Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Kay's Edinburgh Portraits
Andrew Donaldson, Teacher of Greek and Hebrew

Of the family or early history of this eccentric personage little is known. He was born, it is believed, at Auchtertool, and was educated with a view to the pulpit; but his resources were limited, and, no doubt with the resolution of embracing the earliest opportunity of following out his original intention, he accepted the situation of Master in the Grammar School of Dunfermline. He was an ardent student; and it is supposed that too close application, particularly in acquiring a knowledge of the Greek and Hebrew languages, tended to impair the faculties of a mind which might otherwise have shone forth with more than ordinary lustre. The result was, he soon tired of the irksome duties of a preceptor, and resigned his situation. He "was sure Job never was a schoolmaster, otherwise we should not have heard so much of his patience."

Among other whims entertained, he deemed it unlawful to shave. on the ground that, as a man was created perfect, any attempt at mutilation or amendment was not only presumptuous but sinful. Following up this theory in practice, he increased the singularity of his appearance, by approximating still more closely to the dress and deportment of the ancient prophets. His usual attire was a loose great-coat, reaching nearly to the ankle. In his hand he carried a staff of enormous length ; and, as he seldom wore a hat, or any other covering, his flowing locks, bald forehead, and strongly marked countenance, were amply displayed. He adhered to the strictest simplicity of diet, and preferred sleeping on the floor, with or without a carpet, if permitted by his friends. He was tenacious of his beard; and when on one occasion entreaty so far prevailed as to induce his consent to be shaved, the violence of his regret, for what he considered a sinful compliance, was so excessive, that those interested in his welfare, convinced of the danger of such an experiment, refrained in future from all similar attempts.

Notwithstanding his grotesque and formidable appearance, unless when under some transitory excitement, Andrew was a man of gentle, kind, and even engaging manners. Occasionally, when actuated by some strong mental paroxysm, he has been known to exchange hi-; pilgrim's staff for an iron rod, with which he would walk about the streets of Dunfermline, declaring that he was sent to "rule the nations with a rod of iron." Abhorring every one who had even the appearance of making " gain of godliness," he one day, in his magisterial wanderings, observed a "caiiseway preacher " in the act of sermonizing for the sake of the few halfpence that might be thrown into his hat, which, for the purpose of receiving the gifts, lay open before him. Andrew's ire was kindled at the exhibition; he stepped forward, repeating in a solemn tone—" Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel;" and, suiting the action to the words, with one blow of his iron rod he felled the unlucky proponhder of the gospel to the ground. For this breach of the peace, the only one he was ever known to commit, Andrew was imprisoned in the jail of the burgh, from which he was in a short time liberated on bail. In after life he often referred to his incarceration, remarking, in ridicule of the circumstance, that, "such a place was more likely to make a wise man mad, than to cure the frenzy of a madman, which the magistrates in error thought he was."

Andrew was undoubtedly an excellent scholar; and, on relinquishing the Grammar School of Dunfermline, he came to Edinburgh, giving himself out as a private teacher of Greek and Hebrew. Although well qualified to act in this capacity, it was not to be supposed, from the state of his mind, that his employment would be extensive, or that he was capable of pursuing any vocation with the necessary application and perseverance. A small circle of friends—of whom the late Mr. William Anderson, ironmonger, foot of West Bow, was one—who were pleased with the simplicity of his manners, contributed the moderate sum required for his subsistence. But acting upon the Scripture injunction, that "if any one would not work, neither shoiild he eat," Andrew, with honourable independence of mind, refused all gratuitous aid. Either professionally as a teacher, or in any other way he could be serviceable, he always insisted on rendering an equivalent.

His peculiarly conscientious idea of independence occasionally placed him in circumstances somewhat ridiculous; and his scruples against eating when he did not work were frequently carried on so far as to threaten starvation. His objections were only to be overcome by his friends suggesting the performance of some trifling piece of labour, such as bringing a "rake" or two of water from the well, or arranging the goods on the shelves of the sale shop. Having applied a salvo to his conscience in this way, he would then sit down to dinner. But even this device ceased to be effective, some of the young wags persuading him that such labour was unprofitable, and tended only to indulge the indolence of the housemaid or shopboy. Thus driven to extremities, and effectually to appease the phantom by which he was pursued, Andrew at one time hired himself as a labourer to a master builder; and what further proved the disinterested nature and purity of his motives, as he had a competency, his wages were to be given away in charity. One day, while engaged with his fellow-barrowman in carrying up stones to the masons, as might have been expected, he felt much fatigued ; and a passage of Scripture—" Do thyself no harm " coming opportunely to his recollection, he at once laid down his portion of the barrow. His companion behind, still holding the shafts, and provoked by the untimely delay, broke out into a volley of dreadful oaths and imprecations; to prevent which Andrew resumed the burden sooner than he intended. When the labours of the day were over, he was asked by a friend, to whom he repeated the occurrence, if he had forgot the sum of the second table of the law, which says, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself"? Andrew replied that it did not occur to him at the time. On his friend reminding him that, had he been the undermost bearer of the barrow, his own safety would have dictated a different course, he cordially assented—"You say right; that is very true."

