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Darling Memorial Sketch Book
Early Life — Dalkeith, 1820-58

JAMES DARLING was born at New Farm, a little hamlet near Dalkeith, on January 22nd, 1820. His father held a place of trust on the home farm of the late Duke of Buccleuch. Both his parents are described by those who knew them well as distinguished by their intelligent and cheerful piety, shining out in their daily life with a light that could not be hidden. The mother is specially remembered as having been tidy and orderly in her household management, and in her expenditure out of the not too abundant income knowing how "to make a little go a far way." Their son often spoke with grateful emotion, in later days, of the unspeakable advantage of having "come of a godly seed." In the simple family prayers and the practical religion which pervaded and inspired the whole domestic life, the youth breathed an atmosphere of godliness. And the good influence of all this was constant. Like many who have thus grown up in Christian homes, he was never able to name the day of his "new birth." The divine change was gradual and imperceptible. But there came a time, probably not far beyond his twelfth year, in which he became conscious of "the new life," and when onlookers were not slow to see that there was "some good thing in him toward the Lord God of Israel." He passed through the usual course of instruction at the parish school, and was a favourite with his teacher as well as on the playground. One of his schoolmates who still lives tells us that he never was a bold, rollicking boy, but rather needed to be drawn out, especially to boisterous play.

The family traditions lead us to conclude that he was naturally "quick tempered." And this feature in his character never entirely disappeared, but showed itself at times even in his later days. But he was not in the Scottish sense "dour" "nursing his wrath to keep it warm." His anger did not resemble the dark lowering cloud which is slow to dissipate, but rather the April shower which is soon followed by the sunshine.

A surviving brother in Aberdeen, in referring to some of the distinctive features of his character, dwells with a brother's congenial sympathy on his veneration and devoted attachment to his parents, delighting even to the end of his days to expatiate on their virtues, which, as he would sometimes remark, made it easy for him to love them. And this filial piety includes much. It never comes alone, but draws many other good affections after it. Respect for the fifth commandment has, many a time, led the way to obedience to the first.

The same appreciative brother writes, with many a pleasing recollection, of incidents illustrative of James's natural humanity, and his carrying out, as often as he had opportunity, sometimes even to the letter, the inspired precept, "Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ." We quote the brother's own words:—

"He could not bear to see suffering of any kind without lending a helping hand to alleviate it. I have known him frequently lighten a weary mother's burden on her way, by taking in his arms a tired and fretful child and carrying it to their destination. Nor was he slow, if he overtook a burdened fishwife trundling her heavy-laden barrow to market, to seize the barrow and wheel it along, while she enjoyed the rest to her weary limbs."

His sympathy and practical benevolence were not bounded by the human family; but, like a true follower of Him who "takes care for oxen," and "without whom a sparrow cannot fall to the ground," it extended to the brute creation. Lame beasts and birds of every kind won his heart, and were his peculiar care. Dogs, especially, seemed to read his countenance, and at once to trust him. The same brother describes a somewhat amusing incident, which carries us back to his boy life, and happened while he was attending school:—"He was about eight years of age, and had one and a half miles to walk to and from the school every day. A neighbouring housewife in the village where our parents resided one day intrusted him with a commission to purchase a loaf of bread. This accomplished, he started for home, but on his way he encountered a stray hungry dog. Instinctively his right hand found its way to the loaf, and so great did the friendship between the dog and himself become, that it was only at the end of his journey, after shutting the garden gate on the delighted animal and looking below his left arm, that he discovered that he had nothing left of the loaf except the outside crusts." His strong love for his brothers and sisters was itself no insignificant element in the family happiness. The touching death scene of a favourite sister, after a lingering illness, remained vivid in his recollection to the last, and was often referred to in his old age with tears. She was a lovely young woman of about eighteen years of age, and the members of the family were gathered around her bed to speak the last farewell. With her hope evidently pointing upward, she asked them once more to sing along with her "The Happy Land," a favourite hymn. As the singing went on, one after another in the little loving circle faltered and broke down,—their music was drowned in grief,—and by the time that they had reached the last stanza hers was the only voice that had never failed nor faltered, and she sang on clear and full to the end.

