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Reminiscences and Reflections of an Octogenarian Highlander Chapter L. - Another Remove


I HAD, for three years, a pleasant time of it in Balquhidder, amidst lovely Highland scenery and a kindly people. After my Fortingall experience, it was not oppressive work to teach a school of seventy children, and as the parish was a compact one, the inspectorship of the poor was not such a heavy adjunct to the school work as it would have been in a wider district. The outside paupers in Glasgow and Stirling and two or three lunatics gave a little more trouble than the decent old bodies resident in the parish. My income was sufficient for my needs, and left a margin for buying books and other purposes. I had spare time for a good deal of miscellaneous reading in the school season, and during the vacation I did a lot of walking among the hills and of gathering traditional lore and information from kirk-session records and other sources. The Perthshire Advertiser got most of the gatherings I thus made. For about ten years I was a rather profuse contributor of local history articles and antiquarian notes to the Advertiser, and occasionally of other literary stuff to other publications. These vacation and spare-time amusements of mine led to my being suddenly, and in a manner undreamed of and wholly unsought by me, launched into English journalism. My friend, Mr Sprunt, editor of the Advertiser, had been editor of the Bradford Observer, and had afterwards kept up friendly and professional connection with Mr William Byles, proprietor of that paper. Mr Byles wrote to Mr Sprunt that he was in want of an editor, and asked if he could recommend one for the situation. Mr Sprunt sent him my name, coupled with higher praise than deserved. So, one day, I was surprised by getting two letters, one from Perth and one from Bradford, telling about the correspondence which had taken place without my knowledge, and offering me the situation. I felt nattered by the unasked offer, and having crossed the hill to Killin and consulted with my friend, Mr Charles Stewart, Tigh'n-Duin, I resolved to accept it. When I look back I cannot help wondering at the fact that I owed all the situations I ever held to the extraneous and ultroneous action of friends. I must have been constitutionally deficient in self-pushing energy and initiative, and yet I had my full snare of fighting spirit when principles and circumstances called for its display. As Mr Sprunt assured me, and as I found afterwards to be the case, the Observer was then, and remained for the next many years, a moderate organ of old Whig principles. There was only one thing on which Mr Byles and I could not agree, and that was the question of the national recognition of religion. He was far from being an ardent member of the Liberation Society, and far from being blind to the enormous value of the religious and educational work which was being done by the Church of England, but he belonged by birth, training, and conviction, to the old religious Independents, and now and then let articles written by Dissenting ministers and professors go into the paper. We agreed to disagree on this matter, and I never was asked or expected to write on this subject. A long and intimate acquaintance with Mr Byles caused me to look up to him as an ideal type of the sincerely-religious, high-principled, and unusually tolerant and broad-minded Puritans of the nineteenth century.

Having agreed to go to Bradford, what remained for me to do at Balquhidder was to give timely notice of resignation to heritors and parochial board, to have a sale, and to wind up my small affairs in Scotland. The two offices vacated by me were filled before I left, and so there was no hitch in regard to school or poor. My successor was session-clerk, as I and all the teachers before me had been, but the poor inspectorship was then separated from the schoolmastership. It was with a sharp wrench that I went away from beautiful Balquhidder and the kindly people among whom I had enjoyed three years of restful and happy life, free from care, and passing rich on 100 a year.


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