God gave Elijah forty days' meat at one meal: do you, dear friends, ever get such meals as that? I do when I read certain books--not modern-thought books. Give me no such fare as that--a grain of meal to a gallon of water; but let me have one of the good solid Puritan volumes that are so little prized nowadays, and my soul can feed upon such blessed food as that, and be satisfied with it.--C.H.S., in sermon preached at the Tabernacle, June 24, 1883.
If you can read a tainted book that denies the inspiration of the Scriptures, and attacks the truth of God, and if you derive any profit from it, you must be a very different being from myself. I have to read such books, I must read them sometimes to know what is said by the enemies of the gospel, that I may defend the faith, and help the weaklings of the flock; but it is a sorry business. When those who are qualified to do so are reading these heretical works, if they are doing it really in the fear of God for the good of their fellow-men, they remind me of Sir James Simpson and the two other doctors when they discovered the medical and surgical value of chloroform. They sat at the table, and scarcely knew what was going to happen; but they took a dose each, risking their lives by so doing; and when they came back to consciousness,--they had certainly made a great discovery.--C.H.S., in sermon preached at the Tabernacle, October 29, 1885.
In the Study at Westwood
No life of Spurgeon would be complete unless it contained information concerning the books he read and owned. All who have been intimately acquainted with him, from his childhood, or in later years, have testified to the omnivorous character of his reading. While he was but a little lad, the boy and the books were inseparable. When he advanced from the position of scholar to that of teacher, he gladly availed himself of the increased opportunities of reading and learning everything that might be turned to good account in his future career; and when he had become a follower of Christ, and an earnest worker for his Lord, he spent all that he could honestly afford in the purchase of the classical and theological books which were likely to be of the greatest service to him.
At the time of his death he possessed at least 12,000 volumes. The number would have been far larger if he had not given so generously to the libraries of the Pastors' College and of many of the ministers trained within its walls, and if he had not also, from his abundant stores, so freely enriched other friends. His books almost filled the shelves of two large rooms--the study and the library, one smaller room--'the den', and the vestibule adjoining the study. He knew the proper place and at least the principal contents of nearly every book in his possession; he could have fetched almost any one of them in the dark, and if any had been taken away by a dishonest visitor, he would speedily have missed them. Probably, a great many of his precious treasures did become permanently lost to him through being lent, for all who borrowed from him were not as particular in returning other people's property as he himself was. Addressing his students, on one occasion, he said: 'I lately met with a statement by a clergyman which has very much raised my opinion of human nature, for he declares that he has a personal acquaintance with three gentlemen who have actually returned borrowed umbrellas! I am sorry to say that he moves in a more favoured circle than I do, for I have personal acquaintance with several young men who have borrowed books, and never returned them. The other day, a certain minister, who had lent me five volumes, which I have used for two years or more, wrote to me a note to request the return of three of them. To his surprise, he had them back by the next parcels' delivery, and with them two others which he had forgotten. I had carefully kept a list of books borrowed, and, therefore, could make a complete return to the owner. I am sure he did not expect their prompt arrival, for he wrote me a letter of mingled astonishment and gratitude; and when I visit his study again, I feel sure I shall be welcome to another loan. You know the rhyme which has been written in many a man's book--
Sir Walter Scott used to say that his friends might be indifferent accountants, but he was sure they were good: "book-keepers".'
If Spurgeon could return to his study, he would have no difficulty in finding his books, for they are still arranged according to the method he long ago adopted. Beginning at the right-hand side of the cupboard in the centre of illustration no. 27 the volumes commence with Commentaries on Genesis, and continue in consecutive order, through the whole of the long side of the room, to the end of Revelation. Then follow Cyclopaedias of anecdotes, illustrations, and emblems, with dictionaries and other works of reference indispensable to a literary man. These books fill, up half the other end of the study. Then, on the further side of the doorway leading into 'the den' (see illustration no. 28), is a choicely-bound set of the Pastor's sermons. These formed part of the background of one of the latest and best of his photographs that was ever taken.
