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Life of the Rev. Alex. Mathieson, D.D. / with a funeral sermon by John Jenkins online

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18 70


Rev. Alex. Mathieson, D.D.






Three (Discourses,


(!}uod ptiti ported.




m\i$ wort,






THESE Memoirs of the late Minister of St. Andrew's Church,
Montreal, are almost entirely composed of domestic annals,
intended rather for the perusal of his numerous personal
friends than for general circulation. Had Dr. Mathiesori
thought it necessary to leave any instructions to his bio-
grapher, these would, in all probability, hare been, substan-
tially, in terms of the stern command of Oliver Cromwell to
an artist Avhen taking his likeness. "Paint me, scars, warts,
wrinkles and all /" In our own opinion, the weaker points
in the character of our deceased Friend and Father but
served to bring out in bolder relief the many noble qualities
of the man : therefore, Ave have not endeavoured to conceal
them. If we have failed to produce that which on the
whole will be recognized as a faithful portraiture, we can
only take shelter under the motto that is placed on the title
page. In addition to the materials supplied by Dr. Mathieson
himself, the author has received much valuable assistance
from friends who neither wish nor expect a more particular




Parentage and early Education


College Career and Tutorship


Recollections of Dr. Chalmers and Edward Irving


Appointment to St. Andrew's Church. His ordination and departure for Canada


Vis-t to Scotland and the Continent. Disappointment and visionary plans.

His marriage. Death of his child


Parish work. Revisits Scotland. Death of Mrs. Mathieson. Life at Beech-
ridge. Death of Janet Ewing Mathieson


Reminiscences. Mr. Bethune. Bishop Strachan. Messrs. Spark, Harkness,
Council. History of St. Andrew's Church. . . .

" |00





Dr. Mathieson as a Member of Synod


Last illness and death. Funeral services. Extracts from Dr. Barclay's sermon
and other sources







Brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and
be glorified." II Thessalonians, iii, 1 207,


God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him ; male
and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto
them, Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it : and
have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and
over every living thing that moveth upon the earth." Genesis i. 27, 28 226

' And it was winter." John x, 22 .2^5

FRIEND after friend departs ;

Who hath not lost a friend ?
There is no union here of hearts

That finds not here an end !
Were this frail world our final rest,
Living or dying, none were bless'd.

Beyond the flight of time,
Beyond the reign of death,

There surely is some blessed clime,
Where life is not a breath ;

Nor life's affections transient fire,

Whose sparks fly upward and expire.

There is a world above,

Where parting is unknown ;

A long eternity of love,
Formed for the good alone ;

And Faith beholds the dying here

Translated to that glorious sphere !




SOME years ago it occurred to the writer to suggest to Dr.
Mathieson that a leisure hour, now and again, might be spent,
pleasantly to himself, and usefully to the future historian, in com-
mitting to pnpo.r somp of .. those.. narly ,reimnJBQpn i gcs_ pf men and
things which had often served to beguile hours of social pastime.
It seemed right that whatever was in them of historic interest should
be rescued from oblivion, and desirable that even trivial occur-
rences bearing on the history of the Church should be preserved,
not necessarily for publication, but as memorabilia which might
hereafter be used or set aside as should be judged expedient. It
was even hinted to him that, without exposing himself to the
charge of egotism, he might write an autobiography ; for, it was
very certain that the time would come when the members of the
Church of which he had so long been a Yninister would naturally
seek for all the information that could be had concerning one who,
during his later years, was familiarly known to them as the father
of the Church of Scotland in Canada. The first part of the pro-
posal was not foreign to the Doctor's habit and bent of mind. He
U'zis fond of writing and literally revelled amid the recollections of


