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Chapter NumberI
Chapter TitleNone
Chapter Url
Full Date1889-10-31
Page Number0
Word Count2847
Last Corrected2018-06-16
Newspaper TitleIllustrated Sydney News (NSW : 1853 - 1872)
Trove TitleJohn Muir, Pastor: The Story of a Clergyman's Colonial Life
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The Reverend Joh Muir was educated for the Ministry of the

Scotland. At the University of Edinburgh (whither he had gone

from a famous Grammar School as Dux and Gold Medalist of his

year ) he proved himself a diligent and successful student, easily obtaining honours above

competitors much older than himself. In the class - work which he found congenial to his tastes, he usually

gained a prize at the close of the session, without much effort on his part, or unduly ' burning the midnight oil.' In subjects of study (such as mathematics) which were positively distasteful to him he never excelled at all, and did not make the faintest attempt to excel. " Aut Caesar aut Nullus," was his favourite motto in those young days, and in departments of knowledge, where he instinctively felt that he could not be ' Caesar,' he was quite satisfied to be ' Nullus,' and to see honours heaped upon his fellow-students without even a passing shadow of envy or regret. He used to quote, with approval, a saying of Sir Walter Scott, when acknowledging his inferiority to Byron as a poet : ' I was very well pleased to rise a winner, without continuing the game till I was beggared of any credit I had acquired. Besides, I felt the prudence of giving way before the more forcible and powerful genius of Byron.' He always recognised merit in others, and while he never cringed to the rich or powerful, he invariably paid marked deference to intellectual superiority. When a battle was fairly fought, he never grudged the victor his honours. ' Ferat qui meruit palmam ' was then, as throughout his life, one of the first articles of his creed. At the end of four years, which proved very happy years to John Muir, he obtained the degree of Master of Arts, not without some difficulty, owing to his unconquerable aversion

to mathematical studies.

With considerable mental endowments, the young student had inherited a happy temperament and a generous spirit, which, without any effort on his part, at once secured the affection and esteem of his class-fellows. He entered with entire sympathy into the fun and frolic characteristic of University life all the world over ; and when, as was his wont, he took a few weeks' holiday into the country after the work of a college session was over, he was admitted to be the very life and soul of the company, by the choice and congenial spirits who were associated with him in his various expeditions and rambles. In after years he often looked back to those sunny memories, and has even been heard to

express regret that they could come back again.

At the time we are speaking of, Muir had a fine appearance, though his frame was somewhat slender. He had been a delicate boy, but by this time had, to all appearance, outgrown every physical infirmity he may have inherited. He was tall and dark, his eyes were blue and very expressive, his hands delicately shaped, his head finely poised. His manners were courteous, affable, and high-toned, and both among his fellow students and the ' gentler sex,' he was undoubtedly a general favourite. His great weakness, which he himself often mentioned and deplored, was a peculiarly sensitive disposition, and an irascibility

which he found it somewhat difficult to control, leading him on occasions to say and do things which in calmer moments he sincerely regretted. When, through his faults of temper, the feelings of others were wounded, he experienced poignant sorrow, and no one was more ready than he to make the 'amende honorable,' without being

solicited to do so.

After taking his degree, it was necessary to decide definitely as to what was to be the future work of his life. This matter he had often pondered over, though it was generally understood by his fellow students that he was studying with a view to the ministry of the Scottish Church. He had never, as he frankly acknowledged, gone through the experience commonly known as 'conversion,' and he felt no special ' call ' urging him to be a minister of religion. Besides, he had given some attention to creeds and creed subscription, and his keen and penetrating intellect found itself in sympathetic alliance with that spirit of enquiry into the founda- tion of religious beliefs which is now so general, but which was then only beginning to stir the minds of aspirants to the ministry of the Church of England. A careful study of Carlyle's works tended greatly to confirm his misgivings as to whether he could, without doing violence to his conscience, become a minister of the the gospel. He thought often and deeply of Carlyle's words in defining the holder of that sacred office : ' He is the spiritual Captain of the people ; he guides them heavenward by wise guidance through this earth and its work,' and he inwardly felt that, to him at least, these words could not apply. In his state of doubt and hesitation he began to think of the medical profession

