THE years of the Yukon campaign
were, perhaps, the most intensely active years of the Superintendent’s
whole life. Into no other five years did he pack so much concentrated
effort, and no other years of effort were crowned with such brilliant
success. In the light of subsequent events we can now recognize how truly
heroic those years were, for during the whole period, silently and without
moan, he was fighting and losing his last fight with a deadly disease. It
may be that he heard the call that warned him of the coming night, and
that he felt the compulsion of the hurrying minutes.
It was to the Synod of Manitoba and
the Northwest Territories of November, 1897, that Mr. Gordon made the
first public announcement of the Superintendent’s serious illness, and
from that hour those who stood nearest to him in work set themselves to
lighten his burden and to save him to the Church, but from that hour till
his last, he seemed to press more and more eagerly into the field. From
that Synod went this telegram to its old and trusted leader:
"REV. DR. ROBERTSON, Superintendent
"62 Admiral Road, Toronto.
"The Synod unitedly prays that the
God of all comfort may be with you and restore you to us soon."
Afterwards the following resolution of sympathy was
"The Synod of Manitoba and the
Northwest Territories learns with deep regret of the serious illness of
the Superintendent of Missions, by which he is prevented from attendance
at this meeting, expresses its warm sympathy with Dr. Robertson and his
family in his affliction, and urges him to take such complete rest from
all work as may serve to hasten his recovery.
"The Synod prays, as it has already
joined in praying, that Almighty God may comfort and sustain Dr. Robertson
in his affliction and bless the means employed for his speedy recovery."
In response there came from him to
his brethren the following telegram:
"A grateful heart thanks Synod for
message of sympathy. Condition slightly improved. May Synod’s
deliberations be abundantly blessed.
and afterwards many warm and
grateful letters to his colabourers in the West. The following letters
breathe a spirit of such tender, humble devotion to the Master whom he
served and of such grateful affection for his fellow workers, that we may
be pardoned for printing them in full. The first is to Mr. Gordon.
"62 Admiral Road, Toronto, Nov. 15,
"DEAR GORDON :— "Your two letters were duly received
and touched me keenly, because I felt how unworthy I was of all that was
said and done at the Synod, and is being said now by letter by so many of
my brethren. After all the Synod and yourself and others have done, it
will be well-nigh impossible for me to go West again. I no longer wonder
how demigods and other gods of that ilk were made and worshipped, after
all that a grave and Reverend—I was going to write it with a small r but I
corrected myself as you, with your young eyes, will see—Synod will do in
the case of a very ordinary mortal like myself. We are all a band of
brothers working with one Father and Elder Brother to establish truth and
righteousness in the West, and should one fall, bury him and let the rest
push on the work. But I trust I am not to be taken yet—I want to live a
few years longer to see the development that I feel sure, is coming one
day, and I think is drawing near—and I would like to do a little more to
express my love to Him who is all my salvation and my desire. When you
look over the past you are struck with the barren waste. What have you
done? Whom have you helped? There has been opportunity, but it has not
been embraced, souls to cheer, to guide, to comfort, but, alas! it was not
done. But regrets are vain and I am not going to indulge in them now.
Thanks for all the news about the Synod. I hear that you acquitted
yourself well as usual—thank you. And I am glad Dr. King made a financial
speech, and since he can be strong and pointed and knows the situation, I
hope he did not put on gloves, but struck with bare knuckles. Some men
require to be struck a stinging blow in the ‘solar plexus,’ not he of St.
"There was a Home Mission deficit of
over $4,000 last spring, as put in my report or rather yours. See the Home
Mission financial statement in Assembly Report.
"By writing letters when not too
tired, I am doing something to stir up an interest. Pastors, I find, are
reading letters to congregations, and they find their way into the local
"You do not know how you relieve me
by your presence and work in Winnipeg. May God reward you—I never can.
"I am holding my own, I think; I
cannot say I am gaining yet. Dr. Gilbert Gordon was here Saturday. He
seems to be satisfied. All wish to be remembered to you.
Another of later date is to Mr.
McQueen, in whose fellowship and loyal affection he has ever found great
"DEAR MR. MCQUEEN :— "I hope to be able to be with you
at the Presbytery meeting, although I am recovering but slowly. I
conducted the anniversary services at Blyth—my late father’s
congregation—and gave an address Monday evening on Home Missions in the
mining districts of British Columbia, and I found that I had by no means
recovered my former staying power. However, I am gaining and hope to be
"I have been unwell for more than a
year past, but did not know that a dangerous disease had fastened itself
upon me. Weight, strength, energy went down, but by force of will I went
on doing work. A collapse came, and then the physician told me my danger.
He told me the case was not hopeless, but that rest and regimen were
absolutely necessary—I am taking them as best I can. But if I had to do
nothing I fear I should die. I think there is a slight change for the
better, and I hope it may continue. Brethren have been very kind; in fact,
it was almost worth while to get sick to know how much good people thought
was in you. I do not think my brethren insincere— far from it—but their
praise was very embarrassing because you who know yourself much better
than they could, detect little of what they appeared to see. Mental
illusion or delusion. But their kindness I shall never forget. But I have
no idea of giving up yet, and I hope that God who has been gracious and
kind, will spare me to go to Edmonton.
