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HIS EARLY YEARS.
If thou would'st reap in joy,
First sow in holy fear;
Christian Year. There is something more transitory in the nature of literary distinction than is commonly imagined. The successful labours of a whole life, employed in the most arduous research, enable succeeding students to advance by an easy ascent to the height at which the earlier traveller had arrived with so much toil and fatigue; they avail themselves of the paths which he has devoted his days and nights to make smooth and free, and their time and strength are reserved for further enterprises. Thus one man labours, and others enter into his labour; and the meed of public applause which he enjoyed for a season is transferred to those who have lengthened the track which he first opened, and which he made it easy for them to traverse.
Thus the works of many authors, who have contributed largely to the great stores of knowledge available to us,
retire gradually from general use. But we ought not to allow that those who have so toiled in our behalf should be forgotten or known only by name; their thoughts, their arguments, the facts they have searched out, have not been lost to us, but live, not perhaps in the spot where they implanted them, but with no less usefulness in the works and the words of others; and, by thus beautifying and fertilising the literature with which we are conversant, they have imperceptibly conferred a benefit upon us, and deserve to be had in remembrance.
It is thus with regard to archbishop Usher. Although the volumes to which he entrusted the fruits of his researches into the obscure periods of history and chronology are for the most part left in the dust and cobwebs of unfrequented libraries, his arguments and discoveries, far from lying dormant, have given strength and usefulness to a multitude of books, from his own times to the present. The application and study of his life have made valuable contributions to our stores of knowledge, which alone are sufficient to entitle his name to be preserved from oblivion.
But these pages would not have been the receptacles of such a memorial, were it not that his christian virtues were as eminent as his studious habits. His piety, gentleness, humility, and charity, are recorded in terms of unqualified admiration; and although the sources of information on these points are far more meagre than they ought to have been, yet they are sufficient to afford reason for hoping that his example, as seen in their descriptions and occasional anecdotes, may be productive of salutary effects upon the hearts and minds both of the wise and simple.
If Dr. Parr, the friend and companion of his latter years, to whom we are indebted for the fullest account of his life, had known the great value of characteristic anecdotes, domestic history, and conversational remarks, in giving a finish to the descriptive portrait drawn by the biographer, he would have embellished his memoir more abundantly with such illustrations, and would have enabled us to present to our readers a more living likeness of the pious Christian and accomplished scholar, whose name stands at the head of these pages.
The family of the Ushers had settled in Ireland so early as the reign of king John, during which, one of the Archbishop's ancestors accompanied that prince into the island, in the capacity of usher. Some circumstances induced him not to return with the court, and in his new residence he dropped his original name of Nevil, and assumed that of the honourable situation which he then relinquished. This practice of changing names was not uncommon at that period. Down to the times of which we are about to speak, the family still remained in the neighbourhood of Dublin, where the first Usher had fixed his abode; and many of them occupied situations of honour and trust.
James Usher, the subject of this memoir, was born on the fourth day of January 1580. His father, Mr. Arnold Usher, was one of the Six Clerks of Chancery, and was much respected for his prudence and integrity. His mother, was Margaret, the daughter of James Stainhurst, a person of great wisdom and integrity, who was a Master in Chancery, Recorder of the city of Dublin, and Speaker of the Irish House of Commons in three parliaments; and whose country owed him much gratitude for his efforts to procure the establishment of the present college and university of Dublin, since it Was he who at that time first pressed the subject upon the attention of parliament, and afterwards of Queen Elizabeth. Richard Stainhurst, a son of this gentleman's, was a zealous adherent of the popish religion; and, being- likewise an accomplished scholar, was at one time engaged in controversy with his nephew Usher. His mother, also, in later life, went over to the Romish religion, to the great sorrow of her son.
Henry Usher, his paternal uncle, was a distinguished person. He was archbishop of Armagh, and as he was pleased with the design of planting a university in Dublin, so he used his best endeavours to promote its growth and success.
Ambrose Usher, the brother of James, is said to have made great proficiency in the Oriental languages, and to have translated much of the Old Testament from the original Hebrew into English, before our authorised translation was made. He was also well versed in the Arabic tongue. His friends entertained great hopes that he would rise to eminence in the world of letters, but they were frustrated by his early death. Some of his writings, however, were published, and his opinions are occasionally quoted as good authority.
But, however highly the family were favoured with intellectual endowments, James was to be its brightest ornament; and happily the charge of moulding his character in childhood fell into very excellent hands. Two maiden aunts had been blind from their cradles, but the darkness did not extend itself to their minds. From the Bible they had learned in whatsoever state they were therewith to be content; by the Bible they had been taught that there was one treasure for the possession of which they might be grateful, even if they should suffer the loss of all things; from the Bible they had derived not only consolation but happiness; and they were able to repeat by heart a considerable portion of its contents. How could the soil be prepared with greater hope of a rich harvest than by being entrusted to such pious care?
These amiable ladies devoted themselves to the training of their young nephew; they soon found that they had good ground to work upon, for his disposition was quiet and docile, his memory strong, and his talents of considerable promise, even at an early age; and they had the satisfaction of observing that the blessing of God had attended their anxious labours, by conveying to his youthful mind some strong religious impressions.
He lived to understand the importance of bringing up children in the way of righteousness; and accounted it a great mercy that he had not been suffered to fall into those habits of forgetfulness of God, which, where youth is neglected, so often end in hopeless impiety. His memory often recurred to the kindness of these earliest and best of his friends, with feelings of the fondest and most grateful affection.
At the age of ten, James Usher was sent to a grammar-school, which was then kept in Dublin by Mr. Fullertori and Mr. Hamilton.
The history of these gentlemen, as related by Dr. Parr, is rather curious. They were Scotchmen, whom King James sent over, previous to the death of Queen Elizabeth, for the purpose of keeping up a correspondence with the chief protestants residing in or near Dublin, with a view of securing their good-will after her decease. Being of course enjoined to conceal their business and quality, (for they appear to have been highly connected), and possessing considerable capabilities as scholars, they opened a school in Dublin.*
'When King James came to the throne of England, he knighted Mr. Fullerton, and appointed him to a post of distinction in the royal household. He created Mr. Hamilton Viscount Clandebois.