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Life Jottings of an Old Edinburgh Citizen
Chapter Six


"There are contentious among you"
i Cor. I. II.

1843

WHEN I was little more than six years old, an event occurred which made a great difference to Scotland in many ways. The significance. of it could not come home to me then, but what I saw can never be forgotten. It was the Disruption of the Church of Scotland. In the forenoon I had seen the Lord High Commissioner's procession, and on the same day was taken along George Street to the front of St. Andrew's Church, where those who conducted me gazed up in silence —as did a crowd of others—at the gallery windows. I saw nothing but a number of bald and other heads, and wondered what was making those on the street gaze so intently. It was not my idea of a show. That afternoon I was playing with companions at home, and we were doing some children's acting, for which my cheeks were painted a strong red. Suddenly we heard a noise, and saw from the window people rushing along towards the street corner, and seeming an excitement we followed them, running as hard as our little legs could carry us. On looking up the steep street leading to George Street, we saw a long line of black moving down the hill, which as it came near proved to be the seceders who had left St. Andrew's Church to proceed down to Tanfield, there to meet in a large hall. The Moderator led them, and they came on, on, on, several hundreds. It was to me a mere sight to behold, knowing nothing of its meaning; but I seem now to see before me the four-deep marchers, all 'n black, with white neckcloths and tall hats, and faces set and solemn. They looked absorbed, as seeing nothing of their surroundings, moving as in deep thought. My ludicrous appearance in my fancy cap and with my painted cheeks passed unnoticed, although I was in the very front row of the lookers-on. My elder brother found me there, and whipping off the paper cap 1 wore, applied his handkerchief and mine to remove the clown look from my face, while still the, to me, apparently endless succession of black figures passed on. Of course it is little that I can say except to describe what I saw, but a child is quick to observe when there is passion in faces— their elders generally accustom them to that. I saw nothing of passion> rather the feeling was of sober determination of men who had made up their minds, and in whom excitement had passed away and purpose was dominant. My recollection as to what passed before me, and of the impression formed, was a complete accord with what I learned to know when I grew up, of the sacrifice these men were facing when they marched to Tanfield, giving up their homes and their living, saciificiag for the time their prospects in life. I say nothing as to the times of the matter, of which I could have no opinion then: but it certainly was impressive to see that crowd of men, who were not deterred by dread of sacrifice from giving effect to opinions conscientiously formed and strongly held. One can imagine what a trial it was— what a sacrifice bravely shared by many a wife and child, upholding the fathers in suffering ' 'the loss of all things, so far as this world was concerned. What uncertainty there must have been as to the future, not only to those who departed, but also to those who remained! Would the great rent prove disastrous, or would both the seceders and those whom they left be able to survive and put on strength so as to present a working and efficient organisation? What fireside discussions must there have been, what hand-wriging, what uplifting of hands, what heart-searching, what demands upon the spirit of charity! Probably all who walked in that procession to Tinfield, and all who remained in St. Andrew's Church as an attenuated General Assembly, have passed away. It's at least a matter for thankfulness that now, seventy years later, the bitterness of that day has exhausted itself, and that whether a real reunification is in the future or not, there is a spirit of reconciliation which enables the descendants and successors of those who took part in the long past events to meet in friendly conference. It is a maxim not to be denied that schism, from whatever cause, is an evil, which all must confess, cultivating in their hearts the desire that a way may be found to get nearer to the "good and pleasant thing, by the healing of the schisms of the Churches. But whatever may be said, the events of 1843 made it certain that the. Scotsman who is looked upon as one eager and determined to acquire and hold fast—as indeed he is—is yet capable, if his conscience tells him there is a call for it, of giving up his all a sour soldier at the Alma said—"if needs be."

I only know of one other person now alive who saw that solemn procession. I did. not know then that a little girl was being held up on the balcony of the bank building at George Street corner, and who saw her father—afterwards the Rev. Dr. Bonar—passing down in that columnj the girl who was afterwards to be my dearest friend, and to be a helper to me in the waiting time when the desire of a man's life is fixed and he would fain woo, but must restrain his ardour till prudence permits; and still more, a helper when the great calamity of a lifetime had to be borne, and when the hand and the voice of a friend can do much to bring strength to bear. From this dear old friend I learn that at the corner of George Street there was great excitement—now a cry of "he he's coming!" then an indication of false alarm, and at last the outburst of excited shouting and a rush, and presently the Moderator and his following moving in orderly march came in view round the corner. I know she will concur in all I have said as to the impression made upon a child's mind by the scene of that day. What we knew as we grew up of the men who joined in that four-deep march confirmed our impression as to its character. No movement in which such men as Chalmers, Gordon, Guthrie, Cunningham, and Candlish, and her own father, took part, and with such supporters in the laity as Moncreiff and Graham Spiers—and there must have been many like them—no such movement could he otherwise than one full of the spirit of reverent and conscientious conviction, calling for the respect of all right-thinking men, whether in sympathy with the views of the actors or not.


Spunkseller

Reminiscences of childhood are countless. I shall only give three more, each of which points a moral. One relates to the cruelties committed thoughtlessly by servants, who say things to children when they are naughty, to make them behave better—telling them falsehoods to frighten them into subjection. My infancy was in the time of street cries—the milk, the coals, the kitchen sand, the fresh radishes, the fish and the oysters, were all announced by their respective cries.

