AT this time the University
of Glasgow attracted an unusual number of students from the east of
Scotland. This was partly owin" to the brilliant teaching of Sir Daniel
Sanford, and of the late Professor Ramsay, and partly to the wider
influence which the Snell exhibitions to Oxford were beginning to
exercise. Norman's father, determining to take advantage of this movement
for the increase of his very limited income, arranged for the reception of
one or two young men as boarders, whose parents were friends of his own.
He had in this way residing in his house during the winter of 1836-7
William Clerk, son of Sir George Clerk, of Penicuick, Henry MacConochie,
son of Lord Meadowbank, and James Nairne, from Edinburgh. John C. Shairp,
son of Major Shairp, of Houstoun, now Principal of the United College in
the University of St. Andrews, was in like manner boarded with Norman's
aunts; but although residing under a different roof, he was in every other
respect one of the party. Principal Shairp gives the following interesting
reminiscences of the time:—
"Norman was then a young
divinity student and had nearly completed his course in Glasgow College.
To him his father committed the entire care of the three young men who
lived in his house, and it was arranged that I, living with his aunts,
should be added as a fourth charge. This I look back to as one of the
happiest things that befell me during all my early life. Norman was then
in the very hey-day of hope, energy, and young genius. There was not a
fine quality which he afterwards displayed which did not then make itself
seen and felt by his friends, and that youthfulness of spirit, which was
to the last so delightful, had a peculiar charm then, when it was set off
by all the personal attractions of two or three-and-twenty.
"His training had not been
merely the ordinary one of a lad from a Scotch Manse, who has attended
classes in Glasgow and Edinburgh Universities. His broad and sympathetic
spirit had a far richer back-pound to draw upon. It was Morven and the
Sound of Mull, the legends of Skye and Dunvegan, and the shore of Kintyre,
that had dyed the first and inmost feelings of childhood with their deep
colouring. Then, as boyhood passed into manhood, came his sojourn among
Yorkshire squires, his visit to Germany, and all the stimulating society
of Weimar, on which still rested the spirit of the lately-departed Goethe.
All these things, so unlike the common-place experience of many, had added
to his nature a variety and compass which seemed wonderful, compared with
that of most young men around him. Child of nature as he was, this variety
of experience had stimulated and enlarged nature in him, not overlaid it.
"There were many bonds of sympathy between us
to begin with. First, there was his purely Highland and Celtic blood and
up-bringing; and I, both from my mother's and paternal grandmother's side,
had Celtic blood. The shores of Argyllshire were common ground to us. The
same places and the same people—many of them—were familiar to his
childhood and to mine. And he and his father and mother used to stimulate
my love for that western land by endless stories, legends, histories,
jests, allusions, brought from thence. It was to him, as to me, the region
of poetry, of romance, adventure, mystery, gladness, and sadness infinite.
Here was a great background of common interest which made us feel as old
friends at first sight. Indeed, I never remember the time when I felt the
least a stranger to Norman. Secondly, besides this, I soon found that our
likings for the poets were the same. Especially were we at one in our
common devotion to one, to us the chief of poets.
"I well remember those first evenings we used
to spend together in Glasgow. I went to No. 9, Bath Street—oftener Norman
would come over to my room to look after my studies. I was attending
Professor Buchanan's class—-'Bob,' as we then irreverently called him—and
Norman came to see how I had taken my logic notes and prepared my essay,
or other work for next day. After a short time spent in looking over the
notes of lecture, or the essay, Norman would say, ' I see you understand
all about it; come let's turn to Billy.' That was his familiar name for
Wordsworth, the poet of his soul.
" Before coming to Glasgow I had come upon
Wordsworth, and in large measure taken him to heart. Norman had for some
years done the same. Our sympathy in this became an immense bond of union.
The admiration and study of Wordsworth were not then what they afterwards
became—a part of the discipline of every educated man. Those who really
cared for him in Scotland might, I believe, have then been counted by
units. Not a professor in Glasgow University at that time ever alluded to
him. Those, therefore, who read him in solitude, if they met another to
whom they could open their mind on the subject, were bound to each other
by a very inward chord of sympathy. I wish I could recall what we then
felt as on those evenings we read or chaunted the great lines we already
knew, or shouted for joy at coming on some new passage which was a
delightful surprise. Often as we walked out on winter nights to college,
for some meeting of the Peel Club, or other excitement, he would look up
into the clear moonlight and repeat—
"The moon doth with delight
Look round her when the heavens are bare;
Waters on a starry night Are beautiful and fair."
Numbers of the finest passages we had by
heart, and would repeat to each other endlessly. I verily believe that
Wordsworth did more for Norman, penetrated more deeply and vitally into
him, purifying and elevating his thoughts and feelings at their
fountain-head, than any other voice of uninspired man, living or dead.
Second only to Wordsworth, Coleridge was, of modern poets, our great
favourite. Those poems of his, and special passages, which have since
become familiar to all, were then little known in Scotland, and had to us
all the charm of a newly discovered country. We began then, too, to have
dealings with his philosophy, which we found much more to our mind than
the authorities then in vogue in Glasgow College—the prosaic Reid and the
long-winded Thomas Brown.
