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Oor Ain Folk
Chapter XV


A Hard-worked Minister—Vigorous of Mind and Body—Details of his Life and Character—Notes by my Brother George—The Manse Garden—Methodical Habits—Love of Children—Care for the Servants—Domestic Daily Routine—Fondness for a Joke—Some of his Stories—A Thievish Urchin—The Imperturbable Trespasser—Pat's Witty Answer—Habits in the Pulpit —His Favourites in History—Gentleness and Sweetness of Disposition—Private Devotion—Anecdotes of Dr. Cruden— Summary of the Old Minister's Character.

To give some idea of the industry and downright hard work expected from a minister in those stirring times after the Disruption, and as an evidence of my dear father's vigour of body and mind, I might instance that on one occasion he preached both forenoon and afternoon in Free St John's Church, Montrose, then drove out to Edzell, some twelve miles away, and preached in his own church at six o'clock in the evening of the same day.

On another occasion he happened to be breakfasting at Woodmyre, a pleasant residence some miles from our village, in the neighbouring county of Kincardine. While at breakfast he received an urgent appeal from his cherished friend, Dr. Foote of Brechin, whose child had died that morning, asking my father to go to Men-muir and officiate there in place of the reverend Doctor, who, owing to his sad and sudden bereavement, did not himself feel able to go.

It happened to be the Fast-Day in Menmuir, a secluded, hilly parish lying away in a corner of the Grampians, some eight or ten miles from our home. My father started off at once in great haste. He reached the manse and selected two sermons, and putting these in his pocket, he started to walk the long distance, over bad roads, and reached Menmuir Church only some twenty-five minutes after the usual hour for divine service. The congregation were just beginning to disperse when his figure hove in sight, but he managed to conduct the services with great acceptance.

On another Fast-Day in Brechin my father was again the recipient of a hasty summons from Dr. Foote to come in and officiate, as the minister who had been expected had been somehow unavoidably detained. My father was sowing oats on his land when the summons came, but with his usual good nature and promptitude he at once responded to the call of friendship and duty, and took two services in Brechin, sowing 'the good seed of the word' in place of the 'bare grain.' Dr. Foote seems to have had an unbounded faith in his readiness to oblige, for my brother George writes me that he often, without previous announcement, would send for my father to preach during the afternoon in Brechin, sending a gig to intercept him at the church door, not allowing him time even for dinner; and he would have to be back for his own service in his own church at six o'clock in the evening.

Many a time he has preached in the forenoon at Edzell, afternoon at Lethnot, and again in the evening at Edzell, walking all the way both to and from the distant Lethnot church.'

He was very diligent in visiting his flock and in catechising the children, but always in such a kindly way that his visits were looked forward to with eager delight by both old and young. He did all the work of his scattered parish on foot, and walked to Brechin or Montrose to the stated meetings of presbytery. He was Clerk to the Synod of Angus and Mearns, and also to the Presbytery of Brechin, and was well versed in ecclesiastical law and procedure.

My brother George, who saw more of him in his later years than any of the rest, has sent me a few notes which perhaps give a better resume' of the salient points of the old minister's character than anything I could give, and I therefore present these just as I received them. He says:

'I am just jotting down my recollections at random, and can only give you the bare statements without elaboration. Papa had a keen sense of humour, a strong sense of duty, loyalty to his convictions, an utter disregard for consequences if convinced that his proposed course of action was right, great tenderness of heart, and sympathy with and for poor people and any one in trouble. He used hospitality without grudging, was as liberal as he could possibly be with his ofttimes straitened means, denied himself continuously for the sake of his children, and ever sought to make the manse one of the happiest homes in the world. He was fond of all sorts of manly pastimes, and was a keen fisherman. He was fond of music and singing— indeed, was no mean performer on the violin, and dearly loved a good story or a good joke.

'He was in fact a healthy, breezy Scotchman, full of sanctified common sense, and sure to do good to those in his company. He hated smoking, drinking, and dancing, had a vigorous contempt for bazaars and church fairs, and any newfangled way of raising money for church or religious purposes. His utterances on such a subject were uncompromisingly honest and plain spoken: "There's the box or plate at the church door," he would say; "drop your offering in like a man, and don't expect two shillings' worth of amusement for one shilling's worth of contribution."

'He was somewhat careless in his dress, or rather it is truer to say he went somewhat shabbily dressed himself in order to provide clothes for his children. When sometimes twitted by friends in this regard, or if the conversation happened to turn on dress, I have heard him give utterance to the following original and homely sentiment:

"Better have a hole in my coat than a hole in my conscience."