early days. Indeed, for some years previous to his death he may
be said to have been living in the past. Not only had he no sym-
pathy with those changes in ecclesiastic thought which characterize
the present time, he could not away with them ; he denounced
them as " vagaries and innovations " that should not he tolerated,
presaging the decay of morals, the downfall of true and undefiled
religion, and the utter ruin of what he maintained to be the only
scriptural form of Christianity Presbyterianism. With regard
to his personal history, the idea suggested was one from which his
mind intuitively recoiled. He was one of the n&ost modest and
unassuming of men, who never in his lifetime coveted the applause
of his fellows, nor wished for posthumous praise. Moreover, he was
a man of strong mind and yet stronger will, and it can be supposed
that in a matter of this kind especially he was not easily influenced ;
but, as the sequel will shew, he yielded to entreaty, rather,
doubtless, because of our importunity than from the conviction
that compliance were either a virtue or a duty, And though the
information eventually arrived at regarding himself is perhnps
less full and explicit than we could have wished, it will be seen
from the tenor of his own remarks that in this matter, at all events,
he was the reverse of " textual." The slightest pretext seemed
to him to be suflicient excuse for quite losing sight of himself, and
diverging into a lengthened disquisition upon the Paraphrases,
the Psalms of David. Dr. Chalmers, Edward Irving, " Harkness,"
the Union question, or the Organ question : anything, in short,
except the particular subject which he had been requested to
" stick to." The following extracts from a letter written in 1864,
besides corroborating what has been said, arc interesting as afford-


in" an insight into the musings of a mind that, to use his own

O O *-J t

expression, was at times affected with " the doldrums :"

" My last letter was written in such haste and in such an elip-
tical style that I fear you will require the help of CEdipus to get
at its meaning. Mark its deficiencies and send enquiries for the
information I have failed to give you. An early friend when he
wanted a letter from me for it would then seem I was sometimes
as remiss as I am now would send me a long string of questions,
and tell me to answer them all. You must do the same thing.
My memory of by -gone events is not so quick as it once was, and,
perhaps, with the dreamings of age I think that every body should
be as familiar with the subjects on which I write as I am myself,
and I may fail to give that sequence to the narrative that will
make it intelligible. Though I delight to muse on the days of
lang syne and contrast their pleasing gleams with the darker shades
cast o'er the days of closing life then, active full of decision
and energy now, languid indifferent to what is going on in the
world, and vexed with trifles. There has been a deplorable change
in both the ministers and people within the last forty years. The
early inhabitants were more thinly scattered, but they seemed to
cling with strong attachment to each other. Ministers were few,
but their ministrations were better appreciated than they are now.
If their services were inadequately recompensed then, it was from
inability, not from indifference to their necessities, as is too much
the case now. There was a genial spirit of kindness as well as a
warm feeling of nationality in their intercourse with the people,
and much more of veneration and respect for their persons for


their office sake than is paid now, that cheered their toils and
animated them in the discharge of their duties, and there was a
kindlier spirit of brotherhood among themselves. Then, personal
intercourse was seldom, from the immense distances which separated
them, but common interests sometimes brought them together
for mutual counsel, and whenever the affairs of the Church and
the welfare of their respective flocks had been considered, and
a course fixed on, there was the relaxation of boyhood the
fun and frolic of youths escaped from the rigour and discipline
and the drudgery of hard tasks enjoyed by men of weightier
avocations and graver years ; wisdom and wit, humour and folly,
happily blended in these intellectual symposiums.

" When I saw you last I promised that you would soon hear
from me, but since that time I made a short excursion to Chatham,
and now that I am in my private cell I can do no work. In such
intolerably hot weather it is a heavy task to wield a goose s quill,
far more a steel pen, so "that you may expect little of the light and
feathery, and much less of the keen and pointed in this epistle.
You directed me to a serious perusal of the last page of your last
letter where you speak of a yet untold life why life ! Man,
there are not incidents enough to give variety to the annals of an
oyster ! for I think it was our great Dramatist who has said or
hinted that an oyster mny be crossed in love. So I will take cooler
weather to dip into its fiery mysteries. However, you have set me
agoing on a subject which I have long contemplated, namely, to
gather together such scraps of interest relating to our Church in
Canada as might be useful to some future chronicler of our times-