When about the age at which it was common in those days to be indentured to a trade, young Darling became an apprentice-joiner on the estate of the late Duke of Buccleuch; afterwards serving as a pattern-maker with the Mushets at their foundry in Dalkeith; and then with Mr Wilson, a well-known builder in the same town. Those masters were not slow to testify that he had "served them with all good fidelity," and that their hearts safely trusted in him. He realised the conception of a good servant of the olden time, identifying himself with his masters' honour and interests. His masters in succession would have indorsed his brother's statement, that "faithfulness to trust was a strong feature in his character. He could not scamp his work, but made always the best job in his power." And he could not endure the sight of "scamping" in others. In later years when he had himself become a master, and sometimes saw work superficially done by those in his employment, it was no uncommon thing for him, after a short interval of impatience, to make them stand aside and to do the work himself. His brother narrates an incident which was also characteristic of the future man:— "When serving his apprenticeship, he was on one occasion sent to Leith by his master to meet a servant girl who was expected to arrive by steamer from London. The vessel was timed to arrive early in the evening, but it did not. But he stuck to his post, pacing the pier the whole night through, until the steamer arrived in the morning. The young woman never forgot his kindness, and accorded him a warm greeting every time they met."

At the age of nineteen, our young journeyman became a member in full communion in the First United Presbyterian congregation in Dalkeith. It was the church in which his venerable parents worshipped, and in which he had been trained from his early childhood; and was then under the able and earnest ministry of Dr Joseph Brown. From the first he carried out his public act of self-consecration by becoming an active and joyful Christian worker. He at once joined himself to a devoted band of young men, like-minded with himself, each of whom conducted a Sabbath morning fellowship or evangelistic meeting in one of the four neighbouring villages of which Dalkeith was the centre, so fixing the hour of their meetings as to be able to return in sufficient time for attending on the forenoon worship in their congregation. They never thought of making Christian work an excuse for absence from the regular services in the house of God, or for allowing one duty to be stained with the blood of another. They felt, moreover, that if they were to be good Christian teachers, they needed also, especially at their age, to be regular and diligent hearers, and that if they gave forth religious instruction without regularly receiving it, they would soon become empty, stale, and unprofitable.

In 1838, about a year before his connecting himself in full fellowship with the Church, he had become a pledged "total abstainer." But his public profession of his faith in Christ only increased his zeal against the prevailing intemperance and his efforts to reclaim to habits of sobriety those who had become the victims of this debasing vice, and to surround them with moral safeguards. Not that this form of benevolent effort engrossed the whole of his Christian activity then or at any future period of his life, but it always held a prominent place in his labours for the good of his fellow-men, and, as will be seen afterwards, gave much of its shape and colouring to all his future life. In Dalkeith itself, and in the surrounding hamlets in which drunkenness nestled, he did valiant battle along with others with this great sin. He was by no means gifted as a public speaker, but he possessed other gifts which compensated for this want. He was good at organising meetings, and had a singular tact in infusing his own spirit into others, and setting them at work. Every good singer in his neighbourhood who was a foe to intemperance was sought to be enlisted in his service for social meetings and other gatherings, and while he usually shrank from attempting to address a meeting of adults, he had a marked gift for awakening and retaining the interest of children. One fruit of this last-named gift was the springing up, in a wide circuit all around Dalkeith, of temperance associations for children, resembling the more organised Bands of Hope for the young of a later period. His energy in the cause of temperance was largely expended on these societies for children. He often remarked—"It would be a great victory gained if we could save the young, and thus make the race of drunkards comparatively scarce." Indeed, wherever he went his eyes were on the young. On one occasion, when sent with a number of fellow-workmen to execute some work on the shores of the Crinan Canal, his spirit was stirred within him to attempt some temperance work among the young; and when he returned home he left behind him not a few tokens of his untiring zeal.

