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William and Louisa Anderson
Part I - Early Days in Scotland, 1812-1839 - Chapter 4


1823-1828

Sorrows—"Summer Sacrament"—Sabbath School—Reading—Ideal World—Journey to Haddington—Departure from Ford—Nettlingflat— Engagement to go to Fala Mains

FROM the day of my father's funeral my condition and prospects were entirely changed. I was introduced into new society and a very different manner of life from that I had been accustomed to lead. No going to school now— no Saturday afternoon's holiday now. It was "work, work, work," for twelve hours a-day in the carding mill, without any relaxation from the beginning of the year to the end of it, save a few hours on Pathhead "Carters' Play" day. No instructions now of a domestic character worth the name. No morning and evening sacrifice; never called to surround the family altar now, except on Sabbath evenings. Oh! how unlike Gorebridge, and my father's house! . . . The remembrance of our morning and evening worship, and of the stillness and solemnity of the Sabbath in my father's house, often throws a hallowed influence over my mind where I now write, even in dark, heathen Old Calabar.

My father laboured indefatigably to pour into our minds the sacred truths of the gospel. He had, to the best of my recollection, a clear conception of the gospel plan of salvation, a large amount of general knowledge, and a wonderful faculty for making things plain. He appeared to me to understand everything. No question in regard to any subject which I might be poring over, whether divinity, grammar, geography, or history, did I ever put to him which did not receive an immediate and satisfactory reply.

At Ford no one gave me any encouragement to read or study much. I had none to aid me in any of my theological, historical, or literary difficulties. In fact, I possessed more knowledge, both religious and secular, than any of my relatives, and was indeed looked up to by them as possessing at once "great talents and a grand education." This was rather a dangerous position for a boy between ten and eleven years of age to occupy. But I can truly say that the eulogies of my friends never filled me with anything like vanity. I was generally led rather to pity them, and to sigh and to cry over my lost—but, thanks be to God, not wholly unimproved—privileges. Besides the supposition that I was learned enough already, there were to be seen the pinchings of penury in my aunt's abode, so that she, poor body, could not have maintained either my sister or myself at school, had she even wished to do so.

Sad, sad were my first weeks and months at Ford. For several evenings I slipped out unseen, and amid the drifting snows concealed myself among some wild gooseberry bushes which grew at the end and at the back of my aunt's house, and there found relief in floods of tears. I managed at the same time to conceal my grief so much that some thought I was feeling my father's death very lightly. Ah! little knew they what a load of woe I endeavoured to conceal under a smile! My heart was sore blighted. I was seized with severe sickness a week or two after my father's death. For some time it was thought that I was fast following him to the grave. It was not very long, however, ere I recovered.

My father's corpse was not allowed to repose in the tomb. It was stolen by resurrectionists the first or second night after interment. This violation of the sepulchre added greatly to my affliction. I felt as if it would have afforded me great relief to go to the grave to weep there; but when I learned that the body had been removed, I felt but little inclination to see the tomb which it had for a short time occupied.

I well remember being sent over to Gorebridge one Saturday after I was pretty well recovered. My heart was sore, sore. Mr. and Mrs. Sandy were very kind, and gave me two little books, which I still retain in my possession. I called at only two places on that visit—Mr. Sandy's, and what was once "our house," which was occupied from the time of my father's death till the ensuing Whitsunday by Nelly. When on my solitary way back to Ford, somewhere between the Magazine [A powder-mill and magazine which formerly existed at Gorebridge.] and Mossend, I turned to take a last look of Gorebridge. The day was cold, cold, and the whole ground was covered with snow. While I stood musing the fire burned within, however. My former days — my schoolboy life — the precious Sabbath school—the circumstances of my father's death and funeral — and the gloomy prospects before me — formed the themes of my contemplations, till I fell into a state of unconsciousness. When I recovered myself I felt as if riveted to the spot, and it was some time before I could recall what brought me there, and whether I was on my way from Ford to Gorebridge or from Gorebridge to Ford. I felt an almost overpowering impulse to return to Gorebridge to live there, and die there, rather than leave it. It was not without a painful struggle that I moved my sorely benumbed limbs towards Ford. I felt very melancholy indeed during the first six months of 1823. My imagination carried me day after day into Gorebridge school. Oh! I would have done or suffered anything to have been permitted to go to school.