" I have been in the habit of keeping copies of many of my most


important and public letters, and I meant, when I had time, to collect
and arrange them, so that if any one some day hence would be at the
trouble of reading them they might find something interesting
about the affairs of our church. The letters, too, of my clerical cor-
respondents I have kept ; but it would take a world of labour to
read them and select the useful from such as are on trifling sub-
jects. I regret that I did not take note of passing events ; much
that would be interesting has passed from my memory, or only
recurs now and then as fragmentary dreams, and I may give you a
few of the old reminiscences as they come back upon me. You
have given texts for a few, and the letters written about the time of
Chalmers, Irving, .Mary Campbell, and the 'Leetle Verry ' on the
Rhine, who carried off with her more than a leetle verry of my
heart, may suggest something more. But, an autobiography ! 0,
no, no ; there is neither incident nor public life to make it in the
least interesting ; nothing to elevate a biography above insignifi-
cant gossip. However, as the garrulity of old age when once
excited flows on without interruption, I may deluge you yet with a
flood of old memories ; but, though pleasing to myself, and perhaps
to the few remaining who shared the joys of my school-boy days,
they can have no interest to another."

To the reader who was not personally acquainted with Dr. Mathie-
son this may seem rather a dull setting to his ideal picture of a
noble, frank, generous and happy nature. But some consideration
must be given to the thought that these are the words of
one whose years were verging on three-score and ten whose life had
been one of unusual activity of one. who, tenacious'in the last degree
of all the rights and privileges, and the respect, appertaining to his


status as a minister, was loath to concede that the infirmities of
age had in any degree incapacitated him for active duties, and
whose ardent temperament fretted under such petty vexations and
annoyances as are common to humanity and inseparable from old
age. During twelve years previous to the date of the above letter
he had been aided in the discharge of his pulpit duties by different
assistants, and, as time wore on, he gradually became in some mea-
sure reconciled to altered relationships which necessity rather than
choice had led him in the first place to sanction, but he was ill at
ease in the prospect of a more permanent arrangement that was now
for the first time proposed, that of the appointment of an assistant
and successor. He could not brook the idea of any one waiting, as
it were, for him to " shuffle off this mortal coil" that he might stand
in his vacated shoes. But, do away with any misconception, it is
right to mention here that the disquietude of the Doctor's mind at
this time was due almost entirely to his own easily excited imagi-
nation and the exceeding sensitiveness of his nature, and that
the subsequent appointment of an assistant and successor proved
on the whole highly satisfactory, not only to the congregation,
but to the Doctor himself. We will not further pursue this
digression, however, but at once proceed to' narrate in his own
words the story of his parentage and education, and of the peaceful,
happy days that intervened from the time of his leaving college until
he received the call and appointment to become the minister of St.
Andrew's Church, Montreal.

It may be as well to premise that what follows is made up of
extracts from a number of letters, the last of which is dated the
the 23rd April, 1866.


" In asking a sketch of my early days you have touched a string
that almost spontaneously responds to the slightest excitation. It
has been beautifully said, ' there are no remembrances like those
of our youth,' and often, within the last few months especially,
does my memory revert to my early days. Though they passed
away like a delightful dream, and are devoid of incident, to me they
are very interesting, and the most trifling occurrences assume the
magnitude of the most important events.

" My father was a Highlander, the son of a farmer in Sutherland-
shire. His mother died, when he was two or three years old, in
giving birth to a daughter. His father married a second time, and,
as he alleged, his stepmother was very severe and unkind to him.
I have heard him say that often he was sent to the hill to gather
in the sheep or feed the cattle amidst the drifting snows, without
shoes or stockings on his feet. He longed to see the world beyond
the little circle of his native hills. His father became alarmed,
and, like Norval's, his anxious care was ' to keep his only son
himself at home.' He had learned to read, but his ambition was
'to write and cipher too.' These aspirations ( increased the old
man's terrors, lest he should lose his only son, for every one, he
alleged, who could read and write, sought to display their
acquirements in ' the low country.' One autumn evening, after
feeding the cattle, he requested his father to send him to school,
when he received something like the following answer to his
request : ' I am just as good a man as you are likely ever to be.
You have received as much education as I have. It has served
all my purpose it may do yours. I mean to bring you up in the
same profession in which I have lived honestly and respectably




