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MEMOIR OF WILLIAM GREENFIELD, M.R.A.S.
(With a Portrait.)
Being anxious to accompany the annexed Portrait with an authentic Memoir of the lamented individual whom it represents, we applied to the gentleman, to whom we are indebted for the use of the original painting, for such particulars of the too brief career of his accomplished friend, as his intimate acquaintance would qualify him to supply. In reply, Mr. Bagster has favoured us with the following communication, which, without further introduction, we lay before our readers :
Sir,—Shortly after Mr. Greenfield's decease, the wish was expressed to me by many esteemed friends, that some memoir of him should be given to the world, together with any remains which he might have left in a state sufficiently finished to meet the public eye. It will, perhaps, be right to state, why the intention to which this wish gave rise was never carried into effect. On examining Mr. Greenfield's papers, it was found that he had left behind him few compositions that would form suitable materials for such a volume. The events of his life were few and simple; and at the time of his premature death, he was just but beginning to develop those extraordinary powers of acquisition and application which, had his life been spared, would have raised him to the highest eminence as an Oriental scholar and profound philologist. But the chief reason which weighed upon my own mind, was the difficulty of avoiding, more especially under the fresh and keen impression of the recent circumstances, a reference to the ungenerous calumnies by which it had been attempted to bring his orthodoxy, as well as his competency as a Biblical critic, into suspicion ; and which, by preying on his too sensitive feelings, at a time that his health was undermined by over-exertion of his mental powers, probably led to his death. It might have been difficult, at that time, to guard against the expression of what would have appeared like vindictive feeling, towards the individuals at whose hands Mr. Greenfield met with this unmerited treatment, but for whom he expressed, in his last illness, sentiments of Christian forgiveness. Months and years have since elapsed, during which every angry feeling has had time to subside. The public sentiment has fully righted ;--and having given this brief explanation, I shall make no other reference, in the following notice, to the painful circumstances to which I have been compelled thus to allude.
WILLIAM GREENFIELD was born in London on the first of April, 1799. His parents were of Scotch extraction. His father, at the recommendation of the Rev. Dr. Waugh, (of whose church he was a communicant,) was employed as a foremast-man on board the Duff, in her second missionary voyage, from which he returned in safety; but he was unhappily drowned on a subsequent voyage in another vessel. William thus became an
20. SERIES, NO. 37.-Vol. iv.
orphan, when he had scarcely reached his third year. His mother, who was a pious woman, having relations in the North, removed from London, in 1802, to Roxburghshire, where she obtained her livelihood in service; placing her orphan boy under the care of a relative, in the vicinity of her employer's residence, by whom William was treated as one of the family, sharing in the education of his young relatives. When he had reached his tenth year, his mother, finding him averse to agricultural employments, determined on quitting her situation, and bringing him up to London, where she entered the service of another family, and through the kind patronage of the venerable Dr. Waugh, her son was, in 1812, bound apprentice to Mr. Rennie, a respectable bookbinder, in whose family strict religious discipline was maintained.
In the interval which elapsed between his removal to London, in 1810, and the date of this engagement, William was confided to the care of his two maternal uncles. These young men, being of a studious and devout turn of mind, had formed a strong desire to read the holy scriptures in the original languages; and their nephew, finding them employed in these studies, expressed an ardent desire to be taught the Hebrew. This desire, so far as their slender means afforded, was gratified; and to this circumstance, unimportant as it seemed at the time, may be traced the first development of young Greenfield's unsuspected faculty for acquiring languages, and the direction given to his future literary pursuits.
