glad we agree in opinion as to the merits
of the Common-Sense Philosophy. Considered in its details and
accessories, it certainly contains many good things; but, viewed as a
whole and _in essentialibus_, it is about the greatest humbug that ever
was palmed off upon an unwary world. As an instance among many which
might be adduced, of the ambiguity of the word, and of the vacillation
of the members of this school, it may be remarked that while Reid made
the essence of common-sense to consist in this, that its judgments are
not conclusions obtained by ratiocination (_Works_, Sir W. Hamilton's
edition, p. 425), Stewart, on the contrary, holds that these judgments
are "the result of a train of reasoning so rapid as to escape notice"
(_Elements_, vol. ii. p. 103). Sir W.'s _one hundred and six witnesses_
are a most conglomerate set, and a little cross-examination would try
their mettle severely.'

The most important part of Ferrier's system was his working out of the
'Theory of Ignorance,' in which, indeed, he might congratulate himself
in having in great measure broken open new ground. He says of it:
'Hurrah, [Greek: eurêka], I have discovered the _Law of Ignorance_--and
if I had a hecatomb of kain hens at my command I would sacrifice them
_instanter_ to the propitious patron of metaphysics. Look you here. The
Law of Knowledge is this, that, in order to know any _one_ thing we
must always know two things; _hoc cum alio_--object plus subject--thing
+ me. This is the unit of knowledge. Analogously, only inversely, in
order to be ignorant of any _one_ thing we must be ignorant of _two_
things--_hujus cum alio_--object plus subject--thing + me. This is the
unit of ignorance.' Apparently, in spite of full explanation of his
newly-discovered view, Ferrier's correspondent had failed to take it
in, and consequently he gently rails at him for 'sticking at the
axiom,' and wishes him to help him to a name for what he calls the
'Agnoiology' for want of something better. He goes on: 'I take it that
I have caught you in my net, and that wallop about as you will I shall
land you at last. I have now little fear that I shall succeed in
convincing you, or at anyrate less hardened sinners, that the knowledge
of object-subject is a self-contradiction, and that therefore
object-subject, or matter _per se_, is not a thing of which we can with
any sense or propriety be said to be ignorant. Be this as it may, you
must at anyrate recognise in this doctrine a very great novelty in
philosophy. The more incogitable a thing becomes, the more ignorant of
it do _we_ become--that is the natural supposition. Is it not then a
bold and original stroke to show that when a thing passes into absolute
incogitability we cease that instant to be ignorant of it? I believe
that doctrine to be right and true, but I am certain that, obvious as
it is, it has been nowhere anticipated or even hinted at in the bygone
career of speculation. I claim this as _my discovery_. In the doctrine
of Ignorance I believe that I have absolutely no precursor. What think

Mr. Makgill had accused Ferrier of anthropomorphism in his system, and
he replies as follows:--'You cannot charge me with anthropomorphism
without being guilty of it yourself. Don't you see that "the Beyond"
all human thought and knowledge is itself _a category_ of human
thought? There is much _naïveté_ in the procedure of you cautious
gentry who would keep scrupulously _within_ the length of your tether:
as if the conception of a _without_ that tether was not a mode of
thinking. Will you tell me why you and Kant and others don't make
_existence_ a category of human thought? This has always puzzled me.

'Surely the man who made extension and time mere forms of human
knowledge need have made no bones of existence. Meanwhile, as the post
is just starting, I beg you to consider this, that the anthropomorphist
and the anti-anthropomorphists are both of necessity anthropomorphists,
and for my part I maintain that the anti-man is the bigger
anthropomorphist of the two.' This criticism of the 'Beyond' and its
unknowableness, while yet it was acknowledged, is as much to the point
in the present day as it was in those, and its statement brings
forcibly before our minds the truth of Goethe's well-known saying:
'_Der Mensch begreift niemals wie anthropomorphisch er ist_.'

The doctrine of Ignorance, so essential to Ferrier's system, he found
it hard to make clear to others:--'I am astonished at your not seeing
the use, indeed the absolute necessity, of a _true_ doctrine of
ignorance. This blindness of yours shows me what I may expect from the
public; and how careful I must be, if I would go down at all, to render
myself perfectly clear and explicit. Don't you see that a correct
doctrine of ignorance is necessary for two reasons--_first_, on account
of the _false_ doctrine of ignorance universally prevalent, one which
has hitherto rendered, and must ever render, anything like a scientific
ontology impossible; and, _secondly_, because this correct theory of
ignorance follows inevitably from my doctrine of knowledge? This, which
I consider a very strong recommendation, an indispensable condition of
the theory of ignorance, is the very ground on which you object to it.
Surely you would not have me establish a doctrine of ignorance which
was not consistent with my doctrine of knowledge. Surely I am entitled
to deduce all that is logically deducible from my principles. Your
meaning I presume is that my doctrine of ignorance flows so manifestly
from my doctrine of knowledge that it is unnecessary to develop and
parade it. There I differ from you. It flows _inevitably_, but I cannot
think that it flows obviously. Else why was it never hit upon until
now?... Don't tell me, then, that _my_ conclusions that matter _per
se_, _Ding an sich_, is what it is impossible for us to be ignorant of,
just _because_ it is absolutely unknowable (and for no other reason).
Don't tell me that this conclusion is so obvious as not to require to
be put down in black and white, when we find Kant and _every_ other
philosopher drawing, but most erroneously, the directly opposite
conclusion from the same premises. Matter _per se_, _Ding an sich_, was
of all things that of which we were most ignorant!! and the ruin of
metaphysics was the consequence of their infatuated blindness. Your
objection, then, to my doctrine of ignorance, viz., that it is fixed in
the very fixing of the doctrine of knowledge, and therefore does not
require explication or elucidation, I cannot regard as a good
objection. It is true that the one of these fixes the other; but it
requires some amount of explanation and demonstration to make this
palpable to the understandings even of the most acute, and I am not
sure that even you (yes, put on your best pair of spectacles, you will
need them) yet see how impossible it is for us to be ignorant of matter
_per se_, or of anything which is absolutely unknowable.'

This matter of the _Ding an sich_ Ferrier felt to be the crucial point
in his system: 'You talk glibly of "existence _per se_," as maids of
fifteen do of puppy dogs. This shows that, like a carpet knight, you
have never smelt the real smoke of metaphysical battle, but at most
have taken part in the sham fights and listened to the shotless popguns
of the martinet of Königsberg. You will find existence _per se_ a
tougher customer than you imagine.'

As to the _Institutes_, then on the verge of publication, the author
says: 'I am inclined to follow your advice, so far, in regard to the
title of the work, and to call it the "Theory of Knowing and Being,"
leaving out ignorance. But why an _introduction_ to metaphysics? If
this be an _introduction_ to metaphysics, pray, Mr. Pundit, what and
where are metaphysics themselves? No, sir, it shall be called a
_text-book_ of metaphysics, meaning thereby, that it is a complete body
(and soul) of metaphysics. You are an uncommonly _modest_ fellow in so
far as the protestations of your _friends_ are concerned!'

This correspondence appears to have continued regularly for some years,
and to have dealt almost entirely with metaphysical and economic
subjects--the subjects which were constantly in Ferrier's mind, as he
taught them in the University and tried to work them out in his study.
Doubtless it was of the greatest use to him to be able to write about
them as he would, had opportunity served, have spoken; and this
opportunity was afforded by his friendship with his correspondent,
whose interest in philosophy was keen, and whose critical faculties
were exceptionally acute, although he never accomplished any original
work on philosophical lines.

Of other letters few have been preserved. Absence from home did not
make a reason for writing, for Ferrier's journeyings were but few. In
1859, however, he made an expedition to England to see his
newly-married daughter, Lady Grant, start for India with her husband,
Sir Alexander Grant, after his appointment to the Chancellorship of the
University of Bombay. From Southampton he made his way to the scene of
his schooldays at Greenwich, from which place he writes to one of the
sons of Dr. Bruce of Ruthwell, with whom he spent a happy childhood:
'One of our fêtes was a sumptuous fish dinner at Greenwich. I call it
sumptuous, but in truth the fish was utter trash, the best of them not
comparable to Loch Fyne herring. Whitebait is the greatest humbug of
the age, though it may be heresy to say so in your neighbourhood.' This
journey was concluded by a visit to Oxford and to the Lake country,
with both of which Ferrier's associations were so many and so

The following is a letter, dated 21st March 1862, to Professor
Lushington, his friend and biographer:--'I have been very remiss in not
acknowledging your photograph, which came safe, and is much admired by
all who have seen it. I must get a book for its reception and that of
some other worthies, otherwise my children will appropriate it for
their collections, with which the house is swarming.... The _ego_ is an
infinite and active capacity of _never being anything in particular_. I
will uphold that definition against the world. Did you never feel how
much you revolted from being fixed and determined? Depend upon it, that
is the true nature of a spirit--never to be any determinate existence.
This is our real immutability--for death can get hold only of that
which has a determinate being. _We_ stand loose from all
determinations. That is our chance of escaping his clutches."

This expresses Ferrier's views and hopes for an after life: he looked
forward to an immortality in which the particular and determinate
should disappear and only the absolute element remain--in which death
should mean only the rising from the individual into a true and
universal life. It is a matter to which he frequently refers, and
always in terms of a very similar nature. We shall see how, when the
end was coming near, his views remained the same, and he was able to
face the inevitable without a qualm or shadow of complaint.



'If one were asked,' says Professor Fraser, 'for the English writings
which are fitted in the most attractive way to absorb a reader of
competent intelligence and imagination in the final or metaphysical
question concerning the Being in which we and the world of sensible
things participate, Berkeley's _Dialogues_, Hume's _Inquiry into Human
Understanding_, and some of the lately published _Philosophical
Remains_ of Professor Ferrier are probably those which would best
deserve to be mentioned.'

It has been given to few philosophers of modern days to write on
philosophic questions in a manner at once so lucid and so convincing as
that of Ferrier. Nor can it in his case be said that matter is
sacrificed to form, for the writer does not hesitate to 'nail his
colours to the mast,' as he himself expresses it, and to tackle
questions the most vital in their character in a straightforward and
uncompromising fashion. His earliest published writings, as we have
seen, took the form of a series of seven articles, which appeared,
roughly speaking, in alternate months, between February of 1838 and
March of 1839. These articles, entitled _An Introduction to the
Philosophy of Consciousness_, represented the results of their author's
work during the years which had elapsed since he first began to be
really interested in philosophy, and to feel that the way of looking at
it adopted almost universally in Scotland was not satisfying to
himself, or in any way defensible.

The whole point in Ferrier's view turns upon the way in which we look
at 'Mind.' 'The human mind, to speak it profanely,' says Ferrier, 'is
like the goose that laid the golden eggs. The metaphysician resembles
the analytic poulterer who slew it to get at them in a lump, and found
_nothing_ for his pains.... Look at thought, and feeling, and passion,
as they glow in the pages of Shakespeare--golden eggs indeed! Look at
the same as they stagnate on the dissecting-table of Dr. Brown, and
marvel at the change. Behold how shapeless and extinct they have
become!' Locke began by saying there are no original ideas, simply
impressions from without; Hume then says cause and effect are incapable
of explanation, and the notion which we form of them is a nonentity,
seeing that we have a series of impressions alone to work from; Reid
says there is a mind and there is an object, and calls in common-sense
to interpret between the two. But the mistake all through is very
evident: man looks at Nature in a certain way, interprets her by
certain categories, and then he turns his eye upon himself,
endeavouring thereby to judge of what he finds within by methods of a
similar kind. And the human mind cannot be so 'objectised'; it is
something more than the sum of its 'feelings,' 'passions,' and 'states
of mind.' Dr. Reid had done a service by exploding the old doctrine of
'ideas'; he brought mind into contact with immediate things, but much
more is left for us to do; the same office has to be performed for
'mind'--that is, mind when we regard it as something which connects us
with the universe, or something which can be looked at and examined, as
we might look at or examine a thing outside ourselves, and not as that
which is necessary to any such examination. 'Is it not enough for a man
that he is _himself_? There can be no dispute about that. _I_ am; what
more would I have? What more would I be? Why would I be _mind_? I am
_myself_ therefore let it perish.'

What, then, makes a man what he is? It is the fact of consciousness,
the fact which marks him off from all other things with a deep line of
separation. It is this and this alone, Ferrier says, this '_human_
phenomenon,' and not its objects, passions, or emotions, which leads us
into pastures fresh and far separated from the dreary round which the
old metaphysicians followed. The same discovery, of course, is always
being made, though to Ferrier it was new; we are always straying into
devious ways, ways that lead us into grey regions of abstraction, and
we always want to be called back to the concrete and the real, to the
freshness and the brightness of life as it is and lives.

Ferrier from this time onwards, from his youth until his death, kept
one definite aim in view: the object of his life was to insist with all
his might that our interests must be concentrated on man as he is as
man, and not on a mere sum-total of passions and sensations by which
the human being is affected. The consciousness of a state of mind is
very different from that state of mind itself, and the two must be kept
absolutely distinct. 'Let mind have the things which are mind's, and
man the things which are man's.' We should, Ferrier says, fling 'mind'
and its lumber overboard, busy ourselves with _the man_ and his facts.
Man's passions and sensations may be referred to 'mind' indeed, but he
cannot lay his hands upon the fact of consciousness. That fact cannot
be conceived of as vested in the _object_ called the 'human mind,' an
object being something really or ideally different from ourselves. In
speaking of 'my mind,' mind may be what it chooses, but the
consciousness is in the _ego_; and mind is really destitute of
consciousness, otherwise the _ego_ would necessarily be present in it.
The dilemma is as follows: 'Unless the philosophers of mind attribute
consciousness to mind, they leave out of view the most important
phenomena of man; and _if_ they attribute consciousness to mind, they
annihilate the object of their research, in so far as the whole extent
of this fact is concerned.'

