Check all the Clans that have DNA Projects. If your Clan is not in the list there's a way for it to be listed. Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.

Click here to get a Printer Friendly Page

Dr Duncan of Ruthwell
Chapter I


In the year 1774, on the eve of the outbreak of the American War, in the peaceful little village of Lochrutton in Kirkcudbright, far away from the struggles and strife of the outside world, Henry Duncan was born. The following pages, if I can trust myself to write them, will tell his story. A story of industry, philanthropy, and courage. A story of a keen observer of the economic conditions of the day, who made use of that knowledge with practical effect. A story of a fearless fighter in the cause of his religion, and a lifelong champion of the poor. A disciple of Adam Smith, Henry Duncan came into the world just two years before the publication of The Wealth of Nations. He was the third son of the Rev. George Duncan of Lochrutton, and his grandfather was also minister of that parish. His mother was a daughter of Mr William M'Murdo, J.P., of Dumfries, and a near relation of the John M'Murdo who so warmly befriended the poet Burns during his many vicissitudes. It was during a visit to him that the poet wrote on a pane of glass in his home :—

"Blest be M'Murdo to his latest day!
No envious cloud o'ercast his evening ray;
No wrinkle furrowed by the hand of care,
Nor ever sorrow add one silver hair!
O, may no son the father's honour stain,
Nor ever daughter give the mother pain! "

and it was to his two daughters, Jean and Phyllis, that two of Burns's most charming songs were composed — Bonnie Jean and Adown winding Nith. Henry Duncan was descended, on both sides of his family, from a clerical ancestry which went back to the time of the Covenanters, and the story of their struggles and persecutions absorbed his boyish imagination.

He had no ambition to excel at games. He found many other pursuits which were more congenial to him. The loch from which the parish derives its name was close to the manse; there were woods to explore and hills to climb, and he strengthened his young limbs by many adventures in the woodlands and hillsides. He took-up his pen at an early age and wrote Latin verses. Though he was an imaginative boy, he had a very strong practical vein as well, and he loved modelling and mechanical work of all kinds.

To give an illustration of his ingenuity, there is a story told about his boyhood which shows his capabilities for working out and developing his own ideas. A friend had given him a Virginian nightingale. He overloaded the little bird with kindness, as is the wont of boys with their pets, and it died. This was a great grief to him. The tiny feathered body was buried with great pomp, and given a grave out of all proportion to its size—quite a mausoleum in fact! A small building of bricks and mortar was built close to a little stream near the church. Upon the lower part of the front touching the water he carved the face of a man bowed down with grief. The eyes were bored with holes, so that the gentle little stream fed them from behind with an endless flow of tears which trickled down the stone face. Not content with this fountain of affliction he constructed a channel at the back, which, with the constant lapping of the water against it, gave a moaning sound like someone in the depth of grief. Upon a stone overhead appeared the following verses of his own composition :—

"Stay, traveller: if a tale of real woe
To gentle pity e'er subdued thy breast,
O stay! and whilst my tears do ever flow,
Let not thy rising sorrow be supprest.

For, ere mature her youthful blossom glow'd,
Stern death did lovely Philomel destroy:
No more her pleasing plaints, which sweetly flowed,
Shall melt to love, or animate to joy."

The first fourteen years of his life were spent at home in the somewhat stern atmosphere of his father's manse, among the simple virtuous folk from whom he sprang. His education, together with that of several of his brothers, was conducted by a tutor, and it was only in the winter of 1788 that he was sent to St Andrews University. It was common in Scotland at that time to begin a University career at a very early age. The great Dr Chalmers was only eleven and a half when he began his studies there. There is nothing that throws any interesting light upon Henry's life at this time. He was always industrious, fond of books

