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Barrow
Barrow
303

Barrow is best known; though, curiously enough, his fame in this capacity was posthumous rather than contemporary. He does not appear to have been either a very frequent or a very popular preacher; but his sermons now deservedly rank among the very finest specimens of the art. One of their merits has been already touched upon, but they have many others. Barrow had qualms of conscience lest his mathematics should interfere with his divinity, but in fact they greatly helped it. ‘Every sermon,’ it has been truly said, ‘is like the demonstration of a theorem.’ The clearness, directness, and thoroughness of mind which are so conspicuous in the sermons were no doubt strengthened by the habit which mathematical pursuits foster. Controversy he carefully avoided in his preaching, going straight to the broad facts of christian belief and moral duty. Nevertheless, no one can read his sermons without feeling that he is in the presence of a first-rate controversialist. He appeals, perhaps, too much to the reason and too little to the feelings. No one would ever think of applying the common epithet ‘beautiful’ to any of Barrow's sermons, and yet they are full of eloquence of the very highest order; and now and then he rises into a strain which can only be described as sublime. But what strikes one most in the sermons is their thorough manliness of tone: they are free from the slightest touch of affectation; there is no vestige of extravagance or bad taste in them. One can well understand how it is that men of the greatest eminence have admired them the most: how John Locke, e.g., regarded them as ‘masterpieces of their kind;’ how Bishop Warburton ‘liked them because they obliged him to think;’ how the great Earl of Chatham, ‘when qualifying himself in early life for public speaking, read Barrow's sermons again and again, till he could recite many of them memoriter;’ and how the younger Pitt, at the recommendation of his father, studied them frequently and deeply. We have to descend to men of a feebler frame of mind for depreciation of Barrow. One hardly knows whether to smile or be provoked to see Blair, once the admired preacher of the coldest and tritest of sermons, looking down as from an eminence upon Barrow, and, while admitting ‘the prodigious fecundity of his invention,’ complaining of his ‘genius often shooting wild and unchastened by any discipline or study of eloquence,’ and of his style being irregular and incorrect; or to find a Mr. Hughes, who gave to the world a sort of Bowdlerised edition of Barrow, thinking his sermons inferior to Sherlock's. The drawback to Barrow's sermons is their inordinate length—inordinate even for those days of long sermons. Everybody knows the story of his preaching in Westminster Abbey, and encroaching so long upon the time which the vergers utilised between sermons for lionising the church that they caused the organs to play ‘till they had blowed him down;’ and of the sermon that he wrote on the text, ‘He that uttereth slander is a liar’ (1678), from which he was prevailed upon to omit the half about slander, and yet the remaining half lasted an hour and a half; and again, of the famous Spital sermon (the only one he ever saw in print), ‘On the Duty and Reward of Bounty to the Poor’ (1671), which is said to have occupied three hours and a half in delivery, though it was not preached in full. But there seems to have been a little exaggeration in these stories—at any rate, in that relating to the Spital sermon; for the court of aldermen desired him to print it ‘with what further he had prepared to preach,’ which no doubt Barrow did. Now the sermon is extant, and it fills ninety-four octavo pages—long enough in all conscience, but yet not long enough to occupy four hours in delivery. Still, prolixity is unquestionably a fault of Barrow's sermons, as it is of his mathematical works also. Barrow took immense pains over the composition of his sermons, as his manuscripts prove. He is said to have written some of them four or five times over.

It remains to say a few words about Barrow's character and habits. He was, scholar-like, negligent of his dress and personal appearance to a fault. Once, when he preached for Dr. Wilkins at St. Lawrence, Jewry, the congregation were so disgusted with his uncouth exterior that all but a few rushed out of church. Among the few who remained was Richard Baxter, who had the decency to sit out, and the good taste to admire, the sermon. Barrow is said to have been ‘low of stature, lean, and of a pale complexion.’ He would never sit for his portrait; but his friends contrived to hold him in conversation while a Mr. Beale took it without his knowing what was going on. He was very fond of tobacco, which he called his panpharmacon, declaring that it ‘tended to compose and regulate his thoughts;’ and he was inordinately fond of fruit, which he took as a medicine. He was a very early riser, and was in the habit of walking out in the winter months before daybreak. This habit once brought him into danger, and also gave him the opportunity of showing his extraordinary strength and courage. He was visiting at a house where a fierce mastiff was kept, which was chained during the daytime, but allowed