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ABSTRACT OF MEMOIR OF PROFESSOR TAYLER LEWIS.
By President ELIPHALET NOTT POTTER, D. D., LL. D., of Union College. Tayler Lewis, LL. D., L. H. D., Nott Professor of the Oriental Languages, and Lecturer on Biblical and Classical Literature, in Union College, departed this life on the 11th day of May, 1877.
Tayler Lewis was born in this State, in the town of Northumberland, Saratoga county, in the year 1802.
He attended school in Northumberland, and at Salem, Washington county, entered the Freshman Class of Union College in his fourteenth year and graduated at eighteen.
During his entire college course, he was remarkable for quiet, earnest attention to duties, both collegiate and religious. We are informed that he regularly read a portion of God's word, and that generally in the early morning; nor was he backward in speaking to others of the thoughts that were thus suggested to him. His little pocket Bible was always upon the table, and numerous pencil comments were to be seen on its pages. He was, also, always present in the weekly prayer-meeting. He was the best swimmer in his class, and by no means neglectful of athletic exercises.
He entered Judge Samuel A. Foot's office at Albany as a student of law, soon after his graduation from Union, and continued in the office until three years later, when he was admitted to the bar. So purely intellectual was young Lewis, that, when tired of his law books, his recreation was found in calculating eclipses. He had one of the clearest and most active minds, and was regarded as certain of great distinction in the practice of law. Declining a promising opening, he returned to Fort Miller and prepared to practice law in the immediate neighborhood of his birth-place. He connected himself with the Reformed Dutch church there, and was one of the most efficient members of its consistory. When the cholera, small-pox, or other contagious diseases prevailed, the young lawyer would visit the sick and the dying to pray with them and administer spiritual advice and consolation. He was also brave and generous in defending, without pecuniary compensation, the cause of the poor and oppressed. But meanwhile he was perplexed by conscientious doubts as to his professional duties. The true direction of his future career was given, in the seemingly accidental suggestion of a clergyman interested in the Hebrew Scriptures, that he should take up the study of Hebrew. This he did with avidity, applying himself throughout many a night, and ceasing only with the dawn. In his professional journeys, his Hebrew Bible became his constant companion.
Soon after his marriage, influenced by his tastes and circumstances, he became principal of the Academy at Waterford. In the columns of the Waterford Atlas, when he was about thirty years of age, we find the earliest traces of his authorship. Discussing earnestly such themes as Skepticism, the Stage, Earthly Illusions, the Heavens, Religion, Intemperance, the Sin of Pride, the Relations of Church and State, the Dan
gers of the Republic, he wrote in a spirit which devoutly recognized the Bible as a logical power as well as a rule of action; so that he once said, "Reason commits suicide when it refuses the aid of the Bible." His style, in his earlier articles, hardly foreshadows his later power; yet they are strikingly characteristic in their reverence for religion, their elevated speculations, their practical exhortations and in the choice of themes.
He moved to Ogdensburgh, St. Lawrence county, in the year 1835, accepting the principalship of the academy there and writing frequently for the Ogdensburgh Times during his residence of two years; after which he returned for two years more to his old post at Waterford.
His public life dates from 1838, when, in accordance with the wish of President Nott (who had discerned the genius of his pupil), he delivered the Phi Beta Kappa oration at Union College. His subject was “Faith the Life of Science." In his treatment of the difficult and then novel theme, he showed "an acuteness of analysis, a power of generalization, and an affluence of classical learning," which justified the wide circulation achieved by the address when published. Its repetition was called for at other institutions. His consequent reputation procured for him at once the offer of several collegiate professorships. He accepted that of Greek and Latin Literature in the University of the City of New York. The change to the metropolis produced a marked effect upon his character and scholarship. He could then measure himself with his peers; in place of village periodicals, the great newspapers and magazines and publishing houses of the period surrounded him and were open to him. His pupils were older and more advanced than those he had previously taught, with the alertness stimulated by city life, and an appreciation and sympathy which led, through evenings spent in scholarly intercourse, to life-long and helpful friendships. Society introduced him to converse with refined, congenial and highly cultivated minds; the university, to scholars eminent and inspiring. The great political, moral and religious interests of the community, of which he always felt himself to be a responsible member, opened to him a still wider arena. He who might have been but a selfish scholar and recluse, entered upon it as the champion of whatever he believed to be right; furnishing articles for reviews and newspapers, and delivering forcible addresses at colleges and seminaries; proving that a new individual force had entered into the higher politics of the city, State and nation. Naturally a controversialist, whether because of his martial ancestry or no, he readily took the aggressive against whatever he believed to be erroneous, and was prompt to rebuke it, alike among friends or foes. It is the comment of an intimate friend that he was looked to as one of the readiest defenders of the church against skepticism, even while he awoke alarm by his exposure of scriptural misinterpretation and orthodox fallacies; that he rejoiced in the strongest, not to say the most defiant, assertion of his convictions; that while his ready wit disconcerted opposition, his versatility was a match for opponents, and that these qualities making intellectual combat a source of pleasure to him, he himself realized that in controversy he did not always remain dispassionate. Writing of Farrar's Life of Christ, he says, "In some places Farrar seems too tolerant; but this may be only because he is a better Christian than I am in my harsher judgment. Still the controversialist, if he be earnest, cannot but give thrusts which wound, even as the soldier who battles must draw blood. Paul, in all
ages recognized as one of the ablest of the champions of the truth, exclaims not only, "I have kept the faith," but also, "I have fought a good fight."