On the shelves above and below Spurgeon's volumes of sermons, is a large assortment of theological works, sufficiently numerous to overflow to the revolving bookcase, which also contains biographies and miscellaneous literature for general reading. At the opposite end of the room, on the left-hand side of the cupboard shown in illustration no. 27, are more theological works, somewhat less modern than those mentioned on the previous page.
Several thousands of the books that belonged to Spurgeon occupied the spacious shelves in the library, a view of which is shown in illustration no. 26. The volumes here preserved, like those in the study, are also arranged in sections. Beginning at the side nearest the windows, one whole bay is filled with works on natural history and the sciences; the next is devoted to records of missions, travels, and adventures; then follow biographies, which require almost the whole of the space in the two wide sets of shelves, the remainder being alotted to books on Bible lands. The shelves visible on the left-hand side of the picture (illustration no. 26) are filled with poetry and the hymnals used in the compilation of Our Own Hymn Book, with later additions, and some sermonic and other literature not usually needed in the study. Beyond the doorway, bound volumes of periodicals, both for juveniles and adults, and more general literature, with a large store of books of proverbs and anecdotes, need several sets of shelves; next follow historical and denominational works, a collection of topographical books; a great number of old folios, mostly the writings of Latin authors; and last, but certainly not least, more than a whole bay is required for the American and other reprints of Spurgeon's sermons and other works, and the translations of them into various foreign languages. He was never able to procure anything like a complete set of his writings as reproduced in other tongues, and the number of translations has been greatly increased since his home-going; they include Arabic, Armenian, Bengali, Bulgarian, Castilian (for the Argentine Republic), Chinese, Congo, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Esthonian, French, Gaelic, German, Hindi, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Kaffir, Karen, Lettish, Maori, Norwegian, Polish, Russian, Servian, Spanish, Swedish, Syriac, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Welsh, with sermons in Moon and Braille type for the blind, making, with the preacher's mother-tongue, nearly forty languages in which he continues, from the printed page; to proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ. The text most commonly used concerning him is, 'He being dead yet speaketh.' Dr. Newman Hall, referring to Spurgeon, gave a new rendering to that passage: 'Then, as he yet speaketh, he is not dead.'
The foregoing account of the arrangement of Spurgeon's books is necessarily incomplete, and many hundreds of his highly-valued volumes may thus have escaped classification; but it gives a general idea of the books he owned, and loved, and used, and with which he was so well acquainted that he was prepared to discuss their contents with any visitor who called to see him.
On removing to Westwood, and fitting up with oak bookshelves two sides of the room used by the former occupants of the house as a drawing-room, Spurgeon found that the space at his disposal proved too large even for the thousands of books which had over-taxed the accommodation at Helensburgh House. He therefore purchased many works which he had long desired to possess, and added them to his previous store; and, as he had still to say, 'Yet there is room,' he hit upon an ingenious expedient for temporarily filling the empty shelves at the top of the library and study. He had a number of dummy volumes made by his bookbinder, and had some of them lettered to correspond with the sets of books already in his possession, such as Carlyle's Works, Macaulay's Works, Alison's History of Europe, Hume's History of England, The Homilist, etc. In other cases, the titles were reversed; as, for instance, Job on Caryl, made to stand not far from Caryl on Job. The lettering of some of the large sets of dummies was amusing. Anyone who handled the volumes entitled Wretched Scandals, by the Talkers' Sisters, would find that there was nothing in them! Similar sets bore the titles, Mischief by Boys, Windows Ventilated by Stone, Gunpowder Magazine by Plumstead, and Padlock on the Understanding. But it was upon the names of the single volumes that the Pastor exercised the greatest ingenuity. He often referred to the meaning of Mrs. Spurgeon's Christian name, Susannah, a lily, and associated it with Shushan, so it was not surprising that one of the titles he used was Lilies of Shushan, while the name of Mrs. Spurgeon's companion suggested Thorn on Roses. The Pastor's two secretaries were represented by the volumes entitled Mysteries Opened by J. L. Keys, and The Character of William the Conqueror, by Harrald. The tutors and students of the Pastors' College were represented by the following and other titles: Joseph, Samuel, and Abraham, corrected by G. Rogers; Sublime and Beautiful, by D. Gracey; Goodly Pearls, by Marchant; Eastward Ho! by A. G. Brown; Cuff on the Head; Knell on Death; Carter on the Road; Cricket on the Green, by Batts; Over the Stream, by Bridge; Hook and I; Tydeman on Cleanliness; Hammer and Tongs, by Smith; Aches and Pains, by Feltham (felt em); Country Retreats, by Greenwood; Grindery in all its Branches, by Miller; Do it Again, by Dunnett (done it); Starling, Swift, Finch, and another Bird; and Flight on the Wings of a Dove.
