GiLMOUR, of Mongolia, the son of James Gilmour and
Elizabeth Pettigrew his wife, was born at Cathkin on
Monday, June 12, 1843. He was the third in a family
of six sons, all but one of whom grew up to manhood.
His father was in very comfortable circumstances,
and consequently James Gilmour never had the
struggle with poverty through which so many of his
great countrymen have had to pass. Cathkin, an
estate of half a dozen farms in the parish of
Carmunnock, is only five miles from Glasgow, and was
owned by Humphrey Ewing Maclae, a retired India
merchant, who resided in the substantial
mansion-house on the estate. There were also the
houses of a few residents, and a smithy and wright's
workshops, for the convenience of the surrounding
district James Gilmour's father was the occupant of
the wright's shop, as his father had been before
His brother John, one of three who have survived him, has furnished the following interesting sketch of the family life in which James Gilmour was trained, and to which he owed so much of the charm and power which he manifested in later years:—
Our grandfather, Matthew Gilmour, combined the trades of mason and Wright, working himself at both as occasion required ; and our father, James Gilmour, continued the combination in his time in a modified degree, gradually discarding the mason trade and developing the wright's. Grandmother (father's mother) was a woman of authority, skill, and practical usefulness among the little community in which she resided. In cases requiring medical treatment, she was always in request; and in order to obtain the lymph pure for the vaccination of children she would take it herself direct from the cow. She was also a neat and skilful needlewoman.
Matthew Gilmour and his wife were people of strict integrity and Christian living. They walked regularly every Sunday the five miles to the Congregational Church in Glasgow, though there were several places of worship within two miles of their residence. I have often heard the old residents of the steep and rough country road they used to take for a short cut when nearing home tell how impressed they have been by the sight of the worthy couple and their family wending their way along in the. dark winter Sabbath evenings by the light of a hand-lantern. Our parents continued the connection with the same body of worshippers in Glasgow as long as they resided in Cath-kin, being members of Dr. Ralph Wardlaw's church. It was under his earnest eloquence, and by his wise pastoral care, we were trained.
The distance of our home from the place of worship did not admit of our attending as children any other than the regular Sabbath services ; but we were not neglected in this respect at home, so far as it lay in our parents' ability to help us. Wc regularly gathered around our mother's knee, reading the impressive little stories found in such illustrated booklets as the Teachers Offerings the Child*s Companion, the Children's Missionary Record (Church of Scotland), the Tract Magazine, and Watts' Divine Songs for Children. These readings were always accompanied with touching serious comments on them by mother, which tended very considerably to impress the lessons contained in them on our young hearts. I remember how she used to add : " Wouldn't it be fine if some of you, when you grow up, should be able to write such nice little stories as these for children, and do some good in the world in that way!" I have always had an idea that James' love of contributing short articles from China and Mongolia to the children's missionary magazines at home was due to these early impressions instilled into his mind by his mother. Father, too, on Sabbath evenings, generally placed the "big" ISiblc (Scott and Henry's) on the table, and read aloud the comments therein upon some portion of Scripture for our edification and entertainment During the winter week-nights some part of the evening was often spent in reading aloud popular books then current, such as Uncle Tom's Cabin.
'Family worship, morning and evening, was also a
most regular and sacred observance in our house, and
consisted of first, asking a blessing; second,
singing twelve lines of a psalm or paraphrase, or a
hymn from Wardlaw's Hymn-book; third, reading a
chapter from the Old Testament in the mornings, and
from the New in the evenings; and fourth, prayer.
The chapters read were taken day by day in
succession, and at the evening worship we read two
verses each all round. This proved rather a trying
ordeal for some of the apprentices, one or more of
whom we usually had boarding with us, or to a new
servant-girl, as their education in many cases had
not been of too liberal a description. But they soon
got more proficient, and if it led them to nothing
higher, it was a good educational help. These
devotional exercises were not common in the district
in the mornings, and were apt to be broken in upon
by callers at the wright's shop; but that was never
entertained as an excuse for curtailing them. I
suppose people in the district got to know of the
custom, and avoided making their calls at a time
when they would have to wait some little while for
attention. Our parents, however, never allowed this
practice or their religious inclinations to obtrude
on their neighbours; all was done most unassumingly
and humbly, as a matter of everyday course.
Our maternal grandfather, John Pettigrew by name, was a farmer and meal-miller on the estate of Cathkin, and was considered a man of sterling worth and integrity. Having had occasion to send his minister, the parson of Carmunnock parish, some bags of oatmeal from his mill, the minister suspected from some cause or other that he had got short weight or measure. The worthy miller was rather nettled at being thus impeached by his spiritual overseer, and that same night proceeded to the manse with the necessary articles required for determining the accuracy of the minister's suspicions. When this was done, it was found there remained something to the good, instead of a deficiency; this the miller swung over his shoulder in a bag and took back with him to the mill, as a lesson to the crestfallen divine to be more careful in future about challenging the integrity of his humble parishioner's transactions. * While James was quite a child the family removed to Glasgow, where our father entered into partnership with his brother Alexander as timber merchants. During this stay in Glasgow mother's health proved very unsatisfactory, and latterly both she and father having been prostrated and brought to death's door by a malignant fever, it was decided to relinquish the partnership and return to their former place in the country. James was five years old at that time. When he was between seven and eight he was sent with his older brothers to the new Subscription School in Bushyhill, Cambuslang, a distance of two miles. Here he remained till he was about twelve, when he and I were sent to Gorbals Youths' School in Greenside Street, Glasgow. We had thus five miles to go morning and evening, but we had season-tickets for the railway part of the distance, viz. between Rutherglen and Glasgow. Thomas Neil was master of this school. We were in the private room, rather a privileged place, compared with the rest of the school, seeing we received the personal attentions of Mr. Neil, and were almost free from corporal punishment, which was not by any means the case in the public rooms of the school—Mr. Neil being, I was going to say, a terror to evildocrat but he was in fact a terror to all kinds of doers, from the excitability of his temper and general sternness.