There was, further, the china-mender, whom I have special cause to remember. He carried a small brazier full of burning coals, while his wife bore a basket with mended, and to be mended, glass and crockery. An ugly pair they were; he with unshaven chin, and she with the red face of a virago. It's quite possible they may have been very decent people, but I could not think so, as the reader will presently understand. When they entered a street the man gave a frightful yell in two syllables: "Hee yaah a-a" (long drawn out) —and then shouted words which I could not follow. 1 know now that they ran thus: "Cheeyna, cerusstl,and stunwa-e-re to get mendit"—a most harmless utterance. But a poor little fellow was told by a heartless nurse that the man was calling for naughty children to be taken away and burnt in his fire. Oh, how terrible was my dread! If the man appeared when I was in the street, I broke away from that nurse and fled as fast as my little legs could carry me, reached the door of home with my heart going like the piston of a steam-engine, tore at the bell, and screamed through the slit of the letter box until the door was opened. But I did not dare to tell the cause of my terror, being certain that the woman would have denied what I said, and equally certain that the servant would be believed and the child punished for lying, for—

"The nurse's legends are for truth believed,"

whether they are lying to the child, or lying to the parent. Percy Fitzgerald tells us of Charles Dickens sufferings in childhood's days :

"The poor child must have had his nervous temperament wrought upon by an appalling nurse, who seems to have delighted in agitating him with ghostly and other tales."

A child can suffer agonies caused by departures from truth of those over them. When one looks back at such things, it ;is little to be wondered at that a tiny girl should be found on her knees, saying : "Dear Satan, please come for nurse, and please come soon," a prayer which actually was uttered, and with earnestness.

The second incident*s an illustration of how children are often forbidden to do things for reasons by which their elders are not bound. I was caught at the knee to say a little hymn whisk ran thus:

'"Twas God that made this little fly,
And if I pinch it, it would die.
My mother tells me God has said
I must not hurt what God has made.

For He is very kind and good,
And gives the little flies their food.
And he would have each little child
To be like Him, both good and mild."

Having learned to repeat these rather doggerel verses, with of course the long, whining drawl of childhood on the final syllable of each line, what was my astonishment not long after, when the weather was hot, to see my father making a decoction of some vile stuff—quassia, I think it was, but the maids called it flea-watter—in which before evening those little pests that I was forbidden to destroy lay poisoned in dozens. I could not reason the thing out, and dared not ask "why," so wondered in silence whether it was only little people who were called on to be "good and mild". Now, the fly is looked upon as an enemy of the human race, to be. destroyed wherever found, the fall in the death-rate being often beyond all doubt attributable to the diminution is the number of flies, who in the past carried deadly things from the mews and rubbish-heaps into dwelling-houses, causing disease and death. "Kill that fly" is not merely a theatrical joke. It is an intention, serious, and addressed to the humane, which it is unconscientious to disregard. The child's hymn, if sound in its precepts, would of necessity apply to the ox, the sheep, and the fowl. Why should bad reasoning be held good enough for little people.?'

The third incident is firmly engraved on memory. It illustrates how the "grown ups," as we called them, had scarcely an idea of children having any feeling of the rights of property, and of the wrongs of their little possessions being practically filched from them, and if they make any sign indicating their chagrin at having what's their own carried off by someone else, they are made to understand that they are "naughty and selfish." My half sister, being in bad health, had spent a winter in Madeira, and on coining home brought a number of little presents with her. A very neat hand-painted china comfit box with gilt clasp was presented to me, to my great delight, not only for its beauty, but also because it is so much to a child to have something real for "its very own." Not many weeks passed, when two little girls—nice little girls they were—came to spend the day, and when they were going away in the afternoon a number of things were put on a large plate, including my comfit box, and presented to them that they might choose from the collection. What I felt when a little hand took hold of my box is beyond description. I am sure if the little girl had known she would have put it back. The irony of it was made all the greater when she sweetly thanked, not me, but the "grown-ups" for their kind present. I wonder if such things ever happen now. If so, I would put in a word for the little people. Should they be tried in this way? My stepmother once told me a story of a little fellow to whom some similarly provocative injury was done, and who, on being told by his mother how pleased she was to see how patiently he had taken the wrong, candidly repudiated the commendation, saying, "Well, Mamma, you may praise me if you like, but I just thought Devil I wonder whether my thought was something like that. Perhaps it is as well that I have forgotten all but the general sense of disappointment. But it is not easy for a child to go through such an experience without feeling that although he is taught to say that it is a duty "to keep my hands from picking and stealing," the catechism only applies to him and other small people, but that old people may do what they like with what is riot their own. No honest guardian, who believed that a child could reason at all, would do such things. The error is in thinking that the child cannot reason. It is akin to the folly of that evil and too common practice of saying things before children that they should not hear, because they are supposed not to take things in. Many a story of the dining-room or drawing-room travels up to the nursery and down to the servants' hall, which would never have been uttered but for this foolish—almost culpable—forgetfulness of the truth that "httle pitchers have long ears," and can pick up what may be more or less evil both to themselves and others.


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