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To a pious reliance on Providence, she united a vigilant sense of
practical duty, an indifference to all selfish considerations, and a
strong faith in her fellow-creatures, in herself, in good principles,
and in TRUTH.



THE tale which follows is given in the words of a gentleman who
vouches for the truth of the circumstances.

I remember my mother telling me of a poor woman, a neighbour
of hers, who lived in the same village at the foot of the Grampians,
and whose husband having died, left her with six children, the
youngest only a few months old. ' For many months,' said my
mother, ' this worthy creature supported herself and her six children
by spinning literally almost day and night ; and yet, with all this
exertion, she could only procure them the scantiest supply of
the poorest fare. Barley-porridge, without milk, twice a day, with
perhaps the luxury of potatoes and herrings to dinner once or twice
in a week, formed their whole sustenance for months together, so
small was the remuneration for that kind of labour which the mother
alone could work at. But during all this time no one ever heard a
complaint from Lizzy M'Callum ; and although her children's wan
looks told that their fare was none of the best, still they were
scrupulously neat and clean in their clothes a feature which
seldom characterised their neighbours. Being gentle, good-natured
children, they were always welcome playmates to you and your
sisters. In the winter evenings, they participated in your pastimes
of hunt-the-slipper and blindman's-buff ; and in the fine days of
summer, the young M'Callums were equally necessary and important
allies in chasing butterflies over the knowes, plaiting swords and
caps of rushes in the meadow, or catching minnows in the mill-burn.
One day/ continued my mother with a sigh, the tears coursing down
her venerable cheeks at the recollection 'I remember it as if it
had been yesterday two of Lizzy's little girls were at play with you
and your sister Harriet in our front-parlour. You were then both
just about their own age, namely, five and seven years ; and as I
chanced to be dealing out to Harriet and you your customary fore-
noon slice of bread and butter, I offered a slice each to Mary and
Jessy M'Callum. The latter, a mere infant, at first involuntarily
held out her little hand with avidity, looked wistfully for a moment
at the tempting morsel, then suddenly withdrawing her hand, as if a
serpent had stung her, and reddening like scarlet, timidly said : " No,
I thank ye, mem." " Come, Mary," said I to her sister, " I am sure
you will not be so shy ; you shall have both slices." " I am much
obleeged to ye, mem," replied the sweet child, blushing like crimson ;
" but my mither says we mauna take pieces except in our ain house."


Such were the lessons of self-denial and decent pride implanted
by their worthy parent in the minds of these innocent children of

' Not satisfied with providing for the mere animal wants of her
children, Lizzy M'Callum endeavoured, with the most untiring
assiduity and affection, so far as her own humble acquirements
went, to cultivate the minds and improve the manners of those
helpless and endearing charges which had been intrusted to her
sole care. One always sat by her side and read while she was
engaged in spinning, and in this way she taught the four eldest to
read the Bible very accurately. Psalms and questions from the
Shorter Catechism accompanied these instructions ; and when these
duties were over, if any of the juniors began to grow impatient or
clamorous for food, she would occasionally resort to the innocent
expedient of lilting the tune of Little ivat ye -who. 's coming, and
making them dance to it, while she plied the task which was to
procure them the next meal.