Among the amusing descriptions there might also be found Hints on Honey Pots, by A.B.; Weaver's Meditations among the Looms; Gilpin on Riding Horses; Tick on Sheep; Skid on the Wheel; Cat on Hot Bricks; Pancakes on Shrove Tuesday; Lectures to my Servants, by a Shrew; and Sticking up for One's Self, by a Pole.
Before very long, the number of books increased at such a rapid rate that, instead of dummies being required to fill vacant shelves, real and substantial volumes were standing or lying about, in various directions, because there was no proper place available for them. It was then decided that Spurgeon must have the use of the bookshelves in the vestibule between the hall and the study, which up to that time had been employed as the depot and packing-room for the works distributed in connection with Mrs. Spurgeon's Book Fund. The nearness of this set of shelves to the study made it a very valuable annexe, and a room in another part of the house was adapted and fitted up for the use of the Manager of the Book Fund and her helpers.
Still later, a greater alteration was made, by which additional accommodation was provided for the ever-multiplying books. During Spurgeon's absence at Mentone, one winter, a new room was built, connecting the study with the small conservatory, where he liked to sit for a few minutes admiring the choice flowers, watching the fishes and grasses in the miniature aquarium, and reading or meditating upon the theme of some anticipated address or sermon, One result of the altered arrangements was that, in wet weather, the Pastor could have a continuous walk, under shelter, from the fernery at one side of the house to the greenhouses at the other end, By steadily tramping the whole distance, backwards and forwards, several times, a very fair amount of exercise could be obtained when it was not possible to be out of doors. It had also long been felt that Spurgeon needed another and more private study, into which he could retire for devotion and pulpit preparation, or for interviews with special visitors. This room was always called 'the den,' though it was a very different kind of place from Bunyan's apartment in the Bedford prison to which the immortal dreamer gave that name, In this favoured spot, the works of the Puritan, divines were lovingly arranged by the, one who always repudiated the title many times accorded to him--Ultimus Puritanorum, the last of the Puritans--for he believed that he had helped to train hundreds of men who would continue the Puritanical succession after he was gone from their midst, and he also knew that there were, in other denominations and other lands, multitudes of believers in the truths which the Puritans taught, and for which many of them suffered even unto death.
In addition to the Puritans, the den' contained a large quantity of homiletical, exegetical, and proverbial literature, with a; number of miscellaneous volumes for general reading. The new room was a great boon to the busy Pastor, and many a powerful sermon for the congregation at the Tabernacle, or weighty address for the students of the Pastors' College, or bright article for The Sword and the Trowel, first saw the light in the quiet seclusion of the den.'
Spurgeon never cared to buy a book simply because it was rare, unless it was one of the Puritans that he needed for his collection. He valued literary works for their usefulness, not simply for their market price; yet he possessed a great many volumes, bearing their authors' autograph inscriptions, which he highly prized; and, among them, some of Ruskin's were always accorded a prominent position as reminders of the early and cordial friendship which existed between him and the Pastor. Sir A. H. Layard, Dr. Livingstone, M. Paul B. Du Chaillu, Mr. C. W. M. van de Velde, Dr. W. M. Thomson, Dr. William Wright, Dr. Lansdell, Mr. John MacGregor ('Rob Roy'), and many other travellers were represented at Westwood by their works duly inscribed, or by letters from them fastened in their books. It was one of Spurgeon's few 'hobbies' to have the photographs and autographs of all authors, as far as he could, with portions of the manuscripts of their works, or other specimens of their handwriting, inserted in one or more of their volumes, thus materially increasing their value, at least in his estimation. Perhaps it was this fancy which made him so freely give his own signature to other collectors of autographs, even if they did not always enclose stamps with their applications; and the same reason may also have prompted him to write in the many hundreds of books that he gave to his friends, who now prize them all the more because of the tender and loving inscriptions with which he enhanced the intrinsic worth of his gifts.
One of his letters shows that, in his anxiety to secure the signature of a friend whose writings he valued, he unintentionally wrote a second time to the same individual:
I have to apologize for having troubled you twice about so small a matter as your autograph; but the fact is, I did not recognize Dr. David Brown, of Duncan's Memoir as the David Brown of the Commentary. Pray excuse me.
I am getting to fear and tremble about the Browns. You must know that the President and Vice-President of our Baptist Union are both Browns, and that the chairman of our London Association is also a Brown. Browns to the right of us, Browns to the left of us, etc. God bless them all!
In reply to a letter from Spurgeon to Dr. Andrew A. Bonar, asking for his portrait and autograph to insert in his Commentary on the Book of Leviticus, the beloved author sent his photograph, and the following characteristic note:
I cannot refuse what you are so kind as to ask. But if you had only waited a little while, it would have been really worth having--for "we shall be like Him' (I John 3:2). Meantime, the enclosed may hint to you that sometimes you should pray for me.
The same writer's volume, Christ and His Church in the Book of Psalms, contains the inscription: 'This book was given to me by my dear friend, Mr. Bonar, and the corrections are made by his own hand.--C. H. SPURGEON.' Dr. Horatius Bonar's volume, Earth's Morning; or, Thoughts on Genesis, is thus commended: A deeply thoughtful and thought-creating book.'
In The Book of Psalms, a new Translation, with Introductions and Notes, Explanatory and Critical, by J. J. Stewart Perowne, Spurgeon wrote: 'For a modern book, this has become very rare. It is most accurate and valuable.' The volume also contains a letter from the author in which he said: 'I thank you heartily for your kind words about my book on the Psalms. I am the more sensible of your approbation, because you have yourself conferred so inestimable a boon upon the Church by the publication of your Treasury of David. There is no book like it as an aid to devout meditation on one of the most precious portions of God's Word. I hope some day you will visit Peterborough. It would be a pleasure to me to show you our beautiful cathedral.'
The volume of Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, by the Bishop of Liverpool (Dr. J. C. Ryle), contains his portrait, and a letter which he wrote to Spurgeon, in 1875, when he was vicar of Stradbroke, in which he said: 'You want no praise of man, and you know its worthlessness. But I must tell you how much I like your Lectures to my Students. I have rarely seen so many nails hit right on the head. I should like to give a copy to every young clergyman in the Church of England! I hope you are pretty well. I have had much illness in the last four years, and feel nearer home than I ever felt before.'
Yet he has been spared to continue his faithful testimony for nearly another quarter of a century; and only towards the close of 1899 has he felt compelled to intimate his approaching resignation of his bishopric, while his younger friend, to whom he wrote so heartily, has been 'at home' for nearly eight years!
Spurgeon desired to possess a specimen of the manuscript of Dr. Charles Hodge, Professor in the Theological Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey, U.S.A.; and, in reply to a note to that effect, addressed to his son, Dr. A. A. Hodge, the latter wrote as follows:
I thank you very much for your kind note, relating to the Outlines, received yesterday. Your many friends, on this side of the ocean, have been anxious about your health, as we have received irregular, and imperfect, and perhaps irresponsible reports of it from time to time. I sincerely trust that it is re-established fundamentally and permanently. Yet I am sure that God has warned you, as the trusted steward of His gifts, not to work so hard and continuously.
I send you, herewith, two of my father's papers, prepared for the Conferences held by the Professors and students, every Sabbath afternoon, in our Oratory. Nelson, of Edinburgh, has just published a volume containing 249 of them. These I send you are originals in my father's handwriting.
