|Newspaper Title||Illustrated Sydney News (NSW : 1853 - 1872)|
|Trove Title||John Muir, Pastor: The Story of a Clergyman's Colonial Life|
JOHN MUIR, PASTOR. The Story of a
Clergyman's Colonial Life.
Fully a week was taken up in leave-taking -
' a sad but necessary duty,' as John Muir was wont to say at that crisis of his life, when he felt that he was bidding a long farewell to the scenes, friendships, and associations of his youth and early manhood. Illuminated addresses (so common now, that to be without one is regarded by some as high dis- tinction) had not in these days come into favour as modes of conveying evidence of public esteem to the recipients; but Muir had the consciousness (which was to him far more valuable) that he pos- sessed the confidence, respect, and affection of all whose good opinion was to him of any value. Without any effort on his part, he had by his <*enial presence, kindly and sympathising ways, transparent candour, and large - hearted charity won his way to an influence over his fellow-men all the more commanding because in him high qualities of heart were beautifully blended with an intellect far above the average. Anything in the shape of a public demonstration, with the view of
bidding him farewell, he would have gently but. firmly opposed; but when he was asked to meet about twenty of his old college companions and friends at a dinner to be given in his honour, he at once assented to the proposal as one in entire harmony with his own inclination. It was a happy gathering, though the immediate occasion of it was ona of those separations into which the element of I sadness necessarily enters more or less. The toast I of the evening was proposed by one of Muir's oldest
friends, who afterwards became an Indian chaplain under the Church of Scotland. The man in whose honour the meeting was held was deeply affected by the kind words spoken concerning him and the heartfelt wishes which were expressed for his future welfare ; but in replying to the toast, he betrayed 20 emotion. He used to say that he never wept except when death took away his nearest and dearest. On this occasion he was even more than usually happy, fluent, and jocular in the excellent speech which he made. Tender and sensitive to a degree, he was ever brave and fearless when circum- stances seemed to call for the assertion of his man- hood ; and those who knew him best often remarked that in any great crisis of his life he was dis- tinguished by an amount of self-restraint and self repression truly wonderful.
After the meeting was over, and when on his way home to the house in the New Town of Edinburgh Iwhich had sheltered him during his student years,
where his mother and brother had died, and which the remaining members of the family were soon to vacate-he suggested to the only friend who accom- panied him that, late though it was, they should take a circuitous route by way of the Dean Bridge one of his old favourite walks. Though cold, it was a beautifully clear moonlight night, and the stillness, combined with touching memories and \ thoughts (which Muir vainly endeavoured ta . represa) of an uncertain future in a far-off land,
made the scene more picturesque and weird, and the conversation somewhat tinged with melancholy. ; Just as he was nearing the street in which he had
, lived so long, and was so soon to leave for ever, he i «aid to his friend, John "Wilson :
J 'Let us go round by - street; I want to "i take a last look out of my old study window, and i there will be no time in the morning for reflection IH of any kind.'
S 'Well, Muir, I really did not think you were so
H sentimental, though I think I knqw you as inti ;M mately as most of your friends,' said "Wilson, half .J jocularly,
li 'Sentiment or no sentiment,' was Muir's reply, H ' something tells me I must do that at least, and I
M am sure you will humour me.'
M There was no difficulty in identifying the study M window, where through the half-open shutter a M dim fight could still be seen. Muir stood for a m little, evidently absorbed in deep thought, whose 9 current his friend was sensible enough not to inter 'M rapt. All that Muir said, talcing his friend's arm, M and moving hurriedly away, was :
3 ' I am satisfied now ; let us go. Vale, vale- in
m sternum vale.'
W ' Nonsense ! We'll see you back in old Scotland M yet,' said his friend, who made a strong effort to
W control his feelings, though these were deeply
M 'That may be,' replied Muir, with suppressed .m emotion, but never there-never there. Sad thoughts H are now surging in my brain, and regretful memories, H which I would fain crush, but cannot. You knew ll ^ mo^ner-that pure, unselfish soul, who struggled jg so bravely against adverse fate, and who died, ii
a ever anyone did, of a broken heart ; and you knew m my brother also, dux of his school, beloved by hit 1 ^panions, and destined, if he had hived, to win M ^mctwn> as one of his professors said to me, as a ;ffl skilful surgeon. Of these I am thinking now, and M T> * believe, till I can think no more.'
