Days—Death of Aunt—Death of Father
It must have been at Whitsunday
1819 that we went from Clayhouses to Gorebridge. I remember that I was in great
glee when we became denizens of a "toon." I felt quite elevated on being
associated in play with "big callants." My sister had hitherto been my only
About the time of our removal to
Gorebridge I began to write copy-books. My father ruled and set them, and I
scrawled away as I best could.
From the first Sabbath of our
stay at Gorebridge I attended Mr. Sandy's Sabbath evening school. My father was
put in charge of a class into which I, along with other boys, was put. I liked
the Sabbath school exceedingly. I used to look forward with great interest to
the annual distribution of premiums in the month of October. The first prize
book I received was entitled Jesus showing Mercy to Children. I read and re-read
that little book till it was in tatters. How frequently and fervently did I pray
that, like the Jemima spoken of in the book, I might be one of Christ's lambs
indeed, and that my death might be as peaceful as hers!
I now began to devour every
little book that came in my way, but I felt none so interesting as the premiums
then out at the Sabbath school. I well remember one Sabbath morning at the end
of my father's house. I was showing some of my tracts and tickets to the
children of a collier, who with his large household were very careless, if not
openly irreligious. I began to speak earnestly to the children, some of whom
were older than myself, about the Bible and God and hell and heaven. I felt
quite enraptured while speaking about the happiness of believers— more so, I
think, than I have ever done since. I remember nothing of my address but its
conclusion, which was more immediately addressed to the biggest boy in the group
in these terms: "Oh, Geordie! it's a grand thing to be gude." I believe that the
effect of my exhortation was that for some weeks my hearers attended both church
and Sabbath school.
While here I read with great
delight Hervey's Meditations and Contemplations. I read also Theron and Astasia,
but did not understand this work thoroughly. I used also to read with great
interest portions of the Select Remains of Brown of Haddington, and his
Christian Journal. I perused also some of Boston's works. My geographical tutor
was an old infirm copy of Salmon's Gazetteer.
I can recall some sacred Sabbath
evenings in my father's humble dwelling both at Clayhouses and at Gorebridge. I
have now (in 1854) before me a little old withered-looking hymn-book which I got
at Newbattle Toll in 1817, and which I frequently read to my father in the
stillness of the Sabbath evening just before retiring to rest. The little book
is entitled The Glory of Christ Displayed and Improved, being "A Selection of
Hymns for Children, by E. B." On my father's authority I state that these
initials stand for Ebenezer Brown, who was long minister at Inverkeithing. If I
have ever enjoyed foretastes of heaven's bliss, it was, I think, in reading
these hymns to my father and old Aunt Ellen at Clayhouses and Gorebridge by the
light of the fire or of a dim little lamp. All the hymns in that selection have
been favourites with me ever since. . . .
It was, I think, in April or May
1820 that I involuntarily made my debut in the week-day school at Gorebridge,
then taught by Mr. Thomas Howatson. My father had long wished me to attend
school, but I had heard so much about the scholars getting palmies that I was
quite afraid to venture. I got a hint one morning that if I would not walk to
school I would be carried. And sure enough, about nine o'clock, I saw a few of
the biggest boys coming my wav. I at once took to my heels and made towards a
suburb called the Castle Hill, but alas for my ingenuity!—I landed in the midst
of an ambuscade. I was of course seized, and, notwithstanding my bawling,
scratching, biting, and kicking, was safely placed on a bench in the schoolroom.
If I had hitherto looked on the minister as a kind of angel, I had looked on the
schoolmaster as a kind of devil, whose chief amusement was to flog poor wretches
of boys. To my astonishment, all the children in school seemed quite happy, and
that aufu' man "the maister" turned out very different from what I expected. He
entered school a few minutes after me, and, after a short prayer, which I
thought was rather irreverently uttered, proceeded to hear the children read
their lessons. He was quite merry and jocular that forenoon, and as there were
no palmies going—not even a word of scolding—I soon felt quite at home. I
expected a drubbing of some sort for having to be carried to school; however,
there was no allusion to the matter beyond a general kind of question about the
noise which "some person" had been making on the way to school. It did not seem
to me that a reply was either needed or wished, and no one answered.
After the classes had finished
their exercises, Mr. H. called me up to him. Taking a small Primer for which he
was the author, from his desk, he tried me on the alphabet, my knowledge of
which he pronounced perfect. He then turned to the last page of the book, which
I read as easily .is the A B C. He then tried me on Barrie's Collection. That I
could also read with the greatest ease. I felt not a little proud when he
pronounced me "fit for the highest class in school." When the time of the recess
armed, it was with a light heart I ran home to dinner. On my father's return
home in the evening, I ran to meet him with the news that I had been at school.
He had already heard, however, how I had been conveyed to "the seat of
learning," and he treated me rather coldly.
From the first day of my
school-life to the last I loved it exceedingly.