"Long years afterwards, whenever I took up a
Scotch newspaper, if my eye fell on a quotation from Wordsworth or
Coleridge, ' Here's Norman' I would say, and on looking more carefully, I
would be sure to find that it was he—quoting in one of his speeches some
of the favourite lines of Glasgow days. Norman was not much of a classical
scholar; Homer, Virgil, and the rest, were not much to him. But I often
thought that if he had known them ever so well, in a scholarly way, they
never would have done for him what Wordsworth did, would never have so
entered into his secret being and become a part of his very self. Besides
Wordsworth and Coleridge, there were two other poets who were continually
on his lips. Goethe was then much to him; for he was bound up in all his
recent Weimar reminiscences; but I think that, as life went on, Goethe,
with his artistic isolation, grew less and less to him. Shakespeare, on
the other hand, then was, and always continued to be, an unfailing
resource. Many of the characters he used to read and dilate upon with
wonderfully realising power. Falstaff was especially dear to him. He read
Falstaff's speeches, or rather, acted them, as I have never heard any
other man do. He entered into the very heart of the character, and
reproduced the fat old man's humour to the very life.
"These early sympathies, no doubt, made our
friendship more rapid and deep. But it did not need any such bonds to make
a young man take at once to Norman. To see him, hear him, converse with
him, was enough. He was then overflowing with generous, ardent, contagious
impulse. Brimful of imagination, sympathy, buoyancy, humour, drollery, and
affectionateness. I never knew any one who contained in himself so large
and varied an armful of the humanities. Himself a very child of Nature, he
touched Nature and human life at every point.
"There was nothing human that was without
interest for him; nothing great or noble to which his heart did not leap
those days, what Hazlitt says of Coleridge was true of him, 'He talked on
for ever, and you wished to hear him talk on for ever.' Since at day I
have met and known intimately a good many men more or less remarkable and
original. Some of them were stronger on this one side, some on that, than
Norman; but not one of all contained in himself such a variety of gifts
and qualities, such elasticity, such boundless fertility of pure nature,
apart from all he got from books or culture.
"On his intellectual side, imagination and
humour were his strongest qualities, both of them working on a broad base
of strong common sense and knowledge of human nature. On the moral side,
sympathy, intense sympathy, with all humanity was the most manifest, with
a fine aspiration that hated the mean and the selfish, and went out to
whatever things were most worthy of a man's love. Deep affection-ateness
to family and friends—affection that could not bear coldness or stiff
reserve, but longed to love and to be loved, and if there was in it a
touch of the old Highland clannishness, one did not like it the less for
as he then was is somewhat difficult to recall, as the image of it mingles
with what he was when we last saw his face, worn and lined with care,
labour, and sickness. He was stout for a man so young, or rather I should
say only robust, yet vigorous and active in figure. His face as full of
meaning as any face I ever looked on, with a fine health in his cheeks, as
of the heather bloom; his broad, not high, brow smooth without a wrinkle,
and his mouth firm and expressive, without those lines and wreaths it
afterwards had: his dark brown, glossy hair in masses over his brow.
Altogether he was, though not so handsome a man as his father at his age
must have been, yet a face and figure as expressive of genius, strength,
and buoyancy as I ever looked upon, Boundless healthfulness and
hopefulness looked out from every feature.
"It was only a few weeks after my first
meeting with Norman that he, while still a student, made his first public
appearance. This was at the famous Peel Banquet held in Glasgow in
students of the University, after rejecting Sir Walter Scott, and choosing
a succession of "Whig Sectors, had now, very much through Norman's
influence, been brought to a better mind, and had elected the great
Conservative leader. He came down and gave his well-known address to the
students in the Hall of the now vanished college. But more memorable still
was the speech which he delivered at the Banquet given to him by the
citizens of Glasgow and the inhabitants of the west of Scotland. It was a
great gathering. I know not if any gathering equal to it has since taken
place in Glasgow. It marked the rallying of the Conservative party after
their discomfiture by the Reform Bill of 1832.
"Peel, in a speech of between two and three
hours' length, expounded, not only to Glasgow, but to the empire, his
whole view of the political situation and his own future policy. It was a
memorable speech, I believe, though I was too much of a boy either to know
or care much about it. Many other good speeches were that night delivered,
and among them a very felicitous acknowledgment by Dr. MacLeod, of St.
