IT is unfortunate that no
record of his "Table-talk" has been preserved, for every one who knew him
would at once fix on his conversation as the sphere in which he alone
displayed the riches of his imagination, wit, humour, and sympathy.
"Much as one enjoys,"
writes Principal Shairp, "many things that come from his pen, full as they
are of healthy life and human heartedness, nothing he has written is any
measure of the powers that were in him. The sermons he preached, with the
language warm from his heart, were far beyond the best he published. His
addresses to public meetings were better than his sermons, for they
allowed him to flavour his earnest thoughts with that overflowing humour
which would have been out of place in the pulpit. Sometimes when he met a
congenial party at dinner, or on an evening, his talk impressed them more
than his best speeches, so rich was it, so varied and versatile. But the
time to get him at his best and fullest was when you sat up with him till
midnight, all alone in his study, with none to hear but one familiar
friend in whose sympathy he could fully rely—it was then that his whole
soul came out in all its breadth and rich variety, touching every chord of
human feeling, and ranging from common earth to highest heaven. The
anecdote, reflection, argument, bright flashes of imagination, drollest
humour, most thrilling pathos, and solemn thoughts wandering through
eternity, all blended into one whole of conversation, the like of which
you never before listened to. In a moment he would pass from some comical
illustration of human character to the most serious reality of sacred
truth, and you would feel no discord. In any other hands there would have
been a jar, but not in his. Those who knew him well will understand what I
mean, to others it cannot be described. At such times I used to think that
if all the pleasantest, ablest conversations I had ever heard at Oxford
from one's best friends had been rolled into one, it would not have made
up such a profusion of soul as came from Norman then. No one, however well
he might otherwise know him, could estimate his full breadth and depth of
nature, unless they had spent with him some such solitary evenings as
Another who knew him well
wrote after his death:— [See Good Words for 1872, p. 515.]
"How he taught me—as he
taught many whose happiest fortune it has been to share now and again in
those quiet hours in his back study—that ail of the bright and beautiful
in life, all that could gladden the spirit and cheer the heart, gained yet
a brighter tint in the light reflected from a Father's love: that mirth
became more deep, and so much more real: that each good gift became much
more cherished from the recognition of the Great Giver of all. And here
truly, it has seemed to me, did he especially prove himself a minister of
the Gospel.....Nothing was more strange
to me at first—nothing came
to be accepted by me as more natural afterwards—than the constant evidence
which each opportunity of private intercourse with this great,
large-hearted, noble-minded man afforded me of the deep undercurrent in
his thoughts and life. I never knew him in all my meetings with him force
a reference to religious thought or feeling. I never was with him for a
quarter of an hour that his confidential talk, however conversational,
however humorous even, had not, as it were of itself and as of necessity,
disclosed the centre round which his whole life revolved."
The "ceaseless mimicry,"
which had provoked his father when Norman Macleod was a boy, and the wit
and humour, which grew with his growth, were invaluable possessions to
himself in his later years, as well as sources of delight to others.
Harassed by work almost to despair, worried past endurance by all sorts
and conditions of men and women, then, as per contra, he would indulge in
some humorous grimaces and apostrophes, give a fresh touch to a ridiculous
rhyme, or draw a series of funny faces. Odd caricatures were, at such
times, dropped into letters, even the most serious—sometimes as a heading,
more usually by way of signature.
[A fac-simile is here given
of one of these illustrated letters, written to the late Mr. Murray, of
Melrose, in reply to one asking for his autograph:—
"My Dear Mr. Murray,
"Did I ever reply to your
note requesting autographs? I believe not.
"The reason is that I have
been studying ever since to write a telling, graphic, remarkable
signature. The fact is, I Vary my signature with my correspondents. When I
write my wife or mother, it is in this wise--------------. When I write my
children, it is so---------------, singularly clear and beautiful. To
crowned heads I am more aristocratic, as---------------. To Abraham
Lincoln I never give more than
"To the Pope it is
"Yours, old cock,
"Barony. "Ditto with
Canterbury. When I write a gentleman like yourself, I always subscribe
"Your faithful serv.
which I call a wearable,
good, healthy signature.
"To my brothers and sisters
I use signs, such as intellectual, serene, —. Inqusitive, respectable,
"How came that note of
yours to turn up in my bag with one hundred other letters, when on a wet
day I have returned from lunch to dinner to reply to them? Such a reply !
When you have received this evidence of my remembrance of you, burn it, or
These tricks of humour were
to him refreshing as well as amusing.
One of his favourite
studies in the way of drollery was Highland characters, and Highland
drovers in particular. As he recollected the boyish awe with which he
regarded these men on their return from the great "Trysts" of Falkirk or
Dumbarton; the absorbing interest taken by the people in their accounts of
the markets, and prices of "stots," "queys," and all varieties of sheep;
their utter indifference to every human concern except cattle and collies;
then the absurdity of the contrast between these old memories and his
immediate cares and troubles would fairly overpower him, and result most
likely in a dramatic representation of a debate about the quality of
"stock." He had formed for himself an ideal drover, whom he named Peter
Mac-Tavish, round whose figure a world of ridiculous fancies was grouped.
Only a person well acquainted with Highland character could have
appreciated the wit and dramatic truthfulness of this conception Often,
when his father was oppressed with the weakness of extreme age, Norman
would go down of an evening to cheer him, and before approaching those
more solemn subjects with which their intercourse always closed, he would
stir his old Highland associations and tickle his genial fancy by a
personification of this "Peter," mingling, in broken Gaelic, reflections
on men and manners with discourses on "beasts," till from very pain of
laughter his father would beseech him to desist. "Peter" was more than
once introduced by him into strange scenes. When in Italy, he concocted a
long narrative, showing the connection between the Pope's Bulls and the
other species "Peter" had sold at Falkirk, and in not a few hotel books
the sonorous rendering Pietro Tavisino was entered. At Moscow, the
temptation of bringing the drover under the shadow of the Kremlin was so
great, that I believe he gave himself no other designation than "Peter
Mac-Tavish, from Mull."
