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Life of the Rev. Thomas Guthrie D.D.
Chapter II - Education and Choice of a Profession


FROM what has been already said, it will be inferred that Mrs Guthrie early took the education of her children in hand. She did not, indeed, seek to teach them "little Latin and less Greek," nor did she attempt to assist them over the Pons Asinorum, but she carefully laid the foundations for the superstructure that was to follow. Thomas, in common with his brothers, was sent to the local academy, which, it is not very complimentary to say, was the principal seminary in the town. The "local habitation" of this educational institution had long been

"To hastening ills a prey,"

and the tuition imparted was not of the highest standard. Merit must be paid for, and the master of Brechin academy was not well paid. Appointed by the magistrates, he had a salary of 8 17s. 9d. a year, and a free house. Besides this, however, he had an allowance from Government in the rents of certain houses attached to the "Maison Dieu." Since Guthrie was a scholar, the position of the schoolmastar has been greatly changed for the better, and Brechin is no exception to the rule. School-houses have also been built according to a much higher standard of taste and comfort. An elegant Gothic building, erected by Lord Panmure in 1888, for the accommodation of the Burgh schools, now occupies the site of the wretched-looking edifice ia which Guthrie began his acquaintanceship with "schools and schoolmasters."

What progress the boy Guthrie made in his studies whilst attending the Grammar School does not specially appear. His great natural powers, and his fair literary attainments in subsequent years, would lead to the conclusion that his position in the class was at more than respectable. His estimate of teachers in general, and of one in particular, will appear from the following extracts :—

"As to the laudation about schoolmasters, it is really worth reading. Dr Muir looked on these gentlemen as scholars, and as most exemplary individuals, and as animated by the feelings of honourable men and gentlemen.' Now, I say that is quite true of many of them. I have the greatest respect for country schoolmasters; but it is a notorious fact, that, in consequence of the Established Church having no power of putting out unfit and inefficient schoolmasters, many of them are inefficient. I have known the most daidling bodies in the world in these schools. I once knew a daft creature in a parish school wearing a beard as long as that [measuring nearly a yard], and I knew a case of one who was a parish schoolmaster for thirty years, the very greatest drunkard in his own parish, or in half a-dozen round about him, and he died a parish schoolmaster.

"To show the estimate the people had of the schoolmasters of the olden time, I will tell you of a remarkable man in my own native parish, Mr Linton, teacher of the Grammar School. An honest man came to him one day with a 'halfiin,' a long empty chap, who had taken it into his head that he would have some little learning. The father said, 'Oh, Mr Linton, you see my laddie's fond o' lear. I'm thinkin' o' making a scholar o' him.' 'Oh,' said Mr Linton, looking at him, and not seeing any sign that there was much in him, 'what are you to make of him?' 'You see, Mr Linton,' rejoined the father—and it showed how sound the old Scotchman was - 'if he gets grace, we'll mak' a minister o' him.' 'Oh, but,' says Mr Linton, 'if he does not get grace, what will you make of him then?' 'Weel, in that case,' said the parent, 'if he disna get grace, we'll just mak' a dominie o' him.'"

When he had reached his twelfth year, Guthrie was sent to study at the University of Edinburgh. It was the practice of the time to send boys at this early age to commence their university education—a practice which, in after years, he frequently characterised as extremely foolish. At such a tender age it could scarcely be expected that he would take any very high position in the various classes, nor does it appear that he ever greatly distinguished himself as a student. Having attended the required preparatory classes, he entered the Divinity Hall, then in a very inefficient state. We are not fully aware of the motives which actuated him in making choice of the ministry as his profession. His mother's influence, his early and abiding love for evangelical doctrine, and a laudable ambition to be and do something in the world, may have been the more powerful incentives to the course adopted. His parents, too, might cherish the hope that, through Lord Panmure's influence, their son would rise to a high place in the church; and that this, taken in conjunction with the oratorical tendencies that he had early displayed, would secure for him a high measure of usefulness and popularity. That he chose the ministry of the Church of Scotland in preference to that of the Secession need not be matter of surprise, even keeping in view the strong Secession tendencies of his mother. His family on his father's side had been identified for generations with the Established Church, and still continued adherence to its principles. Its whole creed he could readily and conscientiously subscribe, and if there was grievous and wide-spread defection both in doctrine and in practice, there was so much the more need that faithful ministers might be raised up to vindicate the power of a holy life, and contend for the "faith once delivered to the saints."

In his university studies Guthrie was assisted by Dr Ritchie, Professor of Divinity; Dr Brunton, Professor of Hebrew; and Dr Meiklejohn, Professor of Church History. In one of these at least he was privileged to see an example of kindliness, toleration, and sympathy with progress,—for Dr Ritchie, formerly minister of St Andrew's Church, Glasgow, was the first minister in the Church of Scotland who recommended the use of organs. Dr Guthrie had for his fellow-students some of the great men with whom he was subsequently associated in the "Ten Years' Conflict," and in the formation and building up of the Free Church; but it does not appear that as a student of divinity he gave much indication of the great powers afterwards made so manifest both on the platform and in the pulpit. After going through the usual curriculum, he returned home, and was licensed to preach the gospel by the Presbytery of Brechin.


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