THE LIFE OF PRINCIPAL
BIRTH AND BOYHOOD. 1795-1813.
GenealogyThe Laird of CambusnethanLeightonLawyer and Ecclesiastic Times of the CovenantFine and ImprisonmentEdinburgh Castle SchoolFrench OfficerJuvenile RhymesScenery around Lanark' Boy the Father to the Man'Touching InterviewConversionGlasgow UniversityHome-SicknessThe ReturnProfessor JardineMedical Studies in University of Edinburgh.
JAMES HARPER was born at Lanark, June 23, 1795. He was the
younger son of Rev. Alex. Harper, minister of the Associate or Burgher
Congregation in that beautifully-situated county town. His mother was Janet
Gilchrist, daughter of James Gilchrist, Esq. of Gilfoot, in the neighbourhood
of Lanark, a property on the banks of the Clyde in the parish of Carluke, still
in possession of the family. It deserves to be noticed that one of his
ancestors, by the father's side, was Sir John Harper, advocate, Sheriff of
Lanarkshire in the reign of Charles ii., and proprietor of the lands of
Cambusnethan and Craig-crook. He was the friend and frequent associate of the
meditative and saintly Archbishop Leighton, whose country house of Garion
Tower, being not far from the Sheriff's residence at Cambusnethan House, gave
the lawyer and the ecclesiastic easy opportunities of intercourse. But those
were trying times in Lanarkshire. Persecution had waxed hot against the
Covenanters who abounded in that part of the country, and both the Archbishop
and the Sheriff were sincerely averse to the work of carrying out the arbitrary
decrees of the Government against the sufferers. Leighton escaped from the
perplexity and trouble by being allowed to return to his quiet retreat at
Dunblane, where he had formerly been bishop.
But though no act of direct assistance to the 'men of the Covenant' could be proved against the Sheriff, his wife had been more demonstrative in her sympathies, and, on the suspicion of connivance with treasonable practices, as we learn from Wodrow, he was imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle. He remained in the Castle prison for several months, and was only at length liberated, under a bond of £10,000 sterling, ' to answer, when called, to the premises, or any other crime laid to his charge.' We doubt whether the subject of this memoir could ever have been brought to regard this passage in the history of his ancestor as a blot on the family escutcheon.
At an early age, the boy was sent to school during the summer months in the small retired village of Cartland. His mother was wont to describe him as at this time a fair, ruddy, chubby, cheerful, and happy boy - fond of whistling. He was transferred to the Grammar School of Lanark, in which all the common branches of education, as well as Latin and Greek, were taught. The lessons of the school were energetically assisted and supplemented by his father at home, while the whole course was by and by pleasantly diversified by the instructions of a French officer who came to board in the family, and who delighted to instruct his ready pupil in the French language, as well as to train him in the art of fencing. There was a large tree in his father's garden at Mansfield, some of whose branches the little student contrived to weave into a seat which was raised some distance above the ground, and in this leafy retreat he conned his lessons from day to day. In the later years of his boyhood he often attempted some verses in "thyme, lisping in numbers, for the numbers came." There was a kind of self-education in all this which was valueable. But in after years the juvenile rhymes were all placed by him in the mouth of a rabbit-hole and burned. A wise act of cremation, it is likely ; but we are not so sure of his wisdom in committing at intervals to the flames so many precious sheaves of the writings of his vigorous manhood and his green old age.
Another important branch of the youth's education was meanwhile being carried on, in which nature was his only teacher, laying open to him some of the most picturesque-pages of its great book in the scenery around Lanark. In the smiling orchards which, in Summer and Autumn, turned the valley of the Clyde, a mile round, into one great garden; in the waterfalls, the sound of which favouring winds his home in Mansfield ; and in the lovely glen of the Cartland Crags, his soul drank in high delight; and as he rambled alone, the shadows of many a problem already began to rise dimly before his mind, to be anxiously and earnestly grappled with in later years.
"Lo! where the stripling, wrapt in wonder, roves
Beneath the precipice o'erhung with pine,
And sees on high amidst the encircling groves
From cliff to cliff the foaming torrents shine ;
While waters, woods, and winds in concert join,
And echo swells the chorus to the skies."
In the few scattered recollections and impressions which it is now possible to gather regarding the growth of his character, it is not difficult to trace the early buddings of some of those qualities which became mature and prominent in him in later life. His veneration for his parents was not of that passive kind which we find in so many children, but glowed with all the fervour of a passion; and it found ample exercise in later years. Among his companions, his delicate sense of honour and manly integrity, commanded their respect, while his moral courage, mingled with gentleness and unwillingness to give offence, won their love. If a boy wished to do a mean thing, he would take care not to do it in young Harper's presence. There was a manly forbearance in the boy that made him, without knowing it, a peacemaker. We are confirmed in this impression by an incident which took place only a few years ago in Glasgow. Having heard of a gentleman being still alive who had been his playfellow more than sixty years before on the school-green at Lanark, he got his address and sought him out. He was shown into a room, and a few minutes afterwards a gentleman entered bearing the marks of great age. The two stood looking at each other without recognition, when Principal Harper simply said, ' James Harper.' Instantly the old gentleman grasped him warmly by the hand, and said with emotion, ' Jamie Harper, the boy who never made a quarrel!'