Since Ferrier's time this point has been worked out very fully, and by
none more successfully than by an English philosopher, Professor T. H.
Green of Oxford, in his Introduction to the works of Hume. But when
Ferrier wrote, his ideas were new; in England at least he was breaking
up ground hitherto untouched, and therefore the debt of gratitude we
owe him is not small, especially when we consider the forces against
which he warred. 'Common-sense,' the solution offered for all
philosophic difficulties, is really the _problem_ of philosophy, and to
speak of the 'philosophy of common-sense' is simply to confuse the
problem with its solution. Common-sense, or rather what is given by its
means, has simply to be construed into intelligible forms: in itself it
makes no attempt to solve the difficulties that present themselves, and
it is folly to suggest its doing so. When a man speaks of _my_
sensations or _my_ states of mind, he means something of which he--as
consciousness--is independent, and which can be made an object to him.
Were it not so, of course he could not possibly arrive at freedom, but
would merely be the helpless child of destiny; and, as Ferrier points
out, were consciousness and sensation one, consciousness would not have
the power, undoubtedly possessed by it, of 'recovering the balance'
that it loses on experiencing pain or passion; the return of
consciousness, as he puts it, 'lowers the temperature' of the sensation
or the passion, and the man regains the personality that for the time
had almost vanished. A man, he tells us, can hardly even be said to be
the 'victim' of his mind, and irresponsible--_i.e._, man stands aloof
from the modifications which may visit him, therefore we should study
him as he is, and not merely these 'states of mind' common to him and
to animals alike. And consciousness must be active, exercising itself
upon those states, and thereby realising human freedom.

Philosophy, then, is the gospel of freedom as contrasted with the
bondage of the physical kingdom. But we are in subjection at the first,
and all our lifetime a constant fight is being carried on. Philosophy
paints its grey in grey, another great philosopher has told us, only
when the freshness and life of youth has gone: the reconciliation is in
the ideal, not the actual world. And so with Ferrier: 'The flowers of
thy happiness,' says he, 'are withered. They could not last; they
gilded but for a day the opening portals of life. But in their place I
will give thee freedom's flowers. To act _according_ to thy inclination
may be enjoyment; but know that to act _against_ it is liberty, and
thou only actest thus because thou art really free.' Great and weighty
words, which might be pondered by many more than those to whom they
were originally addressed.

Having established his fundamental principles, Ferrier goes on to trace
the birth of self-consciousness in the child--the knowledge of itself
as 'I,' which means the knowledge of good and evil--the moral birth.
Perception, again, is a synthesis of sensation and consciousness--the
realisation of self in conjunction with the sensation experienced: it
is, of course, peculiar to man. Things can only take effect on 'me'
when there is a 'me' to take effect upon, and not at birth, or before I
come to consciousness. Consciousness is the very essence and origin of
the _ego_; without consciousness no man would be 'I.' It is our refusal
to be acted on by outside impressions that constitutes our personality
and perception of them; our communication with the universe is the
communication of _non_-communication. And the _ego_ is not something
which comes into the world ready-made; it is a living activity which is
_never_ passive, for were it passive, it would be annihilated; in
submitting to the action of causality its life would be gone. Our
destiny is to free ourselves from the bonds of nature, from that
'blessed state of primeval innocence,' the blessedness, after all, of
bondage. A man cannot _be_ until he _acts_, for his Being arises out of
his actions: consciousness being an act, our proper existence is the
consequence of that act. His natural condition for others, and before
he comes to existence, Ferrier says, is given, while his existence for
himself is made by his thinking himself. It is only in the latter case
that he can attain to Liberty, instead of remaining bound by the bonds
imposed upon him by Necessity. The three great moments of humanity are:
first, the natural or given man in enslaved Being; second, the
conscious man in action working into freedom against passion; third,
the 'I': man as free, that is, real personal Being.

Philosophy has thus a great future before her. Instead of being a mere
dead theory as heretofore, she becomes renovated into a new life when
she gets her proper place; she is separated from her supposed
connection with the physical world, and is recognised as consciousness.
When this is so, she loses her merely theoretic aspect, and is
identified with the living practical interests of mankind. The dead
symbols become living realities, the dead twigs are clothed with
verdure. 'Know thyself, and in knowing thyself thou shalt see that this
self is not thy true self; but, in the very act of knowing this, thou
shalt at once displace this false self, and establish thy true self in
its room.' And Ferrier goes on to trace the bearings of his theories in
the moral and intellectual world. He finds in morality something more
than a refined self-love; he finds the dawning will endeavouring to
assert itself, to break free from the trammels imposed upon it by
nature. Freedom, the great end of man, is contravened by the passive
conditions of his nature; these are therefore wrong, and every act of
resistance tends to the accomplishment of the one important end, which
is to procure his liberty.

This essay, or series of essays, gives the keynote to Ferrier's thought
and writings, therefore it seemed worth while to consider its argument
in detail. The completeness of the break with the old philosophy is
manifest. The 'scientific' methods applied to every region of knowledge
were then in universal use, and no little courage was required to
challenge their pretensions as they were challenged by Ferrier. But in
courage, as we know, Ferrier was never lacking. His mind once made up,
he had no fear in making his opinions known. He considered that the
Scottish Philosophy had become something very like materialism in the
hands of Brown and others, and he believed that the whole point of view
must be changed if a really spiritual philosophy was to take its place.
There may be traces of the impetuosity of youth in this attack: much
working out was undoubtedly required before it could be said that a
system had been established. But all the same this essay is a brilliant
piece of philosophic writing--instinct with life and enthusiasm--one
which must have made its readers feel that the dry bones of a dead
system had wakened into life, and that what they had imagined an
abstract and dismal science had become instinct with living, practical
interest--something to be 'lived' as well as studied.

The _Institutes of Metaphysics_--the work by which Ferrier's name will
descend to posterity--is a development of the Philosophy of
Consciousness; but it is more carefully reasoned out and
systematised--the result of many years of thoughtful labour. For
several years before the work was published (in 1854) the propositions
which are contained in it were developed in the course of Ferrier's
regular lectures. The _Institutes_, or _Theory of Knowing and Being_,
commences with a definition of philosophy as a 'body of reasoned
truth,' and states that though there were plenty of dissertations on
the subject in existence, there was no philosophy itself--no scheme of
demonstrated truth; and this, and not simply a 'contribution' to
philosophy was what was now required, and what the writer proposed to
give. The divisions into which he separates Philosophy are: first, the
Epistemology, or theory of knowledge; secondly, the Agnoiology, or
theory of ignorance; and thirdly, the Ontology, or theory of being. The
fundamental question is, 'What is the _one_ feature which is identical,
invariable, and essential in all the varieties of our knowledge?'

The first condition of knowledge is that we should know ourselves, and
reason gives certainty to this proposition which is not capable of
demonstration, owing to its being itself the starting-point; the
counter-proposition, asserting the separate subject and object of
knowledge, and the mutual presence of the two without intelligence's
being necessarily cognisant of itself, represents general opinion, and
the ordinary view of popular psychology. Knowledge, then, Ferrier goes
on, always has the self as an essential part of it; it is
knowledge-in-union-with-whatever-it-apprehends. The objective part of
the object of knowledge, though distinguishable, is not really
separable from the subjective or _ego_; both constitute the _unit_ of
knowledge--an utterance thoroughly Hegelian in its character, however
Ferrier may disclaim a connection with Hegel's system. In space they
may be separated, but not in cognition, and this idealism does not for
one moment deny the existence of 'external' things, but only says they
can have no meaning if out of relation to those which are 'internal';
as Hegel might have put it, they could be known as separable by means
of 'abstraction' only. From this point we are led on to the next
statement, and a most important statement it is, that matter _per se_
is of necessity absolutely unknowable; or to what Ferrier calls the
Theory of Ignorance. Whether or not this theory can make good the title
to originality which its author claims for it, there is no doubt that
its statement in clear language, such as no one can fail to understand,
marks an important era in English speculation. There are, Ferrier says,
two sorts of so-called ignorance: one of these is incidental to some
minds, but not to all--an ignorance of defect, he puts it--just as we
might be said to be ignorant of a language we had never learned. But
the other ignorance (not, properly speaking, ignorance at all) is
incident to _all_ intelligence by its very nature, and is no defect or
imperfection. The law of ignorance hence is that 'we can be ignorant
only of what can be known,' or 'the knowable is alone the ignorable.'
The bearing of this important point is seen at once when we turn back
to the theory of knowing. Knowledge is something of which the subject
cannot shake himself free; 'I' must always, in whatever I apprehend,
apprehend 'me.' We don't apprehend 'things,' that is, but what is
apprehended is 'me-apprehending-things.' Things-plus-me is the only
knowable, and consequently the only 'ignorable.'

This brings us a great way towards the Absolute Idealism associated
mainly with the name of Hegel--towards the Knowledge or 'Experience' (a
word which Ferrier afterwards himself makes use of) which shall cease
to be a 'theory,' being recognised as comprehending within itself all
Reality--as recognising no distinction between object and subject,
excepting when they are regarded as two poles both equally essential,
and separated only when looked at in abstraction. If Ferrier's 'theory
of knowledge' did not proceed so far, he at least made the discovery
that the subjective idealism of Kant was as unsatisfactory as the
relativity of Hamilton, and as certainly tending to agnosticism. Kant's
'thing-in-itself' is not that of which we are ignorant, or a hidden
reality which can be known by faith. It is that which cannot possibly
be known--and, in other words, a contradiction or nonsense. Now,
Ferrier says, we arrive at the true Idealism--the triumph of
philosophy. If it is said to reduce all things to the phenomena of
consciousness, it does the same to every _nothing_. What falls out of
consciousness becomes incogitable; it lapses, not into nothing, but
into what is contradictory. The material universe _per se_, and all its
qualities _per se_, are not only absolutely unknowable, but absolutely
unthinkable. We do indeed know substance, but only as object plus
subject--as matter _mecum_ or in cognition as thought together with the

It may be true that we cannot claim for Ferrier complete originality in
his thinking; work on very similar lines was being carried on
elsewhere. It is not difficult to trace throughout his writings the
mode of his development. The earlier works are evidently influenced by
Fichte and his school, since the personal _ego_ and individual freedom
figure as the principal conceptions in our knowledge; and even while
the Scottish school of psychologists is being combated, the influence
of Hamilton is very manifest. But as time goes on, Ferrier's ideas
become more concrete; the theory of consciousness becomes more absolute
in its conception; the human or individual element is less conspicuous
as the universal element is more, which signifies that gradually he
approaches closer to the standpoint of the later German thinkers by a
careful study of their works, though for the most part it is Reid and
Hamilton his criticisms have in view, and not the corresponding work of

Still, we should say that Ferrier's attitude represented another phase
in the same struggle against abstraction and towards unity in
knowledge, rather than being a simple outcome of the German influence
in Scotland. This last assumption he at least repudiated with energy,
and boldly claimed to have developed and completed his system for
himself. He claimed to have worked on national lines; to have started
from the philosophy of his country as it was currently accepted, and to
have little difficulty in proving from itself its absolute inadequacy.
He felt that in his doctrine of the reality of knowledge he had found
the means of solving problems hitherto dark and obscure, and he used
his instruments bravely, and on the whole successfully.

The faith-philosophy which professed to know reality through the
senses, when these senses were a part of the external universe, or
signified taking for granted the matter in dispute, was utterly
repugnant to Ferrier. The Unknowable of Sir William Hamilton was
inconceivable to him, and he ever kept this theory and its errors in
his mind, while developing a system of his own. It is better that a
philosophic system should grow up thus, instead of coming to us from
without in language hard to understand because of foreign idioms and
unwonted modes of expression. To be of use, a philosophy should speak
the language of the people: until it becomes identified with ordinary
ways of thinking, its influence is never really great; and the Idealism
of Germany has in this country always suffered from being intelligible
only to the few. Therefore we hold all credit due to Ferrier for
consistently refusing to adopt the phraseology of a foreign country,
and setting himself, heart and soul, to find expression for his
thoughts in the language of his birth.

Ferrier introduces his _Lectures on Greek Philosophy_, the last subject
on which he undertook to write, in a manner which reminds us of Hegel's
remarkable Introduction to his _History of Philosophy_; he begins, like
Hegel, by pointing out that the study of philosophy is just the study
of our own reason in its development, but that what is worked out in
our minds hurriedly and within contracted limits, is in philosophy
evolved at leisure, and seen in its just proportions: the historian of
philosophy has not merely to record the existence of dead systems of
thought that are past and gone, but the living products of his _own_,
full of present, vital interest, and there is nothing arbitrary or
capricious in such a history: all is reasoned thought as it manifests
and reveals itself.

Philosophy, Ferrier defines, by calling it the pursuit of Truth--not
relative Truth, but absolute, what necessarily exists for all minds
alike; and man's faculties (contrary to what is generally supposed) are
competent to attain to it, provided only that they have something in
common with all other minds, _i.e._, are partakers in a universal
intelligence. He works this out in his Introduction in an extremely
interesting way, showing, as he does, how in all intelligence there
must be a universal, a unity; that the very essence of religion, for
example, rests on the unity which constitutes the bond between God and
man, and that when this is denied, religion is made impossible. What
then, we may ask, is the Truth that has to be pursued?