"Give my very kind regards to Mrs.
McQueen and the rest. And my wife wishes me to thank for her all who show
an interest in my recovery. My dear fellow, do what your hand finds to do
now. Lost opportunities are an awful nightmare on a sick-bed. Life
looks so barren of good that you bless God for being merciful.
With these letters should go two
others. They are from his wife to Mrs. Hart who, with Professor Hart, had
been through all the years a warmly sympathetic and unweariedly helpful
friend, and they are a window into that holy place of sacrifice where the
Robertson family have made offering year by year upon the altar of service
to Church and country, of which sacrifice and altar the
wife and mother stands high priestess. The first
bears the date November 26, 1897, and is as follows:
"Mv DEAR Mrs. HART :— "Your kind
words of love and sympathy were very much appreciated by us, and we thank
you for them. It is pleasant to know that you all take so much interest in
one so near and dear. I trust your prayers on his behalf are being
answered, and that in God’s good time he may be restored to health. We
were thankful that he got home before he was taken ill, and we are glad to
have him with us even sick. We need him, and he needs us none the less.
"He is improving, though somewhat
slowly, and I hope he may be induced to take sufficient rest now, so that
there may be no relapse.
"Though unable to go around to give
addresses, he is busy the greater part of the day with work for the
Church—writing, writing—too much, I think, but it is difficult to restrain
him, and he would be thinking of it anyway, which would be nearly as bad.
"You Western people seem to think
you own the Doctor. All the cry is, ‘Get better and come back to us.’
What about wife and family? I am rather jealous for my rights. But
really the people have all been extremely kind. Thank you once more.
"Give our kindest regards to Professor Hart and the
young people. Remember me to Miss Lawson. Love to your dear self.
"Your sincere friend,
"M. A. ROBERTSON."
"Jealous !" alas, poor wife, she has
him for a while to herself, and what wonder that she stands almost
fiercely on guard.
To Mrs. Hart’s answer there comes
this reply which, more than any quoted in these pages, penetrates the
heart with its poignant pathos. It is as follows:
"62 Admiral Road,
Toronto, Dec. 18, 1897.
"Mv DEAR MRS. HART:— "Judging from the number of
letters that go to Winnipeg from 62 Admiral Road, I presume you are in
possession of all the information I can give you. However, I want to write
to let you know how welcome your letter was with its news and with its
comfort, and how much I appreciate your interest in us.
"The Doctor still continues to
improve. He is stronger, his colour better, his skin softer and more
moist, the pains or cramps in his limbs pretty much gone, and he feels
better. He can walk for an hour or even two each day, without being very
much fatigued, but he still keeps very thin, one might say almost skin and
bone. We get the best of everything he is allowed to eat, and I do all the
preparing and serving myself. He has a good appetite, too (I am told that
is a characteristic of the disease), and relishes four meals each day,
except occasionally when confined to bed.
"Maybe you saw from the papers that
he attended the Toronto Presbytery and gave an address. This evening he
went to Hamilton to address Dr. Lyle’s congregation tomorrow.
"He is very anxious to get better
and to work, and I am sure the prayers and expressions of love and
sympathy from his many friends have comforted and cheered him. To all of
those we owe a debt of gratitude, and especially to those in the West,
whose kindness we can never forget.
"Probably you were right when you
said I would not like it any better were you to say, ‘Get better and stay
in Toronto.’ I do not think he would be any better away from home. He
certainly would take work or make it, and he could not have the care and
attention he receives here.
"It will be quite a treat to have
him with us during the Xmas season. Never once since 1881 has he
been at home for the holiday season.
"Love from all of us to you and
yours. May your Xmas be a happy and joyous one.
"Your loving, friend,
"M. A. ROBERTSON."
Home "once" only in sixteen
years for the Christmas season and that by reason of sickness.
Soon he is better and out again upon
the field. Indeed, his eager spirit has never for a moment been absent
from its activities, and with such dash and vigour does he lead, that he
deceives his friends and perhaps himself as to his true condition.
At its March meeting in 1898, the
Home Mission Committee seeks to relieve him of the more laborious features
of his work, and appoints him Field Secretary, hoping that he may give to
others those long, wearisome journeys through the wide extent of his
Western field. But it is quite useless. Field Secretary he may be, but
that will not withdraw him from the field. Nay, if he be Field
Secretary, surely the field must claim him more and more. So in September
of that year we find him more in the thick of the work than ever. The two
following letters give us the programme for two of his journeys:
"Gainsboro, Assa., Sept. 1, 1898.