I did not get at all reconciled to Ford till the approach of the "Summer Sacrament." As it drew near I began to recall to mind that my father had enjoyed some blessed days at Ford. I remembered, too, how happily I had trotted over with him, my hand in his, to hear the precious words of life from the "tent" [Open-air preaching. The "lent" was a wooden erection, a sort of pulpit for the minister.] at Ford. In those days, the Rev. Mr. Law, then of Liddisdale, was always one of Mr. Elliot's assistants at the July Communion. My father had a peculiar regard for Mr. Law, occasioned in part, perhaps, by the connection which subsisted between Mr. Law and the scene of a former part of his life—Liddisdale. This regard, I may say, I inherited. My heart has often burned within me while listening to Mr. Law. His great plainness of speech—his winning manner—his anecdotes and especially his kind words in most of his sermons to his "voung friends," frequently produced impressions on my young mind which I believe death itself shall not efface.

Oh the buoyancy and elasticity of youth! 1823 had not terminated till I had learned to look upon Ford as my home. I never relished the work at which I was engaged, but I loved the place very much. I had formed friendships—none of them on the retrospect very profitable to me—with some of the young people; a number of the old people had also treated me with much kindness; and in addition to this, the village had once been the place of my father's abode—I had lived there in childhood — and I was occupying the very house in which my mother died — her grave in Cranston Old Churchyard was not far distant; in Ford "meeting house," and at its "tent," my father and I had worshipped together; it was the scene, too, of my bitterest sorrows on account of his death,—all these things, as well as the burns and braes around, endeared Ford to my heart.

While here I attended the ministry of the Rev. Andrew Elliot and the Sabbath school in connection with his congregation. I was under three teachers during my Sabbath scholarship here.

The first was Mr. George Rough, a canny man, whose nature utterly belied his name. George allowed the scholars in his class to take their own way in everything. They ran out and in, fidgeted or sat still, just as they felt inclined. Some of them said the same thing over and over every Sabbath, and the good man received all and commended all.

My second teacher was Mr. David Brown. He was rather sharper with us than George, but was an excellent man, and a good teacher. It was in May 1825 or 1826 that I entered his class. There had been a long vacation of the Sabbath school, and it was then reorganised. I had gone repeatedly through Brown's Explication of the Shorter Catechism, and wished something new, so I took nothing with me to school that evening save my Bible. Mr. B. was rather displeased at this, and called in no very pleasant tone to another teacher who was standing near the book-box, "Bring me a Catechism; here's a big chap says he has nane." Brown's Catechism was again forthcoming for me, when I stated that I had been "through and through that one already." He then demanded my name. On being informed, his manner instantly changed. "Ay," said he, "are you William Anderson's son? He was a man of grand judgment. If you only be like him"— Mr. B. and I were warm friends ever after. He then gave me, what I have now lying before me, Scripture Exercises on the Beatitudes (Glasgow: Chalmers & Collins; Edinburgh: W. Oliphant, 1823). On the following Sabbath I repeated to him above sixty of the texts of Scripture referred to in those exercises, besides large portions of the Psalms of David in metre. The good man was quite delighted, and pronounced me "a complete genius!" My memory was exceedingly retentive at that period, but yet it was not without much labour that I could prepare for such recitations. I had to work in the mill twelve hours a day, from 6 A.M. to 8 p.m. — being off work two hours for breakfast and dinner—so that my only time for learning was during my meal hours and in the evening after eight o'clock.

In so far as I loved, read, and studied my Bible in those days, the remembrance of them is sweet. Many a happy season had I among the packages and fleeces of wool, reading or committing to memory Psalms and passages of Scripture, while my neighbours were all at play. I never felt happy if I had not a Bible, or some fragment of a Bible, in my breast or in my pocket. I often committed to memory a text of Scripture or a verse of a Psalm when going to and returning from the mill-dam, to which I had to run six or eight times a day to lift or let down the sluice. I saw some vestiges of the sluice in 1848. The space it occupied is now overlooked by Ford Manse.

After having gone through the Exercises on the Beatitudes, I committed to memory Fisher's—or, as we called it, the Synod's—Catechism. Mr. Brown was glad to see me begin it. When I had finished my first evening's lesson from it to his satisfaction, he said to me, "Ah! if you had that book all in your head you might preach."

My third and last Sabbath school teacher was Mr. Deans, afterwards the Rev. George Deans of Portobello. I had left my first love, however, before I came under his care, and had become somewhat lazy.

