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Reminiscences of a Highland Parish
The Manse Boy sent to College


IT is a great era in most Scotch manses when one of the boys begins his college career. There is first the question of money—the importance of which, over the whole world, and among all races of men, is fully recognised. A large family, and a small "stipend," are not rare phenomena in the Highland manse — and how to clothe, feed, and educate the "bairns," often seems an insoluble problem. For they do grow so rapidly out of their clothes, and their appetites are so good, "puir things," as Betty the nurse says. And the eldest girls are every day looking bonnier, as the same unbiassed witness asserts, and they require something nice, no doubt; and the younger ones are such romps, and with such high spirits, that they require something which will not easily wear out; and then the boys !how they wear their shoes, and destroy their clothes, and never think how they can be supplied with new ones. But somehow that most wonderful and most blessed Angel in the house, the mother, manages to supply every want, without disturbing her husband at his sermon or in his sleep; and he, good man, seldom knows the genius of contrivance, and the wakeful hours, and the busy thoughts, and the alternate smiles and tears, and the personal self-denial by which, with little means, she accomplishes great ends. It has long been a part of my social creed that, as a rule, the wives are far greater than their husbands, one part of their greatness being that they never allow their husbands to suspect their own inferiority.

But to return to the old manse, and an older generation. When a boy had to go to college, the minister required to exercise all his faculties, and bring every power into play to raise the necessary funds. What calculations as to what could be spared from his stipend; or how much could be raised from his barley or potato crop, from his cattle, or from his pigs even! Ah ! he is now disturbed in his study, and in his sleep; yet the matter of twenty pounds would make him feel like a king—for his boy's sake. And such a boy!—just look at those eyes, as his parents see them, pure and innocent as a mountain spring; and look at that head, like a granite rock, with yellow fern drooping over it; and that mouth—oh! that, it were opened in the pulpit! The boy has the make of a ,grand man in him. "But twenty pounds!" - the minister mutters in his dream, about three in the morning, while his wife is staring at the moon then shining into the room. In spite of every difficulty the good man succeeds—God's strength is often perfected in his weakness — and he makes no complaint, and owes no man anything.

The night before the boy goes is a night to be remembered by the family. What a packing of the few clothes! they are very few, but good home-spun, durable, and blessed, for every thread has the mark of love in it! What a numbering of shirts and stockings;—what directions about the tender and wise usage of them;—what quiet confidential talk about the Bible, rolled up in a white handkerchief, and put into a corner of the trunk;—what an extra sobriety about the family devotions, during which smothered sobs are heard, and a universal blowing of noses, from young, brothers and sisters. And then on the morning of departure there is not only the new trunk to be seen to, with an address upon it which might do for a sign-board, but a cheese, a "crock" of butter, a mutton ham, kippered salmon, and other provisions for use in the lodgings, with a few pots of jam and jelly for sore throat—his mother says. And then the parting with all, not forgetting the dogs, which follow to the water's edge, and with their low whine strike a note in harmony with the sorrow which all feel, though it is kept down by forced words of cheer till the last moment. Soon the old manse is out of sight, and an old world has departed with it, and a new world for good or evil begun to the boy.

Our Scottish college system is as unlike that of England as the Presbyterian Church system to the Episcopalian. Each is best suited, as things are and have been, to their respective countries. The buildings in Glasgow College—soon to be swept away—are unchanged from a period long antecedent to that in which the manse boy first entered them. There is still the same old gate, in the dingy yet solemn-looking walls, entering into the quiet courts, out of the bustle of the High Street, with its filthy crowds of squalid men and women, its ragged children, and besotted drunken creatures with their idiotic looks, and whatever else combines to give to it a look of vice and poverty, unsurpassed by any street in Europe. But once within the college gate, there are the same lecture rooms in which Adam Smith and Reid taught, and James Watt studied or experimented; and the same stone pavement, to me more sacred, from its peculiar associations with the long past, than the floor of almost any church in Europe.