His opposition to the prevailing customs of society arose from an indiscriminate and rigid interpretation of particular portions of the sacred writings; and probably the same cause led to his dissent from the ordinary modes of public worship. He used to say that he had read of a church in Ethiopia, where the service chiefly consisted in reading the Scriptures. "That," said he, "is the church I would have attended." He preferred reading the Bible in the original; and to his extreme fondness for expounding the Scriptures, the attitude in which he is portrayed in the Print evidently refers. At the time the building of the South Bridge was in progress, Andrew has been often seen at a very early hour on the Sabbath morning—long before his fellow-citizens were roused from their slumbers—seated in the fresh air to the south of the Tron Church, with his Hebrew Psalter in his hand.

He frequented those churches where the greatest portions of Scripture were read, and generally visited more than one place of worship in the course of a forenoon. He repaired first to the Glassites, who met in Chalmers' Close—then to the Baptists, in Niddry Street, or to the Old Independent Church in the Candlemaker Row. The former he preferred for their Scripture reading, and the latter for the doctrines taught. In short, the Bible was the standard to which he seemed desirous of assimilating himself, not more in faith than in manners; and his language, formed on the same model, abounded in Scripture phrases and quotations, applicable to almost every circumstance in life. Mistaken he might be in some of his views, and over rigid in others; but in referring to the Bible as his authority, he always did so with the utmost reverence and respect.

Had Andrew been dictator, the fashions and customs of society would have been pristine indeed. He abominated superfluity; and no one partial to a fine house and gaudy attire could in his opinion have any pretentions to religion. A gentleman with whom he was intimate, happening to be at Glasgow, embraced the opportunity of calling on the Baptist preacher, Mr. Robert Moncrieff, brother of the late Rev. Sir Henry Moncrieff Wellwood, Bart. On his return from the west, he was closely questioned by Andrew as to what sort of a man Robert Moncrieff was (for he never addressed any one by a higher appellation than his Christian name) — had he a fine house—and did h« dress richly? On being answered that in these particulars Mr. Moncrieff was pretty much in the style of other respectable people—

"O, then," said Andrew, sorrowfully, "he cannot be sincere. The rich man was 'clothed in piirple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day.'"

"Call no man master" was a portion of Scripture upon which he acted in the strictest sense. He never applied the terms Master or Mistress to any one, always using the proper name, if he knew it. In cases where he did not, he got over the difficulty in the following manner:—Two ladies, who stood in the relation to each other of mother and daughter-in-law, by their uniform kindness had secured his respect and gratitude. The elder being a widow, he spoke of her without hesitation as Widow------------. The younger, whose first name he did not know, asked him how he distinguished her in conversation from her mother-in-law. "Oh," said he, "you read in the Scriptures of the wife of Cleopas: I call you the wife of-------------." If told anything detrimental to the reputation, or tending to lower his good opinion of any one, he would say—" I did not hear it before—I am sorry to hear it; " and anything of this kind he was never known to repeat to another.

Apparently well aware of the position in which he was placed by his singular opinions and habits, he seemed anxious on all occasions to justify his principles. Visiting at the house of an acquaintance one day, he asked permission to take the infant daughter of his friend in his arms. Although somewhat surprised at the request, it was nevertheless readily granted. He pressed the little one to his breast—then holding her out—"Now," he exclaimed, with triumph, "dost thou not see a convincing proof? If the beard of man was not according to nature, that child would have cried at my appearance." The same experiment he frequently repeated, by inviting children of a more advanced age to read their lessons to him. His familiarity and ready approval generally gave them confidence ; and he was much pleased if they did not seem afraid of him.