'The neighbour gossips often wondered how Lizzy M'Callum found
time to keep her cottage so trim and her " bairns sae wyse-like ; "
for, excepting on Sundays, she was always found at her wheel ; and
yet, although her labour seemed without end, and her privations
almost too much for human fortitude to sustain, still Lizzy's open
countenance ever wore the same calm good-humoured smile ; and
her answer to any whose benevolence prompted them to offer her
pecuniary aid was : " I am obleeged to ye greatly obleeged, I 'm
sure ; but I need naething, and the bairns ha'e aye a bite and a brat
[that is, food and clothes] thanks to the Giver." Every good
result did indeed follow this excellent and humble-minded woman,
and her singular exertions in so worthy a cause were not without
their reward; for as her children grew up, they went to service
among the farmers in the neighbourhood, to whom their good
conduct soon recommended them; and so much were the M'Callums
respected and beloved, that they invariably received higher wages
than was usually given to servants in their station in that part of
the country. But none, save those who have been similarly circum-
stanced, can fully comprehend the delight of the widowed mother
when, on the forenoon of the term-day, her rosy open-countenanced
boys and girls some of whom were grown almost men and women
one after another dropped into their dear mother's humble cottage,
and with tears in their eyes, and looks glowing with happiness and
affection, placed in her lap "their sair-vvon penny fee." Then
would each, in his or her turn, receive the fond mother's kiss and
her solemn blessing ; and ere the tears of pleasure and filial love
were well dry on their cheeks, they would commence making affec-
tionate inquiries respecting each other's health and welfare ; and
while the young men gravely discussed the merits of their respective
masters' farms, and learnedly descanted on the most proper rotation


of crops, the breeding of cattle, and the latest improvements in
husbandry, the maidens would as earnestly enlarge on the best
modes of dairy-management, their several achievements in spinning
linen yarn (an accomplishment in which all young females were
generally proficient at that period), and the most approved method
of steeping and drying lint (flax), with many equally interesting and
harmless topics.

' By a few years' saving and industry, the two elder sons, James and
Alexander, had educated themselves so far as to be able, by the
assistance of some kind friends, to begin business as grocers in a
handsome shop in the most central part of the village. Here their
industry and attention to business, no less than the uniform probity
of their dealings, soon acquired them trade ; and in a few months
the shop of the M'Callums was frequently crowded with customers,
while those of their neighbours were quite empty. By and by, their
business, which had hitherto been confined to the village, gradually
extended to the surrounding neighbourhood; and finally, they
attained the honour and profit of supplying the small dealers in the
country round about with teas and groceries. When I last heard
of them,' continued my mother, ' Lizzy was living in a nice little
cottage in the outskirts of the village, built by her sons expressly for
her accommodation. James and Alexander were both happily
married; and Andrew, the youngest son, who had become a mason,

was now a builder of great respectability in E , with his youngest.

sister Jessy acting as his housekeeper. The two sisters, Elizabeth
and Mary, had been married some years before, one to a farmer in
an adjacent parish, and the other to a dissenting minister belonging
to the village. Both marriages proved fortunate in the extreme, and
added to the happiness of Lizzy M'Callum.'

I cannot conclude this simple narrative without remarking the
vital importance which parental instruction and parental example
have in forming the characters and tempers of children, and how
much the very humblest class of society can achieve in instilling into
the minds of their infant offspring principles of piety, rectitude of
conduct, and benevolence of heart. None can be so poor or so
engrossed as to have no spare moment for the performance of this
delightful and momentous duty; none so ignorant as to be incapable
of communicating to their children something respecting the Supreme
Ruler of the universe, and the duties of his creatures something
illustrative of the beauty of truth, gentleness, and integrity, and
the utter shame and unworthiness of falsehood, deceit, and angry
passions. Were subjects of this nature habitually impressed upon
the ductile minds of children, it would materially assist in subduing
those evil and unruly propensities to which poor humanity is so
prone ; and if to such precepts were added the good example of
parents, the result would in all probability be the same as is
exhibited in the simple story above related.




NANNY WILSON was one of those industrious well-behaved women
in humble life who manage to make all ends meet amid the most
trying difficulties difficulties which we are in the habit of saying
an ordinary mind would shrink from encountering.

At a very early age, Nanny was left to her own resources. Her
mother was taken from her by death while she was but a child ; and
her father, who was rather a dissipated character, shortly after this
bereavement disappeared from his native town, where he followed
the business of flax-dressing, and went no one knew where. The
poor girl had no near relations to look after her, and she was
indebted to the sympathy of one or two families in the neighbour-
hood for lodging, food, and clothing. The treatment she received in
this way was not invariably kind ; and this, perhaps more than
anything else, impressed her with the strong determination, which
clung to her through life, to be dependent only on her own exertions
for support. In her fourteenth year, she was taken into a respectable
grocer's family as a servant. In this situation she remained two
years, and was a favourite with her master and mistress. One
day, an old beggar-woman, who had never been in the place before,
was heard to express her surprise at the system of flax-dressing.