Columba, of the toast 'The Church of Scotland.' But all who still remember
that night will recall as not the least striking event of the evening the
way in which Norman returned thanks for the toast of the students of
Glasgow University. I think I can see him now, standing forth prominently,
conspicuous to the whole vast assemblage, his dark hair, glossy as a
black-cock's wing, massed over his forehead, the 'purple hue' of youth on
his cheek. They said he trembled inwardly, but there was no sign of tremor
or nervousness in his look. As if roused by the sight of the great
multitude gazing on him, he stood forth, sympathizing himself with all who
listened, and confident that they sympathized with him and with those for
whom he spoke. His speech was short, plain, natural, modest, with no
attempt to say fine things. Pull of good sense and good taste, every word
was to the point, every sentence went home. Many another might have
written as good a speech, but I doubt whether any young man then in
Scotland could have spoken it so well. Prom his countenance, bearing, and
rich, sweet voice, the words took another meaning to the ear than they had
when read by the eye. Peel himself, a man not too easily moved, was said
to have been greatly impressed by the young man's utterance, and to have
spoken of it to his father. And well he might be. Of all Norman's
subsequent speeches—on platform, in pulpit, in banquet, and in assembly—no
one was more entirely successful than that first simple speech at the Peel
session that followed the Banquet, the Peel Club, which had been raised
among the students to carry Peel's election, and to perpetuate his then
principles, was in full swing, and Norman was the soul of it. Many an
evening I went to its meetings in college, not as caring for its dry
minutes of business, but to hear the hearty and heart-stirring impromptu
addresses with which Norman animated all that had else been commonplace.
There are not many remaining who shared those evenings, and those who do
remain are widely scattered; but they must look back to them as among the
most vivid and high-spirited meetings they ever took part in. What a
contrast to the dull routine of meetings they have since had to submit to!
And the thing that made them so different, was Norman's presence there.
"But if these first public appearances were brilliant, still more
delightful was private intercourse with him as he bore himself in his
home. His father had such entire confidence in him, not unmingled with
fatherly pride, that he entrusted everything to him. The three boarders
were entirely under Norman's care, and he so dealt with them that the
tutor or teacher entirely disappeared in the friend and elder brother of
all, and of each individually. Each had a bedroom to himself, in which his
studies were carried on ; but all met in a common sitting-room, which
Norman named ' The Coffee-room.' There, when college work was over,
sometimes before it was over, or even well-begun, we would gather round
him, and with story, joke, song, readings from some favourite author—Sir
Thomas Browne's 'Religio Medici,' Jeremy Taylor—or some recitation of
poetry, he would make our hearts leap up.
"What evenings I have seen in that
'coffee-room!' Norman, in the grey-blue duffle dressing-gown, in which he
then studied, with smoking-cap on his head, coming forth from his own
reading-den to refresh himself and cheer us by a brief bright quarter of
an hour's talk. He was the centre of that small circle, and whenever he
appeared, even if there was dulness before, life and joy broke forth. At
the close of the first session—I speak of 1836-37—the party that gathered
in the coffee-room changed. MacConochie and Nairne went, and did not
return; William Clerk remained; and the vacant places were at the
beginning of next session, 1837-38, filled by three new comers—Robert (now
Sir Robert) Dalyell, of Binns; James Horne; and John Mackintosh, the
youngest son of Mackintosh of Geddes. There were also two or three other
students who boarded elsewhere, but who were often admitted as visitors to
the joyous gatherings in the coffee-room. Among these was Henry A.
Douglas, afterwards Bishop of Bombay While all these young friends so
loved and admired Norman that it would be hard to say who did so most—a
love which he seemed to return almost equally to all—John Mackintosh was
no doubt the one who laid the deepest hold on his heart. They were fitted
each to be the complement of the other. The serious, devout, pure nature
of John Mackintosh drew forth from Norman reverence more than an elder
usually accords to a younger friend; on the other hand, Norman's deep and
manly love of goodness and holiness won John's confidence, while his
hopeful aspiration and joyousness did much to temper the tone of John's
piety, which verged somewhat on austerity. I believe that their
characters, so different, yet so adapted to respond to each other, were
both of them much benefited by the friendship then begun. "John Mackintosh
had at that time another friend, who was also his tutor, William Burns,
who soon became the great revival preacher, and afterwards the missionary
to China. Between Norman and William Burns, John used to live half-way in
spirit. But I don't think that Norman and Burns ever knew each other
intimately. Norman's mirth seemed to Burns profanity, and Burns' rapt
Calvinistic piety, that looked on laughter as sinful, seemed to Norman
somewhat too severe. In fact they were not then fitted to understand each
other. It was in this session of 1837-38 that the friendship of Norman
with John, so fruitful in results to both, first began. He himself was
then not a student, as he had received license in May, 1837, and was
ordained in Loudoun in March, 1838; but until he settled in his parish he
continued under his father's roof, and in the same relationship as
formerly with the young men who wintered there. The Church was then being
greatly exercised by those contentions which ended four years afterwards
in the Disruption. Norman took a lively interest in these; but from the
first, both from temperament and family tradition, sided with the party
who opposed the Non-Intrusionists. Not that Norman was in any measure
fitted by nature to be a Moderate of the accepted type. His ardent and
enthusiastic temperament could ever have allowed him to belong to the
party. But in the aims and tendings of the Veto men, he seemed from the
first to discern the presence of sacerdotal pretensions which he his whole
life long stoutly withstood.