This sense of the ludicrous
was a passion which seized him at the most unlikely moments. The following
verses, for example, were mostly written when he was enduring such violent
pain that the night was spent in his study, and he had occasionally to
bend over the back of a chair for relief:—
CAPTAIN FRAZER'S NOSE.
Air.—"The Lass o' Gowrie."
O, if ye'r at Dumbarton
Gang to the Castle when ye'r there,
And see a sight baith rich and rare—
The nose o' Captain Frazer!
Unless ye'r Win' or unco
A mile awa' ye'r sure to see't,
And neerer han' a man gauns wi't
That owns the nose o' Frazer.
It's great in length, it's
great in girth,
It's great in grief, it's great in mirth,
Tho' grown wi' years, 'twas great at birth-
It's greater far than Frazer!
I've heard volcanoes loudly
And Niagara's waters pouring;
But oh, gin ye had heard the snorin'
Frae the nose o' Captain Frazer!
Tae waukin' sleepin'
Or rouse to battle sleepin' nations,
Gae wa' wi' preachings and orations,
And try the nose o' Frazer!
Gif French invaders try to
Upon our glorious British stran',
Fear nocht if ships are no' at han',
But trust the nose o' Frazer.
Just crak' that cannon ower
Weel rammed wi' snuff, then let it roar
Ae Hielan' sneeze! then never more
They'll daur the nose o' Frazer!
If that great Nose is ever
To bury it ye dinna need,
Nae coffin made o' wood or lead
Could haud the nose o' Frazer.
But let it stan' itsel'
Elect, like some big Druid stane,
That a' the warl' may see its bane,
"In memory o' Frazer!"
Dumbarton, September 1,
[He afterwards introduced
this song into a story, which was not completed, and has never been
published, and added the following note:—
"No one can read this song
without being painfully struck with the tone of exaggeration about it.
Anxious, however, to investigate as far as possible into this matter, we
wrote to Mr. MacGilvray, the keeper of the Antiquarian Museum at
Dumbarton, who, sympathising with us, obligedly sent us a long
communication, from which we quote with his permission. He says: 'I am
confirmed in your views regarding the exaggerated account given in the
poem of "Captain Frazer's Nose," by a long correspondence on the subject,
as a scientific question, with two distinguished savans. They both
decidedly think that a human nose, by the constant application of snuff to
its nostrils, and of Athole brose, which they properly assume to possess a
considerable amount of alcoholic ingredients, might, acting upon it from
within through the nervous system, if continued for a vast and
incalculable series of ages, be developed at last into a proboscis so
large as ultimately wholly to absorb the person of its possessor. Arguing
from this fact, they also believe that, by a recurrent law of Nature, the
original organization attached to a man might return to the form of a huge
annelide, or possibly earthworm, which might, like the dragon of romance,
prove a terror to the country, and might thus originate a new age of
romantic poetry, or even a religion! But they treat as purely mythical the
existence of any nose in this age such as is alleged to have belonged to
Captain Frazer or to any other of our race at the present stage of its
progress. If this is asserted, they demand the bone of Frazer's nose for
scientific examination.' If more full and complete information on this
great subje«t is sought by our more scientific readers, we must refer them
to the learned Professor H.'s paper, 'On the Development of the Nasal
Organ in Man, with its natural selection of snuff among some savage
nations,' read before the last meeting of the British Association, and
which was received with prodigious sneezes. 'With my profound reverence
for Science,' Mr. MacGilvray goes on to say, 'I need hardly say that I
heartily concur in these conclusions of the learned gentleman, and leave
the whole question in perfect peace to be finally decided by the races
which shall appear as our descendants in future ages. But as all true
science, as the great Goethe once remarked (so, at least, I read in a
newspaper), first departs out of sight like an eagle, then returns as a
servant to our kitchen to make itself useful— the true thus ending always
in the. practical—so do these grand speculations lead to this agreeable
conclusion, that, for the present generation, at least, savages and
civilised, clergy and laity, may snuff and partake even of Athole brose
without any fear of their noses becoming a burden to themselves or a
terror to the country.'
"We are glad to serve the
cause of Science by communicating this splendid result of its profound
researches to the world!"]
No one who recollects the
importance he attached to district visiting will misunderstand the verses
which follow, as if they were meant seriously to discourage such efforts:—
HINTS ON DISTRICT VISITING
BY GOOD LADIES.
Miss Jemima MacDowal, the
parson's sweet jewel,
Is fair and red as a rose coming out of its bud,
But och, "by the powers," what attention she showers,
On that thundering blackguard, big Patrick MacPhudd.
She says she is sartain and
shure to convart him,
And to lift the ould Catholic out of the mud,
And so she is walking, and every day talking,
To Mistress, or Misses, or Mister MacPhudd.
She's so sweet a bit cratur,
and humble by natur
As to carry down soup, or a cast away Dud;
A cap for the lady, a frock for the baby,
Or a top-coat for ragged ould Patrick MacPhudd.
"May the saint blessings
send you, and always defend you
From pestilence, famine, from thunder and flood;
May archangels guard you, and Mary reward you,"
Says the oily ould father, Patrick MacPhudd.