It is that which is the real, the object of philosophy--the real which
exists for all intelligence. The historian of philosophy must show that
philosophy in its history corresponds with this definition, if the
definition be a true one.

The lectures begin with Thales and the followers of the Ionic school,
and Ferrier points out how, in spite of the material elements which are
taken as a basis, their systems are philosophic, in so far as they aim
at the establishment of a universal in all things, and carry with them
the belief that this universal is the ultimately real; and this gives
them an interest which from their sensuous forms we could hardly have
expected to find. But it was Heraclitus' doctrine of Becoming that was
most congenial to Ferrier, as it was to his great predecessor Hegel.
Being and Not-Being, the unity of contraries as essential sides of
Truth, in such conceptions as these Ferrier believes we come nearer to
the truth of the universe than in the current views of philosophy, in
which the unity of contrary determinations in one subject is regarded
as impossible. Apart, either side is incomprehensible, and hence Mr.
Mansel and Sir William Hamilton argue the impotence of human reason;
but if, as Ferrier believes, they are shown to be but moments or
essential factors in conception, the antagonism will be proved
unreal--it will be an antagonism proper to the very life and essence of

Possibly in his account of the early Greek philosophers Ferrier may
have done what many historians of philosophy have done before him, he
may have read into the systems which he has been describing much more
than he was entitled so to read. He may, when he is talking of the
Eleatics of Heraclitus, and even of Socrates and Plato, have had before
his mind the special battle which he had chosen to fight--the battle
against sensationalism in Scotland, against materialism in the form in
which he found it--rather than fairly to set before his readers an
exact and accurate account of the teaching of the particular
philosopher of whom he writes. But has it ever been otherwise in any
history of thought that was ever written, excepting perhaps in some
dryasdust compendium which none excepting those weighed down with dread
of examination questions, care to peruse? Thought reads itself from
itself, and if it sometimes reads the present into the past, and thinks
to see it there, is there matter for surprise, or is it so very far
wrong? If it tells us something of the secrets it itself conceals, it
is surely telling us after all much of those that are gone.

For Plato, Ferrier naturally had a very great affinity; he deals with
him at length, and evidently had made a special and careful study of
his writings. But the same method is applied by him to Plato as was
before applied to the other Greek philosophers. 'It is not so much by
reading Plato as by studying our own minds that we can find out what
ideas are, and perceive the significance of the theory which expounds
them. It is only by verifying in our own consciousness the discoveries
of antecedent philosophers that we can hope rightly to understand their
doctrines or appreciate the value and importance of their
speculations.' And so Ferrier proceeds to prove the necessity for the
existence of 'ideas'--of universals--as the absolute truth and
groundwork of whatever is. No intelligence can be intelligent excepting
by their light, and they are the necessary laws or principles on which
all Being and Knowing are dependent. 'All philosophy,' he says of
Plato, 'speculative and practical, has been foreshadowed by his
prophetic intelligence; often dimly, but always so attractively as to
whet the curiosity and stimulate the ardour of those who have chosen
him as a guide.' And it was as such that Ferrier marked him out and
chose him as his own. With Aristotle he had probably less in common,
and his treatment both of him and of the Stoics, Epicureans, and
Neo-Platonists, with which the history ends, is less sympathetic in its
tone and understanding in its style. But these lectures as a whole,
though never put together for printing as a book, must always be of
interest to the student of philosophy.

A philosophic article, entitled _Berkeley and Idealism_, and published
in June of 1842, was designed to meet the attack of Mr. Samuel Bailey,
who had written a _Review of Berkeley's Theory of Vision_, criticising
the soundness of his views. Mr. Bailey replied, and Ferrier a year
later published an article on that reply. Ferrier rightly appreciates
the very important place which ought to be allowed to Berkeley as a
factor in the development of philosophic truth--a place which has only
been properly understood in later years. He saw the part he had played
in bringing the real significance of Absolute Idealism into view, and
deprecated the representation of his system made by David Hume, or the
popular idea that Berkeley denied all reality to matter. What he did
deny was the reality which is supposed to lie beyond experience, and
his criticism in this regard was invaluable as a basis for a future
system. In his own words, he did not wish to change things into ideas,
but _ideas_ into _things_: matter could not exist independently of
mind. But yet Ferrier is perfectly aware that Berkeley did not entirely
grasp the absolute standpoint that the thing is the appearance, and the
appearance is the thing. Regarded merely as a literary production, this
article is entitled to rank with the classics of philosophic writings
both as regards the beauty of its style and its logical development.
Ferrier does not often touch directly on questions of religion or
theology, but there is an interesting passage in this essay which shows
his views regarding the question of immortality. He is talking of the
impossibility of our ever conceiving to ourselves the idea of our
annihilation. Such an idea could not be rationally articulated. We
_appear_, indeed, to be able to realise it, but we only _think_ we
think it: real thought of death in this sense would involve our being
already dead; but in thought we are and must be immortal. 'We have
nothing to wait for; eternity is even now within us, and time, with all
its vexing troubles, is no more.'

It was something absolute and enduring for which Ferrier was ever on
the search. Those of his Introductory Lectures which are preserved bear
out this statement, if nothing else were left to do so. Philosophy,
thought, is more than systems: 'As long as man thinks, the light must
burn.' Could he but teach the young men who gathered round him day by
day to think, he cared little as to what so-called 'system' they
adopted. He put his arguments clearly before them, but they were free
to criticise as they would. And perhaps it was because they realised
that the Truth was more to him than personal fame that their affection
for him was so great. He always kept before him, too, that in teaching
any science the mental discipline which it involves must not be
overlooked. The practical rule of disciplining the mind should run side
by side with the theoretical instruction, which might soon be
forgotten; the great effort of a teacher should be in the best and
highest sense to _educate_ his students. That is, he has not only to
instil their minds with multifarious learning, but to make their
thinking systematic.

And philosophy must, he tells us, be made interesting if it is to be of
any use: we must arrive at a 'philosophic consciousness,' and
distinguish philosophy from mere opinion. It is mind which is the
permanent and immutable in all change and mutation; even the Greeks
found the idea of permanence in mind while they regarded change as the
principle of matter.

Thus, when the end of the day had come, when the lamp grew dim, and the
books he loved so much must be for the last time shut, Ferrier's
teaching was not so very different from what it was nearly thirty years
before. The only real change was that the impetuosity of youth had
gone; the man and his system had both become matured: the one more
tolerant, more careful in expression, more considerate of the feelings
of his opponents; the other more systematic, more coordinated, firmer
in its grasp. There was much to do if the system were to be shown to
hold its place in every department of life, as an absolute system must:
much that has not even yet been accomplished. But for those who came in
contact with him, the man was more even than his creed--to them this
frail form which seemed to be wasting away before their eyes, yet never
losing the keen interest in work to be accomplished, must have taught a
lesson more than systems of philosophy dream of. For they could not
fail to learn that the eternal can be found in history--even in history
of long centuries ago, as in every other sphere of knowledge--and that
the search for it supports the seeker in his daily life, takes all its
bitterness from what is hardest, from pain, suffering, and even death.



The story of the so-called Coleridge plagiarism is an old one now, but
it is one which roused much feeling at the time, and likewise one on
which there is considerable division of opinion even in the present
day. Into this controversy Ferrier plunged by writing a formidable
indictment of Coleridge's position in _Blackwood's Magazine_ for March
of 1840.

When Ferrier took up the cudgels the matter stood thus. In the earlier
quarter of the century German Philosophy was coming, or rather had
already come, more or less into vogue in England; and as the German
language was not largely read, and yet people were vaguely interested,
though in what they hardly knew, they welcomed an appreciative
interpreter of that philosophy, and an original writer on similar
lines, in one whose reputation was esteemed so highly as that of
Coleridge. Coleridge in this matter, indeed, occupied a position which
was unique; for the treasures of German poetry and prose had not as yet
been fully opened up, and he was held to possess the means of doing
this in a quite exceptional degree. The works of Schiller, Goethe, and
the other poets came to the world--and to Coleridge with the rest--as a
sort of revelation. But the poet in his own mind was nothing if not a
philosopher--a kind of seer amongst men, speculating, somewhat vaguely
it might be, on matters of transcendental import--and in Schelling he
thought he had discovered a kindred spirit; in his writings he believed
he had found the Idealism for which he had so long been seeking in
Böhme, Fox, and the other mystics--a creed which, though pantheistic in
its essence, yet fulfilled the condition of being both orthodox and
Trinitarian in its form. This, for many reasons, was a creed presenting
many attractions to the younger men of the day, especially when set
forth with a certain literary flavour. We have Carlyle's immortal
picture of how it influenced John Sterling and his friends.

Coleridge's _Biographia Literaria_, in which the principal so-called
Schelling plagiarisms are contained, was published in 1817, but it was
not for a considerable time after that that the plagiarisms were
discovered, or at least taken notice of. The first serious indictment
came from no less an authority than De Quincey, whose interest in
philosophical matters was as great as Coleridge's, and who published
his views in an appreciative but gossipy article in _Tait's Magazine_
of September 1834. To commence with, he took up the question of the
'Hymn to Chamouni'; but since, in this matter, Coleridge afterwards
admitted his indebtedness to a German poetess, Frederica Brun, it does
not seem an important one. Nor, indeed, does De Quincey pretend to take
exception to certain expressions in Coleridge's 'France' which are
evidently borrowed from Milton, or to regard them as indicating more
than a peculiar omission of quotation marks. But the really serious
matter, one for which De Quincey cannot by any means account, is that
in the _Biographia Literaria_ there occurs a dissertation on the
doctrine of Knowing and Being which is an exact translation from an
essay written by Schelling. De Quincey cannot indeed explain away the
mystery, but he makes the best of it, pleading excuses such as we often
hear adduced in cases of 'kleptomania' when they occur amongst the
well-to-do, or so-called higher classes--_e.g._, the evident fact that
there was no necessity so to steal, no motive for stealing, even though
the theft had evidently been committed. Still, though the defence may
be ingenious, and though we may go so far as to acknowledge that
Coleridge had sufficient originality of mind to weave out theories of
his own without borrowing from others, it must be confessed that under
the aggravated circumstances the argument falls somewhat flat; and this
was the impression made on many minds even at the time. The ball once
set rolling, the dispute went on, and the next important incident was
an article by Julius Hare in the _British Magazine_ of January 1835.
This is a hot defence of the so-called 'Christian' philosopher, who is
said to be influencing the best and most promising young men of the
day, as against the assault of the 'English Opium-Eater'--'that
ill-boding _alias_ of evil record.' As to De Quincey's somewhat unkind
but entertaining stories, there is some reason in Hare's objections,
seeing that they were told of one to whom the writer owned himself
indebted. But when Hare tackles the plagiarisms themselves, and
endeavours to defend them, his task is harder. Coleridge had indeed
stated that his ideas were thought out and matured before he had seen a
page of Schelling; but at the same time, in an earlier portion of his
work, he made a somewhat ambiguous reference to his indebtedness to the
German philosopher, and deprecated his being accused of intentioned
plagiarism from his writings. Of course it may be said that a thief
does not draw attention to the goods from which he has stolen, but yet
even Hare acknowledges that it is hard to understand how half a dozen
pages (we now know that it really exceeded thirty) should have been
bodily transferred from one work to another, and suggests that the most
probable solution is that Coleridge had a practice of keeping notebooks
for his thoughts, mingled with extracts from what he had been reading
at the time, and that he thus became confused between the two.

At this point Ferrier steps in and takes the whole matter under
review--a matter which he looked upon as serious (perhaps more serious
than we should now consider it) from a national as well as an
individual point of view. He held that the reputation of his country
was at stake, as well as that of a single philosophic thinker, and that
neither De Quincey nor Hare had gone into the matter with sufficient
care or knowledge, or ascertained how large it really was. It was
undoubtedly the case that Coleridge's reputation in philosophic
matters--and in these days that reputation was not small--was derived
from what he had purloined from the writings of a German youth, and
whatever the poet's claim on our regard on other scores may be, it was
certainly due to Schelling that the debt should be acknowledged. As far
as the _Biographia Literaria_ is concerned, the facts are plain.
Coleridge makes certain general acknowledgments of indebtedness to
Schelling to begin with. He acknowledges that there may be found in his
works an identity of thought or phrase with Schelling's, and allows him
to be the founder of the philosophy of nature; but he claims at the
same time the honour of making that philosophy intelligible to his
fellow-countrymen, and even of thinking it out beforehand. Having said
so much, there follow pages together--sometimes as many as six or eight
on end--which are virtually copied _verbatim_ from Schelling, though
with occasional interpolations of the so-called author here and there.
Ferrier has examined the whole matter most minutely, and made a long
list of the more flagrant cases of copying: thirty-one pages, he points
out, are faithfully transcribed, partially or wholly, from Schelling's
works alone, without allowing for what the author admits to be
translated _in part_ from a 'contemporary writer of the Continent.' And
Schelling was not the only sufferer, nor was it only in the region of
metaphysics that the thefts were made. The substratum of a whole
chapter of the _Biographia Literaria_ is, Ferrier discovered, taken
from another author named Maasz, and Coleridge's lecture 'On Poesy or
Art' is closely copied and largely translated from Schelling's
'Discourse upon the Relations in which the Plastic Arts stand to
Nature.' This was a blow indeed to those who had boasted of the
profundity of Coleridge's views on art; but his poetry surely remained
intact. But no, 'Verses exemplifying the Homeric Metre' are found to
be--unacknowledged--a translation from Schiller; and yet worse, because
less likely to be discovered, the lines written 'To a Cataract' have
the same metre, language, and thought as certain verses by Count von
Stolberg, which were shown to Ferrier by a friend.

