John Brown.

Supplementary chapter to the life of Rev. John Brown, D.D.; a letter to Rev. John Cairns, D.D online

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Goliath's twice, like the Don striding beside San-
cho. I saw what he was after, and when past the
toll he said in a mild sort of way, " John, did you
promise absolutely I was not to ride your horse ?"
"No, father, certainly not. Mr. Stone, I daresay,
wished me to do so, but I didn't." " Well then,
I think we'll change ; this beast shakes me."
So we changed. I remember how noble he
looked ; how at home : his white hair and his
dark eyes, his erect, easy, accustomed seat.
He soon let his eager horse slip gently aw r ay.
It was first evasit, he was off, Goliath and I
jogging on behind ; then erupit, and in a twink-
ling evanuit. I saw them last flashing through
the arch under the Canal, his white hair flying.
I was uneasy, though from his riding I knew
he was as yet in command, so I put Goliath
to his best, and having passed through Slate-
ford, I asked a stonebreaker if he saw a gentle-
man on a chestnut horse. " Has he white hair?"
" Yes." " And eeri like a gled's T " Yes."
" Weel then, he's fleein' up the road like the
wund ; he'll be at Little Vantage" (about nine
miles off) " in nae time if he haud on." I ne\ 7 er
once sighted him, but on coming into Juniper
Green there was his steaming chestnut at the


gate, neighing cheerily to Goliath. I went in,
he was at the bedside of his friend, and in the
midst of prayer ; his words as I entered were,
" When thou passest through the waters I will
be with thee, and through the rivers, they shall
not overflow thee ;" and he was not the less in-
stant in prayer that his blood was up with his
ride. He never again saw Mrs. Robertson, or
as she was called when they were young, Sibbie
(Sibella) Pirie. On coming out he said nothing,
but took the chestnut, mounted her, and we
came home quietly. His heart was opened ; he
spoke of old times and old friends ; he stopped
at the exquisite view at Hailes into the valley,
and up to the Pentlands beyond, the smoke of
Kate's Mill, rising in the still and shadowy air,
and broke out into Cowper's words : Yes,

" HE sets the bright procession on its way,
And marshals all the order of the year ;
And ere one flowery season fades and dies,
Designs the blooming wonders of the next."

Then as we came slowly in, the moon shone
behind Craiglockhart hill among the old Scotch
firs ; he pulled up again, and gave me Collins'
Ode to Evening, beginning

" If aught of oaten stop, or pastoral song,
May hope, chaste Eve, to soothe thy modest ear,
Thy springs, and dying gales ;"


repeating over and over some of the lines, as

" Thy modest ear,
Thy springs, and dying gales."

" And marks o'er all
Thy dewy fingers draw
The gradual dusky veil."

And when she looked out on us clear and full,
" Yes

" The moon takes up the wondrous tale,
And nightly to the listening earth
Repeats the story of her Lirth."

As we passed through Slateford, he spoke of
Dr. Belfrage, his great-hearted friend, of his
obligations to him, and of his son, my friend,
both lying together in Colinton churchyard;
and of Dr. Dick, who was minister before him,
of the Coventrys, and of Stitchel and Sprous-
ton, of his mother, and of himself, his doubts
of his own sincerity in religion, his sense
of sin, of God reverting often to his dying
friend. Such a thing only occurred to me
with him once or twice all my life ; and then
when we were home, he was silent, shut up,
self-contained as before. He was himself con-
scious of this habit of reticence, and what may
be called selfism, to us his children, and la-
mented it. I remember his saying in a sort
of mournful joke, " I have a well of love, I
know it; but it is a well, and a draw-well, to


your sorrow and mine, and it seldom overflows,
but," looking with that strange power of ten-
derness as if he put his voice and his heart into
his eyes, "you may always come hither to
draw ;" he used to say he might take to him-
self Wordsworth's lines,

" I am not one who much or oft delights
To season my fireside with personal talk."

And changing " though" into " if :"

" A well of love it may be deep,
I trust it is, and never dry ;
What matter, though its waters sleep
In silence and obscurity ?"

The expression of his affection was more like
the shock of a Ley den jar, than the continuous
current of a galvanic circle.