Ould Patrick so grateful,
sends out for the nadeful,
And drinks till he lies like a pig in the mud;
There his wife too is lying, while the children are crying,
And both are well thrashed by sweet Patrick MacPhudd.
Every day he is
muddled—every night he gets fuddled,
On pay-days he's fighting and covered with blood;
He's a Catholic Sunday, and a Protestant Monday—
"Och, I'll not tell a lie," says honest MacPhudd.
"You thundering old
blackguard," says Father MacTaggert;
The Priest trembled over with rage where he stood;
"Is it true ye're convarted, and by swaddlers pervarted?
Look me straight in the face, and deny it, MacPhudd."
howled Pat broken-hearted,
"I wish I could drink up her Protestant blood;
I vow by Saint Peter, I'd roast her and eat her,
And crunch all her bones," says sweet darling MacPhudd.
And now all good ladies, who
visit bad Paddies,
Be advised just to let them keep quiet in the mud,
And spend all your labours on dacent Scotch neighbours,
And not on ould blackguards like Patrick MacPhudd.
"The Waggin' o' our Dog's
Tail," in which were embodied the supposed reflections of his dog Skye
upon men and manners, was frequently sung by him in later years. The
earnest, meditative countenance, and the quaint accentuation with which he
rendered it, accompanied by a suggestive twirl of his thumb, to indicate
the approving " wag" of the tail, lent indescribable drollery to the
"THE WAGGIN' O' OUR DOG'S
Air.—"The barrin' o' the
We hae a dog that wags his
(He's a bit o' a wag himsel' O!)
Every day he gangs down the town,
At nicht his news to tell O!
The waggin' o' our dog's tail, tow-wow!
The waggin' o' our dog's tail!
He saw the Provost o' the
Parading down the street O!
Quo' he, "Ye're no like my lord,
For ye canna see your feet O!"
The waggin', &c.
He saw a man grown unco'
And looking sad and sick O!
Quo' he, "Cheer up, for ilka dog
Has aye a bane to pick O!"
The waggin', &c.
He saw a man wi' mony a
Wi'out a grain o' sowl O!
Quo' he, "I've noticed many a dog,
Could bite and never growl O!"
The waggin', &c.
He saw a man look gruff and
Wi'out a grain o' spite O!
Quo' he, "He's like a hantle [Many.] dogs
Whose bark is waur than their bite O!"
The waggin', &c.
He saw an M.P. unco' proud,
Because o' power and pay O!
Quo' he, "Your tail is cockit heigh,
But ilka dog has his day O!"
The waggin', &c.
He saw some ministers
And a' frae a bit o' pride O!
"It's a pity," quo' he, "when dogs fa' out
Aboot their am fireside O!"
The waggin', &c.
He saw a man gaun staggerin'
His face baith black and blue O!
Quo' he, " I'm ashamed o' the stupid brute,
For never a dog gets fou' O!"
The waggin', &c.
He saw a man wi' a hairy
Wi' beard and big moustache O!
Quo' he, "We baith are towsy dogs,
But ye hae claes and cash O!"
The waggin', &c.
He saw a crowd in a bonny
Where dogs were not allowed O!
Quo' he, "The rats in Kirk and State,
If we were there might rue't O!"
The waggin', &c.
He saw a man that fleeched
[Flattered.] a lord,
And flatterin' lees did tell O!
Quo' he, "A dog's owre proud for that,
He'll only claw himsel' O!"
The waggin', &c.
He saw a doctor drivin'
An' ringing every hell O!
Quo' he, "Ive been as sick's a dog,
But I aye could cure mysel' O!"
The waggin', &c.
He heard a lad and laddie
Singin' a grand duet O!
Quo' he, "I've heard a cat and dog
Could yowl as weel as that O!"
The waggin', &c.
He saw a laddie swaggerin'
Frae tap to tee sae trim O!
Quo' he, "It's no' for a dog to laugh
That ance was a pup like him O!"
The waggin', &c.
Our doggie he cam' hame at
And scarted baith his lugs O!
Quo' he, "If folks had only tails,
They'd be maist as gude as dogs O!"
The waggin', &c.
Another of his favourite
songs was one which he composed while on a visit to a friend in Ayrshire,
who was an enthusiastic curler. Norman, who never even attempted to curl,
heartily enjoyed the exciting scene on the ice, and the keenness displayed
by "tenant and laird" as they strove together for the honours of the
[This song was afterwards published in Blackwood's Magazine.]
Air.—"Come under my plaidie."
A' nicht it was freezin', a'
nicht I was sneezin',
"Tak' care," quo' the wife, ''Gudeman, o' yer cough."
A fig for the sneezin', hurrah for the freezin',
For the day we're to play the Bonspiel on the loch!
Then get up, my braw leddy, the breakfast mak' ready,
For the sun on the snaw drift's beginnin' to blink,
Gie me bannocks or brochan, I'm aff to the lochan,
To mak' the stanes flee to the 'T' o' the rink.
Then hurrah for the curling frae Girvan to Stirling!
Hurrah for the lads o' the besom and stane!
Ready noo! Soop it up! Clap a guard! Steady noo!
Oh curling abune a' the games, stands alane.
The ice it is splendid, it canna be mended,
Like a glass ye can glowr in't an' shave aff yer beard;
And see how they gaither, comin' owre the brown heather,
The master and servants, the tenant and laird.
There's braw J. O. Fairlie, he's there late and early,
Batter curlers than he or Hugh Conn canna be;
Wi' the lads frae Kilwinnin', they'll send the stanes spinnin',
Wi' a whurr and a curr, till they sit roun' the 'T.'
Then hurrah for the curlin', &c.