"Before the close of the session of 1837-38,
Norman was appointed to the parish of Loudoun, in Ayrshire, and ordained
as its minister. When the close of our next and last session in Glasgow
(1838-9) arrived, he arranged that his old friends of the coffee-room
should go down and pay him a visit in his Manse at Loudoun on the first of
May. The usual winding-up of the college had taken place in the morning,
and by the afternoon a merry party were seated on the top of the Ayrshire
coach, making their way through the pleasant country of Mearns, in
Ayrshire, towards their friend's Manse. That party consisted of William
Clerk, Robert Dalyell, Henry Douglas, and myself. For some reason or
other, which I cannot now remember, John Mackintosh could not join the
party. It was a beautiful spring evening, and the green burnbraes, as we
wound along, laughed on us with their galaxies of primroses. You may
imagine what a welcome we received when at evening we reached the Manse
door. We staid there three days, or four. The weather was spring-like and
delightful. We wandered by the side of the Irvine Water, and under the
woods, all about Loudoun Castle, and Norman was, as of old, the soul of
the party. He recurred to his old Glasgow stories, or told us new ones
derived from his brief experience of the Ayrshire people, in whom, and in
their characters, he was already deeply interested. All day we spent out
of doors, and as we lay, in that balmy weather, on the banks or under the
shade of the newly budding trees, converse more hearty it would be
impossible to conceive. And yet, there was beneath it an undertone of
sadness ; for we foreboded too surely what actually has been fulfilled,
that it was our last meeting; that they who met there should never again
all meet together on earth. There were, with the host, five in that
Loudoun party. I do not think that more than two of them have since met at
On the last
day of our wanderings, Norman, who had hitherto kept up our spirits and
never allowed a word of sadness to mar the mirth, at last said suddenly,
as we were reclining in one of the Loudoun Castle woods, 'Now, friends,
this is the last time we shall all meet together; I know that well. Let us
have a memorial of our meeting Yonder are a number of primrose bushes.
Each of you take up one root with his own hands; I will do the same, and
we shall plant them the Manse in remembrance of this day.' So we each did,
and carried home each his own primrose bush. When we reached the Manse,
Norman chose a place where we should plant them side by side. [When Norman
left Loudoun, he transplanted some of these primrose roots, and put them
opposite his study windows at Dalkeith. The Loudoun Manse jonquils and
favourite little 'rose de Meaux' were also transplanted to Dalkeith, to
revive the Bams memories there as at Loudoun.] It was all simple and
natural, yet a pathetic and memorable close of that delightful early time.
"Early next morning we all left the Manse,
and, I believe, not one of us ever returned. It was as Norman said. We
went our several ways—one to Cambridge, two to Oxford; but never again did
more than two of us forgather.
"Two things strike me especially in looking
back on Norman as he then was. The first was, his joyousness—the
exuberance of his joy— joy combined with purity of heart. We had never
before known any one who took a serious view of life, and was really
religious, who combined with it so much hearty hopefulness. He was happy
in himself, and made all others happy with whom he had to do. At least
they must have been very morose persons indeed who were insensible to the
contagion of his gladness.
"The second was the power, and vividness, and
activity of his imagination. He was at that time 'of imagination all
compact.' I have since that time known several men whom the world has
regarded as poets; but I never knew any one who contained in himself so
large a mass of the pure ore of poetry. I have sometimes thought that he
had then imagination enough to have furnished forth half-a-dozen poets.
Wordsworth's saying is well known—
"'Oh, many are the poets that are sown
By nature: men endowed with highest gifts,
The vision and the faculty divine,
Yet wanting the accomplishment of verse.' "
Coleridge, I think, has questioned this. But
if Wordsworth's words are, as I believe they are, true, then Norman was
pre-eminently a poet. He had the innate power, but he wanted the outward
accomplishment of verse. Not that he wanted it altogether; but he had not
in early youth cultivated it, and when manhood came, the press of other
and more practical duties never left him time to do more than dash off a
verse or two, as it rose, spontaneously, to his lips. Had he had the time
and the will to devote himself to poetry with that devotion which alone
ensures success, it was in him, I believe, to have been one of the highest
poets of our time. Often during an evening in his study, or in a summer
day's saunter with him by a Highland loch, I have heard him pour forth the
substance of what might have been made a great original creation—thoughts,
images, descriptions, ranging through all the scale, from the sublime to
the humourous and the droll; which, if gathered up, and put into the
outward shape of poetry, would have been a noble poem. But he felt that he
was called to do other work, and it was well that he obeyed the call as he
did, and cast back no regretful look to the poetry that he might have
It may be
well here to explain a feature which, as expressed in his journals, may
appear strange to the reader, but is quite characteristic of the man.
There is often such a rapid passing from "grave" to " gay," and, in his
earlier years, such self-reproach for indulging in things really innocent,
that, in giving perfectly faithful extracts, it has been found difficult
to avoid conveying an impression of harshness or unreality. There was
nothing more natural to him than so to combine all tones of feeling, that
those who knew him felt no abrupt contrast between the mirthful and the
solemn. But, as it might be expected from his sensitive conscientiousness,
he did not at first recognize the lawfulness of many things he afterwards
"allowed himself" without any sense of inconsistency. It is accordingly
interesting, biographically, to notice the difference betwixt his youth
and age in matters like these, as well as the change which his opinions
underwent on many political and theological subjects.
From his Journal:—
"Nov. 17th.—This last week being the one for
electing a Lord Rector, I was very busy, having been the leader of the
Peel party. We carried him by a majority of one hundred. This caused me
much excitement, and drew my mind away from God.
