Mungo was a living chronicle of the Presbyterian
Church, or rather of the passing events in what he called the religious
world. He was keeper of the hall for the meetings of the Society for the
Propagation of Christian Knowledge, beadle of Lady Tester's Church, and
one of the door-keepers during the sittings of the General Assembly.
Such a variety of official employments gave him every
opportunity of acquiring early notice of what was going on, and enabled
him to fill up the rest of his time profitably—for Mungo never lost
sight of profit—as the following anecdote proves:—Mr. Black, the
minister of Lady Tester's Church, was perhaps the most popular preacher
of his day; and strangers visiting the church generally gave a trifle to
the beadle to procure a seat. A gentleman had conformed to this practice
in the forenoon, and returned to resume his seat in the afternoon, but
was prevented by Mungo. The gentleman reminded him he had paid him in
the forenoon. "O but," said Mungo, "I let my seats twice a-day."
During the sittings of the General Assembly, he
contrived, in his capacity of door-keeper, to make the most of the
situation, and pocketed as much of "the needful" as he possibly could
exact by an embargo upon visitors. He was highly esteemed by a large
circle of old ladies of the middle ranks, who eagerly listened to the
gossip he contrived to pick up in the course of the day. He could inform
them of the proceedings of the Edinburgh Presbytery—what had been done
at the last, and what was forthcoming at the next General Assembly
—whose turn it was to preach at Haddo's Hole on the Tuesday or Friday
following—whether the minister would preach himself, or by proxy—whether
John Bailie would be at the plate, or his son Tarn in the precentor's
desk—with various other scraps of local news equally edifying and
instructive to his auditors.
It has been rumoured that he made a regular charge
for his visits ; and hence the inscription on Kay's Print of "Prayers at
all Prices." By way of improvement in the art of ghostly admonition, the
beadle sometimes ascended the pulpit of Lady Yester's Church, and held
forth to the vacant benches. On one of these occasions, it is said Dr.
Davidson happened to come upon him unawares—"Come down, Mungo," said the
Doctor, "toom (empty) barrels make most sound," in allusion to the
rotundity of his person, and his somewhat large paunch.
The gravity of his manner was well calculated to make
an impression on the ignorant or the weak; and those who could
appreciate his merits were greatly edified by his prayers and ghostly
exhortations. There was a peculiar degree of solemnity about his
features. The ponderous weight of his nether jaw gave a hollow tone, not
only to his words, but even when closing on the tea and toast, a dram,
or a glass of wine, it was excellently adapted to produce the effect—solemn.