THE work being done in Knox College
at this period was not up to
that high standard demanded by the ministry of the Presbyterian Church,
and there was, consequently, considerable dissatisfaction among the
students attending. Hence, when the College opened in the autumn of 1866,
a large number of Canadian students found their way to Princeton, which,
under the Hodges, was then attracting men from both continents. Among the
Canadian students was James Robertson, who, though an ardent lover of his
country and of her institutions,
was determined that nothing that he could prevent should stand between him
and a thorough equipment for the life-work he had chosen. He had striven
towards this goal too long and at too great sacrifice to be checked now in
any degree, so turning his back upon the college which naturally should
have been his alma mater, he entered the seminary at Princeton as a
student in theology for the session 1866—67.
It was not long before there arose
among the Canadian students at Princeton heart-searchings as to their duty
to their own Church and their own country, when their days of preparation
were done. The following letter shows Robertson’s mind on two questions to
which in after life he was forced to give very careful consideration; the
questions, namely, of the relative claims of Canada and the United States
upon Canadian students and the question of the manning of our colleges. It
is written from Princeton Seminary under date of the 12th of Jan., 1867.
"I have heard nothing from Mr. G—
nor from Mr. MacC—. Mr. D— tells me that Paris Presbytery took up and
discussed the matter of so many
students coming over here. There was no definite action taken upon the
subject. It would be a good thing if it would rouse men to think of what
is needed to be done for Knox College. D— says there are only thirty men
attending Knox this year. If the college is to serve the purposes of the
Canadian Presbyterian Church, it must be overturned and laid on better
principles." The young man is somewhat radical in his remedies, but
without a doubt both colleges and churches have severely suffered from
lack of courage to apply just such remedies. "I hope they may start a
college at Montreal and get some men from Britain. Should Canadians come
over here, the inducements to stay are such that many will be persuaded to
do so. Should a person go out into the field here, there are plenty of
opportunities to get places and the chances are much better than in
Canada. Men who have nothing to do with politics, who merely look to do
good, will not think much about being under a different flag. The
acquaintances formed would soon lead them to forget old prejudices and
live contented here. I see the effects already on our own men. If such is
the case with men who are here but one year, what will be the result with
men who may take three, and who may enter relations that make it an
inducement to stay? Moreover, when a person gives himself to the work of
the ministry, he should not arbitrarily decide where he is to go. He is to
do his Master’s work, and that wherever he is called to do it. He must not
scruple to live under a flag different from that under which he was born
if God in His providence so
directs." With which liberal spirit we would heartily agree, but it is
interesting to observe how in later years when looking at the subject from
another point of view, Mr. Robertson saw reason to modify his opinion very
considerably. Meantime, in a man of his strong national prejudices and
deep patriotic feeling, these sentiments do him no dishonour. "And by
coming here," he proceeds, "and being brought into contact with the work
and seeing an evident need of his services, and being in a true sense of
the word ‘called,’ is he to refuse merely because he happens to be in the
lJnited States ! Should such be the spirit of Christians, no heathen need
look for a ray of light from a Christian country." The logic of this can
hardly be considered faultless, but he goes on:
"Is not the principle involved in
this the very one that is chief among the reasons for having a
Presbyterian college in Montreal ! There is the same clashing of claims
between East and West in Canada, only here, instead of the claims being
those of rival provinces, they are those of rival countries. These
boundary lines, however, are political and not spiritual. They divide the
kingdoms of this world and not that of Christ. His kingdom extends to all.
No man can justify himself in making a resolution to go to a place to
study and refuse to stay whatever circumstances may arise. He would then
be making a distinction where his Master had made none."
From the graver subject of this
letter he turns with that love of humour that afterwards marked him so
strongly, to retail two stories brought in by one of his fellow students.
"One of the students was attending a
negro prayer-meeting. The leader was offering up prayer and in so doing
offered special petitions for the children, praying that they might be ‘
filled with all manner of concupiscence.’ Another leader, in praying for a
young lady who was lying ill, petitioned ‘That she might be restored again
and permitted to go about like a roaring lion seeking whom he might
Let us hope that mercifully the
petitions were not granted.
College life at the seminary in
Princeton, at least with the Canadian contingent there, was an earnest
business. These men had left their homes under pressure of high purpose
and at no small cost. They were called upon to incur no inconsiderable
financial outlay, to sacrifice personal and family ties as well as
national sentiment. Hence they were determined to make the most of the
privileges which Princeton had to offer them. The following extract gives
us a glimpse into the workshop where they were being hammered and
fashioned into preachers of the Gospel.