'He was, in addition to his knowledge of practical farming, a capital and expert gardener. He was a capable landscape gardener, and had a good knowledge of architecture and surveying, having given attention to these in his schoolmaster days. He was also a first-rate ploughman and a capital hand at all sorts of out-of-doors work. The beautiful manse garden, with its wealth of floral treasures, trim, well-stocked beds, and bountiful supply of all sorts of fruit trees and bushes suitable to the soil and climate, was planned and laid out by himself. So, too, was the commodious and handsome manse itself, with all the outhouses and appurtenances. He was architect and clerk of works in one. He was fond of experimental gardening, and did a deal of grafting with his own hands. His sense of order was very pronounced. Every spring he sowed from forty to sixty varieties of annuals. The little packet which had contained the seed was then inserted in a slit stick and placed at the foot of the seed-bed, and he delighted to teach his boys the names and characteristics of each. In fact he was always encouraging us to ask questions. When we asked, "What's this, papa?" he would pull up the stick and say, "That's Nemophila," or "Sapo-naria," or "Acroclinum," and so on; and we delighted then to roll out these lang-nebbit words to our schoolmates, much to their wonderment and envy.

'Every morning after breakfast he went up to John Carr's village store, just for five minutes or so, to say "good morning" to John, or bring down what little groceries might be wanted for the day. He would look in at the door of the smiddy in passing, with a cheery salute for the smith and his men, and a pleasant word and smile for every one he met. He rarely passed a child without a pat on the head; and he invariably carried a "paper -pockie" of acid drops, pan drops, or other sweetmeats, from which he would gingerly and with much affected mystery and solemnity extract one and bestow it on the delighted youngster, who probably appreciated the simple little gift quite as much as our coddled and spoilt juveniles of the present era appreciate a gift of money, which would have kept my dear father in "sweeties" for a month.

'He had a good knowledge of medicine, and, like Dr. Eobert Jeffray of Glasgow, could "gie either a pill or a prayer," as the case demanded. One of his favourite pleasures was to see a good fire in the grate. Indeed, in winter he kept the best fires I ever saw in any house, but he would allow no one to touch the fire-irons but himself.

'As I have said, he was most exact and methodical in his habits and in all his ways. He taught us all to neatly fold our clothes and place them exactly in the same place each night on going to bed. We all had to take our turns in helping the servants to fold the tablecloth, set the table, collect dishes, and do other little domestic duties ; and he exacted from us a cheerful and ready obedience to every demand for help from any of the servants. He himself set the example, and was simply loved by them for his truly gentle and godly consideration. In this and other respects he was a truly chivalrous, courteous, Christian gentleman.

'At seven every morning he rose. At eighty no matter who was ready or the reverse, his clear voice rang out from the foot of the stair with the summons, "Come down to worship." It mattered not if he was the only one ready; he read a portion of a psalm, raised the tune, and proceeded with the regular routine. After prayers, breakfast immediately succeeded. Dinner at one. Tea at four. Prayers again at half-past seven. Possibly some light supper at eight, and bed, with all lights out, punctually at ten. From year's end to year's end there was scarcely ever a variation of five minutes from these hours. If any one were perhaps asked to tea, and should they unfortunately fail in punctuality, he would manifest impatience and become quite fidgety. He might give five minutes grace to the laggard, but never more. He would then seat himself, and at once recovering his equanimity and good temper would jocularly remark, "Come awa', goidwife, we'll jist tak' oor tea, and syne wait"

'He was fond of a very mild and innocent practical joke, such as putting his hot teaspoon on the back of one's hand, and he relished the innocent bamboozle-ment of children, when he would propound such queries as, "Weel, min, will ye hae butter on the yae side o' yer piece, an' jeelie on the tither?" When out driving with him once, I remember he pulled up suddenly and said, "Weel, min, whether will ye turn or gae back?" . . . . then laughing jocosely at his bairn's bewilderment, he would drive on again, enlivening the way with merry quip, and pointing out the different birds, trees, and flowers, telling us their names, and drawing our attention to every point of interest along the road.

'He took an intense delight in stimulating our powers of observation; and we, one and all, looked forward to an outing with papa as one of the crowning treats of life.

'I am sorry I do not remember more of his stories, of which he had a never-ending store. I have heard him talk of an old pedlar, evidently an odd character, who used to come about the manse at Lochlee. On one occasion this oddity was trying to sell a book, and papa teased him and angered him, by pretending that the book was no good, as it was incomplete. The mannie Snatched it from his hand in high dudgeon, turned over the pages till he came to the end, then holding it up before the audience, triumphantly exclaimed: "Sorra pyke out yer een, ye cuif. D'ye no see 'Feenis' at the boddom o't?"'