"DEAR MRS. HART :— "The programme has been so far
carried out to the letter. The day I left you I got to Napinka and held a
meeting in the evening; Thursday I got to Oxbow and went south seventeen
miles to a meeting, returning the same night; Friday I spent
corresponding, and addressed a meeting in the evening; Saturday drove
forty-seven miles with a lame ‘plug’ that made me weary to finish the
journey; Sabbath, three services and a drive of forty-three miles—Moose
Mountain field; Monday, a drive of forty-three miles, a runaway, a broken
pole, but ‘nobody hurt,’ and a successful meeting; Tuesday, meeting at
Carievale, well attended, and a drive to Gainsboro afterwards, nine or ten
miles; Wednesday, correspondence, drive south to Winland, meeting and
return here; to-day going to Estevan. Strength remaining, but diet not
quite the right kind. Country people are very kind, but limited as to
range in furnishing meals. White bread, canned fruit, and jams are always
in evidence, while eggs, etc., have to be asked for. They are tired of
them themselves, and think others are too. But I am doing very well.
"Missions I find in a state
requiring attention. I am getting them to pull up—in some cases, to nearly
double former contributions.
"Mrs. R— and the rest were well, as I learned two
"With grateful remembrances of all
your kindness, and asking to be remembered to Professor Hart, Miss Ethel
and Mr. William,
"With great respect,
"Revelstoke, B. C., Sept. 12, 1898.
"DEAR MRS. HART :— "So far I have got on my journey
filling all appointments, and although I am not quite fresh, yet I am
holding out fairly well. I attended the meeting of the Presbytery of
Calgary at Medicine Hat on Tuesday last, and posted off that night to
Calgary, and reached Edmonton on Wednesday evening, and gave an address at
a public meeting. Thursday attended Presbytery meeting, and we finished
business Friday, visited, and conducted service in the evening, baptizing
six children, the minister’s infant daughter being one. Saturday returned
to Calgary, and conducted two services Sabbath, and got here this evening.
To-morrow morning I am going away to a meeting of the Presbytery of
Kamloops at Nelson, and returning to go to Vancouver. The first basket I
got safely, and saw the second at Calgary when going to Edmonton, but
could not get it this morning—the agent was absent. I am getting it sent
here, so that on my return from Nelson I may get it. I am very much
obliged to you, but I am ashamed to put you to so much trouble. I received
considerable help from the gluten bread.
"I have heard from home, and all are
well. Mr. Gordon I hope to meet in the Kootenay on Wednesday.
"Kind regards to Professor Hart,
Miss Ethel, Mr. William and your ‘Scorrish’ cousin. With best thanks and
"Believe me to be, dear Mrs. Hart,
The anniversary of his wife’s
birthday and of their marriage, the 23d of September, finds husband
pushing along the dusty mountain trails, and wife waiting at home in
anxiety and fear for tidings. He cannot be with her to celebrate; a
telegram and letter must do. These anniversary letters are too sacred for
any printed page, but from this one we may select some paragraphs:
"Last night I sent you
congratulations for to-day, which is the anniversary of your birth and of
our marriage. I would have liked very much to have been able to be with
you, but it seems always difficult of being realized, owing to my
"On my arrival here I got your
letter, and after reading it I felt doubly sorry to be away. I suppose you
did your best with the children. I spent last night without sleep on the
train, and to-day in a heated atmosphere till 4 P. M. It was not like the
anniversary of our wedding, but it could not be helped.
"I am sorry—sorrier than you, I
think, that we have not been more together, and especially sorry for you.
If you have had the pleasure of the children’s company you have had all
the trouble in connection with them and their upbringing. Of this I would
willingly have relieved you in part, but could not. I am thankful to God
that you have been able to do it so well. And it will be some satisfaction
to you if in the providence of God they turn out well, that you have been
able to do so much for them even although the work was hard and the task
"But as I was thinking of the past,
I do not know that you would have been better with any of the other
fellows who coveted your hand so much. Poor Adam left life early, Mac has
long since gone after him. Matheson and you would not agree, nor would
Wilson or Cowing. I cannot really tell how many more you had. It would
seem as if S— was your only hope in the matter of permanent companionship,
and him you refused. Had you known, however, that you would be so
much of the time separated from me, I suppose you would have had nothing
to do with me, and then our dear children would be calling some one else
father. As for me, I suppose had I known that my life would have been such
as it is, I would not have presumed to ask any person to be my partner,
and my past and future would have a different hue. Well, things are as
they are, nor am I sorry, but the reverse, except in the matter of such
frequent and long separations. My wife promised to be loving and faith ful,
and she has kept her part of the covenant during these years, and if
to-day ended the contract, I would with all my heart ask her to renew it
again for life. Were I to say more, you would say I was trying to please
you without my heart being in my words, and this has never been the case.
My dear wife I loved and love and will while life lasts or reason holds
the throne. I know she insists on measuring me by her own bushel, but I
think that mine is more just and I must continue to use it. Kiss our dear
children. Tell them the story of your courtship, of your beaux and your
troubles with them, of your desire to marry two, if not three of them, if
not to please yourself, to please them, and the hard luck that gave you
their father. You could entertain them for an evening, and I venture to
say they would listen."