There w r as, as 1 have said, a permanent chill
given by my mother's death, to what may be
called the outer surface of his nature, and we at
home felt it much. The blood was thrown in
upon the centre, and went forth in energetic and
victorious work, in searching the Scriptures and
saving souls ; but his social faculty never re-
covered that shock ; it was blighted ; he was
always desiring to be alone, and at his work. A
stranger who saw him for a short time, bright,
animated, full of earnest and cordial talk, pleas-
ing and being pleased, the life of the company,


was apt to think how delightful he must always
be, and so he was ; but these times of bright
talk were like angels' visits ; and he smiled
with peculiar benignity on his retiring guest, as
if blessing him not the less for leaving him to
himself. I question if there ever lived a man so
much in the midst of men, and in the midst of
his own children, * in whom the silences, as Mr.
Carlyle would say, were so predominant. Every
Sabbath he spoke out of the abundance of his
heart, his whole mind ; he was then communi-
cative and frank enough : all the week, before
and after, he would not unwillingly have never
opened his mouth. Of many people we may
say that their mouth is always open except
when it is shut ; of him that his mouth was
always shut except when it was opened. Every
one must have been struck with the seeming in-
consistency of his occasional brilliant, happy,
energetic talk, and his habitual silentness his
difficulty in getting anything to say. But, as
I have already said, what we lost, the world and
the church gained.

When travelling he w T as always in high spirits
and full of anecdote and fun. Indeed I knew
more of his inner history in this one way, than
during years of living with him. I recollect his

* He gave us all the education \ve got at Biggar.


taking me with him to Glasgow when I must
have been about fourteen ; we breakfasted in
" The Ram's Horn Tavern" and I felt a new re-
spect for him at his commanding the waiters.
He talked a great deal during our short tour,
and often have I desired to recal the many
things he told me of his early life, and of his
own religious crises, my mother's death, his fear
of his own death, and all this intermingled with
the drollest stories of his boy and student life.

We went to Paisley and dined, I well remem-
ber, we two alone, and, as I thought, magnifi-
cently, in a great apartment in " The Saracen's
Head" at the end of which was the county ball-
room. We had come across from Dunoon and
landed in a small boat at the Water Neb along
with Mrs. Dr. Hall, a character Sir Walter or
Gait would have made immortal. My father,
with characteristic ardour took an oar, for the
first time in his life, and I believe for the last,
to help the old boatman on the Cart, and wish-
ing to do something decided, missed the water,
and went back head over heels to the immense
enjoyment of Mrs. Hall, who said, "Less pith,
and mair to the purpose, my man." She didn't
let the joke die out.

Another time it was when his second mar-
riage was fixed on, to our great happiness and


his I had just taken my degree of M.D., and
he took Isabella, William, and myself to Moffat.
By a curious felicity we got into Miss Geddes'
lodgings, where the village circulating library
was kept, the whole of which we aver he read in
ten days. I never saw him so happy, so open
and full of fun, reading to us, and reciting the
poetry of his youth.

His manners to ladies, arid indeed to all
women, was that of a courtly gentleman ; they
could be romantic in their empressement and
devotion, and I used to think Sir Philip Sydney,
or Ariosto's knights and the Paladins of old,
must have looked and moved as he did. He
had great pleasure in the company of high-bred,
refined, thoughtful women ; and he had a pecu-
liar sympathy with the sufferings, the necessary
mournfulness of women, and with all in their lot
connected with the fruit of that forbidden tree
their loneliness, the sorrows of their time, and
their pangs in travail, their peculiar relation to
their children. I think I hear him reading the
words, " Can a woman forget her sucking child,
that she should not have compassion on the son
of her womb ? Yea" (as if it was the next thing
to impossible), "she may forget, yet will not I
forget thee." Indeed, to a man who saw so
little of, and said so little to his own children,


perhaps it may be because of all this, his sym-
pathy for mothers under loss of children, his
real suffering for their suffering, not only
endeared him to them as their minister, their
consoler, and gave him opportunities of drop-
ping in divine and saving truth and comfort,
when the heart was full and soft, tender,
and at his mercy, but it brought out in his
only loss of this kind, the mingled depth, ten-
derness, and also the peremptoriness of his