It's an unco' like story,
that baith Whig and Tory,
Maun aye collyshangy, [Quarrel.] like dogs owre a bane,
An' that a' denominations are wantin' in patience,
For nae kirk will thole [Endure.] to let ithers alane.
But in fine frosty weather, let a' meet thegither,
Wi' brooms in their hauns, an' a stane near the ' T';
Then Ha! Ha! by my certies, ye'll see hoo a' parties
Like brithers will love, and like brithers agree!
Then hurrah for the curlin', &c.
His way of training his
children was a practical illustration of the teaching given to parents in
his "Home School." The key-note of it all was loving companionship. He was
so much in sympathy with them that he seemed to grow with their growth
from their earliest years. When he was worn out with study his resort was
the nursery, where he would invent all sorts of games, turn chairs upside
down to represent ships, rig up newspapers as mimic sails, and give the
baby an imaginary voyage round the room. Or he would in the evenings lie
on the sofa or floor, with all the little ones nestled about him,
listening to music, or telling them the wonderful adventures of "Little
Mrs. Brown" and "Abel Feragus." These stories went on like the Arabian
Nights, with new incidents invented for each fresh occasion. They were all
told dramatically, and often the fun was so great that he would himself
laugh as heartily as the children. But he had a higher object in view than
mere amusement when composing his nursery tales; they were never without
an undercurrent of moral teaching, and never failed to impress lessons of
kindness, generosity, bravery, and truth.
He never left home for any
length of time without bringing some little memento to each child, and to
each servant as well.
Carrying out this principle
of companionship with his children, he would watch for their return when
they had been at any holiday entertainment, and have them "tell from the
beginning" all they had seen and heard. When in the Highlands during
Summer, he entered like one of themselves into all their amusements. They
remember with special delight one moonlight night, when, sciatica
notwithstanding, he insisted on playing "Hide and Seek" with them, and
became so excited with the game, that although both shoes had fallen off,
he continued rushing over the grass and through the bushes till they were
all exhausted, his wife in vain entreating him to take care. His desire
was, in short, to possess their frank confidence, and to make their memory
of home thoroughly happy, and in both these respects his efforts were
rewarded with abundant success. It was quite characteristic of him that he
made it a principle always to keep his word with his children, even in
trifles, and to avoid the irritation of fault-finding in little things.
Only on two points was he uncompromising even to sternness. The slightest
appearance of selfishness or of want of truth was at once severely dealt
with; but when the rebuke was given, there was an end of it, and he took
pains to make the culprit feel that confidence was completely restored,
for he believed that the preservation of self-respect was as important a
point as any in the education of a child.
These Summers, spent with
his family in the Highlands, were full of a glory which every year seemed
only to deepen. Whether at his favourite Cuilchenna, on the Linnhe Loch
with its majestic views of Glencoe or Glengoar, or at Java Lodge in Mull,
commanding "one of the finest panoramas in Europe," or at Aird's Bay,
fronting the Buachaill Etive and Ben Cruachan, or at Geddes, with its
hallowed associations, he entered into the joy of nature with a rapture
even greater than in youth.
He thus describes the
scenery round Cuilchenna:—
"Suppose ourselves seated
on a green headland, rising a few hundred feet above the sea-level. In
itself this elevation is remarkable for nothing more than the greenest of
grass; consequently, in the estimation of the shepherd, it is one of the
'best places for wintering sheep;' and it is the more fitted for such a
purpose owing to its being broken up by innumerable hollows and dykes of
trap, which afford shelter to the sheep from every wind. Moreover the snow
seldom lies here, as it is speedily thawed by the breath of the temperate
sea. It has its own secluded spots of Highland beauty, too, though these
are seldom, if ever, visited by any one save the solitary herd-boy. In
these nooks, nature, as if rejoicing in the undisturbed contemplation of
her own grace and loveliness, lavishly grows her wild flowers and spreads
out her drooping ferns. Nay, she seems unconsciously to adorn herself with
tufts of primroses, bluebells, and crimson heather, and slyly retires into
little recesses, to enter which one has to put aside the branches of
mountain ash clothed with bunches of coral fruit, as well as the weeping
birch and hazel, in order to get a glimpse of the rivulet which whishes
between banks glorious with green mosses, lichens, ferns, honeysuckle, and
wild roses. In the spring such recesses are a very home of love for piping
birds. At the base of our unknown, untrodden, promontory, are clefts and
caves, worn and cut into the strangest shapes by the everlasting beat of
the ocean tides. In each round rocky bowl, filled with pure sea-water, is
a forest of fairy-like trees of all colours, strangely mingled—brown,
green, and white. Molluscs, and fish almost microscopic, together with a
solitary crab here and there, move about in this their little world of
beauty, in which, to the observer, there seems indeed to be nothing but
purity and joy.
"But the grand and
commanding object at the head of Loch Leven is Glencoe. Seen from our
promontory, its precipices rise like a huge wall, dark as though built of
lava. Tremendous buttresses, from base to summit, disengage themselves
from their surface, and separated from each other by depths such as might
have been cut and cloven by Thor's great hammer, wielded in stormy
passion. The mountain is scored across, too, by deep lines and platforms
of trap, as though they marked the successive floods of molten rock poured
out by volcanic forces. Nothing can be more utterly sombre, sad, and
desolate than this Glencoe. We have watched it in its every mood;
sometimes when it seemed to sleep like a wearied giant, wrapped in the
sun-mist; sometimes when it began to arrest the western clouds, until, as
if overcome by their stifling power, they covered it with impenetrable
masses black as night; or, again, when slowly and solemnly it unveiled
itself after the storm, and the sun crept up to it, after visiting the
green fields and trees below, and pouring itself on white cottages and the
sails of fishing-boats, until at last it scattered the clouds from the
dark precipices and sent the mists flying—not fiercely but kindly, not
hastily but slowly—in white smoke up the glens, tinging with auroral light
the dark ridge as they streamed over it, while the infinite sky appeared
without a cloud over all, and as if supported by the mighty pillars of the
"Turning to the east the
scene is still characteristic of our Highlands. To right and left, to
north and south, is the sea-river of which we have spoken. Southward, it
flows past the green Lismore, on past Oban, Mull, until it is lost between
misty headlands in the far Atlantic, whose waves boom on the western
steeps of Jura.
