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The Life of James Stewart
The University Student


IN EDINBURGH, 1850-52 and 1854-55.
IN ST. ANDREWS, 1852-54.

His appearance—His Studies—Many-sidedness—His Tutorship—His Fellow-students—Testimonies of Dr. Wallace and Dr. Robertson.

Res non verba’ (Things not words). —Luthers motto.
‘The artist is known by his self-limitation.’—Tennyson.
‘Aien Aristeuein’
(Ever to be the best).—Motto of St. Andrews University.

STEWART matriculated first in the University of Adversity. Serious financial losses constrained his father to quit his farm about 1847, and begin life anew in Edinburgh on the old lines. James manfully did his best to aid the family in their efforts, which proved successful. During three or four years he had a business training, which was very useful to him in after life when he had so much to do with business and business men. His experiences during those strenuous days would also deepen that keen sympathy with the struggling, which was a part of his inheritance from father and mother. Such a strain, nobly borne, would add strength to his unusual powers of resolve and self-reliance. Like many Scottish students, he supported himself by private tutoring.

He did not enter the Edinburgh University till his twentieth year. I have failed to glean any information about his studies in Edinburgh, except that he did not take the classes in the usual order, and that he was at the same time at business. After two sessions there, his uncle, the Rev. Charles Stewart, died, and as James was tutor to his cousins, he removed with his aunt to St. Andrews, his ideal of a University town.

He then had that bearing of distinction which remained with him through life. In face and form he carried with him everywhere, to borrow Bacon’s phrase, ‘a letter of perpetual recommendation.’ There was not about him a particle of affectation. Broad-shouldered, uprIght as a palm, tall—he was six feet two inches without his shoes and proportioned well—with a vigorous sweep and stride, his frame seemed to be endowed equally with strength, agility, and gracefulness. [The ‘portrait’ in this and the following chapter is partly from personal knowledge, as during one session I was a fellow-student with him, but chiefly from information supplied by his fellow-students.] He had a peculiar step, like that of a stag or a Red Indian hunter. I remember vividly the first time I saw him, as he was striding across the college quadrangle. I thought of Homer’s Ajax as he moved on the battlefield. He attracted attention, and people would turn round and look at him after he had passed in the street. Once seen, he was not likely to be forgotten or mistaken for any other man. In respect of dress, the African natives might justly have given him the title which they gave to his friend Coillard—’ the father of neatness.’ [On his return to London from one of his African expeditions, he was walking in the Strand, unconscious of the fact that he was still wearing his African sun-helmet. A city Arab came alongside of him, and tried to keep step with him. The odd procession arrested the attention of many, among whom was another Arab, who stood gazing at the sun-tanned, travel-stained giant. The boy by Stewart’s side, with upturned thumb, pointed over his shoulder and shouted to his mate, in a tone of mock solemnity, ‘I say, George, he grow’d.’ Stewart then discovered the reason why so many eyes were turned to him, and disappeared in the nearest hatter’s shop. This was one of the many diverting stories he told against himself. ]

One writes: ‘He changed less than most men during his lifetime. Even in face and figure he continued very much the man he was in those student days.’ Another writes: ‘His appearance then recalled to me the words applied to the youthful David, King of Israel—" He was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to." Another thought, however, that he resembled King Saul rather than David. ‘He was greatly beloved in his youth. There was something extremely attractive in his whole demeanour, and there was a vein of humour in his conversation which endeared him to us all.’

He had excellent intellectual gifts. His was a nimble and vigorous mind that quickly reached the heart of a subject. But he was not a distinguished student in the academic sense. The lore of the University had no exclusive attractions for him. ‘Man lives for culture,’ says Goethe, ‘not for what he can accomplish, but for what can be accomplished in him.’ Stewart’s conception of culture was totally opposed to that, while he was equally opposed to the pursuit of knowledge for the sake of bread and butter. With him knowledge was an instrument and a practical power, not a luxury or an adornment, and the crown of all study was character and service.

Moreover, even when as a boy he roamed with a gun over his father’s farm, his heart was set on Africa, and during the whole of his student days he accepted the self-limitations which such a sphere imposed. Often when expounding his favourite text, ‘Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God,’ he used to emphasise the difference between the Indian and the African, and to point out that Ethiopia had no ancient and highly organised systems of caste and belief to resist the solvent power of Christian truth. She was a simple, untutored savage, who needed plain, practical teaching, and who was likely to turn to God far Sooner than India would do. He thus valued a university education only, or chiefly, in so far as it could fIt him for his chosen sphere. He could not therefore live only or chiefly in the world of books, as scholarship did not supply an adequate occupation for all his energies.

On the altar of Ethiopia he was willing to offer up much which was precious to the prizeman.

He took then, and continued to take through life, an eager interest in every department of knowledge. For some time he was examiner in Mental Philosophy for the University of South Africa, and his books reveal a wide range of study. He came early under the spell of Science, and while a student wrote several articles for magazines on semi-scientific themes, and was a member of the literary societies. His interests were many-sided, and he eagerly gathered general information. The whole palace of enchanted thought was open to him. He was an enthusiastic student of Chemistry, Botany, Agriculture, and the common ways of men. He thus matriculated and graduated in the larger university of the World and Life. With him the Art of Arts was to live well and work well.