The whole matter is a very strange one and not easy to explain. Of
course the references to Schelling's labours in similar lines are
there, and may in a sense disarm our criticism. But then,
unfortunately, there also are the statements that the ideas had been
matured in Coleridge's mind before he had seen a single line of
Schelling's work, and he clearly gives us to understand that he had
toiled out the system for himself, and that it was the 'offspring of
his own spirit.' It is this overmuch protesting that makes us, like
Ferrier, disposed to take the darkest view of the affair: anything that
can be said in Coleridge's defence is found in the manner in which it
was taken by the one who had most right to feel aggrieved. In the life
of Jowett,[10] recently published, there is an interesting account of
Schelling's views on Coleridge, taken from a conversation, notes of
which were made by the late Sir Alexander Grant, Ferrier's son-in-law,
when still an undergraduate. Jowett, while at Berlin, had, it appears,
seen Schelling, and talked to him of the plagiarisms. He took the
matter, Jowett states, good-naturedly, thought Coleridge to have been
attacked unfairly, and even went so far as to assert that he had
expressed many things better than he could have done himself--certainly
a very generous acknowledgment. Probably the most charitable
construction we can put on Coleridge's act is that which Jowett himself
advances in saying that the poet is not to be looked upon or judged as
an ordinary man would be, seeing that often enough he hardly could be
said to have been responsible for his actions; while his egotism, which
was extreme, may have likewise led him--it may be almost
unconsciously--into acts of doubtful honesty. But evidently, in spite
of Ferrier's work, Jowett, and possibly even Schelling himself, had no
idea of the extent to which the plagiarisms extended. There would, of
course, have been comparatively little harm in Coleridge's action had
he been content to borrow materials which he was about to work up in
his own way, or to do what his biographer Gillman says is done by the
'bee which flies from flower to flower in quest of food,' but which
'digests and elaborates' that food by its native power. Unfortunately,
the more we read Coleridge's philosophic writings, the more we feel
constrained to agree with Ferrier that the matter is not digested as
Gillman suggests, but taken possession of in its ready-made condition.
The parts which he adds do not assist in throwing light on what
precedes, but are evidently padding of a somewhat commonplace and
superficial kind. We can only say, like Jowett, that the manner of his
life may have injured Coleridge's moral sense, and that his desire to
pose as a philosopher who should yet be a so-called 'Christian' may
have led him to encroach upon the spheres of others, instead of keeping
to those in which he could hold his own unchallenged.

          [10] _Life of Benjamin Jowett_, vol. i. pp. 98 and 145.

A labour of love with Ferrier, on very different lines than the above,
was to bring out in five volumes the works of his father-in-law, John
Wilson, 'Christopher North,' including the _Noctes Ambrosianæ_, and his
Essays and Papers contributed to _Blackwood_. This was published in
1856, but must, of course, have meant a considerable amount of work to
the editor for some time previously. One of the most interesting parts
of the work is Ferrier's preface to the famous 'Chaldee Manuscript,' in
vol. iv. The story of the 'Chaldee MS.' is now a matter of history,
fully recorded in the recently published records of the famous house of
Blackwood. In 1817 the Whigs ruled in matters literary, mainly through
the instrumentality of the _Edinburgh Review_, then in its heyday of
fame. A reaction, however, set in, and the change was inaugurated by
the publication of the so-called 'Chaldee MS.,' a wild _extravaganza_,
or _jeu d'esprit_, hitting off the foibles of Whiggism, under the guise
of an allegory describing the origin and rise of _Blackwood's
Magazine_, the rival which had risen up in opposition to the _Review_,
and the discomfiture of another journal carried on under the auspices
of Constable. It was in the seventh number of _Blackwood_ that the
satire appeared--that is, the first number of _Blackwood's Edinburgh
Magazine_ as distinguished from the _Edinburgh Monthly Magazine_,
published from Blackwood's office to begin with, but on comparatively
mild and inoffensive lines. One may imagine the effect of this Tory
outburst on the society of Edinburgh. All the _literati_ of the town
were involved: Sir Walter Scott himself, Mackenzie, Sir David Brewster,
Sir William Hamilton, Professor Jamieson, Tytler, Playfair, and many
others, some of whom emerged but seldom from the retirement of private
life. Nowadays it would be difficult, if not impossible, to identify
the different characters, were it not for the assistance of Professor
Ferrier's marginal notes; but in those days they were no doubt
recognisable enough. Of course the magazine went like wildfire; but the
ludicrous description in semi-biblical language of individuals with
absurd allegorical appendages, constituted, as Ferrier acknowledges, an
offence against propriety which could not be defended, even though no
real malevolence might be signified. Whether Ferrier was justified in
republishing the _Noctes_, in so far as they could be identified with
Wilson, has been disputed; but, as the publisher, Major Blackwood,
points out, the time was past for anyone to be hurt by the
personalities which they contained, and the only harm the republication
could inflict was upon the _Noctes_ themselves. The conception of the
'Chaldee Manuscript,' he tells us, was in the first part due to Hogg;
and Wilson and Lockhart were held responsible for the last. There is a
tradition, too, though Ferrier does not mention it, that Hamilton was
one of the party in Mr. Wilson's house (53 Queen Street) where the skit
was said to have been concocted, and that he even contributed to it a
verse. This may have been the case, as Wilson and Lockhart were his
intimate friends; but it seems strange to think of so thoroughgoing a
Whig being found mixed up in such a plot, and with such companions.

Though it is easy to understand that Ferrier felt the editing of his
father-in-law and uncle's work was a duty which it was incumbent upon
him to perform, one cannot help surmising that it may have been a less
congenial task to him than many others. There was little in common
between the two men, both distinguished in their way, and Wilson's
humour and poetic fancy, however bright and vivid, was not of the sort
that would appeal most to Ferrier. A few years before his death Ferrier
gave up the project he had in view of writing Wilson's life, partly in
despair of setting forth his talents as he felt they should be set
forth, and partly from the lack of material to work from. He says, in a
letter written at the time, 'It would do no good to talk in general
terms of his wonderful powers, of his genius being greater (as in some
sense it was) than that of any of his contemporaries--greater, too,
than any of his publications show. The public would require other
evidences of this beyond one's mere word--something might have been
done had some of us Boswellized him judiciously, but this having been
omitted, I do not see how it is possible to do him justice.' The book
was eventually undertaken, and successfully accomplished, by Wilson's
daughter, Mrs. Gordon.

We have spoken of Ferrier's interest in German literature; so early as
1839 he published a translation of _Pietro d'Abano_ by Ludwig Tieck,
one of the inner circle of the so-called Romantic School to which the
Schlegels and Novalis also belonged--the school which opposed itself to
the eighteenth-century enlightenment, making its cry the return to
nature, and demanding with Fichte that a work of art should be a 'free
product of the inner consciousness.' Another specimen of Ferrier's
translating powers is given in a rendering from Deinhardstein's _Bild
der Danæ_, a love story in which Salvator Rosa figures. This appeared
in _Blackwood_ of September 1841, and an extract from it is published
in the _Remains_.

But one of the earliest and most remarkable of Ferrier's literary
criticisms in _Blackwood's Magazine_ was an anonymous article on the
various translations of Goethe's _Faust_ published in 1840. We have
seen that Ferrier had made a special study of the writings of Schiller
and Goethe, and that his work had been much appreciated both by Lytton
and De Quincey. In this article the writer takes seven different
renderings of the drama, carefully analyses them, points out their
deficiencies, and even adventures on the difficult task, for a critic,
of himself translating one or two pages. Now that German is so widely
read in England, we are all too well aware of the insufficiency of any
translation of _Faust_ to regard even the best in any other light than
as a makeshift. But then things were different, and it was possible
that wrong impressions of the original might be conveyed by inadequate
translations. Ferrier's point was that Goethe, while writing in rhyme
and in exquisitely poetical language, managed at the same time to find
words such as might really be used by ordinary mortals; but the
translators, in endeavouring rightly enough to keep to the rhyming
form, entirely fail in their endeavour after the same end. He considers
that though in prose we may deviate from the ordinary proprieties of
language, we may not do so in rhyming poetry; for though the poet has
to describe the thought and passion of real men in the language of real
life, his dialect must at the same time be taken out of the category of
ordinary discourse because of the use of rhyme; and he is therefore
called upon as far as possible to remove this bar, and reconcile us to
the peculiarity of his style by the simplicity of his language;
otherwise all illusion will be at an end. Rhymes brought together by
force can succeed in giving us no pleasure; the writer should possess
the power of mastering his material and compelling it to serve his

Ferrier's speculative instincts naturally led him to discuss the
often-discussed motive of the play. Is it so, as Coleridge says, that
the love of knowledge for itself could not bring about the evil
consequences depicted in the character of Faust, but only the love of
knowledge for some base purpose? Ferrier replies, No, the love of
knowledge as an end in itself would people the world with Fausts. 'Such
a love of knowledge exercises itself in speculation merely, and not in
action; and if the experiences of purely speculative men were gathered,
we think that most of them would be found to confess, bitterly confess,
that indulgence in an abstract reflective thinking (whatever effect it
may have ultimately upon their nobler genius, supposing them to have
one) in the meantime absolutely kills, or appears to kill, all the
minor faculties of the soul--all the lesser genial powers, upon the
exercise of which the greater part of human happiness depends. They
would own, not without remorse, that pure speculation--that is,
knowledge pursued _for itself_ alone--has often been tasted by them to
be, as Coleridge elsewhere says, 'the bitterest and rottenest part of
the core of the fruit of the forbidden tree.' This seems a strange
confession for a thinker reputed so abstract as Ferrier, but of course
the truth of what he says is evident. Knowledge regarded as an end in
itself might have brought Faust into his troubles, it is true, and he
might likewise have found himself ready to rush into what he conceives
to be the opposite extreme; but a greater philosopher than Ferrier has
said that though 'knowledge brought about the Fall, it also contains
the principle of Redemption,' and we take this to signify that we must
look at knowledge as a necessary element in the culture and education
of an individual or a people, which, though it carries trouble in its
wake, does not leave us in our distress, but brings along with it the
principle of healing, or is the 'healer of itself.'

Soon after the above, Ferrier contributes to the same journal an
article entitled 'The Tittle-Tattle of a Philosopher,' or an account of
the 'Journey through Life' of Professor Krug of Leipzig. Krug appears
to have been a sort of Admirable Crichton amongst philosophers, to whom
no subject came amiss, and who was ready to take his part in every sort
of philosophical discussion. By Hegel and the idealist school he is
somewhat contemptuously referred to as one of that class of writers of
whom it is said '_Ils se sont battus les flancs pour être de grands
hommes_.' Anyhow, his recollections are at least amusing, if not
philosophically edifying.

A review of the poems of Coventry Patmore a few years later is a very
different production. It carries us back to the old days of
_Blackwood_, when calm judgment was not so much an object as strength
of expression, withering criticism, and biting sarcasm. Ferrier no
doubt believed it would be well for literature to turn back to the old
days of the knout; but few, we fancy, will agree with him, even if they
suffer for so differing by permitting certain trashy publications to
see the light. Too often, unfortunately, the knout, when it is applied,
arrives on shoulders that are innocent. Of course Ferrier believed that
the worst prognostications of a quarter of a century before were now
being realised by the application not being persevered in; but as to
this particular piece of criticism, whatever our opinion of Patmore's
poetic powers may be, surely the writer was unreasonably severe; surely
the work does not deserve to be dealt with in such unmeasured terms of
opprobrium. It is refreshing to turn to an appreciative, if also
somewhat critical review of the poems of Elizabeth Barrett, published
in the same year, 1844, part of which has been republished in the
_Remains_. In this article Ferrier urges once more the point on which
he continually insists--the adoption of a direct simplicity of style:
one which goes straight to the point, or, as he puts it, which is felt
to 'get through business.' Excepting certain criticism on the score of
style and phraseology, however, Ferrier is all praise of the high
degree of poetic merit which the writings revealed--merit which he must
have been amongst the first to discover and make known.

The last of Ferrier's work for the magazine in which he had so often
written, was a series of articles on the New Readings from Shakespeare,
published in 1853. These articles were in the main a criticism of Mr.
Payne Collier's 'Notes and Emendations' to the Text of Shakespeare's
'Plays' from early MS. corrections which he had discovered in a copy of
the folio 1632. Ferrier, who was a thorough Shakespeare student, and
whose appreciation of Shakespeare is often spoken of by those who knew
him, had no faith in the authenticity of the new readings, though he
thinks they have a certain interest as matter of curiosity. He goes
through the plays and the alterations made in them _seriatim_, and
comes to the conclusion that in most cases they have little value. In
fact, he proceeds so far as to say that they have opened his eyes to 'a
depth of purity and correctness in the received text of Shakespeare' of
which he had no suspicion--a satisfactory conclusion to the ordinary

Besides his work for _Blackwood_, Ferrier was in the habit of
contributing articles to the _Imperial Dictionary of Universal
Biography_ on the various philosophers. Two of these, the biographies
of Schelling and Hegel, are printed in the _Remains_, but besides these
he wrote on Adam Smith, Swift, Schiller, etc., and occasionally
utilised the articles in his lectures.