George Duncan

and of study, and he worked hard and conscientiously, devoting himself principally to logic and the classics. No special aptitude for the ministry appears to have shown itself in those early years, and his father very wisely left him to choose his own profession. A near relative, Dr Currie, [Dr Currie's work in advancing the use of the thermometer in fevers is well known.] the biographer of Burns, and a friend and correspondent of Mr Creevy, suggested to his father that, as there was a vacancy in the offices of Messrs Heywood of Liverpool, he should avail himself of the chance of beginning a business career. This appeared to be specially opportune for the young student—two of his brothers being already in business in Liverpool—and Dr Currie, moreover, promised to take him under his wing. After a short interval spent at home he was launched into the world. His journey, as was usual at that time, was made by sea in one of the little vessels trading between the Mersey and the Nith. On leaving his father's house the homesick boy composed a poem in the then fashionable style of Ossian, which shows a great deal of literary taste: ". . . Farewell, friends of my heart! I will soon return with the voice of gladness. The sails opened their white breasts to the western breeze. I departed, and the red eyes of grief were upon me, till I could be seen no more. The blue hills of my youth vanished slowly, like the mists of the morning before the hot beams of the sun. 0 Caledonia! I go to dwell with the bold sons of the sea. . . ."

These poetic tendencies do not seem a good introduction to the mercantile life he was so shortly to begin. While living in Liverpool his respites from daybooks and ledgers were spent in intellectual pursuits. He was one of the chief organisers of a debating society where the subjects of the day were freely discussed, and where he would plunge into the arguments with all the warmth and heat of ardent youth. A pamphlet on Socinianism, which was widely read, was his composition—a curious subject to have attracted a boy of seventeen. His youthful faith was seriously shaken at this period of his life, and the future Moderator of the Church of Scotland found himself on the verge of a complete loss of belief. It was only some time later, when he had the leisure to seriously pursue both sides of the subject, that he became finally convinced of the faith of his fathers, or, to put it into his own words, " passed from death unto life." His labours at the bank required the minutest attention and accuracy. Long hours spent in the counting-house were irksome to him. The appointment suited neither his inclinations nor his tastes. In a short time the life began to prove very distasteful to him, and he developed a decided disposition towards study and literature. Dr Currie, who had been watching his progress carefully, was disappointed with his business progress. He wrote to Henry's father to say he was " pained" to observe a certain carelessness in matters of business, and that he showed "a distressing want of ambition." Following closely upon this letter was one from Henry himself to his father in which he says, with regard to his duties at the bank: "I have no actual dislike to it, but I do not feel interested enough in the business to derive any pleasure from it, and to discharge my duties as I ought to do. . . . Besides, the continual cares and anxieties which a mercantile life is exposed to, would be to me by no means compensated by whatever fortune I might in a length of years amass. ... I feel that I could return to my studies with tenfold ardour; indeed I feel within myself a great desire for knowledge." He suggested the ministry as a more congenial career, and went so far as to enclose a specimen sermon for his father to judge of his capabilities. It would appear, however, that it was from no real love of the Church of his fathers that he proposed to take this step, but rather as an easy way of leading a literary life and following congenial pursuits of that nature. His biographer and son, the Rev. George John Duncan, says: "The signs of conversion in his case are not to be looked for in the earlier stages of his history; and in choosing the clerical life there seems to have been nothing spiritual even mingled with his motives." Yet later on we find him, when those shadows of mental doubt had passed away, a deeply attached minister of the Church of Scotland—its doctrines, its devotions, its discipline, its struggles. He ever afterwards loved it with a deep and passionate devotion—the devotion that made him sacrifice all worldly advantages for his faith at the Disruption. Having gained his father's consent, he made up his mind to

Mrs Duncan

leave Liverpool. No doubt the three years he spent there were not wasted, for the insight into matters of finance which he then acquired enabled him to place on a practical basis, from the start, his future scheme for Savings Banks.

We next meet with Henry Duncan at the Edinburgh University, where his clerical education began. He attended the lectures of the celebrated Dugald Stewart on Moral Philosophy, the lectures which are described by Lord Cockburn in his Memorials as being "like the opening of the Heavens. I felt that I had a soul. His noble views, unfolded in glorious sentences, elevated me into a higher world."

From the time that Dugald Stewart was presented to the Chair of Moral Philosophy, his position and influence, as a lecturer and tutor over that brilliant band of young men then rising into fame, was nothing short of marvellous. There is not a memoir of that time in which his name does not shine forth with peculiar radiance. Lord John Russell, one of his old pupils, addressed these verses to him:—

"To distant orbs a guide amid the night,
To nearer worlds a source of life and light,
Each sun, resplendent on its proper throne,
Gilds other systems and supports its own.

Thus we see Stewart, on his fame reclined,
Enlighten all the Universe of mind;
To some for wonder, some for joy appear,
Admired when distant, and beloved when near."

Before leaving the name of Dugald Stewart I must say a word about his remarkable wife. Her husband had the highest possible opinion of the intellect of this gifted, charming woman, and so much did he rely on her taste and judgment, that he never finished any of his works without first submitting them to her. Though he knew she did not understand many difficult points of his philosophy as well as he did, yet " she helped him to illustrate it by a play of fancy and feeling which could only come from a woman's mind." Mrs Stewart was the "Ivy" to whom the first Lord Dudley, who was Minister for Foreign Affairs in 1827, addressed so many of his interesting letters, from the time when he was Dugald Stewart's pupil in Edinburgh until 1832. [Letters to "Ivy " from the first Lord Dudley.] Though none of her replies to him are published, his letters show what a remarkable appreciation he must have had of her qualities of mind. Lord Dudley's own description of her to a friend is, "She has as much knowledge, understanding, and wit as would set up three foreign ladies as first-rate talkers in their respective drawing-rooms, but she is almost as desirous to conceal as they are to display their talents." She was a great friend of Mr Duncan's also, and they frequently corresponded with each other, and kept up in after life their friendship formed at Edinburgh.

Dugald Stewart was the very embodiment of intellectual Edinburgh—the Edinburgh of Scott and Jeffrey, of Francis Horner, of Leyden, of Brougham, of Sydney Smith, and many others whose names have since become illustrious in literature and law— the Edinburgh that from the close of the eighteenth century to the peace of 1815 held its unrivalled own as a brilliant intellectual centre. English parents frequently sent their sons to be educated there in preference to the southern universities, and the town, from its exceptional social and educational advantages, became much sought after as a residence. Leyden, the great Oriental scholar, William Gillespie, and Robert Lundie were our student's special friends. For Leyden he had an enthusiastic admiration. He was born at Denholm in Roxburghshire, on the banks of the River Teviot, and was of lowly birth. He began his education at a small school in the neighbourhood, and with the help of the minister studied Latin. He grew up to be passionately fond of Ins own country and of his native literature, and he contributed, among other things, to the Border Minstrelsy. Joining the Edinburgh University in 1790, he astonished every one [by his knowledge on almost every subject. "There is no walk in life, depending on ability, where Leyden could not have shone," says a contemporary. He had a good memory, and was a remarkable linguist. It was said that he knew " only seventy languages," and this knowledge enabled him to obtain an appointment in India, where he deciphered inscriptions that had previously puzzled all other Oriental scholars. His enthusiasm for his work was in a way the cause of his death. Poring over some old manuscripts in a library at Batavia in foul damp air, oblivious of everything except the engrossing work he loved, he got a chill, contracted fever, and died at the early age of thirty-six.

"Scenes sung by him who sings no more,
His bright and brief career is o'er,
And mute his tuneful strains;
Quench'd is his lamp of varied lore,
That loved the light of song to pour;
A distant and a deadly shore
Has Leyden's cold remains! "

Scott wrote these lines three years after Leyden's death. Mr Duncan and Mr Lundie were the means of rescuing his documents from the archives of the India Office, and exerted themselves to obtain a substantial price for them for the benefit of his family.

Two sessions at Edinburgh were quickly brought to a close. The two following years were spent at Glasgow University.