"The scenery to the west,
which hems in this stretch of inland sea, is utterly desolate.
" . . . . Amidst this
scenery we spent a considerable portion of last summer, and gazed on it
from day to day, and from morn to even, with delight and reverence. We
have fished along its sea-coast almost every evening.
"What unsurpassed glories
have we thus witnessed! It verily seemed to us then as though the setting
sun dropped down nearer earth to concentrate all his powers on that one
landscape; to display untold beauty and adorn it with glory from the head
of the western glen above the loch down to the sea; and compelling even
dark Glencoe, as well as the surrounding hills, to do it honour and bow
before it with their golden crowns and purple robes. First of all, the sun
began to collect round himself clouds spread out into seas, grouped into
islets, with colours such as no pen or pencil has ever conveyed the
faintest impression of. Then beams of soft silver sheen shot through every
crossing valley and down through every cleft and cranny in the serrated
ridges, penetrating the nether dimness, illuminating the curling smoke of
the valleys, and transfiguring the dark pines and precipices, and lighting
up hidden corners. It touched the green pastures of the shores of Loch
Leven as with a magic rod; it kindled the mountain ridges to the east, so
that these, after all the lower valleys were dark, retained the light of
day. Having glorified Glencoe from base to summit, it concentrated its
beams, ere parting, on the loftiest peaks, until they shone in a subdued
ruby light, and then they were tipped with such bright burnished gold as
is never seen anywhere except on the icy aiguilles of the Alps. Gradually
the halo seemed to pass from earth to heaven, and lingered for a space
among the clouds with that splendour and wonder of glory so overpowering,
yet so variable—a revelation of the Almighty Artist, which, once seen,
remains a precious gift stored in the memory, never to fade away.
"On these evenings the
marvel nearest to the eye was the appearance of the sea! It was wholly
indescribable. But merely to mention it will recall similar spectacles to
others. The waves undulated in gentle swell with, a heavy, dull, molten,
hue. Save for the movements of flocks of birds, which swam and dived
wherever the shoals of fish disturbed its glassy surface, it seemed cold
and dead. But as the setting sun began to kindle its waves with subdued
lights, aided by glowing cloud and mountain of every imaginable hue, there
spread over the wide expanse of still water such a combination of colours—ruby,
amethyst, purple, blue, green, and grey— gleaming, sparkling, and
interchanging like the Aurora, until every gentle undulation was more
gorgeous than the robes of Eastern kings, when unrolled from the looms of
Benares! " [From an Essay on Highland Scenery which he wrote for a volume,
published at her Majesty's desire, illustrative of "Mountain, Loch, and
These scenes afforded him
more than "tranquil restoration;" they were a continual " passion and
delight." And the joy they conveyed to him he tried to share with his
children, in this, as in so many other things, evincing his eagerness to
recreate for them the same Highland associations as had made his own early
days so happy. None of his boys showed more excitement than he when they
were out fishing on the loch, and when there happened to he a good '
take.' On the croquet green, competing with his children, he was the
keenest of the party. When a chance piper arrived, and the floor was
cleared for a reel, he heartily enjoyed and cheerily applauded the
merriment of the dancers. What he felt at such times he has thus
"'Dance, my children! lads
Cut and shuffle, toes and heels!
Piper, roar from every chanter
Hurricanes of Highland reels!
"'Make the old barn shake
Beat its flooring like a drum;
Batter it with Tullochgorum,
Till the storm without is dumb!
"'Sweep in circles like a
Flit across like meteors glancing;
Crack your finger's, shout in gladness,
Think of nothing but of dancing!'
"Thus a grey-haired father
As he claps his hands and cheers;
Yet his heart is quietly dreaming,
And his eyes are dimmed with tears.
"Well he knows this world of
Well he knows this world of sin,
Well he knows the race before them,
What's to lose, and what's to win!
"But he hears a far off
Guiding all the stately spheres,
In his father-heart it echoes,
So he claps his hands and cheers."
This participation in the
amusements of his children passed naturally as they grew older, into the
higher companionship of sharing all their pursuits and studies. His method
of conveying to them religious instruction was as effective as it was
simple. He trained them to speak to him on religious subjects, and tell
him their difficulties, and so educated them in the truest sense.