May the Father, and the Son, and the Spirit, bless you with all blessings in Christ Jesus our Lord!
Give my best respects to Mrs. Spurgeon.
Spurgeon's copy of Dr. A. A. Hodge's Outlines of Theology contains his autograph, and this entry in Mr. Spurgeon's hand-writing: 'Autograph written in my study, Aug. 8, 1877.--C.H.S.'
In addition to the letters, manuscripts, photographs, and autographs of the authors, which Spurgeon preserved in his copies of their works, whenever he could obtain them, he also wrote his own name in many: of the volumes, with an expression of his opinion of their contents. There are, perhaps, among his books, some hundreds of these inscriptions; many of them are autobiographical, and for that reason deserve a place in the present work. It is worthy of note that, while this chapter has been in course of preparation, the compilers have met with an interesting article by Mr. Andrew Lang, entitled 'Scrawls on Books,' which shows that he approved of the custom which the Pastor so extensively observed. Among other things, he wrote: 'The practice of scribbling on fly-leaves and margins has many enemies. I confess that I am not among these purists. I like to see these footprints on the sands of literature, left by dead generations, and to learn from them something about previous owners of books, if it be but their names.... We should all write our names, at least; no more of us may ever reach posterity.... As a rule, tidy and self-respecting people do not even write their names on their fly-leaves, still less do they scribble marginalia. Collectors love a clean book, but a book scrawled on may have other merits. Thackeray's countless caricatures add a delight to his old school-books; the comments of Scott are always to the purpose; but how few books once owned by great authors come into the general market! Where is Dr. Johnson's library, which must bear traces of his buttered toast? Sir Mark Sykes used to record the date and place of purchase, with the price--an excellent habit. These things are more personal than book-plates, which may be and are detached by collectors, and pasted into volumes. The selling value of a book may be lowered even by a written owner's name; but many a book, otherwise worthless, is redeemed by an interesting note. Even the uninteresting notes gradually acquire an antiquarian value, if contemporary with the author. They represent the mind of a dead age, and perhaps the common scribbler is not unaware of this; otherwise, he is indeed without excuse. For the great owners of the past, certainly, we regret that they were so sparing in marginalia.'
Spurgeon commenced the practice which Mr. Lang commends quite early in his ministry for the inscriptions in Dr. Gill's Commentary date back to 1852. In Martin Luther's Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, is written: 'This volume is one of my earliest friends; needs no letter of commendation.--C. H. SPURGEON, 1852.'
The following remarkable commendation is inserted on the flyleaf of the first volume of A Compleat History and Mystery of the Old and New Testament, logically discussed and theologically improved, by Christopher Ness: 'Reader, Here is something worth all thy time, though thou read it all day long. Give eyes and heart a feast here. Here is goodly word-painting and rich heart-breathing.--C. H. SPURGEON.' The third volume is marked 'much valued'; and the fourth has this inscription:--'I reckon these four volumes to be worth their weight in gold. They may contain some eccentric conceits, but these are as the dust upon a palace. I doubt not that Matthew Henry borrowed very extensively from Ness, and certainly showed his wisdom in so doing. If these volumes shall become the property of another, I charge him either to read them carefully and prayerfully, or else to give or lend them to some godly person who can appreciate them. Such a treasure should be out at interest.--C. H. SPURGEON. Nov., 58.'
In 1857, Spurgeon wrote in Matthew Poole's Annotations: 'Poole is a most excellent expositor.' Dr. John Mayer's Commentarie upon the New Testament bears the inscription: 'Mayer is one of my greatest favourites.--C. H. SPURGEON, 1859.' The same author's volume on the Historical Books is described as 'excellent, full of research, and rare learning.
