Fala South Mains—Avocations—Reading—Preaching
It was on a beautiful morning- of August 1828 that I bent my way to Fala
South Mains. The sun shone gloriously. In some places the cornfields had assumed
a yellow tint, while in others they still retained the deepest verdure. My first
employment at Fala Mains was to assist in loading hay. I was out in the field
all day, and had no dinner sent me. On going to my supper after the labours of
the day, the old lady, Mr. Burton's mother, expressed great regret at my having
been overlooked at dinner-time, but she encouraged me to expect that "a bad
beginning" as she reckoned the want of my dinner; "would lead to a good ending."
I liked Fala Mains very much from the first day I spent there. Both Mr. Burton
and his mother, as well as my fellow-servants, treated me with much kindness.
One great cause of my happiness and comfort was doubtless that I was now
supplied with fulness of bread, whereas for some years previously I had scarcely
known what a full stomach was. Ah! little know those in "comfortable
circumstances" what their unfavoured neighbours have often to endure from the
pinching hand of penury!
At Fala Mains I spent three years and three months. Duiring the first half of
that period I had charge of the cattle. During the last portion of my sojourn
there I was ploughman. I enjoyed many happy hours beside my cows on the moors
among the heather and the peats in the summer of 1829. During that year I read
the whole Bible three times over. I suppose I had read the whole of it before
repeatedly, but I wished to be able to say with certainty, "I have read the
Bible, every word of it." This wish led me to read it the first time, and I
believe I read it a second and a third time that year just because I had got
into the habit of reading it. I very much fear my motives for the perusal of the
sacred volume will not bear the light, but I feel assured that the reading of it
benefited me greatly nevertheless.
In 1828-9 the nature of my avocations kept me as
much confined on Sabbath as on any other day of the week. This was to me, at
first, a great affliction. Many a bitter tear did I shed as I listened to the
tinkling of the church bell on the sacred mornings, and saw bands of worshippers
flocking over the hills to the sanctuary of God. At such times I often repeated,
read, and sang Psalms 42nd and 63rd. By and by, however, I became quite
indifferent to the matter, and when, in May 1830, I was promoted to the plough,
and had the Sabbath at my disposal, I felt ashamed to go to church, I had been
so long out of it. Thus does Satan deceive men to their ruin. While at Fala
Mains I never was at church save three or four times at Ford on sacramental
occasions. When attacked by my friends on the subject of my non-attendance at
church, I frequently professed Unitarian and sometimes infidel sentiments in
order to get rid of their importunities. Want of decent clothing sometimes kept
me from church when I had opportunities of going; but after I had a suit of
Sabbath clothes my bashfulness alone prevented me from attending the sanctuary.
This I ought to have acknowledged to my friends, or else remained silent,
instead of rebuffing or silencing them by arguments against the worship of the
Three-One Jehovah drawn from a Unitarian pamphlet, or pretending that I could
worship the Creator as acceptably in solitude under the open canopy of heaven,
with His word in my hand and in my heart, as they could do in temples made with
hands, etc., etc. Oh, the long-suffering and patience of God! Of Thy mercy—of
Thy rich mercy, O Lord, will I sing.
In the winter of 1829-30 I perused a good many
volumes belonging to Fala Library. Among other works, I read Rollin's Ancient
History, Sir W. Scott's Tales of a Grandfather, all the Voyages Round the World,
several Lives of Napoleon, Park's Travels, Paley's Works, Newton On the.
Prophecies, Keith's Evidences of Christianity, and Pollok's Course of Time. The
two last-mentioned works were particular favourites with me. But from all the
volumes mentioned I received a great amount of information. They opened up new
fields to my mental view. I was both delighted and amazed by the information
communicated in Dick's Christian Philosopher. I thought I could unweariedly
study astronomy for ever. Great was my joy when I could name Venus and Jupiter
and Mars at sight, and great became my fame for lair among my simple companions.
I could not only "name the stars" to them, but also tell them wonderful things
about the air we breathe and the water we drink. From the time of my father's
death till now, it appeared to me as if my mind had been confined in a dark
dungeon. Now, books supplied his place, and greatly I rejoiced in the light
which blazed around me.
I well remember my first introduction to Pollok.
On a placid Sabbath afternoon in the summer of 1830, my friend Mr. William Peter
brought to the spot where I was then herding the horses a book of poetry with
which he said he had been much delighted, and told me that I might have it for a
day or two if I liked. When he left me, I opened the book, saw it to be blank
verse (of which I had never been very fond) looked at it suspiciously, thought
it to be too long to be good, read a few lines, got interested, then delighted,
then entranced, and could hardly work, eat, drink, or sleep, till I got to the
end of the volume, which was The Course of Time.