Especially in later years, when his Sunday evenings were not so fully
occupied with public duty, he spent hours that were as happy to them as to
himself, in hearing what they had to say, while some part of Scripture was
read in common. However trivial the idea or the difficulty of the child
might seem to others, he always dealt carefully with it, and tried by
means of it to impress some principle which was worth remembering. "When I
asked him about anything I did not understand," writes one of his
daughters," my dear father would say, ' That's right. On your way through
life you'll come across many a stumbling-block that you will think quite
impassable, but always come to your father, for he's an old traveller who
can show you a path through many a difficulty.' I treasure what he said to
me when I spoke to him about some fault of natural temperament. ' Don't be
discouraged. It involves in many ways a benefit. The cure is to think more
about God. Look at yourself as much as you can as you think He would look
at you, and look on others in the same way.' Oh that I were like him! Such
trust, such love, such utter forgetfulness of self, such sympathy and
charity and energy! Surely these things are born with people, and not
acquirements. Yet he once said to me, ' You have no right to blame your
natural disposition. By so doing you blame God who gave it to you. No
quality is bad unless perverted.' "
There was a characteristic
of his later life which was the more remarkable that his youth gave no
promise of it. He was naturally impatient of details, careless about hours
and arrangements, hurried and impulsive, hut experience taught him the
importance of punctuality and forethought, and in later years his
attention to minutiae, and the careful and businesslike manner in which he
fulfilled his public engagements, surprised those who had known him with
His later manner of
preaching differed from his earlier, and as a rule, admitting many
exceptions, partook more of the nature of teaching— sometimes of homely
talk—than of set discourse. Simplicity was its constant characteristic,
hut there was more; for ever and anon came hursts of indignant
denunciation against what was mean or selfish, or brief but thrilling
touches of imagination or pathos that broke the even flow of instruction.
"His style reminds me," said an auditor, who was himself a celebrated
preacher, "of the smooth action of a large engine, moving with the ease of
great power held in restraint." "It was not," says another hearer, "so
much what is called earnest preaching, as the speaking of a powerful and
earnest man who wished to do you good, and threw everything else aside for
"I am persuaded we will all
acknowledge that we never listened to any man whose word came so home to
the heart. For myself, at least, I can say that no preacher ever had such
power over me; nor was the secret of his power hard to discover. . . .
That which told more than all upon me was the total absence of all thought
of self which characterised his preaching. While listening to him, the
thought never crossed my mind that he had been making a sermon. Whether
composed in his study, or left, as was so often the case, to such language
as the impulse of the moment might suggest. His sermons always appeared to
me of a purely extemporaneous character; because whether wholly or
partially written, or not written at all, they were the spontaneous
outflowing of his heart at the moment, with no more art or effort than
what is seen in the natural rush of one of his own loved Highland rivers;
clear, and deep, and strong as they, but with as little consciousness of
any private aim, or any desire to gratify a selfish feeling or to win
human praise." [From a sermon entitled "The Hearer's
Responsibility," preached in the Barony Church on the 12th January, 1873,
by the Rev. William Robertson, D.D., of New Greyfriars, Edinburgh, on the
occasion of his introducing the Rev. Dr. Lang as successor to Dr.
"Other preachers we have
heard," wrote Dean Stanley in the Times, "both in England and France, more
learned, more eloquent, more penetrating to particular audiences, but no
preacher has arisen within our experience, with an equal power of riveting
the general attention of the varied congregations of modern times ....
none who so combined the self-control of the prepared discourse with the
directness of extemporaneous effort; none with whom the sermon approached
so nearly to its original and proper idea—of a conversation—a serious
conversation, in which the fleeting thought, the unconscious objection of
the listener, seemed to be readily caught up by a. passing parenthesis—a
qualifying word of the speaker; so that, in short, the speaker seemed to
throw himself with the whole force of his soul on the minds of his
hearers, led captive against their will by something more than eloquence."
Although at one period he
occasionally wrote his sermon seven times over before he preached it,
there were years during which he seldom wrote any discourse fully out, [He
was once preaching in a district in Ayrshire, where the reading of a
sermon is regarded as the greatest fault of which a minister can be
guilty. When the congregation dispersed, an old woman overflowing with
enthusiasm, addressed her neighbour, " Did ye ever hear onything sae gran'?
Was na that a sermon?" But all her expressions of admiration being met by
stolid silence, she shouted, "Speak, woman! Was na-that a sermon?" "Ou
aye," replied her friend, sulkily, "but he read it." "Read it!" said the
other, with indignant emphasis, "I wadna hae cared if he had whustled
it!"] but preached from notes in which the sequence of ideas was clearly
marked. These notes, though often jotted on Saturday afternoon, were the
result of constant cogitation during the week.
As might have been expected
from his temperament, he was deeply interested in the movements of modern
thought. As he had long forecast the coming storm in the theological
atmosphere, he was not taken aback by its approach, and, in order that his
hearers should be prepared for it, he was in the habit of enforcing
guiding principles, rather than of discussing special questions. The
ground which he generally took was moral more than intellectual. Without
ignoring the issues raised by modem inquiry, he sought, as the ultimate
basis of religious conviction, to appeal to the moral instincts, and to
reach that spirit in man, which he believed is bound to recognize the
spiritual glory of God on the face of Christ, as much as intellect is
bound to confess the conclusions of reason. He clung with such firm faith
to Christ, and loved God with such fulness of childlike affection; holy
Scripture was to him so verily the Word of God ; and its salient truths
were so self-evident to his heart and conscience, that no verbal
criticism, no logic of the lower understanding, could for a moment shake
his loyalty to the eternal fitness of the revelation of love and holiness
in Christ which was self-evident to his spirit. But while he was thus
firmly anchored to essential catholic beliefs, he ' could swing with a
free cable,' as he used to say, in reference to many minor questions. For
that hard negative criticism, whose only instrument is keen or coarse
intellect, and which is prepared with callous determination to deny
whatever cannot be logically demonstrated, he had no liking. He was too
sympathetic not to be deeply affected by the religious doubts and
difficulties which were pressing as a heavy burden on many, who in utter
perplexity were crying for light. But some of the theories of modern
critics, some of the most portentous attacks on the faith, provoked his
sense of humour more than his alarm. "The devil is far to clever," he he
would say, " not to be intensely amused at all this. What frightful fools
those men must seem to him! Can you not imagine how Mephisto, when he is
alone, must chuckle at the absurdities of which clever men can be guilty?"