as one more in consonance with his then frame of mind, and one which he could adopt without any qualms of conscience. Like most men constituted as he was, he had a profound sympathy with human pain and suffering, and he felt that as a physician he would have ample scope to benefit materially many of his fellow mortals, and perhaps rise to distinction in an honourable

profession. But one day, in company with a fellow student, he paid a visit to the Practical Anatomy classroom, and both the sight and smell proved too much for his sensitive nerves. Dead bodies were stretched throughout the room on dissecting tables, and students were busy with the knife at the bones, muscles, and nerves of men and women who once glowed with life and

health, like himself. A feeling of unutterable horror, which he never quite forgot, took possession of him, and he said, with a look of tender sadness to his friend : ' I can stand this no longer ; this will never do for me.'

' I thought, Muir, you were more of a man,' replied his fellow student, whom use

had hardened to all such scenes.

"I cannot help it, my dear fellow ; but just think of one you have ever loved or cared for stretched out like that,' was all the answer that he made.

He had only been in the room a few minutes ; he took his departure hurriedly. It was his first and only visit to what he called a ' chamber of horrors ; but the memory of it haunted him for years.

Muir had inherited no patrimony, his father having died when John, the eldest son, was a boy, leaving the widow and family by no means well provided for ; and, indeed, had it not been that, early in his college life, he realized the necessity of doing something for himself by way of private teaching, and that he gained by merit a scholarship which yielded £40 per annum, he could never have struggled through his college curriculum at all. His scruples regarding the ministry as his life work were gradually removed, and he forthwith entered what was called in those days the 'Divinity Hall.' For theology as a system of doctrine, and the polemical discussions inseparable from a study of it, he had very little liking, and many of the lectures which he attended were to him dreary enough. The science of Biblical criticism interested him more deeply ; and he was wont in after years to express his indebtedness to the lucid and logical prelections of Professor Grant for his critical knowledge of the Holy Scriptures. In due time, and after taking the degree of Bachelor of Divinity, John Muir became a Licentiate of the Church. At the time we are writing of it was customary for young Licentiates or Probationers to act as assistants to ministers in large city parishes, or to such ministers in the country as were aged or infirm. It was in the latter capacity that our young friend

gained his first ministerial experience. He became assistant to the Rev. Dr. Ferguson, minister of the parish of Ainslie, in a beautiful district in the south of Scotland. Dr. Ferguson was a D.D. of the old school, cultured, precise, and rigidly orthodox, and 'had laboured' (this was his own phrase) ' for the long period of forty years ' in the parish of Ainslie. His ' labours ' could

never have been of the Herculean sort, Muir was wont to say, for the parish was small and compact, and the congregation by

no means numerous. He was a bachelor though an old tradition of the parish had it

that he was once on the eve of being married but the young lady of his choice changed her mind at the last moment, and left him to meditate on feminine mutability for the long period of forty years.' He never spoke of the subject even to his most intimate friends, but he never heard ' Jock o' Hazledean ' sung without visible emotion. Both in politics and religion he was eminently

conservative, and used often to say to his coadjutor, ' My dear young friend, depend upon it the old ways are the best ; never forget, the grand old motto : ' Stare in antiquas vias.'

The church in which he had preached for so many years was of antique date, and in

this respect was quite in keeping with the general views and principles of its incumbent.

The manse was a building of more

modern construction, its predecessor, erected on the same spot, having lasted for a good many generations, and only giving way at

last to the ruthless hand of Time. It was beautifully situated among shady trees,

planted in the days when the old manse was in its glory, and from its upper windows

could be discerned one of Scotland's loveliest rivers roaming at its own sweet will. The

two rooms - study and bedroom - which Dr. Ferguson allowed his assistant to occupy had, however, not such a charming outlook. They simply overlooked the church yard, and with worn out tombstones,

and the occasional unearthing of bones long since consigned to their last earthly resting- place, continually meeting his gaze, it was | little wonder that his thoughts were sometimes weird and sombre, and that the old advice, memento mori, was often present to his imagination, when outwardly, and in the society of his friends, he appeared unruffled and cheerful.