M It was a sad, but fortunately a brief episode, anc M ««oro they said 4 good night,' Muir had, to al Jj appearance, regained his usual flow of spirits. Ir 'm ft i}Car moou%nt they could discern the spire oi 'jm e church in which Muir had received most of hif >H *arly spiritual instruction ; and as he looked at it, .M he(could not help saying playfully to his friend :
'Ü you remember, "Wilson, the story of Sii M «alter Scott, when he saw the Tron Church ii jS| flames?'
S o *^e^> Scott was a young barrister at the time
j an "rom the Parliament House to the scene of con Jgration. His friends chatted merrily as raftej a ter rafter came down with a crash, but Scott wai Í ,and meditative. One of his friends aBkec »a what his thoughts were that evidently mad( am so seriously inclined.
I vas just thinking,' said Scott in reply, ' hov roany a weary sermon I listened to in that churcr TenIwasaboy.'
' "Well, that is just like Scott. But what sug- gested the story ?' asked his friend.
' The application,' said Muir, ' is very obvious ; a similar fate was mine in yonder building for many years. Dr. Murdoch's theology was ever of the remotest kind, but he was a good man and faithful minister for all that, and took a kindly interest in me in my young days.'
'Peace be to his memory, then, say I,' replied
' Amen,' said Muir, and the friends parted ; Wilson calling out, as he moved away, ' I will see you off in the morning.'
It was far into the morning then, but bott had been unmindful of the flight of time. The next morning (let us call it so) John Muir started for London, where he intended spending a week with a married sister, previous to sailing for Sydney. In seven days he saw a good many sights in the mighty Babylon, his great regret being that his time was so limited. He was the last of the passengers to get on board, and on hiB brother-in law asking him what had detained him so long, he simply replied,- ' I have been taking another farewell look at the grand old abbey, and its quaint and
' I daresay if you ever write a book,' replied his relative, 'it will be after the model of "Harvey's Meditations among the Tombs." '
' There are a feto extreme men amongst us who grudge me my " Falernian" '
' Very well, I will send you a presentation copy.' And thus they parted.
In this sketch of John Muir's career, it is not our
intention to dwell on the various incidents which
occurred during a voyage which lasted eighty days. He had a good many books, and formed one or two friendships worth making and retaining. He was a miserably bad sailor, but when able he conducted Sunday service. He also entered heartily into the various innocent' amusements got up to relieve the monotony of a long sea voyage. Personally he felt the voyage somewhat tedious, and it was a feeling of intense relief and satisfaction when the vessel entered the waters of Port Jackson. Muir
had ever a keen eye for natural beauty, and the morning he arrived in Sydney he was charmed and almost .dazzled by the wealth of loveliness which confronted him on all sides. The next day he presented his credentials to the Church authorities, was duly received, and cordially welcomed. His first invitation to dinner came from the Rev. Dr.
Sangster, a man of considerable ability, of great
influence with a large section of the community,. but by no means a general favourite with his brethren the clergy. Muir found him exceedingly kind and cordial, and,- being new to .colonial lïfe, naturally felt grateful for the many valuable hints which he gave him in regard to colonial ways, and
the attitude he should assume towards the colonists.
In offering him a glass of wine from a well-known Australian vineyard, the, proprietor of which used to send him a liberal supply as a present every year -a custom, we believe, once very general, but now, we fear, more honoured in the breach than the ob- servance-Dr. Sangster said in a kindly way, 'You are not a teetotaller, are you, Mr. Muir? I can recommend this as a light and wholesome wine, well-suited to our climate. Help yourself, my dear sir.'
' No, I am not a teetotaller,' said Muir wfijh his usual frankness. ' I was a delicate lad, and our old doctor, a very worthy man, prescribed porter for me, which, I believe, helped at least to cure me of
my weakness. Since then I have found ' a slight stimulent beneficial. Whisky, as you know, is the favourite beverage in Scotland. I suppose you
don't drink it out here ? '
' Oh, yes we do, and that in enormous quantities. Large shipments are constantly arriving, and the sale is so rapid that a patriotic Scotch Presbyterian, who is credited with being able to discern the signs of the times better than most men, has stated it as his firm conviction, with a strange mingling of the sacred and profane, as many pious people would regard it, that if there is to be a universal religion, it will be Presbyterian in form, and if ever there is to be a universal beverage, it will undoubtedly be whisky.'