"Our class preaching commenced
Tuesday. I got a sermon in to-day for criticism. I am afraid I must be
severe on the man and I am sorry, for he is a good fellow. I must,
however, in justice to him and to myself, tell him what I think of it. We
get two sermons every week, half an hour long, with a written criticism of
fifteen minutes on each. The exercise is good for the mind." Good for the
mind it is without a doubt, and would there were more of this same
wholesome exercise in the making of our preachers to-day!
"I have just come in from hearing
two of our Canadian preachers, Messrs C— and F—. They did very well
indeed. The American students thought a good deal of them too. I heard one
of them say that he never heard anything in the seminary to beat it. I
feel very sensitive for the honour of Canadians here. I only now realize
that, in sentiment at least, I am a Canadian." A Canadian ! That he is,
and ever growing into a better. His twelve years of Canada have made this
young Scot no less a Scotchman, but they have tinged his blood with a
strong Canadian strain. We shall come across this feeling for Canada’s
honour once and again during his life.
In another letter he writes:
"Thursday night came, and though an excitable character, I seemed to grow
more cool and collected as the time drew near for me to preach. There were
four of us to preach ten-minute sermons. I came third. The
modus operandi is as
follows. One gets up and preaches; the professor then criticises him on
his manner and matter. Of course, everything is taken notice of, a word
mispronounced, a gesture inappropriate or awkward, a proposition not
correctly expressed, anything, in short, that is not just as it should be
is corrected. Now a man is criticised for bad pronunciation, then for want
of proper enunciation, now for speaking too loud, then for having a nasal
twang. It is rather difficult to steer clear of all the shoals. I got no
criticism, only that the whole was very clearly stated and tersely
expressed, and that the line of argument was clear throughout. I was
rather excited at first, but soon grew confident. I took my manuscript
with me, but did not need it while I was speaking. Every eye was fixed on
me and not a move was made." That is easy enough to believe. We have seen
something of this fixed and motionless attention, and we are prepared to
believe it true even of that most critical of all critical audiences, and
in those crude days.
"After the whole was over, the
Canadian students and some of the Americans came in to ‘congratulate’ us,
as they term it. There seems to be a spirit of good-will among all the
students towards us, but the Canadians have a decided preference for each
other, and when one of the number preaches, all are sure to be there and
feel as if the name and honour of the country were at And no unworthy
sentiment this, for these young exiles to cherish, and not without its
effect upon themselves and their after-career.
"It appears the preaching last night
was more than usually attractive, and there is a good deal of comment on
it to-day. One of the students of the second year was in seeing me. He
told me that if I sermonized like that to any congregation they would not
appreciate it at all, but he said they were all interested in it at once
from the novelty of the method and the compactness of style." A method and
a style most surely, whose novelty and compactness by no means diminished
with the passing years, as many congregations, both East and West, can
attest. "Those who spoke with me did remarkably well. I could judge of
their work, of course, but can say nothing of my own. Junior though the
year is, and few in number, we have the name of having more real talent
than any other year, by admission of the students of the other years
themselves." No great need here for the Scotch-man’s prayer, "Oh, Lord,
gie us a good conceit of ourselves." The pride of class, however, and the
joy of the dawning consciousness of strength may well be pardoned. All
loyal-hearted, strong men have it, but with consistent modesty as here.
Moreover, we are not to forget that this outpouring of the soul is not for
all, but for the one true and loving heart with whom he shares all his
secret thoughts and emotions.
Outside the class room this same
eager spirit prevails. At table and in their walks, those young men are
keen to exercise their intellectual muscles, more especially those
governing their dialectic powers. Nor do they shrink from high themes,
themes political, themes theological, themes ethical, heaven and earth
furnishing them, but all worthy and befitting the thing they would become.
For instance: "The other Canadians here and myself had rather a keen
discussion for about a week. I found myself against the whole of them and
had to oppose them in detail and in conjunction." And we can, without much
exercise of imagination, feel something of the stern joy with which he
stepped into the fray. "I was, however, in the right as I thought,"—most
assuredly !— "and succeeded at least in shutting them up if not in
convincing them. In fact, I got the champion of the band to
contradict the principles laid down by himself, and to crown all,
yesterday afternoon, Dr. Hodge and Dr. Moffat at conference took my view
of the same subject and argued my opinions as correct. The question was
whether emulation or the desire of superiority was wrong per se, I
saying it was not, they saying it was. They all got their opinions from
Professor Young, who was in Knox College, Toronto." Which, knowing
somewhat of that prince of dialecticians, we may take leave respectfully
to doubt. "And they stick to them as fast as they can. I really deplore
the case of men who in this way get to pin their belief to what a man
teaches even when they cannot maintain their ground for themselves." The
young man himself appears to be reasonably secure from this danger. "If I
can break the spell that seems to hang over the minds of some of these men
in this respect, I will do a good deal. The mind of a man should be left
free in the search after truth, and not confined by trammels which only
serve to warp it and dwarf its otherwise noble powers." Not even to Prof.