The students attending our Scotch colleges live anywhere, and in any way they please, in so far as the college authorities are concerned. The more respectable, yet certainly not very aristocratic, streets near the university have from time immemorial furnished lodgings to the students, from the flat over the shops up to the attics. A small room with fire, cooking, attendance, &c., could be obtained for a few shillings weekly; and it was a common custom for the poorer students, for the sake of economy, to share both room and bed with a companion. The following extract from the college life of the eldest son of the manse, dictated, when he was near fourscore years, to one of his daughters, as a portion of a domestic autobiography, will give a characteristic idea of the student life and its difficulties in those days, and such as was, and in some respects is still, familiar to not a few of those who have helped to make Scotland what she is:-

"In November I went to Glasgow College, and the mode of travelling at that time is a strange contrast to the present. On a Monday morning Sandy M'Intyre, with two horses, was ferried across to Mull. My father and I followed soon after, and we got to the ferry of Auchnacraig, near Duart, that night, where we had to remain for a couple of nights, the weather being too stormy for us to proceed. I have a very pleasing recollection of the kindness of our old host, who, on parting, put a five-shilling piece into my pocket, the kindly custom of the time, while he laid his hand on my head and gave me a fatherly blessing. We next crossed to Kerrera, rode to the next ferry, and arrived at Oban in the course of the afternoon, Sandy accompanying us on foot. A pair of saddle-bags on each of our horses carried all our luggage. At Oban the `Gobhainn Sassanach,' or English smith; a drunken wit and poet, was sent for to shoe our horses, which he promised to do immediately. But when the horses were expected to be in readiness the 'Gobhainn Sassanach' was drunk, so that we were compelled to remain for that night in Oban. Next day we proceeded to Tynuilt, where the landlord met us at the door with a bottle of bitters. Sandy M'Intyre had arrived before us, having taken a short cut across the hill. After a short stay, we pushed on to Port Sonachan, from thence to Inverary. On Saturday afternoon we came to Arrochar, and having left Sandy and the horses at the inn, we walked to the manse, then occupied by an old college friend of my father's. We found the good man in his study with his Concordance and Pulpit Bible before him, which, on recognising my father, he soon closed and put aside. Very hearty was the welcome which we received. My father preached there next day. On Monday morning we proceeded by Loch Long side and the Gair Loch to Roseneath. At that time there was on the shore of the Gair Loch, now studded with villas on both shores, but one or two houses, and little did I expect that I should ever possess a cottage there. Leaving Sandy and the horses at Roseneath till my father's return, and, crossing over to Greenock, we reached the house of my granduncle, where we passed the night. We arrived at Glasgow on Wednesday forenoon, having been ten days on a journey that can now be accomplished in twice as many hours. I was next morning enrolled as a student in the Latin class, taught at the time by Mr Richardson, a most amiable and accomplished man, whose memory I shall ever revere. I was boarded in a respectable family in the High Street, opposite the Cross, at the rate of twenty pounds in six months, and where I had the advantage of having two amiable and delightful companions.

"My first session at college passed rapidly and most agreeably ; and upon the evening of the ist of May, I took my departure for home with twenty shillings in my pocket, and carrying two shirts and two pairs of stockings in a bundle on my back, and with a good oak stick in my hand. I walked to Dumbarton that night, and got drenched to the skin. I was glad to take my place opposite to a large fire in the kitchen, where I dried the contents of my bundle, and made myself as comfortable as circumstances would permit. Having got some slight refreshment I was shown to my room in the garret flat of the house tenanted by rats. The waiter removed my shoes lest they should be eaten up! As might be supposed my sleep was not very comfortable. I started at six next morning for Helensburgh. I was joined on the road by a man who was followed by a beautiful English terrier, which I agreed to purchase from him for half-a-crown. He gave me a cord by which I could lead him on, but he assured me that I might in a very short time give him his liberty, which I did. Scarcely had I done so when a loud and peculiar whistle, which the dog quickly recognised, announced to me that I had been swindled, for off set the terrier, and he and my half-crown were for ever lost! I walked on by the banks of the lovely Gair Loch, to the ferry on Loch Long, intending to proceed to Inverary by the Argyle bowling-green. I was joined by a young man who said that he was going the same way to Inverary. I was glad to have his company, as I had never before travelled across those hills. He ordered some refreshment for himself, but said that he had no change, and the landlord being unable to accommodate him, I paid for his refreshment, and for his share of the ferry. We got to Loch-Goilhead, and found a cart proceeding to St Catherine's, and for the sum of sixpence each, I still paying for my companion, we crossed to Inverary. This young man was a most amusing fellow. He asked me to come to tea, and to sleep at his mother's house, giving me her name and place of residence, recommending me, in the meantime, to go to a hotel near, till he should call for me. To this day I have neither seen nor heard of my friend or of his mother. The hotel-keeper informed me afterwards that there was no such family at Inverary!