From my earliest days it had always been my most ardent wish to be a minister. My father encouraged me to look forward to the time when I would be a preacher of the gospel. His death, however, blighted all my expectations of being able to obtain the education requisite for that high office. Often did I try to advance in my Latin studies, but, having no one to pilot me through my difficulties, I generally, after a few faint struggles, gave up the attempt. My passion for preaching still clung to me, and many a sermon did I deliver under the din of the machinery. Indeed, for some years at Ford I moved in an ideal world of my own. My mind craved something on which to exert its energies, and, nothing else being presented, it turned in on itself and revelled in its own creations. By the aid of an old Edinburgh almanac I was enabled to constitute an empire of my own, with all its officers of State, army, navy, etc. This empire I ruled with despotic sway, dismissing cabinet ministers, creating peers, disarming generals and admirals, etc. etc., at pleasure. My greatest enjoyment, however, consisted in preaching and in hearing imaginary sermons. Many a time have I made Rev. Messrs. Sandy, Elliot, Law, and others, preach to me sermons which they never studied from texts which they never selected. For a considerable time I used to deliver on the Sabbath evenings, below a tree near the mill-dam, but only to vegetable auditors, —the sermon which Mr. Elliot had preached during the day.

I remember of being sent to Haddington to a founder there on some mill business one day in the summer of 1825 or 1826. I had a breakfast on brose before setting out on my journey, and my aunt gave me a penny wherewith to purchase a roll or whatever else I might choose for dinner. This I knew to be nearly the only penny at that time in my aunt's possession, and I felt in regard to it in such a way as David felt in reference to the water brought to him from the well of Bethlehem. The distance between Ford and Haddington is, I suppose, about twelve miles. Ere I reached my destination I felt very hungry, and would fain have eaten, but I could not think of expending my aunt's penny. I formed the resolution that if the founder gave me even a crust of bread after my long walk, that I would save the coin in my pocket and return it to my aunt. I walked on somewhat sadly and slowly, meditating, as was my wont, of past days, and fortifying my heart against the time to come by repeating to myself, as was also my wont, passages of Scripture and of the Psalms in metre. My meditations were somewhat rudely interrupted by a company of coal carters whom I overtook on their way to Haddington. I would have passed them quickly had I suspected that they meant to harm me. They did me no great harm, it is true; they began to throw stones at me in sport, I suppose, though it was no sport to me, especially as several of the stones struck me, and one in particular gave me a pretty sharp rap on the back. But I have no doubt, had they known that the thought of their unkindness to a stranger wounded his heart far more than the stones which they threw hurt his body, they would not have meddled with me. On reaching the house of the founder, and delivering my message, he ordered a fair daughter to bring for my refreshment a glass of whisky. The glass was brought. I abhorred the liquor, but had not courage to refuse it altogether, so I took about a third of it, wishing "health" in my best style, but inwardly lamenting the non-appearance of anything solid. Having bowed myself out of the founder's house, and having a large portion of the day before me, I walked up and down the town of Haddington for a little, anxious to see all of it that was to be seen. I then set out Ford-ward. The burning whisky removed for a season the pangs of hunger, but they soon returned with increased force. However, I managed to deny myself what I was frequently sore tempted to indulge in the luxury of a penny roll. I brought the penny care-fully home, and slipped it into my aunt's hand, with the remark that I had got on without it. I then cheerfully took my supper, which was a second edition of my breakfast, and retired to rest with a light heart. From that day to this I never repented of the self-denial which I then exercised.

I began to dislike the carding-mill work more and more. Indeed, I abhorred it from the first. When all hope of attaining anything like education was taken away. I formed many schemes of devoting myself to a seafaring life. At a later period I had resolved to enlist as a soldier.

I had a dispute with my uncle in January 1828, and spent a few days in idleness. This was the first relaxation from continuous labour from January 1823. I liked the relaxation well enough, but it was accompanied with starvation. I returned to my aunt's house and employ on the Tuesday evening after the Auld Handsel Monday.

As the summer approached, trade became dull, and, having got a hint from my uncle that I had better seek support elsewhere, in the month of May 1828 I left my aunt's house and her employ. My first engagement afterwards was keeping cattle for a week or two at a farm called Nettlingflat, at the head of Gala Water. Never having spent an hour previously in compulsory solitude, I felt very melancholy and miserable among the heather. Glad was I when relieved from this engagement by the return of the boy whose substitute I had been during his sickness. I spent two Sabbaths with my herd on the moors at Nettlingflat, during the greater part of which days I alternately cried and sang or repeated the 42nd Psalm. From the top of a hillock—probably on Cakemuir ground — I could see Chesterhill and other places which I well knew. I earnestly longed to be at Ford again.

After leaving Nettlingflat I wrought at "out-work"— common farm labour—for about two months on Oxenfoord Castle grounds. When work slackened there, I became a carter at the new road which was then in progress between Blackshiels and Crichtondean. This being an occupation which did not promise to be permanent, I engaged (or was engaged through my uncle and aunt) to serve Mr. Peter Burton of Fala South Mains from August till the ensuing Martinmas.


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