In the case of the death of little Maggie a
child the very image of himself in face, lovely
and pensive, and yet ready for any fun, with a
keenness of affection that perilled everything
on being loved, who must cling to some one
and be clasped, made for a garden, for the
first garden, not for the rough world, the child
of his old age this peculiar meeting of oppo-
sites was very marked. She was stricken with
sudden illness, malignant sore throat ; her
mother was gone, and so she was to my father
as a flower he had the sole keeping of; and his
joy in her wild mirth, his watching her childish
moods of sadness, as if a shadow came over
her young heaven, were themselves something
to watch. Her delicate life made no struggle
with disease ; it as it were declined to stay on


such conditions. She therefore sunk at once
and without much pain, her soul quick and
unclouded, and her little forefinger playing to
the last with my father's silvery curls, her eyes
trying in vain to brighten his :

" Thou wert a dew-drop which the morn brings forth,
Not fitted to be trailed along the soiling earth ;
But at the touch of wrong, without a strife,
Slips in a moment out of life."

His distress, his anguish at this stroke, was not
only intense, it was in its essence permanent ;
he went mourning and looking for her all his
days ; but after she was dead, that resolved
will compacted him in an instant. It was on
a Sabbath morning she died, and he was all day
at church, not many yards from where lay her
little corpse alone in the house. His colleague
preached in the forenoon, and in the afternoon
he took his turn, saying before beginning his
discourse : " It has pleased the Father of
Lights to darken one of the lights of my dwell-
ing had the child lived I would have remained
with her, but now I have thought it right to
arise and come into the house of the Lord and
worship." Such violence to one part of his na-
ture by that in it which was supreme, injured
him : it was like pulling up on the instant an
express train; the whole inner organization is


minutely, though it may be invisibly hurt ; its
molecular constitution damaged by the cruel
stress and strain. Such things are not right ;
they are a cruelty and injustice and injury from
the soul to the body, its faithful slave, and they
bring down, as in his case they too truly did,
their own certain and specific retribution. A
man who did not feel keenly might have
preached ; a man whose whole nature was torn,
shattered, and astonished as his was, had in
a high sense no right so to use himself; and
when too late he opened his eyes to this. It
was part of our old Scottish severe unsparing
character calm to coldness outside, burning
to fierceness, tender to agony within.

I was saying how much my father enjoyed
women's company. He liked to look on thsm,
and watch them, listening* to their keen, un-
connected, and unreasoning, but not unrea-
sonable talk. Men's argument, or rather
arguing, and above all debating, he disliked.

* One day my mother, and her only sister, Agnes married to
James Aitken of Cullands, a man before his class and his time, for
long the only Whig and Seceder laird in Peeblesshire, and with whom
my father shared the Edinburgh fieview from its beginning the
two sisters who were, the one to the other, as Mary was to Martha,
sat talking of their household doings ; my aunt was great upon some
things she could do; my father looked up from his book, and said,
" There is one thing, Mrs. Aitken, you cannot do you cannot turn
the heel of a stocking;" and he was right, he had noticed her make
over this " kittle" turn to her mother.


He had no turn for it. He was not comba-
tive, much less contentious. He was, however,
warlike. Anything that he could destroy, any
falsehood or injustice, he made for, not to dis-
cuss, but to expose and kill. He could not fence
with his mind much less with his tongue, and
had no love for the exploits of a nimble dia-
lectic. He had no readiness either in thought
or word for this ; his way was slowly to think
out a subject, to get it well " bottomed," as Locke
would say ; he was not careful as to recording
the steps he took in their order, but the spirit of
his mind was logical, as must be that of all minds
who seek and find truth, for logic is nothing else
than the arithmetic of thought ; having there-
fore thought it out, he proceeded to put it into
formal expression. This he did so as never
again to undo it. His mind seemed to want
the wheels by which this is done, vestigia nulla
retrorsum, and having stereotyped it, he was
never weary of it ; it never lost its life and fresh-
ness to him, and he delivered it as emphatically
thirty years after it had been cast, as the first
hour of its existence.