The year 1797 found him again at Edinburgh, where he joined the celebrated Speculative Society, "an institution which has trained more men to public-speaking talent and liberal thought than all other private institutions in Scotland." It numbered among its members most of the distinguished men who made Edinburgh famous. Brougham, Francis Horner, and Lord Henry Petty, afterwards Lord Lansdowne, were the men with whom he came into closest companionship, and he carried on a correspondence with Brougham until a few years before his death. This cultivated society could scarcely fail to inspire and interest him, and he entered with zeal into the intellectual contests for which it was famous. The French Revolution made the history of nations, the politics of the past and present, the subjects of constant and eager discussion.

After the usual course of examination as a divinity student, he was admitted by the Presbytery, of Dumfries as a probationer of the Church of Scotland. No living was then available for him, and he became, like so many of his cloth, tutor to the sons of Colonel Erskine of Mar during his absence abroad, and lived with his pupils at his house, Dalhouzie, near Crieff. The parishes of Loch-maben and Ruthwell became simultaneously vacant. Lord Mansfield, in whose gift they were, very kindly gave him the choice of the two parishes. The former, from a pecuniary point of view, was far the most valuable, but he chose the latter because he thought he would have greater opportunities for pursuing and cultivating his literary tastes. The yearly stipend at Ruthwell was then less than £100 a year, though it was afterwards considerably augmented. Mr Duncan was ordained by the Presbytery of Annan in September 1799, at the age of twenty-five. He seems at this time, in the bloom of his early manhood, to have been an agreeable, clever companion, and in every relation with his fellows he was kind and thoughtful. There could not be a more attached friend. His personal appearance was manly and striking. He had a mass of curly brown hair, a fine broad forehead, and thoughtful, penetrating eyes, and a singular sweetness of expression.

The village of Ruthwell, which for forty-seven years was hallowed and gladdened by his presence, is nearly midway between Dumfries and Annan, and commands from nearly every point beautiful views of the Solway. Far away in the distance the purply grey of the Galloway mountains appears, while the majestic Criffel towers in the foreground. The effect of the sea beyond the vast smooth sands of the Solway is like a thin line of blue. The colour of the sands is soft and fawn-like, except where the sun touches it and warms it up into gold. Pity the poor author who complains of the vastness of it and calls it—"naked, flat, and unrelieved . . ." Stretched out in the warm June sunlight, that large, smooth, plain sheet of wonderful unbroken sand has a charm and dignity entirely its own. It is "unrelieved" !—but who would alter a grain of those endless sands?

The village is long and straggling; the low, whitewashed cottages stand in straight rows on either side of the main street, but not in a long, unbroken line, as in so many Scotch villages, but sweetly grouped together along the broad highway. One or two, and then a space; three or four, and then a tree. The gardens of many of them have their little patch in front gay with flowers; and the gleaming whiteness of those whitewashed cottages gives the effect in the distance of linen stretched to dry upon a hedge.

He entered upon his parish duties full of life, full of ambition, eager to be up and doing. The "ambition" whose absence Dr Currie deplored was to find vent in a nobler way than by making money. He was to have endless scope for his benevolence. The young minister found plenty to do—for not only was the parish very poor, but it had been in a measure neglected through the long illness of his predecessor. The condition of the people was often deplorable. Under the most favourable conditions the men's wages seldom exceeded eight or nine shillings a week, and this was not by any means certain. The agricultural depression prevented farmers from being able to employ the same number of labourers as formerly, or even employing them regularly from week to week. A series of bad harvests had raised the price of provisions, and he was faced on all sides by poverty and want. Famine was imminent. He could not live side by side with such suffering without doing something to avert it, and active steps had to be taken at once.

