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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making across Carnwath Moor to the Calstane
Slap, and thence into England by the drove-
road, he accosted him with a friendly smile,
gave him a reasonable tract, and dropped
into him some words of Divine truth. He was
thus continually doing good. Go where he
might, he had his message to every one ; to a
servant lass, to a poor wanderer on the bleak
streets, to gentle and simple he flowed for ever
pleno rivo.

Uncle Ebenezer,on the other hand, flowed per
saltum ; he was always good and saintly, but he
was great once a week ; six days he brooded over
his message, was silent, withdrawn, self-involved ;
on the Sabbath, that downcast, almost timid
man, who shunned men, the instant he was in
the pulpit, stood up a son of thunder. Such a


voice ! such a piercing eye ! such an inevitable
forefinger, held out trembling with the terrors
of the Lord ; such a power of asking questions
and letting them fall deep into the hearts of
his hearers, and then answering them himself,
with an " ah, sirs !" that thrilled and quivered
from him to them.

I remember his astonishing us all with a sud-
den burst. It was a sermon upon the apparent
plus of evil in this world, and he had driven
himself and us all to despair so much sin, so
much misery when, taking advantage of the
chapter he had read, the account of the uproar
at Ephesus in the Theatre, he said, " Ah, sirs !
what if some of the men who, for ' about the
space of two hours/ cried out ' Great is Diana of
the Ephesians/ have for the space of eighteen
hundred years and more been crying day and
night, ' Great and marvellous are thy works,
Lord God Almighty; just and true are all thy
ways, thou King of saints ; who shall not fear
thee, Lord, and glorify thy name 1 for thou
only art holy.' ;;

You have doubtless heard of the story of Lord
Brougham going to hear him. It is very cha-
racteristic, and as I had it from Mrs. Cuning-
hame, who was present, I may be allowed to tell
it. Brougham and Denman were on a visit


to James Stuart of Dunearn, about the time
of the Queen's trial. They had asked Stuart
where they should go to church ; he said
he would take them to a Seceder minister at
Inverkeithing. They went, and as Mr. Stuart
had described the saintly old man, Brougham
said he would like to be introduced to him, and
arriving before service time, Mr. Stuart called,
and left a message that some gentlemen wished
to see him. The answer was that "Maister"
Brown saw nobody before divine worship. He
then sent in Brougham and Denman's names.
" Mr. Brown's compliments to Mr. Stuart, and
he sees nobody before sermon/' and in a few
minutes out came the stooping shy old man, and
passed them, unconscious of their presence.
They sat in the front gallery, and he preached
a faithful sermon, full of fire and of native force.
They came away greatly moved, and each wrote
to Lord Jeffrey to lose not a week in coming to
hear the greatest natural orator they had ever
heard. Jeffrey came next Sunday, and often
after declared he never heard such words, such a
sacred, untaught gift of speech. Nothing was
more beautiful than my father's admiration and
emotion when listening to his uncle's rapt pas-
sages, or than his childlike faith in my father's
exegetical prowess. He used to have a list of


difficult passages ready for " my nephew," and
the moment the oracle gave a decision, the old
man asked him to repeat it, and then took a
permanent note of it, and would assuredly
preach it some day with his own proper unction
and power. One story of him I must give ; my
father, who heard it not long before his own
death, was delighted with it, and for some days
repeated it to every one. Uncle Ebenezer,
with all his mildness and general complaisance,
was like most of the Browns, tenax propositi,
firm to obstinacy. He had established a week-
day sermon at the North Ferry, about two miles
from his own town, Inverkeithing. It was, I
think, on the Tuesdays. It was winter, and a
wild, drifting, and dangerous day ; his daughters
his wife was dead besought him not to go ;
he smiled vaguely, but continued getting into his
big-coat. Nothing would stay him, and away
he and the pony stumbled through the dumb
and blinding snow. He was half-way on his
journey, and had got into the sermon he was
going to preach, and was utterly insensible to
the outward storm: his pony getting its feet
balled, staggered about, and at last upset his
master and himself into the ditch at the road-
side. The feeble, heedless, rapt old man might
have perished there, had not some carters,