British Columbia with its mining
activity is now the danger zone of the Dominion, hence he must be on the
ground, and with his old disregard of personal comfort and of health, he
outlines his programme and then proceeds relentlessly to fill it in.
In August, 1899, the Superintendent
spent two weeks in the Boundary Country. The story of that campaign is
told in a paper by the Rev. H. J. Robertson. So simple, so direct, so
vivid is this narrative, and such a picture does it give of heroic
endurance on the part of the old chief and of loyal devotion on the part
of his young clansman, that it is without apology set down here.
"It was in August, 1899, Dr.
Robertson came to Nelson on his way to Rossland, where the new Presbytery
of Kootenay was to be organized. He was looking exceedingly well. We went
on to Rossland together, and after concluding Presbytery business, Dr.
Robertson left for Marcus, Washington State, on Thursday morning, en.
route to Grand Forks. From Marcus his travelling was to be by stage
forty-five miles to Grand Forks, twenty miles to Greenwood, twelve miles
to Midway and return, with Cascade, Columbia, Phoenix and Eholt to visit
by the way. The following Thursday morning I met him at the station in
Nelson. He was old and haggard and played out, scarcely able to walk. I
took his ‘grip’ while he, in his fatherly way, took my arm, and as we went
up the hill together told me what he had been doing during the past week.
It had been long drives by stage, meetings every night, consultations with
ministers and missionaries and managers, letter-writing till after
midnight, and up at daybreak to catch the early stages. During the week he
had averaged about two hours’ sleep a night. Little wonder, then, that he
was played out.
"He rested that day in Nelson in Mr.
Frew’s apartments, and while he dictated I wrote many letters for him.
Friday morning he was off again by the seven o’clock train for Slocan,
where he held a meeting that night. Saturday he visited New Denver,
Roseberry, and Three Forks, getting to Sandon that evening. Sunday morning
he preached in Sandon, and by the afternoon train went over to Kaslo,
where he preached in the evening.
"It was in Sandon, on Friday, that
he was taken ill with dysentery, and by Sunday evening was so weak that he
was unable to stand during the service, so sat down by the pulpit and
addressed the people. Monday evening he was off by the boat for Ainsworth.
A meeting had been arranged for at that place and he simply had to keep
his engagements, so he said. At Ainsworth he lay down in the missionary’s
shack during the day—too ill to move out, and in the evening presided at
the meeting for which he had come—and again he was too weak to stand. That
night I passed up the lake bound for the Lardeau district, which the
Superintendent had asked me to explore, and as we saw the lighted church
from the boat I wondered how it was going with the old man, but little
thought that he was in such dire straits.
"Tuesday night Dr. Robertson was
billed for a meeting at Ymir, a little mining town seventeen miles south
of Nelson. This was the last engagement in West Kootenay and he was
determined to fulfill it. By steamer he came down the lake from Ainsworth
to Five Mile Point where he got the morning train south to Ymir.
He was ill, dangerously ill, but
getting medicine from the Ymir druggist, he held his meeting. A week later
Mr. Robertson heard that the Superintendent was still in Ymir, detained by
sickness. At once Robertson set off from Nelson for Ymir, walking the
seventeen miles in four hours, over the most difficult trail he had ever
"On inquiring for Dr. Robertson, I
was directed to the home of a man whose name I have forgotten. Here I
found the old hero wonderfully well, as I had been imagining all sorts of
things on my way over. Before I had time to make any inquiry about
himself, he began to ply me with questions.
"‘Hello! Where have you come from?’
"‘Where have you been since the
train came in four hours ago? Where did you get the mud on your boots?’
"‘Oh, I got that walking over from
Nelson. I missed the train and walked over.’
"‘Well, what did you walk over here
for? I thought you were up in Lardeau.’
"‘I came down last night to Nelson
and heard this morning that you were sick, so came over to look after
you.’ It had never entered the old man’s head that any one would walk any
distance to see him. When he heard why I had come, he said nothing, but I
saw his eyes fill with tears, and I had my reward.
"We went back to Nelson that same
afternoon, and from the station, where we found Mr. Creasse waiting with a
cab, we drove to Dr. Arthur’s, and from there to Mr. James Lawrence, a son
of the Rev. James Lawrence, formerly of Stony Mountain. Here Dr. Robertson
remained and rested another day, while I was kept busy writing letters,
making new engagements for the following weeks.
"A few weeks later, he preached on
Sunday morning in St. Stephen’s, Winnipeg. At the close of the service he
found out Mrs. Murray and told her that he had seen her nephew, Robertson,
in British Columbia, and ‘he walked seventeen miles to see me when I was
God bless the young man! and God
give him a great ministry! He served us all that day in serving Him whom
we would so gladly serve.
The great expansion in British
Columbia and the establishing of the Yukon Mission leave the Committee
struggling with a deficit, which deficit sends the Superintendent through
Eastern Canada on the hunt for funds till his strength fails. Then the
Executive, needing men more sorely than it needs money, hurries the
Superintendent off to Scotland to bear greetings to the Union Assembly of
the Free and United Presbyterian Churches there, and to win the continued
interest of the united Church in Western Canada, and to get men. The
Executive is hopeful, too, that with leagues of sea between him and his
field, their Field Secretary may, perchance, be manoeuvred into rest.