In a few months, Mr. Howatson
wished to form a Latin class. Some of the oldest boys entered it. I volunteered
to join them. I was but a "new scholar," and some of my seniors were disposed to
think that I should not be so soon raised to a level with them. One of them even
hinted that he thought my head was too thick for learning Latin. Mr. H.
overruled objections, however, and I soon made what was considered rapid
progress in acquiring a knowledge of the language of old Rome.
While at Gorebridge I carried on
the preaching in so far as I could do so unseen and unheard. It must have been
in the winter of 1821-2 that I wrote my first sermon. It was on 2 Tim. i. 12. My
father knew what I was about, and gave me some "heads" for my discourse. I had
my sermon half written when I heard my father telling a neighbour what I was
busy with. This I disliked exceedingly, and never showed him my MS. again. I
kept that MS. for many years. Indeed, I did not destroy it till all hope that I
should ever be what, by the kindness of God, I now am, was taken away. I then
thought it would be as well to destroy all memorials of my earliest and most
One of my chief amusements at
this time was keeping a churchyard. To this I was led in part by reading the
Spectator's (Addison's) account of a visit paid by him to Westminster Abbey. I
made graves and tomb-sticks in abundance, and for corpses interred all the bones
I could get hold of. I was often grievously annoyed by resurrectionists in the
shape of dogs, which in a few minutes would turn all topsy-turvy. This I always
supposed they did out of pure spite, for I verily believe that I never buried
anything that they could eat.
Aunt Ellen died on a Sabbath
afternoon in the end of August or beginning of September 1821. On the following
Tuesday her remains were consigned to the dust in the churchyard of Borthwick.
That being our "Examination Day" in school, and Mr. H. having specially
requested my father to allow me to attend school on that occasion, I was not at
the funeral. As I sat at my desk in the schoolroom, I observed the humble
procession moving down the village, and that was the last I saw of kind old Aunt
She and I never agreed very well
while we were at Newbattle. I have now no doubt that the fault was chiefly, if
not wholly, on my side. But from the time we left the Tollbar to the day of her
death she was always as kind to my sister and me as it was perhaps possible for
any woman to be who had never been herself a mother. Much, indeed, did my sister
and I miss Aunt Ellen.
During the greater part of the
time we lived at Gorebridge my father followed the humble occupation of peddler.
alias cadger. Saturday was the only week-day which he used to spend at home, and
he was frequently late in reaching home from his daily rounds on other days.
After Aunt Ellen's death my sister and I spent many a lonely evening hour
awaiting his return. We used to remain in the house till dark, when we were
afraid to remain any longer. The remembrance of the white-sheeted bed, the
gloomy coffin, etc., added to our belief in ghost stories, induced us to sit
together on the threshold of the door, or on the window-sill, till my father
came home. On his return, fear and cold and hunger were all forgotten.
I remember that on the evening of
my aunt's death, after all the neighbours had left the house, I ventured to
sound my father on a point of some delicacy. I knew that he had but little money
in his possession, and I hinted that I feared the expenses of the funeral, etc.,
would be rather heavy. My words were: "Oh, faither, this'll cost ye a lot o'
siller! " The rejoinder was, "But do ye no' ken 'at our God can gie us siller?"
When I have been rather hard up myself I have often remembered this question
with comfort. In all my intercourse with some of the excellent ones of the earth
I have never met with any, save the late Rev. Wm. Jameson, who seemed to have
that simple, childlike, unshakable confidence in God which my father always
On my visit
to Scotland in 1848, I was informed by the Rev. Mr. Sandy that, on
visiting my father not long before his death, he Mr. S. had asked him if he had
no anxiety about my sister and myself, should we be left orphans. My father
replied that he had no distressing .solicitude in regard to us—that as God had
provided for him, even so would he provide for us. He then stated to Mr. S. that
he was very young when his father died —"he was the only son of his mother, and
she was a widow," a poor widow. She managed to keep him at school, however, and
matters moved on without much anxiety on his part, till one day the teacher told
him that on returning to school he must bring a few pence (I do not know the
exact sum) for the purchase of a copy-book. This was more than his mother could
afford—she had not so much in her possession. With a heavy heart my father
trudged off to school, but on his way thither he found a sixpence. No one
claiming the unexpected prize, he was enabled to purchase the needed copy-book.
The recollection of this circumstance had often encouraged his heart amid the
struggles of his later years. It probably recurred to him when I gave the hint
respecting the expenses of his sister's funeral. And it appears to have cheered
him on his dying bed in reference to those whom he was soon to leave on the care
and protection of God. I can now, upwards of thirty years after his decease,
certify that his confidence in God was not misplaced.
After the school vacation of 1821
we got a new teacher, Mr. Pringle Keddie. He was a very different man from his
predecessor. Mr. Howatson was often as full of fun and glee as ever we, his
pupils, could wish, but then he was at other times—at least we thought so—a
perfect fury. Mr. Keddie was remarkably equable in temper. He was, moreover, a
man of decided piety. Both gentlemen were in our estimation capital teachers.
Our estimate might possibly be founded on our high opinion of ourselves. We
were, doubtless, capital scholars!
