BIRTH, CHILDHOOD, AND SCHOOL-DAYS.
18O3 - 1814.
Inchgrundle, Lochlee, Forfarshire: .July, 13, 1868.
Yesterday, I completed my sixty-fifth year: and now, amid the pleasant solitudes of this picturesque glen, where, through the kindness of Lord Dalhousie, and of his father, I have enjoyed for nineteen years a holiday retreat, I begin what I had long purposed, a sketch, however lightly or roughly drawn, of my own life; the object I have chiefly in view being to thread on that some of those important events and great to see, and in some of which I have taken a part. It may, if it should ever appear, prove instructive to others, and glorifying to Him through whose great goodness and mercy I have a spared to nearly the three score years and ten that form the allotted term of life.
With care and prudence, human life may be extended considerably beyond the ordinary period. The truth is few people die a natural death. Some are murdered; but the greater part, who have arrived at years of discretion, commit suicide of a sort, through their neglect of the ordinary rules of health, or the injudicious use of meat, drink, or medicine. Hence few have ever seen a person who has reached a hundred years; and any who have attained that patriarchal age are world's-wonders, whom people go to see.
I myself, though I have travelled much both at home and abroad, have seen only one person above a hundred years old. She kept a stone-ware shop at Coleraine in Ireland, and was, if I may be permitted the Irishism, the "lion" of the place. On entering the shop to buy something, that I might see her, I found an old grey-haired woman behind the counter but this was her daughter, "an add young lass" of eighty. On learning this, I said I wished to be served by her mother, that I might have it to say that I had not only seen, but bought from a woman a hundred and seven years old. On this, coming at once from a back room to the call of her daughter, the old lady, no beldam, appeared, walking slowly and softly, buf straight as a rush; the only marks of her great age being the eyes, bright, however, with intelligence, deeply sunk in their sockets, and her face wearing a very bleached and bloodless hue.
The late Marquis of Lansdowne (a minister of State, who was in his attire and manner very like a polished and courteous minister of the Gospel) used to boast that he sat, on first entering the House of Commons, beside one who had been a member of the House in the time of George II.
But the case of Dr.Alison, the celebrated physician, and hardly less famous philanthropist, one of the best end greatest men I ever knew, was much more extraordinary. It recalls the days of the patriarchs. He, in 1859, had spoken to a man who had spoken to a man who had been at Flodden Field, a battle fought so far back as 1513. There was, so to speak, but one man between him and an event that occurred more than three-hundred years before. What seems incredib1e is thus explained :when a mere child, Dr.Alison been put into the arms of a man in Aberdeenshire who lived, if I remember aright, to the age of a hundred and thirty - and this old highland patriarch once met with Jenkins who survived till he was one hundred and sixty-nine years old, and had when a boy carried arrows to the English archers who fought and won the field of Flodden.
One of the most curious cases of old age I ever heard of was told me by Lord Ardmillan, who, to the integrity of a judge, and the graces of a genius, and piety of a Christian, adds such a knack for story-telling as makes his society quite delightful. Mr. F. Dundas, M.P., a friend of his, having heard, when on a visit to Shetland, of a very old man who lived on the mainland, or one of its islands, went to see him. On approaching his cottage, he saw an aged but hale-looking man at work in a field close by, and not doubting but that this was the person he was in search of, he made up to him, but had no sooner begun to moralise on topics suitable to old age and the close of life, than the person he addressed turned round on him to say, "It'll be my fayther ye've come to see; there he is, sitting at the cheek o the door!" And there, on walking up to the house, he saw a grey-haired, venerable patriarch, sitting on a stone by the door, warming his cold blood in the sunshine. On going up him, and introducing himself as a traveller, who had come out of his way to see one who had seen so many years, he was much surprised when this old man, pointing his staff to the door, said, "It ll be my fayther ye've come to see; he's in the house, there!" he entered: and there, in one who, with bleared eyes and furrowed brow, cowered over a peat fire, while he stretched out his palsied hands to catch its warmth, and over whose shoulders, bent under the weight - of years, fell a few spare silver locks, he saw the very picture of a great old age. He was sure that he had now got hold of the veritable man. Raising his voice, for he found the aged patriarch deaf almost as a door-post, he let him know the purpose of his visit. But what was his astonishment when this withered form by the "chimney neuk," pointing to the door of an inner room, said, "Oh, it'll be my fayther ye've come to see; he's ben there!" and an old woman who sat by the fire, added, "Surely, sir, you'll not go till you've seen the Lucky Dad?" And "ben there," to be sure, lying in a "box-bed " he found the father of the other three generations, alive indeed, but more like a dried mummy than a living man.
It may not be desirable to live on into second child-hood - man, in such a condition, presenting physically and mentally, as well as morally and spiritually, the saddest of all ruins. Yet the glory of God and the good of mankind require that we do ourselves no harm, but devoting it to useful, noble, and holy purposes, spin out our life till the thread snaps through sheer and weakness.
People should shine as lights in the world, but not the candle in a draught or door-way. It is better, to wear out than to rust out; but the weights of a clock may be made so heavy as to damage the machinery and make it run down beforeits proper time. We have no more right to shorten our life, and the duty of self-preservation which instinct teaches, is one which the Bible enforces. A knowledge of the ordinary, rules of health therefore, to be regarded as one of the moat useful branches of education; and- considering how easily they may be acquired, and how many diseases are spread and lives lost through the neglect of them, it is astonishing that they are not taught in all our schools. Were these rules learned to be practised, and were people to observe in all things - abstaining especially from every cup stronger than that which cheers but not inebriates - and were our working classes as well fed, clothed, and housed as they might be were they to abstain from the use of expensive and dangerous luxuries, thousands of lives would be saved, thousands of accidents and diseases averted, and the three score years and ten would probably prove not the ordinary limit, but the ordinary average of human life - as many living beyond that period as died before it.
"What's in a name?" asks the Poet. Yet some names are very awkward - an American minister of my acquaintance had the misfortune to be called Merryman; he, only less unfortunate than another in that country of strange names, the Rev. Mr. Scamp, who, "scamp" though in a sense he was, lived, as I read in an American paper, much esteemed, and died greatly lamented. Some names, on the other hand, are honourable; and have, or at least should have, an influence for good on those who bear them; and in that case, in the words of the wise man, "a good name is rather to be chosen than great riches."
Such a name is mine. It is an ancient one; the name of a very old family in Forfarshire. Greater honour still - in these words, "FAMOUS GUTHRIE'S HEAD - "* it stands on the Martyrs Monument in the Greyfriars Churchyard of Edinburgh - being, with the exception of Argyll's and and Renwick's, the only name, of the 18,000 that perished in the days of the Covenant, that has the honour of standing on that famous and sacred stone. James Guthrie was described by Oliver Cromwell as "the short man that would not bow," and his fate forecast by his cousin William Guthrie, who said on one occasion, "Ah, James, you will have the advantage of me, for you will die honourably before many witnesses, with a rope about your neck, and I will die whining upon a little straw." This famous martyr was of the family of Guthrie of Guthrie; while William, who was banished from his charge and home for the cause of the Covenant, was like most of the leading Covenanters, a well-born man. He died in his bed; and lies within the old Cathedral Church of Brechin, my native place, below the seat belonging to Pitforthie, his ancestral estate, a mile from the town. He was the author of that precious book - The Trial of a Saving Interest in Christ," of which it is related tbat the great Dr. Owen said, on one occasion, taking a "little gilt copy" of it out of his pocket -" it is my Vade-mecum, and I carry it and the Sedan New Testament still about me. I have wrote several folios, but there is more divinity in it than them all."
To establish, what certain circumstances made highly probable, the connection of my family with those heroes of the Covenant, to whom, under God - as is now all but universally admitted - Great Britain largely owes her civil and religious privileges, was an object of my ambition. I failed; yet am conscious that the idea and probability of this has had a happy influence on my public life, in determining me to contend, and suffer if need be, for the rights of Christ's crown and the liberties of his Church. Let me be thankful for this. All help was needed in the struggle which terminated in the Disruption of 1843. In these trying times not a few made shipwreck 0f their character, lacking what such a crisis required, a little natural courage and much grace, or, what perhaps best describes my own case, much natural courage and a little grace.
Through my ancestors, so far as I can trace them, I can claim to be the seed of the righteous : - a higher honour than the "blue blood" some boast of, though why noble blood should be called "blue," which is venous and polluted blood, I have yet to learn.
My grandfather, on my father's side, was a farmer, as his father had been before him. The latter was a tenant of that Earl of Panmure who lost both title and estates for taking part in the Rebellion of 1715. My worthy ancestor, accounting his lease too dear, saw in the rebellion a favourable opportunity to get rid of a bad bargain. So, when Panmure mustered his men, he appeared among them on horseback, booted, spurred, and armed for battle. But he was foiled. "No, no!" said the Earl, dismissing him to more peaceful toils, "go you home, David, and attend to your farm."
A circumstance in my great-grandfather's history is worth preserving, as, while honourable to his piety and courage, illustrative of the promises and providence of God. In his days, Willison, author of the well-known "Sacramental Meditations" which bear his name, was a minister in Brechin. He had been placed there by the Government, of which he was an able and ardent supporter, to keep down the Jacobites, who were strong in that district - most of the landed proprietors in the neighbourhood, and indeed throughout the whole of Angus, with the Earls of Panmure, Southesk, and Airlie at their head, being vehement partisans of the elder Pretender, and his son Prince Charlie. Willison, tkeugh supported by the townspeople - who were chiefly presbyterian, while the landed interest was on the side Episcopy and the Steuarts - had a difficult and also dangerous post to hold. But, in him and his successor thh Presbyterian ministers, the Popish, Episcopalian and Jacobite party found that they had to deal with men of determination, and of courage equal to the occasion. Unable to beat Willison by fair, the adherents of the House of Steuart resorted to foul means; raising calumnious reports against his character, and suborning false witnesses to swear it away. - Wearied at length of fighting with this nest of hornets, on being called to a church in Dundee he accepted the call: but when the time to shift his quarters came, it was in vain that he applied to one farmer after another to drive his furniture to that town. Overawed by their landlords, they would not venture to help him, either for love or money.
Hearing this, my great-grandfather, who held a farm in the parish, stepped forward, volunteering to do this kindness to God's servant, cost what it might. A brave exploit in days when farmers were the slaves of lairds, and, worse than submitting, as now, to be driven up to the polling-booth, went out at their bidding to fight - some for George and some for Charlie. Years after this happened, the Duke of Cumberland passed through Brechin at the head of a large force, to fight the bloody but decisive battle of Culloden.
There was a very old saintly woman, about ninety years of age, who used to come to our house when I was a boy, in the character rather than in the capacity of a seamstress (her sewing being but a cover and delicate way of giving her the charity which it would have pained her to receive otherwise); I have heard her tell that she saw Cumberland enter the town, and how he was received with joy by the townspeople, most of whom, being Presbyterians, were distinguished from the landed interest by their cordial support of the Government; and how, nevertheless, being suspicious of poison and foul play, as they supposed, the Duke declined a glass of wine offered him, as he crossed the bridge, by some enthusiastic supporter of King George, The Protestant cause, and liberty. Cumberland was hard up for means to carry northwards his baggage and guns: so he made a raid on the farms, and cleared them of every available horse - my greatgrandfather's horses among the rest; the ploughs in consequence were left to stand idle in the furrows, and ruin stared every farmer in the face. In this dilemma it occurred to my forebear to make his case known to Willison, who of all men was most able and most likely to serve him at this pinch. Willison had not forgotten the brave farmer's kindness to himself in other days. He instantly wrote to the Duke. In a few days thereafter the horses were neighing in David Guthrie's stables, and while neighbouring farms lay waste, the ploughboya were whistling in the good man's fields. Here was a remarkable instance, in God's providence, of bread cast upon the waters returning, not even many days hence.
My grandfather, the son of this man, being then about fourteen years old, remembered the Rebellion of 1745, indeed owed his comfortable and rather affluent circumstances to the troubled state of the country between the Revolution of 1688 and the fatal and final battle of Culloden. During that period, both life and property in Scotland were held on precarious tenure. Propietors found it difficult to get tenants for their farms - any one bold enough to invest money in the cultivation of the soil. I have heard that about that time nearly the whole parish of Tweedsmuir in the county of Peebles was without a tenant who paid rent; and this is true at any rate, that to induce farmers to take their land, landowners offered it both at very low rents and for very long leases. Nineteen years to start with, and afterwards the length of two lives, were the terms of my great-grandfather's tack, as the lease was called; a profitable bargain both for him and his son, the rent per acre being but a few shillings, and that arrangement extending over a hundred years, during which the value of produce doubled or trebled in consequence of the improved state of the country, and the enormously high prices obtained for grain during our long wars with the First Napoleon.
Thus, affluent, rather than straitened, in his circumstances, my grandfather found it easy to provide for a family of seven sons and two daughters. Mild and gentle in his disposition, temperate in his habits, enjoying "the fruit of righteousness which is peace," and inheriting a good natural constitution, my grandfather, as might in such circumstances have been expected, reached a patriarchal age. He lived to be eighty-seven years old; my grandmother and he - as I never knew any other couple who did - living together as man and wife for sixty-six years. He adhered through life to the costume of his early days, wearing knee-breeches, a broad-tailed coat with large metal buttons,, and a broad blue bonnet. I remember his appearance well - his air not rustic, but dignified; his form tall and spare, but, as if it carried easily the burden of nearly ninety years, straight as a lance; a few snowy locks falling on his broad shoulders; and his constant attendants, two red-haired terriers, tottering and half-blind with age, which went by the euphonious names of "Meg and "Sawney." Nothing in my thoughtless boyhood ever impressed me so much as the reverence with which he approached God, even in saying a grace at meals. What a contrast his devout manner to the brief, hurried, mumbling "For what we are to receive, Lord, make us thankful," or some such curt expression, I have so often heard at the table in England, and from the lips even of her clergy! When all had taken their seats, and were waiting in solemn silence, he slowly uncovered his hoary locks of the cap he wore in the house; and, slightly throwing back his head, with his open eyes raised to heaven, he implored a blessing on the meal - his voice and uplifted eyes tremulous with age, and his countenance wearing an expression of profound devotion.
His wife, my grandmother, was no ordinary woman; determined "wife" was she; such as I have met with nowhere else in life; and, what in her conscience she thought right, neither husband, son nor daughter - in such respect and awe did they hold her - dared to gainsay it. Bowed and almost blind from the time I remember, she walked leaning on a staff - with which the dogs considered themselves too well acquainted. They stood in awe of her, as did we children also. Nor much wonder; for one part of creed was that children were too much indulged. So, when she washed our faces, it was to rub them dry a with a heavy hand and the hardest towel; and when, on one occasion, we asked for mustard at dinner, it was to get a stern refusal, and get a rebuke sharper than mustard, for children presuming to think of such a luxury. From her we never got so much as a penny; but many a shilling from my grandfather, though never we were outside the house and out of sight of the old lady. With her tongue, though far from a railer or backbiter, or scandal-monger (for she would have scorned to say behind any one's back what she would not have said to their face), she spared neither kith nor kin, telling the truth-sometimes more plain than pleasant - about them all.
What others lacked, her decision of character supplied. Her eldest son, for instance, had fallen in love with a farmer's daughter; but, being a bashful youth, could not pluck up courage enough to ask her; The state of the case being laid before my grandmother, she orders her sheepish lad to saddle a horse. Mounting behind him on a pillion, with her arm round his waist - -the old fashion in which I have seen farmers and their wives or daughters enter Brechin on a market day - she directs him to ride straight to the house of his sweet-heart; and on arriving there, before he, the lout, has got the horse well stabled, she has done the work of a plenipotentiary, and got the affair all settled with the lass and her parents. But, though my venerable ancestress could not be said by gentleness and amiability to adorn the doctrine of God her Saviour. - a thing desirable in all, but especially beautiful in woman , - sho was, notwithstanding, a woman of genuine though rather stern piety. For many long years down to her death, she fasted one whole day each week, spending most of the time in prayer and secret devotions. That she might not he disturbed, nor have the sights and sounds of the household interrupt her communion with God, she was accustomed to retire to some of the out-houses of the farm; and I remember of being told by one of my parishioners in Arbirlot, who had been a servant lassie at Knowhead, in Menmuir, my grandfather's farm, that many was the coin she got from him, all unknown to her mistress - who certainly would not have approved of such extravagance - for watching by the doer of the house where she was fasting and praying, so that none might interrupt her; This singular and severe exercise of religion, dating from the death of an infant she lost, was supposed to be somehow or other connected with that event. But nobody really knew.- The mystery lies in her grave, for such was the reverence and awe in which she was held by her children, that none of them, not even my father, her own and her husband's favourite son ever ventured to pry into her secret. This, however, is pretty plain - that to this remarkable woman we Guthries largely owe the decision of character and determination of purpose, of which, unless other people are mistaken, we have a more than ordinary share; a valuable inheritance certainly, especially when controlled and guided by the grace of God.
My mother's parents were both dead before I was born. Her father, the son of a farmer, was a baker, and, for many years, a magistrate, in the town of Brechin. Both and his wife were eminent for piety, bringing up their children in the fear of God and, as I have heard my mother tell, the very strict observance of the Sabbath. They were much esteemed by the ministers of the town; and here, as interesting illustrations of old times, I may relate two - anecdotes told of one of these ministers, a Mr. Blair Mather, one of the foremost preachers of John Wesley's staff was a native of Brechin. Having been induced, when a mere youth, to join the army of Prince Charlie, he had fled to England to hide himself and escape the fate of other rebels after the Jacobite cause was wrecked on Culloden Moor. Long years afterwards, he returned to Brechin to recruit his shattered health. During his sojourn there, the communion was to be dispensed in the parish church. He desired to join with God's people in observing that ordinance; but fearing that his being a Methodist and an Arminian might be a bar in his way, he sent a message to Mr. Blair, saying, that he would be happy to be admitted by him to the Lord's Table, if the people of Brechin would not object; whereupon Blair, though himself a stanch Calvinist and Presbyterian, rising above all petty and sectarian feelings, returned for answer, that he would admit and welcome him as a brother in Christ, though the whole town should object.
The courage that, conjoined with a truly Christian and Catholic spirit, spoke there, Blair displayed on a still more trying and public occasion. While preaching one day, two Highland officers, followed by a band of rebels with claymores and kilts, entered the church to the consternation of the people. Mounting the pulpit stairs, each laid a pistol on the cushion, and ordered Blair to stop, threatening to shoot him dead if he didn't. He heard them as if he heard them not, and preached on. The Provost of the town, who was his brother-in-law, observing this, and trembling for his life, rose from his chair in the opposite gallery, and ordered him to stop. The authority of the lawful magistrate Blair acknowledged - but not on that occasion, as he deemed it an unlawful interference with his spiritual office. Laying an arm on each side of the Bible, he pushed the pistols contemptuously over on to the floor; and said, as they crashed on the pavement, but fortunately without going off "No; sir; I will not stop though the devil and all his angels were here!" Admiring his pluck, or perhaps taking him for a madman, the officers picked up their pistols, and, put hors de combat by this brave supporter of the House of Hanover, took themselves off. It is recorded on Blair's monument that to him belongs the honour of instituting Sabbath Schools; he having commenced one in his native town several years before any opened in England by Raikes of Gloucester, to whom the honour is generally assigned.
My father went to Montrose, to become apprentice to a grocer and merchant there; and it may be mentioned, as showing the habits of the times and the hardships young men had to go through, that to these he attributed the dyspepsia under which he suffered all his days. The apprentices had porridge of oatmeal for breakfast; and pity it is that a food, the best, according to Liebig and - a greater than any chemist - experience, for making bone and muscle, has fallen so much, and in so many families, out of use. But (as in those days agriculture was much behind what it is now in respect of those green crops that furnish cows with food) milk for the winter months was a scarce commodity. Its place at the porridge-breakfast was taken by beer, often so sour that chalk was used to correct its acidity; and it was to the injury this inflicted on the digestive organs that my father attributed his delicacy. Let our young people now-a-days be thankful, thinking of the difference between oatmeal porridge - probably ill-boiled, with only sour ale for sap - and their luxurious breakfasts - tea from China, coffee from Ceylon, sugar from Jamaica, and bread baked of "the finest of the wheat," from the banks of the Danube, or the plains of California.