"Sunday, 30th Nov.—I intend by the grace of
God to throw off my natural indolence, and rise every morning this winter
at six o'clock. I study Hebrew, Greek, and Church history every morning
before breakfast; chemistry, anatomy, and natural history (my favourite
study next to divinity) during the day; logic, theology, reading, and
writing in the evening.
"Is a Christian not entitled to draw lessons
of conduct from natural religion interpreted by revealed? May he not study
the final causes in his moral constitution? What then is the final cause
of the sense of the ludicrous?
"Saturday, 31st Dec, 1836.—The passing of time
is enough to make a man ' tremble like a guilty thing.' I feel as if I
could compress what remains of the last year into the thoughts of an hour.
"And, then, what reminiscences of the past!
This moment they are all gay in Weimar! I see them all. The thought is
only momentary, and shines in my mind like the last rays of an
"Yes, I am changed. I have felt the transition. I know it.
"The ideality of life soon vanishes, and can
only be renewed when new channels are formed for our affections. But why
do we not fix them on unfading objects?
"March 5th.—What a gap! It is shameful. At a
time, too, when circumstances have occurred which, I am convinced, must
influence my life in no small degree.
"When Peel came down there were great doings.
I spoke for the students at his dinner, and though I felt considerably in
addressing three thousand five hundred people, yet, from the manner in
which I was supported, I got on well, and met with Peel's decided
approbation. I have had the honour also of being elected President of the
Peel Club. Because of these and other things, I have fallen fearfully
through with my studies, although my having had no small part in bringing
Peel here is enough to give some value to my existence.
"Friday.—I have just returned from Robert
Dalglish's ball!—a crowd. I have returned sick at heart. It is my last
ball! And I heard the German waltzes played, and my brain reeled. I shut
my eyes. I was once more with all my old Weimar friends ; when I opened
them, the faces were the faces of strangers, and I could stand it no
longer, but left at twelve. I alone seemed sad. The louder and more
cheerful the music grew, the more deeply melancholy I became.
"Sunday, 7th May, 1837.—How life gallops !
What changes ! How we do hurry along from the days of childhood to wild
and imaginative youth, and then gradually sober down to sedate manhood !
Only look at the last page—music and dancing!—and this page has to record
the most solemn event in my 'little history'—that upon Wednesday last I
was made a preacher of the gospel, and to-day I preached my first sermon!
"This is a niche, a point, in a man's life. It
marks the past and future. I only wish I could write my real state of mind
goodness of God has been great, very great. If it were not for His great
love, I could not stand a minute. But my own state has had this good
effect, that it has made me distrust myself and rely more on Christ. I
have got a most irritable temper. I have got a loose way of talking and of
using slang words, most unbecoming my profession. I feel a much greater
willingness to overcome this habit since I have entered the clerical
"I went to
church to-day with much prayer, and I was wonderfully supported. I praise
the Lord for it. I pray, for Christ's sake, that I may be enabled to
perform my most arduous duties looking to Jesus. O God in heaven, keep me
from courting popularity ! May I feel deeply, most deeply, that I am Thy
servant, doing Thy will, and not seeking my own pleasure. May I never
teach the people a lie, but teach them Thy truth!"
To his Aunt, Mrs. Maxwell:—
"May 8, 1837.
"Does the quality of a correspondent improve
by age like port wine or Highland whiskey? Do his goods rise in value the
more rare they become? Or does the value of a gift increase with the
dignity of the donor? If you reply in the affirmative to these queries,
then one of my letters now is more to be esteemed than twenty heretofore,
for I am older, my goods are rarer, and my dignity is increased; for on
Wednesday I passed gallantly from the student state to that of a preacher,
and yesterday I ascended from the body of the church to its heart—even to
the pulpit! Aye, Jane, don't be horrified at seeing a grey hair or two !
The thumping child has grown into a thumping preacher, and you may soon
have to submit quietly to be scolded by him whom you used to drill into
manners and morals. 'Ochone!' as Coll would say, but we do gallop down, or
it may be up, with railway speed ! I am actually beginning to get a
glimpse at age myself. I do not, however, as yet recognize him by his
snowy locks and tottering steps, but by his gaiters and white neckcloth. I
always had a horror—I know not why—at the transition state of preacher. He
is worse than nobody. He is patronised by old maids, ' the dear, good old
souls;' he is avoided by the young ladies, for they know that he has no
principle and would jilt when convenient. He is cut by the young men for
his snobbish dress; he is cut by the old, for they know he will bore them
for their interest. Young ministers dislike him from pride (' set a
beggar,' &c), and the old dislike him from fear; they hate his voice as
they hate the cry of an owl, for ' it speaks of death;' they look upon him
as a young soldier looks on a vulture that is watching his last breath in
order to get a living. He is a very nightmare to the Manse—'a lad' is the
personification of all that is disagreeable. Such a being am I, Jane; will
you shelter me?
is too bad to occupy so much room with so much nonsense. I got on well
yesterday, and now that the ice is broken, I hope to get on still better.