George Paxton Young will our young dialectician surrender the free
independence of his mind. Not he, though to few in his day might he so
reasonably surrender as to that same Professor Young.
Again the theme is heaven. "In my
last I told you of a discussion I had with one of the students and the
result of it. Before I had that one off, another arose between that same
man and another. I took part in the affair." An "affair" of this sort was
ever a delight to his soul. "The subject was the nature of heaven and from
that the nature of our bodies after the resurrection. One of the students
looked upon heaven as a state and denied the reality of the material body
after the resurrection. I took the opposite view, and so we contended. The
whole number of the Canadians got into the affair, taking difierent sides.
It was the subject at meals and during any spare time." Truly these
college men took themselves and their work seriously.
Next time the opponent happens to be
a down-easterner, and being a senior and a Yankee as well, he may fairly
be supposed to be an adept in the art of debate. He is unfortunate,
however, in the subject.
"We are going to the Sunday-school
here as usual. One of the teachers who goes out is from the New England
States. He is a fine man. We generally discuss something on our way back.
In going, Mr. C—, the superintendent of the school, is with us, as we room
in the same building. He with the other two, are a year in advance of me.
We were discussing the Shorter Catechism questions for two Sabbaths now."
Beware! our Highlander is on his native heath here. We can see him advance
with joyous step upon his foe. "We came to disagree on the second one, and
I was obliged to indoctrinate Mr. C—." We should expect nothing less, the
benighted New Englander not having been privileged with the teaching of
the parish school at Dull, not to speak of catechisings at the relentless
hands of the minister of the parish; and we doubt not that he
indoctrinated Mr. C— not without a fine pity for the latter’s unhappy
state and a fine Highland, modest pride in his own blood and breeding, as
witness: "I find that a Yankee does not know everything, and that most of
them cannot argue even with a Scotchman."
Living as they do under an alien
flag, these young men are intensely interested in the doings in Canada,
and there are great doings there at this time. The question of temperance
is appearing in the political world and the advocates of total abstinence
and prohibition are proposing legislation thereupon. A long campaign is
before them. Longer, indeed, than their most prescient leader can
forecast, and they have need of all their courage, for against them as yet
are arrayed a distinguished band of economists and theologians, not to
speak of place-hunting politicians and drouthy electors. But they may well
fight on. The stars in their courses are with them.
But overshadowing all other Canadian
questions is that of Confederation. The loosely-tied bundle of Provinces
are about to be welded into one solid State. And on these matters our
young dialectic student has opinions, nor is he chary of setting them
forth. These are interesting enough to us to-day, viewed in the light of
history. We look in upon them at the breakfast table one morning and
listen to their talk.
"It is Monday morning. I rise, split
up some old shingles, fix them in the stove, place some small wood on top,
and by applying a match, have the whole blazing in a short time. While the
fire is getting a-going, I wash and dress. Pat gets up and does the same.
Then I sit down to read Taylor’s ‘Manual of History.’ Breakfast is
announced in due time. We all assemble. Mr. Sinclair acts as general
distributor of provisions, assisted on the left by Pat. Mr. McKay acts as
mother for us all, carefully pouring out the coffee and supplying the
requisite quantity of cream (?) and sugar, while your humble servant acts
as chaplain. We sup our porridge, and then partake of our coffee and
toast." Frugal fare, but luxurious in comparison with that of other men
from Dull who, carrying on their back a bag of meal, bore that which was
to be their main support in the ascent of Parnassus and other hills of
intellectual difficulty. "For the first few minutes nothing is said, but
after a little Pat inquires
"‘Is there anything new in the
Globe this morning?’
"‘Yes,’ says McKay, ‘it contains an
account of the dinner given by John A. Cartier was there. Cameron was in
the chair and they had a jolly time of it. These are the really great men
of Canada, and not one of them said a word about Brown. They can get along
without him. It is the names of John A. and Cartier which will be
remembered in the history of our country and not that of Brown.’"
Canadians of to-day will be slow to
accept that judgment as final, but Mr. McKay must be allowed his say.