Andrew's ideas as to cleanliness were as singular as his other notions, and did not well agree with the practice of those amongst whom ho sojonrned. He thought people gave themselves a great deal of unnecessary trouble. When sweeping a room, he would say to the servant, "Cannot you let the dust lie quietly? You stir it up only to get better mouthfuls of it." And when washing a floor, he would exclaim—"Dear sirs, she will wear all the boards rubbing them so." There was one friend on whom he called, sufficiently particular in matters of this kind, who insisted that he must wipe his feet well before he came in. "You remind me," said Andrew, "of my nephew's servant maid, who would not allow me to enter the house until I put off my shoes. Indeed, I used to tell her she was abominably cleanly."

Andrew could occasionally say a good thing. Many still living must remember having heard of a Mr. Low in Dunfermline, much famed for his success in setting broken bones, and adjusting dislocations. His cures were performed gratis ; and his aid was only to be obtained through the mediation of a friend, or for mercy's sake. A gentleman in the medical profession, hearing Andrew speak in approbation of some of Mr. Low's cases, expressed his distrust in such a practitioner, since he had not studied anatomy. "Aye, that's true," replied Andrew; "but Low acquired his anatomy at the graves mouth'"—referring to his inspection of the bones as cast up by the grave-digger.

Of the simplicity and anchorite-like demeanour of Andrew Donaldson, there are several curious reminiscences. The late Dr. Charles Stuart —father of James Stuart, Esq., of Dunearn—had for some time meditated withdrawing from the Established Church before he actually did so. Hearing of his intention, although entirely unacquainted with him, Andrew resolved on paying a visit to the manse of Cramond, of which parish the Doctor was then minister. Taking his long staff in his hand, and "girding up his loins," as he would himself have expressed it, he set out on his journey early one forenoon. When near to Cramond, and not exactly certain whereabout the manse stood, he observed two well-dressed men walking in a field near to where he supposed it should be. Towards them he bent his course ; and, as he approached with his bald head, flowing beard, and pilgrim's staff, the gentlemen were at first so struck with his singular appearance, that they were irresolute whether to retreat or await his advance. On nearing them, he inquired if they could inform him where Charles Stuart, minister of Cramond lived? To this one of the party replied, "I am Charles Stuart, the person you refer to.""Then," said Andrew, extending his arm to grasp the hand of the Doctor, "I have heard that thou dost intend separating thyself from the Church, and hast set thy face heaven-ward—I wish thee God speed!" So saying, he wheeled about, and proceeded on his return to Edinburgh, leaving the worthy Doctor and his friend not less astonished at the nature of the brief interview than curious as to the character of their visitor. The result of the Doctor's inquiry as to this singular enthusiast having been favourable, he became ever after his steady and warm friend.

Andrew remained all his days a bachelor; but that he was not altogether a misogamist, is testified by the fact, that he at one time entertained the idea of venturing upon the cares of wedlock. In the habit of visiting at the house of Bailie Horn, in Dunfermline, he had observed and been pleased with the deportment of the servant-maid, with whom he occasionally entered into conversation. At length he addressed her in his usual laconic style, stating his intention, and desiring to know whether she would have him. The girl, in astonishment, exclaimed that she could never think of such a thing; and declared, if that was his object, never to show his face again. Little versed in courtship, Andrew bowed submissive to the first rebuff, remarking, as he dolorously departed—"The Lord's will be done!"

It was probably about the same period that Andrew made a second attempt to form a matrimonial alliance ; but in this instance he was resolved not to trust his suit to the decision of the fair one herself. To her father who was reputed to he in easy circumstances, and who had been a sincere friend to Andrew, he accordingly made known his intention of taking unto himself a wife, adding, that he thought his daughter would make a suitable companion. "But," said his friend, "how should you think of a wife, Andrew ; yon have not wherewith to maintain her?" "Oh, dear," replied the simple-minded suitor, "that's nothing—you have plenty!" This explanation, however candid, failed to give satisfaction; and Andrew found it necessary, as on many former occasions, to yield to fate with his usual equanimity.

When Kay published his likeness, it was universally admired for its fidelity. A friend talking of the picture in the hearing of Andrew, and greatly commending the exactness of the resemblance, the latter advanced, and smoothing down his beard, as his custom was, replied— "Aye; but I present you with the living picture."

The closing years of this singular person's life were passed at Dunfermline, where he resided with a nephew. He died at an advanced age; and his remains are interred in the parish churchyard. The stone erected to his memory contains the following inscription:— "Here lies Andrew Donaldson, a good scholar and sincere Christian, who died June 21, 1793, aged eighty."

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus