[Footnote 7: Memoir of Sir W. Hamilton, pp. 299-301.]
THE CENTRAL PROBLEM
It was confidently expected, not merely by Cairns’s personal friends but by others in a much wider circle, that he would make a name for himself in the world of letters and speculative thought. It was not only the brilliance of his University career that led to this expectation, for, remarkable as that career had been, there have been many men since his time who, so far as mere prize taking is concerned, have equalled or surpassed him—men who never aroused and would not have justified any high-pitched hopes about their future. But Cairns, in addition to gaining academic distinctions, seems to have impressed his contemporaries in a quite exceptional degree with a sense of his power and promise. Professor Masson, writing of him as he was in his student days, thus describes him: “There was among us one whom we all respected in a singular degree. Tall, strong-boned, and granite-headed, he was the student whom Sir William Hamilton himself had signalised and honoured as already a sterling thinker, and the strength of whose logic, when you grappled with him in argument, seemed equalled only by the strength of his hand-grip when you met him or bade him good-bye, or by the manly integrity and nobleness of his character." And again, writing of him as he was at a later date, the same critic gives this estimate of his old fellow-student’s mental calibre: “I can name one former student of Sir William Hamilton’s, now a minister in what would be accounted in England one of the straitest sects of Scottish Puritanism, and who has consecrated to the duties of that calling a mind among the noblest I have known and the most learned in pure philosophy. Any man who on any subject of metaphysical speculation should contend with Dr. Cairns of Berwick-on-Tweed, would have reason to know, ere he had done with him, what strength for offence and defence there may yet be in a Puritan minister’s hand-grip."
[Footnote 8: Macmillan’s Magazine, December 1864, p. 139.]
[Footnote 9: Recent British Philosophy, pp. 265-66.]
That this is no mere isolated estimate of a partial friend it would not be difficult to prove. This was what his friends thought of him, and what they had taught others outside to think of him too. The time, however, had now come when it had to be put to the proof. During the first five years of his ministry at Berwick, as we have seen, Cairns devoted himself entirely to his work in Golden Square. He must learn to know accurately how much of his time that work would take up, before he could venture to spend any of it in other fields. But in 1850 he felt that he had mastered the situation, and accordingly he began to write for the Press. The ten years between 1850 and 1860 were years of considerable literary activity with him, and it may be said at once that