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A Scots Boy's World Sixty Years Ago
Chapter XIII. Pulpit and other Oratory


For many young people oratory has a singular fascination. It certainly had for me. The Reform declamations of ex-Bailie Moir or Edmund Beale on Glasgow Green, the sparrings between Drs. Gibson and Buchanan in Presbytery, the election harangues of Robert Dalglish, William Graham or George Anderson from old- world hustings in Jail Square, the speeches of Rutherford Clark or Lord Deas in the Sandyford murder trial — even the clap-trap of a Cheap Jack at the street corner, all, if not all alike, attracted me, and it is with modest pride that I now recall how many of the leading statesmen and preachers of the day were ultimately brought within my ken.

An early boyish recollection is of slipping into the City Hall in the sixties to hear the great Duke of Argyll preside at a meeting of the Bible Society. At that time he had a wealth of auburn — almost red — hair brushed well back over a massive forehead, and spoke with an aristocratic dignity and decision all his own.

The readings of Charles Dickens came as an extraordinary feast and held me spellbound. His hectic, sunken cheek, grisly beard and somewhat tinselled appearance were not in his favour as he stepped on the platform, yet no sooner had he thrown himself into the characters of Sergeant Buzfuz, Little Joe, or Old Scrooge, than these were forgotten. He brought tears to the eyes of his audience and almost to his own.

But the man of all others who carried me off my feet was Ernest Jones, the Manchester Chartist. I shall never forget two great political lectures in the City Hall, which, for beauty of language and magnetic power in delivery surpassed anything I have heard from either Gladstone or Bright. The following from one of his perorations swept the vast audience like a whirlwind; they sprang from their seats and cheered to the echo:—"Back to the land! and no need for further emigration. They tell us we can afford to send our labour from Britain to New Zealand. Why not send it from London into Kent? You can seek for gold at San Francisco or Ballarat and overlook the gold you have at home. England's wealthiest Ballarat is England. Your true goldfields are your golden fields of wheat. . . . Back to the land! It is the storehouse of wealth, Nature's universal bank, a bank that never breaks and never swindles, that honours every draft when drawn by Labours hand, but ever closed upon the dissolute and idle.  . . Follow my advice and you raise a million rivals to the gin palace in a million cottage hearths. You have the sweetest sermons preached, not from the priest's cold tongue but from the smiling lip of wife and child exhorting each to virtue and to home. . . . My suggestion is true conservatism. The riches of the employed are the only safeguard for the riches of the employer. Talk of confiscating wealth! I propose to give it five million additional defenders. Talk of destroying the interest of the landlords! I propose to add a million to their number. Talk of endangering private property ! I propose to raise five million new champions of its rights. . . . When was England truly powerful? When she had her yeomen to win at Agincourt, her peasants to fight at Cressy and Poictiers. Give us a million peasant farmers and you have a million patriot soldiers for Old England. Their cottages will be a million fortresses, with waving cornfields for their golden glacis and stalwart yeomen for their gallant guard."

In the later sixties the Glasgow pulpit was remarkable for variety of type. Living in lodgings, I was free to wander and liked to hear Andrew Bonar of Finnieston with his quavering voice, quaint allusions and heavenly countenance; Marcus Dods of Renfield, impassive in manner, but compact and persuasive in reasoning;

Alexander Whyte, then colleague to Dr.Roxburgh in St. John's, with his searching earnestness and kindling eye; Henry Calderwood of Greyfriars with his balanced, philosophic argument; Alexander Somerville of Anderston, whose sunny smile gave light and shade to his picturesque illustrations; not to speak of Pulsford of Trinity, Batchelor of Elgin Place and Flindt, the warmly evangelical incumbent of St. Jude's.

A sermon by William Arnot of St. Peter's survives in memory from a single sentence, slowly enunciated in his curious, rolling manner. "The most beautiful thing in this beautiful world is the setting
sun—except the rising sun." Since then I have watched with wonder how deftly Phoebus can disperse the darkness from successive ramparts of Alpine heights around the Rigi. From the weird and lonely summit of Tiger Hill I have seen him touch with carmine the snowy peaks of Everest, but it was not, perhaps, till a chance journey between Ancona and Ravenna that I fully appreciated the significance of Arnot's aphorism. On that brilliant morning the full-orbed sun rose majestic from the Adriatic, and through the dazzling splendour of his appearing, dissolved as if by magic the iridescent glories which had heralded his approach.

A cherished ambition had been to see and hear that prince of preachers, Dr. Candlish, but this was not easy of accomplishment. At last my opportunity came. I was spending a week-end in Edinburgh, and though I had of necessity to attend another church in the morning, I jaloused that, as it was communion Sabbath, there would likely be a prolonged service in St George's and that its minister would certainly be at home. Accordingly, as soon as released, I set off at top speed in the direction of Lothian Road and stealthily entered the church just at the moment that the Doctor rose to give out the 20th psalm—

Jehovah hear thee in the day
When trouble he doth send,
And let the name of Jacob's God
Thee from all ill defend.