After his removal to Mr. Rennie's, his progress in the study of the Hebrew was advanced by a circumstance, which afterwards he could not but regard as providentially arranged. In the house in which his master occupied workshops, there dwelt a Jewish rabbi, who was a reader of the law in the synagogue at Denmark Court, Strand. 'This person was in the practice of urging, among the apprentices and journeymen, his objections against the Christian interpretation of the prophecies relating to the advent of the Messiah, and the truth of Christianity itself. Young Greenfield had frequent disputations with him on these points, as he subsequently had with several other Jews; and being pressed closely with objections, built on the alleged defectiveness or inaccuracy of the authorized version of the Old Testament, he offered to give up his opinions, if, upon being thoroughly taught the Hebrew language by his opponent, he should find his assertions to be founded in truth. The Jew took him at his word; and though fully and laboriously employed at his master's business during the day, Greenfield applied himself with so much assiduity and enthusiasm to his studies after working hours, that he soon became so well versed in the language as to
surpass his teacher, and to subvert his learned arguments against the Christian faith ; notwithstanding which, the rabbi became warmly attached to his young pupil, and ever afterwards expressed a high sense of his extraordinary talents and moral worth. In these discussions, which were always conducted with good temper, young Greenfield displayed his native shrewdness, as well as his familiar acquaintance with the Bible; and, anxious to avoid committing the cause of truth by inconclusive reasonings, whenever he found himself at a loss, or foiled in dispute, he modestly applied to his venerable pastor, Dr. Waugh, for advice and assistance. The doctor, however, like the Jewish rabbi, soon found himself surpassed as a linguist by his young disciple, and is reported to have said to him, on one occasion,“ Hoot, mon; ye ken depths o' criticism that I na meddle with; ye are gone over me.” For a considerable time, Greenfield enjoyed the privilege of visiting Dr. Waugh, in the evenings, two or three times a week; and so well satisfied was the venerable pastor, from these interviews,
of the piety and theological attainments of his amiable protegé, that he admitted him, at the early age of sixteen, as a communicant in the church over which he presided, and of which Mr. Greenfield continued a beloved and consistent member, till the decease of his honoured friend and spiritual father.
During his study of the Hebrew, young Greenfield, to facilitate his own acquirements, compiled a complete Lexicon of that language, of which he became passionately fond. Having made great advancement in this branch of sacred literature, he next applied himself to the study of Chaldee, and some other of the cognate dialects. The language of the Christian scriptures now engaged his attention ; and he prosecuted the study of the Greek as well as afterwards of the Latin, in a class with several other young men connected with him in trade, and in the Fitzroy Chapel Sunday-schools, in which he had become a gratuitous teacher. The extraordinary facility with which he acquired a knowledge of these languages, apparently without labour or effort ; and the ease with which he overcame difficulties, that to his class-mates seemed almost insurmountable, are stated to have been truly astonishing. Their fellow-student soon became their instructor. Yet, his acknowledged superiority was unattended by any of that conceit, or self-complacency, which too frequently characterizes the self-taught scholar; and those who knew him at this period, bear witness to his amiable and unassuming manners, which engaged the affection of all his associates. From Latin, he proceeded to the French; and thenceforward, he thought nothing of encountering the difficulties of a strange language, even when enveloped in a peculiar character.
During this time, he is stated to have laboured very hard in his master's business, working, with the interval of meal-hours, from six in the morning till eight in the evening in summer, and from seven to nine in winter. After the expiration of his apprenticeship, he worked, for two or three years, at his trade, as a journeyman; nor did he ever suffer his favourite studies to divert him from his business, or to break in upon the time which he considered as his employer's. The only act approaching to a breach of fidelity with which he was ever known to be chargeable, was stealing the reading of some scarce and learned works belonging to Earl Spencer, which he was employed to bind. One of these, a treatise of a Greek grammarian, he took home to study. To this poor journeyman bookbinder, the temptation was irresistible, of gratifying his intense thirst for philological knowledge, by the perusal of a work which scarcely fifty men in the country, probably, would have cared to look into ! "With this exception, he confined his stolen readings of the books which came under his hand, to his dinner-hour. By bringing his dinner with him in the morning, and despatching his frugal meal in a quarter of an hour, he had three-quarters of an hour left, during the absence of his fellow-workmen, which he was at liberty to devote to studious recreation. In this way, he accumulated a fund of general information, as well as improved his knowledge of the learned languages.
Mr. Greenfield was thus diligently and unobtrusively pursuing his mechanical occupation for the support of himself and his family ; for he had married an amiable young woman in his own sphere of life,—when his extraordinary acquirements first became known to me through the following circumstances :
Mr. Greenfied had purchased a copy of the Polyglott edition of the Hebrew Bible; shortly after which, he wrote me a letter, modestly suggesting some improvements (which were adopted) and pointing out, at the