Two volumes of Dr. Adam Clarke's Commentary contain lengthy but not commendatory notes. In volume I, Spurgeon wrote, just below the portrait of the commentator: 'who discovered that an ape, and not a serpent, deceived Adam.' At the top of the title-page is this warning: 'Take heed, reader! This is dangerous ground for those who are not grounded and settled.' Volume G has this inscription: 'Adam Clarke is as immortal as his monkey, and other errors; see notes on Genesis. He is always to be read with caution, for his sentiments are, in my judgment, most unscriptural.-C, H. SPURGEON.' On the title-page, after the words, 'A Commentary and Critical Notes,' there is added: 'Adapted to blind the eye, and prevent the truth in Jesus from shining upon the soul, by Adam Clarke--Arminian twister of the Word.'
By way of contrast, it may be mentioned that Dr. Gill's Exposition of Solomon's Song contains Spurgeon's autograph, and the following note: 'This priceless work of my learned predecessor has always been helpful to me,' In different volumes of John Trapp's Annotations upon the Old and New Testaments, Spurgeon wrote: 'Prized for its quaintness'; 'A great favourite'; 'Trapp is ever my favourite, 1873.' A large folio edition of Ralph Erskine's Works has two inscriptions: 'The Rev. Joseph Irons, the gift of his father'; and underneath, 'Valued all the more by me as having been the property of Joseph Irons.--C. H. SPURGEON.' Blomfield's Greek Testament, with English Notes, is inscribed: 'I value Blomfield exceedingly: I can always make more out of him than out of Alford.--C. W. SPURGEON, Sep.,1872.'
The copy of Cruden's Concordance, which Spurgeon always used, contains upon its fly-leaf the following testimony: 'For these ten years this has been the book at my left hand when the Word of God has been at my right. What a precious assistant! Notes I had written have been destroyed by the binder to whom I had to send this volume because it was worn all asunder. Blessed be the Lord who has spared me to search His Word with some apprehension of its sweetness these twenty years. C.H.S. Jan. 1869. (This half-crazy Cruden did better service to the Church than half the D.D.s and L.L.D.s of all time. Mar. 1872).'
Taking, almost at random, the works of various authors who wrote on separate Books of the Bible, the following inscriptions will serve as specimens of the comments, favourable and otherwise, inserted in them:
In Dr. James Morison's Practical Commentary on the Gospel according to Matthew, Spurgeon wrote: 'Volume greatly valued for its scholarship. Difficult to find much Morisonianism here. The Genius of the Gospel, By Dr. David Thomas, contains this note: "A suggestive volume, but rather bombastic. On the title-page of the same writer's work, The Book of Psalms Exegetically and Practically Considered, opposite the authors name--David Thomas--Spurgeon added: "Not David, nor Thomas. David scrabbling, Thomas doubting. The same writers Homiletic Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles contains his photograph, autograph, and the following remarks: Many of the homiletic outlines strike me as "much ado about nothing"; still, if a man should read this work, and get no help from it, it would be his own fault.--C. H. SPURGEON, 1874.'
Three books on the Epistle to the Romans naturally have references to the writers' doctrinal views. Of Dr. F. A. Philippi, Spurgeon wrote: 'Frequently goes out of his way to have a ding at what; he thinks to be Calvinism.' Rev. William Tyson's Expository Lectures are said to be 'Excellent for an Arminian. I find him sweetly Evangelical in many places.' Dr. David Ritchie's Lectures, Explanatory and Practical, are described as 'Unsound in many respects. Of the Moderate School, I should judge.'
James Fergusson's Brief Exposition of the Epistles of Paul contains the autograph and date, C. H. SPURGEON, 1878; and this note: 'A volume of great worth. Few books have been more frequently consulted by me.--C.H.S.' John Barlow on II Timothy 1 and 2 is thus commended: 'Though apparently unattractive, this book will richly repay a careful reader,--C H. SPURGEON.' Nicholas Byfield, on I Peter 1-3, is wittily criticised: 'Byfield is discursive, and takes in every by-field which he had better have passed by. Yet, in his Preface, he calls this an abridgment! I am glad it was not my lot to hear him.--C. H. SPURGEON.' Nathanael Hardy on The First Epistle of John, is said to be 'a rare divine, this Hardy; an Episcopalian Puritan.'
In Frederick Denison Maurice's Prophets and Kings of the Old Testament, Spurgeon wrote: 'Herein we find a great deal of wild doctrine, but yet there is thought of no mean order. We can wash out the gold.' The work of a writer of quite another stamp--Notes on the Book of Genesis, by C.H.M.,--is thus described: 'Good in its line, but too cramped. There is also error concealed here and there.' Lange's Genesis is said to be 'one of the best of the series'; but his Isaiah is characterized as 'very poor.' Dr. Pusey on The Minor Prophets bears the unique distinction of being highly commended in a single word: 'Invaluable.--C. H. SPURGEON, 1878.' Sermons on Judges, by Richard Rogers, contains this note: 'C. H. Spurgeon much prizes this book.--1882.'
Among other brief but notable notes are the following:
- Durham's Christ Crucified: 'Much prized.'
- Practical Reflections on Every verse of the Holy Gospels, by a clergyman: 'Good, simple, marred.'
- Poetical Works of George Herbert: 'Much valued by C. H. Spurgeon.'
- Darling's Cyclopaedia Bibliographica: 'An invaluable tool.'
- Joseph Taylor's volume, Naturales Curiosea: Curiosities in Natural History, contains the warning, 'Believe not too readily.--C. H. SPURGEON.'
In Whitefield's Sermons is the autograph, with the inscription following:--'C. H. Spurgeon, who admires Whitefield as chief of preachers.'
Spurgeon was a very quick reader, but the rapidity of his glance at the page did not interfere with the completeness of his acquaintance with its contents. He could read from cover to cover of a large octave or folio volume in the course of a very short space of time, and he would thus become perfectly familiar with all that it contained. Dr. William Wright, the late Editorial Superintendent of the British and Foreign Bible Society, gave a remarkable instance of this combination of speed and accuracy, as well as a notable testimony to Spurgeon's literary ability, in the reminiscences which he wrote for The British Weekly in February, 1892. The following paragraphs from that article provide a fitting conclusion to one view of Spurgeon in his study:
'Mr. Spurgeon visited Belfast in 1858. I was then preparing to enter College, with a hankering after the Indian Civil Service. Mr. Spurgeon preached in Dr. Cooke's church. He singled me out,--as I thought,--and spoke to me as if no one else was present. There was no thrumming of theology, and no pious posing; but a clear, direct, hot, living, personal appeal that dare not be resisted....
Fifteen years later, I went to the Tabernacle, on my way home from Damascus. The same straightforward Englishman was preaching the same straightforward gospel in all its fulness, and without any apology for its severity. After the service, I walked into the vestry without being announced. He had not seen me for ten years, but he recognized me in the crowd without a moment's hesitation. He ran over a list of the books on Syria and Palestine, stating the merits of each, and ended by saying, "I suppose Thomson's The Land and the Book is still the best on the manners and customs." He had the whole literature of the Holy Land at his finger-ends.
When I came to be Mr. Spurgeon's near neighbour, I found that his knowledge of all literature was wonderful. His power of reading was perhaps never equalled. He would sit down to five or six large books, and master them at one sitting. He sat with his left hand flat on the page at the left side of the book, and pushing his right hand up the page on the right side until the page projected a little, he turned it over with his finger, and proceeded to the next page. He took in the contents almost at a glance, reading by sentences as others read by words, and his memory never failed him as to what he read. He made a point of reading half-a-dozen of the hardest books every week, as he wished to rub his mind up against the strongest minds; and there was no skipping. I several times had an opportunity of testing the thoroughness of his reading, and I never found him at fault.
Drummond's Natural Law in the Spiritual World reached him and me about the same time. I called on Mr. Spurgeon when he was fresh from a perusal of the book. It was then unknown to fame, and he had read it with five or six other books. At tea, we were speaking of the freshness of the illustrations, and the peculiarity of the doctrines taught, when a third party challenged Mr. Spurgeon's recollection of certain points. Mr. Spurgeon thereupon quoted a whole page to show that Drummond spoke of the natural and spiritual laws being identical, and another important page to show how the book erred by defect. On my return home, I looked over the passages quoted, and I believe he scarcely missed a word in the repetition. His power of swift and effective reading was one of the greatest of his many talents....
