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The Old Man and the Sea

At first glance, a Victorian sailor might seem an unlikely candidate to make a contribution to the study of the New Testament. And James Smith of Jordanhill was undoubtedly a sailor. Born at Glasgow in 1782 and educated at the University of Glasgow, Smith was one of the earliest members both of the Royal Yacht Club and one of the earliest commodores of the Royal Northern Yacht Club. His first voyage in his own vessel in 1806 was the beginning of a lifelong love affair with the sea. He took his last cruise in 1866, just a year before his death.

But Smith was much more than just a sailor; he was also a keen student of ancient literature, a scholar who could read with facility not only Greek and Latin but also most of the Romance and Teutonic languages, and a collector of rare books, particularly those relating to early voyages and travels. His knowledge both of geology and of archaeology was considerable, and on the subject of ships of the ancients he was a recognized authority.

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A Pilgrim’s Regress: George John Romanes and the Search for Rational Faith

In the summer and fall of 1873, George John Romanes lost his belief in God. Of itself, this was nothing unusual. For a young Englishman of the time—particularly one embarking on a career in the sciences—to abandon the faith of his fathers was, if not a universal rite of passage, at least a common trajectory, a well-beaten path traveled by distinguished Victorian intellectuals like Matthew Arnold, W. K. Clifford, Thomas Huxley, John Tyndall, and above all Charles Darwin. And yet Romanes’s case is distinctive both for the care he took to explain the reasons for his loss of faith and for his candid admission of what it cost him to follow, to the best of his ability, wherever the argument seemed to lead.

In the end, it led him where he never expected to arrive.

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God’s Lecturer

Thomas Cooper (1805-92) was not a man to do things by halves. His unflagging energy and enormous appetite for knowledge matched his relentless determination to do what he felt was right, whatever it might cost. That energy and that determination propelled him into the pulpit, into a Stafford jail, into the freethinking movement, and ultimately into a most improbable career that kept him constantly busy for the last thirty years of his life.

Cooper’s father died when he was young, and like many poor boys he was apprenticed to a tradesman—in his case, to a cobbler. There cannot often have been a greater mismatch between abilities and opportunities. Cooper’s intellectual gifts drove him to read voraciously, and before long he obtained a position as a lay preacher among the Wesleyans. His unusual gift for public speaking made him immediately popular. It also attracted the unfavorable attention of a less gifted superintendent who, by Cooper’s account, did what he could to thwart the younger man’s career in the church. Some unpleasant ecclesiastical wrangling ensued that left Cooper without a pulpit.

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