Accordingly he ordered, through his brothers at Liverpool, a cargo of Indian corn, which was landed on the shore of a little creek close to Ruthwell. This was sold to the people in want at cost price in quantities graduated according to the size of the family. Comparative comfort for the distressed people was soon the result. Much good had been accomplished by his thoughtful act, but the transaction resulted in a considerable loss to him personally. He also devised means of giving employment to those who most needed it, supplying flax to be spun by the unemployed women of the village; and at the time when the potato crop failed and seed was very expensive, he procured a supply of "earlies" for seed, and thus insured a good crop for them. He resorted to various practical schemes on behalf of the labourers who could not find work; he would employ them on the glebe draining, ditching, and planting; he knew that idleness soon engendered a distaste for work. In all his dealings with the poor his one idea was to stimulate in them a desire for independence, for he well knew, however little they paid for a thing, it not only made them think more highly of it, but kept alive their self-respect. A graceful little act is recorded towards the wife of the former incumbent. He wrote and told her he intended to waive in her favour all claim to the crop on the glebe, and he begged her acceptance of it. The sacrifice was not a small one, for he had very little money, but he was generous beyond all things. Money was to him a matter of small concern, and he rejoiced in giving.

Warmth, tenderness, and sympathy were Mr Duncan's chief characteristics in dealing with his people. His compassionate spirit enabled him to enter into all their troubles, and he loved to visit among them, to know them all by name. His presence was welcome, at every fireside, the cares and sorrows and joys of his people were very near to him, and he had a passionate desire to help them. In the early days of his ministry their temporal welfare seems to have been his first thought; there was nothing to indicate any deep religious feeling on his part.

After the rupture of the peace of Amiens and the concentration of Napoleon's army at Boulogne, fears of invasion were the one subject that absorbed everyone's attention. The very name of Bonaparte carried dread and terror into every home. The popular song of the day was ringing defiance throughout the kingdom:—

"If ever breath of British gale
Shall fan the tri-colour,
Or footstep of invader rude,
With rapine foul, and red with blood,
Pollute our happy shore,—
Then farewell home and farewell friends—
Adieu each tender tie;
Resolved we mingle in the tide
Where charging squadrons furious ride,
To conquer or to die."

The patriotism of the people knew no bounds, and nowhere was it more remarkable than in the retired village of Ruthwell. Away from the busy haunts of men, it was the first in the county of Dumfries, and one of the first in the kingdom, to come forward and make an offer of volunteers to the Government. Amidst the anxiety that everywhere prevailed, Mr Duncan was conspicuous in rousing the ardour of his parishioners in this time of national danger. He delivered a martial and inspiriting sermon. Mounting the steps of his pulpit one sweet Sabbath morning, when the world outside was peaceful and still, he thundered out a cry to his congregation to be prepared to fight for their homes and for their country. "Rouse, then, my brethren, and gird on your armour! When the enemy arrives let him find you at your posts. . . . Know that the security of the country depends not more upon the efforts of its fleets and armies than upon the valour and public spirit of the people."

It was a moment of great emotion when he continued: "I only recommend to you a duty which I am resolved myself to perform. Were I desirous of declining this arduous service, I could plead the sanctity of my character as a minister of the Gospel of peace. ... I have felt it my happiness to live with you, and should God and my country demand the sacrifice it would be my glory to die with you. ..." A wave of enthusiasm swept over that quiet congregation. Their minister was ready to fight with them. One name quickly followed another in the roll of volunteers in the service of their country. Though the young minister was supposed to be the first among the Scottish clergy to take this step of voluntary service he did not long remain so, and among others the celebrated Dr Chalmers acted a similar part. Henry Duncan's action was no doubt influenced by that of his great grandfather, the Rev. John M'Murdo of Torthorwald, whose patriotism during the rebellion of 1715 prompted him to lead his parishioners out in defence of the Protestant succession.