"Early next morning I started for Port Sonachan, with eighteenpence still in my pocket. The inn and ferry at Port Sonachan were at that time kept by a man with whom I had been acquainted: he having at one time been a travelling packman, and in that capacity had made frequent visits to the manse. He received me most cordially, gave me breakfast, and ferried me across, refusing to accept of any payment. I certainly did not urge his acceptance in very strong terms. I walked on with a light heart and still lighter purse, till I reached Tynuilt, where my food cost me a shilling. On leaving Tynuilt for Oban, I was deluged by a torrent of rain. I overtook a cart within four miles of Oban, and the driver had compassion on me, giving me a seat during the rest of my journey. He was singing an old Gaelic song, but had not the words correctly: fortunately, I was acquainted with them, and I gave him one of the most beautiful of all the verses and one which he had never heard before. On parting from him, I told him that I was sorry I could not offer him anything for the drive. He said, 'I would not take a farthing though your pockets were full. I am richly rewarded with the beautiful verse which you have taught me.' At the hotel at Oban I found young Maclean of Coll, with whom I was well acquainted. He told me that he expected his barge, and would land me at my father's, meantime that I must be his guest. The barge arrived, and after a couple of days we sailed with fair wind and tide, and the old piper playing to us during the passage. Most joyful was I when once more I reached the manse, and many and affectionate were the salutations with which I was welcomed by its dear and numerous occupants.

"Soon after my return, I joined the 'Volunteers,' and had great pleasure in attending drill.

"There existed at that time a most loyal and martial spirit in the Highlands, forming an extraordinary contrast to their present feelings as regards the army. There were then three regiments of 'fencibles' raised in the county of Argyle, who were considered the finest-looking men in the army sent to Ireland during the rebellion. Besides the company of volunteers in each parish, I have still in my possession the names and designation of one hundred and ten officers, who held commissions in the army, and with each of whom I was personally acquainted. Many of them were highly distinguished, and some attained to the rank of general officers; and, alas! very many of them perished during the war. I am not aware of a dozen from that country now in the army, and even some of these are on the retired list. I am unwilling to account for this melancholy change. I fear, however, that the clearances which, for years past, have most extensively taken place in these countries, has contributed in some degree to bring about this state of things; but also as likely the outlets afforded by commerce to young men, and the improved education of the country.

"It was during the harvest of this year that I became an ardent sportsman, as also an enthusiastic boatman; and I must confess that I spent much more of my time in wandering over the mountains in quest of game, or in sailing on the Sound of Mull with old Rory, than at my classics.

"I shall pass over the following sessions at college, as there were very few incidents worthy of remark. I generally lived in lodgings with some companion, having a small parlour and bed-room, and truly I must say that we lived most sparingly and moderately. The expense of a session, including professors' fees and some new clothes, cost me from twenty-five to thirty pounds. During two of my last sessions at college in Glasgow my cousin, Neil Campbell, a medical student, was my companion in lodgings, and during the last three months that we were in Glasgow we had another medical student from the Highlands of the name of M'Millan living with us. We were both much attached to this young man. He was obliged for want of funds to leave his lodgings, and had nearly starved himself before doing so. We insisted on his joining us in our room, which was then in the Stockwell ; but this additional burden reduced us at times to great extremities, and had it not been for an excellent girl from Oban, who was serving in the house, I do not know what should have become of us. We often took a walk to the green, stating that we were to be out at dinner, and took some eggs and potatoes for supper when we returned. Macmillan was a young man of very superior talent and an ardent student. When the session closed, he was enabled, through the kindness of some Highland gentlemen in Glasgow to whom his case had been made known, to obtain his diploma as surgeon, and he agreed to accompany me home. He had not been with us above a week when his appointment as assistant-surgeon in the navy was announced to him. The letter which contained his appointment directed him, upon his passing his examination at the Surgeons' Hall, Edinburgh, to draw upon the treasury for a certain sum of money, and to proceed to Edinburgh immediately. But what was to be done in the meantime ? He had not a farthing, and not a moment could be lost. I could not advance him a pound. We told all the circumstances of the case to a carpenter in the parish, and he, with great generosity, advanced upon our mere verbal promise, four pounds, with which we proceeded to Tobermory, where that very evening we found a vessel sailing for Greenock, in which he took his passage. He passed his examination in Edinburgh with eclat, remitted the money we had borrowed from the honest carpenter, and on his arrival in England was placed on board of a frigate, and the first letter I received from him was dated from Van Diemen's Land, of which we knew very little in those days. The ship was on a voyage of discovery, and absent for many years.

"Long after, when I was a parish minister, I remarked a stranger whose face interested me much, who waited for me at the door of the church, and addressed me in very mournful accents in Gaelic, saying that the last sermon he had heard was from my father many years before. I asked his name. He burst into tears and said, `I came to see you. I have lost almost every friend I had in the world. I buried my wife and only child not many days ago. Ask for me at the Inn, but you must pardon me in the meantime for concealing my name from the only person on earth from whom I expected sympathy.' He was greatly agitated. I assured him that I would go in the morning to see him, but all night I could think of little else than my interview with this mysterious stranger. On calling at the inn next morning, I found that this was my friend Macmillan. He had gone away by an early packet boat for Greenock, leaving a long and affectionate letter giving me a brief but painful account of his own history since we parted, and stating that he was about to retire to some quiet country town in England, from which he would again write to me. I never heard of him afterwards. He is most honourably mentioned in an account published of the voyage of discovery on which he had been.

"But to return to the story of my life at college. I recollect one Saturday night when we had not one halfpenny among us, I discovered at the bottom of my trunk an otter's skin, with which Neil Campbell and I proceeded to a well-known shop at the head of King Street, and offered it for sale. The person at the counter named for it a sum that we considered far below its value, upon which the good shopkeeper himself came in from the backshop and told him that the sum he offered was too little, and, speaking to us with great kindness, he gave us at least a half more than its value. This to us at such a time was a treasure.

"On one of those days we were asked to dine with old 'Barnicarry' at the 'Buck's Head.' This generous man was uncle to my companion, and my grand uncle. We received the message with great joy, as he usually gave us a donation of a guinea when he parted from us. In this hope we were not disappointed, and we returned home to poor Macmillan with great rejoicing, and had a comfortable supper. Neil had two brothers at sea. Both of them commanded fine West India-men. One of them was in the habit of sending us sea biscuits and other articles, especially corned beef, which we liked much. One evening a loud rap came to the door. Our Oban woman went to open it, when we heard a half scream that brought us to the lobby to see what the matter was. The porter entered, having on his back a pair of large canvas trousers filled with brown sugar, a leg hanging down on each side of his shoulder, which the poor girl supposed was a dead 'subject' for the medical students. This sugar and a quantity of rice he brought along with it was of great service to us. Our kind servant-maid was permitted to take as much as she pleased for her own tea, and we gave several bowlfuls to our landlady. A poor student of the name of M`Gregor, from Lismore, also got a share. This lad was an excellent scholar, and very superior in every way, but exceedingly poor. He lived in a small apartment at the back of a place where they baked oat cake. It was a very small room, containing a bed, a small table and stool, but without any fire-place. Here he contracted disease of the lungs, of which he soon after died. I felt a deep interest in him, and the night I parted from him he told me that he had been much indebted to me for my kindness to him, and that he wished to "treat" me as expressive of his regard. He did not mention what "the treat " was to consist of, but knowing his inability, I objected to his putting himself to any expense on my account. He begged of me to wait for a few minutes, during which he purchased two halfpenny rolls, and handing me one, he took the other greedily himself! In the course of a year I visited his grave in the Island of Lismore, meditating with mournful reflections on the struggle that this most promising young man had made to obtain education enough to become a minister of the gospel. He was eminently pious, and much was I indebted to him for his kind guidance and Christian admonition."


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