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MEMOIR OF THE REV. WILLIAM PENINGTON
BURGESS, M.A. :
BY MR. T. M. TRUSCOTT. THE LATE REV. WILLIAM PENINGTON BURGESS was born in Liverpool, December 3rd, 1790, and named after his maternal grandfather, William Penington, who was one of the first race of itinerant Methodist Preachers. To have descended from pious parents, to bave had the benefit of their affectionate precepts, their good example, and their fervent prayers, he ever regarded as an unspeakable advantage, and among the greatest favours wherewith God had blessed him. Referring to his early childhood, his father, the late Rey. Joseph Burgess, wrote as follows:-"As soon as William was capable of understanding, he paid particular attention to anything that was said respecting his grandfather, William Penington, after whom he was called. When he was two years and a half old he fell from the top of a very steep and long flight of stairs to the bottom, which was a stone floor. I was standing at the top of the stairs, near him, when I saw him stumble, yet could not prevent the fall. I ran down, expecting to find him either killed, or with broken bones. But, when I took him up in my arms, and asked him if he was hurt, he immediately said, “No; my grandfather saved me.' It was instantly impressed on my mind that his grandfather was, in that case, a ministering spirit to save his life. The more I consider this subject the less doubt I have of its reality. This circumstance happened at Newcastle, in Staffordshire, in the year 1793, at which time his grandfather had been dead twenty-six years.
“At the age of three years, after having seen a corpse interred, he asked me how it was possible that a person could go to heaven when he was buried so deep under the ground. I was obliged to take some pains to convince him that man consisted of two parts, a body and a soul; and that, while the body returned to the dust, the spirit returned to God who gave it.
“In preaching I have frequently said, when addressing sinners, 'I know you must have many guilty recollections, many painful sensations, and many terrifying apprehensions.' At different
VOL. XIX.- FIFTH SERIES.
times he asked me, when he was between four and five years of age, how I could know what passed in the minds of the people. I told him I knew it from the confessions of sinners, from the declarations of God's Word, and from my own experience.
"Mrs. Scudamore, of Stroud, a very judicious and pious lady, frequently said that she had not the least doubt that William would be a preacher. I felt, at the time, a degree of surprise that she should speak with so much confidence on such a subject, when as yet he was not five years old. At Worcester, when he had attained his seventh year, he was asked whether he would attend the Sunday-school. He replied, “Yes ; as a teacher.' I believe he had an early desire and aptitude to teach ; and that this answer should not be wholly imputed to vanity. Before he was fifteen years of age he was classical teacher in a large academy at Bristol. He had not reached his sixth year when his mind was much impressed by a sermon which the Rev. William Williams preached in Gloucester, from St. Paul's words, Romans ii. 16: In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ.'"
From the pen of his excellent mother we have the following further particulars relative to this period of his life :-—"From his infancy William was of a very active disposition; and, though he was often afflicted, and was reared with much difficulty, he had a great flow of spirits, and, as he grew up, required continual attention to keep him out of mischief. I often felt much on this account, and poured out many a prayer for him, that, by the power of Divine grace, the energies of his restless and inquisitive mind might be turned into a right channel; otherwise, I feared he was likely to do and to suffer much evil. He soon showed a great love for books, and knew all his letters before he could speak plainly. From the time he could read I never knew him to lay out any money that was given him in toys or sweetmeats; but, whether it was a few pence or a larger sum, he immediately repaired to the bookseller's shop, and I was often surprised at the judicious choice he made. To use his own expression, when he was showing me a small History of England which he had just purchased, 'I would have you to take notice, mother, that I always prefer a book that is well stuffed with good reading to one which has a great many pictures in it.' By this means he soon collected a little library, which he kept in great order, numbering every book, and putting each in its proper place.
“ As soon as he could write pretty well, he made several small blank-books, and was diligent in the intervals of school-hours in filling them with various subjects. In one of these he ruled several columns, headed respectively, Divinity, Poetry, History, Philosophy, etc., intending, he gaid, to set down the names of all the great men
he heard or read of, under their proper departments; but he told me he was sadly puzzled at first to know what he should do with Mr. Wesley. He was a great divine, you know,' said he, but he was also a poet, an historian, and a philosopher; so I have put him down in all the four columns.' When he was about five years old he was one day repeating a lesson in the Children's Instructions,' wherein the Trinity is mentioned. He asked me how three Persons could be one God. I answered that we could not comprehend it, but must believe it, as it is revealed in the Bible. He rejoined, with a good deal of warmth, “I am determined never to believe anything which I cannot understand.' But the Divine Spirit, I trust, soon showed him that his understanding was incapable of comprehending the Deity.
" When he was about six years of age he was severely attacked with the small-pox, and for some time his recovery was very doubtful. I then felt my mind particularly engaged about him, endeavouring to offer him up to the Lord, and asking to have his life spared, only on condition that it should be devoted to Him; either in His more immediate service as a minister of the Gospel, or in whatever situation Providence should point out; and I felt great encouragement to believe that, if he were spared, his lengthened days would be consecrated to the service and glory of his Redeemer. As he recovered he seemed to be deeply impressed with eternal things, often asking his father, “What must I do to be saved ?' and saying, “I have often prayed to God, but now I must promise to serve Him. But, as health returned, these solemn impressions wore off. He still continued very diligent in his pursuit of knowledge, and gained the warm approbation of his masters. But, as his father was often from home, he used sometimes to stay out, and get into improper company ; which gave me much uneasiness, and convinced me of the necessity for bringing him under stricter discipline. This, in some measure, reconciled me to the thought of his going to Kingswood. Some time before he went I was conversing with him on the subject, and remarked that he must exert himself in the pursuit of useful knowledge while there, and then he would be fit to apply himself to learn some business as soon as he had completed his schooling. He replied, with great earnestness, 'I am resolved never to learn any trade.' • What will you do, then ?' Do! l'll get good learning, that is what I'll do; and then, you know, I can keep a school, at any rate. As he grew up these sentiments seemed confirmed ; and Providence opened the way for a laborious exertion of his talents; first, as an assistant in Mr. Pocock's academy, Bristol, and then as a private tutor in the family of W. Tweedy, Esq., Truro. From this last situation he was called to the important work of an itine.