Tliose who learn to write and count get discontented and leave
the country, &c.' Whether these resolutions were warmly enforced
by his stepmother I do not know, but there was some disagreement
which offended him mightily. When all had gone to bed he started

for , some fifteen or twenty miles off, where a recruiting

party were stationed. He accepted the ' Queen's shilling' and
was back by the dawn of the day to the discharge of his domestic
duties, without informing any one what he had done, till he was
summoned to appear and confirm the deed by being ' attested,
sworn and a'. He left amidst the profound grief of his father
and only sister, and about three weeks afterwards joined his Ilegi-
ment either the 72nd or 78th, I forget which and in about
nine months went with it to the East Indies. He was tlicn about
seventeen or eighteen years of age. Under whom he served I do
not know. One war had terminated and another was commencing.
He remained about seven years without seeing much fighting, when,
his health having given way, he was invalided, sent home, and
stationed in Dumbarton Castle for garrison duty. Though 'an
old fogey,' he was yet a young man, and soon tiring of the indo-
lence and inactivity of garrison duty he became anxious to obtain
a discharge and learn some business. His grand-uncle, H. McKay,
was barrack-master. He, with sergeant Drysdale, of the artillery,
and one or two old men, under the command of Capt. Robertson,
constituted the garrison in the renowned fortress. My father's
thirst for knowledge was unquenchable. He had learned by this-tinic
to write, and now went to a ' night-school,' and became a proficient
in arithmetic. He was a prodigious favourite with his commanding
officer, and to him he imparted his /</<//< a.^ii rations of aojiiinug a


scientific knowledge of gardening. Capt. Robertson, however, gave
him a letter of introduction to the superintendent of the bleaching
establishment at Dalquhurn, and, having visited the print fields of
,Cordale and Dalqulmrn then, I believe, the most extensive works
of the kind in Scotland after hesitating for a short time between
becoming an engraver, and a copperplate printer, he selected the
latter, and was apprenticed to the trade. His commanding officer
became his surety and extended to him the privilege of absence
from the Castle, excepting 'high days and holidays,' when he
appeared in all the pomp and pageantry of military life in the
Castle. Upon the breaking out of the French Revolution, in
1792, he had to sleep in the Castle, having to travel every even-
ing after six and to return to Renton before six o'clock next morn-
ing the distance was six or seven miles. Finding it not good to
be alone, somewhere about the beginning of the last decade of the
eighteenth century he ' courted' my mother, and obtained her
consent. But, as the course of ' true love never did run smooth,'
Granny put a veto on their union. She said ' he was a weel-far'd
lad, and a' body said he was an unco guid chiel, but I dow
na bide the ill-far'd name o' a soger.' Her scruples, however,
were soon overcome the aristocratic blood of the Rodgers of
Cloddach, in matrimonial alliance with the Ewings of Keppoch,
submitted to the claims of ardent love, and, to the delight of
themselves, and the perfect satisfaction of all parties concernedj
George Mathieson and Janet Ewing were united in ' the holy
bands of marriage' forgive me the half Popish phrase by the Rev.
James Oliphant (for whose gifts and graces, see Burns' Holy Fair.)
Grandfather was a younger son, or the son of a younger son, of