The question has often been asked in reference to one who afterwards rose to such a position of eminence and usefulness, at what period and in what circumstances did young Harper come under that supreme influence of religious principle and motive which the Scriptures describe by the name of conversion ? Various gathered hints have led us to conclude that this great change took place in his boyhood; but in his case, as in that of thousands regarding whose personal Christianity there cannot be any doubt, it is impossible to determine, with even an approach to precision, ' the happy day that fixed his choice.' Dates are of little consequence where we have fruits. In the case of children who have lived in the atmosphere of a Christian home, there is an influence which often brings them at an early age ' near to the kingdom of heaven,' but it is no more possible to determine the actual moment of decision than to tell the very instant at which the first ray of light streaked the heavens at sunrise. ' There are differences of ministration, but the same Lord.' The wind bloweth only where, but how it listeth. One child in a year may be awakened from sleep by a thunder-peal, by a mother's kiss. One of the holiest and wisest of the Puritans, Philip Henry, declared, after his own curiously quaint manner, that he 'could not tell the precise time at which the match was made and the knot was tied.' We are strengthened in these impressions regarding the boy's early religious decision, by the glowing terms in which, throughout his manhood, and most of all in his old age, he was accustomed to speak of the singular happiness of his boyhood and youth. With our recollection of James Montgomery's words, that ' youth is the poetry of old age,' we can scarcely doubt that the golden mist in which he ever beheld his earlier years, contained in it the supreme element of a loving heart at peace with God; though this does not exclude other elements which brightened his recollections, and made it possible for him, even to the last, to taste anew his earlier joys.
In one of his latest letters, written to a daughter from the old family home at Lanark after he had passed his seventieth year, he writes : ' We drove to Orchard by way of Cartland, a small retired village where I went to school one summer. I recognised some old fir-trees where the youngsters of old had their playground, and it so happened that the children now attending school there, were enjoying their play-hour as I passed, so that my recollections of boyhood were thereby rendered more vivid.'
By the time that our somewhat precocious youth had reached the age of twelve, the Grammar School at Lanark appears to have well-nigh exhausted upon him its rather limited resources, and it became a serious question at home, What was next to be done with the lad? His active mind must receive employment somewhere; and it was at length resolved to enter him as .a student in the University of Glasgow. It proved a premature step, though probably no harm came out of it. Borne away from his native town where he knew every one, and where every countenance smiled upon him, into a great sea of strange faces where no one cared for him, he was seized, during the winter, with a homesickness that made work impossible, and even his young life a burden to him. As time moved on, and his longing sadness did not pass away, he at length summoned courage to inform his father of his condition. With a considerateness that was characteristic of the lad, the letter was written in Latin, to secure that his father might be his only confidant. But it gushed with such a filial tenderness, and revealed such a weariness of spirit in the lonely boy, that the father's resolution was promptly taken. Early next morning the pony was saddled, and the good minister was on his way to Glasgow, a distance of twenty-eight miles, to bring the student back. On the way back the father and the son walked and rode by turns, and the house was brighter again when James was back. The home education was renewed, a miscellaneous lot of books was read, the old scenes of beauty and grandeur were revisited, study went on in his awakening mind when there was no book in his hand; and in the following winter he returned to Glasgow with an rejuvated body, and with braced resolution to pursue University studies in right earnest.
He continued a student at this time-honoured University during three sessions, from 1810 to 1813, passing through the course of classical and philosophical study which the Presbyterian Churches of Scotland require of their students previous to their formal entrance on the study of theology. Beyond the fact that his diligence, application, and opening gifts made him a favourite with his professors, and that he was loved by his fellow-students, with many of whom he formed lifelong friendships that mellowed with years, we have been able to glean almost nothing of his college life. Of one of his professors he was accustomed to speak, in common with thousands who had sat at his feet, with admiring gratitude. This was George Jardine, the Professor of Logic, a man who united in himself the possession of knowledge with a remarkable power of conveying it; who knew how to stimulate thought in young minds, and to send away his pupils daily with the feeling that the last hour's training had made them intellectually stronger and wiser; and whose mingled dignity and affection drew forth towards him from the occupants of his crowded benches the veneration of children to a father. To the last he cherished fond recollections of his Alma Mater and his student days in Glasgow. ' On his last visit to us,' writes a son-in-law, ' he expressed a wish to see again the old University buildings, his student lodgings, and the road to Lanark which he had so often paced; and it was touching to observe the deep and somewhat pensive interest with which he viewed the old scenes.'
In the winter of 1813 he passed to the University of Edinburgh, where, in addition to the study of Natural Philosophy which was required by his Church, he stepped beyond the prescribed curriculum, and became an eager student, during two sessions, in the important medical classes of Chemistry, Anatomy, Surgery, and the Practice of Medicine, attracted by the names of such renowned teachers as Playfair, Gregory, and Hope. In after life, he always put high value on these supplementary studies. They enlarged his mind, widened his sympathies, enriched and diversified his intellectual stores, and helped him to make other spheres of knowledge, besides those supplied by sacred learning, ' pay tithes to the priesthood.' But that they did not indicate any hesitation of choice between the profession of the Christian minister and that of the physician, is evident from the fact that he had already entered, at the Divinity Hall of his Church at Selkirk, on his course of theological study. This last-named fact now turns our thoughts to Selkirk.
Go To Chapter Two
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