To their mutual delight, his wife
accompanies her husband upon this trip. His work the Superintendent
apportions to one and another of his colleagues, for he is not the man to
leave it uncared for. Hence the following letter to Mr. Gordon:
"Cunard R. M. S. ‘Lucania,’ October
"DEAR MR. GORDON :— "When 1 left Winnipeg a few things that I was to
attend to were left unsettled. Mr. McLaren of Vancouver wanted a man for
Fairview—a part of Vancouver like Mt. Pleasant—I wanted to see G. C. Grant
about going there, but did not have a chance." And so through the whole
list of men and fields, each having received his personal care and
"D— I was trying to get settled at
Leduc. He was ready to go, but his wife was afraid of being, like Lot’s
wife, turned, not into a pillar of salt, but a pillar of ice. But D— has
been tried in a number of places in British Columbia, and does not fit
anywhere, and hence I was anxious to try him on the Alberta plains to see
how he would do. Will you follow this out, too?
"I told Tina, before I left Toronto,
to send you all letters, after consulting Dr. Warden in reference to cases
he should consider, and I told Dr. Warden to send you any men he had and
that you would place them. The list of vacancies I sent you; for fear it
got lost or miscarried, let me repeat.
"I have asked the other Conveners to
write you about men.
"I left on my table, when I left
home, the material for a Home Mission report to the Synod; Tessie will
likely send it to you. You and Mr. Farquharson can arrange its matter, and
add to it as you deem best, and present it with my apologies for my
absence. The Augmentation report I sent you ere I left.
"The treasurer’s report you will
also present. Get all moneys due—accounts were sent to everybody in
time—and enter them in the book. I told Tessie to send you the book, the
receipted bills, and the stubs of checks Mr. Farquharson made out to
Conveners attending meetings of Home Mission Committee. These will, I
trust, be accepted as vouchers. The checks themselves are in the bank. If
anything needs explanation I shall give it on return.
After two months of visiting training-schools,
institutes and colleges, his physician sends him off with his wife to the
Hydropathie at Crieff, with strict orders to rest. From this somewhat gay
watering-place he writes this delightfully bright and breezy letter to
Mrs. Hart on New Year’s Day, 1901:
"On this day that ushers in the new
year and new century, I feel I must write you, if only a note, to offer
you, Professor Hart, Ethel and Willie, the greetings of the season. May
heaven’s best blessings be bestowed on you all this year, and may the
century be called old before you are forced to admit that you feel as if
you were beginning to get old.
"Well, we are here by doctor’s
orders, and trying to get back strength lost. Losing, I find, is easier
than gaining. In a sense I am gaining, and yet things are not
satisfactory. To-day, Mrs. R— and I had a good walk
—four miles—and at the end of our
trip she was more tired than I. And yet, sugar is in my blood, in my feet,
in my hands-I feel it, the crystals scratching and irritating, and causing
local swellings. But enough of this. Mrs. R—. is well and enjoys her rest.
"I have not been addressing
congregations or Presbyteries. I did address the people here on two
occasions, and was given two contributions of £300 each, or nearly $3,000
in all. I am willing to hire myself out for the rest of my days, well or
ill, at that figure. I am writing leaflets, letters, etc., etc., and
trying to awaken an interest in that way; but the people here are self-centred,
insular, provincial in their ideas—small to a marvel, considering the talk
about Empire and Evangelization, Enlightenment, and all the other E’s they
are supposed to have and use. And this Union has left little time
for one section of the Church to do but ask ‘Where are we at ?' The United
Presbyterians seem to be glad, but the Frees look to me as if they thought
that they had married just a little below them. But "tis done, the great
transaction’s done,’ and they must make the best of it. Meetings have been
held in all the centres of population, Glasgow, Paisley, Perth, Inverness,
Dundee, Aberdeen, etc., to celebrate the event, and all passed off very
well. A Free Church fragment—mostly Highlanders—stayed out— a great pity,
as they cannot hope to accomplish anything. It will take the congregations
all their time to live, and the ministers of some of them will scarcely
command milk for their porridge. Time will reveal the failure.
"This Hydro. just now is like a
fair. There must be 250
people here. From all parts they come. And such a
display of silk and jewellery, of arms and shoulders, I have never seen.
But with their style and charms, I think I have seen a girl near Manitoba
College somewhere, that I would match against the most captivating and
capturing of them all. More than once I wished she was here. To-night we
had a splendid spread, haggis brought in with Highland honours, regular
big paunches, steaming hot, on four huge trays borne aloft, followed by as
many bottles fully displayed. Down one aisle headed by the piper they
went, and up the other, guests standing and cheering. Afterwards ‘
Comietta’ in the recreation-room, followed by dancing. We had prayers in
the drawing-room at 9
:45. I looked in on the others afterwards, waltzing in
full swing. Strange mixture of piety and gayety here. I am in the ‘
writing-room now, all alone—not all alone—couples come in here, and
tête-a-têtes are proceeding. I long to tell them I cannot hear well, so
that they may have more freedom, but I ‘don’t like to.’ But enough.
