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MEMOIR OF REV. ALEXANDER YOUNG, D. D.
BY REV. CHANDLER ROBBINS.
It is not to gratify the promptings of a long and agreeable friendship, nor to accord a privilege which may be claimed for every “ Associate” at his decease, that this brief memoir of Dr. Young has been prepared, but from a conviction that the amount and accuracy of his historical knowledge, and the length and diligence of his services to the Massachusetts Historical Society, justly entitle his name to honorable mention in its Collections.
He was born in Boston on the 22d of September, in the year 1800; received his early education at the public Latin School of his native city, and entered Harvard College, thoroughly prepared, in 1816. His classmates in the University remember him as a faithful student and a pleasant companion. They also speak with respect of his integrity, his honorable feelings, his scholarly attainments, and his manly virtues.
In the classical department, especially, he had few equals, and no superior.
Having graduated, in 1820, with distinguished honors, he became an assistant teacher, under his former instructor and esteemed friend, Benjamin A. Gould, Esq., in the same school in which he had been an exemplary and successful pupil. After a short term of service in this office, so congenial to his feelings and tastes, the still stronger love for those sacred studies to which he had determined to devote his life led him once more to Cam
bridge, to avail himself of the rare advantages which the Divinity School there offered to students of theology. He began to preach immediately after leaving that institution, in 1824, under circumstances of unusual promise. The pulpit of the New South Church, which had been occupied by some of the most distinguished ministers and honored men whose talents and virtues have adorned and blessed our favored city, was then without an incumbent. It was no small honor to a young man to be chosen, by such a congregation as those preachers had gathered around them, to stand in their place; nor was the burden a light one which rested upon their successor. Only a man of strong character, sound learning, and more than ordinary gifts, would have ventured to undertake such a labor, or could have borne it, even for a short period, without discomfiture. It is sufficient evidence of the abil. ity and virtues of Dr. Young, that he retained his pastoral office, and his hold upon the respect and affection of his parishioners, for twenty-nine years, notwithstanding the working of the many causes which have recently tended to diminish the numerical strength of the Boston churches, and in spite of any particular discouragements which may have affected his own ministry. Whatever influence he had, was obtained without artifice; it was fairly earned, and held without unmanly concessions. He resorted to no management to gain popularity; he condescended to no extraordinary measures to increase his congregation; he spurned the favor which is nursed by blandishments. His aim was not to excite his hearers by passionate appeals, to mystify them with transcendental idioms, to astonish them by a show of learning, or to win their applause by rhetorical tricks, but to feed their minds with sound thoughts, and instruct them by right words. mons were all carefully studied, written with clearness and accuracy of style and language, and delivered with great power of voice and energy of manner. He spoke so as to be understood, and the matter of his discourses was so good as always to reward the hearer for patient attention.
Dr. Young loved his library with all his heart, and was never happier than when seated at his table with one of
the “ best authors” before him, or when, in the presence and under the spell of the wise and beautiful books which crowded his shelves, he was studiously composing a discourse for the pulpit, or neatly transcribing golden sentences to instruct the understanding or refine the taste. His reading was both select and extensive, his knowledge of books remarkable, his memory retentive and exact, and his literary taste pure and elegant. The community owes him a debt of gratitude for the publication, in 1839, of a series of nine volumes, containing Selections from the Old English Prose-Writers, which introduced to many, who would otherwise have remained comparatively ignorant of their value, some of the rarest literary treasures in our language.
Few men among us have manifested a greater fondness for the study of the early annals of New England, a more hearty admiration of the characters of our Pilgrim Fathers, or a more thorough and minute acquaintance with the history of the planting and establishment of the Colonies. The two historical works, which he edited with marked ability and illustrated with copious notes, will bear his name to posterity, and secure for him lasting reputation as a laborious, accurate, and zealous chronicler. The first of these, which was published in 1841,- entitled The Chronicles of the Pilgrim Fathers of the Colony of Plymouth, from 1602 to 1625; now first collected from Original Records and Contemporaneous Documents, — has already gone through two editions. The second — containing Chronicles of the First Planters of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay, from 1623 to 1636; now first collected from Original Records and Contemporaneous Manuscripts, and illustrated with Notes - is of scarcely inferior value and interest, and will be extensively circulated. The editor was one of the most useful members of the Historical Society. None was more constant in attending its meetings, more interested in its business and discussions, or more able and ready to impart valuable and reliable information to those of his associates who were pursuing historical investigations. As a member of the Standing Committee, and as Corresponding Secretary, he rendered important service.