Although fulfilling successfully his professional engagements, prosecuting his scholarly researches and giving attention to the duties of a citizen, he was also preparing to offer to the learned and religious world a contribution worthy to be the first-fruits of nearly twenty years of toil. In opposing the materialistic and skeptical tendencies of the times, it was natural that Dr. Lewis should turn to the great classic writer, who, centuries before the Christian era, combatted the same tendencies among the cultured and progressive men of Athens. In 1844, in his forty-second year, he published the first of his works. It was entitled, "Plato against the Atheists," and was dedicated to Dr. Nott, as "President of the author's revered Alma Mater, and in remembrance of the lessons of theoretical and practical wisdom," received from him. It received from scholars in this country and Europe a cordial welcome. It is only for the life-long student of Greek literature and philosophy to measure its value; but the thoughtful reader will admire its multitude of learned and apt citations from the poets and thinkers of Greece and Rome and from Hebrew writers, its subtle etymologies, its profound and sometimes beautiful disquisitions in metaphysics, and will enjoy the simplicity and clearness of the style. Plato, it will be remembered, attacks, first, those who deny God's existence, then those who deny His providence and lastly those who deny His sin-avenging justice. His commentator selects the principal points of the argument and the difficult passages and words, and gives more or less dissertation to each. He treats these topics with a just reverence for his master, with the insight of intellectual sympathy and with a sense of fellowship with those who in all ages have stood for right, duty and godliness.
In 1849, Doctor Lewis accepted the professorship of Greek in Union College, and later, its chair of Oriental Languages and Biblical Literature. As in his former position, so here, he exerted an unusual influence, especially upon the finer minds among his pupils. In the class-room he aimed rather to interest and stimulate than to drill. To those to whom his department of instruction was congenial, contact with him was like a revelation. The classics, the scriptures, philology, history, current events, seemed filled with new meaning. His statement of facts and events as proving the presence and purpose of Divine Providence ordering "all things for good," the inculcation f a purer aim, a higher patriotism, scholarship and Christian manhood-who that knew him in his prime and has listened to these utterances in his class-room, lecture-room, Bible-class, or in his matchless conversations, has not caught somewhat of the inspiration of his earnestness and realized the originality and power of his genius? His eye brightened, his voice rose, as he gave with rhythmic beat the noble Homeric or dramatic passages. He advised his pupils to commit these not merely by rote, but "by heart," that their influence might be life-long. He called his students to what he had himself exemplified-the pursuit, for its own sake, of truth, knowledge and philosophy. Here, too, as from early manhood, he continued his laborious study of the Hebrew and Greek languages, literature and philosophy. He became familiar with the Rabbinical writings. He could converse easily in Greek, and sometimes conducted his reflections in it. His marginal notes in books were more frequently written in Hebrew, Greek, or Latin than in English. He wrote original Hebrew
or Greek verse readily. To these acquirements he now added Syriac, Samaritan, Koptic, Chaldaic and Arabic; the Koran being thoroughly studied, and the Thousand and One Nights, in the original, furnishing him with light reading. He had some knowledge of the Gothic, and read the German and several modern languages. It is needless to say that he was master of English.
In 1855, the world of theological and scientific scholars was moved by the publication of a volume on the Creation as Revealed, maintaining that the biblical day was not limited to twenty-four hours. His argument is mainly philological, but is also metaphysical. The closeness of its logic, the breadth of its learning, the delightful surprises of etymology every where occurring, the relief it afforded to many an earnest and doubting mind, the eloquence naturally inspired by the sublimity of the subject, well justified the attention which it received from friends and opponents. The attacks of the latter drew forth in the following year a defense of the author's position entitled "the Bible and Science, or The World Problem." In 1860, he published The Divine Human in the Scriptures; in the preface to which he promises a work for posthumous publication, on the Figurative Language of the Bible. Meanwhile he had supplied the editorial and other columns of many leading magazines and newspapers with an immense amount of invaluable material, welcomed by an ever-widening circle of readers.
The civil war of 1861 found him ready for his country's service. He helped forward to the field his son and son-in-law, who had taken commissions in the army. He was unwearied in patriotic appeals and arguments. He furnished a series of articles on the subject of State Sovereignty which excited great interest among the influential of all parties. He filled columns with disquisitions upon slavery and with similar discussions and appeals. Somewhat later appeared his Heroic Periods in a Nation's History. Unable to wield the sword, he wielded untiringly a pen as sharp and powerful. His "State Rights, a Photograph from the Ruins of Ancient Greece," was, without his intervention, scattered far and wide and was felt to be influential in moulding the opinions of the cultured classes. "The Union professor," wrote Charles Astor Bristed, "has studied Greek in a thoroughly practical and profitable manner. With the spirit of Greek philosophy as illustrated by Greek history, he is perhaps more thoroughly imbued than any man in the country; nay, we have little hesitation in saying that no Hellenist throughout Anglo-Saxondom has ever drawn an historical parallel so finished and telling as this photograph."
Before the war Doctor Lewis had held, on biblical grounds, that slavery was not in itself a forbidden institution. His characteristic conservatism kept him at first from the ranks of the abolitionists, but it soon transferred him to the advocacy of freedom for the Southern slave. He demanded the restoration of the Union and the destruction of slavery ; and President Lincoln's willingness to accept the first without the last aroused his utmost indignation. When asked what we should do with the negro, he answered: "What, sir, shall the negro do with you? With disrespect to nobody, the one question is as fair as the other." He loved the Union but was unwilling to accept it at the sacrifice of what to him was a matter of principle. In a letter to a friend after the war, he wrote: My soul clings to the old issues not yet decided after all the blood that has been shed. It is solely a question of truth and righteousness." Horace Greeley said of him, that he had "placed Conservatism
in its true light before the world and was one of those who would be more highly appreciated after decease than while they yet lived. Able, acute and industrious, devoting not only his hours but his energies, his heart with his life, to a vindication of the claims of the Christian faith to the acceptance and reverence of scholars and thinkers, he is one of the precious few who are aiding to rescue the word Conservatism from its popular perversion to the foulest ends, and to devote it once more to the characterization of steadfast loyalty to truth and righteousness.' If a conservative, Doctor Lewis was also a firm believer in human progress. "The world," he writes, "we may joyfully believe, is advancing and is destined to advance. To doubt it, is to doubt the prophetic record. The world for which Christ died is not destined to ultimate barbarism or the final chaos of infidelity. The true conservative stream of religious influence must rise with renewed energy from every encounter, until, in the language of prophecy, "it covers the earth with the knowledge of God." And this progress of mankind, he believed was also tending toward the realization of true catholicity in Christian unity. "In Christendom," he wrote, "separation, division, is never to be treated as a good per se; the church was one in the beginning, visibly and organically one, and such it will be in the end.”
In 1863, having suffered already for many years from extreme deafness, his nervous system became still farther impaired by the prolonged excitement of the war and the disasters which befell his sons in the field. The alarming wounds received by one and the sudden death in battle of the other, produced a shock which utterly destroyed his hearing and undermined his general health. But he never lost interest in the movements of society, writing for the papers on topics such as "Evolution," "Religion and Morality," etc. So late as 1872, he conducted vigorous discussions on the question of the Bible in the public schools. In these debates he maintained that the State had a distinct religious responsibility, its very right to existence being not in popular consent for he had little respect for majorities—but in the command of God.
Doctor Lewis was an interested and honored member of the University Convocation of the State of New York; and among the valuable papers which he read before it, one of the latest and most celebrated was entitled, "Classical Study; there should be more of it in our Colleges or it should be abandoned." Not that he would abandon it. By better and more extended training in preparatory schools, he hoped that college courses might yet come to be more than avenues of grammatical drill; so that through the vestibule of philology the student might thence enter the temple of ancient thought and classic philosophy. He spoke as one who, not without success, had striven to introduce his pupils to these higher realms of contemplation, and he received the thanks of scholars and the Convocation for this masterly and timely effort. From the Regents of the University, in the presence of this body, he received the honorary degree of L.H.D.
His closing labors would alone have been worthy of a long life. He gave three years to his translation and annotation of Genesis for Lange's Commentaries. Then followed, for the same great work, his Rhythmical Version of Ecclesiastes with notes, and then that of Job. In 1875, appeared those lectures, delivered before the Theological School of New Brunswick, N. J., and published by order of the General Reformed Synod, in which he treats of the Fearfulness of Atheism, the Denial of the Supernatural, the Cosmical Objections (astronomical and geological)