Hall, Robert one of the most eloquent of modern preachers, was born at Arnsby, Leicestershire, May 2, 1764. His father, who was also a Baptist minister of good repute, early remarked his talent, and gave him every opportunity for its development. It is said that "Edwards On the Will and Butler's Analogy were the chosen companions of his childhood, being perused and reperused with intense interest before he was nine years old. At eleven his master, Mr. Simmons, declared himself unable any longer to keep pace with his pupil!" In 1773 he was placed under the instruction of the learned and pious John Ryland, of Northampton. At fifteen he became a student in the Baptist College at Bristol, and at eighteen he entered King's College, Aberdeen, where he took the degree of M.A. Here he "enjoyed the instruction of Drs. Gerard, Ogilvie, Beattie, and Campbell, and also formed that intimate friendship with Sir James Mackintosh which continued through life. Mr. Hall was the first scholar in his class through his collegiate course." In 1785 he was chosen as colleague with Dr. Caleb Evans in the ministry at Broadmead Chapel, Bristol, and adjunct professor in the Baptist Academy there. Here he attained great popularity. His father died in 1791; and the same year a difference with Dr. Evans led to his removing from Bristol, and accepting an invitation to become pastor of the Baptist congregation at Cambridge on the departure of the Rev. Robert Robinson, who had adopted Unitarian views, to be successor to Dr. Priestley at Birmingham. Hall had already acquired considerable celebrity as a preacher, but it was not till now that he appeared as an author; and the impulse that sent him to the press was rather political than theological. His first publication (unless we are to reckon some anonymous contributions to a Bristol newspaper in 1786-87) was a pamphlet entitled Christianity
consistent with a Love of Freedom, being an Answer to a Sermon by the Rev. John Clayton (8vo, 1791). Like most of the ardent and generous maids of that day, he was strongly excited and carried away by the hopes and promises of the French Revolution. In 1793 he published another liberal pamphlet, entitled An Apology for the Freedom of the Press, and for general Liberty, which brought him much reputation. The impression that had been made upon him, however, by the irreligious character of the French revolutionary movement was indicated in his next publication, Moderne Infidelity considered with respect to its Influence on Society, a Sermon (8vo, 1800). It was the publication of this able and eloquent sermon which first brought Hall into general notice. From this time whatever he produced attracted immediate attention. "In 1802 appeared his Reflections on War. The threatened invasion of Bonaparte in 1803 brought him again before the public in the discourse entitled Sentiments suitable to the present Crisis which raised Mr. Hall's reputation for large views and powerful eloquence to the highest pitch. In November, 1804, owing chiefly to a disease of the sprie, attended by want of sufficient exercise and rest, the exquisitely toned mind of Mr. Hall lost its balance, and he who had so long been the theme of universal admiration became the subject of as extensive a sympathy. He was placed tinder the care of Dr. Arnold, of Leicester, where, by the divine blessing, his health was restored in about two months. But similar causes produced a relapse about twelve months afterwards, from which he was soon restored, though it was deemed essential to the permanent establishment of his health that he should resign his pastoral charge and remove from Cambridge. Two shocks of so humiliating a calamity within the compass of a year deeply impressed Mr. Hall's mind. His own decided persuasion was that lie never before experienced a thorough transformation of character; and there can be no question that from this period his spirit was habitually more humble, dependent, and truly devotional. It became his custom to renew every birthday, by a solemn act, the dedication of himself to God, on evangelical principles, and in the most earnest sincerity of heart. In 1807 he became pastor of the Baptist church in Leicester, where he soon after married; and where he labored most successfully for nearly twenty years. At no period was he more happy, active, and useful. The church, when he left it, was larger than the whole congregation when he took the charge of it. But his influence was not confined to the limits of his parish. He took an active part in all the noble charities of the age, and by his sermons, speeches, and writings exerted a wide influence on society, not only in England, but on the continent of Europe, in America, and in India. His review of Zeal without Innovation, his tracts on the Terms of Communion, and his sermons on the Advantages of Knowledge to the lower Classes, on the Discouragements and Supports of the Christian Ministry, on the Character of a Christian Missionary, on the Death of the Princess Charlotte and of Rev. Dr. Ryland, with several others, were given to the public while residing here. Here also, in 1823, he delivered his admirable course of lectures on the Socinian Controversy, partially preserved in his Works. At last, in 1826, he removed to the pastoral care of his old congregation at Broadmead, Bristol, and here he remained till his death, which took place at Bristol on the 21st of Feb. 1831. Besides occasional contributions to Various dissenting periodical publications, Hall published various tracts and sermons in the last twenty years of his life, which, along with those already mentioned, have since his death been collected under the title of The Works of Robert Hall, M.A., with a brief Memoir of his Life by Dr. Gregory, and Observations on his Character as a Preacher by John Foster, published under the superintendence of Olinthus Gregory, LL.D., professor of mathematics in the Royal Military Academy (London, 1831- 32, 6 vols. 8vo; lith ed. 1853). It was intended that the Life should have been written by Sir James Mackintosh, but he died (in May, 1832) before beginning it. Dr. (Gregory's Memoir, from which we have abstracted the materials of this article, was afterwards published in a separate form. SEE GREGORY, OLINTHUS. The first volume of Hall's Works contains sermons, charges, and circular letters (or addresses in the name of the governing body of the Baptist Church); the second, a tract entitled On Terns of Communion (1815, in 2 parts), and another entitled The essential Difference between Christian Baptism and the Baptism of John (a defense of what is called the practice of free communion, which produced a powerful effect in liberalizing the practice of the Baptist community) (1816 and 1818, in 2 parts); the third, political and miscellaneous tracts extending from 1791, to 1826, and also the Bristol newspaper contributions of 1786- 87; the fourth, reviews and miscellaneous pieces; the fifth, notes of sermons and letters. The sixth, besides Dr. Gregory's memoir, contains Mr. Foster's observations, and notes taken down by friends of twenty-one sermons. The American reprint (New York, Harper and Brothers, 4 vols. 8vo) contains, besides what is given in the English edition, a number of additional sermons, with anecdotes, etc., by Rev. Joseph Belcher.
Robert Hall was one of the greatest preachers of his age. His excellence did not so much consist in the predominance of one of his powers as in the exquisite proportion and harmony of them all. The richness, variety, and extent of his knowledge were not so remarkable as his absolute mastery over it. There is not the least appearance of straining after greatness in his most magnificent excursions, but he rises to the loftiest heights with the most childlike ease. His style as a writer is one of the clearest and simplest- the least encumbered with its own beauty-of any which ever has been written. — His noblest passages do but make truth visible in the form of beauty, and 'clothe upon' abstract ideas till they become palpable in exquisite shapes. Whoever 'wishes to see the English language in its perfection,' says Dugald Stewart, 'must read the writings of Rev. Robert Hall. He combines the beauties of Johnson. Addison, and Burke, without their imperfections.' He is distinguished, however, rather for expression and exposition than for invention; he was an orator rather than a great thinker. But as an orator he will rank in literature with Bossuet and Massillon. For critical estimates of him by Mackintosh and other eminent. men, see Life of Hall, by Gregory, prefixed to his Works; also Eclectic Magazine, 2, North British Review, 4, 454; North American Review, 54, 384; Methodist Quarterly Review, 4, 516; Quarterly Review (Lond.), 47, 100; English Cyclopedia; Jamieson, Religious Biography, p. 246.