James usually kept the first or second place in the
class, which was a large one ; and if he happened to
be turned to the bottom (an event which occurred
pretty often to all the members of the class with
Mr.- Neil), he would determinedly endeavour to
stifle a tearful little "cry," thus demonstrating
the state of his feelings at being so abased. Hut he
never remained long at the bottom; like a cork sunk
in water, he would rise at the first opportunity to
his natural level at the top of the class. It was
because of his diligence and success in his classes
while at this school, I suppose, more than from any
definite idea of what career he might follow in the
future, that after leaving he was allowed to
prosecute his studies at the Glasgow High School,
where he gained many prizes, and fully justified his
parents' decision of allowing him to go on with his
studies instead of taking him away to a trade. At
home he prosecuted his studies very untiringly both
during session and vacation -
'After entering the classes of the Glasgow University he studied in an attic room, the window of which overlooked an extensive and beautiful stretch of the Vale of Clyde. I remember feeling compassion for him sometimes as he sat at this window, knowing what an act of self-denial it must have been to one so boisterous and full of fun as he was to see us, after our work was over of an evening, having a jolly game; at rounders, or something of that sort, while he had to sit poring over his books.
'James was not a serious, melancholy student; he was indeed the very opposite of that when his little intervals of recreation occurred. During the day he would be out about the workshop and saw-mill, giving each in turn a poking and joking at times very tormenting to the recipients. If we had any little infirmity or weakness, he was sure to enlarge upon it and make us try to amend it, assuming the role and aspect of a drill-sergeant for the time being. He used to have the mid-finger of the right hand extended in such a way that he could nip and slap you with it very painfully. He used this finger constantly to pound and drill his comrades, all being done of course in the height of glee, frolic, and good-humour. This finger, no doubt by the unlawful use to which he put it, at one time developed a painful tumour, to the delight of those who were in the habit of receiving punishment from it. James pulled a long face, and acknowledged that it was a punishment sent him for using the finger in so mischievous a manner.
There was a pond or dam in connection with the sawmill. In this James was wont to practise the art of swimming. I remember he devised a plan of increasing his power of stroke in the water. He made four oval pieces of wood rather larger than his hands and feet, tacking straps on one side, so that his hands and feet would slip tightly into them. But my recollection is that they were soon discarded as an unsuitable addition to his natural resources. He was fond of hunting after geological specimens, getting the local blacksmith to make him a pocket hammer to take with him on his rambles for that purpose. He seldom cared for company in these wanderings among the mountains, glens, and woods of his native place and country. He would start early in the morning, and accomplish feats of walking and climbing during the course of a day. Indeed, none of his brothers ever thought of asking James to go with them in their little holiday trips, knowing that anything not the conception of his own fancy was but very rarely acceptable to him ; and he was never one who would pander to your gratification merely to please you.
1 James was fond of boating. Once, he hired a small skiff near the suspension-bridge at Glasgow Green, and proceeded with it up the river. Having gone a good way up, the idea appears to have taken him to endeavour to get the whole way to Hamilton, where, father having retired from business in 1866, our parents were now residing. This proved to be a very arduous task, as in a great many places on that part of the Clyde there is not depth of water to carry a boat He managed, however, to accomplish the task by divesting himself of jacket, stockings, and shoes, and pulling the boat over all such shallow and rocky places (including the weir at Blantyre Mills, where the renowned African missionary and explorer, Dr. Livingstone, worked in his boyhood), until he reached the bridge on the river between Hamilton and Motherwell, a distance of eleven miles or more from Glasgow in a straight line, and much more following the numerous bends of the river. Here he made the boat secure and proceeded home, a distance of a mile, very tired and ravenously hungry. The great drawback to his satisfaction in this feat was his fear of the displeasure the boat-owner might feel at his not having returned the same night, and the rough usage to which he had subjected the boat in hauling it over the rocky places. He was much delighted, when he arrived with the boat down the river during the day, to find that the man was rather pleased than otherwise at his plucky exploit, telling him that he only remembered it being attempted once before.
During part of the time James attended college at Glasgow University, the classes were at so early an hour that he could not take advantage of the railway, and so had to walk in the whole way. This was an anxious time for his mother, who was ever most particular in seeing to the household duties herself, and always careful that her children should have a substantial breakfast when they went from home. I remember some of those winter mornings. Amidst the bustle of making and partaking of an early breakfast so as to be on the road in time, mother would press him to partake more liberally of something she had thoughtfully .prepared for him ; he would ejaculate: "Can't take it—no time!" and if she still insisted he would add in a solemn manner: " Mother, what if the door should be shut when I get there ?" which, being understood by her as a scriptural quotation, was sufficient to quench her solicitations.
To avoid the worry of getting up so early, it was decided after a time that he should take advantage of an unlet three or four apartment house in a tenement which belonged to father in Cumberland Street, Glasgow. So a couple of chairs, table, bed, and some cooking-utensils were got together, and James entered into possession, cooking his own breakfast, and getting his other meals there or outside as his. fancy or inclination prompted. Here I think he enjoyed himself very much. He had plenty of quiet time for study, and he could roam about the city and suburbs for experience, recreation, and instruction, visiting mills and other large manufacturing industries as he was inclined.
After our parents had removed to Hamilton, James took lodgings in George Street, a regular students' resort when the old college was in the High Street It is now removed to the magnificent pile of buildings at Gilmorchill, in the western district of the city. The site of the old one in the High Street which James attended is now occupied by the North British and Glasgow and South-Western Railway Companies.'
James Gilmour left England to begin his Mongolian life-work in February- 1870, and then commenced keeping a diary, from which we shall often quote, and which he carefully continued amid, oftentimes, circumstances of the greatest difficulty until his death. He gives the following reasons for this practice at the time when he was living in a Mongol tent learning the language, hundreds of miles away from his nearest fellow-worker:—
think it a special duty to my friends, specially my
mother, to keep this diary, and to be particular in
adding my state of mind in addition to my mere
outward circumstances. In my present isolated
position, which may be more isolated soon, any
accident might happen at any moment, after which I
could not send home a letter, and 1 think that by
keeping my diary punctually and fully my friends
might have the melancholy satisfaction of following
me to the grave, as it were, through my writing.'
In the record of his first outward voyage he included a sketch of his early life, which wc briefly reproduce here, as the correlative and complement of the picture outlined by his brother :—
'The earliest that I can remember of my life is the portion that was spent in Glasgow, before I came with my parents out to the country'- Of this time I have only a vague recollection. Then followed a number of years not very eventful beyond the general lot of the years of childhood. One circumstance of these years often comes up to my mind. One Sabbath all were at church except the servant, Aggie Leitch, and myself. She took down an old copy of Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, with rude plates, and by the help of the pictures was explaining the whole book to me. t had not heard any of it before, and was deeply interested. We had just got as far as the terrible doings of Giant Despair and the horrors of Doubting Castle, when all at once, without warning, there came a terrible knock at our front door. I really thought the giant was upon us. It was some wayfaring man asking the way or something, but the terror I felt has made an indelible impression on me.
of the approved age I went to school, wondering
whether I should ever be able to learn and do as
others did. I was very nervous and much afraid, and
wrought so hard and was so ably superintended by my
mother that [ made rapid progress, and was put from
one class to another with delightful rapidity. I was
dreadfully jealous of anyone who was a good scholar
like myself, and to have any one above me in class
annoyed me to such a degree that I could not play
cheerfully with him.
The date of my going to college was, I think, the November of the year 1862, so that my first session at Glasgow University was 1862-63. The classes I took were junior Latin and junior Greek. In Latin I got about the twelfth prize, and in Greek I think the third. The summer I spent partly in study, partly in helping my father in his trade of a Wright and joiner.
'During 1863 and 1864 I lived in Glasgow, and worked very bard, taking the first prize in middle Greek and a prize in senior Latin, as well as a prize for private work in Greek, and another for the same kind of work in Latin. This last I was specially proud of, as in it I beat the two best fellows in the Latin class. Next session (1864-65) I took a prize in senior Greek. I got nothing in the logic, but in moral philosophy in 1865 I was one of those who took an active part in the rebellion against Dr. Fleming, who, though he was entitled to the full retiring pension, preferred to remain on as professor, taking the fees and appointing a student to do the work. Wc made a stand against this, and were able to bring him out to his work; but it was too much for him, and he died in harness, as he had wished.
'In English literature I made no appearance in the pieces noted by the students, but came out second in the competitive examination, which of course astonished a good deal some of the noisy men who had answered so much in the class and yet knew so little. I was really proud of this prize, as I was sure it was honestly won, and as I also felt that from my position in class I failed to get credit for anything like what I knew. This session I went in for the classical and philosophy parts of the degree, and got them. I enjoyed a happy week after it was known that I had passed; and the next thing I had to look forward to was going to the Theological Hall of the Congregational Church of Scotland, which met in Edinburgh in the beginning of May. The session at Edinburgh I enjoyed very much. I had not too much work, and used at odd times to take long walks and go long excursions. I was often on the heights, and about Leith and Portobello.'
The Rev. John Paterson of Airdrie, N.B., Gilmour's most intimate college friend at Glasgow, thus records his recollections of what he was in those days :—
'I first made James Gilmour's acquaintance in the winter session of 1864-5 at Glasgow University. He came to college with the reputation of being a good linguist. This reputation was soon confirmed by distinction in his classes, especially in Latin and Greek. Though his advantages had been superior to most of us, and his mental calibre was of a high order, he was always humble, utterly devoid of pride or vanity. No doubt he was firm as a rock on any question of conviction, but he was tender in the extreme, and full of sympathy with the struggling. He was such a strong man all round that he could afford to give every one justice, and such a gentleman that he could not but be considerate. One day a country student through sheer nervousness missed a class question in the Junior Humanity, though the answer was on his tongue: the answering of such a question would have brought any man to the front, and with a sad heart he told his experience to Gilmour, whose look of sympathy is remembered to this day. He always seemed anxious to be useful, and he succeeded. During our second session, a brother of mine married a cousin of his, and this union led to a closer intimacy between us, and in future sessions we lodged together.
'Throughout his college career Gilmour was a very hard-working student; his patience, perseverance, and powers of application were marvellous; and yet, as a rule, he was bright and cheerful, able in a twinkling to throw off the cares of work, and enter with zest into the topics of the day. He had a keen appreciation of the humorous side of things, and his merry laugh did one good. Altogether he was a delightful companion, and was held in universal esteem. One of Gilmour's leading thoughts was unquestionably the unspeakable value of time, and this intensified with years. There was not a shred of indolence in his nature; it may be truthfully said that he never wilfully lost an hour. Even when the college .ork was uncongenial, he never scamped it, but mastered the subject. He could not brook the idea of skimming a subject merely to pass an examination, and tlicrc were few men of his time with such wide and accurate knowledge.
'Unlike many of his fellows, he did not relax his energies in summer. During the recess he might have been seen wending his way from the old home at Cathkin to the college library, and returning laden with books His superior scholarship secured for him excellent certificates and many prizes, both for summer and winter work, and it was noticeable that he shone most in written examinations. On one occasion, in the Moral Philosophy class, which then suffered from the failing health' of the professor, the teacher pro tem, appended, as a criticism of an essay of Gilmour's on Utilitarianism, the words, "Wants thoroughness." This was a problem to the diligent student, who tackled his critic at the end of the hour, and apparently had the best of the argument; for he told me afterwards that he had puzzled the judge to explain his own verdict. There was a strong vein of combativeness in him ; he liked to try his strength, both mentally and physically, with others; and it was no child's play to wrestle with him in cither sense, though he never harboured ill-feeling. He had the advantage of being in easy circumstances, but was severely economical, wasting nothing. He had quite a horror of intoxicating drinks. On one occasion, perhaps for reasons of hospitality, some beer had found its way into our room: he quietly lifted the window and poured the dangerous liquid on the street, saying, "Better on God's earth than in His image."
'As the close of his career in Glasgow drew near, some of us could sec that all through he had been preparing for some great work on which the whole ambition of his life was set. He always shrank from speaking about himself, and in those clays was not in the habit of obtruding sacred things on his fellow-students. His views on personal dealing then were changing, and became very decided in after years. Earnest, honest, faithful to his convictions, as a student he endeavoured to influence others for good more by the silent eloquence of a holy life than by definite exhortations, and I feel sure his power over some of us was all the greater on that account When it became known that Gilmour intended to be a foreign missionary, there was not a little surprise expressed, especially among rival fellow-students—men who had competed with him to their cost. The moral effect of such a distinguished scholar giving his life for Christ among the heathen was very great indeed. To me his resolve to go abroad, though it induced a painful separation, proved an unspeakable blessing. The reserve which had so long prevailed between us on sacred things began to give way, and much of our correspondence during his residence at Cheshunt College was of a religious turn, though still more theological than practical.
'The last evening we spent together before he left for China can never be forgotten. We parted on Bothwell Bridge. We had walked from the village without speaking a word, burdened with the sorrow of separation. As we shook hands, he said with intense earnestness, "Paterson, let us keep close to Christ." He knew Him and loved Him much better than I did then ; but about nine years ago, after hearing good news from me, he wrote to say that for twelve years he had prayed for mc every day, and now praised God for the answer.'
In the diary from which we have already quoted Gilmour thus concludes the sketch of his education :—
*Near the close of the session of 1867 I opened negotiations with the London Missionary Society, the consequence of which was that I was removed to Cheshunt College in September of that same year. Here (l867-i868)a new experience awaited me—resident college life. At Glasgow we dined out, presented ourselves at classes only, and did with ourselves whatever we liked in the interval. At Cheshunt it was different AH the students live in the buildings of the college, which can accommodate forty. Of course I felt a little strange at first, and even long after had serious doubts as to the settlement of the question, Which is better, life in or out of college? The lectures, as a rule, were all in the forenoon.
The summer vacation I spent in studying for the Sopcr scholarship, value twenty pounds, which was to be bestowed after examination.
'I commenced the 1868 and 1869 session at Cheshunt very busily, and in addition to the class work and the Soper work, read some books which gave almost a new turn to my mind and my ideas of pastoral or missionary life. These books were James's Earnest Ministry, Baxter's Reformed Pastor, and some of Bunyan's works, which, through God's blessing, affected me very much for good.
'The Sopcr examination should have come off before Christmas, but it did not, so that I remained over Christmas at Cheshunt, grinding away as hard as I could. I was longing eagerly for the time when the examination would be over, that I might the more earnestly devote myself to the work of preaching and evangelising. Well, the examination came and passed off satisfactorily, and I got the twenty pounds.
'Now was the decisive point. Now had I come to another period, when there was an opportunity of going on a new tack ; but I found myself tempted to seek after another honour, the first prize in Cheshunt College. In my first session I had got the second only, and now I had an opportunity of trying for the first. It was a temptation indeed, but God triumphed. I looked back on my life, and saw how often I had been tempted on from one thing to another, after I had resolved that I would leave my time more free and at my disposal for God, but always was I tempted on. So now I made a stand, threw ambition to the winds, and set to reading my Bible in good earnest I made it my chief study during the last three months of my residence at Cheshunt, and I look back upon that period of my stay there as the most profitable I had.
'In September, 1869, I entered the missionary seminary at Highgate, and also studied Chinese in London with Professor Summers. I went home again at Christmas, and on returning to London learned that I could go to China as soon as I liked. I said I would go as soon as the necessary arrangements could be made, and February 22, 1870, was fixed upon as the date of my departure.
In this brief and rapid manner James Gilmour sketched, with not a few most characteristic touches, the first twenty-six years of his life. He enables us to sec the quick, merry, receptive lad, developing, after a brilliant collegiate course and a careful training in theology and in practical Christian life, into the strong, resolute missionary. No one who knew him during this time failed to perceive the force of his character and the charm o( his personality. The writer first came under his influence during his second session at Cheshunt He was then in the prime of his early manhood, in the full possession of physical and intellectual vigour, and his soul was aflame with love to the Saviour and to the perishing heathen.