His duties were comparatively light- preaching once a day in the parish church, and occasionally holding evening service in

a mining village a few miles distant. He was unremitting

in his attentions to the poor and sick, and he paid several visits as inclination led him, his senior never interfering with him in regard to the way in which he chose to spend his time. He had ample

time for study, and he afterwards used to declare that the two years which he spent in the manse of Ainslie, in spite of the weird surroundings of his rooms, were about the happiest of his life, and contributed largely to the development of all his higher faculties.

Though his assistant's style of preaching was both

in manner and matter very different from his own, Dr. Ferguson was always fair in his criticisms of sermons delivered in his hearing by his assistant, when on Sunday

evenings they held friendly chat with each other after the services of the day. Muir

never obtruded his advanced views, though sometimes when challenged, and when silence seemed to him craven and dishonourable, he

mildly hinted that his sympathies were all in favour of progressive ideas in interpreting the canons of the Scripture, and making the National Church less creed-bound. On such occasions, the Reverend Doctor had but one reply :

' It is dangerous, my friend, to touch the Ark of God ; if you give up one thing, you may end by giving up all, and surely you are not prepared for that !'

Once when the old gentleman was more than usually

Difficilis, querulus, laudator temporis acti Se puero, censor castigatorque minorum,

young Muir took the opportunity to remind him that wisdom was not confined to one age or one country, and that knowledge was continually advancing.

" Yes that is all very well, " said his

senior, with warmth and emphasis, " but what I deplore is the growing tendency of young men to be wise above what is written." " Written where ?" feebly ejaculated Mr. Muir. " In the Scriptures of the Old and New

Testaments, " replied Dr. Ferguson.

" I believe in their testimony as much as most men, but I believe also in the testimony of the rocks," our young friend summoned up courage to answer.

" There is only one Rock, and to you who are a minister of the everlasting Gospel, I need say no more. Be humble and modest, my dear young friend."

That interview left a deep impression on John Muir's mind. On another occasion, and when other friends were present, the young preacher somewhat freely gave utterance to sentiments entirely at variance with Dr. Ferguson's most cherished belief,

but without the remotest intention of offending him.

" You have been reading Spinoza," said the Doctor, with evident feeling ; " and I am sorry that any assistant of mine should be imbued with his pernicious and heretical teaching."

" I have never read a word of Spinoza in my life," was the young man's quiet rejoinder ; " but if his views are anything like those I have just stated as my own, I should like very much to read him."

The Doctor, on hearing this announcement, changed the subject of conversation, turning away from his assistant with a look which the younger man inwardly felt had in it more of sorrow and tender pity than of anger.

After the guests had taken their departure, and the minister and his assistant were seated by a cosy fire, each partaking of a glass of ' toddy ' prior to retiring for the night, the older man said to his junior in the kindest tone, " Excuse me, Mr. Muir, for speaking with so much feeling to-night, especially in the presence of other people. I deeply regret that I did so, but you know that on such vital and all-essential questions my views are strong and decided, and I would part with my right arm rather than give up one iota of our grand old Confession of Faith. At the same time, I admire your many excellent qualities, both as a minister and a man ; and if any parish falls vacant, in regard to the filling up of which I have any influence, you may rely on my exercising it in your


" I thank you very much," was his assistant's prompt reply, " for your good opinion and kind offer. It is only another instance added to the many we have - that a man's heart is often better than his head."

" You will hardly expect me to regard that last remark of yours as a compliment," said the old man with a quiet laugh, at the same time sipping a little of the ' toddy,' which by long experience he could brew so well, " but head and heart both tell me that of the

Christian virtues, charity is the highest, and so let us agree to differ. An old man, if he is wise, and at the same time considerate, ought to make allowance for the confidence and impetuosity of youth, and I sincerely believe you will be a good and faithful minister. Good night, sir."

" Good night, sir," was all that Muir could stammer out in reply ; but the kindly words of that good old man, long since gone to his rest, made an impression on the young man's mind which never wholly left him.