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Life and Times of D. M. Stuart, D.D.

Chapter XXIV. — On Furlough

page 169

Chapter XXIV.
On Furlough.

Dr Stuart sailed for Home by the Kaikoura, which left Lyttelton on 31st May, 1888, and arrived at Plymouth on 9th July following. He greatly enjoyed the passage and the kindly ministrations of his friends Mr and Mrs Robert Glendining, the latter of whom, he wrote to us, showed him all the kindness and devoted attention of a daughter. But there were some drawbacks on board. "Secularism," he wrote, "is the predominating spirit of the ship. The captain's sympathies are markedly in that direction. The Recreation Committee can obtain any assistance they want, but Religion is barely tolerated. The captain takes the service in the saloon on the Sabbath, and though I attend he never asks my cooperation. I am allowed to visit the sick and to preach in the second saloon and steerage, and I am happy to say that a committee in each of these classes took charge of the music and other matters: so that it is still true that the common people are the first to welcome and assist the Gospel. A few of the first saloon passengers were most friendly, and attended our ordinances.

"We had twelve hours ashore at Rio, a large city, and, judging from the appearance of the citizens, a prosperous one. White vests, spotlessly white page 170linen, seem to be the rule. The priests I met were very clean and well dressed. Their Spanish cloaks, of the finest texture and the most perfect fit, set off their substantial physique. The fact that the people had cordially supported the emancipation of one million slaves gave me a deep interest in them. The emancipation, which is now an accomplished fact, was a noble act of moral justice, though too long delayed. At Santa we had only a few hours. We went ashore at 6 o'clock a.m., but even then the market was in full swing. The people are poor, judging from their stalls, but they look decent and respectable. Some of the merchants sit on the ground with their thirty shillings' worth of goods at their side. The town is clean and well paved; not a single shop has a window. The door admits light and customers. I noticed an old shoemaker talking to a couple of English goldfinches. The world over the cobbler delights in birds and their song—a proof of his worth."

Arrived on British soil, he wandered back to his native Perthshire vale, with a full heart and the old memories of his happy boyhood thronging thickly around him, and though the cottage in which he was born had been razed to the ground, he stood once more on the spot which its walls had enclosed, within sight of the woods and waters which he loved in the little, narrow world over which his young feet used to roam. His heart thrilled with tender emotion as he gazed upon the old, familiar scenes, amid which, in his earliest years, he was shaped and schooled for the important work that lay before him in the great world page 171beyond his village bounds, and as he conversed with the feeble surviving friends of his boyhood who had clung, untravelled, to their village home—who had lived all their years in sight of their father's graves, under the shifting shadows of their tempest-beaten and changeless hills. At Leven he traced out some of his old pupils, with whom he had a pleasant talk of the days of long ago. At Alnwick Castle he lunched with the Duke of Northumberland, whom he had known as Lord Percy in the days of his ministry at Falstone; and he lingered for a while at Windsor, whose sweet and imperishable memories deeply touched his soul.

His ardent interest in secondary education led him to visit the more distinguished institutions of that order in London, Edinburgh, and Aberdeen, and he recorded it as the result of his observation and experience that, in regard to order, discipline, and attainments, the High Schools of Dunedin stand well abreast of the best kindred institutions in Scotland, and that, in respect of higher education, Otago is greatly in advance of England. He noticed that the necessity and importance of systematized economical and public secondary schools had entered the domain of practical politics, and that a Conservative Government had acknowledged that the matter required the early attention of the Legislature. "No doubt," he said, "there are great schools in England which have earned a world-wide reputation, but they are so costly, and their methods so mediæval, that the middle classes, which during the last forty years have been acquiring the directing, if not the controlling page 172power in the nation, are practically excluded from their benefits. Primary schools, since 1870, have been provided for the people with no stinted hand; but it is contended that four-fifths of the children of the leisured classes have no means of acquiring secondary instruction in the interests of the nation. The people contrast the secondary schools of France, Germany, and America, which are at once adequate to the population and economical, with the sparseness and costliness of such institutions in England. It is felt and said that the place and power which the Germans are acquiring, with great manufacturing and commercial centres, are due to the superior and all-round excellent education imparted in their secondary schools. In some quarters I heard their advancement ascribed to their technical knowledge, but those who know best contend that its roots are nurtured in their education, which is marked by breadth, and modern, and adapted to our times. I remember in the fifties, when Cobden, Bright, and others proclaimed that unless the country gave immediate attention to the education of the people, the sceptre of progress would be wrested from our hands; and their demand for popular education, so persistently urged, resulted in the large educational legislation of 1870. And now, the men who have understanding of the times are urging the importance and necessity of secondary schools in the interest of the people, for those who have leisure and ability to study those branches of knowledge and science which in our times are essential to progress."

