1802 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Dr. Alexander Henry Haliday

Obituary from Belfast News Letter; Monthly Magazine 13 (July 1802) 624-25.



On Wednesday, April 19, aged 75, Alexander Henry Haliday, M.D. a gentleman who, for the space of half a century, has illustrated his native town of Belfast, by a character distinguished for private worth, consistent public spirit, much elegant accomplishment, and high professional reputation. Of all the liberal professions, that of medicine is perhaps the most liberal. No one which, in a more eminent degree, combines the useful and the amiable qualities; the solid talents which dignify, and the sweet courtesies which decorate, character. No one which supplies more ample opportunity of forming a just estimate of human life, of appreciating the weakness and the worth of human nature. No one which, in a political point of view, has maintained, amidst the selfishness of sects and the intrigue of factions, a more virtuous independence, a more dignified impartiality. This general remark has never had a truer application than in the life, conduct, and conversation of Doctor Haliday. Of his professional merits, the profession itself must supply the most adequate judges: but the public, at large, may perhaps form as true an estimate from the long popularity which as a practitioner of physic he possessed, not merely in his native town, but throughout the whole province of Ulster — a popularity neither made, nor maintained, by any sinister arts, by the patronage of the higher ranks, nor the puffing of the lower; but the well-earned fruit of an excellent education, engrafted on an excellent understanding. His successful and extensive practice was the natural and necessary result of a shrewd and sagacious intellect, always kept in a state of the highest cultivation by the habit of reading and reflection, by joining the inquisitiveness of the student to the experience of years, and especially by a disposition of mind which desired to keep pace with the progress of science and the medical art; and never from pride or indolence rejected improvement, under the invidious name of innovation. His exterior announced intrinsic worth; his art of healing commenced with infusing the faith of being healed. He possessed a mild and gracious dignity of manner, which commanded respect, while it conciliated confidence. How often have those black and ill-omen'd ideas, that evil genius, which strangely haunts even the most virtuous minds, felt the influence of his aspect, and fled from the benignity of his smile! — How often have affectionate relatives, when bereft of all other hope, looked out, with a last anxious hope, for a visit from Doctor Haliday? In propriety, in probity, in assiduity, in natural ability, and acquired endowment, few have better sustained the comprehensive character of an accomplished physician. Dr. Haliday's talents and attainments were far from being confined within the circle of his profession, though they were never allowed to interfere with its duties. His powers in conversation, so generally admired, were the product of a great sociability of nature, and a quick discernment, rendered more acute by native wit, lively without libertinism, sportive without sarcasm. His wit was a salt that highly seasoned the pleasure of the table, without having any corrosive malignity. He loved to play with words, as Scipio and the good Laelius are said to have diverted themselves with pebbles. In fact, he possessed all those various and versatile qualities, which can render conversation interesting or delightful — good sense, facility of thought, taste, fancy, knowledge of the world, a turn for agreeable anecdote, a happy frivolity, an easy and graceful vivacity. A man of such a mind and such manners naturally became the real resident representative of his native town, while the nominal one was scarcely known even by name. On every public occasion, when Belfast wished to place itself in the most respectable point of view to visitors distinguished by rank, station, or talent, Dr. Haliday, at the head of the table, was in his appropriate place; and his guests, however eminent, never failed to find in the physician of a country town, an urbanity of manner, a variety of information, a happy and opportune wit, a just tone and timing in whatever he said, which set him, at least, upon a level with those who possessed patents of dignity, or high official situation. Thomas Hollis purchased the bed on which Milton died, and sent it as a present to Dr. Akenside, with a hope that it might prompt him to write an ode to the memory of the sublime asserter of British liberty. Dr. Haliday seems to have occupied the bed of Akenside. He wrote several poems with the same vigour of sentiment, the same fire of public spirit: but politics and poetry are seldom in happy conjunction, and he seems to have argued in verse and reasoned in rhyme, rather more than is suited to poetry and particularly to the poetry of the lyre. In his political principles, he was a genuine Whig, not understanding by that denomination the mere factionary of a powerful party, but the hearty hater of arbitrary power, whether exercised by individuals or by parties, the zealous yet judicious advocate of civil and religious freedom, the strong upholder of those popular principles, which form the living spirit of the British constitution, and which, at different periods, have called forth all the heroism of British story. It was at the civic commemoration of those illustrious epochs, in which Haliday gave his head and heart to the social celebration, (quale coronati Thrasea He vidiusque bibebant — Brutorum et Cassii natalibus); while he supported, at the same time, the just prerogatives of the crown, as perfectly compatible with the original and ultimate sovereignty of the people. Nurtured under the philosophy of Hutchinson, and early enraptured with the poetry of Akenside, the study of the former gave him that chastity, the moral sense of which blends political and personal duty in the same strict tie of honesty and honour; and the Muse of the latter threw that sacred flame of liberty into his breast, which continued to burn while he continued to exist. In the principles of civil and religious liberty he lived, and in these he died. They were the bond of his youthful friendships, and they consolidated the attachments of his maturer years. These were the associating principles of Maclaine, Bruce, Wight, Plunket, and M'Tier, the principles of the venerable Camden and the amiable Charlemont, of the untitled Stewart, and the unpensioned Burke. These were the principles which gained him the confidence and correspondence of that great and good man, Henry Grattan; and the same principles led him to regard Charles James Fox in the light of a tutelary genius to the British constitution. Dr. Haliday's character was completed by what is perhaps to be deemed the best man's best praise — its uniform cheerfulness — its inestimable equanimity. To a most amiable woman he was a husband at once polite and tender, affectionate and respectful — to his dependents a kind protector, and to all his relatives a guide and guardian — an ever-ready friend, and an adopted father. Farewell, venerable and virtuous man! — Admired, beloved, and honoured, for wit, and worth, and wisdom — You have closed your reverend length of days: but your name will long live in hallowed remembrance — by one, ever to be regarded with filial reverence and gratitude for kind condescension, for paternal admonition, for friendly recommendation, and for life repeatedly restored.