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
'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
"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
'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
'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
"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
'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,
"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
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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