I am to preach next Sunday in the Barony; I then go to the Assembly, and
then I wish to go to Skye.
"Glen Morriston, Wednesday, 18th July, 1837,
Torgoil Inn.— [On a walking tour to Skye.] I have said it often, and now
again I say it in Torgoil, that I hate travelling by myself! I think I
should become a mere animal if I were thus to be stalking about for a year
and not a soul to speak to. Don't talk about reflection—one has too much
of it. The whole day it is a continued reflection upon one's self—when to
rest, when to rise, how far it is to the inn, what shall be taken, how
much paid. And as for thought, why a wallet and blistered feet are enough
to crush it. Here am I this very moment in a small, paltry place, in the
midst of a huge glen, the rain pouring in torrents and the mountains
covered with the wet mist; the trees dripping, the burn roaring,
sheep-dogs crawling past the door, hens in the entry, and barefooted and
bare-legged boys skelping through the mud. And within nothing to cheer. In
the first place a huge birch-bush in the grate, by way of a novelty,
half-a-dozen chairs stuck up like sentinels against the wall, a stiff,
ugly table, with a screen and a tea-tray having landscapes and figures
upon them, which, to say the least, do not equal those of Claude Lorraine;
you pull the bell, away comes a yard of wire, but no bell rings; you
strike the table, and every dog rushes out barking; you call the girl, and
she appears from the 'but,' and does what you bid her do, but only when
she pleases. But I must go back on my previous route. (I just now lifted
the window to look out, and was nearly guillotined by its coming down on
my neck, not having observed a huge black peat which lies beside it for
supporting it on great occasions.)......
"Retrospective. I believe I never wrote the
reason of my refusing to become a candidate for Anderston Church, Glasgow.
I was requested earnestly by one of the managers (Stuart) to apply, and ho
had been written to by others who had heard me preach in Gourock. I
promised to preach, but declined becoming a candidate upon the
acknowledged ground of unfitness. I consider that the town clergy should
be our bishops. They must be the leaders of the church in public matters,
whether in regard to the internal government of the Church, or its
relation to the State. How much knowledge is required to do this properly,
and as it ought to be done, by men who profess to act from principle, how
much scientific reading on Church polity and history! The personal
acquirements which a clergyman requires to fit him for such a public
appearance, and also for occupying that commanding position in private
which ho ought to take, are such as no young man can have when his time is
occupied, as it must be in town, by other weighty matters still more
intimately connected with his profession—as, for and though the truths
enforced are the same both in town and country, yet how different are the
media or communication! This abominable custom or necessity of letting
seats, and thence paying the minister, compels him to attend to this
taste, however vitiated; and I feel convinced that it never was more
vitiated than at present, owing perhaps to the system of competition in
Scotland, both for pulpits and for churches, and against the dissenters.
But the fact is, that effort, and froth, and turgidity, and an attempt
after grand generalisations, are required to gain popularity—the ruling
object of the mass.
"Nay, this emptiness of thought combined with high swelling words arises
from another cause—the necessity under which men are laid to preach not
only two, but sometimes three sermons every Sunday, without their
heads-being so filled with divinity or their hearts with Christian
experience, as to enable them to give solid teaching to their people. Now
these and many other difficulties are removed by having a country church.
For my own part, the fever and excitement of composing for a town charge
would at first kill me; but let me only have ten years' hard study in the
country, and then, under God's blessing, I may come into a town with
advantage to the cause!
"Aug. 25th.—Off to the hills! Oh, what a walk
I had yesterday! Never will I forget the green, the deep green grassy top
of the range of precipices. A vessel or two lay like boys' boats on the
water far below me as I sat on the edge of the precipice, watching the
waves breaking on the rocks. A white sail or two was seen far to the north
on the edge of the horizon like a sea-gull. I never felt more in my life
the stillness of the air, broken only by the bleat of the sheep, or the
croak of the raven. The majesty of the prospect, the solitude of the
place, filled me with inexpressible delight. The truth was, I had started
with depressed feelings from having been very forgetful of God; and upon
the top of a mountain I have always felt my self subdued to silent
meditation and prayer. On the present occasion I poured out my soul in
humble confession and adoration, and words cannot tell the comfort which I
felt, partly perhaps the result of the strong feeling I was under, but
much of it truly substantial. Thrice did I sing the hundredth Psalm, and
at the second verse, 'Know that the Lord is God indeed, without our aid He
did us make,' I was quite overpowered, and felt as if I spoke for the
material universe and dumb creatures around me. The giant Storr, with its
huge isolated peak, seemed to point to heaven in ac knowledgment of the
"I felt as if I
had one of those
"'Visitations from the living God,
In which my soul was filled with light,
With glory, with magnificence.'
"31st, Twelve, night.—Loveliness and beauty !
The stars twinkling in the deep blue sky like the most brilliant diamonds,
the hills dark and misty in the distance ! The rivulets, inaudible by
daylight, blending their notes with the loud streams, and along the north
a magnificent aurora borcalis, an object which ever fills me with
intensest pleasure. It makes me feel how much man's nature is capable of
feeling, and how the soul may bo elevated or overpowered through the
external senses. How different was the last night I was here—Friday night!
