Autobiography Part 2


IN the spring of 1815, our teacher having left Brechin, I was sent, previous to going to college at the end of autumn, to pass the summer in the country with the Rev. Robert Simpson (afterwards Dr. Simpson of Kintore), the parish schoolmaster of Dun; and I may use his case to illustrate one and not a rare phase of the old parish school system of Scotland.
Though the emoluments were small, and almost all the scholars were the children of peasants, ploughmen, and artisans, who aimed at nothing beyond "the three R s " - as reading, writing, and arithmetic have been called - the teachers were in many instances university men who had gone or were going through a full curriculum of the arts and sciences. Many had won their spurs, the degree of M.A., at one of the Universities - St. Andrew s, Aberdeen, Glasgow, or Edinburgh - and not a few were licentiates of the Church. By help of the salary and fees accruing to a parish school teacher, many a poor lad was able to work his way through the expenses of a university, all the more if he had obtained a bursary there. He taught the school during the summer, and filled it with a substitute during the five months which he passed at college. And if, aiming at the pulpit, he had finished his literary and philosophical curriculum, and had become a student in divinity, it was a still easier matter to hold a parish school. The Church of Scotland, wisely accommodating her rules to circumstances, required only one full attendance of five months at her Divinity Halls, if the student, instead of four sessions of that length, attended six or seven partial ones.
The disadvantages of this system were, so far at any rate as the general education of the country was concerned, more than counterbalanced by its advantages. As a licentiate of the Church, or one preparing for that position and for the office of the ministry, the teacher in such cases had a high character to maintain, and was thereby preserved from those temptations to fall into low, vulgar, and dissipated habits he might otherwise have been exposed to. Th him, besides the clergyman, the rudest country parishes had a man of literary accomplishments and cultured manners, and the clergyman a companion of education equal to his own, But more than all that, in such a man the humblest country school had a teacher of Greek, Latin, and mathematics, in whom the son of the poorest peasant, at the most trifling cost to his parents, found one who could prepare him to enter a university. Thus ploughmen's sons were put on a level with those of peers. A. "liberal education," as it is called, was brought to the door of the humblest cottage; and if a shoeless loun had talents and ambition, here was a ladder. by which he could, and by which many such did, climb to positions in society far above that of their birth. :
New schemes of education have altered all this; but not in all respects to the advantage of the country, which was very much thereby able to boast of having, in proportion to her population, three times as many more than England, and nearly five times as many more than Ireland had, of her sons who had received a university education. Some years ago these were the proportions: in Scotland, one out of every 5,000; in England, one out of every 16,000; and in Ireland, but one out of every 22,000 of the people.
Take the case of a man I knew well, who was an example, and an admirable one, of these bygone days. His Father, an elder of the Church, and a man of excellent character, waa by trade a weaver. But, though possessed of some little means - what the Scotch call a "bein' body " - he could not well afford to educate a son at college out of his own resources. So my friend began life at the loom. But, a youth of superior talents and early piety, he was fired with a holy ambition to be a minister of the gospel. Tenaz propositi - the characteristic of our countrymen - he commenced the Latin grammar, and, placing the book before him on his loom, as he plied the shuttle, be studied and finally mastered it. Such a case was that of my excellent tutor Mr. Simpson. He had only a year or two at school; but, by dint of determined application, made such advances in study as to venture on competing for a bursary at the University of Aberdeen. He came out first on the list. His foot was now on the ladder, and round after round he manfully climbed, till he found himself Professor of Hebrew in the university of that city, a position he left to become minister of the parish of Kintore: where, after "going out" at the Disruption, receiving the honour of Doctor in Divinity, living and labouring for many years, he died last summer - few in life so much esteemed, few in death so much regretted.
The accommodation provided by law for teachers in those days was very inadequate. Mr. Simpson's house at Dun contained only two rooms besides the school-room. The heritors of Scotland, in most instances, grudged the schoolmaster (though, it might be, more highly cultivated than themselves) anything beyond this, the provision required by law. To them,. with honourable exceptions, the country owed little gratitude. They grew rich by the spoils of the Church; starved the teachers, and opposed With dogged determination every reform in Church and State, reminding one of what Dr. Chalmers related as the speech of a professor of St. Andrew's to his students. "Gentlemen," he said, "there are just two things in nature that never change -These are the fixed stars and the Scotch lairds!"
However, with poor accommodation and plain fare compared with what I had been accustomed to at home,I spent a happy summer preparing for college. No wonder! I was healthy, full of good spirits, and had in Mr. Simpson the kindest of guardians and tutors.
Under Mr. Simpson's charge, in November, 1815, when twelve years of age, I set out for the University of Edinburgh. No steamboats nor railways at that time, nor even stage-coaches always. Lads going to college were sometimes glad of a cast on a carrier s cart, and ,such was our condition between Forfar and Dundee, there being no coach on that road. Spending the night in Dundee, we crossed the Tay next day in a pinnace, and travelled two or three stages through Fife on the top of the coach. My tutor requiring to observe a rigid economy, we made out the last stage of ten miles to Pettycur on foot, intending to spend the night there, and cross the Forth next morning to Edinburgh. Like "Canny Scots," however, we thought it well. to call for the bill, and, by the charge made for. tea, see how we were to get on. Ignorant of the world, we stood aghast at the charge of eighteen pence for each. Having dined in Kirkaldy some hour or two before, we had eaten little, and looked on this charge as an outrageous swindle - I, like a boy (as Mr. Simpson used afterwards to tell with much glee), regretting that I had allowed any of the viands set before us to leave the table unconsumed! We resolved to get out as quickly as possible from what we took to be a "den of. thieves," and so, the moment we had paid the bill, made off for the pier to cross the Firth of Forth by the six o clock boat, which was an open pinnace.
By this time the night had fallen down wet and stormy. We two were the only passengers who appeared, and, as such a small freight promised poor remuneration to the crew, they were unwilling to put out to sea, but at last were compelled by the superintendent to start. When a short way out on the tumbling waves, which, as this was the first day I had ever been at sea, I looked on with considerable fear, my fears changed into terror when, seeing us to be two "greenhorns," the boatmen threatened to pitch us overboard unless we paid them double or treble the proper fare. But a woman whom we were called back to take in came opportunely to our relief, gave them as good as she got, and, snapping her fingers at their threats, with a tongue as loose as theirs, and more mother-wit, answered these fools according to their folly.
The habits of students then were formed on a much less expensive scale than they are now. Our one apartment ‘was bedroom, parlour, and study. For it, with coals, attendance, and cooking, we only paid 5s. or 6s. a week. We lived in Bristo Street. Our landlady was a highly respectable woman, the widow of a banker's clerk, whose children, wisely and piously trained at home, fought their way up through their straitened ciroumstancee to affluent and highly respectable positions.
With the exception of some "swells," few students had ampler accommodation than ours, and our living was on a par with our lodgings - the usual bill of fare being tea once, oatmeal porridge twice a day, and for dinner, fresh herring and potatoes I don t think we indulged in butcher's meat more than twice during the whole first session at college; nor that, apart from the expense of fees, books, and what my tutor received, I cost my father more than £10. Though not luxuriously brought up at home, this was too great a change perhaps for a growing boy, who shot up into 6 feet 2 inches without the shoes by the time he was seventeen years of age. Nevertheless, it is better for boys to ‘be so trained than taught, on the John Bull system, to make a god of their belly. My expenses were higher in the two succeeding sessions when I had different tutors, and lived in better lodgings; but even then, and afterwards when, during the last seven years I spent at the University, I ceased to be under tutors than is common nowadays. One winter, six of us had a common table, and we used to make up for the outlay of occasional suppers, by dinners of potatoes and ox-livers, which we reckoned cost us only ‘three halfpence a head.
Sidney Smith might joke about Scotchmen cultivating the arts and sciences on oatmeal, but the struggle which many an ambitious lad makes to fight his way on through college, is a feather in the cap of our country.
I knew one poor fellow, who brought up a large box with him to. Edinburgh. He never took a meal outside his own room, which was a poor chamber in a mean house, near the scene of the "Burke and Hare" murders; the landlady told me that he had lodged with her for three months, nor been served with anything else than hot water. That chest, the inside of which he was too proud to let her see, contained, she had no doubt, oatmeal; and her belief was, that, by the help of a little butter and salt which he had brought with him also, he lived on "brose," as it is called in Scotland - on nothing else than brose, for all these months. Such food was fit only for the strong stomach of a ploughman; whether due to this or not, the poor fellow went mad before the close of the session! I came to know the case by his landlady applying to me to get him, as I did, received into a lunatic asylum.
A more fortunate case was that of a poor lad, who restricted himself for a whole year to two shillings and sixpence a-week, went hungry to his classes and hungry to bed, but fought his way through to become a Doctor in Medicine, and (till death in a distant land suddenly closed his career) occupy as a physician and a Christian, a position of the highest respectability.
A very striking reminiscence of my college life was the entrance of the 42nd Regiment of Highlanders into Edinburgh after the Battle of Waterloo. It must have occurred during the first session I was at college, that is 1815 - 16. This gallant regiment, who left most of their number behind them, had been feted all the way north through England; and on the day when they were to enter Edinburgh, the whole town turned out to hail and welcome them. They were to come in by the Water-gate, and march up by the Canon-gate and High Street to the Castle. The long line of their triumphal march was one densely-packed mass of human beings. Every window was filled up to the topmost storey of these seven and eight-storied houses. Wherever there was sitting or standing-room on the roofs and chimney tops, there daring fellows were clustered. The town was wild with joy; and as the small but gallant remnant of that noble regiment entered with tattered colours, some with their arms in slings, patches still on the naked limbs that trode, and on the brave bronzed faces that looked upon that bloody field, the roll of drums and shrill sound of their bagpipes were drowned in shouts that rent the air. Order was gone; brothers and sisters rushed into the arms of their soldier brothers as if they had got them back from the grave.Friends shook hands with friends, and one of the pipers, blackened, was nearly choked in the embraces of a drunken chimney-sweep. Imposing spectacle as it was, to how many had it brought back sad memories of the dead, opening these wounds afresh! War is one of sin's worst curses. May it cease to the ends of the earth, and the world be brought under the sceptre of the Prince of Peace!
Yet it was a grand procession; the grandest I ever save that other when, at the close of a better battle, in presence of a crowd as great, nearly five hundred ministers who had laid down their earthly all on the principle, marched, amid prayers and tears and on the l8th day of May, 1843, to form the Free of Scotland, in Canonmills Hall; teaching anew infidels, sceptics, worldlings, the reality of religion and the power of conscience.
Beyond the departments of fun and fighting, I was no way distinguished at college.
The first year, I was twice in the hands of the college porter and policeman, under a threat of being reported to the Senatus Academicus. On one of these occasions I got into trouble in the following circumstances. Some of the students, lads belonging to Edinburgh, who had come to college from its High School, despising my youth and ridiculing my Brechin accent (as if theirs were a whit better), thought they might make game of me. After days of patient endurance, I selected the chief offender as soon as we got out of the Greek class into the college yard; and, though I had not then a friend or acquaintance among them, my class-fellows acted very fairly. So soon as my opponent and I had buttoned our coats, turned up the end of our sleeves, and stood face to face in the miiddle of the ring, he came up to me squaring in the most scientific fashion. I met him with the Brechin tactics, pouring in a shower of blows, all directed to his face; and, so soon as blood came streaming from nose or mouth, and he held down his head to protect his face, hitting and giving him no time to breathe. The victory only cost me a blue eye and the gentlest of all rebukes from my tutor, who, being himself a native of Brechin, was secretly proud of the boy who had stood up for the honour of the north country and its. tongue!
During the second year, I was twice fined by one of the Professors, and put besides on a sort of pillory or "cutty-stool," being made to sit apart from my fellows and beside him, "a spectacle to men."
Not that for these sins of omission and commission I take much blame to myself. I was a mere boy, pushed on too fast at school, and sent to the University much too soon. 1 had no chance with many lads in my class, who, having been pupils in the celebrated High School of Edinburgh, were much more thoroughly educated, and who were, besides, three or four years older than I. .
As to the fun, it was natural at my age; and, so far as it exposed me to be fined and pilloried in the class, it was provoked by my position and professor. We met in a part of the Old College buildings, at eight o clock in the morning. The room was dark. My seat was one of the highest up, and farthest back. The professor, though a learned and at bottom- a kind-hearted man, was very peppery, and without rhyme or reason, he flew into a passion, it was not very wonderful that a boy who had some split peas in his pocket should, led on by older rogues, astonish the worthy man with a shower of them rattling like hailstones on the book he held, and on himself. I have seen him so carried away with passion that he would leave his chair to dance on the floor, or collar, as happened sometimes, an innocent student and drag him from his seat. The blame was more his than ours. Who cannot govern himself is unfit to govern others - the parent, master, or teacher, who, in dealing with his children, servants, or pupils, loses his temper, being sure to lose their respect.
Another Professor, though sour and sulky, never indulged in outbreaks of passion, and we left the uproar of the class just mentioned to be as quiet as lambs in his. In my second session, besides attending for a second time the Latin and Greek professors, I went to the Logic class. It was conducted by one of the Moderate ministers of the city, and of course a pluralist. It was said he read his predecessor's lectures; but, any way, it was all one to me, who, then but thirteen years old, set down logic to be a farrago of nonsense. In my third year, when I studied Mathematics under Sir John Leslie, and Moral Philosophy under the celebrated Dr. Thomas Brown, I made some progress in these sciences. Mathematics and Natural Philosophy occupied my time and attention in my fourth winter. I was rather fond of these sciences, and made a reputable appearance in both, but nothing more. Nor much wonder: for I had finished my four years curriculum of Literature and Philosophy before I was sixteen years of age, leaving college at the age most youths nowadays enter it.
This was an evil; and yet, like many other ills in life, the parent of good in some respects. It saved me from self-conceit; no prizes inflated me with vanity, making me, as they have done not a few whom I have known, fancy myself a genius who might rest on his laurels, and dispense with the hard work that alone insures ultimate eminence and success. My extreme youth also rendered it advisable that, for the first three years at college, 1 should be in charge of tutors; and as these were grown men attending the divinity classes, whose associates were fellow-students far advanced in their course, I was thrown into the society of such as were in age and acquirements much my superiors. This, next to being able to say with David, "I am the companion of all them that fear thee," is the greatest blessing for men as well as youths.. He who associates chiefly with his juniors is almost sure to grow vain, self-sufficient, and intolerant, whilst they in their turn become his sycophants and flatterers. Elsewhere than in tap-rooms, it is a dangerous thing to be cock of the walk. To this, and the effect on if associating chiefly with men very much his inferiors, I can trace the unfortunate aberrations of a man who stood high in the public esteem. He is never seen without some of them; they are his like a kite's, of straws and base stuff; but do not, like it, repay the service he renders them in raising them from obscurity by giving steadiness to course.
In consequence, besides, of entering college at a very early age, I had finished all my course of eight years - in at the literary and philosophical classes, and four as a student of theology - two years before I could begin on my "trials" for licence as a "probationer" or preacher." In these two years I returned to the University, seizing the opportunity of studying subjects beyond the requirements of Church law and the usual course of ministers; such, for example, as chemistry, anatomy, and natural history; thereby enlarging my mind and adding to my stores of knowledge. What I thus gained at the end, perhaps compensated for what, in consequence of my youth, I lost at the beginning of my course. I lost the metaphysics, but gained the physics; and perhaps, so far as common sense, power of conversation, knowledge of the world, and power of popular address on the platform and in the pulpit, were concerned, that was a good bargain.
My parents acted prudently in placing me under the charge of an accomplished, tried, and religious guardian, as well as teacher. Left to the society of any companions they may choose, to become lodgers in houses where no oversight of their habits is taken, and exposed in university towns to temptations they have never before encountered or learned to resist, many promising youths are ruined at college, and more would be so, but that, happily for themselves, they are poor. Every university should have a roll of lodging-houses from which parents could make their selection, and on which no houses should be admitted but such as ministers or citizens of respectability have certified. After I escaped from tutelage, my father was prudent enough to keep me very short of money, and always required, me at the close of the session, on my return home, to account for every penny I had received. And for this, which I may have thought hard at the time, I now bless his memory.
