Chapter 63622177

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Chapter NumberII
Chapter Title
Chapter Url
Full Date1889-10-31
Page Number0
Word Count2800
Last Corrected2018-06-27
Newspaper TitleIllustrated Sydney News (NSW : 1853 - 1872)
Trove TitleJohn Muir, Pastor: The Story of a Clergyman's Colonial Life
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Nothing very eventful happened during the two years in which John Muir ministered in the parish of Ainslie. Although his theological views were somewhat more advanced than those of his senior, he lived on friendly terms with him, and cheerfully recognised his many sterling qualities. He was both respected and beloved by the parishioners generally, though one or two occasionally complained that his sermons did not set forth with sufficient directness and prominence what they called 'the saving truths of the Gospel.'

He was very attentive to the poor and sick, and as there was no medical man resident in the parish, he had sometimes to act as a doctor's substitute, and attend both to physical and mental ailments. On one occasion, when an old shepherd called James Douglas was seized with paralysis, and had no one but his wife to attend to him, the

young minister at once offered his assistance, and proved most useful. He held up the old man's head more than once, and his faithful spouse of fifty years administered both food and medicine. All this he did so gently that the old man", even in his weakness, could not help exclaiming :

" It's a pity, Mr. Muir, ye hadna' been a doctor ; ye're an awfu' skilly man, and ye wad hae made far mair that way than by speeling the pu'pit stairs !'

This was intended as a compliment to the young minister, and he laughingly replied :

" Yes, James, I once thought that myself, but I gave up the idea, and I find that I can be quite as useful as a minister."

" Oh, ay," said James, " I believe that ; but ministers are awfu' puirly paid, and they tell me the steepends are gettin' smaller ilka year."

' I cannot help that now,' said the young minister. ' I have made my bed, and I must

lie on it whether the pillow is hard or soft.'

Out of the somewhat slender income he received, he contrived to part with a considerable portion of it to relieve the wants of the needy, his charity and generosity being known, so far at least as he was concerned, only to the recipients.

One of his favourite texts - and his daily life bore testimony to the profound impression it had made on his own mind - was, ' Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have dom

it unto me.'

While faithful in his pastoral work, frank and affable to all, there were one or two families in the neighbourhood, of higher social position and wider culture than the others, whose society he greatly enjoyed.

Between him and them there was the close

union of intellectual sympathy, and although with the parishioners generally he usually observed a wise reticence in regard to his religious opinions, with the families referred to he was more outspoken.

In one of these households, where his presence was always welcome, there lived a certain Alice Gray - a bright, intelligent girl of nineteen summers - eager in her quest of knowledge, but whose physical organization in no wise corresponded with the restless energy of her mind. In the parish of Ainslie, John Muir had no more ardent admirer than she, and no one listened to his sermons with closer attention or more lively interest. Though somewhat slender, Alice had an exquisitely moulded figure,a very pleasant expression, natural grace of manner, and a lovely complexion ; but the hectic flush which ever and anon made its appearance on her countenance indicated, alas ! too surely, that she was marked for an early grave. As the young minister once said to an old college friend, when describing her beauty and worth, and in confidence showing him her likeness - ' There is much of another world about her beautiful eyes.'

If the truth must be spoken, Alice Gray made a deep impression on John Muir. He enjoyed her society exceedingly, but knowing her delicate state of health, a

strong sense of duty forbade him making any nearer approach than the claims of friendship warranted.

At the end of two years, during which he had read and studied many books and composed many excellent sermons, an offer was made to him to proceed to the colony of New South Wales. Although his promotion in the Church at home was all but assured, he signified his willingness to accept the offer, and to bid farewell to all his early associations. He had long cherished a wish to visit Australia, of whose sunny skies and freedom from old fashioned conventionalities he had often

heard ; and now that the opportunity had arisen, unsought for by him, he regarded the matter as a kind of providential leading.

As soon as he had made up his mind, for he had taken no one into his confidence, he considered it his duty to inform Dr. Ferguson. He found the doctor seated in his study arm-chair, absorbed in reading his favourite newspaper - the Edinburgh Evening Courant - a good old Tory organ now extinct, but which in those days found its way into many a rural manse in Scotland

in a bi-weekly form. ' I have come to inform you, Sir, that my engagement with you must shortly cease, for I have been offered and have accepted an appointment to

one of our Australian colonies.' Such was the

blunt communication which our young friend made in announcing his determination.

" Which of them ?" was the doctor's quick reply.

" New South Wales," said his assistant. " Have you finally decided ? "

" Yes, finally, and I should like to start

in a few weeks."

" Well, Mr. Muir," said the old gentleman, with a good deal of suppressed feeling, " I frankly tell you Ï am very sorry to hear you say so. I am an old man now, and in the

course of nature must soon leave this scene of all my earthly labours, and although you and I have occasionally disagreed, I know your many good points, and have long felt that you would be my successor. Besides, what are you going to do at Botany Bay ? I always thought that no one went there but people who could not help it."

" That may have been partially true at one time," the young preacher replied, ' but it is not so now. Sydney is a large and flourishing city, containing many wealthy and enterprising inhabitants, and the territory of New South Wales, which is very vast, is being gradually peopled by the Anglo-Saxon race, whose spiritual

interests, as it seems to me, the Home churches ought to care for. I confess I have no burning zeal to go, and I am hardly made of martyr stuff, but the proposal came to me in such a way as to make me feel inclined to regard it as a call of Providence."

" Very well, my dear young friend, if you regard it in that light it would be wrong of me to throw any obstacle in your way. I shall be sorry to lose you as my assistant, and I know my people will be sorry too. I can only express my sincere hope that you will be both happy and useful in whatever part of the world Providence orders your lot."

Quite a commotion was caused in the parish when it became generally known that the young pastor was about to leave it, especially to go to a land which the great majority of people in that rural parish, as in more enlightened places in the days we speak of, regarded as a terra incognita, far away across the seas, beyond the reach of civilizing influences, a country fit only to be inhabited by its own aborigines and by violators of the English law. John Muir knew better than any of his parishioners the condition and capabilities of the great Australian colonies, and to the gloomy prognostications as to his probable fate indulged in by some of his friends, who said, " You'll be eaten by cannibals," the philosophic Muir replied in a jocular vein, If I am eaten by cannibals I shall never be hanged."

It would be quite beyond the scope of our present story to detail at any length the leave-taking in which the young minister necessarily took such a conspicuous part. It was in some cases, especially among the poor whom he had befriended, and the sick to whom he had often spoken words of hope and comfort, sad enough. In one case it was peculiarly pathetic. Alice Gray and John Muir perhaps never realized how much they loved each other till on the last morning he was to spend in Ainslie, when, looking wistfully into each other's eyes, they faltered out the word ' Good-bye.'

How it was Muir could never tell, and Alice Gray never would, but this faithful history must record the fact that for the first and last time the lips of those two fine natures met, and each felt by a strange, sad, and undefinable intuition, that this momentary joy was the seal of eternal

separation, not the pledge, as in happier circumstances it might have been, of eternal


After he had left Ainslie, amid very general expressions of regret, and just before starting for Australia, he received two letters, which we here transcribe :

" The Mount, Ainslie,


" MY Dear Mr. Muir, - I cannot allow you to go away to that distant land without writing you a brief note of farewell, though we said good-bye on Tuesday morning in a way that will be ever memorable to me. I never spoke to you, except in a very casual way, about my illness, but there is no harm

in saying now that I fear it will end fatally. Of course, I have known for a long time that my lungs were delicate, and the recent cold weather we have had unfortunately has developed more unfavourable symptoms. I could have wished a few more years, for the present life is sweet to me, and there is at my time of life much to learn and interest one. lt never could sincerely repeat from the heart the words of that hymn which says, " Earth is a desert drear," although I fondly hope that " heaven " will be " our home " at last. But our destiny is not altogether in our own hands, and I must go, as many others have done before me. I dread a long illness, but I fear it is inevitable. Dying by inches seems to me to add the grimmest horror to our departure from this world. Something, however, tells me - perhaps the " inner consciousness," as you philosophers call it - that I should send you a word of thanks for all the comfort your sermons gave, and for all that you. have done out of the pulpit to make my life happy, in spite of failing health. I have read many books, too, and derived pleasure from them, which I never would have known but for you. Robertson, of Brighton is my favourite author, when I feel inclined to read a religious book. How dreary most sermons appear as compared with his ! I often thought you had a good deal of the Robertson about you ; and if ever you become a famous man like him, I hope there will be a Stopford Brooke to write your life, which I hope will be both longer and happier than poor Robertson's was. In lighter moods I got to like George Eliot.

