John Jenkins.

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

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frank, and anxious to approve himself in all departments of duty as
a good workman. I think I shall get along with him very
agreeably." At a meeting of the congregation, held prior to Mi\
Baton's departure, Dr. Mathieson alluded very feelingly to the
relations wuich bad existed between himself and Mr. Paton, and


to the efficient manner in which he had always fulfilled his duties.
Nor were substantial proofs awanting that his services had been
appreciated by the congregation, and that their best wishes followed
him to his new sphere of labour.

During the last ten years of his life Dr. Mathieson was in the
habit of spending the greater portion of the summer months upon
his farm, at Beechridge, about five and twenty miles distant from
the city. There was nothing about the place, or its vicinity, that
one could have supposed would have had any attractions for a
mind so poetic and so keenly appreciative of the beautiful in
nature. To our own eye, though we saw it in winter, the locality
seemed a dull and dreary solitude, fitted rather as a place of
endurable exile than for a pleasant summer retreat. It was inland
and the landscape, unrelieved by hill or dale, was fringed by the
grim, gray primeval forest. But here the old Doctor had a snug
little cottage, and a hundred acres of land that he could call his own.
He had his garden in which to delve, and the woods through
which he could saunter and meditate without fear of being disturbed
by the ceaseless din of the busy town or the ringing of the door
bell. He was not far from the manse, where he could always
reckon on a hearty welcome, and he took great pleasure in the
society and companionship of its kind and hospitable inmates. He
loved the country, "for God made the country, man made the
town." If any one spoke disparaging of it in his presence he
would join with his old friend Virgil, and exclaim, " fortunalos
nimium, sua si bona norint, agricolas." * Happy as the Mantuan

* tl thrice happy farmers, did they but know their own blessings."


bard, under shade of his own " beech tree," hu enjf?yed i; rustic
ease," us thoroughly as ever Horace did when on his Sabine farm
he quaffed his "mild falernian." Tliere was little to give variety
to his thoughts, saving the sound of the postman's horn that daily
woke up to the echoes of the woods. Then there was a rush for
the post-office in expectation of letters from Montreal, or from
Scotland, or, perhaps, the much-coveted, and long-looked for
epistle from his dear friend Gregory Wortabet, " the Syrian exile."
Much of his time must have been spent in writing, for he had a
host of correspondents, and it is worthy of remark, as illustrative of
his exact and methodical habits, that of every letter he wrote, he
kept a verbatim copy, and that almost every letter received by him
was preserved, labelled, and so carefully fyled that at any time he
could refer to it.

Only one incident has come to our knowledge in connection
with his quiet life at Beechridge, that appeared helpful " to adorn
a tale," and we are not quite sure that the Doctor would have
liked to have seen it in print. But as it tends to display two very
characteristic traits of his character, we feel justified in making
allusion to it. Personal courage and benevolence were stamped on
Dr. Mathieson's countenance. So erect was his carriage, so martial
his bearing, so measured his step, that, but for his clerical habit
it might be said of him that he was " every inch a soldier." His
bravery was not of that kind that tempted him to rush recklessly into
danger, but, rather, a ready resource and presence of mind in the
hour of danger that never failed hiai. In no circumstances was
he known to betray unmanly alarm. During the time of the rebellion
he declared himself willing to doff his cassock, shoulder a musket,


and fight the enemies of his Queen and country. Though, had
the necessity for his so doing arisen, it would have pained him
grievously, for he hud a very high regard for his French Canadian
fellow country-men, of whom he said at the time, " Never have
there been creatures more belied than they have been. Their
nature is peaceable and polite, and, at heart, they are strongly
attached to the British Government. They have been sadly
duped and misled by designing knaves." But, to our story, a
few years ago it was, that the Doctor took his accustomed morning
walk into the garden, at Beechridge, where his old servant-man of
all work, was busily employed. He thought to have " a crack "
with him, but there was something in his gesture and incoherent
speech that morning that aroused the Doctor's suspicions. The
man had a " wakeness," he knew, rather by report than from
personal observation for the old man's respect for " his Reverence "
was great and had hitherto sufficed to keep him " within bounds "
in the minister's presence. But on this occasion, he had forgotten
himself; yet, as the Doctor thought, he was not so ''far gone " as
to be insensible to a mild rebuke, which was with due solemnity
and emphasis administered. Dean Ramsay relates an instance,
in which a similar remonstrance had been addressed to a high-
lander in respect of his partiality for the " mountain dew," in
which Donald naively acquiesced under certain reservations, thus :
" depend upon it," said Mr. M., ' its a bad thing whiskey."
" Weel, weel, Sir," replied Donald, "I'll no say but it may ;"
adding in a very decided tone, " speciallie baad whusky." But,
our old man was not prepared for even such a qualified admission
as that. He became furious, and made a desperate luiige at the