I have said he was no swordsman, but he was
a heavy shot ; he fired off his ball, compact,
weighty, the maximum of substance in the mini-
mum of bulk ; he put in double charge, pointed


the muzzle, and fired, with what force and sharp-
ness we all remember. If it hit, good : if not. all
he could do was to load again, with the same
ball, and in the same direction. You must come
to him to be shot, at least you must stand still.
for he had a want of mobility of mind in great
questions. He could not stalk about the field
like a sharpshooter ; his was a great 68-pounder,
and it was not much of a swivel. Thus it was that
he rather dropped into the minds of others his
authoritative assertions, and left them to breed
conviction. If they gave them entrance and
cherished them, they would soon find how full of
primary truth they were, and how well they
would serve them, as they had served him. With
all this heavy artillery, somewhat slow and
cumbrous, on great questions, he had no want,
when he was speaking off-hand, of quick, snell
remark, often witty and full of spirit, and often
too unexpected, like lightning flashing, smiting
and gone. In Church Courts this was very
marked. On small ordinary matters, a word
from him would settle a long discussion. He
would, after lively, easy talk with his next neigh-
bour, set him up to make a speech, which was
conclusive. But on great questions he must move
forward his great gun with much solemnity and
effort, partly from his desire to say as much of


the truth at once as he could, partly from the
natural concentration and rapidity of his mind
in action, as distinguished from his slowness
when incubating, or in the process of thought,
and partly from a sort of self-consciousness
I might almost call it a compound of pride
and nervous diffidence which seldom left him.
He desired to say it so that it might never need
to be said again or otherwise by himself, or any
one else.

This strong personality, along with a pre-
vailing love to be alone, and dwell with thoughts
rather than with thinkers, pervaded his en-
tire character. His religion was deeply per-
sonal,* not only as affecting himself, but as
due to a personal God, and presented through
the sacrifice and intercession of the God-
man ; and it was perhaps owing to his
" conversation " being so habitually in heaven
his social and affectionate desires filling
themselves continually from " all the fulness of
God," through living faith and love that he
the less felt the need of giving and receiving
human affection. I never knew any man who

* In his own words, " a personal Deity is the soul of Natural Re-
ligion ; a personal Saviour the real living Christ is the soul of
Revealed Religion."



lived more truly under the power, and some-
times under the shadow of the world to
come. This world had to him little reality
except as leading to the next ; little inter-
est, except as the time of probation and sen-
tence. A child brought to him to be baptized
was in his mind, and in his words, '' a young
immortal to be educated for eternity ;" a birth
was the beginning of what was never to end ;
sin his own and that of the race was to him,
as it must be to all men who can think, the
great mystery, as it is the main curse of time.
The idea of it of its exceeding sinfulness
haunted and oppressed him. He used to say
of John Foster, that this deep and intense, but
sometimes narrow and grim thinker, had, in his
study of the disease of the race, been, as it were,
fascinated by its awful spell, so as almost to
forget the remedy. This was not the case with
himself. As you know, no man held more
firmly to the objective reality of his religion
that it was founded upon fact. It was not the
pole-star he lost sight of, or the compass he
mistrusted ; it was the sea- worthiness of the
vessel. His constitutional deficiency of hope,
his sensibility to sin, made him not unfrequently
stand in doubt of himself, of his sincerity and
safety before God, and sometimes made exist-


euce the being obliged to continue to be a
doubtful privilege.

When oppressed with this feeling, "the
burden and the mystery of all this unintelligible
world," the hurry of mankind out of this brief
world into the unchangeable and endless next,
I have heard him repeat, with deep feeling,
Andrew Marvell's strong lines :

" But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariots hurrying near ;
And yonder all before me He
Deserts of vast eternity."

His living so much on books, and his strong per-
sonal attachment to men, as distinct from his
adhesion to their principles and views, made
him, as it were, live and commune with the
dead made him intimate, not merely with
their thoughts, and the public events of their
lives, but with themselves Augustine, Milton,
Luther, Melanchthon, George Herbert, Baxter,
Howe, Owen, Leigh ton, Barrow, Bunyan, Philip
and Matthew Henry, Doddridge, Defoe, Marvel,
Locke, Berkeley, Halliburton, Cowper, Gray,
Johnson, Gibbon, and David Hume,"* Jortin,
Boston, Ben gel, Neander, etc., not to speak

* David Hume's Treatise on Human Nature he knew thoroughly,
and read it carefully during his last illness. He used to say it not
only was a miracle of intellectual and literary power for a man of
twenty-eight, but contained the essence of all that was best on the
philosophy of mind ; " It's all there, if you will think it out."