It may not be considered that he acted with the same sound judgment in sending a boy to college at such an early age. But he followed in this matter the advice of my teachers, and a not very uncommon as well as ancient practice. It appears, from the Records of Oxford and Cambridge, as well as those of the Scotch universities, that, not youths only, but boys even of ten years of age, were found at college in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. With all our progress in the arts and sciences and. boast of improved systems of education, the generation is not so early initiated into the different branches of education as were the boys and girls of my day. Not that the race has degenerated; but we could read at an age when most children nowadays are ignorant of their letters. My youngest brother, for instance, could read in the New Testament when he was but three years of age, and we were half way through the classics at school before most of the boys of this age have begun them.
This also might enter into the calculation. of parents who had sons preparing for the ministry - that the earlier the time when they had finished the eight years at college required by the Church, they could afford to wait the longer for a living. In my early days, and for long years thereafter, the appointment to a parish did not go merit but by influence; and, by one of the many evils of patronage, there was nothing either to be lost, or gained by the candidate being but a raw youth. How often did it come across me, excusing and encouraging idle fits, that my "getting a living," as it is called, would not turn on my diligence, and that, through the influence my father had with those who were patrons of churches, I was sure of an appointment
This system, so far as students were concerned, had but one redeeming feature. Through it, boorish cubs were licked into shape, and vulgarly-bred lads acquired the manners of gentlemen; for most of those who had the ministry in view could obtain the favour of a patron in no other way than by becoming tutors in gentlemen's and noblemen's families. Few had the political influence which made it unnecessary for me to seek access to the Church in that way. The consequence was that almost all divinity students were eager to get tutorships. In this capacity - entering the houses of landed gentlemen, associating there with people of cultivated habits, and becoming in a sense members of the family - they, however humble their origin, acquired those courteous and genteel manners which were more the characteristic of the ministers of my early days than they are of their successors.
This old system is now abandoned. The landed gentry, and. others too, send their boys to England, either to public schools, or to the charge of some clergyman of the English Church, who, by his own hard toil and to the loss of the people committed to his charge, ekes out a wretched living by receiving pupils. Either way, the boys get Anglified and Episcopalianized, and thereby the gulf which separates them from the mass of the people is made wider and wider; much to the loss of the country, and very much, as events will prove, to the danger of the upper classes of society.
It is not easy to know how to supply the want of these tutorships, in order to educate in polite manners those candidates for the ministry who have come from the lower classes of society. Short of a moral crime, nothing is more offensive in a minister than hilarity; unless, indeed, it be when they swing over to the other side, and we have vulgar gentility and a pompous affectation of high breeding. With my own ears I heard an Independent minister in England - a very fine gentleman, with his ring and well-arranged hair - deeming meal a very vulgar term, speaking of the widow' s barrel of "flour," when referring to her who had the cruse of oil and barrel of meal; and to my old country neighbourhood there came a Seceder youth, affecting such refinement that, while some of his worthy predecessors would have called children bairns, he spoke of them as "those sweet and interesting bipeds that call man father!"
Now, however vulgar themselves, the common people appreciate and admire good breeding and gentle manners in their minister. There was an old minister of Brechin, grandfather of Dr. John Bruce of Edinburgh, who maintained, and rightly, that every truly pious man, every true Christian, had in him the elements of a true gentleman. I have heard the old people in Brechin tell how he illustrated that by appealing to the manner in which Abraham received the three Strangers who approached his tent; and, certainly, the single chapter in Genesis which relates that story is worth more than the whole volume of Lord Chesterfield's Letters to his Son, he would also refer to Joseph when summoned from prison to the palace. of Pharaoh.
It is said that Joseph "shaved himself and changed his raiment." "Joseph," said old Mr. Bruce, "did not go to Pharaoh foul and begrimed as he lay in prison. No; but he got himself shaved and shirted like a gentleman, and then he went in unto Pharaoh!"
Dr. Davidson, one of the ministers of Edinburgh when I attended college (brother-in-law of the celebrated Lord Cockburn), a man of landed. property, and - better than all - one of the most pious and devout ministers of his or any day, was so impressed with the importance of ministers adorning the doctrine of God their Saviour by all freedom from vulgarity and a certain polish of manners, that I have heard of the good old man actually himself teaching such manners to a pious but awkward lad from some remote island or glen of the north. To the back of the door went the venerable Doctor, and to the amazement of the gaping boor, opened it to make him, and teach him how to make, a profound bow! On another occasion, it is said he slipped a bank-note into the hands of a poor student, beneath whose coarser crust, however, he discerned both uncommon piety and uncommon talents, saying, "Take that, my dear lad, and go to Mr. - ," (naming him), "you will be much the better of a quarter at the dancing."
Might not the churches learn from examples like these, as from their own observation and good sense, to supply what is lacking in the education of their ministers, and see that all of them learn, as Paul says, to "be courteous"? I have known ministers whose usefulness in the pulpit and out of it was very much impaired by their vulgarity. Even Paul may have owed some of his influence to the circumstance, which may be. seen on the surface of his addresses, that he was not less a polite gentleman than a great orator. "Rough diamonds," as some are called, are better than Bristol stones, but polished ones better than either.
The Church of England has, strange to say, no prescribed course of study for her clergy. The power of the Bishop in that matter is or was absolute: and so, at the end of the long war after Waterloo, some officers, finding their vocation gone, doffed the red coat to put on the black, thereby surprising the world and descending as a curse on certain poor parishes. It was enough that they had friends among the patrons, and bishops on the bench to ordain them, irrespective altogether of their qualifications for the ministry, or of the souls committed to their charge.