Doctor's person with the pitchfork, which he held in his hands.
The Doctor's situation was dangerous in the extreme. No quarter
was to be expected from such a foe, even had he felt disposed to
shew the white feather. With his stout walking stick, however,
he adroitly parried the thrust, and, with the proficiency of an
expert, plied his assailant with so rapid a succession of lusty thuds
as soon placed him hors du combat.

It was a serious matter. The old man was hailed before the
magistrate and sent to prison. But the Doctor's goodness of heart
was shewn, first, by forwarding the sutn of five dollars to provide
for the culprit's comfort, and, afterwards, by visiting him in the
prison and manifesting a personal interest for his welfare, both in
body and soul. It may be added that when his term of imprison-
ment expired, he resumed his old situation, and, when he heard of
his master's death, he wept bitterly, wishing that he himself had
gone first, as there would be no one now to care for him.

Before closing what we have called our domestic annals of Dr.
Mathieson, we wish to give an extract from a letter of his to a
friend, dated the 15th September, 1863. It is worthy of
preservation both because of its raciness and humour, and
it affords a capitable illustration of the manner in which the
Doctor could mount his ei high horse " when a fitting occasion pre-
sented itself. The reference will be quite familiar to the members of
his congregation, and wa feel sure that not one of them would have
us suppress it. It is so characteristic, and so good naturedly told
as completely to take the sting out of allusions that might other-
wise be regarded as offensive.

" It is now three or four years since I was walking down



Bleury-street, as I fancied, with all the briskness and agility of
youth, when I met two old women and heard the oae say to the
other, "There goes old Dr. Mathieson." Old! said I, OldJ
The sound was new in my ears, and truly I was not a little
mortified in being ranked among the Patriarchs of the age,
especially as ray friend Muir alleged that I was in hot haste in
search of a second wife. Now, to have the prefix old to my cog-
nomen would assuredly obscure every chance of success. I
naturally thought the old dames delighted in scandal, and to call
me old w;is just a bit ot'spite on their part. I have had, however,
many material proofs since of the truth of their observation. But
what is worst of all sonio worthy members of my Church have
discovered that I am getting old, and that " it will be for the
benefit of the congregatiou that I retire," and, in compassion for
my infirmities, have thought it expedient to offer me 400 per
annum for life to induce me quietly to do so. A very nice thing,
you will say, and reproachfully ask why I did not at once jump at
the offer ? Well, my dear friend, I have something of the feeling
of youth if not the activity about me still, and I would not
be so unceremoniously shelved even though they should try to
frighten me by telling me that half of the congregation was about
to rise in rebellion against the administration of the old fogies, and
that it would be better for me to pocket the affront. So /
mounted my high horse and told them 1 would neither resign the
office of minister of St. Andrew's Church, nor any part of the
authority attached to it, until legally and constitutionally set aside
by the Presbytery , that I would neither accept of their bribe
nor minister to a dissatisfied people, and not doing the duty,


would accept none of the pay, so they might when they pleased
look about for another who would please them better, and my
connection with them in relation to all active duties would cease
on the 24th September. Subsequently, at a meeting of the Elders
and Trustees, they repudiated the charge of dissatisfaction to the
extent alleged. My first intention was to leave Canada, tafee a
eottage on the banks of the Gairloch, and spend the remainder of
my days among some dear friends in peace. When it became
known that I was about to leave the country a meeting of the
congregation was held and certain resolutions passed, it is said
unanimously, highly favourable, nay, very flattering to me. I
have not yet seen them, but the probability is I shall remain in
Canada for the winter, if not for the rest of my days, which now
cannot be very long."