'He used to recall with great amusement an episode which occurred on one occasion when he was travelling by rail to Edinburgh. An old wine, very inebriated, forced herself into the carriage where he was seated; and seeing his white neckcloth sang in a most aggressive manner a song aimed at the cloth, in which this chorus occurred. My father used to give a most whimsical imitation of the old wife's voice and manner.

"They hangit the meenister, They drooned the precentor, An' they drank the bell, In the bonnie wee pairish abune Dunkel'. . . ." '

Still continuing his notes, George, speaking of myself, says, ' He always spoke of you as Jamie, and spoke a great deal about you. He often told with great glee an exploit of yours when you were quite a youngster. It seems all you boys had been specially forbidden to touch the apples on a certain tree which papa was anxious about, as he had been making some experiments in grafting upon it. His exact command had been that "none of you were to lay a finger upon these particular apples." "But Jamie," he would say, "fulfilled the letter of the law and satisfied conscience (and his appetite for apples) by lying down underneath the tree and munching the fruit, leaving the gnawed heart hanging by the stalk to be spied out by the worthy horticulturist on his next perambulation."

'He had a strong objection to the game laws, to fishing restrictions, to closing up of policies and pleasure-resorts, and to the exclusion from estates generally of peaceable and well-behaved visitors. This reminds me that when David came home from Australia he took the whole tribe of us one day up to the Ganochy to visit "Adam's Cave," the "Loup's Brig," and other points of interest in the now jealously guarded demesne, which had, however, from time immemorial been free to the public. We were going up the old footpath behind the fine modern shooting - lodge which had been recently erected by Lord Panmure, when Sandie Dorrit, the gardener, who had formerly been beadle in my father's church, but who had gone back to "the flesh-pots of Erastianism," as my mother would have said, came out, and said very majestically to David:

'"There's no ro'd this w'y, Maister Inglis!"

"Oh," says Davie, quite unabashed, "we're no lookin' for the road, Sandie," and on we went, picking the raspberries that bordered the path, much no doubt to Sandie's chagrin. When we came home and the old man heard the circumstances, he was hugely delighted, and warmly commended the returned gold-digger for his spirit.

'Another good story which I remember papa making use of in his address at the school-examination was this. There was a Mr. Robey, at one time farmer at Inver-eskandie, and one of papa's elders. He was a quiet intelligent man, and spoke with a slight lisp. He afterwards went to Bradford, and was for many years correspondent there to the North British Agriculturist, Being on a visit to Ireland, and seeing a man digging potatoes in a field, he hailed him, and in his slow solemn, Scotch fashion he asked :

"What kind of potatoes are thae, my man?"

"Raw potatoes, yer honour," answered Pat as quick as lightning.

'When beginning his sermon in the pulpit he always pulled his large old watch out of his breeches fob, and looked at the time; and between saying "May the Lord bless the preaching of His Word. Amen!" and the beginning of his "prayer after the sermon," he invariably pulled out the watch again to see how long he had been in preaching. So far as I can recollect,' says George with professional complacency, 'this was the only bad habit he had in the pulpit.

'He was fond of history, and intensely patriotic. He had unbounded veneration for Knox and Andrew Melville, for Alexander Henderson, and for all the goodly roll of "Scots Worthies," both in ecclesiastical and civil history, who had "nobly contended for the faith once delivered to the saints," and for liberty; and he inspired me at least,' says George, 'with a love for the same men, and deep admiration for their principles. He would often speak enthusiastically of Chalmers, Hugh Miller, Dr. Welsh, and many others who were the heroes of "The Ten Years' Conflict" He was intensely loyal to his denomination, and a thoroughgoing Protestant. In a word, he was a man of magnificent religious principle; and sometimes in his semi-jocular way, yet with a deep intensity of feeling underlying the humorous words, he would say "that he would have burned with a glorious crackle at the martyr's stake, if his lot had fallen in the old persecuting times."

'He kept numerous hives of bees in the garden, and was very expert in their management; but he would not allow dogs, cats, or fowls to be kept about the place. They offended his sense of orderliness and love of tidiness; but his gentle, loving nature used to be characteristically manifested in the rigorous winter days, when he would every morning put out crumbs for the wee birdies, who used to flock round him as if knowing he was a friend.

'Prompt obedience was always insisted on, and he very rarely had to speak twice to any of us. Still, he ruled by love and not by fear. If any of us were inclined to perhaps leisurely obey mother's commands, there came an unmistakable, "What did your mother say, sir?" from papa, and the book was shut, or the game stopped, and prompt obedience at once rendered.