'This is what I have heard old John Wilson speak about,' she
said ; ' but I ne'er saw 't before.'

Some one had the curiosity to ask : ' Who is old John Wilson ?'

'He's a weaver in Airdrie,' she replied.

This brief conversation came to our friend Nanny's ears, and
she instantly made up her mind to go in search of her father.
For this purpose, very little preparation was needed, for it was
not much that Nanny had to carry along with her. A little bundle
contained all her superfluous clothing; and some shillings in silver,
the earnings of her servitude, she hid in her bosom. The distance
of Airdrie from her native town was about thirty-six miles. This
distance she walked with an anxious heart, for she felt that hers
was a sort of wild-goose chase. There might be many John Wilsons
in Airdrie ; and even should she be so fortunate as to find out the
John Wilson spoken of by the old beggar-woman, he might not
be her father after all. Or, perhaps, were this man actually her
parent, was she sure that he would acknowledge her when found,
seeing that he had been so negligent of her since her infancy?
These and many other fears were hers during the journey; but


she was a girl of great strength of mind, and not to be driven by
idle fears or surmises from an honest purpose. On reaching Airdrie,
the first person she accosted was an old man who stood smoking
his pipe at a door. She said she was a stranger, and would feel
obliged to him if he would direct her to where John Wilson, a
weaver, lived. It was her own father she addressed, and the recog-
nition was almost mutual. She never had cause to regret the
journey ; for her father was now a sober industrious old man, and
she resided with him till the day of his death. This event took
place when Nanny was in her eighteenth year. Having converted
the trifling articles of furniture that belonged to her father into
money, she went back to the grocer, and was cordially received into
her former situation.

With this kind family our heroine remained as a domestic for a
few years, when she left her situation in order to unite herself to
a young man of about her own age, with whom she anticipated the
enjoyment of comfort and happiness. Many of her neighbours, and
particularly her master and mistress, thought that Nanny had a
chance of remaining more comfortable in the capacity of a servant
with a well-paid fee ; and it might have been better had she listened
to the hints thus offered to her. It must not, however, be supposed
that she -had reason to lament having married Richard Paterson.
He was an honest, and what is called a well-doing man; but he
did not possess the bodily strength necessary for the occupation
he followed. His employment was that of a working-gardener,
and few were known to be so tasteful and neat-handed in the use
of his horticultural implements. Richard, or Ritchie, as he was
called, was therefore generally well employed, and his trimly-kept
cottage was cheered both during summer and winter with humble
plenty, and blessed with grateful contentment. Sad to say, however,
a time came when Ritchie could no longer pursue his ordinary duties.
Having gone forth one severe spring morning to labour, when a
frost was on the ground, and a thick moist atmosphere overhead,
he caught a rheumatic affection in his legs, which ultimately pro-
duced a fixed crookedness of joints, and he was ere long pronounced
lame for life. This was a dreadful blow to poor Nanny, on whom
now devolved the principal duty of providing for the family, and
which, without a murmur or a moment's repining, she did in a
small way, to the best of her ability. People talk of trials in families
here was a trial ; and here also was heroism. For four years did
this industrious creature toil for the subsistence of a decrepit husband
and two infant children, yet never did any one hear her utter the
voice of complaint.

A time at length arrived when she was in some degree relieved
from this excessive burden. Ritchie died, and her two children
were about the same period carried off by a fever. Nanny was now
once more alone in the world a lone woman, but possessing a stout


heart, and a firm reliance on the goodness of that Being who has
promised to be the ' father of the fatherless, and the husband of
the widow.' Her little plan of subsistence was soon put into execu-
tion. Some friendly neighbour hinted to her the propriety of seeking
relief from the parish ; but she spurned the idea. What ! take
charity from the public while she had hands to work? Never.
She scorned the thought of such meanness with a virtuous and
bitter scorn. ' When I apply to the parish,' said she, ' it will only
be when laid on a bed from age or disease, and when all hope of
other relief is gone.' With these noble resolutions, Nanny set about
her arrangements. She prudently removed to her native town,
where she rented a little garret, and spun flax or filled pirns for the
weavers. It was but little that she could make by this sort of
labour, but that little sufficed. The rent of her room was three
pounds a year, and she had meal, and coal, and butcher-meat to
pay for besides. Her landlord kindly allowed her a bit of ground,
on which she reared potatoes and other vegetables for the pot.
She now felt herself, with an ordinary share of health, perfectly
independent, and her conduct in every sense of the word was
exemplary. She attended church regularly every Sunday, and every
night she barred her door at nine o'clock, and spent an hour in
devotional exercises before retiring to rest. After thus secluding
herself for the night, she did not open her door to a human being,
unless in cases of great emergency, in which she could assist in
assuaging bodily distress. When the whirring of her wheel (her
bread-winner) ceased, the neighbours below knew the hour. In the
fine summer mornings, she was up with the lark, and working in
her little garden. She might be seen going from cabbage-plant
to cabbage-plant, tending, watering, and dibbling it up, and she
knew almost every green blade in her ground. From her husband's
death, she went on in this manner, and presented one of the finest
examples of poverty commanding respect.

A number of years ago, Nanny had a most fortunate windfall.
A distant relation an aunt, I believe of whose existence she
was scarcely aware, died, leaving her the sum of forty pounds.
This sum of money, which was to her immense, she placed in the
nearest bank; and as the rent-day came round, she lifted a pound,
or perhaps two, and settled scores with her landlord. By this
prudent mode of disbursement, the little fund remained long
unexhausted, but was reduced to about ten pounds ; a sum so
small, that the bank-people would no longer be troubled with it,
and they handed it over to her, and struck her off their books.
This gave her great concern; but a friend lodged the money for
her in a provident savings-bank. As she was a very old woman,
it was likely that it would last her time indeed, she said so her-
self; for she took great care to eke it out. Fortunately, she was
able to make her wheel birr, though not so unintermittingly as



heretofore; and the fine mornings in June always saw her out to
the garden-plot as usual.

One specimen of her foresight, which was in excellent keeping with
her character, may be mentioned. As she had lived through life,
ever since she was able to work, without burdening others, so she
was resolved that she should descend into the grave in the same
spirit. On one occasion, while airing her dead-clothes, which were
of her own providing, she remarked that ' no one should be a penny
out of pocket with her funeral.'

There is surely much to admire in this old woman's conduct and
character, and we could wish that her honest spirit of independence
were universal. Were it so, we should see misery and degradation
less frequently than we do ; and poverty, instead of being accounted
an evil, would be deemed the reverse. There is no situation in life
that may not be sweetened by a ruling passion leading to virtue ;
and the ruling passion in her case meets, in any state of society, our
most cordial applause. Poverty has its evils, we will allow ; but
where allied to virtue and self-denial, it is more deserving of respect
than any other state of life with which we are acquainted.


IN the town's hospital of Glasgow there was a heroine of humble
life, whose case, some years ago, attracted considerable attention.
Mrs Agnes Reston, as this aged female was named, was the
widow of a sergeant in the 94th Regiment, and her life was
marked by circumstances of more than usual interest. Agnes was
born at Stirling on the 1st of June 1773, of parents in a humble
rank in life, and was the second eldest of a family of fifteen children.
Her early life was passed in the situation of a domestic servant,
which, from her habits of neatness and industry, she filled to the
satisfaction of her employers. In consequence of her family having
removed from Stirling to a place distant from any school, the little
education she acquired was communicated at home by her parents,
under the most disadvantageous circumstances. From a love of
books, however, of which she was passionately fond, she became an
excellent reader ; and, by persevering industry, particularly during
the leisure of the long winter-nights, acquired such a knowledge of
writing as enabled her in future years, while sharing the dangers
of her husband abroad, to keep up a constant communication with
her friends. When about fifteen years of age, her parents removed
to Edinburgh, where, from their previous savings, they were enabled
to commence a small dairy and public-house. Agnes continued for


