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The Anecdotage of Glasgow
Rev. Edward Irving and the Glasgow shoemaker


WHEN the Rev. Edward Irving was in Glasgow, as assistant to the Rev. Dr. Chalmers, in the parish of St. Johnís (1819-22), he emulated that great and good divine in his faithful and zealous visitation of their parishioners. In the course of these ministrations Irving called upon a certain shoemaker, a home workman, radical and infidel, silent and sullen, who gave the cold shoulder to such visitors. Coming up to the cobbler, one day, when he was seated at his bench and busy working, Irving took up a piece of patent leather, then a recent invention, and began to pass some remark about it; but his auditor stitched or hammered away for some time, as if he heard him not, until, roused by the continued speech and pretence of knowledge on the part of a cleric, the cobbler asked with contempt:

What do ye ken about leather?"

This was just the opportunity that Irving had been waiting, longing, and working for, as, although himself a minister and a scholar, he was the son of a tanner, and was able to speak about leather in such a way as showed to the cobbler that he knew very well what he was speaking about. As Irving went on with his discourse, his auditor became more and more interested, and his heart softened as his interest increased, as it did more particularly during his visitorís learned account of some process of making shoes by machinery, which he had seen, and now described.

At last the shoemaker so far forgot his antipathy or prejudice as to suspend his work and raise his eyes to the tall, soldier-like person who was bending over him; and as the spell went on, the cobbler, quite overcome, threw down his arms, namely his knife or awl, and exclaimed:

Od, youíre a decent kind oí fellow !ódo you preach?"

Irving told the man of leather that he did preach, and where; but was too prudent to press his advantage too far with such a ticklish customer. The shoemaker, however, grew more and more curious to hear how a man who knew so much, and could speak so well about leather, would acquit himself in his proper vocation as a preacher. Accordingly the next Sunday saw the shoemaker present with mixed emotions, partly curious, somewhat shy, and, it may be, a little defiant, as a hearer of his late visitor, in St. Johnís Parish Church.

Next day Irving met the shoemaker in the Gallowgate, and hailed him as a friend, walked beside him, with his hand laid familiarly on the shirt sleeve of the son of St. Crispin, with whose frail shrunken frame his own tall, military figure strangely contrasted; and as they walked, conversed with him in an easy, natural, and agreeable manner.

By the time they had reached the end of their mutual way, not a spark of dour resistance was left in the knight of the awl. His children henceforth went to the parish school, and his wife not only went to the kirk in peace, but he himself got a suit of Sunday "blacks," so dear to the heart of every decent kirk-going Scotsman of the working class, and became, at least, a regular church-goer, if not a burning and a shining light; while his acknowledgment of Irvingís victory was naÔvely expressed, in a semi-apologetic way, in these terms:

"Heís a sensible man yon; he kens about leather."


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