The Church of Scotland, on the contrary - as she still does, and as, with slight modifications in some instances, all Presbyterians in Scotland do - requires her students to, study literature and philosophy for four years and divinity for other four; and even after this, no young man is licensed to preach, nor any licentiate ordained to the ministry, till he has given proof of his fitness, by delivering a certain number of discourses before the Presbytery, and submitting to an examination by them also on all the subjects he has studied during his eight years at the university. No profession requires so long, and few so costly, an apprenticeship; which, I may remark, makes it all the more disgraceful that, with a preparation so great, ministers should usually receive a payment so small; starvings being a better name than livings for many of their charges. Some gentlemen pay their French cooks, and many merchants their clerks, a larger salary than he receives who has charge of their souls, and in whom they expect the piety of an apostle, the accomplishments of a scholar, and the manners of a gentleman.
Look at my own case: it occupied me eight years to run my regular curriculum. I attended the university, as I have mentioned, for two additional years before I became a licentiate, and other five years elapsed before I obtained a presentation to a vacant church, and became minister of the parish of Arbirlot. Here were fifteen years of my life spent - the greater part of them at no small cost - qualifying myself for a profession which, for all that time, yielded me nothing for my maintenance. The inadequate means of creditably supporting themselves and their families of which most ministers have to complain, is a very serious matter, - threatening, in an enterprising and commercial and wealthy country such as ours, to drain away talent from the pulpit, and, through the weakness of its ministry, bring contempt on religion; worse still, perhaps, to make good the sage remark of Matthew Henry - " a scandalous maintenance makes a scandalous ministry."

* Having finished his literary and theological training, a candidate for the ministry in the Presbyterian Church is, on attaining the age of twenty-one years, and after certain " trials," licensed by the Presbytery to preach. He is then called a "licentiate," "preacher," or "probationer." He is not ordained until he receives a "call" to a particular congregation; and he is eligible for such call immediately on receiving "licence".

I WAS licensed by the Presbytery of Brechin in 1825. In passing through my trials for licence, I had to deliver what is called the "Popular Discourse" in public. Ordinarily there is a small attendance on such occasions, the orator addressing himself to a "beggarly account of empty boxes." But, Brechin being my native place, when I ascended the pulpit of its old Cathedral Church, I found myself face to face with a large congregation - a greater trial that, than standing the Presbytery' s examination in Latin, Greek, Mathematics, Logic, Moral and Natural Philosophy, Church History, Hebrew, Exegesis, and Dogmatic Theology.
The practice common in the English Church of ministers preaching other people's discourses is, I may say, unknown with us in Scotland. He who is found out doing so is considered guilty of a disgraceful, if not a dishonest transaction, - of something far worse than smuggling, illicit distilling of whisky, or evading the Custom House duties by running tea and brandy ashore in the dead of night. Nowhere in Scotland would you find what I saw at Oxford - piles of manuscript sermons openly lying on the counter of a bookseller for sale at one shilling a piece, which were bought, the shopkeeper told me, by "young gentlemen entering holy orders." Nor would any mother in Scotland make such a speech as did a lady to me whom I met lately in London. She expressed much pleasure at renewing our acquaintance; but was specially glad at the opportunity of introducing me to her son, who was a clergyman. "He will be so glad to see you," she added, "for, dear Dr. Guthrie, he often preaches your sermons to his people!" Had a Scotch mother a son who went to the pulpit to preach other people's sermons, she would do anything rather than tell it. Not but that I think it were well for their congregations if some of our Scotch ministers, who are not specially gifted as preachers, though very good pastors, would, without being slavish copyists, draw to some extent on the rich stores of the old divines, or Puritan Fathers.
It is better in England now; but how great was the ignorance of some of the "young gentlemen in holy orders" and how lightly they took their duty, appears in a circumstance which I have heard a minister of the Independent Church relate as having occurred to him, when a young man, in England. In the house where be lodged was a young clergyman with whom he became acquainted. On one occasion, this young gentleman expressed unbounded astonishment when he found that the Dissenting preacher composed his own sermons; and, on the latter asking how he got his, he frankly confessed that he had purchased a stock before coming to that place to preach. He was a fine young fellow, honourable, and, up to the measure of his knowledge, faithful and con scientious in the discharge of what he considered his duty. But his ignorance of theological matters was almost in credible. He had studied the Thirty-nine Articles, and was well versed in Paley's Evidences, but beyond that, he seemed to have learned absolutely nothing of theology. One day, the Socinians being mentioned, he asked, "What do they believe?" and on being told that it was rather for what they did not believe, than for what they did, that they were esteemed heterodox, and that especially they denied the Deity of Jesus Christ, he exclaimed with horror and indignation, "What! deny the Deity of our blessed Lord and Saviour! What a set of rascals they must be! "
But to return, after this digression, to my feelings when I rose in the pulpit to face for the first time in my life a public assembly. I felt for a moment as if my tongue would cleave to the roof of my mouth, pretty confident of this, however, that if it were once loosed and set a going, I could go on: and so it did - my apparent calmness and self-possession being such, that many declared that I spoke and had the bearing of one who had been preaching for years.