It was at Beeehridge that the sad tidings reached Dr. Mathieson
f the death, by drowning, of his eldest daughter, Janet Ewing.
This distressing occurrence took place on the 29th of July, 1868.
In his enfeebled state of health it was a crushing blow to him.
Since her mother's death, " Tudy " had been the light of his
dwelling, and she was now woman grown, in her twenty-second
year. A lovely, amiable, happy creature. She had left him but
a few days before, in the full bloom of health, on a short visit to-
gome friends at Caeouna. At high tide she went down to the
shore in company with another young lady for the purpose of
bathing r and a projecting rock was selected from which they might
leap into the water. Miss Mathieson was unusually cheerful and
sportive, and was the first to plunge, exultantly, into the wave.
She leaded into Eternity ! for she sank to rise uo more. When


assistance arrived it was too late. Life was extinct. The feelings
of her aged father may be imagined, but no language could
express them, and we search in vain for any written record of
emotions that were too deep for utterance*



It was in the beginning of the year 1848 that the Presbyterian,
a monthly magazine published by the lay Association of Mon-
treal in the interests of the church, was first began. Dr. Mathieson
was d iring its earlier years a frequent contributor to its columns.
In the first number of it there is a long letter, signed N. M. I. L.
(nemo me impune lacessit) evidently penned by the subject of our*
biography, in which are detailed a number of useful and interest-
ing fragments 01 history. To this the Doctor himself referred us
for the information that he was possessed of regarding the Rev.
John Bethune, who was instrumental in organizing the first Pres-
byterian Congregation in Montreal, that of St. Gabriel's, in the
year 1786. The Church of St. Gabriel, however, was not ercted
until 1792. It was the first Presbyterian Church erected in
British North America, and is still in a good state of repair. For
some time prior to its erection the congregation were permitted to
Worship in the old Roman Catholic Church belonging to the-
Recollet Fathers, which stood, until about two years ago, on the


corner of Notre Dame and St. Helen-streets. This was kind of
the Recollet Fathers, and it shewed their wisdom. From that day
to this the Catholics and Protestants of Montreal have lived
together on the best of terms, and if occasional brawls have dis-
turbed the streets, these have been caused by inconsiderate manifes-
tations of over much zeal on the part of individuals, not from a
sectarian spirit in the Churches. The Presbyterians of the time
appreciated the courtesy of the priests, and in testimony of their
gratitude presented them with a box of candles, 56 Ibs., at 8d., and
two hogsheads of Spanish wine containing 60 odd gallons each,
amounting in all to 14.2.4. Mr. Bethune remained little more
than a year in Montreal, and then removed to Williamstown, where
he officiated till the day of his death, in 1815. Through his
instrumentality churches were erected at Lancaster, Williamstown,
Charlottenburgh, Martintown and Cornwall, in each of which he
statedly preached. He was a man of great zeal and piety, deser-
vedly esteemed by all who knew him, and whose name is still
cherished in sacred remembrance by the descendants of those to
whom he ministered. His remains lie interred in the grave-yard of
Williamstown under a handsome monument that was erected to his
memory by his six sons. Two of these sons took orders in the
Church of England, and are still living, and both highly
respected : the one, the very Reverend John Bethune, D.D., is
Dean of Montreal ; the other, the Right Reverend A. N. Bethune,
D. D., &c., is Bishop of Toronto. The following extract from a
letter of Dr. Mathieson's, dated April, 1864, has reference to
the first Bishop of Toronto, the late Hon. and Right Rev. John
Strachan, without doubt the most influential Scotchman who ever