He retained, moreover, the love of fun, the high spirits, the keen enjoyment of a good joke, and the constant readiness for an argument upon any subject under the sun, which had endeared him to his comrades in Glasgow. Every Cheshunt man of that day readily recalls, and rejoices as he docs so, the memory of his good-natured practical joking, of his racy and pointed speeches upon all momentous 'house questions,' of his power as a reciter, and of his glowing personal piety. To know him even slightly was to respect him ; and to enter at all into sympathy with him was to love him as long as life lasted.
There arc many reminiscences of those Cheshunt days, from which we can cull only a sufficient number to enable the reader to understand what manner of man he then was. These arc drawn from the letters of his fellow-students, and from their recollections of his sayings and doings. 'How well,' writes one,' I remember his coming to Cheshunt! I was acting-senior at the opening of that session, and, according to custom with the new men, went to his room to shake hands with him. He said, "Who are you?" I told him. "What do you want?" I told him I had come according to custom to welcome him, and held out my hand, whereupon he put his hands behind him and said, "Time to shake hands when we've quarrelled. But where do you live?" "Immediately over your head." "Then look here," said he, "don't make a row; " and so we parted. Dear old fellow! his memory makes life richer.'
Another writes: 'He was a good elocutionist. He was also a keen debater, and so fond of argument that he would not hesitate to take opposite ground to his own cherished convictions and beliefs, simply for the sake of provoking discussion. So earnestly and logically (for he was a good dialectician) would he carry on the discussion that it was difficult to believe that he did not really hold the opinions for which he so pertinaciously contended. Sometimes this habit of mind reacted very amusingly upon himself, as the following will show. The subject fixed one Friday evening for debate in the discussion class was, "Have animals souls?" Though fully accepting the common belief that they have not, Gilmour, purely for the sake of argument, took the affirmative, and with such enthusiasm pleaded his cause that he brought himself to believe, as he told me afterwards, that animals have souls.'
* At no time during his residence at Cheshunt could there have been any doubt as to Gilmour's piety or consecration to the great work of his future life ; but during the second year it must have been manifest to all who knew him intimately that there was a deepening and broadening of his spiritual life. As I look back over the interval of years I can see that it was then he began to reach the high-water mark in Christian life and devotion which was so steadily maintained throughout his career in China and Mongolia. An apostolic passion for the salvation of his fellow-men took hold upon him. He would go out in the evening, mostly alone, and conduct short open-air services at Flamstead End, among the cottagers near Cheshunt railway station; seize opportunities of speaking to labourers working by the roadside or in the field through which he might be passing. He became very solicitous for the conversion of friends in Scotland, and would come to my study and ask me to kneel and pray with him that God's grace might be manifested to them, and that His blessing might rest upon letters which he had written and was sending to them. The ordinary style of preaching towards which students usually aspire lost its attractions for him, and his sermons assumed more and more the character of earnest exhortations, and addresses to the unconverted. When he knew what was to be his field of labour after his college course was over, how solicitous he was to go out fully prepared and fitted in spiritual equipment ! The needs of the perishing heathen were very real and weighed heavily upon his heart, and he was very anxious to win volunteers among his college friends for this all-important work. How he longed and prayed for China's perishing millions only his most intimate friends know.'
The Rev. H. R. Reynolds, D.D., for the past thirty years the honoured President of Cheshunt College, has recalled some of his early recollections of James Gilmour.
'Though brusque and outspoken in manner, he was in
many respects reserved and shy, and very slow to
show or accept confidence. We all felt, however,
that underneath a canny demeanour there was burning
a very intense enthusiasm, and that a character of
marked features was already formed, and would only
develop along certain lines, settled, but not as yet
fully disclosed to others.
'There was not a particle of make-believe in his composition. He shrank from praise, and was obviously anxious not to appear more reverential or wise or devoted than he knew himself to be. He even used, because it was natural to him, a rugged style of expression when speaking of things or persons or institutions which for the most part uplift our diction and generally induce us to adorn or make careful selection of our vocabulary. He rapped out expressions which might have suggested carelessness or irreverence or suppressed doubt, but I soon found that there was an intense fire of evangelistic zeal and an almost stormy enthusiasm for the conversion of souls to Christ.
'Some special services were held at Cheshunt Street Chapel, in which Gilmour took part, and the part was at least as demonstrative, perhaps more so, except the music, as that of the modern Salvation Army ensign or commissioner. He started from the chapel entrance, on the Sunday evening, when considerable numbers were as usual parading the country street, and bare-headed approached every passer-by with some piquant, vigorous inquiry, or message or warning. In the main, his bold summons was, "Do you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ ?" The entire population in the thoroughfare was stirred, and uncomplimentary jeers mingled with some awe-struck impressions that were then produced.