What an awful gale! Whuss-ss-sh-hoo-liiss-sooo! until I thought the house
would be down. Three boats were lost and five people. One of them the last
of four sons belonging to a widow in Strath. Another was drowned last year
at the canal.
1st.—I have this day been led to consider seriously my spiritual state and
truly, when I remember my advantages and all God has done for me, I can
say that it is very deplorable. There are certain daily habits which for
some weeks I have seen are wrong, yet where have been my struggles to
change them? How have I shown my faith by my works 1 How frivolous have I
been ! My love of the ludicrous and of the absurd has daily carried me
away and made me behave quite unworthy of the sobriety necessary for every
Christian, far more, for my calling. ' Be ye sober.' Lord ! help me to
keep this law.
thank God that I am anxious—yes, in my heart I say it—anxious to give up
my besetting sins.
Lord God Almighty, Thou who art of purer eyes than to behold iniquity,
most holy and most merciful Father, Thou seest these my confessions, Thou
knowest whether they are sincere, Thou knowest the pride and vile-ness of
my heart. Oh, do Thou have mercy upon me according to Thy loving-kindness,
and according to Thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Grant unto
me greater diligence in using the means of grace, and power to resist
temptation. May I enter not into temptation. Keep me, 0 God, from
rejoicing in anything which belongs to myself; but may every evidence of
Thy love lead me to rejoice in Thee alone.
"September 6th.—By the grace of God I have
been enabled to wait upon Him, and seek Him more than I was wont. It is an
awful mistake to think that when we conquer a sin it is beaten for ever.
It is indeed invincible—we can only keep it from conquering us, and so
overcome it. I must be regular in the diligent use of means, and God may
bless them; but I must also push on and add one virtue to another.
"I find that my interest in the state of
others is in proportion as I am interested in my own.
"Yesterday, the 5th, I had one of the most
delightful excursions I ever had.
"The morning was beautiful: indeed it was not
morning when I rose from a feverish and night-marish sleep. A few pale
stars were to be seen in the sky, and the ruddy glow in the east which
told of the sun's approach soon robbed them even of this; and, except
towards the east, I could see no cloud in the sky. A few light, airy
wreaths of mist hung on the Coolins, which, dark and massive and ragged,
stretched like a strong saw across the south. We were quickly on our way,
after partaking of a substantial breakfast and providing for the dinner.
Soon the east became most beautiful— clouds, fringed with brightest gold
feathery borders, and in more compact masses, gathered round the sun a
flaming retinue; and soon he opened an eye in heaven and peeped over the
eastern hills and thrust forth his ' golden horns.' And the tops of the
Coolins seemed tipped with gold, and the shadows became more distinct, and
light glittered on the calm sea. The vessels that lay under the rocks were
hardly visible, while their masts and tackling were in clear relief
against the burning sky and water. The effect was precisely such as I have
often admired in the 'Morning' pictures of Claude Lorraine.
"Away we went, and as the sun got higher and
higher we left the high Wad and entered Glen Sligachan. What a glen ! With
the inimitable peak of Coolin on one side, and on the other the
sugar-loafed Marscow. "But get on! at three miles an hour, hardly a path,
and now in the centre of the glen, five miles from any house. Stand ! and
say what is Glencoe to this ! A low range conceals Coolin; but see the
high peaks appearing beyond, and up that corry what a mighty wall of
jagged peaks is spread along its top! But Blabheinn, which is close by, is
unsurpassed. It appears a great trap dyke, about a thousand feet high,
with an edge above, cut and hacked in every shape and form. Bare, black to
the top, apparently not a goat could stand on a yard of it—I question if a
fly could. And there the lovely little lake at its feet is ever condemned
to lie in its shadow. But, having left our horses at Cambusiunary, we
ascended by a rough road to a pass, from which we obtained a view of
Coruisk. The ascent was difficult. Wilson being a bad walker, I was up
nearly half an hour before him—besides, I wished to behold Coruisk alone;
and as I ascended the last few blocks of stone which intercepted my view I
felt my heart beat and ray breathing become thicker than when I was
climbing— for I had rested before in order to enjoy the burst
undisturbed—and a solemn feeling crept over me as I leapt on the crest of
the hill, and there burst upon my sight—shall I attempt to describe it?
How dare I? Around me were vast masses of hypersthene, and the ridge on
which I stood was so broken and precipitous that I could not follow its
descent to the valley. At my feet lay the lake, silent and dark, and round
it a vast amphitheatre of precipices. The whole Coolins seemed gathered in
a semi-circle round the lake, and from their summits to their base not a
blade of verdure—but one bare, black precipice, cut into dark chasms by
innumerable torrents, and having their bases covered by debris and fallen
rocks. Nothing could exceed the infinite variety of outline—peaks, points,
teeth, pillars, rocks, ridges, edges, steps of stairs, niches—utter
wildness and sterility. From this range there are gigantic projections
standing out and connected with the main body. And there lay the lake, a
part hidden from our view, behind a huge rock.