In November 1804 Mr Duncan married Agnes, the only surviving daughter of his predecessor, the Rev. John Craig; James Thomson, the author of Rule Britannia, was nearly related to her. She had the advantage of being known and greatly beloved in the parish. Mrs Duncan's character was a rare combination of strength and sweetness. It was said of her that she had a "groan for everybody's groan, and a smile for everybody's smile," but with all this sympathy for others her judgment was excellent and her husband had perfect faith in her opinion. Her delicacy of perception and intuition were the greatest help to him. His keenness, his quick decision, his energy in taking up a subject, and his enthusiasm in carrying it through, often required a word in season from her—and it was her guiding hand that moderated his often too impulsive actions and views. She encouraged and strengthened him in every good and earnest action of his life. She interested herself in every subject that he took up, so that their life together was one of perfect harmony. The manse, which her gentle spirit pervaded, became more than ever the resort of the friendless, the fatherless, and the widow. In her father's day, during the long illness that preceded his death, she had herself undertaken a large share of the parish duties and been a great help to him in his helpless condition. In her girlhood the poet Burns had been a frequent visitor to her father's house, and it was there, in the old wainscoted parlour of the manse, that the well-known incident occurred which is quoted by Lockhart in his Life of Burns. "A night or two before Burns left Brow [Brow Well, near Ruthwell, celebrated for its waters.] he drank tea with Mrs Craig, widow of the minister of Ruthwell. His altered appearance excited much silent sympathy; and the evening being beautiful, and the sun shining brightly through the casement, Miss Craig (now Mrs Henry Duncan) was afraid the light might be too much for him, and rose with the view of letting down the window-blind. Burns immediately guessed what she meant, and, regarding the young lady with a look of great benignity, said, "Thank you, my dear, for your kind attention, but, oh, let him shine ! he will not shine long for me." This was a curious coincidence, happening, as it did, shortly before his death. [This incident forms the subject of the late Mr Duncan MacKellar's well-known picture, "Burns at Ruthwell Manse," and I beg here to thank Mr Russell for his courtesy in allowing me to reproduce it.]

There were three children of the marriage, two sons and one daughter. Both sons entered their father's profession, and Barbara, "the bonny little Barbara Duncan" Carlyle alludes to in one of his letters, married the Rev. James Dodds of Dunbar.

Ruthwell manse soon became one of the most beautiful manses in the South of Scotland. The situation was not remarkable for natural beauty, but Mr Duncan improved the house by enlarging it, and added considerably to the garden. The glebe, which afforded him ample opportunities for agricultural experiments, lay all round the house. He often rose at daybreak in order that this part of his occupation should not interfere with his parish duties, and he committed to paper his own observations and experiments in farming, which were widely read. The neighbours who looked over the hedge used to say: "Surely the blessing of God rested on the glebe." But, as in everything else he undertook, it was " the blessing" of industry that made him succeed. His power of getting through work and the great diversity of his interests were indeed astonishing. His garden was his great recreation. It consisted of several acres and was enclosed by high beech hedges. He spent many of his leisure hours, pruning-knife in hand, cultivating it. He would give a new curve to a walk here, and transplant a tree there. He encouraged and coaxed into life plants that were supposed to be peculiar to the South. He would thin a clump of too luxurious shrubs, and he employed many of the innocent artifices so dear to a landscape gardener to make the garden appear larger than it was. His kitchen garden and orchard were his glory; his red-streaked apples, his russets, his lavender bushes, made the autumn garden an old-fashioned paradise, while the spring flower border, with its endless succession of sweet-williams, snapdragons, anemones, and wall-flowers, was a blaze of colour. Yet no definite separation between the flower and kitchen garden, but a charming mingling of both. In their season, growing in rare profusion, side by side with roses and carnations," were plump, ripe strawberries and juicy currants, while the soft odour of sweet-briar pervaded all. rHe loved nature in all her moods, the peace of his quiet garden, the stars overhead, the earth beneath his feet, but above all these things he loved humanity and was ever seeking for some new means of doing good.

The church was close to the manse and the belfry could be seen overtopping the trees. It was a sweet spot:—

" . . . . The abode
Of the good priest, who faithful through all hours
To his high charge, and truly serving God,
Has yet a heart and hand for trees and flowers,
Enjoys the walks his predecessors trod,
Nor covets lineal rights in lands and towers."
[Wordsworth's " Ode to a Manse."]