Though I read what on that occasion I preached, as was the practice of all on trials for licence, I had made up my mind that I would be no reader; considering then, as, if possible, I do so more now, that he who reads, instead of delivering his sermon looking his hearers fair in the face, throws away a great. advantage. With the determination, on the Saturday afternoon thereafter, I made my way to Dun, a pariah some four miles from Brechin, once the seat and estate of John Erskine, one of the leaders of the Reformation, and the friend both of Queen Mary and John Knox - having promised to preach my first sermon there. On the road I spent my time repeating, or trying rather to repeat over to myself the sermon I had prepared for the following day; and my memory so often failed me, that I remember well saying to myself, " I have mistaken my profession! I shall never succeed as a preacher!" It was more or less under this depressing feeling I ascended the pulpit at Dun. To be secure against a complete break-down, I, turning over the leaves as I advanced, kept my MS. before me on the Bible; and, though at one time during the first prayer, for an instant, my mind became a perfect blank, I got through my work without halt or blunder, which was then the height of my ambition; and was so happy at that, that I think that hour after I left that pulpit was perhaps the brightest, happiest of all my life.
To get a charge was now my outlook and that of my friends. My father had enough of political influence to secure me a parish through patronage. That happened thus in days that preceded the Reform Bill by a good many years
The cluster of Burghs called the Aberdeen Burghs, which consisted of Aberdeen, Bervie, Montrose, Arbroath, and Brechin, then united to send a member to Parliament. The two first supported the Tory interest - Montrose and Arbroath the Whigs: they therefore neutralised each other, leaving Brechin, which was not very pronounced either way, to turn the scale. The real power of returning a member to Parliament lay in my native city - whoever won it, won the day: and, as my father was Provost of the City, and his was much the strongest party in the Council, it may be said that he had virtually the appointment of the member of Parliament.
However bad this state of matters might be for the country, it secured me an amount of political influence, that, altogether irrespective of my own merits, made me sure of a church: and before I had been licensed four months, I had one of the largest charges and best livings of Scotland in my hand - but on a condition, which, thanks to God, I could not stoop to. The Moderate party, as if they foresaw that their time was short, were driving things with a high hand, and Sir Robert Peel, then Home Secretary, was aiding and abetting them. None was appointed to a church, where the Crown was patron, but such as bound himself to support the Moderate, or anti-popular, and in many instances anti-evangelical, party in the Church. So, notwithstanding political influence, I found that they would not me to the charge in question until I would go to Dr.Nicol, at St. Andrew's, the then leader of the Moderates and there sell my liberty to him, "my birthright for.a mess of pottage." Till then, I had little interest in Church politics, but lived on kindly terms with ministers of both parties. But I recoiled from the idea of this bondage. To persuade me they said I would have but to pay my respects to Dr.Nichol, that he would ask no questions, nor attempt by any paction to bind me to his party. But, regarding the waiting on him as though a silent, a distinct pledge that he and the Moderate party would have my vote in the Church Courts, I refused to go, saying that if I could not enter the Church without pledging myself to either party, I would turn to the pursuit of some other profession.
The loss of this church was a great disappointment to me - the way I lost it did not certainly recommend the Moderates to my favour, but it was a blessed Providence for me: their grasping, high-handed tyranny dictated conditions I was too proud (if nothing else) to agree to, and I was thus kept from entering on a charge, the weight of which as I was then "in the gristle," would have dwarfed and stunted me for life.
Not requiring, like many others, to be a tutor for my maintenance, and having nothing special to do, I wearied staying at home: and so, to enlarge my knowledge, improve my mind, and pursue those studies in anatomy and the natural sciences, such as chemistry and natural history, on which I had spent two years at the Edinburgh University after completing the eight years curriculum there required by the laws of the Church, I made up my mind to spend the winter of 1826-27 in Paris, as a student at the Sorbonne.
What a difference between travelling then and now, in respect of speed, cost, and comfort! It must have been in the month of November, 1826, that I made the journey to London. I took an outside seat all the way from Edinburgh; and remember that when, after travelling from early morning, we reached Newcastle about midnight, I was so benumbed with cold that I hardly knew I had a leg, to say nothing of a pair. We called a halt for a little while there; and, beyond a brief-stoppage for meals, I do not recollect of another all the way to London. On the second night, I exchanged the outside for the interior of the coach; taking for the journey, which we now accomplish in some ten hours, no less than three days and two nights. Wearied and worn with want of sleep, and by three days and two nights constant, and by no means very comfortable, travelling, I was at last set down in London and, amid its teeming millions - crowds rushing past who would have hardly stopped to lift me up if I had dropped down dead in the gutter - I felt as solitary as I would in an African desert. I had never felt so helpless and lonely all my life - I had never been in London till then.
Indeed, I had never crossed the Border before; and, being then more patriotic and less of a cosmopolite than I am now, I remember with what interest I looked on Berwick-on-Tweed, and the scenes of many a bloody battle between the Scotch and English. I remember nothing of my compagnons de voyage, but that a very matronly Lady and a young woman going up to London on service, to whom the guard compassionately gave an inside seat, were my company that night I left the top of the coach; and that then I travelled a good way with four poachers whom two constables had in little charge, and who thought so little shame that, on passing a preserve where some pheasants were strutting about as thick and tame as barn-door fouls. "Ah, Jack," exclaimed one of them to his fellows, "to be down there ! " - an observation which set all a-laughing, poachers, passengers and constables.
They, the very constables themselves, plainly looked on poaching as our Highlanders did on making whisky without a permit from the Excise, or the farmers and ploughmen, and fishermen of the sea- coast, on running contraband goods, so as to escape the oppressive duties laid on tea and tobacco, or gin and brandy.