His leanings then, as through life, were decidedly conservative. This might be partly due to his revered father and mother. He had characteristic enthusiasm of conviction, great courage, and energy of statement. He was decidedly opposed to theoretical voluntaryism in the relations between Church and State. No patience had he with barren speculations, and he could not endure any theology which tended to impoverish a man’s humanity.

His studies did not quench his missionary zeal, for, at St. Andrews, he inoculated with it one of his cousins and pupils, James Stewart, C.E., who resigned a lucrative post in the Covenanted Service in India, that, at first as an unpaid volunteer, he might aid the Livingstonia Mission. This Mr. Stewart laid out Blantyre, and planned and made part of the Stevenson Road, the great highway of two hundred and fifty-four miles between Lakes Nyasa and Tanganyika. He was a most attractive Christian gentleman, and his early death was a great bereavement to Central Africa.

Dr. George Wallace, lately of Hamilton, a fellow-student with Stewart both at St. Andrews and Edinburgh, thus writes about the St. Andrews days: ‘Clear and distinct above all other impressions he made on me, was the practical cast of his mind. He was a man of deeds, who valued only what could be embodied in actions. His tastes were scientific rather than classical or mathematical. At that time there was little in the university studies to interest and employ one whose leanings were towards natural science. Hence, though his ability was well marked in the classes attended by him, he never took the place in them which he could easily have taken, if he had turned his whole energy in that direction. It seemed as if the idea had taken possession of him that the life for him was not one for which the university curriculum was the best preparation. Even then it was manifest that he would not follow the trodden ways of life, but would strike out some path for himself.’

Here is an appreciation of Stewart, by another fellow-student at St. Andrews, the Rev. Dr. Robertson of Whittinghame :—‘ Some of the careers of my fellow-students have been very unexpected, some pathetic from the strange mingling in them of success and failure. But of them all, I have often thought that the life of James Stewart has been that by which the best and deepest mark has been made on the world and its history. I could not have foretold this or anticipated it during our college course. We are apt at that stage of our lives to put undue value on the figure men make in class examinations. We do not yet know how many other qualities are needed for effectiveness in life, besides those by which college prizes are won. James Stewart was not a winner of college prizes. He took only moderate and respectable positions in his classes. This may have been due to his being considerably older than most of us, less keen in regard to class competitions, and already interested more in the work of life. He had no aloofness either from our class studies, or from our student fellowships; but one felt that there was much more in the man than was put into college study. There was a constant strong purposefulness in his character. He was genial—even humorous; a cheery smile generally on his countenance; but there was a reserve of strength and courage, which, one feels now, waited for some great occasions to call it forth. He was, first and foremost, a man of action, rather than a student. While some of us plunged into our class work as if it were all we had to think of, everything he did, was, I believe, a conscious preparation for life. I recollect being struck by large coloured drawings of botanical subjects he showed me—a study which, I understood, he was carrying on privately in view of possibly choosing a missionary career. Though he took no prominent place in his classes, we felt him to be a natural leader of men. He was tall and strong of frame, with fair hair, ruddy complexion, aquiline nose, and I never saw any one to whom the epithet "eagle-eyed" more obviously belonged. One little memory I have of him which is quite in character. We had a literary society which met for some hours of debate and fellowship on Saturday evenings. One wintry night, snow lay on the ground, and the streets were icy. As we came downstairs at the end of our meeting the whisper went round that students of a rival society had arranged to snowball us severely and make it impossible for us to get out from the college court by the narrow door under the old steeple. The enemy had indeed arranged themselves all round outside, with piles of hard snowballs ready for use at their feet. They were able to make it hot for those who came to the doorway. There was a moment’s halt, and I well remember the voice ol James Stewart sounding decisively in the dark, ‘Let every man provide himself with two snowballs. We instantly charged, and sallying forth with him as leader, in a few seconds of time had possessed ourselves of the heaps of snowballs prepared by Our adversaries, and were pelting them as they fled.

‘I have fewer recollections of Stewart then thar of some others of my fellow-students, As he lived with his aunt, we did not haunt one another’s rooms and talk as students are wont to do. At the end of our course in Arts we were separated. Those of us who had associated intimately together, had the ministry in view as our future profession. The larger number of us being of the Free Church, went to study in the New College, Edinburgh, while the smaller number remained at St. Andrews, and went through St Mary’s College under Principal Tulloch. I regret the loss of that fellowship, which was a good and helpful one. We were as a company the poorer for this break-up. And, so separate are men kept in their careers by being in different church organisations, we seldom met as years went on, and knew of one another’s course of life only in a vague and irregular fashion. But such is the linking together of free congenial souls in that magic time of college life, such is the endurance of these early friendships, that any chance meeting in all the life after finds us still the same to one another in genial openness and frank affectionateness. I afterwards heard that Africa had cast its spell upon James Stewart, or perhaps it should be said, that he felt Africa to be the sphere of action for which he was fitted, that from Africa came the call for such powers as he was conscious of—powers of hardihood and endurance, with stern joy in committing himself to the toils and hazards needed there for humanity’s sake. . . . I still think that of all the men I knew in the United College at St. Andrews, he has made the best and deepest mark on the world. Though he was preacher and doctor both, I always thought of him rather with the kind of admiration with which a home-staying student thinks of a soldier, an explorer, or man of difficult affairs.’


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