I had not then read Milton's Paradise Lost, but
got a perusal of it soon after from my warm friend, Mr. James Hope. [The
following story has been told me in this connection. Anderson was anxious to
read Paradise Lost, and Mr. Hope said he would lend it to him if William would
promise to attend church. This Anderson was unwilling to do. One day Mr. Hope
had brought the volume with him, and, in assisting to lift an animal which had
been drowned in a pond, the volume fell out of his pocket. Anderson picked it
up, and thus got possession of the coveted volume without having to give the
While at Fala Mains I took a deeper interest in
political matters than I had ever taken previously, or have ever taken since.
[But after his retirement in 1889 he became a keen politician, and contributed
letters signed '• Octogenarian " to the newspapers.] Mr. Burton read the
Scotsman newspaper, and he kindly allowed me to peruse it. I greedily imbibed
the politics of that paper, advocated what was called "Catholic Emancipation,"
and even wrote a poem expressive of sympathy with the French Revolution of 1830.
. . .
I did not abandon preaching at this place, and in
addition to it I tried my hand at speechifying. Many a religious discourse did I
deliver on Sabbath, as well as many a political harangue during the week, to the
cows, the sheep, the peesweeps, and the whaups by the upper mill-dam, the "North
Plantin'," the "Lang Cleuch," and near Fala Flow. In addition to this, however,
I went over the Shorter Catechism to the two young men who slept in the stable
beside me in the half-year commencing at Whitsunday 1829. My custom was to
repeat a question with its answer just when we had all laid ourselves down for
the night, and then to explain the answer at some length. One of my
companions—David Crooks by name —declared himself benefited and instructed by
the simple exercise. My acquaintance with Fisher's Catechism while at Ford
Sabbath school was of much service to me during the delivery of this my first
series of discourses to an audience of two. At the Martinmas term of that year
one of my companions—William Pringle—left us. On the Sabbath before the term all
three went in company to the Flow, where I read a portion of Scripture, and we
all joined in singing the 2nd Paraphrase.
I had not been very long at Fala Mains ere my
bookishness was pretty well known in the neighbourhood, and I was dubbed "the
minister," which sobriquet had died out, however, before I left the place. Many
a time while here did I implore the great King and Head of the Church to take me
into His service. These prayers He has graciously answered. They were presented
with strong desire yet feeble expectation of being answered.
I began to keep a Journal on January 1st, 1831.
The following extracts illustrate the social
customs of the time:—
Saturday, Jan. 1.—Complied with old custom last
night and this morning. Remained in company with my friend, Mr. John Symington,
in the Tollhouse till it struck twelve midnight, then we went a "first-footing"
the length of Mr. Wm. Peter's, where we remained above four hours.
The next extract gives a glimpse of the severity
of the weather, and narrates the "heroic" method of clearing the "lade":—
Tuesday, Feb. 8.—We have had an awful week. When
we separated on the morning of the 1st, the snow was about a foot deep, and
falling heavily. It fell with unabated rapidity all the day. On Wednesday it
drifted greatly. All that night, and Thursday, and Thursday night, the fall and
drift were most appalling. On Sabbath we had to take hay on horseback to the
hill for the poor sheep. Yesterday it was fresh. We wished to have the
threshing-mill set agoing, but the water would not leave the water-wheel, owing
to the arched run (or lade) being filled with drifted snow. I adopted a somewhat
desperate measure to get it cleared. I stripped nearly naked, and crept through
the snow and slush, and thus cleared the passage for the water. I was quite
benumbed when I got through, and certainly had a taste of starvation. Mr. Burton
was evidently glad of the result, but he did not approve of the means.
Considerable excitement in the parish just now,
as "the schoolmaster is abroad" dispensing troublesome blessings in the form of
militia schedules. Being now above eighteen years of age, I have been
constrained to join our parochial club.
At Martinmas 1831 I left Fala Mains. While there
I did my best to promote my master's interest. With all my bookishness, I was
neither indolent nor inattentive to my work. But I never could plough
well—indeed, I was a very bad ploughman, and, as was but just and reasonable,
Mr. Burton wanted one who could produce better furrows than I could ever make.
My recollections of Fala Mains are, on the whole,
of an interesting and agreeable kind. I left it with a heart rather sad on the
morning of November 24th. I went to Dalkeith market the same day, rigged myself
out for Sabbath as well as my £3 of wages would allow. Among other things, I
bought a pocket Bible for church, for I had long determined to recommence
churchgoing whenever I should leave Fala Mains, and wherever my lot might be
cast. I returned to my aunt's house on that Thursday evening, uncertain as to my
future procedure and provision, but casting myself once more on the care of Him
who feeds ravens and sparrows. To Him I could present the prayer which my two
companions and I had sung at Fala Flow two years before—
"Through each perplexing path of
My wandering footsteps guide;
Give me each day my daily bread,
And raiment fit provide.
O spread Thy covering wings
Till all my wanderings cease,
And at my Father's loved abode
My soul arrives in peace."