bringing up whisky casks from the Ferry, seen
the catastrophe, arid rushed up, raising him,
and dichtin' him, with much commiseration and
blunt speech " Puir auld man, what brocht ye
here in sic a day 1" There they were, a rough
crew, surrounding the saintly man, some putting
on his hat, sorting and cheering him, and others
knocking the balls off the pony's feet, and stuffing
them with grease. He was most polite and
grateful, and one of these cordial ruffians having
pierced a cask, brought him a horn of whisky,
and said, " Tak that, it'll hearten ye." He took
the horn, and bowing to them, said, " Sirs, let us
give thanks ! " and there, by the road-side, in
the drift and storm, with these wild fellows, he
asked a blessing on it, and for his kind deliver-
ers, and took a tasting of the horn. The men
cried like children. They lifted him on his
pony, one going with him, and when the
rest arrived in Inverkeithing, they repeated the
story to everybody, and broke down in tears
whenever they came to the blessing. " And to
think o j askin' a blessin' on a tass o' whisky I"
Next Presbytery day, after the ordinary busi-
ness was over, he rose up he seldom spoke
and said, " Moderator, 1 have something per-
sonal to myself to say. I have often said, that
real kindness belongs only to true Christians,


but" and then be told the story of these men ;
" but more true kindness I never experienced
than from these lads. They may have had the
grace of God, I don't know ; but I never mean
again to be so positive in speaking of this

When he was on a missionary tour in the
north, he one morning met a band of High-
land shearers on their way to the harvest; he
asked them to stop and hear the word of God.
They said they could not, as they had their
wages to work for. He offered them what they
said they would lose ; to this they agreed, and
he paid them, and closing his eyes engaged
in prayer ; when he had ended, he looked up,
and his congregation had vanished ! His shrewd
brother Thomas, to w r hom he complained of this
faithlessness, said, " Eben, the next time ye pay
folk to hear you preach, keep your eyes open,
and pay them when you are done." I re-
member, on another occasion, in Bristo Church,
with an immense audience, he had been going
over the Scripture accounts of great sinners
repenting and turning to God, repeating their
names, from Manasseh onwards. He seemed to
have closed the record, when, fixing his eyes on
the end of the central passage, he called out
abruptly, " I see a man !" Every one looked to


that point. " I see a man of Tarsus ; and he
says, 'Make mention of me !" It must not be
supposed that the discourses of " Uncle Ebe-
nezer," with these abrupt appeals and sudden
starts, were unwritten or extempore ; they were
carefully composed and written out, only these
flashes of thought and passion came on him sud-
denly when writing, and were therefore quite
natural when delivered they came on him again.

The Rev. John Belfrage, M.D., had more power
over my father's actions and his relations to
the world, than any other of his friends ; over
his thoughts and convictions proper, not much,
few living men had, and even among the
mighty dead, he called no man master. He
used to say that the three master intellects
devoted to the study of divine truth since the
apostles, were Augustine, Calvin, and Jonathan
Edwards ; but that even they were only primi
inter pares, this by the bye.

On all that concerned his outward life as a
public teacher, as a father, and as a member of
society, he consulted Dr. Belfrage, and was
swayed greatly by his judgment, as, for in-
stance, the choice of a profession for myself,
his second marriage, etc. He knew him to be
his true friend, and not only wise and honest,
but pre-eminently a man of affairs, capax rerum.


Dr. Belfrage was a great man in posse, if ever
I saw one, " a village Hampden." Greatness
was of his essence ; nothing paltry, nothing
secondary, nothing untrue. Large in body,
large and handsome in face, lofty in manner
to his equals or superiors ;~* homely, familiar,
cordial with the young and the poor, I never
met with a more truly royal nature more native
and endued to rule, guide, and benefit mankind.
He was for ever scheming for the good of others,
and chiefly in the way of helping them to help
themselves. From a curious want of ambition
his desire for advancement was for that of his
friends, not for his own ; and here he w r as ambi-
tious and zealous enough, from non-concentra-
tion of his faculties in early life, and from an
affection of the heart which ultimately killed
him it w r as too big for his body, and, under the
relentless hydrostatic law, at last shattered the
tabernacle it moved, like a steam-engine too
powerful for the vessel it finds itself in, his
mental heart also was too big for his happi-
ness, from these causes, along with a love

* Oil one occasion, Mr. Hall of Kelso, an excellent but very odd
man, in whom the ego was very strong, and who, if he had been a
Spaniard, would, to adopt Coleridge's story, have taken off or touched
his hat whenever he spoke of himself, met Dr. Belfrage in the lobby
at the Synod, and drawing himself up as he passed, he muttered,
" high and michty !" " There's a pair of us, Mr. Hall."


for gardening, which was a passion, and an in-
herited competency, which took away what John
Hunter calls " the stimulus of necessity," you
may understand how this remarkable man in-
stead of being a Prime Minister, a Lord Chan-
cellor, or a Dr. Gregory, a George Stephenson,
or likeliest of all, a John Howard, without some
of his weaknesses, lived and died minister of the
small congregation of Slateford, near Edinburgh.
It is true that he was also a physician, and an
energetic and successful one, and got rid of some
of his love of doing good to and managing human
beings in this way ; he was also an oracle in his
district, to whom many had the wisdom to go
to take as well as ask advice, and who was never
weary of entering into the most minute details,
and taking endless pains, being like Dr. Chalmers
a strong believer in " the power of littles." It
would be out of place, though it would be not
uninteresting, to tell how this great resident
power this strong will and authority, this capa-
cious, clear, and beneficent intellect dwelt in
its petty sphere, like an oak in a flower-pot ;
but I cannot help recalling that signal act of
friendship and of power in the matter of my
father's translation from Rose Street to Brough-
ton Place, to which you have referred.

It was one of the turning-points of my father's
2 I


history. Dr. Belfrage, though seldom a speaker
in the public courts of his Church, was always
watchful of the interests of the people and of
his friends. On the Rose Street question he had
from the beginning formed a strong opinion.
My father had made his statement, indicating
his leaning, but leaving himself absolutely in
the hands of the Synod. There was some
speaking, all on one side, and for a time the
Synod seemed to incline to be absolute, and
refuse the call of Broughton Place. The house
was everywhere crowded, and breathless with
interest, my father sitting motionless, anxious,
and pale, prepared to submit without a word,
but retaining his own mind ; everything looked
like a unanimous decision for Rose Street, when
Dr. Belfrage rose up and came forward into
the " passage," and with his first sentence and
look, took possession of the house. He stated,
with clear arid simple argument, the truth and
reason of the case ; and then having fixed him-
self there, he took up the personal interests and
feelings of his friend, and putting before them
what they were about to do in sending back
my father, closed with a burst of indignant
appeal " I ask you now, not as Christians, I
ask you as gentlemen, are you prepared to do
this 1" Every one felt it was settled, and so it


was. My father never forgot this great act of
his friend.

This remarkable man, inferior to my father
in learning,, in intensity, in compactness and in
power of so to speak -focussing himself,- ad-
miring his keen eloquence, his devotedness to
his sacred art, rejoicing in his fame, jealous of
his honour w r as, by reason of his own massive
understanding, his warm and great heart, and
his instinctive knowledge of men, my father's
most valued friend, for he knew best and most
of what my father knew least; and on his death,
my father said he felt himself thus far unpro-
tected and unsafe. He died atRothesay of hyper-
trophy of the heart. I had the sad privilege of
being with him to the last ; and any nobler spec-
tacle of tender, generous affection, high courage,
child-like submission to the Supreme Will, and
of magnanimity in its true sense, I do not again
expect to see. On the morning of his death he
said to me, " John, come and tell me honestly
how this is to end ; tell me the last symptoms
in their sequence." I knew the man, and was
honest, and told him all I knew. "Is there
any chance of stupor or delirium T " I think
not. Death (to take Bichat's division) will
begin at the heart itself, and you will die con-
scious." " I am glad of that. It was Samuel


Johnson, wasn't it, who wished not to die un-
conscious, that he might enter the eternal world
with his mind unclouded ; but you know, John,
that was physiological nonsense. We leave
the brain, and all this ruined body, behind ;
but I would like to be in my senses when I take
my last look of this wonderful world," looking
across the still sea towards the Argyleshire hills,
lying in the light of sunrise, " and of my friends
of you," fixing his eyes on a faithful friend and
myself. And it was so ; in less than an hour he
was dead, sitting erect in his chair his disease
had for weeks prevented him from lying down,
all the dignity, simplicity, and benignity of
its master resting upon, and, as it were, sup-
porting that " ruin/' which he had left.

I cannot end this tribute to my father's friend
and mine, and my own dear and earliest friend's
father, without recording one of the most extra-
ordinary instances of the power of will, under the
pressure of affection, I ever witnessed or heard
of. Dr. Belfrage was twice married. His second
wife was a woman of great sweetness and deli-
cacy, not only of mind, but, to his sorrow, of con-
stitution. She died, after less than a year of
singular and unbroken happiness. There was
no portrait of her. He resolved there should
be one ; and though utterly ignorant of drawing,


he determined to do it himself. No one else
could have such a perfect image of her in his
mind, and he resolved to realize this image. He
got the materials for miniature painting, and,
I think, eight prepared ivory plates. He then
shut himself up from every one, and from every-
thing, for fourteen days, and came out of his
room, wasted and feeble, with one of the plates
(the others he had used and burnt), on which
was a portrait, full of subtle likeness, and drawn
and coloured in a way no one could have dreamt
of having had such an artist. I have seen it ;
and though I never saw the original, I felt that
it must be like, as indeed every one who knew
her said it was. I do not, as I said before,
know anything more remarkable in the history
of human sorrow and resolve.

I remember well that Dr. Belfrage was the
first man I ever heard speak of Free-trade in
religion and in education. It was during the
first election after the Reform Bill, when Sir
John Dalrymple, afterwards Lord Stair, was
canvassing the county of Mid-Lothian. They
were walking in the doctor's garden, Sir
John anxious and gracious. Dr. Belfrage, like,
I believe, every other minister in his body,
was a thorough-going Liberal, what was then
called a Whig ; but partly from his natural


sense of humour and relish of power, and partly,
I believe, for my benefit, he was putting the
Baronet through his facings with some strict-
ness, opening upon him startling views, and
ending by asking him, " Are you, Sir John,
for free trade in corn, free trade in education,
free-trade in religion 1 I am." Sir John said,
" Well, doctor, I have heard of free-trade in
corn, but never iix the other two." " You'll
hear of them before ten years are gone, Sir John,
or I'm mistaken."

I have said thus much of this to me memorable
man, not only because he was my father's closest
and most powerful personal friend, but because
by his word he probably changed the whole
future course of his life. Devotion to his friends
was one of the chief ends of his life, not caring
much for, and having in the affection of his
heart a warning against the perils and excite-
ment of distinction and energetic public work,
he set himself far more strenuously than for
any selfish object, to promote the triumphs of
those whom his acquired instinct for he knew
men as a shepherd knows his sheep, or " Caveat
Emptor" a horse picked out as deserving them.
He rests in Colinton churchyard,

" Where all that mighty heart is lying still,"

his only child William Henry buried beside him.


But you will think I am writing more about
my father's friends and myself than about him.
In a certain sense we may know a man by his
friends ; a man chooses his friends from har-
mony, not from sameness, just as we would
rather sing in parts than all sing the air. One
man fits into the mind of another not by meet-
ing his points, but by dovetailing; each finds in
the other what he in a double sense wants. This
was true of my father's friends. Dr. Balmer was
like him in mucn more than perhaps any, in
love of books and lonely study, in his general
views of divine truth, and in their metaphysical
and literary likings, but they differed deeply.
Dr. Balrner was serene and just rather than
subtle and profound ; his was the still, trans-
lucent stream, my father's the rapid, and it
might be deep ; on the one you could safely
sail, the other hurried you on, and yet never
were two men, during a long life of intimate
intercourse, more cordial.

But I must close the list ; one only and
the best, the most endeared of them all,
Dr. Heugh. He was, in mental constitution
and temper, perhaps more unlike my father
than any of the others I have mentioned.
His was essentially a practical understanding ;
he was a man of action, a man for men more


than for man, the curious reverse in this of
my father. He delighted in public life, had
a native turn for affairs, for all that society
needs and demands, clear-headed, ready, in-
trepid, adroit; with a fine temper, but keen and
honest, with an argument and a question and
a joke for every one ; not disputatious, but de-
lighting in a brisk argument, fonder of wrest-
ling than of fencing, but ready for action; not
much of a long shot, always keeping his eye on
the immediate, the possible, the attainable, but
in all this guided by genuine principle and the
finest honour and exactest truth. He excelled
in the conduct of public business, saw his way
clear, made other men see theirs, was for ever
getting the Synod out of difficulties and confu-
sions, by some clear, tidy, conclusive " motion ;"
and then his speaking, so easy and bright
and pithy, manly and gentlemanly, grave when
it should be, never when it should not mo-
bile, fearless, rapid, brilliant as Saladin his
silent, pensive, impassioned and emphatic friend
was more like the lion-hearted Richard, with
his heavy mace ; he might miss, but let him
hit, and there needed no repetition. Each
admired the other ; indeed Dr. Heugh's love of
my father was quite romantic ; and though they
were opposed on several great public questions,


such as the Apocrypha controversy, the Atone-
ment question at its commencement ; and
though ihej were both of them too keen and too
honest to mince matters or be mealy-mouthed,
they never misunderstood each other, never
had a shadow of estrangement, so that our
Paul and Barnabas, though their contentions
were sometimes sharp enough, never " departed
asunder ;" indeed they loved each other the
longer the more.

Take him all in all, as a friend, as a gentle-
man, as a Christian, as a citizen, I never
knew a man so thoroughly delightful as Dr.
Heugh. Others had more of this or more of
that, but there was a symmetry, a compact-
ness, a sweetness, a true delight/illness about
him, I can remember in no one else. No man,
with so much temptation to be heady and
high-minded, sarcastic, and managing, from his
overflowing wit and talent, was ever more natu-
ral, more honest, or more considerate, indeed
tender-hearted. He was full of animal spirits
and of fun, and one of the best wits and jokers
I ever knew ; and such an asker of questions,
of posers ! We children had a pleasing dread
of that nimble, sharp, exact man, who made
us explain and name everything. Of Scotch
stories he had as many original ones as would


make a second volume for Dean Ramsay. How
well I remember the very corner of the room
in Biggar manse, forty years ago, when from
him I got the first shock and relish of humour ;
became conscious of mental tickling ; of a word
being made to carry double, and being all the
lighter of it. It is an old story now, but it was
new then : a big, perspiring countryman rushed
into the Black Bull coach-office, and holding the
door, shouted, " Are yir insides a' oot 1" This
was my first tasting of the flavour of a joke.

Had Dr. Heugh, instead of being the admir-
able clergyman he was, devoted himself to public
civil life, and gone into Parliament, he would
have taken a high place as a debater, a practical
statesman and patriot. He had many of the
best qualities of Canning, and our own Pre-
mier,\vith purer and higher qualities than either.
There is no one our Church should be more
proud of than of this beloved and excellent
man, the holiness and humility, the jealous,
godly fear, in whose nature was not known
fully even to his friends, till he was gone, when
his private daily self-searchings and prostra-
tions before his Master and Judge were for the
first time made known. There are few cha-
racters both sides of which are so unsullied, so
pure, and without reproach.


1 am back at Biggar at the old sacramental
times ; I see and hear my grandfather, or Mr.
Home of Braehead, Mr. Leckie of Peebles, Mr.
Harper of Lanark, as inveterate in argument as
he was warm in heart, Mr. Comrie of Penicuik,
with his keen Voltaire-like face, and much of
that unhappy and unique man's wit, and sense,
and perfection of expression, without his darker
and baser qualities. I can hear their hearty
talk, can see them coming and going between the
meeting-house and the Tent on the side of the
burn, and then the Monday dinner, and the
cheerful talk, and the many clerical stones and
pleasantries, and the going home on their hardy
little horses, Mr. Comrie leaving his curl- papers
till the next solemnity, and leaving also some
joke of his own, clear and compact as a diamond,
and as cutting.

I am in Rose Street on the monthly lecture,
the church crammed, passages and pulpit stairs.
Exact to a minute, James Chalmers the old
soldier and beadle, slim, meek, but incorrup-
tible by proffered half-crowns from ladies who
thus tried to get in before the doors opened
appears, and all the people in that long pew rise
up, and he, followed by his minister, erect and
engrossed, walks in along the seat, and they
struggle up to the pulpit. We all know what

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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 5 of 6)