Thomas Chalmers, D. D., a Scottish clergyman and author, born at Anstruther, Fifeshire, March 17, 1780, died at Morningside, near Edinburgh, May 31, 1847. His father was a shipowner and general merchant. Destined for the church, he was sent at the age of 12 to the university of St. Andrews, where his favorite studies were mathematics, ethics, and political economy. In his 19th year he received a preacher's license in the Scottish church, but declined to assume a pastorate, and spent the two subsequent winters in Edinburgh, where he was employed in teaching while pursuing a wide range of study under Dugald Stewart, Robinson, Playfair, and other professors. From assistant minister in a small parish he became in 1803 minister at Kilmany, Fifeshire, at the same time lecturing upon mathematics and chemistry at St. Andrews and gaining reputation as a savant. In 1804 and 1805 he applied unsuccessfully for professorships of natural philosophy at St. Andrews and of mathematics at Edinburgh. His first effort in authorship was a pamphlet to prove that the vigorous prosecution of science was not incompatible with ministerial duties and habits. On Napoleon's menace of invading England, Chalmers joined a corps of volunteers both as chaplain and lieutenant.
In 1808, upon the alarm created by Napoleon's decrees against British commerce, he published his "Inquiry into the Extent and Stability of National Resources," to show that the apprehensions were groundless. He had already become a contributor to the "Edinburgh Encyclopaedia," and the article on Christianity was assigned to him. While preparing this article, amid many domestic bereavements and a long and severe illness in 1809, which brought him near to the grave, he experienced a great spiritual change, and upon his recovery displayed a fervor in the pulpit and in his household visitations which was new to his parishioners. Cherishing scientific and literary studies with the same ardor as before, and contributing to the "Christian Instructor" and the "Eclectic Review," yet all his thoughts were tempered by a deep sense of religion. Having before belonged to the "moderate" party in the Scottish church, he now ranked with the "evangelical" party, which was in the minority, and his pulpit eloquence attracted listeners from great distances, and made him famous through the south of Scotland. In 1812 he married, and his wife, who survived him, bore him six children.
In 1813 his article on Christianity appeared in the "Encyclopaedia," and was immediately republished in a separate volume, with additions, under the title of "Evidences of Christianity." During the next two years he was busily engaged in organizing Bible and missionary societies, with a view to providing for the spiritual and general improvement of all his parishioners, He wrote about this time for the periodical press on missions and on Cuvier's theory of the earth. In 1815 he became minister of Tron parish, Glasgow, and during the eight years of his residence in that city he enjoyed unrivalled renown as a pulpit orator. The "Astronomical Discourses," a series of weekly lectures on the connection between the discoveries of astronomy and the Christian revelations, were published in 1817, and within a year nearly 20,000 copies of them were sold. His fame had meantime extended from Scotland to London, where he preached first in this year. In a time of high political excitement all parties thronged to hear him. Canning and Wilberforce went together.
The latter wrote in his diary: "Canning was at first disappointed by the preacher's peculiar manners, but at the end of the sermon he said to Wilberforce, ' The tartan beats us; we have no preaching like that in England.'" The article on " Pauperism " contributed to the " Edinburgh Review " immediately after his return to Scotland, and the tracts on the "Christian and Civic Economy of Large Towns," which soon followed, indicate what was then the direction of his efforts. It was his aim by a thorough organization to revive the old parochial system of Scotland, and, by dividing the community into small manageable masses, to bring every member of it directly under educational and ecclesiastical influences. To apply his scheme, he exchanged the Tron parish for the neighboring one of St. John's (1819), in which out of 2,000 families there were more than 800 unconnected with any Christian church, and a countless number of untaught children. The entire management of the poor in that parish was committed into his hands as an experiment, and by strict parochial oversight the entire pauper expenditure was reduced in four years from £1,400 to £280 per annum. Every street and lane was visited periodically by his agents and teachers.
In this great labor Edward Irving, then in the beginning of his career, was his assistant. Dr. Chalmers had never ceased to aspire to a professorship in one of the Scottish universities, and in January, 1823, he accepted a call to the chair of moral philosophy in the university of St. Andrews. In this office he remained five years, and its literary results were his "Lectures on Moral Philosophy," and his work on "Political Economy in connection with the Moral Aspects of Society." He had given a new intellectual impulse to the studies in his department, when in 1828 he was transferred from St. Andrews to the chair of divinity in the university of Edinburgh, where he remained during the next 15 years. In 1830 he was appointed royal chaplain. He carried his eloquence and enthusiasm into the class room, which was filled not with students alone, but with clergymen of various denominations and eminent literary and scientific men. In 1833 he published his Bridgewater treatise on the " Adaptation of External Nature to the Moral and Intellectual Constitution of Man;" in 1838 he delivered a course of lectures in London in defence of church establishments; and after a short visit to France he travelled through Scotland, to lecture and collect funds in behalf of the movement which he had initiated of so increasing the number of churches in the country, that no locality should be without the discipline of religion.
In 1834 he was elected fellow of the royal society of Edinburgh, and in 1835 the degree of D. C. L. was conferred upon him by the university of Oxford, He had become the acknowledged leader of the evangelical party in the church of Scotland, and in 1832, when that party attained the majority, he had received the highest honor which that church can bestow, by being appointed moderator of the general assembly. It was mainly by his influence that this assembly passed in 1834 the famous veto act, which, being declared illegal, led to violent controversies and disturbances, which culminated in 1843 in a considerable secession from the established church, and in the foundation of the Free Church of Scotland, with Dr. Chalmers as the first moderator. (See Free Church of Scotland.) He immediately resigned his chair in the university, and devoted the remaining four years of his life with his characteristic skill and energy to the organization and consolidation of the new church. At the same time he was the principal and professor of divinity in the newly established college connected with the Free Church, and wrote for the "North British Review," which periodical was founded under his auspices.
On his return from a journey to London which he had undertaken to enlist the sympathies of leading statesmen in behalf of his views on national education, he retired to rest in his usual health, but was found next morning dead in bed, without a single trace of suffering on his countenance. - The following are his collected writings in the order of their publication (25 vols. 12mo, Edinburgh): vols, i., ii., "Natural Theology;" iii., iv., "Christian Evidences;" v., "Moral Philosophy;" vi., "Commercial Discourses;" vii., "Astronomical Discourses;" viii., ix., x., "Congregational Sermons;" xi., "Sermons on Public Occasions;" xii., "Tracts and Essays;" xiii., "Introductory Essays to Select Authors;" xiv., xv., xvi., "Polity of Nations;" xvii., "Church Establishments;" xviii., "Church Extension;" xix., xx., "Political Economy;" xxi., "Parochial System;" xxii.-xv., "Lectureson the Romans." His posthumous works, edited by the Rev. Dr. Hanna (9 vols. 12mo, Edinburgh and New York, 1847-'9), are: "Daily Scripture Readings" (3 vols.); "Sabbath Scripture Readings" (2 vols.); "Sermons," illustrative of different stages in his ministry (1 vol.): "Institutes of Theology," a reproduction of his theological lectures (2 vols.); "Prelections on Butler's Analogy" (1 vol.). His "Christian Evidences" have passed through many editions, and have been twice translated into German (1834 and 1841), and into French (1819 and 1830), A German translation of his "Civil and Christian Economy of Large Towns," by O. von Gerlach, appeared in Berlin in 1847; and a French selection of his sermons by E.
Diodati (1825) was followed by Revelation en liarmonie avec l'astronomie moderne, a version of his "Astronomical Discourses" (1826). His writings on political economy were also highly appreciated in France and Germany, and led the French institute to elect him in 1834 as corresponding member. The principles pervading his " Political Economy in connection with the Moral State and Prospects of Society " (Glasgow, 1832), being chiefly those of Mal-thus, have incurred the censure of McCulloch, who likewise disapproved of Chalmers's opposition to poor laws and other compulsory provisions for the destitute. His literary and scientific activity, prodigious as it was, is yet regarded as on the whole subordinate in importance to his social and ecclesiastical reforms and to the influence of his personal magnetism and genius. Yet his appearance and manner were far from prepossessing; his face when in repose was singularly unanimated; his gestures were rather awkward; his voice was neither strong nor musical; his style was often inflated, and disfigured by a somewhat eccentric phraseology. But his earnest piety and fervid imagination, which imparted a poetic charm to his discourses and writings, more than redeemed all his oddities.
His broad Scotch accent, his unaffected manner, and his strong sympathies with the habits and feelings of the Scotch masses made him as popular with the people as his genius made him famous among scholars. - See "Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Dr. Chalmers," by his son-in-law, the Rev. "William Hanna, LL. D. (4 vols. 8vo, Edinburgh and New York, 1849-52); "Correspondence," edited by the same (1853); "Memorials of his Time," by Henry Cockburn (London, 1850), especially interesting as an authority on Dr. Chalmers's peculiarities of manner; "Memoir of the Christian Labors, Pastoral and Philanthropic, of Thomas Chalmers," by Francis Wayland (Boston, 1804); "Thomas Chalmers, D. D., a Biographical Sketch," by Dean Ramsay (1807); and "Thomas Chalmers, a Biographical Study," by J. Dodds (New York, 1870). In 1869 preliminary steps were taken for the erection at Edinburgh of a monument to Chalmers.