His manner of treating
doubters was powerful and sympathetic. After one or two straight cuts of
common sense or humour had sundered the meshes of sophistical
argumentation, he would carry his auditors away from doubtful
disputations, into the wide pure heaven of his own convictions and
aspirations, appeal to what was most human in them, enlist every better
sympathy on his side, and flash light into the mysterious depths of
conscience. Many a man beset by difficulty on "questions of the day," came
away from his teaching, not perhaps feeling every doubt removed, but under
the sense that truths had been spoken which "could perish never," and that
convictions had been awakened which no chatter of the schools could
His frequent lamentations
over that deficiency in pastoral work, which was forced on him in later
years by the pressure of public duty, may convey a false impression of the
extent to which this held true: It was certainly impossible for him to
visit his congregation as he once did, but the sick and distressed were
never forgotten by him; and those who knew anything of his ministry at
such times bear witness to the wonderful tenderness of his sympathy, and
delight to tell how his eye would swim with tears, and how the minutest
circumstance of each case was attentively considered by him. His power,
indeed, out of the pulpit as well as in it, lay in that genuine
bigheartedness which everywhere claimed and inspired confidence.
"I write as one who knows,
whose own burden has been made easier by him, as one around whom his arms
have been, and on whose cheek the kiss of his deep sympathy has fallen.
Few, indeed, who knew him only as the genial companion, the ready platform
speaker, or the powerful preacher, can, even remotely, conceive of the way
he had of talking to, and acting upon, human hearts, when alone with them.
It was then that the glory of the man came out; then you knew with what a
vision he saw into you and comprehended you; then he spoke words that went
straight into your soul, and carried healing with them, for he never kept
you down to himself, but took you up with himself to the Father. I cannot
say what is in my heart to say, but this one thing I would like all who
have never been alone with him when spiritual things were spoken about, to
believe and know, that he was a grander, broader, deeper, diviner man than
he could ever have appeared to you to be. Nearly thirteen years ago, as a
young lad, a stranger to this country, I first met him, and from that hour
his great heart, which always warmed to the stranger, was ever ready to
open, and his kindly hand to help. When I went abroad to engage in the
work which lay nearest to his own heart, it was with no formal prayer that
we parted, but one ever to be remembered; with no formal farewell of a
formal divine, but with a loving embrace ; and when I returned, most
unwillingly, but through necessity, the same arms were ready to welcome
me. This is not the way unknown men are wont to be dealt with by known
men; young men by old; men feebly struggling, or baffled and beaten, by
those who are secure on the platform of life: but it is the way to win
souls, for all that, and it was the way in which he won many." [Letter
from the Rev. C. M. Grant.]
"His power of sympathy,"
said Dr. Watson, in his beautiful funeral sermon, "was the first and last
thing in his character which impressed you. .... I never knew a man bound
to humanity at so many points; I never knew a man who found in humanity so
much to interest him. To him the most commonplace man or woman yielded up
some contribution of individuality, and you were tempted to wonder which
of all the various moods through which he passed, was the one most
congenial to him.
"'When he came to see me,'
said a blacksmith, 'he spoke as if he had been a smith himself, but he
never went away without leaving Christ in my heart!' "
To his eldest Son when he
was a very young boy on a visit to Fiunary. The original is carefully
written in large Roman letters :—
"Glasgow, August 4, 1862.
"I am so glad you are in
Morven, and so happy there. I never was so happy in all my life as I used
to be when I was a boy there. I think of you as if you were myself young
again. For I fished with Sandy and uncle John for cod among the rocks in
the bay, and in the burn for trout, and went to the Byre for warm milk,
just as you are doing. But then all the old terriers are dead. There were
Cuilag and Gasgach—oh, such dogs ! If you saw them worry an otter or a
wild cat! They would never give in.
Ask your uncle John about
them, and ask him to show you the otter's den at Clachoran. Oh, Nommey, be
happy! for when you are old like me you will remember Fiunary as if it was
the garden of Eden without the serpent.
"I wish you could remember,
as I can, all the dear friends who were once there, and who would have
loved you as they loved me—my grandpapa, with his white hair and blind
eyes, and my grandmamma, so kind and loving; and aunts Margaret, Mary,
Grace, Archy, Jessy. I see all their faces now before me. They were all so
good, and loved God and everybody. Dockie, dear! thank God for good
friends, and for having so many of them.
"Did they show you where I
lived when I was a boy, and the school I used to be in?"
To his eldest Daughter,
when she went to school at Brighton :—
" Glasgow, April 30, 1865.
"Do you remember your old
father? I'm not sure if you do—old Abel Feragus, the friend of Mrs. Brown?
"So you were very sorry,
old girl, when we left you that day? You thought you would not care. Hem!
I knew better.
"And so the poor lassie
cried, and was so lonely the first night, and would have given worlds to
be at home again ! And your old dad was not a bit sorry to leave you, not
he—cruel-hearted man that he is ! Nor was your mother, wretched old woman
that she is! And yet 'you would wonder' how sorry we both were, and how
often the old man said 'Poor dear lassie !' and the old wife 'Poor dear
darling? But no tear filled our eye. Are you sure of that? I'm not. And
the old father said, 'I'm not afraid of my girl. I'm sure she will prove
herself good, kind, loving, and obedient, and won't be lazy, but do her
work like a heroine, and remember all her old dad told her!' and her mammy
said the same. And then the mammy would cry, and het old dad would call
her a fool (respectfully). And so we reached London, and then we got your
letter, which made us very happy; and then the old man said ' Never fear !
she will do right well, and will be very happy, and Miss------will like
her, and she will like Miss------!' and ' we shall soon meet again!'
chimed in the mammy. 'If it be God's will, we shall !' said the dad, ' and
won't we be happy!'