"There it lay, still and calm, its green
island like a green monster floating on its surface. I sat and gazed; 'my
spirit drank the spectacle.' I never felt the same feeling of the horribly
wild—no, never; not even in the Tyrolese Alps. There was nothing here to
speak of life or human existence. ' I held my breath to listen for a
sound, but everything was hushed; it seemed abandoned to the spirit of
solitude.' A few wreaths of mist began to creep along the rocks like
ghosts. Laugh at superstition for coupling such scenes with witches and
water kelpies ! I declare I felt superstitious in daylight there. Oh, to
see it in a storm, with the clouds under the spur of a hurricane, raking
the mountain summit!
'The giant snouted crags ho! ho!
How they snort and how they blow;
"'Ach, die langen Felsennasen
Wie sie schnarchen, wie sie blasen!'
"I shall never forget my visit! It will fill
the silent eye—the bliss of solitude; it will come 'about the beating of
my heart,' and its wild rocks may be connected with moral feeling and
'tranquil restoration.''The tall rock' may cease 'to haunt me like a
passion,' but its influence shall never die. And the joyous, oh ! the
passionate, hours I have spent this summer in the lovely mountains in Skye
will ever influence my feelings, and, under the guidance of higher
principles, they may, I trust, be blessed for good, and help in being the
' muses of my moral being.' I thank—as on the mountains I generally do—I
thank God for all His kindness, and pray I may ever be grateful for it.
"Thursday night, Sept. 7th.—To-morrow I start,
D.V., for Fiunary. My time here has been spent delightfully—though not so
usefully as it might have been. My journal will tell what hours of joy I
have spent among the mountains. Never shall they be forgotten.
"How dreary is parting—what a sickness at the
heart! how melancholy sounds that wind! Oh, what a joy when there will be
11th Sept.—I left Portree early on Tuesday morning. The fiery sunrise, the
huge masses of greenish-greyish-darkish clouds, the scattered catspaws and
mare's tails, the rising breeze, and the magnificent rainbows which
spanned sea and mountains, all told that our passage would probably be a
rough one. And so it was. The wind rapidly increased, until, as we left
the shelter of the land at Armadale it blew a stiff breeze fight ahead.
What a striking view had we to leeward when plunging on towards the point
of Ardnamurchan! The sun was almost setting, 'the day was well-nigh done,'
and along the horizon was a plain of red light; this was broken by the
Scuir of Eig, which appeared in magnificent relief, and seemed to support
on its summit the midnight belt of clouds which formed an upper and
parallel stratum to the ruddy belt below. Through these dark clouds the
sun was shooting silver beams, beneath which the waves were seen holding
their ' joyous dance' along the line of the horizon. I remained on deck
until we reached Tobermory. I lay on the tarpaulin, and, half-asleep,
watched the mast of the steamer wandering along the stars which now shone
in unclouded brilliancy.
"Yesterday preached at Kiel. [The name of one
of the parish churches of Morven.] It was a strange thing to preach there!
As I went to the church hardly a stone or knoll but spoke of ' something
which was gone,' and past days crowded upon me like the ghosts of Ossian,
and seemed, like them, to ride even on the passing wind and along the
mountain tops. And then to preach in the same pulpit where once stood a
reverend grandfather and father! What a marvellous, mysterious world is
this, that I, in this pulpit, the third generation, should now, by the
grace of God, be keeping the truth alive on the earth, and telling how
faithful has been the God of our fathers ! How few faces around me did I
recognize ! In that seat once sat familiar faces—the faces of a happy
family; they are all now, a few paces off, in a quiet grave. How soon
shall their ever having existed be unknown? And it shall be so with
Glasgow, night.—Here I am once more in my old study. Was it a dream?
Nature never appeared more lovely; never in youth did 1 hail her with more
rapture—never did I feel ' the tall rock haunt me more like a passion.'
"Nov. 3rd.—I have got the parish of Loudoun.
Eternal God I thank Thee through Jesus Christ, and, under the guidance of
the Holy Spirit, I devote myself to Thy service for the advancement of Thy
glory and kingdom.
"These words I write this day the moment I hear of my appointment. I again
solemnly say, Amen. I have got a parish ! the guidance of souls to heaven
! I shall at the last day have to tell how I performed my duties-part of
my flock will go to the left; part, I trust, to the right. I, their
pastor, shall see this ! I am set to gather lambs to Christ. What a
responsibility ! I do not feel it half enough; but I pray with all my
soul, heart, and strength that the Great Shepherd may never forsake me.
Without Him I can do nothing; with him I can do all things.
"Oh, my Father, my kind and merciful Father.
Thou who art my Creator and Preserver and Redeemer, I this day, before
Thee, declare my willingness to make my soul and parish part of Thy
everlasting kingdom. Accept of my deepest thanks for Thy kindness until
now. Father, Son, and Holy Ghost be with me until the day of my death;
purify, strengthen me, and give me from the infinite riches of Thy grace
power to be a faithful minister and to turn many people from darkness to
light. Into Thy hand I commit my soul!
"I had an address, a kind address, from Darvel,
in Loudoun, to-day, which gave me much encouragement. I feel an affection
for the parish already. May the Lord grant in His mercy that I may go for
the promoteing of His glory."
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