Then he was very successful in what has been termed a "two-handed conversation." His blunt outspokenness won the day when mere finesse would have failed. While some may at the moment have winced or smarted under it, he seldom alienated a friend or made an enemy. He was seen to be earnest and honest. His charitable judgments of those Christian friends who did not always "see eye to eye" with him in some of his methods, kept intact his belief in the sincerity of their Christian zeal, and made him ready to welcome their co-operation. Standing manfully and unmovably on his position of total abstinence, he could love and say God-speed to those who stood still at the point of a less rigid temperance. He could have said with the homely force of Matthew Henry, "There are plenty of devils for us all to cast out." If ever he thought that he "did well to be angry," it was at the uncharitable reflections cast by some extremists upon the Christianity of others, who were kept, by honest conviction, from being less pronounced than themselves.

By this time our busy worker had begun to feel that "it was not good for a man to be alone." On July 26, 1848, he was joined in marriage with Miss Anne Reid, of Aberdeen. She was a true helpmeet, "a gift from the Lord." Her superior mental gifts, graceful manners, calm self-possession, power of plan and order, noiseless but genuine piety, and, not least, her sympathy with her husband in his good works, did much to increase alike the happiness and the usefulness of their united life. But a serious accident which occurred to the husband at an early period in their married life brought a temporary gloom over their home. In connection with the coming of age of the Earl of Dalkeith, the heir-apparent to the title and estates of the Duke of Buccleuch, a large triumphal arch had been erected over the entrance to the town. When a body of skilled workmen, of whom our journeyman was one, were engaged in its removal early on the morning after the celebration, either through some mismanagement or want of sufficient hands, the whole extemporised structure suddenly gave way, and one of its supporting beams falling upon his limbs so severely wounded him, that, for a considerable time, he was altogether disabled for his work, while he was permanently unfitted for the amount of manual labour to which he had been accustomed.

What was now to be done? The brave heart of the young wife rose to the occasion. She thought she saw a crying want in the busy little town, and that her husband and herself might try to meet it. It was agreed, on her suggestion, that while her husband continued for a time at least at his wonted employment, they should open a Hotel or Coffee-house to be conducted on temperance principles, and that it should meanwhile be placed mainly under her management and care. It turned out to have been a happy venture. In those days Dalkeith was the great market-town in Midlothian for the sale of corn. On Thursday, which was the weekly market-day, hundreds "clothed in their best" came crowding from every part of the county, and far beyond, to buy or sell. The hotels and humbler public-houses overflowed with guests. It was surely a very modest proposal that there should be one unpretentious hotel innocent of strong drink, and from which they could hang out the total abstinence flag. With an encouraging amount of business on common days, on the weekly market day the savoury broth and beef in the Temperance hotel dining-room attracted large numbers. The experiment succeeded even as a commercial enterprise, while it saved multitudes from a form of temptation which it was in every way wiser and safer to avoid.

During some of those later years in Dalkeith, Mr Darling's brother, the Rev. Hugh Darling, was minister of the Secession congregation in Stitchel, Roxburghshire, a place already rendered memorable by the fact that the famous Dr Waugh of London had there begun his ministry, and also made sacred to many by its having been the scene of those great sacramental gatherings on the neighbouring Stitchel Brae, which, in the vast multitudes who were drawn to them from every quarter, and in the annual religious revivals of which they were the occasion, had much about them of the character of a Pentecost. The two places were not so distant from each other as to make meetings between the brothers very difficult, and the intercourse, while it lasted, was a source of much enjoyment and spiritual profiting to both. But it was shortlived. After a ministry of nine years, the health of the accomplished pastor became so imperfect as to require his removal to a more genial clime, and the remaining part of his life was mainly spent in Australia, where, after various removals, he was permanently settled as minister of the Church of Emerald Hill, a suburb of Melbourne. He died in 1876.

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