In an instant I had laid up a permanent image of the striking little figure that stood in the famous pulpit. I can still hear, as if it were yesterday, the characteristic burr, and see the eager, nervous shrug of his shoulder. The psalm having been sung, Dr. Candlish again rose and announced as the text of his closing address "When he putteth forth his own sheep he goeth before them," and held his people riveted during a lengthy delivery. I often heard him afterwards, but never more impressively, unless, perhaps, at the opening of the present St. George's, when, with difficulty, I secured a seat in the back gallery. His text on that occasion was the 126th psalm, and the subject a retrospect of congregational history. He referred, I remember, to Dr. Dykes' colleagueship as "a bright oasis in the midst of a doubtful pastorate."

Dr. Guthrie I first heard in his son's church at Liberton, walking out with Leopold Monod for the purpose. The text was, Romans vrs, 33-34, and the manner of discourse remains vivid. He began : "Justifieth—condemneth—these are both forensic terms," and proceeded with a most realistic description of a law court: judge, prisoner, counsel, audience. His tall figure, grey locks, benevolent brow and mobile mouth all conspired to make up a commanding presence suggestive of the Covenanter. It was evidently his habit to begin with some such arresting statement, for a friend tells me that the first words he heard him utter were, "We must not believe all that the Bible says," while another relates how an Old Testament lecture opened thus: "Job's friends came to apply a plaister, but instead of a plaister he found it a blister." His colleague, Dr. William Hanna, son-in-law of Dr. Chalmers, I heard more frequently. His silvery sympathetic voice was always pitched on a minor key and is unforgettable. He excelled in studies of Old and New Testament narrative. His selection of psalms and hymns was limited, but extremely characteristic, and his reading of the second metrical version of the 143rd psalm—"Lo, I do lift my hands"—or of Bernard's beautiful hymn, "Jesus, the very thought of Thee," seemed to breathe the very spirit of the man.

On a first visit to London in 1865, Dean Stanley in Westminster Abbey, Vaughan in the Temple Church, and Dr. James Hamilton in Regent Square were added to my gallery, and the texts of all three are still distinctly remembered. Later a trio of English Nonconformists cast their spell over me. Spurgeon in the old Metropolitan Tabernacle was perfect in unpretentious natural eloquence flowing from a deep well of English undefiled, qualified with a saving sense of humour. He deeply impressed one by the earnestness of his own convictions and the pathos of his personal appeal. In 1870 Alexander Maclaren of Manchester was in his prime, having just entered upon his unique ministry in Union Chapel. "His locks were like the raven " as he entered the pulpit with elastic step and tense expression of face, unimpeded by any gown. A very characteristic attitude was to throw himself well back with hands nervously clutching each other behind. His language always appeared to be the most appropriate that could be chosen. Sometimes, indeed, he would seem to pause for the best word which would speed- ily be enunciated with the precision of an electric needle. He was equally at home in enforcing an Old Testament prophecy, in expounding the deepest reasoning of St. Paul, or in disclosing the hidden beauties of a favourite psalm. Joseph Parker I first heard about the same date in his old Cavendish Street Chapel. His text was, "What manner of man is this," etc., which at intervals he repeated, emphasising in turn the words "manner," "man" and "this," his nodding head and sonorous voice seeming to draw from them new meanings. One fine imaginative lecture was on Zophar, the Naamathite, whom he described as of Celtic temperament and having reddish hair, whereupon, drawing his hand carelessly through his own abundant locks, he added, " We cannot all be black!" But the finest sermon I remember was from the text, "Was Paul crucified for you?" when he skilfully preached Christ and the atonement in broad yet orthodox outline. He was a past-master in intimations. Pleading for some orphan institution, he said "I know I can't ask you to give much. I am informed that there is no money in the country. Only a thousand were turned away from the theatre last night. I hear that 200 has had to be paid for an orchid, so we can hardly expect more than twopence for an orphan." He varied a good deal, and sometimes gave an unpleasant impression of self-conciousness, but when at his best he was magnificent.

Among great missionaries heard in these far-off days Robert Moffat and Alexander Duff stand out with surprising clearness. The former had a lofty brow, clear gaze and swarthy complexion. Though an old man, he was full of evangelical fire and fervour and visibly personified the description of Moses, "His eye was not dim nor his natural force abated." Duff can have been barely sixty, though already white and weather-worn, as I listened to him about 1865 in the old Hope Street Gaelic Church. His peculiar gift was a perennial flow of impetuous language. His ponderous sentences seemed to come in great rhythmical waves. A characteristic example remains :"I have a house on the banks of the Forth, but my home is on the banks of the Ganges." The length of some of his Assembly speeches was phenomenal. It is said that on one occasion, having addressed the house for about three hours, he fainted, but after a short interval returned and resumed his discourse.

If sometimes tempted to say "The Fathers where are they? and the Prophets, do they live for ever?" the answer of our heart must confidently be, "Instead of the Fathers shall be the Children whom thou mayst make Princes in all the earth."


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