Brechin being an inland town, I knew little about the coast smuggling, though I remember the principal farmer in my first parish charge, which lay on the sea-board, telling me how, when he went north from the Lothians, he often found his servants standing by their ploughs asleep at mid-day: nor knew the reason why, till he discovered that it was no uncommon thing for the ploughmen there to be up all night "running goods," as they called it - .discharging boats laden with the contraband goods of a smuggler that had ventured in shore when the darkness concealed her from the cutters that were prowling about.
But, when a boy in Brechin, I was quite familiar with the appearance and on-goings of the Highland smugglers. They rode on Highland ponies, carrying on each side of their small, shaggy, but brave and hardy steeds, a small cask, or "keg," as it was called, of illicit whisky, manufactured amid the wilds of Aberdeenshire or the glens of the Grampians. They took up a position on some commanding eminence during the day, where they could, as from a watch-tower, descry the distant approach of the enemy, the exciseman or gauger: then, when night fell, every man to horse, desoending the mountains only six miles from Brechin, they scoured the plains, rattled into the villages and towns, disposing of their whisky to agents they had everywhere; and, now safe, returned at their leisure, or often in triumphal procession. They were often caught, no doubt, with the contraband whisky in their possession. Then they were subjected to heavy fines besides the loss of their goods. But - daring, stout, active fellows - they often broke through the nets, and were not slack, if it offered them a chance of escape, to break the heads of the gaugers. I have seen a troop of thirty of them riding in Indian file, and in broad day, through the streets of Brechin, after they had succeeded in disposing of their whisky, and, as they rode leisurely along, beating time with their formidable cudgels on the empty barrels to the great amusement of the public and mortification of the excisemen, who had nothing for it but to bite their nails and stand, as best they could, the raillery of the smugglers and the laughter of the people.
Few, in the end throve on this trade. Smuggling was bad thing, as a result in most instances demoralising those engaged in it; but you could not convince but few of the best of the people, that it was a positively wrong thing. So everybody, with a few exceptions drank what was in reality illicit whisky - far superior to that made under the eye of the Excise - Lords and Lairds, members of Parliament and ministers of the Gospel; which shows how positive evil there is, in making laws unsuited to times and circumstances, and commend themselves neither to the reason nor the conscience of the masses - this, when there are temptations to break it - makes the law be not honoured, but despised.
In London, where I spent two or three weeks, I lived in Tabernacle Row, kept by a decent Scotch widow woman. The last night I passed there I was put fairly hors de combat by the spectacle which met my eyes on striking a light after I had been some time in bed; on looking up, there, on the white curtains, hung scores of bugs, ready to drop down and reinforce the enemy below. As some one said in similar circumstances, if they had only been unanimous, they might have turned me out of bed! I spent the rest of the night on two chairs, glad next day to avail myself of the offered hospitality of a kind but curious countryman.
His name was Allan, and his birthplace Arbroath. He had gone to London long years before as a baker lad, and thriving, had risen to be himself a master-baker, and, latterly, a corn-dealer. When I knew him he had retired from business and become a pretty old man. His time a was spent in the study of metaphysics and theology; and his delight was to engage with others in passages-at- arms on these knotty subjects. First meeting him at a dinner party, I happened to sit opposite to him at table; knowing neither who he was, nor what he was, I was surprised, when, addressing me, he said, "What do you consider, sir, the most general of all ideas ?" I learned. afterwards that by their reply to this strange and startling question he gauged men's capacities. I could hardly have been more astonished though he had given me a blow on the nose; but, taking him for an odd character, and wishing to be courteous, I thought it best to humour him, and, after a moment's reflection, replied, "I would say, Eternity." This came so near what lie thought the proper answer - Space namely - that I was instantly enthroned in his good graces; and thinking me "a foeman worthy of his steel," after a tilt on metaphysics, which showed that he had Watts Logic at his finger ends, this old Scotch baker rushed into the theological arena, and put me to my mettle to defend Calvinism against the doctrines of Arminius, which he had embraced on leaving the Presbyterian Church to become a Methodist. The result was that he made me an offer of his house, and would not let me go till I had promised to leave my and accept of his hospitality. He was very kind, good and devout man, but very queer; an old bachelor, followed his own ways. On going to his house with bed and baggage, I found him sitting in his parlour in his shirt sleeves,.smoking a long pipe, whose fumes filled the room but did not seem to disturb a whole flock of canaries, linnets, and bullfinches that occupied the same apartment, and flying about at their ease from one piece of furniture to another, did everything but perch on the old man's bald head. It was a lone life, his, and sometimes I fancied he himself thought the birds but a poor substitute for bairns,
But to dismiss him for better-known men : - I breakfasted with Dr.Waugh, a minister of.the Scotch Secession Church, in London, who was celebrated for his eloquence as a preacher, and his singuilar love for and frequent use of the Scotch tongue. He was a heavenly old man, with the most brilliant pair of eyes, large and black and lustrous, I had ever seen. He was a genius, with much quaint humour; and I have heard that when he, and these two "origina1s," and remarkable men, Matthew Wilks and Rowland Hill, met (as they often did), their talk was a treat - -a coruscation of meteors, seria mixta cum jocis, worth travelling miles to enjoy.
I was often with Mr. Joseph Hume, then member of Parliament for the group called the Aberdeen Burghs. At his house one day I met at dinner Sir John Sinclair, to whom the country owed - what excited the admiration of the first Napoleon - the "Statistical Account of Scotland," and Alderman Wood, the friend of Queen Caroline and father of the present Lord Hatherley. I remember with what interest and astonishment the Alderman listened to the account I was led, somehow or other, to give the company of the way in which the Sabbath was observed generally in the households of Scotland: and also how Joseph Hume, when some looked almost incredulous, struck in, saying, that it was just so when he was a boy in Montrose, and how he remembered it well in his father's house.
