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Past and Present
The Rev. Alexander Irvine


Exercised a somewhat popular ministry in Canada, some twenty-five years ago; and was stationed in York in 1832 and ’33— being the last to minister in the “ Old Framed Meeting House,” and the first in the new brick church on then “Newgate,” now Adelaide-Street.

Mr. Irvine was born in Scotland—this was something in his favour to begin with—and had received with his brothers that good common school education for which Scotland was distinguished long before the countries of much greater pretentions, which have only lately awakened to the importance of this subject. The family emigrated to America while he was yet a very young man, and went first to the United States, where he and his elder brother, William, long so favourably known on the old Belleville circuit, as the enlightened and steadfast Christian, were converted to God and joined the Methodists, a people with whom they had no acquaintance in their own country. Not long after their conversion the family came to Canada; where Alexander remained long enough to graduate from the status of a private member, through the intermediate office of an exhorter—a course then thought to be indispensable-—till he became an accredited Local Preacher of much promise, when he returned again to the United States, where he married. Though “ encumbered” with a wife such wa3 the character of his abilities that he was soon called into the itinerant work within the bounds of the old Genesee Conference. He filled a number of very important stations within the limits of that Conference, I believe with great acceptability, so far as ability was concerned. But I fear that a consideration of his entire course, must extort the confession that there was a fickleness of purpose about him unworthy of a Scotchman, and that marred what might have been a very useful and even brilliant career. About 1829 he “located,” came to Canada, and settled on a bush farm. He and his friends soon perceived that this was not the sphere for him, and he resumed his itinerant labours again in 1830, and was received into the Canada Conference in 1831.

It was at the Conference in this year, held in “York”—a Conference memorable to him, and four others on a certain very interesting account, that the writer first saw Mr. Irvine, and heard him preach. So majestically beautiful was his text, I give it entire:—“Happy art thou, 0 Israel: who is like unto thee, 0 people saved of the Lord, the shield of thy help and the sword of thine excellence! and thine enemies shall be found liars unto thee; and thou shalt tread upon their high places.” Deut. xxxiii. 29. Does any curious person say, “What was the character of his preaching?” We would answer—a chaste and dignified declamation. It was true and correct, and beautiful, and even useful to a certain class of minds; but if we write to convey right opinions, we think we are bound to say, that it was not so plain, pointed, and adapted to real practical effect as it might have been. The preacher was kind, amiable, gifted, lively in his way, and sincerely pious; but, like many more of us, he might have been more deeply so. And it would have done him no harm if he had been more thoroughly baptised with “the spirit from on high.”

Irvine was not handsome, but interesting—we should pronounce him above the medium height, slight made, thin faced, pock-marked, and very intellectual in his appearance. He was a man of a fine and tasteful rather than a strong mindk He would have excelled in the lighter kinds of literature of which he was very fond. He had a good library of our English classics—Shakspeare, Byron, Burns, and, if I mistake not, even Sir Walter Scott, (I do not mention this approvingly) had a place on his shelves with grave divines. He could rhyme even faster than “ Father Wilson,” and there was vastly more sprightliness and poetry in it. He never took a very active part in the discussions in Conference; but often amused himself by turning the whole of them into very clever verse* Some of the brethren who were on the celebrated committee that drew up the “Preliminaries of the first “ Union,” in 1832, and who still survive, will remember how musically he made their names to jingle in the clever jeu d’esprit he wrote on that occasion. Some others will also remember his adroit conversion of the very remarkable defence “ dream” and all, of a certain person, now dignified in other relationships, made at the Conference in 1833 into rhyme. Irvine was a man of some scholarship as well as literature. The writer has a classical work in his possession now, which had been well thumbed by Mr. I—=—, and which he procured from his library.

This amiable but changing brother “desisted from the work” again in 1835, and removed to someone of the Western' States (Iowa,) of the neighbouring union, where he settled, and where he died, somewhere about 1838 or ’9. It is, however, a pleasing reflection that he was preparing to return to the full work of the ministry when he was seized with the illness which terminated his life* His end was peace and joy. Happy, that he made good his entrance into the haven of felicity after all the vicissitudes that had passed over him.

With this thought the writer would check his pen, and clbsC with the sentiment of Our hero’s favourite Shakespeare :—

“Let but your honour know,
(Whom I believe to be tiaost strait in virtue,)
That in the working of your own affections,
Had time cohered with place* or place with wishing,
Or that the resolute acting of your blood
Could have attained the effect of your own purpose,
Whether you had not some time in your life
Err'd in this point which now you censure him
And pull’d the law upon you.*


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