"‘They spoke also of reciprocity,
but very little. They have just fooled Brown out. They have returned from
Washington. There is no treaty, and so Brown might as well have kept in
"‘Yes,’ says Robertson, ‘but if
Brown had remained in the Cabinet he would have been responsible for this
"‘What conduct ?’ inquires McKay
"‘The conduct of offering the terms
they did to the Americans,’ says Robertson.
"‘What terms, man
"‘The terms of Derby’s
"‘What’s the matter with the
recommendations ?' says McKay.
"‘The matter with them! Why the
whole press of Canada, except the Free Press, condemned the terms.’
"‘But how do you know these terms
were offered ?'
"‘The American papers say so,’
replies Robertson, ‘and Galt’s friends do not deny it.’
"‘That’s so,’ chimes
in Pat, ‘every one knows that Brown has been the means of preventing the
too humiliating terms, which the Government would have given, from being
offered. He has been far more useful out of the Government than in it.’
" Which all will acknowledge at this day an
"‘But,’ persists Mac, ‘he had no
influence in the Government, and that is why he left it.’
"‘He has done far better then,’
replies Pat, ‘to leave it, if he could do more out than in.'
"‘Oh, pshaw!’ says Mac impatiently,
‘these men could have done with Brown just as they liked.’
"‘That they could not,’ says
Robertson, ‘or else they would have kept him in the Cabinet and saved the
howl that was raised against them.’
"‘Well, he has not the ability that
these men have, at any rate,’ says McKay.
"‘Why not? He has gained influence
and is steadily gaining influence still. He has won over the majority of
the Upper Canadians and has more weight in Canada West than any other man
"‘Why then,’ retorts McKay, ‘why
then does John A. carry on the Government
"‘Any one can see that,’ replies
Robertson, ‘because he sides in with the Lower Canadians.’"
And that is not far from the mark.
We have, even in our day, known somewhat of that astuteness of the
practical politician that knows how to utilize inharmonious elements in
the national life and make them all serve in turn.
"‘It is a manifest fact that John A.
has been losing influence in Upper Canada for the last fifteen years and
it was through Brown that his Government was brought to a standstill.’
"‘Then how is it that John A. has
brought on this Confederation ?'
"‘John A.! Not a bit of it. It is
due to Brown’s steady influence, for never would John A. and Cartier have
consented to anything of the kind till Brown brought them to a dead stand.
Brown is the man, after all, we have to thank.’"
So it would appear that Brown, the
object of much obloquy in that day and afterwards, had even then not a few
to do him honour, and more will join that company as Canadians come to
understand their history.
"‘That’s so!’ cries Sinclair.
‘Everybody knows that’s true, and so does Mac, but he won’t acknowledge
it. He’s going to be a lawyer
himself and he wants to fish a little for office. I fear he will be as
venal as the rest of his brethren.’
"‘That, however, would be better,’
continued Sinclair, ‘than trying to gain a little notoriety by opposing
Dunkin’ s bill. Did you hear about that, Robertson ?'
"‘No, I did not.’
"‘Well, you see this youth here had
nothing better to do but try to help these poor drunkards get liquor
easier and cheaper. What a generous youth he is!’
"‘Surely he was not guilty of that!’
"‘Yes, that he was.’
"‘Well,’ explained Mac, ‘I was
opposed to the bill as it stood.’
"‘Oh, yes!’ said Sinclair, ‘you
could not get all the good done your noble soul desired, and so you must
do none at all.’
"‘Well,’ replied Mac, ‘that bill
would do no good anyway.’
"How do you knows You did not give
it a trial.’
"'I says Mac, ‘that if liquor was
cheaper and if there were none of these restrictive measures,’ the people
would be much more sober than now."
An argument, by the way, not unknown
even in this advanced day, but deserving of respect more for its hoary age
and its marvellous tenacity of life, than for any inherent value.
"But Mac continues, ‘Look at the old
country! See how much they have to pay for whiskey, and yet they are more
drunken than here.’
"‘Prove that,’ flashes Robertson.
‘And even supposing that to be the case, you cannot institute a comparison
between any two countries in regard to these things. The one thing you
ought to do is to compare any two towns in the same country. Where a duty
of thirty cents a gallon was placed on whiskey in Canada, a good deal less
of it was drunk, as appeared in the reports, and since duty was put on in
the States, several million fewer gallons were drunk. And besides, Mac,
you are just talking nonsense, for you are saying, "Put on plenty of duty
and far more will be drunk; give it to them for nothing and they will not
have it." But there’s the bell. We must be off. We have the old chief
to-day and he will be in on the minute.’ "
And so we may leave them to their
serious work, and more serious play. They will bring no discredit on their
country, and, please God, may serve her well ere their day is done.