Ewing of Keppoch, who possessed that estate for about six hundred
years, as I have been told, previous to 1816 or 1817, when it
passed into the Dunlop family. My mother was born at Roscneath,
whence the family removed to the Kirkton of Cardross, that is, the
point of land between the Levcn and the Clyde. The Kirkton i
What myriads of pleasing memories rush on my mind at the very
mention of the name. The cottage, with its antique furniture, its
beds with wooden shutters for hangings, its boufet and four-legged
stools, grandfather's arm-chair in the corner, where sat the vener-
able man, making ' tow guns' and boats for his numerous ' 0V
that constantly frequented his fireside, delighted with his task,
and entering with a youthful heart into all their frolics, fun and
glee, except when one or two theatrical knights, with chivalric airs,
would dare to utter in his hearing, 'My name is Norval;' or,
'Draw and defend thy life,' when they would have to draw off
to a respectful distance if they were within reach of his long
crutch. But I am diverging from my straight path. My father
resided in Renton till about 1803 or 1804. The garrison at Dum-
barton was disbanded, and he received a pension of about one
shilling and two-pence per day. His family had increased four
sons and four daughters. The three eldest died in childhood. I
was the fourth, born on the 1st of October, 1795. All my sisters
are still alive (1864). He removed from Renton to Balfron in
1804, and to Cnmpsie, where he lived the remainder of his days,
in 1807, where he followed his business as a copperplate printer.
Wherever he was he conciliated the affections of his employers. He
became an Elder in the parish church of Campsie, and in the
discharge of his duties as such frequently associated with the

* <


resident Heritors of the parish, and secured the regard of all of
them, who honoured his memory by following his remains to the
grave a respect shown by them to few beneath their own rank.
The parish minister, the Rev. Mr. Lapslie, accounted him his
right-hand man. Dr. McLeod, his successor, afterwards of St.
Columba Church, Glasgow, contracted a friendship with him that
continued unabated till the last days of his life, and the recollection
of which caused the family to press me to pay a tribute of respect to
the memory of the worthy Doctor, by preaching his funeral sermon. (*)
Dr. Robert Lee, afterwards the minister of Greyfriar's Church,
Edinburgh, and the distinguished professor of Biblical criticism in
the University of that city, was also a short time in the parish
before my father died. Him he respected as his minister, but I
do not think that he cherished, or could cherish, for him the same
affectionate esteem as he did for his predecessor, Dr. McLeod. He
died in March, if I remember aright, 1845, at the age of eighty-
two. My mother survived him ten or twelve years, and died about
the age of 93 or 94. When young, she was good-looking, of a
remarkably cheerful disposition, and charmed her friends with the

(*) The Dr. McLeod referred to was father of the distinguished minister
of the Barony Church, Glasgow, Dr. Xorman McLeod. In a sermon,
preached by him shortly after the sorrowful event we find the following
allusion to the occasion here referred to. " The end came at last : It came
without any warning. In the middle of the night the cry was heard low
and soft, " Behold the Bridegroom cometh ! " It was met by him in Peace.
His funeral sermon in Gaelic was preached by his old and valued friend
Dr. MacFarlan of Arrochar; and in English by another highly valued
friend, the sou of his most attached Elder in Campsie, the Rev. Dr.
Mathieson of Montreal. "


urbanity of her manners and the stories of her early days, which
she delighted to repeat. They have passed away. There were few
in their station who commanded such universal esteem, or whose
memory is more affectionately cherished by numerous surviving
friends. ' Uncle George and aunt Jenny,' were household words.

" I was sent to school at llenton,and learned the alphabet under
Mr. McKinlay, who afterwards became the rector of the academy
at Perth. I believe I learned to read, at least I got credit for
being a ' capital speller,' and, being one of four, I think, who
were called up at an examination before the Ministers, to exhibit
our gifts, I beat them all. At length Mr. Slight, the minister of
Bonhill. gave me some kittle words to spell, which I managed
to do, all but one. On my defeat I burst into tears. He consoled
me by patting my head and giving me a sixpence, when I imagined
I was prodigiously rich. This was the cause of a battle ; for one
of the competitors told me tauntingly, when I left the school, I
had gotten the sixpence for crying, or, because I could not spell

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Online LibraryJohn JenkinsLife of the Rev. Alex. Mathieson, D.D. / with a funeral sermon by John Jenkins → online text (page 1 of 18)