a number of years toiling for the family ; but, being anxious to see
a little more of society, she at length, contrary to the wishes of her
parents, entered into domestic service with a Mrs Bannerman,
residing in College Street. In this situation she continued twelve
months. She afterwards served some time in the family of a Mrs
M'Tavish, in James's Court, Lawnmarket ; and at length was
engaged by Lieutenant Ivers, quarter-master of the Scottish Brigade,
now known by the name of ' the Old 94th,' which was then stationed
at the castle. Here she became acquainted with Corporal Reston,
a young man of prepossessing appearance and agreeable manners.
He was the eldest son of a respectable handloom weaver in Glasgow,
and had obtained a good education. The young couple had frequent
opportunities of seeing each other, the corporal's duties requiring
him to call from time to time at Mr Ivers's house, on business
connected with the regiment, and a mutual attachment speedily
sprung up between them. The match was opposed by Agnes's
parents as well as by her master and mistress ; but, with that
firmness of purpose which afterwards manifested itself so strongly in
her character, she determined to allow no obstacle to stand between
her and the husband of her choice. The marriage accordingly took
place on the 3ist of March 1795. A curious circumstance occurred
on the occasion ; the clergyman the Rev. Mr Buchanan, of the
Canongate Church having refused, in the first instance, to perform
the ceremony, in consequence of Agnes not having obtained the
consent of her parents. This circumstance occasioned some delay,
during which the young bride proceeded to the house of her father
and mother, and used every entreaty to reconcile them to the union.
So far, however, from yielding, they laboured hard to dissuade her
from carrying her purpose into effect, by representing to her, in the
strongest light, the hardships and perils of a military life. Both
parties were- inexorable. The firmness evinced by the parents was
apparently inherited by the daughter ; for, after much altercation,
she returned to the manse, where the wedding-party had remained
in a state of the utmost anxiety, without having accomplished the
object of her mission, but more determined than ever to complete
the wishes of her heart. The arguments which failed with her
parents prevailed at length with the venerable clergyman, and the
consequence was, that Agnes Harkness was transformed without
further delay into the corporal's wife, the future ' heroine of Mata-

The first few days of our heroine's married life were not such as
to open up to her any very bright prospects of connubial happiness.
The newly wedded couple engaged a humble lodging consisting of
a single room in the High Street of Edinburgh ; but whether from
the presents which the corporal had made to his beloved Agnes, or
from the expenses necessarily attending the ceremony, or from any
other cause, it turned out that, on the morning immediately after the



marriage, they were without the means of purchasing a single frugal
meal. Mrs Reston, however, had some money in her master's
hands, which she soon obtained ; and, by dint of economy and
industry, their circumstances speedily assumed a more favourable

Shortly after their marriage, the 94th Regiment was ordered to
embark for the East Indies ; but Corporal Reston, who at this time
was advanced to the rank of sergeant, was retained at home on the
recruiting service. This was a matter of great regret to his wife,
whose courageous spirit longed for a little active service, and who
was also desirous of being removed for a time from her friends, who
still seemed unable to forgive her for having united her fortunes to
those of a soldier. The sergeant and his wife remained in this
country thirteen years, during which time their whole family, con-
sisting of eight children, were born. Of these, only three sons
attained the age of manhood all of whom followed the profession of

Several years prior to being sent abroad, Mrs Reston contrived to
effect a sudden reconciliation with her mother. It appears that,
with a characteristic pride unusual in persons in their rank of life,
they had, ever since the marriage of the former, stood carefully aloof
from each other. One beautiful summer evening, however, as the
daughter was walking down the Canongate, she observed her mother
standing at her own door, and going up to her, she asked bluntly :
'How are you to-night?'

'Who is asking?' was the cold and disheartening reply.

' Bless me,' said Mrs Reston, ' do you no ken your ain bairn ?'

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) → online text (page 6 of 58)