"No plans for the future. I am going
to address students in Edinburgh next week, and Presbytery of Perth. The
following week I may go to Budapest; Mr. Allan is arranging for ticket,
"With kindest regards from both of
us to you all. I wish we had a little of your weather. Nothing here but
fog, mist, cloud, rain, slop. Fall of soft snow Sunday, but it did not
By the kind thoughtfulness of Mr. B.
S. Allan of Glasgow, whose guests they are for a few days, Dr. Robertson
and his wife are sent off to Budapest where there is to be a great
gathering of students. He has a most cordial reception and secures for
Western work two men. His experiences on the continent and his opinions
thereupon, are worth recording. We select the following extract from a
letter to Dr. Hart
"Learning that there were colleges
at Debritszen and Koloszvar, I arranged to go there, and had enthusiastic
meetings, although the students had never heard of Canada, and one of the
professors, who interpreted for me, stopped me in my address and asked me
whether, when I said Canada was nearly as large as Europe, I did not mean
Europe without Russia? When I answered that I meant all west of the Ural
Mountains and the Ural River, the students made a sort of noise that I
never heard except in Hungary, but which I was told was a cheer. At both
places the bishops attended, and showed great interest; and when I called
on one of them privately he offered, if we sent two Hungarians home, to
educate and board and lodge them for the four years’ course in Theology
free of cost. This offer he made as Bishop, he said, and the interpreter,
Professor Ciszy— pronounced Cheeky—informed me that this was as good as a
bond, and binding on his successor.
"Returning to Budapest, we arranged
to start for Vienna, where we spent the Sabbath. We attended the Free
Church Mission in the forenoon, and I addressed the Reformed Congregation
in the evening, and the Y. M. C. A. Monday on mission work in the West.
Tuesday we came to Prague, and I instituted inquiries about the Bohemians.
I made little of it. There is not much of a Church, and it is morally
rotten, not the Church from which to get missionaries. Then we pushed on
here, where Mr. Macmillan, brother of Mr. Macmillan of Lindsay, looked up
quarters for us. I called on Dr. Mereusky, the head of a Foreign Mission
College here, and have the prospect of getting some men through him.
"But I have concluded that it is
scarcely safe to get many men from Europe. They have the mercenary, far
more than the missionary, spirit developed ; spiritual life is not as
requisite for spiritual work, nor does a man need to believe what he
teaches any more than a lawyer. Worse, they are not clean in the great
majority of cases. From ninety to ninety-five per cent. of the theological
students even of the Reformed Church are said by ministers to be unclean.
Unbelief is spreading rapidly, and the ranks of the ‘Social Democrats’
being rapidly recruited. Can any good come out of Nazareth? Better try to
get or train men amid better surroundings. But enough of this."
From the continent he returns not
greatly improved in health, but still hopeful and eager for recruits for
Canada. He is home in the spring of 1901 in time for the March meeting of
the Committee. By the Committee he is welcomed
with grateful affection for his own sake and
for the work he has done. He reports that he has secured forty-two men and
over $10,000 in cash or in promises, and the
Committee, lifted out of the slough of a threatened deficit, faces the
General Assembly with the report of such splendid achievement as has never
been equalled in the history of the Church. This report is presented by
the Superintendent himself with his accustomed freshness and force, and is
received by the Assembly with great enthusiasm.
A supplementary report is presented
by the Moderator, the Rev. Dr. Warden, Convener of the Home Mission
Committee, praying the Assembly to arrange for some adequate assistance to
Dr. Robertson in the matter of superintendence. This request, upon motion
of the Rev. J. W. Macmillan, seconded by Dr. Bryce, is granted. With
simple dignity the Superintendent thanks the Assembly for the kind
thoughtfulness in this matter, and the work of superintendence of Western
missions enters upon a new phase.
He is often on his feet during this
Assembly. Against the advice of many of his friends who know the
hopelessness of it, he moves the Home Mission Committee’s recommendation
requesting the Women’s Foreign Mission Society to widen the scope of its
activity to embrace Home as well as Foreign Mission work. It is the last
of a long series of efforts in this direction, and it fails.
Dr. Robertson has sometimes been
criticised as being hostile to Foreign Mission work. None who know his
attitude would so criticise him. To no one would he yield in loyalty to
the cause of Foreign Missions, but to him it was simply a question of
procedure. The great world outside was the objective, but the immediate
base was the Canadian West. And no amount of devotion to the work in China
could atone, in his opinion, for neglect of Canada; and no amount of zeal
for work in the Foreign field would recover the ground lost to the Kingdom
of Heaven through indifference to the needs of Canada. This was his
attitude, and it is an attitude perfectly reasonable and one easily
In this his last Assembly, Dr
Robertson is the prime mover in a number of causes. He presses and carries
through an overture signed by Drs. Herdman, Herridge, Somerville, Mr.