set foot in Canada, one who wielded more power in his day than
any other individual in the Province did before or since, and whoso
noblest monument to-day, is the Church of England in the Province
of Ontario. When he first joined it he was one of a mere handful
of Anglic in ministers. By sheer force of character he became
their chief, and lived to witness his wide bishopric divided into
three Sees with three hundred ministers, while he himself had con-
ferred episcopal erders on no less than one hundred and sixty-six
candidates. In giving the following passage the reader is asked to
remember that the reference is to a time when Dr. Strachan swayed
a political sceptre, when politics ran high, and when party feeling
was strong. " It was in 1827 that our church began to be stirred
into life. Dr. Strachan's famous ' Ecclesiastical Chart for the Pro-
vince of Upper Canada' was one of the chief means of awakening
it from slumber. His statements were manifestly so untrue as to
require severe castigation : prose and poetry, ridicule and argument
were pressed into the subject, and never was there such zeal dis-
played for the extension of our church and securing its legitimate
privileges, unless it was when the late Mr. Hagerman made a rude
attack on Scotchmen and their church in parliament, and aroused
their indignation from Gaspe" to Huron. Mr. Morris' mission
to England was the result.

" Shortly after his arrival in this country Mr, Strachan wrote his
two famous letters to, I think, Thomas Blackwood of Montreal, in
which it was proposed that, if the St. Gabriel-street congregation^
then the only Presbyterian Church in the city, would give him a
good salary, he would return to Scotland for ordination and become
their minister. 1 have seen the letters. A notarial copy of them


was taken. The originals were in the possession of the late Mr.
Ramsay, whose house took fire and many of his papers were
burned. I once asked him if the Doctor's letters were saved ; he
gave no direct answer, but assured me there was a notarial copy of
them. I inferred from the hints he gave that they were lost."

1 Let it not be supposed that the object in publishing this statement
is to disparage the character of the Right Rev. prelate, deceased. He
outlived all the odium theologicum which his ohivalric zeal in sup-
port of his adopted church gave rise to. For him, personally, Dr.
Mathieson frequently expressed his high admiration, nor could it
be otherwise, for in many respects there was a very close resem-
blance of character in the two bishops. Great plainness of speech,
indomitable perseverance, firmness, amounting at times to obstinacy,
both possessed in a marked degree. It seems important, however,
to establish a fact in connection with Dr. Strachan's early history,
concerning which doubts have been expressed in certain quarters.
In Mr. Fennings Taylor's ' Lives of the Last Three Bishops
Appointed by the Crown for the Anglican Church of Canada " it is
stated, page 193, " When Dr. Strachan arrived in Canada he had
neither been confirmed by a bishop of his father's church, nor had
he received the communion from a minister of his mother's church."
His mother was a member of the Scottish Relief Denomination. " In
fact he had by n.o religious act of his own become a member of any
religious body."

It is difficult to reconcile this statement with that of Dr.
Mathieson's, because, assuming that the letters spoken of were
written by Mr. Strachan, and we cannot conceive them to have
been forgeries, there is .strong presumptive evidence that Mr. Stra-


chan must have studied theology at a Scottish University before
coming to Canada, otherwise, he would not have spoken of going
back " for ordination." He could not receive ordination without
going through the prescribed theological curriculum. Besides, the
fact of his having been a Scottish parish school-master affords
undoubted proof that he had connected himself with the Kirk of
Scotland, for he could not be admitted to that office without
signing the Confession of Faith and Formula of the Church of
Scotland.* This aormula is the same as is required to be signed
by candidates for license to preach the Gospel, and could not be
honestly signed by any oue who was not a member of the Established
Church. Thus it runs:

I do hereby declare, that I do sincerely own and believe the whole
doctrines contained in the Confession of Faith, approven by the Genera
Assemblies of this National Church, and ratified by law in the year 1690,
to be the truths of God : and I do own the same as the confession of
my faith : as likewise, I do own the purity of worship presently authorized
and practised in this church, and also the Presbyterian government and
discipline now so hap'pily established therein, and which, I am persuaded,
are founded on the Word of God and agreeable thereto : and I promise tha t,
through the grace of God, I shall firmly and constantly adhere to the same :
and to the utmost of my power shall, in my station, assert, maintain and
defend the said doctrine, worship, discipline and government of this church,
by Kirk-sessions, Presbyteries, Provincial Synods, and General Assem-
blies : and that I shall in my practice, conform myself to the said worship,
and submit to the said discipline and government, and' never endeavour,
directly or indirectly, the prejudice or subversion of the same : and I
promise that I shall follow no divisive courses from the present establish-

* Cook's Styles, pp. 191 :


meat in this church, renouncing all doctrines, tenets, and opinions what -
soever, contrary to, or inconsistent with, the said doctrine, worship, dis-
cipline, or government of this Church.