'We said our prayers at his knee in the study one by one at night invariably, and occasionally in the morning. At night, after praying, he kissed us affectionately. The kiss was always accompanied by a formula pronounced with tender good-humour, and accompanied by a kindly gleam from the loving, deep gray eyes. The words were "Guid-nicht, Breeklums." It is an evidence of the settled orderliness of his mind that he never varied this salutation and benediction in one. Indeed, the simple, homely phrase has often come back to us in after life, with all the clinging memories of an earnest blessing. If any of us were on the sick-list his solicitude was most touching. He would sit by the sick-bed, read to us, tell us stories, and invent all sorts of loving little resources to keep us cheerful and assist our recovery.

'Sunday was observed as "a high day." It "was the family festival of the week". On Saturday mother cooked the best dinner that could be procured. There was sure to be something extra for the Sunday dinner. There was only the soup or broth and potatoes to be warmed, and that could be done without keeping any one at home from public worship. We always had dessert on Sunday, and after dessert papa went to his study and brought us each an apple, or some comfits, "tablet sconnies," or "Farfar Rock," or perhaps some comfit or preserved ginger, or other delicacy, which had been sent from India or China by one or other of the scattered members of the family. We were allowed to walk decorously in the garden, but not to trail about outside the gates.

'Papa spent a great deal of his time in private devotion. After dressing, he went to the study and engaged in private prayer. Then, after breakfast, he read his Bible for an hour. After dinner he again read his Bible for nearly an hour; and after "worship " in the evening, he retired to his bedroom and read and prayed till about half-past nine, when he would again come downstairs for a little. During the evening mother poured boiling water over a rusk—sometimes two rusks —in a bowl, sweetened it, and on rare occasions poured a tablespoonful of old brandy over it, and one of us took it up to him. That was all the supper he ever took Even when any of you elder boys came home for your holidays, or about New Year time, when the manse was full of rollicking young people, and all sorts of toothsome delicacies were in abundance (which was more frequently the case in later years papa made very little change in his habits. He might come downstairs a little sooner, but he did not sit at table, but in his easy chair at the fireside, making quaint and humorous remarks from time to time. At the time I speak of he was more or less of an invalid and had to be careful

'He seldom wore a greatcoat or gloves, and looked with considerable contempt on an umbrella as an effeminate encumbrance. Like Professor Blackie, he would have said, "Leave your umbrellas to the hens and the ladies. I prefer to look Jove in the face, be he fair or foul."

'I remember two of his stories of Dr. Cruden of Nigg. The doctor, an unusually godly man, had occasion to reprove a fisherman for telling an untruth, and incautiously remarked that he himself had never wilfully told a lie in his life.

'"Ay, but ye did lee," said the fisherman, "an' that in the vera poopit!"

"Me, John?" said the astonished minister. "Ye must be greatly mistaken."

"Mistaken here, or mistaken there, sir,—you said that Nichol' Davidson was a ruler amo' the Jews, an' I ken brawly he's nivver been mair nor five-an'-therty mile frae the Cove o' Nigg in his life."

The poor man had mixed up Nicodemus with some local scion of the clan Davidson.

'Reproving a fisherman for ill-treating his wife, on another occasion, the good doctor closed his exhortation by reminding him that "the wife was the weaker vessel." "Ay, weel than," said the wrathful husband, "she should cairry the laicher (lower) sail."

But here I must pause. I have elsewhere in this book recorded some of the many humorous stories of which my father had such a goodly store. He was a perfect mine of wealth for the collector of quaint phrases and 'reminiscences of Scottish character.' His repertoire of clerical stories was unsurpassed for the variety and humour of the illustrations of ministerial habits of thought and tricks of style.

These unstudied notes of my brother, however, disclose the character of the man. They portray, in their simple, affectionate fashion, the fine 'honest man, the minister,' as his people loved to call him. He was a whole-souled, pure-hearted, noble-natured gentleman. He was a loyal, lion-hearted friend, fearless and independent in his advocacy of any just cause; an open, frank, but unsparing antagonist to any mean, contemptible, or paltering policy. He had a womanly tenderness to all in sorrow or distress. His deep and pure affection, and the almost childlike innocence of his disposition, endeared him especially to young people; and I doubt if in all the Mearns there was a minister more in request to celebrate marriages, conduct school-examinations, and other similar functions. His genial humour, kindly wit, and transparent sincerity, always made his presence welcome, and his addresses were models of kindly, shrewd, Christian counsel, and redolent with the perfume of a pure life and a generous unselfishness.

Nobly, indeed, did he try to live up to his own high ideal. Little wonder is it that we treasure his memory with loving reverence. And we can truly say that his own simple, earnest, yet noble ambition was fully realised. With a pride which is wholly free from cant or affectation, or any base alloy, we can say boldly, yet reverently, and in the fullest and highest sense, that we are indeed 'the children of an honest man.'


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