'During the year 1869 he had those interviews with the late Mrs. Swan, of Edinburgh, which led to his choice by the London Missionary Society, at her instance, to reopen the long-suspended mission in Mongolia. For a while he remained in Peking preparing himself by familiarity with the people, their ideas, their language, and religion, for those almost historic bursts into the great desert and across the caravan routes to the huge fairs, and the renowned temples, to the living lamas and famous shrines of the nomadic Mongols, incessantly acting the part of travelling Hakim, itinerant book vendor, and fiery preacher of the Gospel of Christ'
In the year 1869 the policy of the London Missionary Society in the education of its students was very different from that which now obtains. After a course at a theological college of two, three, or four years, according to the literary attainments of the man at the time of his acceptance by the Directors, he was sent to an institution at Highgate designed to give training suitable for the special requirements of the embryo missionaries. In theory this institution was admirable; in practice Gilmour and others found it—or thought they found it—very largely a waste of time. The year 1869 saw the beginning of an investigation which speedily ended the missionary college at Highgate, and in the steps that led to the enquiry Gilmour took a leading part. One of his contemporaries at Highgate has thus described his influence upon both his fellow-students and the institution to which they belonged.
'I first met Gilmour at Farquhar House, Highgate, the London Missionary Society's Institution, where in those days missionary students spent their last six months before going to the field. Some spent the time in studying the elements of the language of the land to which they were going ; others attended University College Hospital, for the purpose of getting a little medical knowledge; while all tried to make themselves acquainted with the history of the people among whom they were to labour. Courses of special missionary lectures were delivered by the Rev. J. Wardlaw, afterwards raised to the dignity of a Doctor of Divinity.
1 Some of us were at Highgate a day or two before Gilmour came up from Scotland; and as his fame, or rather reports about him, had reached us from Cheshunt College, we were all very anxious to meet with him. When he did arrive we were, I think, all more or less disappointed, and yet I doubt if any of us could have told why, except that he was not the man we had pictured from the reports we had heard. When he walked quietly into the library I, for one could hardly believe that the almost boyish-looking, open-faced, bright-eyed young man was really Gilmour. His dress made him appear even more youthful than he was, while there was an aspect of good humour about his face and a glance of his eye revealing any amount of fun and frolic A great writer has said: "Nature has written a letter of credit on some men's faces, which is honoured almost wherever presented." James Gilmour's was a face on which Nature had written no ordinary letter of credit; for there was a sense in which one might very truly have said that his "face was his fortune." Honesty, good nature, and true manliness were so stamped upon every feature and line of it, that you had only to see him to feel that he was one of God's noblest works, and to be drawn to the man as by a magnetic influence.
Gilmour was a puzzle to most of our fellow-students, and they could not quite make him out. By some he was regarded as very eccentric, which is another way of saying that he preserved a very marked individuality, and always had the courage of his convictions. They did not seem to understand how so much playfulness and piety, fervour and frolicsomeness could dwell in the same person. Long before we parted, however, in January, 1870, I feel certain that all had come to have not only a profound respect, but also a real heart-love for "dear old Gillie"!
'The night before Gilmour left Highgate for the Christmas vacation we were all in his study, when someone, remarking on the risk he was running in going home to Scotland by sea, instead of by train, said in a jocular way: "Suppose the steamer is wrecked and you get drowned, to whom do you leave your books, Gilmour?" "Yes," he said at once, "that is well thought of. Come along, you fellows, and pick out the books you would like to keep in memory of me, if I never return." Of course we only laughed and said it was all a joke; but he said, "It is no joke with me, I mean what I say;" and so he did. He was in dead earnest, and nothing would satisfy him but that each should pick out the book or books he would like to have if he never returned. He then turned to me and said: " Now, I leave the rest to your care, and if I never return I want all on this shelf sent to my father and mother, and you can do anything you like with the rest" Had anyone else acted in that way, wc should have certainly suspected that he had gone "queer" ; but it was Gilmour, and wc all understood the straight, matter-of-fact way in which he went about everything he did.
Through a misunderstanding, as we afterwards
discovered, the students at Highgate came into
collision with the Directors of the Society over the
studies to be prosecuted. Additional classes were
arranged, and these some of us declined to attend.
This act of rebellion, as it was regarded at the
Mission House, had to be put down with a firm hand,
and a special meeting of the Board of Directors was
called to deal with us.
'The night before we were to meet the Board wc met in Gilmour's study, to settle what wc were to say to the Directors when we met them. One only of our number, when he saw that there was likely to be a rather serious interchange of ideas between us and the Directors, caved in completely, and would have nothing further to do with our resistance.
'When we met the Board Gilmour made his defence in his frank, straightforward way, and, I am afraid, upset some of the Directors very much by his plain speaking. They did not know the man, and regarded him as one of the ringleaders in rebellion, and, of course, were not in the humour to do him justice. But when we met the subcommittee appointed to deal with us the misunderstanding came to an end, and they admitted that we had been in the right in objecting to the extra classes thus imposed.
During these last months in England James Gilmour paid much earnest heed to the culture of his soul. Just before he sailed for China, he set forth his inner experience and his keen sense of the difficulties of the course upon which he was embarking in the following letter to a Cheshunt friend:—
'Companions I can scarcely hope to meet, and the feeling of being alone comes over me till I think of Christ and His blessed promise, "Lo, I am with you alway even to the end of the world." No one who does not go away, leaving all and going alone, can feel the force of this promise ; and when I begin to feel my heart threatening to go down, I betake myself to this companionship, and, thank God, I have felt the blessedness of this promise rushing over me repeatedly when I knelt down and spoke to Jesus as a present companion, from whom I am sure to find sympathy. I have felt a tingle of delight thrilling over me as I felt His presence, and thought that wherever I may go He is still with me. I have once or twice lately felt a melting sweetness in the name of Jesus as I spoke to Him and to Him my trouble. Yes, and the trouble went away, and I arose all right Is it not blessed of Christ to care so much for us poor feeble men, so sinful and so careless about honouring Him? the moment we come to Him He is ready with His consolations for us!