4 He may be right,' said the younger man, ' but this world is full of changes, and I believe Presby- terianism and whisky, good though they both are in their way, will have to go, as many good things have gone before them, to make room for some- thing better.'
4 What would you substitute for them ? ' asked the colonial minister of. many years' standing.
' We may safely leave our successors to settle that,' replied the younger man.
' As for me,' continued the Doctor, *I never taste the stronger beverage. I don't think it is suitable for a hot climate like this ; at any rate I know it doesn't suit me. If you take anything at all,
it will be safer to keep to good colonial wine, but always be sure that it is well matured. There are sn few extreme men amongst us who grudge me my " Falernian," but I intend taking it to the end of the chapter, because I feel it does me good. But as a young man, and I know you will excuse me saying BO, my advice would be-anything you take in this way, take very sparingly. Many strong men have fallen irretrievably by over indulgence.'
' I know it well,' said Muir. ' Young though I am, it has been my sad fate to stand at the grave. of more than one of my early friends, who, but for this, might have been alive to-day.'
Dr Sangster was greatly pleased with the intelli- gence and frankness of his young friend, and cordially invited him to fill his pulpit on the following Sunday. Thus was a friendship formed which remained cordial and uninterrupted till dis- tance began a severance, which the death of the doctor some years afterwards completed. He was a man of herculean frame and gladiatorial spirit. If there was a contest he was ever in tho thickest of the fight, and if he had any outstanding f ailing it
was his condescending as a giant to fight with, pigmies.
' I am surfeited with victories,' he once.remarked to his young friend ; and he was very much amused with Muir's reply.
' You must be very like Alexander the Great ; we'll soon hear of you weeping because you have no more worlds to conquer.'
At length overwork, worry, and excitement brought the strong man down, and ere he had reached fifty five years he ceased from all his earthly labours. He had mellowed greatly since the day he and John Muir first met, and in Iiis last illness-a very pro- longed one'-he often spoke with the utmost charity of men whom in other days he opposed with might and main in questions affecting Church policy and
' I fear I was too vehement, and failed in the grace of charity,' he was wont to say ; ' but when I felt strongly I could not help speaking strongly ;
and I daresay if Bruce and Loudon saw me now, they would forgive me for all my hard hits.'
' I'm sure they would,' said a confidential friend who once heard him make this honest confession.
Shortly before his death he wrot: a letter to Muir in answer to one sympathising with him in his severe illness, portion of whieh we shall introduce here, as Dr. Sangster's name will henceforth dis- appear from this narrative
' Thanks, many thanks, for your words of sym- pathy, and wishes for my restoration to health. But I fear it is all in vain. The doctor has pronounced my malady to be incurable heart disease, and the chances are that I shall go off sud- denly. In one sense I am sorry to go, but not in another. Fm, at least, I can say. Lately I have had severe losses in my family, and the blows came with such crushing force and rapidity that I once thought I would lose my reason or my faith. But, thank God, that crisis is past. I have worked hard, and fought many a tough battle for what I con- sidered to be right, but I must leave both work and battles to others. The brethren have been very kind during my lengthened illness, in relieving me of my pulpit duty and much anxiety otherwise. Even my opponents have offered me their assistance in the most liberal spirit. I am glad to say that my family are tolerably well provided for ; I am thankful that I have been able to pay up my insurance premium, for it would have added greatly to my agony in parting from them, if I thought that my death would leave them paupers, as, unfortunately, too many of our ministers' families are. Excuse this jerky writing. I have not been a great, but I may fairly claim to have been a somewhat voluminous writer, but the hand has lost its "cunning" now. I only hope the brain will remain clear to the last. My day is nearly over, and it has come much sooner than I at one time expected. It is hard to say from the heart, " Thy will be done," when our inclinations run in another direction and our affections are still entwined round the dear ones of our earthly home, but I have gradually come to look at it in this light, and have obtained a good deal of comfort thereby. My dear friend, husband your strength ; do not draw on your reserved capital of health for any consideration whatever. Dying men are said to be fond of giving parting advice : this is mine to you. As long as breath remains in this now feeble body,
-I am, your sincere friend,
'JAMES R. SANGSTEE.'