I was at first surprised to find Mr. Spurgeon consulting both the Hebrew and Greek texts. "They say," said he, "that I am ignorant and unlearned. Well, let them say it; and in everything, by my ignorance, and by my knowledge, let God be glorified."
His exegesis was seldom wrong. He spared no pains to be sure of the exact meaning of his text. On one occasion, he was going to preach on the subject of the olive tree; and he sent his secretary to the keeper of the Natural History Department of the British Museum, with a series of questions regarding the peculiarities of the tree. Mr, Carruthers, the keeper, was so much interested in the enquiry that he wrote out several pages for Mr. Spurgeon; 'but when the sermon came to be preached, the information had been passed through the crucible of Mr. Spurgeon's mind, and came forth in a few Bunyanesque sentences.... Sometimes, when I left him on Saturday evening, he did not know either of his texts for Sunday. But he had a well-stored mind; and when he saw his lines of thought, a few catchwords on a half-sheet of notepaper sufficed. Before we parted, he used to offer up a short prayer which was an inspiration to both of us.
Mr. Spurgeon had a marvellous combination of gifts which contributed to his greatness. A voice that you heard with pleasure, and could not help hearing. A mind that absorbed all knowledge--whether from books or nature--that came within its range. An eye that took in a wide angle,--and saw everything within view. A memory that he treated with confidence, and that never disappointed him. A great heart, on fire with the love of God and the love of souls. And then he showed a practical common sense in doing things, both sacred and secular, and a singleness of aim, joined with transparent honesty, that ensured the confidence of all who knew him. You could not help loving him if you came within his spell.'
On several occasions, Spurgeon found himself in the company of a number of High Church clergymen, and they were always greatly surprised to find that the Baptist minister was far more familiar with the works on their side of the controversy than they themselves were. They also discovered that, while he spoke heartily in commendation of all that appeared to him to be Scriptural in the writings of Dr. Pusey, Dr. Neale, Dr. Littledale, Isaac Williams, and other divines of their school of thought, he was able to give good reasons for not accepting their sacramentarian and sacerdotal theories. The same characteristic is very manifest in his remarks upon the Ritualistic works referred to in his Commenting and Commentaries.
Other people beside theologians often noticed the extensive and varied knowledge that Spurgeon possessed. On one of his visits to Mentone, he was in company with an eminent medical man, and, after a while, the conversation drifted round to anatomy, physiology, various diseases to which flesh is heir, and the different modes of treatment adopted for their removal. The doctor was quite astonished at the completeness of his companion's acquaintance with every part of the subject, and he afterwards said: 'Mr. Spurgeon is one of the most remarkable men I ever met. He seems to know as much about the human body as any medical man might have done; he would have made a splendid physician.'
Among the Pastor's hearers at the Tabernacle, or in various seaport towns, many sailors have often been found, listening with intense eagerness; and the men of the sea have often testified that they have never known him make a mistake in his nautical allusions; and James Neil, who spent twenty years in Palestine, has borne similar witness to the accuracy of Spurgeon's descriptions of Biblical manners and customs, thereby confirming the verdict by Dr. Wright already mentioned.
Many of 'John Ploughman's' readers have wondered that he could tell them so much about how to plough and sow, and reap and mow.' Part of that familiarity with farming affairs, no doubt, dated back to his early visits to Stamboume, and his walks among the furrows by the side of the godly ploughman, Will Richardson; and part must be attributed to his constant preaching in different parts of the kingdom, and to the opportunities thus afforded of obtaining further information concerning agricultural pursuits; but extensive reading also added to the effectiveness of his references to such matters. Among the books of his library were two which bore traces of having been carefully examined and used by him: A System of Sheep-grazing and Management, as Practised in Romney Marsh, By Daniel Price, and Sheep, their Breeds, Management, and Diseases, by William Youatt. With Spurgeon everything was made subservient to the one great object he had before him, the glory of God in the salvation of sinners and the extension of the Redeemer's Kingdom.