My father began business in Brechin, and was long the leading merchant, as well as for some years the Provost or Chief Magistrate of the town. He married early in life, in. that setting a good example. Early marriages, apart altogether from their moral influences, usually prove, in other professions as well as that of the law, the truth of Lord Eldon's observation - that the way for a man to get on at the bar is to start by marrying a woman who has no fortune - who brings him no other fortune but herself. Engaged in many departments of business - a banker, grocer, seed- merchant, sbipowner - occasionally speculating in corn, oil, manufactored goods, and stocks - and conducting all his affairs with skill and success, my father was able to educate and provide for a family of thirteen; the blessing of God on a house where parents and children met morning and evening at the family altar, and, no departure from the strictest habits of virtue and religion would have been tolerated for an hour.
The Sabbath was very strictly observed in my father's house,no fun nor levity, or week-day amusements were allowed: and we would indeed almost as soon have thought of profane swearing as of whistling on the Lord's day.
The reverence with which the people in those days regarded the Sabbath was no way akin to that blind superstition which, in Roman Catholic and semi-popish churches, invests with as much, or more, sacredness the institutions of the Church as the ordinances of God. Though fast-days were generally observed much as a Sabbath, we, by indulging in one short whistle on them, used to mark our sense of the difference between the two; and this, long years afterwards, was brought to my recollection on seeing how in France, and Belgium, and Italy, their festivities and saints days were more strictly kept than the Lord's - how places of public amusement were shut, for instance, on Good Friday, but thrown open, as if it were the less sacred day, on the Sabbath.
In these old Scotch manners there might be, and indeed was, a strictness which gave an air of severity to the observance of Sunday, but in the duties we owe either to God or man, it is ever better to lean to the side of scrupulousness than laxity: and I may remark here, that Scotland and her children owe much to the manner in which they were taught to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. All this preaching, and catechising, and reading, whereby the people acquired a remarkable familiarity with the grand truths of the divine word, and even the profounder questions of theology, contributed much, I believe, to their thoughtful and intellectual cast of mind, and to their national and proverbial "hard"as it has been called; and, though this strict Ssbbath observance was not, and could not be very agreeable to the volatile temperament of the young, it was the means of training them to those habits of patient enduranoe, obedience, and self-denial, to which, as much as to their good school education, Scotsmen owed their success when they went forth, in rivalry with the natives of England and Ireland, to push their fortunes in the world.
In my early days, besides the historical parts of Scripture - with all the stirring incidents, and marvellous miracles, and bloody battles of which, as related in Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, Judges, and Samuel, I became, for lack of other stirring and comprehensible reading, quite familiar - almost the only book we possessed interesting to young minds was the "Pilgrim's Progress." For the possession of this, an old copy, illustrated by rough and, grotesque wooodprints of Christian with his staff, and Giant Despair with his bludgeon, and Mr. Greatheart with his sword, my next brother and I had a contention every Sabbath. If the Lord's day was a weariness to us, as it undoubtedly was, the blame lay not with it, but with those who did not provide reading and discourses suited to the young. With the variety, and piquancy, and attractiveness of books nowadays provided for Sabbath use, there is no excuse for people, whether old or young, seeking relaxation in museums, or public gardens, or Sunday excursions, or saying that the Sabbath is a weariness, and wishing it were over.
As to the plea set up for Sabbath walks and cxcursions for the sake of health by the working classes, there is no truth in it. If women would spend less on finery, and men on whisky and tobacco, they could spare an hour or two every day for more than all the relaxation wbioh health requires. Besides, I feel certain that statistios which have no bias to either side, would show that the good old Scottish way of hallowing the Lord's day is most favourable to morals, and health, and length of days - that Sabbath keepers have happier houses and longer lives than Sabbath breakers - and that in this, as in other things, "godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come."
The youngest but one of my father's family, I was born the 12th of July, 1803. I am now sixty-seven years of age; and I humbly and gratefully hope that it has been to do some good in the world - as it has been to enjoy unusual and unnumbered blessings - that I have been spared through two very dangerous illnesses, and two or three very perilous accidents, thus to reach the borders of three score and ten.
Of the first of these illnesses I have no recollection; it occurred when I was an infant; but I have been told that I was then brought back, very unexpectedly, from the very gates of death. The second illness (to which I shall refer further on) occurred when I was minister of Arbirlot, in 1837, the year of my translation from that country parish to be a collegiate minister of the Old Greyfriars, Edinburgh.
As to my escapes from death by accident, the first happened in boyhood, when wading across a swollen river with another boy on my back. Getting dizzy and falling off, he lost his presence of mind; and striking. out with hands and feet bellowed like a madman as he lay floating, fast in my grip, on the top of the flood. It was with the utmost difficulty I succeeded in reaching the shore; and still remember how glad and thankful I was, even at that thoughtless age, that I had brought him as well as myself safe to land - an incident this, that sometimes rises to my recollection when people quote the proverb, "Providence is kind to fools and bairns."
Another merciful interposition of God's hand occurred during my ministry at Arbirlot. I had gone to the rocks on the east side of Arbroath that culminate in the noble promontory of the "Red Read," on a day when the waves were, so to speak, "running mountains high." Though the tide was making, a considerable breadth of the rocks that shelved at a sharp angle into the sea lay bare. I leaped down on one, arid had no sooner lighted on the slippery weeds that covered it than my feet went out from below me, and, laid flat on my back, with my face to the sky and my feet to the sea, I was off, like a ship at her launch! Instantly taking in all the danger, I gave myself up for lost. I could swim, but in such a sea I would have been dashed to pieces against the rocks. By God's good providence the very extremity of the danger had the effect not of confusing but of calming my mind.. I remembered that the rocks there, formed of what is ealled "plum-pudding stone," had often nodules that consisting of harder matter, had resisted the action of the waves and rose above their polished surface. I remembered also how, but the very day before, I had got the heels of my boots armed with iron, and it came on me like a flash of lightning that, if I pressed firmly against the rook in my descent, I might peradventure catch a projecting nodule, and be saved - brought to a stand-still by that. This flashed on my mind like an inspiration; and, through the Divine blessing, by this device I was plucked from the jaws of death - saved, where nothing else short of a miracle could have saved me.
With my brother Charles, who was only two and twenty months older than myself, I was sent, when four years old, to what might be called an infant school; "infant schools," properly so called, were not known in these days. My father had a large business to manage, and my mother a large. family to look after; and I fancy we were sent there to he out of the way, and also probably because the fees offered an opportunity of contributing in a delicate way to the comfort of a humble but high minded and eminently Christian man.
Jamie Stewart, our pedagogue, was by trade a weaver; a very little man, dressed in the old fashion, his broad, blue bonnet covering a head of great size, and full of brains. Of him it might have been said, as a Highland porter, observing a stranger looking intently on Dr. Candlisb, said, "Ay, tak a gude look, there's no muckle o him - but there's a deal in him!" Stewart was an elder in the Burghers Church, where, for lack of accommodation in the Established Church, we went, when children, with my mother, and eldest brother and sister, who had become Seceders. Though then a thoughtless boy, I remember how impressed I was with the prayers this old man offered up at meetings of the congregation. I have never heard anything like them since. With a remarkable knowledge of his Bible, and perfect mastery of its language, be so interwove its sublimest passages into his prayers, that they seeme& like the utterance of a seraph before the Throne.
Remarkable for his piety, he was no ascetic, no sour and unhealthy Christian; but enjoyed, and encouraged others to enjoy, innocent recreations. He was very fond of fishing, and was off to the waterside with rod and reel whenever he could escape from his loom. Nor did he think it below the dignity and gravity of a Seceder elder to "harry" crows nests; On one occasion astonishing a brother in office, as they came near a rookery, by suddenly dropping the thread of a pious conversation, to rush at a tree and mount it like a squirrel! The single room of this good old man, where he lived with his wife and daughter - the loom standing in one corner and their box-beds in another - was our school. There were some half-dozen of us who sat on stools, conning our lessons to the click of his shuttle, while he sat weaving, gently reminding us from time to time of our tasks, by the use of a leather thong at the end of a long stick, with which he reached us without having to leave his throne.
Having learned our letters, and some small syllables printed on a fly-sheet of the Shorter Catechism, we were at once passed into the Book of Proverbs. In the olden time this was the universal custom in all the common schools in Scotland - a custom that should never have been abandoned. That book is without a rival for beginners, containing quite a repertory of monosyllables and pure Saxon - " English undefiled." Take this passage, for example, where, with one exception, every word is formed of a single syllable, and belongs to the Saxon tongue, - "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." What a contrast to the silly trash of modern schoolbooks for beginners, with such sentences as, "Tom has a dog ;" "The Cat is good ;" "The Cow has a calf T"
Our next school was one belonging to the Antiburgher Congregation - the property being theirs, and the teacher always one belonging to their body, selected by them. It was this school which the celebrated Dr. McCrie, the biographer of John Knox, came to Brechin to teach, when a student but fourteen or fifteen years old. I have heard the old people in Brechin speak of him as being even then a great politician, taking the liveliest interest in public affairs; and they told the following anecdote of him, which shows the budding of that ambition which, guided by rare sagacity and sanctified by grace and associated with patriotism and the love of liberty, won him his high place in literature and religion.
But first I must explain that the body to which Dr. McCrie belonged, called Seceders, were, while remarkably moral and pious - in many places the cream of religious society - rather narrow-minded and exclusive. Old, sturdy, true-blue, double-dyed Presbyterians, they held stoutly by their own views of duty as well as doctrine. Though not averse to amusements per se, in some they would take no share.
Now, young McCrie on going to Brechin found in Mr. Gray, the minister of the Anti-burgher congregation, a most expert draught-player with whom he had not a chance. Yet be was determined to beat the minister. So having heard of a shoemaker in an obscure part of the town who was a celebrated player, he ferreted him out; and finding how much he earned by each hour of his trade, he agreed to pay him the value of the time he would spend in teaching him the secrets of his skill in draughts - and this, when his fees as a teacher were hardly enough to clothe his back and fill his belly. Keeping the secret to himself, he becomes master in time of the shoemaker's tactics, sits down on a Saturday afternoon with the minister, who expected his usual triumph, and leaves the old gentleman staring in amazement aud mortification at the boy who has plucked the laurels from his grey hairs, and swept him clean off the board.
To the school which was associated with the name of The great Dr. McCrie, Charlie and I were transferred, to be under the charge of a teacher who must also have been a very young man, else that had not happened which gave occasion to the first regular whipping I ever got from father. There, led off by others, I, being then about seven years old, with my brother for the first and last time played truant. Anticipating punishment, we resolved when the first was called out by our teacher, that the rest should rise en masse and show fight. My brother Charlie is the first called out. It is the signal for a general rising. To the astonishment of the school a dozen of us leave our seats, and with closed fists march up in line to the amazed and alarmed dominie, giving him his choice between forgiving or fighting us. This coup d'etat was a success: and we returned to our seats, every boy a hero. But Charlie and I paid sweetly for our laurels. The poor dominic who showed the white feather, made us white enough at the supper-table in our house when, on the evening thereafter, he had the meanness to tell of this event to my father: Charlie and I being present. My father said nothing at the time; but we paid for it next day.
Ready in a year or two to enter on the higher branches of knowledge, we were transferred to a school that combined the advantages of private and public education. Besides this school there were two others in Brechin where Latin and Greek, French, and mathematics were taught. One of these was endowed from property belonging in Romaan Catholic times to the Knights Templars, who had a preceptory there. The other was the parish school. Both were conducted by "preachers," or licentiates of the Church of Scotland, - university men who had spent at least eight years at college. Both prepared young men for the university, teaching them, besides the more common branches of education, Algebra, Euclid, French, Latin and Greek, and all for fivve shillings a quarter! That may astonish people now-a-days. But so it was: and the bursaries which a large proportion of their pupils won by open competition at the Universities of St. Andrews and Aberdeen, while the means of their support there, proved the goodness of the teaching they got for this small sum. The result of this cheap and efficient education was that the sons of many poor and humble people pulled their way up to honourable positions in life, and that Brechin had many of its children in the ministry at home and in important offices abroad, while the parents had not their self-respect and feelings of independence lowered by owing the superior education of their children to others than themselves.
The school to which my brother and I were now sent was instituted by a few of the better conditioned families in the town. The teacher had gone through the curriculum of the Edinburgh University, and was thoroughly qualified to prepare his pupils for college. He received a fixed salary, and the number of scholars, which included girls as well as boys, was limited. The cost was greater if we had attended a common school; but that was made up by its combining The care of a private with the spur of a public education. In those days, what Solomon says of the rod was literally understood; and our teacher, though then a licentiate, and afterwards a minister of the Church of Scotland, had not learned to govern his passions. An able and accoomplished, and at bottom a kind-hearted man, he broke out into terrible explosions of temper. Not that we suffered much; but I have ground my teeth and held by the bench to prevent myself rising in open revolt as I watched him unmercifully beating some naturally stupid but amiable boy, who was filling the school with his screams.
I recollect of getting one licking from him - no more; but it has left its marks on my memory, as it did for days on my body.We wore reading Ovid's account of Phaeton's attempt to drive the chariot of the sun, and my teachers attempt that day to drive me was also liike to end in a catastrophe. Before we had time to master our lesson, he calls out, as I was that day dux, "Tom Guthrie's class " Not ready, sir!" was no unusual thing, and usually securing another half-hour to us, my ready reply. Something had put him into savage humour. So, without more ado, he discharged on me, springing from his seat to haul me from mine, say, with fury in his face, as he struck the table with clenched hand. - " I ll make you ready!" Well, no doubt like the reeds by a loch side, I should have my bowed head to the storm, whereby I would have come off little the worse. But my blood got up, and I refused to read one word. Blows had no more effect on me than on an iron pillar. My class- fellows stood trembling. The attention of the school was wholly turned on the struggle. Transported with rage at the prospect of being baffled by a boy, he dropped the strap for a ruler, and beat me black and blue with it on the head. He might have broken my skull: he could not break my resolution, and at length gave it up. If I was wrong, he was much more to blame; since, instead of beating me so savagely, he should have turned me, for my insubordination, out of the school. Seeing me return next day with a brow and face all marred and swollen, he regretted, I believe, his violence, and was very gracious. I had no choice but to return. My parents were wiser than my teacher, my mother telling me, when I said I would not return but tell my father how I had been used, "You had better not; he will lick you next!" We were brought up hardier louns than the present generation, and did not get on any the worse in life for that.
A sister of my mother's, Miss Betty Cay, lived and died in my father's house. She was somewhat deformed, but had a beautiful and most expressive face. She wore a silken plaid overhead when out-of-doors, a hoop or something like it, and high-heeled shoes; and, though she took her meals with the family, spent most of her time in her own room, sitting at a small round table with a large folio volume before her of Boston's "Four-fold State," or Ambrose's "Looking to Jesus," or some other such pious folio. It was her practice on New Year's Day to call Charlie and me into her room, give us some kind and pious counsels, and with these a sixppence and a kiss. The counsels, I fear, we did not mind much; the kiss we disliked; and though we valued the sixpence, our estimation of it was much abated by her instantly resuming it to place it at our credit in the Savings-bank. Well, as agreed on, we obeyed the summons on a New Year's Day to "Auntie Betty s" room, got our sixpence and our kiss to boot, and; having left the door open, before she could ask or get it back, to her great astonisbmeut we bolted off, each with his prize in hand: and the most creditable story I have to tell of my early days is, that, though some of it may have come our own way,most of the money was spent in buying oranges for our old teacher's old wife; from which I infer, though I remember little about her, that she must have been kind to bairns. I have no recollection of being whipt, for this escapade, though it astonished Auntie in the first instance, was, very probably, secretly approved of. I think very likely it was my brother Charles who suggested the thing - for, while of a rollicking disposition, he was very kind-hearted.
As I may not have occasion to speak of my brother and schoolfellow again, I may mention that he afterwards became a captain in the Indian army, and died on the banks of the Ganges in consequence of injuries years before in the first Burmese war; leaving a widow, who, with her daughter was among the massacred at Cawnpore.
While I aspired to keep the top of my class, my greatest ambition was to win honours in another field, - to be the best fighter among boys of my standing. I undertook to fight any boy of my size and age with my left hand tied behind my back, and repeatedly fought boys older and bigger than myself. Though I cannot say this gendered much ill-will, and did more damage to the eyes and nose than to the temper, it was not a commendable ambition; and now I never see boys in the street fighting, or threatening a fight, but I interpose.
This combative spirit, which brought me into the ring. in my second as well as my first session at college (and, what I dreaded more, into the hands of the college officer, who threatened to take me before the Senatus Academicus and have me expelled) was nursed if not created, by the great war between our country and the armies of Napoleon, which occupied the attention of old and young in my early days. Our greatest and choicest sport was playing at soldiers. People now-a-days have no idea of the warlike and patriotic spirit which then animated all classes. Many a time did we boys tramp a mile or two out of town to meet troops marching to the war; and proud we were to be allowed to carry a soldier's musket, which the poor fellows, burdened with all the heavy accoutrements of those days, and wearied with a twelve hours march in a hot summer's day, were glad enough to resign to us. Animated by this martial spirit, school was sometimes pitched against school, - sometimes the upper part of the town against the lower. And it was not always play-stones which we showered at each other; the wonder is that some of us were not killed in these melees. We had our "deadly breaches;" and I remember of having to charge up a narrow close, down which "the French," as we nicknamed the opposite party, were sending volleys of stones, and suffering nothing in that "deadly breach" beyond a thud on the hip from a large piece of slate, which lamed me for a day or two.
I have a distinct recollection of many things that occurred about or at the close of that great war. In those days, the only London daily newspaper that came to the town came to my father, and I have seen the shop-fellows and a crowd outside the door listening to one of my brothers, as, standing on a chair, he read the stirring news of battles by flood or field.
I remember one morning, when we were at Wormyhills a place on the shore of what afterwards became my parish - for sea-bathing, of an alarm which brought us all out of bed, that the French were off the coast. Out we rushed, to see, as it turned out, a sight of unusual magniflcence and splendour. Many hundred vessels with every sail set, and many men-of-war for convoys, were forming a long and most imposing line, slowly making their way northward over a glassy sea and in a bright morning, but a mile or two from shore. The sight did not look less beautiful when we found the alarm false - that it was not a French invasion, but the West India fleet making under convoy for the Atlantic, north by the Pentland Firth.
I saw Bonaparte borne in effigy through the streets of Brechin, and then consigned to a tar-barrel in the Market-place, in presence of the magistrates and principal citizens, who had met at the Cross to celebrate the peace of 1814, and drink the King's health. I remember of us boys, with flags flying and drums beating, marching up in military style to the houses of two black-nebs, as the partisans of the French were called, and compelling them, by a threat of carrying their citadels by storm, to hang out a white sheet as the drapeau blanc of the Bourbons.
The news of Waterloo made each of us as proud as if he had been a hero in that field. It spread like wildfire from town to hamlet, from hamlet to cottage, and was celebrated in Brechin by an illumination, which, though only formed by a piece of candle stuck behind each pane of glass, astonished and pleased me more perhaps than the splendours of Paris at the baptism of the Prince Imperial, or the still more splendid spectacle of the illumination of Edinburgh on the night of the marriage of the Prince of Wales.
*Rev. James Guthrie of Stirling was executed at Edinburgh on 1st. June, 1661. His head was affixed to the Nether Bow Port.
If time permits, the rest of this autobiography will be placed here in due course.
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