THE LIFE OF PRINCIPAL HARPER D.D.
The Author of this volume is keenly alive to the confidence
shown him by the family of the late Principal Harper, in committing to him the
important work of writing the story of his life. He is warranted in claiming to
possess at least one qualification for this willing service, in the long
friendship and mutual confidence which existed between himself and the honoured
subject of his memoir. When, a few weeks before he was called up to his '
Father's house,' we preached to his congregation, at his own request, on the
sixtieth anniversary of his ordination to the Christian ministry, we could look
back, along with him, upon half a century of intercourse and warm and unbroken
The constant labours of a city pastorate, which could not be interrupted or even greatly diminished, must be accepted as at once explaining and justifying the fact that The Life has not appeared somewhat earlier; though modern biography, it is probable, has suffered quite as frequently from hasty as from tardy publication. We may be too near events and persons to think of them wisely and without bias or exaggeration. And moderate delay gives a writer the better opportunity of assuring himself regarding the accuracy of what he narrates. The remarkable qualifications which distinguished Principal Harper as a minister of religion and a Professor of Theology, in addition to the excellences of his character which shone so brightly in the more private walks of life, ought to be sufficient of themselves to render his biography, if written with a fair measure of success, both interesting and eminently suggestive. But beyond this, his work and influence as a Christian citizen and man of affairs, who helped to originate, direct, and help forward to triumph great public movements with which political and social as well as religious progress was identified, ought greatly to enhance the value of such a memoir. In regard to that branch of the Presbyterian Church in Scotland of which he was a member and a minister, it may be affirmed, in a modified degree, that he was so closely associated with all its most important public acts, during a long series of years, that the narrative of his life becomes, at various points, also the history of his Church. We are persuaded that, according to the measure in which the facts of his life are known, they will justify the high encomium of one of the most eminent of our Scottish judges, that ' Principal Harper has left the inheritance of a great and honoured name to his family and country.'
It soon became evident that the amount of Dr. Harper's epistolary correspondence, which it was desirable to publish, could not conveniently or suitably be intermingled in the various chapters of the memoir. It was therefore resolved to present his letters in an Appendix, arranging them as nearly as possible in their chronological order. Not only because of the instruction and Christian consolation with which they abound, but also as bringing into special prominence the affectionate side of his nature, and gleaming at times with a playful humour, which in him was not only natural but irrepressible, they possess a unique interest and value. And there is a beautiful fitness in the fact that the last letter in the series, which was written not long before ' his right hand forgot its cunning,' was addressed to a beloved child.
We have grateful pleasure in acknowledging our obligation to many ministers, formerly admiring students of Dr. Harper, for the interesting recollections with which they have furnished us respecting his work as Professor, especially to Dr. Blair of Dunblane, Dr. Grosart of Blackburn, Mr. Angus of Arbroath, Mr. Howat of Liverpool, and Mr. Buchanan, late of Greyfriars' Church, Glasgow. We are indebted to Mr. Morris, librarian of the United Presbyterian College, for ready access to ecclesiastical documents, and to E. Erskine Harper, Esq., Advocate, for supplying us with much valuable material, and entrusting to our confidence many family documents. And not least gratefully do we own the kindness of Dr. George Jeffrey of Glasgow, and Eev. William Gillies, of the Religious Tract and Book Society,of Scotland, for the many useful hints with which they favoured us when the book was passing through the press.
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