'I have been thinking lately over some of the inducements we have to live for Christ, and to confess Him and preach Him before men, not conferring with flesh and blood. Why should we be trammelled by the opinions and customs of men ? Why should we care what men say of us? Salvation and damnation are realities, Christ is a reality, Eternity is a reality, and we shall soon be there in reality, and time shall soon be finished; and from our stand in eternity we shall look back on what we did in time, and what shall we think of it? Shall we be able to understand why we were afraid to speak to this man or that woman about salvation? Shall we be able to understand how we were ashamed to do what we knew was a Christian duty before one whom we knew to be a mocker at religion? Our cowardice shall seem small to us then. Let us now measure our actions by the standard of that scene, let us now look upon the things of time in the light of eternity, and we shall see them better as they are, and live more as we shall wish then we had done. It is not too late. We can secure yet what remains of our life. The present still is ours. Let us use it. It may be that we can't be great, let us be good; if we can't shine as great lights, let us make our light shine as God has made it to shine. Let us live lives as in the presence of Christ, anxious for His approval, and glad to take the condemnation of the world, and of Christ's professed servants even, if we get the commendation of angels and our Master. The "well done!" is to the faithful servant—to the faithful, not the great. Let us watch and pray that wc may be faithful. It is a little hard to be this, and to care little for man.
'Yesterday afternoon I preached here at home, and took the most earnest sermon I had," Behold, I stand at the door and knock" Well, in doing so, I thought I was acting quite independently of man; and even after I had preached it, thought I would not care for man. But one man praised it, and I felt pleased, and, as might then be expected, felt a little hurt when a friend called this morning and told me that what I gave them yesterday was no sermon at all. Now, if I had been regarding Christ alone, I would not have been moved by cither the one or the other of these criticisms ; and I wish that I could get above this sort of thing, and get beyond the attempt at pleasing men at all. Why should we confer with men ?'
James Gilmour was ordained as a missionary to Mongolia in Augustine Chapel, Edinburgh, on February 10, 1870, and, in accordance with Nonconformist custom, he made a statement about the development of his religious life from which we take the following extract:—
1 My conversion took place after I had begun to attend the Arts course in the University of Glasgow. I had gone to college with no definite aim as to preparing for a profession; an opportunity was offered me of attending classes, and I embraced it gladly, confident that whatever training or knowledge I might there acquire would prove serviceable to me afterwards in some way or other.
'After I became satisfied that I had found the "way of life," I decided to tell others of that way, and felt that I lay under responsibility to do what I could to extend Christ's kingdom. Among other plans of usefulness that suggested themselves to me was that of entering the ministry. But, in my opinion, there were two things that everyone who sought the office of the ministry should have, viz., an experimental knowledge of the truth which it is the work of the minister to preach, and a good education to help him to do it; the former I believed I had, the latter I hoped to obtain. So I quietly pursued the college course till I entered on the last session, when, after prayerful consideration and mature deliberation, I thought it my duty to offer myself as a candidate for the ministry.
'Having decided as to the capacity in which I should labour in Christ's kingdom, the next thing which occupied my serious attention was the locality where I should labour.
Occasionally before I had thought of the relative claims of the home and foreign fields, but during the summer session in Edinburgh I thought the matter out, and decided for the mission field ; even on the low ground of common sense I seemed to be called to be a missionary. Is the kingdom a harvest field ? Then I thought it reasonable that I should seek to work where the work was most abundant and the workers fewest. Labourers say they are overtaxed at home; what then must be the case abroad, where there are wide stretching plains already white to harvest, with scarcely here and there a solitary reaper? To me the soul of an Indian seemed as precious as the soul of an Englishman, and the Gospel as much for the Chinese as for the European ; and as the band of missionaries was few compared with the company of home ministers, it seemed to mc clearly to be my duty to go abroad.
I go out as a missionary not that I may follow the
dictates of common sense, but that I may obey that
command of Christ, "Go into all the world and
preach" He who said "preach" said also, "Go ye into
and preach" and what Christ hath joined together let
not man put asunder.
'This command seems to me to be strictly a missionary injunction, and, as far as I can see, those to whom it was first delivered regarded it in that light, so that, apart altogether from choice and other lower reasons, my going forth is a matter of obedience to a plain command ; and in place of seeking to assign a reason for going abroad, I would prefer to say that I have failed to discover any reason why I should stay at home.'
February 22, 1S70, James Gilmour embarked at
Liverpool upon the steamship Diomed, and thus fairly
started on the work of his life. Among his extant
correspondence Js a long letter which describes the
voyage to China, and the way in which he utilised
the opportunities it afforded for trying to do Ins
'We sailed from Liverpool, and my father saw me off. The passengers were few—nine or ten. We had a cabin each. There was a Wesleyan medical missionary named Hardey going out to Hankow. We soon drew together. The doctor of the ship was a young fellow from Greenock, and had been at Glasgow College when I was there last. Among the 1,200 we had not stumbled upon each other. The married man was something or other in the Consular service. A young lady passenger was the daughter of a judge in China. A young man was going out to try his fortune in China: his qualifications were some knowledge of tea and a love of drink.
Another decent young fellow was going out to China as a tea-taster. Another young fellow was going out to Australia via Singapore. Thus, you see, I was the only parson on board ; and as the ship's company was High Church, and I a Dissenter, it may be seen that we did not fit each other exactly. Some of the passengers were so High Church that one of them told me he thought we Dissenters were sunk more deeply in error than the Papists.