of the apostles, and above all, his chief
friend the author of the Epistle to the Romans,
whom he looked on as the greatest of men,
with all these he had personal relations as
men, he cordialized with them. He had
thought much more about them would have
had more to say to them had they met, than
about or to any, but a very few living men.*
He delighted to possess books which any of
them might have held in their hands, and on
which they had written their names. He had
a number of these, some very curious ; among

* This tendency was curiously seen in his love of portraits, especially
of men whose works he had and liked. He often put portraits into
his books, and he seemed to enjoy this way of realizing their authors ;
and in exhibitions of pictures he was far more taken up with what is
usually and justly the most tiresome department, the portraits, than
with all else. He was not learned in engravings, and made no at-
tempt at collecting them, so that the following list of portraits in his
rooms shows his liking for the men much more than for the art which
delineated them. Of course they by no means include all his friends
ancient and modern, but they all were his friends :

Kobert Hall Dr. Carey Melanchthon Calvin Pollok Eras-
mus (very like "Uncle Ebenezer") John Knox Dr. Waugh
John Milton (three, all framed) Dr. Dick Dr. Hall Luther (two)
Dr. Heugh Dr. Mitchell Dr. Balmer Dr. Henderson Dr.
Wardlaw Shakspere (a small oil painting which he had since ever
I remember) Dugald Stewart Dr. Innes Dr. Smith, Biggar
the two Erskines and Mr. Fisher Dr. John Taylor of Toronto
Dr. Chalmers Mr. William Ellis Eev. James Elles J. B. Patter-
son Vinet Archibald M'Lean Dr. John Erskine Tholuck
John Pym Gesenius Professor Finlayson Richard Baxter Dr.
Lawson Dr. Peddie (two, and a copy of Joseph's noble bust) ; and
they were thus all about him for no other reason than that he liked
to look at and think of them through their countenances.


others, that wild soldier, man of fashion and
wit among the Reformers, Ulric von Hiitten's
autograph on Erasmus' beautiful folio Greek
Testament, and John Howe's (spelt How)
on the first edition of Milton's Speech on Un-
licensed Printing.* He began collecting books

* In a copy of Baxter's Life and Times, which he picked up at
Maurice Ogle's shop in Glasgow, which had belonged to Anna,
Countess of Argyll, besides her autograph, there is a most affecting
and interesting note in that venerable lady's handwriting. It occurs
on the page where Baxter brings a charge of want of veracity against
her eldest and name-daughter, who was perverted to Popery. They
are in a hand tremulous with age and feeling : " I can say w* truth
I neuer in all my lyff did hear hir ly, and what she said, if it was not
trew, it was by others sugested to hir, as y* she wold embak on
Wedensday. She belived she wold, hot thy took hir, alles ! from me
who never did sie her mor. The minester of Cuper, Mr. John Magill,
did sie hir at Paris in the convent. Said she was a knowing and
vertuous person, and hed retined the living principels of our relidgon,
which made him say it was good to grund young persons weel in
ther relidgion, as she was one it appired weel grunded."

The following is Lord Lindsay's letter, on seeing this remarkable
marginal note :

26th December 1856.

MY DEAR SIR, I owe you my sincerest thanks for your kindness
in favouring me with a sight of the volume of Baxter's Life, which
formerly belonged to my ancestrix, Anna Countess of Argyll. The
MS. note inserted by her in it respecting her daughter is extremely
interesting. I had always been under the impression that the daugh-
ter had died very shortly after her removal to France, but the con-
trary appears from Lady Argyll's memorandum. That memorandum
throws also a pleasing light on the later life of Lady Anna, and for-
cibly illustrates the undying love and tenderness of the aged mother,
who must have been very old when she penned it, the book having
been printed as late as 1696.

I am extremely obliged to you for communicating to me this new


when he was twelve, and he was collecting up
to his last hours. He cared least for merely
fine books, though he enjoyed, no one more so,
fine type, good binding, and all the niceties of
the book-fancier. What he liked were such
books as were directly useful in his work, and
such as he liked to live in the midst of ; such,
also, as illustrated any great philosophical, his-
torical, or ecclesiastical epoch. His collection
of Greek Testaments was, considering his
means, of great extent and value, and he had
a quite singular series of books, pamphlets,

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Online LibraryJohn BrownSupplementary chapter to the life of Rev. John Brown, D.D.; a letter to Rev. John Cairns, D.D → online text (page 3 of 6)