{Continued on page 32.)


(Continued from page ll.)

Carlyle I cannot always understand, but I read, on your recommendation, his life of John Sterling, which greatly fascinated me, though much of it is sad. A passage in one of the very last letters he wrote moved me much - that touching farewell to Carlyle, the friend of many years. I copied it out, and I can't help writing it down here, though you must know it well :-" For the first time for many months it seems possible to send you a few words ; merely, however, for remembrance and farewell. On higher matters there is nothing to say. I tread the common road into the great darkness, without any thought of fear, and with very much of hope. Certainty indeed I have none. It is all very strange, but not one hundredth part so sad as it seems to the standers-by. -Yours to the last, JOHN STERLING." At present I feel very much in his frame of mind, and this must be my excuse for copying out this extract. But why distress you with my troubles, when you must have so much to think about, and preparations to make before you go away ? I need say no more. You will be missed in the parish, and no home in it will miss you more than this one. I have great confidence that your abilities will enable you to rise to a high position in the colony you have selected as your home, and if the people there don't appreciate you, many here will be glad to see you back -" Better lo'ed ye canna be." Thanking you for all your kindness to me and, indeed, to all our family, who join me in kindest regards and the very best of wishes for your future well-being, believe me, yours always sincerely, - ALICE GRAY.

' P.S. - Mother desires me to say how pleased we shall all be to hear from you when you arrive in Sydney. I need not say how cordially I join in this wish. Adieu- A.G.

The other letter was from the minister of

a parish adjoining Ainslie, who although about ten years older, had many things in

common with John Muir. It ran thus :

The Manse, Linton, Wednesday.

' MY DEAR MUIR, - I send you a few volumes as a parting gift, and a small token

of remembrance of our pleasant intercourse during two years past. I shall always remember with pleasure the many friendly discussions we had, the clear insight which you brought to bear on many of the perplexing problems of our day, and the fine spirit of toleration you manifested - unless roused to indignation by crass ignorance and self-confident presumption - to men and views opposed to your own. My people tell me that you never preached better than when you occupied my pulpit a Sunday or two ago, and as you are going among a pushing, matter-of-fact, and intelligent people, as I learn very many of our Australian cousins are, I know you will pardon me for offering you a single word of advice. The matter of your sermons is excellent, but study to throw more pith and energy into the delivery of them ; you may

be quite sure that if you do this you will prove among the colonial people an abie and effective preacher. I shall miss your society greatly, for in all our intercourse anything like constraint I never felt. I knew that I could say to you what old Ferguson and others holding the same stereotyped views would have regarded as " dangerous " and "unsettling." When I hear these men lay down their propositions, quote their fusty authorities, and marshal texts of Scripture divorced from their context to silence an opponent, I am often reminded of that saying attributed to Lord Melbourne, when speaking of Macaulay's wide range of knowledge, and his confidence in his own infallibility -" I wish I were as cocksure about anything as Macaulay is about everything." I hope you will meet some

congenial spirits when you reach the other side of the world. "Why don't you take a wife with you ? I suppose you are waiting to see what sort of lassies a Southern sun produces. One bright soul here will miss you much - poor Alice Gray. But " I must draw these observations " - to quote old Park's expression in closing his dreary sermon -' to a close.' "Write to me when you get settled in your new home, for I trust that " braid seas " will prove powerless to interrupt a friendship which I have always greatly valued, and which I should not like to see broken by enforced separation. One thing is certain - I shall always think of you and speak of you with kindly respect. In the words of our old friend Horace,

Vive valeque. - I am, ever your sincere friend,


(To be continued.)