Time would fail me to speak of
the sports of the village during my schoolboy days. For aught I know, the same
round of games is carried on still,—"the bools"; "the ba'"; "the gudie goat"
(?); "hunt the tod"; "hide and seek," on the moonlight nights by and in the old
castle; the "tumbling," after some display of horsemanship by some band of
itinerant actors; the "processions," at which I used to figure sometimes as "My
Lord," sometimes as "Farrier," and sometimes as Drummer or Fifer, in imitation
of Middleton and Carrington "Carters' Plays"; the "Races," etc. etc., —all, all,
in so far as they were harmless, are pleasant to the recollection.
In recalling some of our
neighbours at that time, I remember with great interest a good old widow, who
lived on the other side of the street from us, by name Peggy Pringle. She had
three favourite old volumes—her Bible, Isaac Ambrose's Looking unto Jesus, and a
Life of Christ (I forget by whom). I think she had also an old copy of the Scots
'Worthies. She frequently got me to read for her from these volumes, and in
return for my services she used to favour me with many a good exhortation.
During the greater part of 1822
my father was in delicate health. During his illness he had an allowance from a
Friendly Society in Hawick. This was, I believe, our chief support during 1822.
For some months during the summer of this year I was kept from school to take
care of my father's companion in his travels—an old bay mare. This animal I used
to herd by the roadsides. I felt it a sore trial to be kept from school. To
reconcile me to my herding, I got a little book from Mrs. Abercrombie (mother of
the late celebrated Edinburgh physician of that name. I valued the book very
highly. It was Mason's Believers Pocket Companion. I disliked the herding very
much, however, and was glad when the poor beast was sold. I returned to school
with a happy heart, but found that I had lost ground by four or five chapters of
The bright sunny days of
schoolboy life were for me drawing to a close. Dark clouds were gathering around
my path. After the usual autumnal vacation of 1822, I was at school each day
till my father's death.
He became feebler and feebler as
the year approached its termination. He was still able to conduct family worship
morning and evening. On these occasions he generally prayed fervently for "the
two little ones so soon to be left orphans." Morning and evening at the family
altar it was his wont to devote us both, and especially me, "to the service of
God in the Church and the world." He used to conduct family worship three times
on the Sabbath during that period of the year when there was no interval of
public worship; but that was discontinued, I think, from the autumn of 1822, His
failing strength prevented him being so "fervent in spirit" as he had
At the commencement of 1823 it
was evident to many, but not to me, that the end was at hand. We had at that
time living with us a person called Nelly Welsh, whose business was to nurse him
and take care of my sister and me. For a few days he had been confined to bed,
and morning and evening I had read the chapter at family worship, and he had
prayed, and, if I rightly remember, raised the psalm tune, in his bed.
On Saturday, January 4th (1823),
however, he made no proposal about worship. This seemed strange to my sister and
me. I feared I knew not why or what. On that evening, from dusk till about eight
o'clock, all three of us —Nelly, my sister, and I—kept our stations around the
fireplace, and as my father seemed drowsy, we kept very still, lest we should
disturb him. About six o'clock he inquired if I was not thinking about going to
bed yet. He was answered that it was rather early. He spoke not again. About
eight o'clock, my usual time for going to bed in those days, I had stripped, and
was just stepping into my usual quarters beside him, when it appeared to me that
he was very still. I put my ear to his face, but heard nothing, felt nothing. I
returned hastily to the fireplace, and said, "Nelly, I dinna hear my father
breathing." She immediately lit a candle, and with my sister and myself
approached the bedside. We were just in time to see and hear the fatal rattle in
the throat. Twice or thrice did its hollow sound fall on our ears—and all was
still. He gently and with placid countenance fell asleep in Jesus. The silence
of the scene was interrupted by Nelly exclaiming, "Oh, bairns, your faither's
gane!" She immediately ran out to call in some of the neighbours; while my
sister and I, nigh petrified with grief and fear, stood weeping, trembling, and
clinging to each other, till her return. That was to us a dismal night indeed.
We felt very lonely and desolate.
Next morning (Sabbath, January
5th) both of us went over to Ford to communicate to our few relatives there— who
were indeed our only surviving relatives anywhere —the tidings of our
bereavement. My aunt, Mrs. Potts, a sister of my mother, accompanied us back to
Gorebridge. My uncle came in the evening. On Monday they made arrangements for
the funeral. During that Sabbath and Monday I could not realise the fact of my
father's death. I could not bring myself to believe that he was really gone. As
I looked on the white sheet which covered him, I could not help thinking that I
perceived him in motion.
Monday evening brought the "chesting"
or coffining, and that was to me the most painful spectacle I have ever
On Tuesday my father's remains
were interred in Cranston Old Churchyard. His grave was close to that of my
mother, who had already tenanted hers for eight years and two months. From the
churchyard I was taken to the house of my Aunt Potts at Ford. Gorebridge, the
scene of several happy years and of some painful hours, was no more to be home
to my sister and me.