Dr. Young filled several responsible offices, discharging the duties of all of them with great fidelity and punctuality. He was a member of the Board of Overseers of Harvard College from 1837 to 1853, and Secretary of the Board from 1849 till he went out, in accordance with an act of the Legislature, passed in 1851, for terminating the period of membership of the fifteen lay and fifteen clerical members who at that time constituted the permanent portion of the Board. He was President of the “Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, Piety, and Charity,” and a member of the “Massachusetts Congregational Charitable Society,” the “Society for Propagating the Gospel
66 among the Indians and others in North America,” the “ Bible Society,” and the “Society for Promoting Theological Education."
In his religious opinions Dr. Young was a firm and zealous Unitarian. He was, however, as much opposed to latitudinarianism on the one side, as to bigotry and exclusiveness on the other. He rested his faith, and grounded his teachings, on the rock of Christ's divine authority, and not on the reasonings or speculations of
He was honest and independent in declaring and defending what he believed to be the truths of revelation ; but he was no controversialist, and never assumed the attitude of an assailant. The articles of his faith were clearly defined and firmly established in his own mind. He had formed them after careful and patient study of the Bible, and he was ready to give a reason for holding them.
The character of Dr. Young was a marked one, sound in its constitution, solid in its structure, clear and plain in its contour. He was independent, honest, courageous, and steadfast. Though more remarkable for the stronger virtues than the gentler graces, yet all who knew him well discovered beneath the stout exterior a kindly disposition, a sympathetic nature, a humane and generous heart. For others' grief he had a tear; for others' joy, a congratulation. To his friends he was the very soul of truth; to the upright he gave his hearty applause; to the oppressed he extended a brother's hand; against injustice, and every form of vice, he presented a stern countenance,
and lifted up his voice in tones of indignation. As a man, we respected him; as a brother, we loved him ; as a friend, we reposed in him with a perfect trust. Though others in the pulpit have attracted more admiration, none have worn the robe of our sacred office with greater dignity, or preserved it to the end more free from stain.
For the following, which is believed to be a correct list of Dr. Young's publications in pamphlet form, I am indebted to an appendix prepared by the Rev. G. E. Ellis to his sermon on the death of his former pastor, which has been published, in connection with that delivered by the Rev. E. S. Gannett, D. D., at the funeral of the subject of this memoir.
1. A Sermon at the Ordination of the Rev. James W. Thompson, at
Natick, February 17, 1830. 2. An Address at the Ordination of the Rev. William Newell, at Cam
bridge, May 19, 1830. 3. A Pamphlet, entitled, Evangelical Unitarianism adapted to the Poor
and Unlearned. 1830. 4. A Discourse on the Sins of the Tongue. 1829. Third edition,
1845. 5. A Discourse occasioned by the Death of William Parsons. March
26, 1837. 6. A Discourse on the Life and Character of the Hon. Nathaniel Bow
ditch. March 25, 1838. 7. A Sermon at the Ordination of the Rev. George E. Ellis, at Charles
town, March 11, 1840. 8. A Discourse on the Life and Character of the Rev. John Thornton
Kirkland. May 3, 1840. 9. A Discourse occasioned by the Death of the Hon. Wm. Prescott,
Dec. 15, 1844. 10. A Discourse on the Twentieth Anniversary of his Ordination. Janu
ary 19, 1845.
11. The Dudleian Lecture. May 13, 1846. [Published also in the
Christian Examiner.] 12. A Discourse occasioned by the Death of Benjamin Rich. June 8,
1851. 13. A Discourse occasioned by the Death of Mrs. Catharine G. Prescott.
May 23, 1852.