Carmichael, Mr. Gordon, and others in regard to the training of men for
Home Mission work, the final issue of which is the establishment of the
Minister Evangelist Course now in operation in Manitoba College. He
supports the overtures that result in the erection of the new Presbyteries
of Dauphin, Qu’Appelle, and Prince Albert.
At the very close of the Assembly he
presents the report of the Church and Manse Building Fund. It is the last
report to be presented to the Assembly. Members and officials are crowding
work through with almost unseemly haste, when the Superintendent rises to
make his last address to the house. The moments are precious and he knows
it, and not one of them does he waste. With the old fire and with unabated
vigour, he recounts the work accomplished by this Fund. The Assembly,
forgetting its weariness and its impatience, listens with delighted
interest to the hurrying stream of statistics and stories, and to his
final passionate appeal on behalf of his beloved West. In moving the
resolution adopting the report, Dr. Herridge takes occasion to say that no
more fitting climax to the Assembly’s work can be found. Principal Grant,
in seconding the resolution, speaks in the same strain, closing with the
significant and prophetic quotation finis
His Assembly work is done, but there
remain a few weeks into which he can crowd some further service to his
Church and to his country. In August he sets off for a tour of the West.
Through the Presbyteries of Kamloops, Kootenay, Edmonton, and Calgary, he
goes, himself a veritable flying column, optimistic, buoyant as ever;
counselling, cheering on his brethren with never a word of complaint in
regard to himself, and with only now and then a suggestion of failing
strength. Of his Calgary visit his old friend, Dr. Herdman, a man of his
own kidney and dear to his heart, thus writes:
"His last visit to Calgary was
September 18th to 20th of 1901. I handed him a bundle of letters which had
accumulated for him—sixty-six in all! The Home Mission Committee of the
Synod of British Columbia was in session, and one of the meetings lasted
till two o’clock in the morning. Next day Dr. Lafferty called to give him
a well considered warning against overtaxing his small capital of health.
He was at once impressed and grateful, and more than once referred to the
excellent nature of the advice, on our way to Winnipeg.
"The train should have reached
Winnipeg early in the evening, but it was just one o’clock when we got to
our destination. At the station he found two students awaiting him, having
arrangements about travelling to make, which only he could effect for
them. The better part of an hour was consumed in this way, during which
time my duty was to keep the hotel bus waiting. For no other man would it
have waited, but the name of Dr. Robertson prevailed with passengers and
bus drivers, and when he at last appeared, none but kindly greetings
awaited him all round, though it was now nearly two in the morning. When
we reached the hotel I gasped to see the hotel clerk hand him a bundle of
letters; and when I met him next morning at breakfast, I found to my
consternation that he had not only read the letters, but ‘Although,’ as he
said apologetically, ‘my hope was that I might be able to follow Dr.
Lafferty’s friendly advice,’ he had found several of them so urgent, and
dealing with matters so long delayed, that he had been compelled by a
sense of duty to take most of the few hours that remained of the night,
and reply at once. This was how between us all we worked our
Superintendent of Missions."
In October he is in Toronto for the
meeting of the Executive of the Assembly’s Committee, and immediately upon
its close hurries to complete his tour of the West. By November 7th he is
on the east-bound train, busy with correspondence. Here is a letter of
instructions, terse, crisp, pulsing with life and feeling which he
addresses to Mr. Gordon:
"You can scarcely imagine—vivid as
your imagination is—how disappointed and flabbergasted I was to-day to
find you had gone out of town ; there were sheaves of things I wished to
discuss with you. But let me give you first a list of men expected and
where it is suggested that they be sent." Then follows a list of names
with directions as to fields, his judgment in regard to salaries,
instructions as to leaflets and Synod Fund, after which the letter
proceeds: "In presenting the Home Mission report, get the Committee to
"1. That the Synod instruct all
congregations and missions to contribute to the Fund.
"2. That the Synod direct attention
to the need of more missionaries, and men better suited for the work.
"3. Let missions like those I have
indicated to you, be frankly told that they must shift for themselves.
"To save Fund, let an Executive of
the Home Mission and Augmentation be appointed to meet in the autumn.
"P. S. Apologize to Committee and
Synod for my absence; tell them how sincerely I regret not meeting my
brethren, but that it was inevitable." He never met with them again.
The rest of November he spends in a
Home Mission campaign, in company with the Rev. J. A. Macdonald and Mr.
John Penman of Paris. The last month of the year and of his life is packed
full, the Sabbaths with public services, the days between with journeys,
addresses, and correspondence.
On Sabbath, November 24th, on his
way to address the Park dale congregation, he has a fall which almost
renders him insensible. He makes his way to a doctor, bruised and
bleeding, but after being bandaged, he insists on fulfilling his
engagement and that same afternoon addresses Westminster Sabbath-school.