Hume was a man of great practical wisdom; held whatever matter he fastened on with the tenacity of a bull-dog; possessed an unblemished character; and had more true, religious principle than the Tories and Church- men, who hated and abused him, gave him credit for. He, certainly, was not a man of genius; and had no more appreciation of it than I have of music. I remember breakfasting with him in Edinburgh after he had attended and spoken along with Andrew Thomson at an Anti- Patronage Meeting on the preceding day. Thomson was then, as he always was, most effective; stepping forth as a grand debater - the prince of debaters-crushing the arguments employed by the friends of Patronage to powder, and, by some inimitably funny stories, covering them with ridicule. I expected to find Joseph charmed with Thomson. Not he! All he said was, "he seems rather a humorous man." Though broad and loose in some of his views, he was a better man, as I have said, than many took him for. His family, as I had opportunities of seeing, had a religious training; and he was a and true friend to many a young man whom his influence and patronage helped on to fortune.
I was much touched With a proof of a kindly heart which Mr. Hume gave me but a few months before his death. He and I had in many respects, taken different courses, I had had no correspondence with him for twenty years. Yet, on passing through Edinburgh, he called at my house. I was from home, but he sought an interview with my wife; said he had heard from Sir George Sinclair with whom he had been staying at Thurso Castle; that I had a large number of sons; and that he came to say that he would be very happy to do what in him lay to help them on by his influence.
He was the only man of all the great ones of the earth I have known that ever made me such an offer. Not that but from some of them, I am sure, had I asked their petronage, I would have got it, and got it very cordially; but, (as my wife, while moat gratefully thanking him explained to Mr. Hume) I wished to preserve my independence, so, made it a principle to ask no patronage for my children from men in place and power. I had fought my own battle, and they must fight theirs. People have often expressed their wonder to me why I did not get good, snug, lucrative berths for my sons in Government offices and in India. Well, I could have done that; but at the loss of my independence as a public man. Besides, how could I have solicited favours for my own family, and refused my good offices on behalf of others? I was so situated, I should have been made the medium of so many applications, that I would soon have been dubbed "The Solicitor-General," and become such a bore as to lose all influence for good with those who, under God, shaped the course and ruled the destinies of the country. I did occasionally intercede on behalf of others, but only where I had public grounds to stand on, where the educational, moral, or religious interests of the community were concerned - never otherwise.
At that my first visit to London, I saw His Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex lay the foundation-stone of the London University. He was the only one of George III. s family I ever saw; for, when George IV. came to Edinburgh, I did not move a step to see one of the worst men that ever disgraced a throne - a base fellow, who had all the bad, without any of the redeeming qualities of Charles II. I sought Rowland Hill's Chapel, being very anxious to hear a man who was possessed of such remarkable abilities, and whom God had so highly honoured to stir up England and convert souls. I, however, stumbled in among Wesleyan Methodists, and was fortunate enough to find the pulpit occupied by the celebrated Adam Clarke. He was greater as a Commentator than a preacher.
I usually dined at an eating-house in the City in company with an old school-fellow, who was then a clerk in a mercantile house. We bought rump-steak at a butcher's stall, carried it away with us in our pockets wrapped in paper, got it cooked with potatoes, and had probably some beer or porter, and I remember the dinner cost in all but one shilling, and we had rare fun to make us relish it. The place was a favourite resort of lads, clerks like my friend Allardice, and how used to play on their ignorance and credulity! It was teh I first saw the narrow limits and defects of the ordinary education of English schools. These lads were, I doubt not, thorough masters of their own particular deaprtments of business, but, beyond the small hole they filled - like certain shell-fish in the sea- rocks - they were amazingly ignorant of everything outside.
I cannot remember whether it was at this time, or on my return from Paris, that I saw a grand encounter in the House of Commons between Mr. Canning and the Whigs who supported him on his becoming Prime Minister, and the Tories, his old friends, and now deadly foes. I got an order from Mr. Hume, who warned me I should hear nothing but some discussions about the shipping interest, to be brought on by Mr. Huskisson. But, unexpectedly, Canning appeared for the first time that night as the head of the Government. This was the signal for battle; Dawson, Sir Thomas Lethbridge, and others leading the assault against the Government. I marked Brougham sitting with his hand resting on one of the iron pillars of the old House of Commons, immovable for an hour or so, with his eyes fixed like a basilisk's on the two assailants. When they had closed, up he rose to a task for which he could have made no preparation, and which was the most extraordinary display of reasoning, sarcasm, withering denunciation, and eloquence I ever heard. Canning stepped for a moment into the arena, but, leaving the fight to his troops, contented himself as he looked over on the Opposition benches, with exclaiming in trumpet tones, and his arm suiting the words, "I rejoice that the banner of opposition is unfurled!" Sir Thomas Lethbridge that night spoke the speech of a bitter Tory, Sir Francis Burdett that of an extreme Whig. I lived to see them change sides years thereafter - Lethbridge dying a Whig, and Burdett a Tory.
The journey from London to Paris, like that from Edinburgh to London, occupied three days and two nights. I remember of being much struck on landing at Calais at the sight of a lofty crucifix which stood by the pier, representing our Lord hanging in blood and agony on the accursed tree, and of looking with mingled awe and wonder and horror on that symbol of Popery, the first of the kind I had seen.

Thomas Guthrie's impressions of Paris, written at the time, can be seen in the letter to his sister (go to "Literature - Letters)

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