On yet another line Ferrier wrote a pamphlet in 1848, entitled
_Observations on Church and State_, suggested by the Duke of Argyll's
essay on the Ecclesiastical History of Scotland. This pamphlet aims at
proving that the Assembly of the Church is really, as the Duke argues,
not merely an ecclesiastical, but a national council, or, as Ferrier
terms it, the 'second and junior of the Scottish Houses of Parliament.'
Being therefore amenable to no other earthly power, it was justified in
opposing the decrees of the Court of Session; though, however, the Free
Church ministers were right in defending their constitutional
privileges, Ferrier holds that they were wrong in doing so as the
'Church' in opposition to the 'State,' and that this brought upon them
their discomfiture. They should not, in his view, have acknowledged
that the Church's property could be forfeit to the State, and
consequently should not have voluntarily resigned their livings. The
pamphlet shows considerable interest in the controversy raging so
vehemently at the time.

In St. Andrews there was no social meeting at which Ferrier was not a
welcome guest. When popular lectures, then coming into vogue, were
instituted in the town, Ferrier was called upon to deliver one of the
series, the subject chosen being 'Our Contemporary Poetical
Literature.' He says in a letter: 'I am in perfect agony in quest of
something to say about "Our Contemporary Poets" in the Town Hall here
on Friday. I must pump up something, being committed like an ass to
that subject, but devil a thing will come. I wish Aytoun would come
over and plead their cause.' However, in spite of fears, the lecture
appears to have been a success: it was an eloquent appeal on behalf of
poetry as an invaluable educational factor and agent in carrying
forward the work of human civilisation, and an appreciation of the work
of Tennyson, Macaulay, Aytoun, and Lytton. In the same year, but a few
months later, Ferrier was asked to deliver the opening address of the
Edinburgh Philosophical Institution. This Institution has for long been
the means of bringing celebrities from all parts of the country to
lecture before an Edinburgh audience, and its origin and conception was
largely due to Professor Wilson, Ferrier's father-in-law, who was in
the habit of opening the session with an introductory address. His
health no longer permitting this to be done, the directors requested
Ferrier to take his place. The address was on purely general topics,
dealing mainly with the objects of the Institution, then somewhat of a
novelty. He concluded: 'Labour is the lot of man. No pleasure can
surpass the satisfaction which a man feels in the efficient discharge
of the active duties of his calling. But it is equally true that every
professional occupation, from the highest to the lowest, requires to be
counterpoised and alleviated by pursuits of a more liberal order than
itself. Without these the best faculties of our souls must sink down
into an ignoble torpor, and human intercourse be shorn of its highest
enjoyments, and its brightest blessings.' This is characteristic of
Ferrier's view of life. One-sidedness was his particular abhorrence,
and if he could in any measure impress its evil upon those whose daily
business was apt to engross their attention, to the detriment of the
higher spheres of thinking, he was glad at least to make the attempt.



The St. Andrews University has the reputation of being given to strife,
and never being thoroughly at rest unless it has at least one law-plea
in operation before the Court of Session in Edinburgh, or an appeal
before the House of Lords in London. In a small town, and more
especially in a small University town, there is of course unlimited
opportunity for discussing every matter of interest, and battles are
fought and won before our very doors--battles often just as interesting
as those of the great world outside, and more engrossing because in
them we probably play the part of active participators, instead of
being simple spectators from outside. Of this time Sheriff Smith,
however, writes: 'Never was the University set more social, and less
given to strife than in Ferrier's day. Grander feats I have often seen
elsewhere, but brighter or more intellectual talk, ranging from the
playful to the profound, never have I heard anywhere.' In this respect
it contrasts with the more self-conscious and less natural social
gatherings of the neighbouring city of Edinburgh, whose stiffness and
formality was unknown to the smaller town. The company, without passing
beyond University bounds, was excellent. There was Tulloch at St.
Mary's, still a young man at his prime, and a warm friend of Ferrier's
in spite of the traditional decree that St. Mary's dealings with the
other College should be as few as might be; there was Shairp,
afterwards Professor of Poetry in Oxford, and always a delightful and
inspiring companion; in the Chair of Logic there was Professor
Spalding, whose ill-health alone prevented him from sharing largely in
the social life; and he was succeeded by Professor Veitch, afterwards
of Glasgow, whose appreciation of Ferrier was keen, and with whom
Ferrier had so much intercourse of a mutually enjoyable sort. Then
there was Professor Sellar, a staunch friend and true, and likewise Sir
David Brewster, the veteran man of science, whom Scotland delights to
honour. When Brewster resigned the Principalship of the United College
in 1859, Ferrier was pressed to become a candidate for the post, and
Brewster himself promised his support, and urged Ferrier's claims; but
there were difficulties in the way, and his place was filled by another
follower of science, Principal Forbes.

Ferrier's students are now, of course, dispersed abroad far and wide.
One of their number, Sheriff Campbell Smith of Dundee, writes of them
as follows:--'His old students are scattered everywhere--through all
countries, professions, and climates. To many of them the world of
faith and action has become more narrow and less ideal than it seemed
when they sat listening to his lofty and eloquent speculations in the
little old classroom among earnest young faces that are no longer
young, and nearly all grown dim to memory; but to none of them can
there be any feeling regarding him alien to respect and affection,
while to many there will remain the conviction that he was for them and
their experience the _first_ impersonation of living literature, whose
lectures, set off by his thrilling voice, slight interesting burr, and
solemn pauses, and holding in solution profound original thought and
subtle critical suggestions, were a sort of revelation, opening up new
worlds, and shedding a flood of new light upon the old familiar world
of thought and knowledge in which genius alone could see and disclose
wonders.' And this sometime student tells how in passages from the
standard poets undetected meanings were discovered, and new light was
thrown upon the subject of his talk by quotations from the classics,
from Milton and Byron as well as from his favourite Horace. His
eloquence, he tells us, might not be so strong and overwhelming as that
of Chalmers, but it was more fine, subtle, and poetical in its
affinities, revealing thought more splendid and transcendental. 'In
person and manner Professor Ferrier was the very ideal of a Professor
and a gentleman. Nature had made him in the body what he strove after
in spirit. His features were cast in the finest classic mould, and were
faultlessly perfect, as was also his tall thin person,--from the finely
formed head, thickly covered with black hair, which the last ten years
turned into iron-grey, to the noticeably handsome foot.... A human
being less under the influence of low or selfish motives could not be
conceived in this mercenary anti-ideal age. If he made mistakes, they
were due to his living in an ideal world, and not to either malice or
guile, both of which were entirely foreign to his nature.'[11] And yet
there was nothing of the Puritan about the Professor's nature. There
are celebrations in St. Andrews in commemoration of a certain damsel,
Kate Kennedy by name, which are characterised by demonstrations of a
somewhat noisy order. Some of the Professors denounced this institution
and demanded its abolition. But Ferrier had too much sense of humour to
do this; he did not rebuke the lads for the exuberance of their
spirits, but by his calm dignity contrived to keep them within due

          [11] _Writings by the Way_, by John Campbell Smith, p. 357

A picture of Ferrier was painted about a year before his death by Sir
John Watson Gordon, and it may still be seen in the University Hall
beside the other men of learning who have adorned their University. It
was painted for his friends and former students, but though a fairly
accurate likeness, it is said not to have conveyed to others the keen,
intellectual look so characteristic of the face. It was the nameless
charm--charm of manner and personality--that drew Ferrier's students so
forcibly towards him. As his colleague, Principal Tulloch, said in a
lecture after his death: 'There was a buoyant and graceful charm in all
he did--a perfect sympathy, cordiality, and frankness which won the
hearts of his students as of all who sought his intellectual
companionship. Maintaining the dignity of his position with easy
indifference, he could descend to the most free and affectionate
intercourse; make his students as it were parties with him in his
discussions, and, while guiding them with a master hand, awaken at the
same time their own activities of thought as fellow-workers with
himself. There was nothing, I am sure, more valuable in his teaching
than this--nothing for which his students will longer remember it with
gratitude. No man could be more free from the small vanity of making
disciples. He loved speculation too dearly for itself--he prized too
highly the sacred right of reason, to wish any man or any student
merely to adopt his system or repeat his thought. Not to manufacture
thought for others, but to excite thought in others; to stimulate the
powers of inquiry, and brace all the higher functions of the intellect,
was his great aim. He might be comparatively careless, therefore, of
the small process of drilling, and minute labour of correction. These,
indeed, he greatly valued in their own place. But he felt that his
strength lay in a different direction--in the intellectual impulse
which his own thinking, in its life, its zealous and clear open
candour, was capable of imparting.'

Ferrier was not, perhaps, naturally endowed with any special capacity
for business, but the business that fell to him as a member of the
_Senatus Academicus_ was performed with the greatest care and zeal.
With the movement for women's University education, which has always
been to the front in St. Andrews, he was sympathetic, although it was
not a matter in which he played any special part. 'No one,' it was
said, 'had clearer perceptions or a cooler and fairer judgment in any
matter which seemed to him of importance.' Principal Tulloch tells how
on one occasion in particular, where the interests of the University
were at stake, his clear sense and vigilance carried it through its
troubles. His loyalty to St. Andrews at all times was indeed
unquestioned. It is possible that had he made it his endeavour to
devote more interest to practical affairs outside the University
limits, it might have been better for himself. There may, perhaps, be
truth in the saying that metaphysics is apt to have an enervating
effect upon the moral senses, or at least upon the practical
activities, and to take from men's usefulness in the ordinary affairs
of life; but one can hardly realise Ferrier other than he was, a
student whose whole interests were devoted to the philosophy he had
espoused, and who loved to deal with the fundamental questions that
remained beneath all action and all thought, rather than with those
more concrete; and the former lay in a region purely speculative. Such
as he was, he never failed to preserve the most perfect order in his
class, and to do what was required of him with praiseworthy accuracy
and minute attention to details.

'Life in his study,' says Principal Tulloch, 'was Professor Ferrier's
characteristic life. There have been, I daresay, even in our time,
harder students than he was; but there could scarcely be anyone who was
more habitually a student, who lived more amongst books, and took more
special and constant delight in intercourse with them. In his very
extensive but choice library he knew every book by head-mark, as he
would say, and could lay his hands upon the desired volume at once. It
was a great pleasure to him to bring to the light from an obscure
corner some comparatively unknown English speculator of whom the
University library knew nothing.'

We are often told how he would be found seated in his library clad in a
long dressing-gown which clung round his tall form, and making him look
even taller--a typical philosopher, though perhaps handsomer than many
of his craft. 'My father rarely went from home,' writes his daughter,
'and when not in the College class-room was to be found in his snug,
well-stocked, ill-bound library, writing or reading, clad in a very
becoming dark blue dressing-gown. He was no smoker, but carried with
him a small silver snuff-box.'

Professor Shairp says that now and then he used to go to hear him
lecture. 'I never saw anything better than his manner towards his
students. There was in it ease, yet dignity so respectful both to them
and to himself that no one could think of presuming with him. Yet it
was unusually kindly, and full of a playful humour which greatly
attached them to him. No one could be farther removed from either the
Don or the Disciplinarian. But his look of keen intellect and high
breeding, combined with gentleness and feeling for his students,
commanded attention more than any discipline could have done. In
matters of College discipline, while he was fair and just, he always
leant to the forbearing side.... Till his illness took a more serious
form, he was to be met at dinner-parties, to which his society always
gave a great charm. In general society his conversation was full of
humour and playful jokes, and he had a quick yet kindly eye to note the
extravagances and absurdities of men.' And the Professor goes on to
narrate how on a winter afternoon he would fall to talking of Horace,
an especial favourite of his, and how then he would read the racy and
unconventional translation he had made up for amusement. And afterwards
he would talk of Wordsworth and the feelings he awoke in him, showing
'a richness of literary knowledge, and a delicacy and keenness of
appreciation, of which his philosophical writings, except by their fine
style, give no hint.' Hegel and Plato were the favourite objects of his
study. Of the former he never satisfied himself that he had completely
mastered the conception. But the insight that he had got into his
dialectic and into the doctrine of Reality contributed very largely to
making his philosophy what it was. He endeavoured to apply the system
in various directions, and ever continued in his efforts to work it out
more fully.

Another former student, who has been quoted before, writes in his
Recollections of student life at St. Andrews:[12] 'Ferrier had not
Spalding's thorough method of teaching. He had no regular time for
receiving and correcting essays; he had only one written examination;
for oral examination he had an easy way, in which the questions
suggested the answers; yet all these drawbacks were atoned for by his
living presence. It was an embodiment of literary and philosophical
enthusiasm, happily blended with sympathy and urbanity. It did the work
of the most thorough class drill, for it arrested the attention, opened
the mind, and filled it with love of learning and wisdom. Intellect and
humanity seemed to radiate from his countenance like light and heat,
and illumined and fascinated all on whom they fell.... Let me recall
him as he appeared in the spring of 1854. The eleven-o'clock bell has
rung. All the other classes have gone in to lecture. We, the students
of Moral Philosophy, are lingering in the quadrangle, for the
Professor, punctual in his unpunctuality, comes in regularly two or
three minutes after the hour. Through the archway under the
time-honoured steeple of St. Salvator's he approaches--a tall somewhat
emaciated figure, with intellectual and benevolent countenance. As he
hurries in we follow and take our seats. In a minute he issues gowned
from his anteroom, seats himself in his chair, and places his silver
snuff-box before him. Now that he is without his hat and in his gown,
he has a striking appearance. His head is large, well-developed, and
covered with thick iron-grey hair; his features are regular, his mouth
is refined and sensitive, his chin is strong, and his eyes as seen
behind his spectacles are keenly intelligent and at the same time
benevolent. He begins by calling up a student to be orally examined;
and the catechising goes on very much in the following style:--

          [12] _Pleasant Recollections of a Busy Life_, by David
          Pryde, LL.D., p. 59.

'"_Professor._--Well, Mr. Brown, answer a few questions, if you please.
What is the first proposition of the lectures?

'"_Student_ repeats it.

'"_Professor._--Quite right, Mr. Brown. And, Mr. Brown, is this quite


'"_Prof._--Quite right, Mr. Brown. At least, so I think. And, Mr.
Brown, is it not absurd to hold the reverse?


'"_Prof._--Yes, yes. Thank you, Mr. Brown. That will do."

'The Professor then begins his lecture. As long as he is stating and
proving the propositions in his metaphysical system, his tone is simple
and matter-of-fact. His great aim is to make his meaning plain, and for
that purpose he often expresses an important idea in various ways,
using synonyms, and sometimes reading a sentence twice. But when he
comes to illustrate his thoughts, his manner changes. He lets loose his
fancy, his imagination, and even his humour; and his whole soul comes
into his voice. His burr, scarcely distinguishable in his ordinary
speech, now becomes strong, and his whole utterance is slow, intense,
and fervid. He is particularly happy in his quotations from the poets,
and he has a peculiarity in reading them which increases the effect.
When rolling forth a line he sometimes pauses before he comes to the
end, as if to collect his strength, and then utters the last word or
words with redoubled emphasis. The effect of his eloquence on the
students is electrical. They cease to take notes; every head is raised;
every face beams with delight; and at the end of a passage their
feelings find vent in a thunderstorm of applause.

'The two most remarkable features of his lectures were their method and
clearness. Order and light were the very elements in which his mind
lived and moved. He kept this end in view, threw aside the facts that
were unnecessary, arranged the facts that were necessary, and expressed
them with a precision about which there could be no ambiguity. In fact,
each idea and the whole chain of ideas were visible by their own light.
So perspicuous were the words that they might have been called
crystallised thoughts.

'Out of the classroom Ferrier was equally polite and kind, especially
to those students who showed a love and a capacity for philosophy. It
was no uncommon thing for him to stop a student in the street and
invite him to the house to have a talk about the work of the class. I
have a distant recollection of my first visit to his study; I see him
yet, with his noble, benignant countenance, as he reads and discusses
passages in my first essay, gravely reasoning with me on the points
that were reasonable, passing lightly over those that were merely
rhetorical, and smiling good-naturedly at those that attacked in no
measured language his own system.'

Professor Ferrier was never failing in hospitality to his students as
to his other friends. Dr. Pryde goes on: 'Every year Ferrier invited
the best of his students to dinner. At the dinner at which I was
present there were two of his fellow-professors, Sellar and Fischer. It
was a great treat for a youth like me. Mrs. Ferrier was effervescent
with animal spirits and talk; Ferrier himself, looking like a nobleman
in his old-fashioned dress-coat with gold buttons, interposed
occasionally with his subtle touches of wit and humour.' The Professor
appears to have been an inveterate snuffer. His students used to tell
how the silver snuff-box was made the medium of explaining the
Berkeleian system, and how to their minds the system, fairly clear in
words, became a hopeless tangle when the assistance of the snuff-box
was resorted to. And Dr. Pryde narrates how he used to see Professor
Spalding and Professor Ferrier seated side by side in the students'
benches, looking on the same book, listening to their young colleague
Professor Sellar's inspiring lectures, and at intervals exchanging
snuff-boxes. He gives the following account of his last visit to
Ferrier, when he was on his deathbed, but still in his library among
his books: 'He told me that his disease was mortal; but face to face
with death he was cheerful and contented, and had bated not one jot of
his interest in learning and in public events. He was very anxious that
I should take lunch with Mrs. Ferrier and the rest of the family; and
though he could not join us, he sent into the dining-room a special
bottle of wine as a substitute for himself. Two months afterwards he
had passed away.'

Tulloch writes after the sad event had occurred:[13] 'I have, of course,
heard the sad news from St. Andrews. What sadness it has been to me I
cannot tell you. St. Andrews never can be the same place without
Ferrier. God knows what is to become of the University with all these
breaks upon its old society; and where can we supply such a place as
Ferrier's?' And his biographer adds: 'The removal of that delicate and
clear spirit from a little society in which his position was so
important, and his innate refinement of mind so powerful and beneficial
an influence, was a loss almost indescribable, not only to the friends
who loved him, but to the University. His great reputation was an
honour to the place, combining as it did so many associations of the
brilliant past with that due to the finest intellectual perception and
the most engaging and attractive character. Even his little
whimsicalities and strain of quaint humour gave a charm the more; and
the closing of the cheerful house, the centre of wit and brightness to
the academical community, was a loss which St. Andrews never failed to
feel, nor the survivors to lament.'

          [13] _Memoir_, p. 196, by Mrs. Oliphant.

Professor Ferrier was occasionally called upon to make a visit to
London, although this did not seem to have been by any means a frequent
occurrence. Business he must occasionally have had there, for in 1861
he was appointed to examine in the London University, and in 1863,
shortly before his death, the Society of Arts offered him an
examinership in Logic and Mental Science, in place of the late
Archbishop of York, which he accepted. But of one visit which he paid
in 1858, with Principal Tulloch as joint delegate from the University
of St. Andrews, Mrs. Oliphant gives an amusing account, in her _Memoir
of Principal Tulloch_.[14] The object of the deputation was to watch the
progress of the University Bill through the House of Commons. This Bill
was one of the earliest efforts after regulating the studies, degrees,
etc., of the Scottish Universities, and also dealt with an increase in
the Parliamentary grant which, if it passed, would considerably affect
the Professors' incomes as well as the resources of the University. The
Bill, which was under the charge of Lord Advocate Inglis (afterwards
Lord Justice-General of Scotland), likewise provided that in each
University a University Court should be established, as also a
University Council composed of graduates. Ferrier and Tulloch no doubt
did their part in the business which they had in hand: they visited all
the Members of Parliament who were likely to be interested, as other
Scottish deputations have done before and since, and received the same
evasive and varying replies. But in the evenings, and when they were
free, they entertained themselves in different fashion. First of all,
they have hardly arrived after their long night's journey's travel
before they burst upon the 'trim and well-ordered room where Mr. John
Blackwood and his wife were seated at breakfast'--this evidently at
Ferrier's instigation. Then, having settled in Duke Street, St.
James's, they are asked, rather inappropriately, it would seem, to a
ball, where they were 'equally impressed by the size of the crinoline
and the absence of beauty.' Next Cremorne was visited, Tulloch
declaring that his object was to take care of his companion. 'If you
had seen Ferrier as he gazed frae him with the half-amused,
half-scowling expression he not unfrequently assumes, looking bored,
and yet with a vague philosophical interest at the wonderful expanse of
gay dresses and fresh womanhood around him!' 'He will go nowhere
without a cab; to-day for the first time I got him into an omnibus in
search of an Aberdeen Professor, a wild and wandering distance which we
thought we never should reach.' The theatre was visited, too; Lear was
being played, very possibly by Charles Kean. In the Royal Academy,
Frith's Derby Day was the attraction of the year. But quite remarkable
was the interest which Ferrier--who did not appreciate in general
'going to church,' and used to say he preferred to sit and listen to
the faint sounds of the organ from the quiet of his room--betrayed in
the eloquence of Spurgeon, then at the height of his fame and
attracting enormous congregations round him in the Surrey Garden
Theatre. Tulloch wrote to his wife: 'We have just been to hear
Spurgeon, and have been both so much impressed that I write to give you
my impressions while they are fresh. As we came out we both confessed,
"There is no doubt about _that_," and I was struck with Ferrier's
remarkable expression, "I feel it would do me good to hear the like of
that, it sat so close to reality." The sermon is about the most real
thing I have come in contact with for a long time.' The building was
large and airy, with window-doors from which you could walk into the
gardens beyond, and Ferrier, Tulloch writes, now and then took a turn
in the fresh air outside while the sermon was progressing.

          [14] P. 127.

After London, Oxford was visited, and here the friends lived at Balliol
with Mr. Jowett, who had not yet become the Master. Ferrier would
doubtless delight in showing to his friend the beauties of the place
with which he had so many memories, but to attend eight-o'clock chapel
with Tulloch was, the latter tells us, beyond the limits of his zeal.
Just before this, in 1857, another visit was paid by Ferrier to Oxford
with his family, and this time to visit Lady Grant, the mother of his
future son-in-law. It was at Commemoration-time, we are told, and a
ball was given in honour of the party. On this occasion Ferrier for the
first time met Professor Jowett, besides many other kindred spirits,
and he thoroughly enjoyed wandering about the old haunts at Magdalen,
where in his youth he had pelted the deer and played the part of a
young and thoughtless gownsman.

A little book was published some years ago, on behoof of the St.
Andrews Students' Union, entitled _Speculum Universitatis_, in which
former students and _alumni_ piously record their recollections of
their _Alma Mater_. Some of these papers bring before us very vividly
the sort of impression which the life left upon the lads, drawn
together from all manner of home surroundings, and equally influenced
by the memories of the past and the living presence of those who were
the means of opening up new tracts of knowledge to their view. One of
them, already often quoted, says in a paper called 'The Light of Long
Ago': 'I always sink into the conviction that the St. Andrews United
College was never so well worth attending as during the days when in
its classrooms Duncan taught Mathematics, Spalding taught Logic, and
Ferrier taught Metaphysics and Moral Science, illustrating living
literature in his literary style, and in the strange tones, pauses, and
inflections of his voice. To the field of literature and speculation
Ferrier restored glimpses of the sunshine of Paradise. Under his
magical spell they ceased to look like fields that had been cursed with
weeds, watered with sweat and tears, and levelled and planted with
untold labour. Every utterance of his tended alike to disclose the
beauty and penetrate the mystery of existence. He was a persevering
philosopher, but he was also a poet by a gift of nature. The burden of
this most unintelligible world did not oppress him, nor any other
burden. Intellectual action proving the riddles of reason was a joy to
him. He loved philosophy and poetry for their own sake, and he infected
others with a kindred, but not an equal, passion. He could jest and
laugh and play. If he ever discovered that much study is a weariness of
the flesh, he most effectually concealed that discovery.'

And to conclude, we have the testimony of another former student who is
now distinguished in the fields of literature, but who always remains
faithful to his home of early days. Mr. Andrew Lang says: 'Professor
Ferrier's lectures on Moral Philosophy were the most interesting and
inspiriting that I ever listened to either at Oxford or St. Andrews. I
looked on Mr. Ferrier with a kind of mysterious reverence, as on the
last of the golden chain of great philosophers. There was, I know not
what of dignity, of humour, and of wisdom in his face; there was an air
of the student, the vanquisher of difficulties, the discoverer of
hidden knowledge, in him that I have seen in no other. His method at
that time was to lecture on the History of Philosophy, and his manner
was so persuasive that one believed firmly in the tenets of each school
he described, till he advanced those of the next! Thus the whole
historical evolution of thought went on in the mind of each of his



In an old-world town like St. Andrews the stately, old-world Moral
Philosophy Professor must have seemed wonderfully in his place. There
are men who, good-looking in youth, become 'ordinary-looking' in later
years, but Ferrier's looks were not of such a kind. To the last--of
course he was not an old man when he died--he preserved the same
distinguished appearance that we are told marked him out from amongst
his fellows while still a youth. The tall figure, clad in
old-fashioned, well-cut coat and white duck trousers, the close-shaven
face, and merry twinkle about the eye signifying a sense of humour
which removed him far from anything which we associate with the name of
pedant; the dignity, when dignity was required, and yet the sympathy
always ready to be extended to the student, however far he was from
taking up the point, if he were only trying his best to comprehend--all
this made up to those who knew him, the man, the scholar, and the
high-bred gentleman, which, in no ordinary or conventional sense,
Professor Ferrier was. It is the personality which, when years have
passed and individual traits have been forgotten, it is so difficult to
reproduce. The personal attraction, the atmosphere of culture and
chivalry, which was always felt to hang about the Professor, has not
been forgotten by those who can recall him in the old St. Andrews days;
but who can reproduce this charm, or do more than state its existence
as a fact? Perhaps this sort only comes to those whose life is mainly
intellectual--who have not much, comparatively speaking, to suffer from
the rough and tumble to which the 'practical' man is subjected in the
course of his career. Sometimes it is said that those who preach high
maxims of philosophy and conduct belie their doctrines in their outward
lives; but on the whole, when we review their careers, this would
wonderfully seldom seem to be the case. From Socrates' time onwards we
have had philosophers who have taught virtue and practised it
simultaneously, and in no case has this combination been better
exemplified in recent days than in that of James Frederick Ferrier, and
one who unsuccessfully contested his chair upon his death, Thomas Hill
Green, Professor of Moral Philosophy at Oxford. It seems as though it
may after all be good to speculate on the deep things of the earth as
well as to do the deeds of righteousness.

If the saying is true, that the happiest man is he who is without a
history, then Ferrier has every claim to be enrolled in the ranks of
those who have attained their end. For happiness _was_ an end to
Ferrier: he had no idea of practising virtue in the abstract, and
finding a sufficiency in this. He believed, however, that the happiness
to be sought for was the happiness of realising our highest aims, and
the aim he put before him he very largely succeeded in attaining. His
life was what most people would consider monotonous enough: few events
outside the ordinary occurrences of family and University life broke in
upon its tranquil course. Unlike the custom of some of his colleagues,
summer and winter alike were passed by Ferrier in the quaint old
sea-bound town. He lived there largely for his work and books. Not that
he disliked society; he took the deepest interest even in his
dinner-parties, and whether as a host or as a guest, was equally
delightful as a companion or as a talker. But in his books he found his
real life; he would take them down to table, and bed he seldom reached
till midnight was passed by two hours at least. One who knew and cared
for him, the attractive wife of one of his colleagues, who spent ten
sessions at St. Andrews before distinguishing the Humanity Chair in
Edinburgh, tells how the West Park house had something about its
atmosphere that marked it out as unique--something which was due in
great measure to the cultured father, but also to the bright and witty
mother and the three beautiful young daughters, who together formed a
household by itself, and one which made the grey old town a different
place to those who lived in it.

Ferrier, as we have seen, had many distinguished colleagues in the
University. Besides Professor Sellar, who held the Chair of Greek,
there was the Principal of St. Mary's (Principal Tulloch), Professor
Shairp, then Professor of Latin, and later on the Principal; the Logic
Professor, Veitch, Sir David Brewster, Principal of the United
Colleges, and others. But the society was unconventional in the
extreme. The salaries were not large: including fees, the ordinance of
the Scottish Universities Commission appointing the salaries of
Professors in 1861, estimates the salary of the professorship of Moral
Philosophy at St. Andrews at £444, 18s., and the Principal only
received about £100 more. But there were not those social customs and
conventions to maintain that succeed in making life on a small income
irksome in a larger city. All were practically on the same level in the
University circle, and St. Andrews was not invaded by so large an army
of golfing visitors then as now, though the game of course was played
with equal keenness and enthusiasm. Professor Ferrier took no part in
this or other physical amusement: possibly it had been better for him
had he left his books and study at times to do so. The friend spoken of
above tells, however, of the merry parties who walked home after dining
out, the laughing protests which she made against the Professor's rash
statement (in allusion to his theory of _perception-mecum_) that _she_
was 'unredeemed nonsense' without _him_; the way in which, when an idea
struck him, he would walk to her house with his daughter, regardless of
the lateness of the hour, and throw pebbles at the lighted bedroom
windows to gain admittance--and of course a hospitable supper; how she,
knowing that a tablemaid was wanted in the Ferrier establishment,
dressed up as such and interviewed the mistress, who found her highly
satisfactory but curiously resembling her friend Mrs. Sellar; and how
when this was told her husband, he exclaimed, 'Why, of course it's she
dressed up; let us pursue her,' which was done with good effect! All
these tales, and many others like them, show what the homely, sociable,
and yet cultured life was like--a life such as we in this country
seldom have experience of: perhaps that of a German University town may
most resemble it. In spite of being in many ways a recluse, Ferrier was
ever a favourite with his students, just because he treated them, not
with familiarity indeed, but as gentlemen like himself. Other
Professors were cheered when they appeared in public, but the loudest
cheers were always given to Ferrier.

Mrs. Ferrier's brilliant personality many can remember who knew her
during her widowhood in Edinburgh. She had inherited many of her
father, 'Christopher North's' physical and mental gifts, shown in looks
and wit. A friend of old days writes: 'She was a queen in St. Andrews,
at once admired for her wit, her eloquence, her personal charms, and
dreaded for her free speech, her powers of ridicule, and her withering
mimicry. Faithful, however, to her friends, she was beloved by them,
and they will lament her now as one of the warmest-hearted and most
highly-gifted of her sex.' Mrs. Ferrier never wrote for
publication,--she is said to have scorned the idea,--but those who knew
her never can forget the flow of eloquence, the wit and satire mingled,
the humorous touches and the keen sense of fun that characterised her
talk; for she was one of an era of brilliant talkers that would seem to
have passed away. Mrs. Ferrier's capacity for giving appropriate
nicknames was well known: Jowett, afterwards Master of Balliol, she
christened the 'little downy owl.' Her husband's philosophy she
graphically described by saying that 'it made you feel as if you were
sitting up on a cloud with nothing on, a lucifer match in your hand,
but nothing to strike it on,'--a description appealing vividly to many
who have tried to master it!

In many ways she seemed a link with the past of bright memories in
Scotland, when these links were very nearly severed. Five children in
all were born to her; of her sons one, now dead, inherited many of his
father's gifts. Her elder daughter, Lady Grant, the wife of Sir
Alexander Grant, Principal of the Edinburgh University and a
distinguished classical scholar, likewise succeeded to much of her
mother's grace and charm as well as of her father's accomplishments.
Under the initials 'O. J.' she was in the habit of contributing
delightful humorous sketches to _Blackwood's Magazine_--the magazine
which her father and her grandfather had so often contributed to in
their day; but her life was not a long one: she died in 1895, eleven
years after her husband, and while many possibilities seemed still
before her.

Perhaps we might try to picture to ourselves the life in which Ferrier
played so prominent a part in the only real University town of which
Scotland can boast. For it is in St. Andrews that the traditional
distinctions between the College and the University are maintained,
that there is the solemn stillness which befits an ancient seat of
learning, that every step brings one in view of some monument of ages
that are past and gone, and that we are reminded not only of the
learning of our ancestors, of their piety and devotion to the College
they built and endowed, but of the secular history of our country as
well. In this, at least, the little University of the North has an
advantage over her rich and powerful rivals, inasmuch as there is
hardly any important event which has taken place in Scottish history
but has left its mark upon the place. No wonder the love of her
students to the _Alma Mater_ is proverbial. In Scotland we have little
left to tell us of the mediæval church and life, so completely has the
Reformation done its work, and so thoroughly was the land cleared of
its 'popish images'; and hence we value what little there remains to us
all the more. And the University of St. Andrews, the oldest of our
seats of learning, has come down to us from mediæval days. It was
founded by a Catholic bishop in 1411, about a century after the
dedication of the Cathedral, now, of course, a ruin. But it is to the
good Bishop Kennedy who established the College of St. Salvator, one of
the two United Colleges of later times, that we ascribe most honour in
reference to the old foundation. Not only did he build the College on
the site which was afterwards occupied by the classrooms in which
Ferrier and his colleagues taught, but he likewise endowed them with
vestments and rich jewels, including amongst their numbers a
beautifully chased silver mace which may still be seen. Of the old
College buildings there is but the chapel and janitor's house now
existing; within the chapel, which is modernised and used for
Presbyterian service, is the ancient founder's tomb. The quadrangle,
after the Reformation, fell into disrepair, and the present buildings
are comparatively of recent date. The next College founded--that of St.
Leonard--which became early imbued with Reformation principles, was, in
the eighteenth century, when its finances had become low, incorporated
with St. Salvator's, and when conjoined they were in Ferrier's time, as
now, known as the 'United College.' Besides the United College there
was a third and last College, called St. Mary's. Though founded by the
last of the Catholic bishops before the Reformation, it was
subsequently presided over by the anti-prelatists Andrew Melville and
Samuel Rutherford. St. Mary's has always been devoted to the study of

But the history of her colleges is not all that has to be told of the
ancient city. Association it has with nearly all who have had to do
with the making of our history--the good Queen Margaret, Beaton, and,
above all, Queen Mary and her great opponent Knox. The ruined Castle
has many tales to tell could stones and trees have tongues--stories of
bloodshed, of battle, of the long siege when Knox was forced to yield
to France and be carried to the galleys. After the murder of Archbishop
Sharp, and the revolution of 1688, the town once so prosperous dwindled
away, and decayed into an unimportant seaport. There is curiously
little attractive about its situation in many regards. It is out of the
way, difficult of access once upon a time, and even now not on a main
line of rail, too near the great cities, and yet at the same time too
far off. The coast is dangerous for fishermen, and there is no harbour
that can be called such. No wonder, it seems, that the town became
neglected and insanitary, that Dr. Johnson speaks of 'the silence and
solitude of inactive indigence and gloomy depopulation,' and left it
with 'mournful images.' But if St. Andrews had its drawbacks, it had
still more its compensations. It had its links--the long stretch of
sandhills spread far along the coast, and bringing crowds of visitors
to the town every summer as it comes round; and for the pursuit of
learning the remoteness of position has some advantages. Even at its
worst the University showed signs of its recuperative powers. Early in
the century Chalmers was assistant to the Professor of Mathematics, and
then occupied the Chair of Moral Philosophy (that chair to which
Ferrier was afterwards appointed), and drew crowds of students round
him. Then came a time of innovation. If in 1821 St. Andrews was badly
paved, ill-lighted, and ruinous, an era of reform set in. New
classrooms were built, the once neglected library was added to and
rearranged, and the town was put to rights through an energetic
provost, Major, afterwards Sir Hugh, Lyon Playfair. He made 'crooked
places straight' in more senses than one, swept away the 'middens' that
polluted the air, saw to the lighting and paving of the streets, and
generally brought about the improvements which we expect to find in a
modern town. 'On being placed in the civic chair, he had found the
streets unpaved, uneven, overgrown with weeds, and dirty; the ruins of
the time-honoured Cathedral and Castle used as a quarry for greedy and
sacrilegious builders, and the University buildings falling into
disrepair; and he had resolved to change all this. With persistency
almost unexampled, he had employed all the arts of persuasion and
compulsion upon those who had the power to remedy these abuses. He had
dunned, he had coaxed, he had bantered, he had bargained, he had
borrowed, he had begged; and he had been successful. In 1851 the
streets were paved and clean, the fine old ruins were declared sacred,
and the dilapidated parts of the University buildings had been replaced
by a new edifice. And he--the Major, as he was called--a little man,
white-haired, shaggy-eyebrowed, blue-eyed, red-faced, with his hat
cocked on the side of his head, and a stout cane in his hand, walked
about in triumph, the uncrowned king of the place.'[15]

          [15] _Pleasant Memories_, by David Pryde, LL.D.

Of this same renovating provost, it is told that one day he dropped in
to see the Moral Philosophy Professor, who, however deeply engaged with
his books, was always ready to receive his visitors. 'Well, Major, I
have just completed the great work of my life. In this book I claim to
make philosophy intelligible to the meanest understanding.' Playfair at
once requested to hear some of it read aloud. Ferrier reluctantly
started to read in his slow, emphatic way, till the Major became
fidgety; still he went on, till Playfair started to his feet. 'I say,
Ferrier, do you mean to say this is intelligible to the meanest
understanding?' 'Do you understand it, Major?' 'Yes, I think I do.'
'Then, Major, I'm satisfied.'

Of the social life, Mrs. Oliphant says in her _Life of Principal
Tulloch_: 'The society, I believe, was more stationary than it has been
since, and more entirely disposed to make of St. Andrews the
pleasantest and brightest of abiding-places. Sir David Brewster was
still throned in St. Leonard's. Professor Ferrier, with his witty and
brilliant wife--he full of quiet humour, she of wildest wit, a mimic of
alarming and delightful power, with something of the countenance and
much of the genius of her father, the great "Christopher North" of
_Blackwood's Magazine_--made the brightest centre of social mirth and
meetings. West Park, their pleasant home, at the period which I record
it, was ever open, ever sounding with gay voices and merry laughter,
with a boundless freedom of talk and comment, and an endless stream of
good company. Professor Ferrier himself was one of the greatest
metaphysicians of his time--the first certainly in Scotland; but this
was perhaps less upon the surface than a number of humorous ways which
were the delight of his friends, many quaint abstractions proper to his
philosophic character, and a happy friendliness and gentleness along
with his wit, which gave his society a continual charm.' Professor
Knight, who now occupies Ferrier's place in the professoriate of St.
Andrews, in his _Life of Professor Shairp_, quotes from a paper of
reminiscences by Professor Sellar: 'The centre of all the intellectual
and social life of the University and of the town was Professor
Ferrier. He inspired in the students a feeling of affectionate devotion
as well as admiration, such as I have hardly ever known inspired by any
teacher; and to many of them his mere presence and bearing in the
classroom was a large element in a liberal education. By all his
colleagues he was esteemed as a man of most sterling honour, a staunch
friend, and a most humorous and delightful companion.... There
certainly never was a household known to either of us in which the
spirit of racy and original humour and fun was so exuberant and
spontaneous in every member of it, as that of which the Professor and
his wife--the most gifted and brilliant, and most like her father of
the three gifted daughters of "Christopher North"--were the heads. Our
evenings there generally ended in the Professor's study, where he was
always ready to discuss, either from a serious or humorous point of
view (not without congenial accompaniment), the various points of his
system till the morning was well advanced.'

Ferrier's daughter writes of the house at West Park: 'It was an
old-fashioned, rough cast or "harled" house standing on the road in
Market Street, but approached through a small green gate and a short
avenue of trees--trees that were engraven on the heart and memory from
childhood. The garden at the back still remains. In our time it was a
real old-fashioned Scotch garden, well stocked with "berries," pears,
and apples; quaint grass walks ran through it, and a summer-house with
stained-glass windows stood in a corner. West Park was built on a site
once occupied by the Grey Friars, and I am not romancing when I say
that bones and coins were known to have been discovered in the garden
even in our time. Our home was socially a very amusing and happy one,
though my father lived a good deal apart from us, coming down from his
dear old library occasionally in the evenings to join the family
circle.' This family circle was occasionally supplemented by a French
teacher or a German, and for one year by a certain Mrs. Huggins, an old
ex-actress who originally came to give a Shakespeare reading in St.
Andrews, and who fell into financial difficulties, and was invited by
the hospitable Mrs. Ferrier to make her home for a time at West Park.
The visit was not in all respects a success, Mrs. Huggins being
somewhat exacting in her requirements and difficult to satisfy. So
little part did its master take in household matters that it was only
by accident, after reading prayers one Sunday evening, that he noticed
her presence. On inquiring who the stranger was, Mrs. Ferrier replied,
'Oh, that is Mrs. Huggins.' 'Then what is her avocation?' 'To read
Shakespeare and draw your window-curtains,' said the ever-ready Mrs.
Ferrier! The children of the house were brought up to love the stage
and everyone pertaining to it, and whenever a strolling company came to
St. Andrews the Ferriers were the first to attend their play. The same
daughter writes that when children their father used to thrill them
with tales of Burke and Hare, the murderers and resurrectionists whose
doings brought about a reign of terror in Edinburgh early in the
century. As a boy, Ferrier used to walk out to his grandfather's in
Morningside--then a country suburb--in fear and trembling, expecting
every moment to meet Burke, the object of his terror. On one occasion
he believed that he had done so, and skulked behind a hedge and lay
down till the scourge of Edinburgh passed by. In 1828 he witnessed his
hanging in the Edinburgh prison. Professor Wilson, his father-in-law,
it may be recollected, spoke out his mind about the famous Dr. Knox in
the _Noctes_ as well as in his classroom, and it was a well-known fact
that his favourite Newfoundland dog Brontë was poisoned by the students
as an act of retaliation.

Murder trials had always a fascination for Ferrier. On one occasion he
read aloud to his children De Quincey's essay, 'Murder as a Fine Art,'
which so terrified his youngest daughter that she could hardly bring
herself to leave her father's library for bed. Somewhat severe to his
sons, to his daughters Ferrier was specially kind and indulgent,
helping them with their German studies, reading Schiller's plays to
them, and when little children telling them old-world fairy tales. A
present of Grimm's Tales, brought by her father after a visit to
London, was, she tells us, a never-to-be-forgotten joy to the

The charm of the West Park house was spoken of by all the numerous
young men permitted to frequent its hospitable board. There was a
wonderful concoction known by the name of 'Bishop,' against whose
attraction one who suffered by its potency says that novices were
warned, more especially in view of a certain sunk fence in the
immediate vicinity which had afterwards to be avoided. The jokes that
passed at these entertainments, which were never dull, are past and
gone,--their piquancy would be gone even could they be reproduced,--but
the impression left on the minds of those who shared in them is
ineffaceable, and is as vivid now as forty years ago.

There was a custom, now almost extinct, of keeping books of so-called
'Confessions,' in which the contributors had the rather formidable task
of filling up their likes or dislikes for the entertainment of their
owners. In Mrs. Sellar's album Ferrier made several interesting
'confessions'--whether we take them _au grand sérieux_ or only as
playful jests with a grain of truth behind. Here are some of the
questions and their answers.

               Question.                         Answer.

    Your favourite character in           Socrates.

    The character you most dislike.       Calvin.

    Your favourite kind of literature.    _The Arabian Nights._

    Your favourite author.                Hegel.

    Your favourite occupation and         Driving with a handsome
      amusement.                            woman.

    Those you dislike most.               Fishing, walking, and

    Your favourite topics of              Humorous and tender.

    Those you dislike most.               Statistical and personal.

    Your ambition.                        To reach the Truth.

    Your ideal.                           Always to pay ready money.

    Your hobby.                           Peacemaking.

    The virtue you most admire.           Reasonableness.

    The vices to which you are            The world, the flesh, and
      most lenient.                         the devil.

These last two answers are very characteristic of Ferrier's point of
view in later days. He was above all reasonable--no ascetic who could
not understand the temptations of the world, but one who enjoyed its
pleasures, saw the humorous side of life, appreciated the æsthetic, and
yet kept the dictates of reason ever before his mind. And his ambition
to reach the Truth

                  'Differed from a host
    Of aims alike in character and kind,
    Mostly in this--that in itself alone
    Shall its reward be, not an alien end
    Blending therewith.'

Thus, like Paracelsus, he aspired.



It used to be said that none can be counted happy until they die, and
certainly the manner of a man's death often throws light upon his
previous life, and enables us to judge it as we should not otherwise
have been able to do. Ferrier's death was what his life had been: it
was with calm courage that he looked it in the face--the same calm
courage with which he faced the perhaps even greater problems of life
that presented themselves. Death had no terrors to him; he had lived in
the consciousness that it was an essential factor in life, and a factor
which was not ever to be overlooked. And he had every opportunity,
physically speaking, for expecting its approach. In November 1861 he
had a violent seizure of _angina pectoris_, after which, although he
temporarily recovered, he never completely regained his strength. For
some weeks he was unable to meet his students, and then, when partially
recovered, he arranged to hold the class in the dining-room of his
house, which was fitted up specially for the purpose. Twice in the year
1863 was he attacked in a similar way; in June of that year he went up
to London to conduct the examination in philosophy of the students of
the London University; but in October, when he ought to have gone there
once more, he was unable to carry out his intention. On the 31st of
October, Dr. Christison was consulted about his state, and pronounced
his case to be past hope of remedy. He opened his class on the 11th of
November in his own house, but during this month was generally confined
to bed. On the 8th of December he was attacked by congestion of the
brain, and never lectured again. His class was conducted by Mr.
Rhoades,[16] then Warden of the recently-founded College Hall, who, as
many others among his colleagues would have been ready to do, willingly
undertook the melancholy task of officiating for so beloved and
honoured a friend. After this, all severe study and mental exertion was
forbidden. He became gradually weaker, with glimpses now and then of
transitory improvement. So in unfailing courage and resignation, not
unwilling to hope for longer respite, but always prepared to die, he
placidly, reverently, awaited the close, tended by the watchful care of
his devoted wife and children.[17] On the 11th day of June 1864, Ferrier
passed away. He is buried in Edinburgh, in the old churchyard of St.
Cuthbert's, in the heart of the city, near his father and his
grandfather, and many others whose names are famous in the annals of
his country.

          [16] Afterwards Ferrier's son-in-law.

          [17] _Lectures and Philosophical Remains_, Introductory
          Notes, p. xxii.

During these three years, in which death had been a question of but a
short time, Ferrier had not ceased to be busy and interested in his
work. The dates of his lectures on Greek Philosophy show that he had
not failed to carry on the work of bringing them into shape, and though
the wish could not be accomplished in its entirety, it speaks much for
his resolution and determination that through all his bodily weakness
he kept his work in hand. Of course much had to be forgone. Ferrier was
never what is called robust, and his manner of life was not conducive
to physical health, combining as it did late hours with lack of
physical exercise. But in these later years he was unable to walk more
than the shortest distance, the ascent of a staircase was an effort to
him, and tendencies to asthma developed which must have made his life
often enough a physical pain. Still, though it was evident that there
could be but one ending to the struggle, Ferrier gave expression to no
complaints, and though he might, as Principal Tulloch says, utter a
half-playful, half-grim expression regarding his sufferings, he never
seemed to think there was anything strange in them, anything that he
should not bear calmly as a man and as a Christian. Nor did he talk of
change of scene or climate as likely to give relief. He 'quietly,
steadily, and cheerfully' faced the issue, be it what it might. The
very day before he died, he was, we are told, in his library, busy
amongst his books. Truly, it may be said of him as of another cut off
while yet in his prime, 'he died learning.'

'Towards his friends during this time,' says his biographer, 'all
that was sweetest in his disposition seemed to gain strength and
expansion from the near shadow of death. He spoke of death with
entire fearlessness, and though this was nothing new to those who
knew him best, it impressed their minds at this time more vividly
than ever. The less they dared to hope for his life being prolonged,
the more their love and regard were deepened by his tender
thoughtfulness for others, and the kindliness which annihilated all
absorbing concern for himself. In many little characteristic touches of
humour, frankness, beneficence, beautiful gratitude for any slight help
or attention, his truest and best nature seemed to come out all the
more freely; he grew as it were more and more entirely himself indeed.
If ever a man was true to philosophy, or a man's philosophy true to
him, it was so with Ferrier during all the time when he looked death in
the face and possessed his soul in patience.' And, as so often happens
when the things of this world are regarded _sub specie æternitatis_,
the old animosities, such as they were, faded away. It is told how a
former opponent on philosophical questions whose criticisms he had
resented, called to inquire for him, and when the card was given to
him, Ferrier exclaimed, 'That must be a good fellow!' Principal
Tulloch, his friend and for ten years his colleague, was with him
constantly, and talked often to him about his work--the work on Plato
and his philosophy, that he would have liked to accomplish in order to
complete his lectures. The summer before his death they read together
some of Plato's dialogues which he had carefully pencilled with his
notes. He also took to reading Virgil, in which occupation his friend
frequently joined with him, and this seemed to relieve the languor from
which he suffered. As to religion, which was a subject on which he
thought much, although he did not frequently express an opinion,
Tulloch says: 'He was unable to feel much interest in any of its
popular forms, but he had a most intense interest in its great
mysteries, and a thorough reverence for its truths when these were not
disfigured by superstition and formalism.' Immortality, as we have
seen, meant to him that there is a permanent and abiding element beyond
the merely particular and individual which must pass away, and so far
it was a reality in his mind. God was a real presence in the world, and
not a far away divinity in whom men believed but whom they could not
know; but as to the creeds and doctrines of the Church, they seemed far
removed from the Essential, from true Reality. Professor (afterwards
Principal) Shairp writes: 'In the visits which I made to his bedroom
from time to time, when I found him sometimes on chair or sofa,
sometimes in bed, I never heard one peevish or complaining word escape
him, nothing but what was calm and cheerful, though to himself as to
others it was evident that the outward man was fast perishing. The last
time but one that I saw him was on a Sunday in April. He was sitting up
in bed. The conversation fell on serious subjects, on the craving the
soul feels for some strength and support out from and above itself, on
the certainty that all men feel that need, and on the testimony left by
those who have tried it most, that they had found that need met by Him
of whose earthly life the gospel histories bear witness. This, or
something like this, was the subject on which our conversation turned.
He paused and dwelt on the thought of the soul's hunger. "Hunger is the
great weaver in moral things as in physical. The hunger that is in the
new-born child sits weaving the whole bodily frame, bones and sinews,
out of nothing. And so I suppose in moral and spiritual things it is
hunger that builds up the being."'

Professor Veitch, a later colleague at St. Andrews, adds: 'We miss the
finely-cut decisive face, the erect manly presence, the measured
meditative step, the friendly greeting. But there are men, and Ferrier
was one of them, for whom, once known, there is no real past. The
characteristic features and qualities of such men become part of our
conscious life; memory keeps them before us living and influential, in
a higher, truer present which overshadows the actual and visible.' And
Professor Baynes speaks of him as one of the noblest and most
pure-hearted men that he had ever known, combining 'a fine ethereal
intelligence with a most gallant, tender, and courageous spirit.'

Such is the man as he presented himself to his friends even when the
shadows were darkening and the last long journey coming very near: a
true man and a good; one in whose footsteps we fain would tread, one
who makes it easier for those who follow him to tread them too. His
work was done; it might seem unfinished--what work is ever complete?
But he had taken his share in it, the little bit that any individual
man can do, and had done it with all his strength. And what did it
amount to? Was it worth the labour of so many years of toil? Who is
there who can reply? And yet we can see something of what has been
accomplished; we can see that philosophy has been made a more living
thing for Scotland, that a blow has been struck against materialistic
creeds, or beliefs which are merely formal and without any true
convincing power. It may not have been much: the work was but begun,
and it was left to others to carry that work on. But in philosophy, as
in the rest, it is the first step that costs, and amid great difficulty
and considerable opposition Ferrier took that step. He left much
unexplained; he dwelt too much in the clouds, and did not try to solve
the real difficulties of personal, individual life; he did not show how
his high-flown theories worked in a world of strife and struggle, of
sin and sorrow. He could only be said to have struck a keynote, but
that keynote as far as it went was true, and the harmonies may be left
to follow.


_Some Opinions of the Press on_



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"An interesting and lively study of the English founder of political
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"This book is one warmly to be commended as among the very best of a
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"Mr. Macpherson states the facts most admirably, and he has such a
knowledge of the movements and events of the times in which Smith
lived that he is able to make an excellent use of them as showing how
they influenced such a thinker as the author of the 'Wealth of
Nations,' and how, in turn, he was able to change the trend of the
thinking of his age."--_Perthshire Courier._

MR. HERBERT SPENCER says: "I have learned much from your sketch of
Adam Smith's life and work. It presents the essential facts in a lucid
and interesting way. Especially am I glad to see that you have
insisted upon the individualistic character of his teaching. It is
well that his authority on the side of individualism should be put
forward in these days of rampant Socialism, when the great mass of
legislative measures extend public agency and restrict private agency;
the advocates of such measures being blind to the fact that by small
steps they are bringing about a state in which the citizen will have
lost all freedom."

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "James Frederick Ferrier" ***

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