Being interested himself in all matters of education, he not only wished to see his people around liim industrious and independent, but he wanted to develop their mental powers. He tried the formation of classes of astronomy, history, and science, but his early efforts in this direction met with many rebuffs—the rebuffs that everyone will understand who first tries any innovation even in a Scottish village. Because he was so deeply interested in these subjects himself he felt sure that a better acquaintance with them would make his parishioners feel the same. Great was his disillusionment! His efforts were coldly received. But his zeal was not easily shaken, and as Sunday was a day in which no man worked and all would be free to attend, he decided to hold the classes on Sunday afternoon and to call them Conversational lectures on the works of God. Alas and alas ! this was worse and worse, for not only were the lectures disapproved of, but the day as well. It was looked upon as a desecration of the Sabbath. His enthusiasm received a severe check. He had tried to force on these ideas too quickly, the Scotch will not be hurried, and it was only later, when he was better known to his people and had waited his time, that he succeeded in impressing his views upon them. For the time being he had to content himself with starting a library for their better instruction, and filling the shelves with books between the leaves of which they could gather information at their leisure. From the pulpit he tried to teach them something of the beauties of nature. He loved to expatiate on the spangled heavens above, the streams, the clouds, the trees, for he had a deep perception of all their wonders and delights. He liked to discourse, too, on subjects like industry and independence and practical and vital problems which affected the immediate well-being of the people. His biographer says, and not without some grief, "that for some years after his ordination the peculiar doctrines of Christianity had held but a subordinate place, instead of their due pre-eminence in his pulpit addresses."

The great spiritual apathy, which had settled upon the Church of Scotland during the latter half of the eighteenth century, was to be traced to the influence of Voltaire and the French encyclopaedists. Various forms of scepticism largely prevailed, sapping the foundations of belief. The professors of the Universities had been infected by it, and doubt and materialism crept into the minds of the ministers of the Church themselves. But already in the last years of the eighteenth century there were indications of a religious revival. In Scotland Dr John Erskine began to stir the spirit of the slumbering Church.1 The young minister did not reach the turning-point in his spiritual career until 1804. It happened in a curious way. Hearing of the arrival at Annan of three members of the Society of Friends, who were holding a mission in the South of Scotland, he decided to attend their meeting. The outpourings of these simple, earnest people, their unbounded faith, their fervent prayers, impressed him deeply. It was a picturesque scene: the simplicity of the Quaker dress, their quaint way of expressing themselves, their intense earnestness. There was no spiritual apathy here ! First solemn, then imploring, then tender, they raised
1 Buchanan's Ten Years' Conflict. a passionate appeal to the people present to follow the teachings of Christ. Their simple childlike faith fired his whole being. The three Friends afterwards visited the manse, and a lasting friendship between them was the result. It is an interesting fact that one of these same Quaker ladies, Deborah Darby by name, had a great influence over Elizabeth Fry, who, as recorded in her life by her daughters, alludes to her as follows: "I think my feelings that night at Deborah Darby's were the most exalted I ever remember. . . . Suddenly my mind felt clothed with light as with a garment, and I felt silenced before God: I cried with the heavenly feeling of humility and repentance." It is a curious fact that the influence of these Quakers, the friends of peace, should have gained such an influence over Henry Duncan, who was at that time a volunteer and only the year previously was preaching a militant sermon. A small private journal, dated August 25th, 1804, about the time of the visit just described, has been found, and in his private musings there are vows and resolutions for the future, and a searching self-analysis of his belief. In conclusion this touching little prayer for guidance is recorded: "Enable me, O God of mercy, to perform my vows for the glory of Thy Holy Name, for the good of mankind, for the salvation of my immortal soul, and for the sake of Thy beloved Son. Amen." From this time onward it is certain that a new power was at work within him, for a certain heavenliness of spirit purified and elevated his every action, bringing forth good and noble work for the spiritual as well as the temporal good of his people.


Return to Book Index Page

 


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus

Quantcast