James Marsh And Coleridge -- By: John Wright Buckham

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 061:242 (Apr 1904)
Article: James Marsh And Coleridge
Author: John Wright Buckham


James Marsh And Coleridge

Professor John Wright Buckham

Somewhat apart from the centers of education, in the beautiful Champlain Valley, where for a hundred years Vermont University has been performing earnest and efficient service to the cause of learning, President James Marsh accomplished a work for which American philosophy will always be his debtor. The man was as modest as the institution of which he was head. The impulses and aims under which he worked were singularly pure and disinterested. He was a student of philosophy by divine appointment, and he felt it. This was his high calling, and he resolutely adhered to it.

Born at Hartford, Vt, in 1794, the son of a farmer, James Marsh entered Dartmouth College at nineteen and graduated in 1817. His chief characteristic as a student, as of many another man of mark, was his ambition to acquire a broad and systematic conception of human knowledge rather than proficiency in any one department. He read widely and thoughtfully. Two-years’ connection with the college as tutor gave him further opportunity to explore and acquire, and he carried to Andover Seminary an exceptionally broad and thorough collegiate education. Here, also, his thirst for comprehensiveness would not permit him to confine his mind to the studies of the course, and he indefatigably pursued studies in literature and history, science and philosophy.

In addition to the study of Kant’s “Critique,” lie undertook to read through the works of Plato and to make a copious analysis of each dialogue, while carrying on his regular studies. In a letter written at this time he shows how extended were his excursions into the subtleties of theology, by vividly portraying the difficulties and dangers of the “ill-starred adventurer who plunges into the metaphysical depths of controversial theology! “He must not only” unravel the mysteries of fate, free-will, foreknowledge absolute, etc., without getting lost in their mazes, but, while floundering in an everlasting ‘hubbub wild ‘of ancient learning, crazed and made to dance, like Epicurus’s atoms, to the ‘harmonious discord ‘of some German metaphysical bagpipe, he must be careful to keep his balances nicely adjusted, and weigh with statistical accuracy the ‘hot, cold, moist, and dry’ of these ‘embryo atoms… . Truly a man in such a course—if, like Dante, he has his Beatrice, or divine love, for a guide—may arrive at heaven at last; but, like Dante, he must do it by first going through hell and purgatory.” Nevertheless he deliberately chose this course as his own; nor was his faith lost in the labyrinth.

At the close of his course Mr. Marsh formed the quixotic plan of returning to his father’s farm...

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