It is impossible to conceive of a more conscience-binding
declaration than this, nor does the propriety of submitting any
man, layman or cleric, to such a test obviously appear. It is surely
better not to vow than to vow and not to pay ; yet, this solemn vow
has been broken in innumerable instances, and we know it will be
broken again, by men who will strain at a gnat, and yet swallow
a variety of camels. We have no quarrel with the Bishop for joining
the Anglican Church, but rather with the despotic ecclesiasticism
which weaves around men chains as complicated as the spider's airy
web : and quite as weak. If it is needful to swear at all, the power
that binds should have power to release, or, in some other mode,
there should be devised a way of escape for all such as from con-
scientious motives wish to avail themselves of it. But this is by
the way our correspondent proceeds to say :

" Doc; or Spark I never saw ; he was removed from his
earthly labours before I came to the country. His widow, who
afterwards married a Doctor Montgomene, gave me several of his
sermons in manuscript ; from these, and the respect in which he
was held by his people, the impression I have of him is that he was
a man of considerable learning, inclined to literature, a correct
writer, a grave divine, distinguished for his good sense more than
originality, for his clear statements of truth more than the brilliant
aorruscations of genius. He was reported to be Arminian ia his
theology. He died suddenly on Sabb ith afternoon, having
preached in the forenoon from Grenesis xiv, 24 : " See that


ye fall not out by the way," in which it was thought there
were some coincident allusions to his untimely separation from his
flock. If you can acquire a copy of the " Christian Examiner" for
1837 you will there find a valuable and ably written memoir of
Doctor Spark, from the pen of his intimate friend, the late Doctor
Daniel Wilkie of Quebec. He was succeeded in St. Andrew's Church,
Quebec, by Doctor Harkness. in the year 1820. Harkness was
for some time master in the Academy at Ayr ;, an open-hearted,,
generous fellow, but passionate and fearless, who often violated the
rules of propriety and decorum when he was aroused. He was a,
great favourite with Lord D;ilhousie, and a frequent guest at the
Castle. His Lordship, while he was Governor General of Canada,
visited Scotland in 1824, when I remember having met him, and
heard him speak, with many eulogiums, of Harkness, but lamenting,
his fondness for card-playing and Lis passionate outbreaks. During,
his ministry in Quebec a burying-ground had been purchased by
Protestants of all denominations, and, of the proprietors, I have
been told, the Scotch were the most numerous. A pious fervour
awoke the zeal of the Episcopalians; they thought it dreadful
to lie in unconsecrated ground. The prospect of receiving the fees of
interments perhaps animated the religious fervour of ths clergy, and
ledi them to apply to Sir James Kempt, then Governor General, for
leave to consecrate the ground. Aware of what had occurred at
Kingston, a short time before, Doctor Harkness was determined to-
preserve the rights of his people. About the consecration of the
ground he was indifferent, but he would not allow fees to be exacted
from the members of his congregation for the burial of their dead-
Taking with mm such documents as ho thought necessary for the


vindication of their claims, he went to the C:istle, obtained an
audience of the Governor, and laid before him the case, urging
warmly His Excellency's acquiescence with his views. Sir James
would not look through the same spectacles, but accused Harkness
of bigotry and intolerance ; the latter got angry and retorted
bitterly and in uncourtly terms. The Governor felt insulted
and rebuked the Doctor for his want of courtesy. Harkness shook
his fist in his face, telling him he cared not for his approval and
that he would carry the matter to the foot of the throne; ' adding,
you will not hear me, but your master will. The Aid-decamps
alarmed, left the room, Harkness, gathering up his papers, put his
hat, which he held in his hand, on his head. Indignant at his
incivility Sir James said, ' Doctor Harkness, you might at least have
been polite enough to have kept off your hat in my presence.' Off

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Online LibraryJohn JenkinsLife of the Rev. Alex. Mathieson, D.D. / with a funeral sermon by John Jenkins → online text (page 7 of 18)