"God bless you, my darling!
May you love your own Father in heaven far more than you love your own
father on earth, and I know how truly you love me, and you know how truly
I love you; but He loves you infinitely more than I can possibly do,
though I give you my whole heart.
"Will you write a line to
the old man! And remember he won't criticise it, but be glad to hear all
To the Same:—
"It is now, I think,
thirteen years, my clearest------, since your old dad and your mother
first saw with joy and gratitude your chubby face, and received you, their
first-born, as a gift from God. It was indeed a solemn day to your parents
to have had an immortal being given to them, whom they could call their
own child; and it was a solemn day, though you knew it not, for you,
clearest, when you began a life which would never end. You have been a
source of great happiness to us ever since; and you cannot yet understand
the longings, the earnest prayers offered up by us both that you may, by
the grace of God, make your life a source of joy and blessing to yourself,
and be a joy to Jesus Christ, to whom you belong, who has redeemed you to
God with His own blood, and who loves you inconceivably more than your own
loving parents do. I hope, dearest, you will thank God for all His
kindness to you—do speak your heart out to Him. He likes you to do it, and
I am sure you do feel grateful for your many mercies.
"Oh, my own darling! you
little know how your mother and I desire and pray for this, as the one
thing to obtain which we could suffer and die, that you may love and obey
Jesus Christ; that you may know Him and speak to Him, trust Him, obey Him,
as your Friend, Brother, Saviour, who dearly loves you, and desires you
clearly to love Him in return. There is no blessing God could give me in
this world to be compared for one moment to that of seeing my children,
who are dearer to me than life itself, proving themselves to be children
of God. Let me have this joy in you first, as my first-born ! God will
give the unspeakable blessing if you pray to Him, and speak to Him about
it, simply, frankly, as you would speak to me—but even more confidingly
than you could even to me. In the meantime, dearie, thank Him for all He
has done for you and given to you. I am sure I thank Him for His gift of
yourself to us both.
"I dare say you have
sometimes home-sickness. Eh? But you cannot suffer from this youthful
disease as much as I did when I went first from home. So you need not
wonder—at least I do not—if you should sometimes think yourself on the
other side of the globe, and get into sad fits, and weary longings, and
think everything at home most beautiful! But this is just a part of our
education, and a training for life, and must be made the most of.
"Now write to your dad,
anyway you like. I won't criticise. Miss------ won't look at your letter,
as I wish you to write freely to me. She kindly agreed to this. All our
correspondence maybe quite secret, Miss Macleod! Now, my lassie, cheer up
! Be jolly ! Work like a brick, and enjoy yourself like a linnet. I am
sure you will come on famously—'Never say die!'"
To the Same:—
"Balmoral, June 12, 1865.
"I want to send you a
loving word from this, to prove to you how your old dad remembers you.
"I came here Saturday, and
preached yesterday, and you may be sure the Queen is very good and kind,
when she is so kind to your old dad. But he loves her very much, and is
proud to serve her.
"I am always glad to hear
from you, clearest, and I hope you seriously and prayerfully try to do all
I told you in my long letter. I would sooner see you sick and poor with
the love of Christ, than the queen of the whole world, for ever and ever,
"Shandon, April 18, 1866.
"Your dad has come here for
rest—that is, to reply to a ton of letters ; among others, to yours of
March 3. Oh, I wish you were here to enjoy the delicious air! No! for you
have got better at Brighton. To see your mammy % No! for you prefer Miss
------ to all your family. To be clasped to the buzzum of your old dad? No
! you are too refined for that. But to get your dad his slippers, for his
unfeeling family left them behind in Glasgow!.
"This day is lovely—the sea
is calm, and the gulls are floating about without coughs or colds. No
flannels on their throats, no nightcaps on their heads, or warm stockings
on their feet. No gruel or warm bath before going to bed. No 'Gregory' in
the morning. The birds are singing most correctly, and never were in a
boarding-school. The old hills are as strong as ever, and if they are not
MacLeod's they Make Clouds. Yesterday lots of rain fell on them, and they
had no umbrellas. But though their noses ran with water for a while, they
are all dry now, and no sneezing. The winds are kissing the sea, and the
sea only laughs. Naughty sea and winds! No wonder the good steamer is
indignant, and blows smoke at the wind, and whips the sea with its paddles
till it foams with rage. The lambs are playing about like little idle
fools, never thinking of the coming days of mint sauce or roast mutton.
They think that the world was made to enable them to suck their mothers
and wag their tails. They don't believe in butchers, nor do their mothers.
The quiet is great, but for Willy. His song is louder than the birds.' He
flies like the -wind, kisses his mother like the lambs, is as hearty as
the gulls, and patronises the cruel butcher."
To the Same:—
"Ems, May 7, 1871.
"My dearest old girl, I
send my parental blessing to you on your birthday. That was a joyous day
to your father and mother, and every return makes us more and more
thankful for you, and-------. But I won't praise you,—what? but I will say
that------. No, I won't! One thing is certain. What? Guess! Well, then, of
all the girls I ever knew, you are one that —what? It is for you to say.
This only I will say, that------. But there's no use ! You know what, my
darling ! So kiss your father. As for------, poor body, the less said
about her the better! But this I will say, she never snores—never! and she
also—yes of course—loves the children, but not—who?"