Remonstrances are in vain, He never has broken an appointment while able
to stand. From his shoulder to his finger-tips, he is black and blue ; his
arm is useless, but next Sabbath he is preaching in Brampton, Cheltenham,
and Mt. Pleasant. On Tuesday following he addresses the Toronto Presbytery
and, as he tells his old friend, Dr. Farquharson, "stated a few plain
things to them about the treatment they were meting out to Home Mission
and Augmentation, and tried to shame them, etc.," with some effect,
evidently, for a number of the brethren ask him for a synopsis of his
address to be used with their people. The following Sabbath he is
preaching in Paris, Farringdon and Zion Church, Brantford. The Sabbath
after, he keeps an appointment, made three weeks before, and addresses
Westminster congregation, Toronto, in its morning service.
"I shall never forget his
appearance," writes Rev. John Neil, "when he came into the vestry before
the service. He had a bandage over one eye, and his appearance indicated
that he had been passing through some trying experiences. He said, ‘Dr.
Warden insisted upon my not coining this morning, but when I make an
engagement I am always determined, if possible, to carry it out. I hope
your congregation will not resent my coming in this form.’ I have heard
him frequently, both in the pulpit and on the platform, and at the
meetings of our General Assembly and other Church courts, but I never
heard him speak with more power than that Sabbath morning. It was perhaps
the most comprehensive address I ever heard him deliver."
Writing to Dr. Farquharson of his
experience in Westminster Church that day, he says:
"Yesterday I addressed Mr. Neil’s
congregation in the forenoon, Mr. Frizzell’s in the evening. A man came up
to me at the close of the forenoon service and offered me $250, and
people are going to work to raise at least $1,250 by way of special
help—so Dr. Warden told me to-day. I am going to disable the other
shoulder and get my other eye blackened."
He does better in Mr. Neil’s church
than he knows, for as a result of that address the Fund is richer by
And yet in spite of this terrific
pace, such is the extraordinary vitality of the man, that he appears not
only to be holding his own, but to be even improving in health. But it is
not the vitality of physical strength, it is the flaming fire of his
invincible spirit that gives to his emaciated and weakening body the
energy and the glow of health.
During the week following his
appearance at Westminster, he addresses Central Church, Hamilton. He has
two Sabbaths left of the year and of his life. He will make a fair
division of them. One he will give to his life’s work, pleading his great
cause before the congregations of Appin and Gleucoe, tile other, the 29th
of December, he will give—oh, reckless prodigality !—to his wife and
The next three days he remains
quietly at home, filling up the hours with correspondence as his strength
will permit, for he is rapidly failing. It is Saturday, the 4th of
January. In the midst of a letter the stupor of his disease now and then
overcomes him. He rouses himself to continue, till at length his hitherto
uuconquered spirit surrenders. He turns to his wife and, with a word
strange upon his lips, "I am done out," he sinks into slumber. The long
day is done; the night has come! And also the morning!
The Church authorities come to
proffer their loving offices in the last service it is permitted men to
render to their honoured dead. A public funeral is proposed, but the wife,
heart-stricken and "jealous" of her rights in that dear dust, will not
hear of it. He is hers now at last, and only hers, and she will hold him
hers to the end. But this only for a moment. Of her life’s long sacrifice
but a poor fragment remains to offer. He is hers, yes, but he belongs to
his Church as well, and if his Church asks the privilege of rendering this
last loving tribute, she will not interpose. She will make perfect her
At the house a small company of
close friends gather. The great words of the immortal hope are read. There
is a prayer for pity and comfort, a prayer of grateful thanksgiving as
well, and he is carried forth from the home which has been his so little.
In and about Bloor Street Church a
great concourse of the people have assembled. Dr. Wallace, the minister of
the church, presides and reads the Scripture. The Rev. J. A.
Macdonald offers the prayers of the people. Songs of hope and triumph lift
their hearts to God. The Moderator of the General Assembly, Rev. Dr.
Warden, pays the tribute of the Church’s love and gratitude. The Rev. C.
W. Gordon speaks the word that tells the grief of the men of the West,
their loving pride in their dead chief, their gratitude for his work,
their joy in his triumph. The people pass in a long-drawn file to look
upon his face upturned and still. Alas! alas! he is dead! No message more
from those pallid lips! Then they bear him out to his place in Mount
But he is of the West. In the West
his life is sown; in the West the harvest will wave, and so upon the field
of his labour and of his triumph his dust must find its last abode. To
Winnipeg—how different from that "clustering variegation of shops and
shacks" that greeted him twenty-eight years ago—and thence to old Kildonan,
he is borne, and there in that sacred field of the dead those who loved
him best and wrought with him longest, laid him down. Beside him Nisbet,
Black, and a little further, King, a noble company for whom Western Canada
might well thank God. There let them sleep together, their dust possessing
this wide land and claiming it for God and things eternal, their spirits
living in the unshrinking faith and unconquered love of those who, hearing
of their deeds, shall find within their own hearts a fire that will
consume until all dross of self is gone and only the love of God and man