'The captain was a sensible kind of rough seaman, and I at once volunteered my services as chaplain, and was accepted, though with some caution. He evidently thought me too young to be trusted with a sermon ; the Church of England prayers I might read, and he put into my hands a book with a sermon for any Sunday and holy-day in the year. I took the book and said I would look through it The Bay of Biscay was calm when we crossed it, but on Sunday morning we were tumbling about off the Rock of Lisbon. As I could hardly keep my legs, I did not think we should have had service ; but we crowded into the smoking-saloon (we were afraid to venture below, for sickness), and I read prayers. Next Sunday I read a sermon from the book. All the Sundays after that I gave them my own, and, as I was under the impression that they had not heard much plain preaching, did my best to let them hear the gospel pure and simple. I half suspected they did not quite like it. It was hinted to me that they complained of my preaching. The next Sunday came, and, under the impression it might be the last time I would have the opportunity, I made the most earnest and direct appeal to them I possibly could. I was not a little thankful and astonished when, soon after, in place of being asked to shut up, I was thanked for it, and assured it was the best I had given them, and told that it was a waste of, &c, &c, for me to go out as a missionary—I should have stopped at home. After that I had no trouble with the passengers, and we got on well together,
'As for the men, from captain to cabin-boy there were about sixty. Among these was one earnest Christian man, a German and a Baptist He was a quarter-master. He was a little peculiar in appearance, and spoke English not quite smoothly. On one occasion, when some of the passengers were laughing at something he had done and said, the captain happened to pass, and, seeing what was up, remarked that the man was a first-rate fellow—he never caught him idle. If you except this man, the captain and the boy, the whole ship's company swore like troopers. So universal was the vice that the men, I almost think, were hardly aware that they did swear. I was puzzled. Sometimes when I went out in the morning I would hear a volley of oaths coming from the mouth of a man who had been talking quite seriously with me over-night.
'Few of the men came to the service, and as they would not come to us we went to them. Hardey and I, usually in the evenings, conducted short little services in the forecastle as often as we thought desirable. We were always well received and listened to respectfully. I think I may say safely that all on board had repeated opportunities of hearing the gospel as plainly as I could put it, and a good many had something more than mere opportunities. After it was dark I used to go out and get the men one by one, as they sat in corners during their watch in the night All they had to do was to be within call when wanted, and many a good long talk I have had with a good many of them. Of course, my object in accosting them was religious conversation, and this I usually succeeded in having; but on many occasions, that we might" be quite on a footing of equality, I had in return to listen to their yarns. The man on the look-out was a frequent victim. I was always sure to find a man there, generally alone, and never asleep. The man, also, was changed at regular intervals, so that I knew exactly when I would find a fresh man. When I talked to the look-out man, I used to keep a sharp lookout myself, lest by distracting his attention I should get him into trouble. Many a good hour have I stood at the prow as we passed through the warm Indian Ocean, till my clothes were wet with the dew of night; and then I would find my way down to my cabin about midnight, with my head so full of the ghost-stories I had just heard that I was really afraid I might meet a real ghost coming out of my cabin.
And so this sets the scene for his book "Among the Mongols" which is in pdf format. And here is the Preface to read here...
This book aims at representing to the western reader whatever is most noteworthy and interesting in the home life, manners and customs, occupations and surroundings, modes of thought, superstitions and religious beliefs and practices of the Mongol tribes who inhabit the eastern portion of the plateau of Central Asia lying between Siberia on the north and China on the south.
It is not a missionary's report nor a traveller's diary, nor a student's compilation, but has for its source things seen, heard, and experienced by me while travelling with natives through the desert, sharing with them the hospitality of the wayside tent, taking my turn in the night-watch against thieves, resting in the comparative comfort of the portable cloth travelling tent, or dwelling as a lodger in their more permanent abodes of trellis-work and felt while engaged first of all in learning the language and acquainting myself with the country, and afterwards in the prosecution of my missionary duties.
Starting from Peking as head-quarters, I first saw the plain in August, 1870, and during most of the intervening years have spent the summer months itinerating among the tribes to the west, north, and east of Kalgan and have had the opportunity during the winter months in Peking of meeting Mongols who come to that great centre on Government duty from nearly all the tribes scattered over the vast extent of desert territory which acknowledges the Chinese rule.
Knowledge of the language and familiarity with the people, combined with carefulness of observation and caution of statement, lead me to believe that the information contained in the book is correct and reliable.
With regard to the Buddhism spoken of throughout the work generally, and especially treated of in the eighteenth chapter, it should be remembered that this is not the theoretic system of that ancient religion, but the development of it which now obtains in the practical life of the present-day Mongols, namely, the old doctrines mixed up with extraneous beliefs and superstitions native and imported, and for which perhaps the best name would be Lamaism.
The engravings which are described as native sketches are the work of a Chinese artist in the border town of Kalgan, and his pictures, though a little at fault in some minor details, are correct enough in the general impression they give of the scenes represented.
My best thanks are due to H. H. Howorth, Esq., F.S.A., author of The History of the Mongols, for the ready kindness with which he allowed the accompanying map to be prepared from one of those appended to his learned work.
It is hoped that the copious index will render this volume handy as a book of reference on the subjects of which it treats.
There is another book that he compiled. After his wife's death he had to send his two young boys (7 and 9) to England for schooling. He wrote them many letters and so this book has been compiled from those letters and the book is aimed at the younger reader.
Also read his book...
and also about him with...
James Gilmour of Mongolia
His Diaries, Letters and Reports, edited and arranged by Richard Lovett, M.A. Second Edition (1893)