He visited also some of the British Technical page 173Schools, and the Glasgow Blind Asylum, which greatly-interested him. He learned there that blind children can obtain better elementary education in their District School than in Institutions where their playmates, and sometimes their teachers, are as blind as themselves—with the advantages of residence with their parents and family circle, and daily intercourse in class and playground with seeing children. In the year 1838 the Doctor happened to have a pupil who had lost her eyesight through an attack of measles, and that circumstance led him to read with interest every step forward in the education of the blind—whether in the case of children or adults. He learned from Mr MacDonald, the secretary of the Glasgow Blind Asylum, that some thirty years ago, owing to the application of a Greenock blind boy for admission to the Glasgow institution having been declined, efforts were made on his behalf for liberty to attend a school connected with the corporation of his native town, which proved successful through the influence of the Provost. The teacher, who had yielded with reluctance, stated at the break-up, that the lad had not added materially to his work, and that his progress had been so satisfactory that he was ready to take as many blind scholars as the patrons of the school chose to send. The result of the experiment was noised abroad through the press, and it was followed in several schools. In 1872, leading educationists in the West of Scotland waited on Lord Advocate Young, who had charge of the Education Bill, and induced him to insert a clause in it permitting School Boards to admit blind children to their page 174schools. In all parts of Scotland there were Boards that received them, and while teachers testified that their instruction did not perceptibly increase the work, inspectors reported that their progress was satisfactory—the blind pupils having passed the standards, gained prizes, and even scholarships in competition with seeing children. So completely satisfied were the educational authorities of Scotland with the experiment that, in 1890, the Education Act was amended to the effect that the School Boards are held responsible for the education of the blind, and the Act so amended came into force in January 1891. The new departure was brought under the notice of the London School Board, which, after discussion, told off a number of schools authorised to receive blind pupils, and a teacher acquainted with the Braille system was appointed to visit them, and give instruction in its use to two or three teachers in each school. The Doctor took a deep interest in the blind for many years. Writing, under date 14th August, 1891, to the Hon. W. Downie Stewart, he says, "I thought at one time I would take a run up as member of a deputation to state the case of the blind to the Minister of Education. As there is no chance of anything being done this session, it would not answer any good purpose to move in the matter."

The Doctor wrote to the Hon. W. Downie Stewart, under date, Edinburgh, 7th Sept., 1888: "… I came from Selkirk, where I spent five days the guest of Roberts' mother and brothers, the latter being men of mark in their native town, all serving the Kirk and State, as well as running a large woollen page 175factory. They were more than considerate in their attentions. Under their guidance I saw much of the region, which is famous in song and story. As we drove here and there we came at every turn on the silver Tweed, the Teviot, the Yarrow, the Ettrick, or the Gala. I saw Abbotsford, the home of Sir Walter, and felt eerie as I gazed on his books and knick-knacks, the woods which he planted, and the paths he laid out. I saw Melrose also, with its mystic aisles and arches so shamefully neglected by its ducal owner, the possessor of the fat acres which once belonged to it.

"I spent a week in my old Border parish. In meeting the people I both suffered and enjoyed much. For, as a rule, they were the children of those with whom I so happily associated in Christian work and worship for ten happy years. Some claimed a part in me, because I baptized them; some, because I admitted them into the Church; some, because I married them; and some because they were my comrades in work. I lived in the old manse where the boys were born, and which sheltered me and gave me a delightful sanctuary for years—years the happier, and, I am sure, the most fruitful of my life. I left Tynedale with its benty fells and heathery hills, with a feeling I should never again gaze upon them. The Lord prosper its big, generous, and obstinate inhabitants.

"I have to see many families in the West before I return to London; but, between ourselves, I am beginning to get tired of knocking about, and being exhibited. I will be glad to resume the thousand and page 176one engagements of Dunedin, and will look upon them as easy work in comparison with the life I lead."

Again, on 5th October he wrote to Mr Stewart: "… It was with much emotion I took my last look of Scotland. I never admired it so much as I did during the last two months. She presented herself to my imagination as a fair bride adorned for her marriage….."

The Doctor wrote to us from Ancroft Moor Manse, under date 3rd October, 1888: "..I left Edinburgh yesterday with the conviction that I was taking the last look of its towers, steeples, colleges, palatial residences, and glorious surroundings. I had a busy forenoon. I breakfasted at 8 o'clock with Dr Cathcart, who married the widow of a very old friend; met Bannatyne, of Aberdeen, whom I have known since 1841; a Rev. Mr Lang, a Dundee friend of Dr Dunlop; Dr White, of Free St. George's; Professor Blackie; Grant McIntosh, of the Colonial Office; and a medical doctor, who catechised and thumbed me for nearly an hour, and ended in requiring me to see Dr Sir A. Clark, of London. I reached this manse where Douglas, formerly of St. Paul's, Christchurch, and Greymouth, resides. He is well. His family are doing well. His eldest is a rising lawyer in London; his second is a minister; and his third, a Scotch graduate, is preparing for his exit examination, with a view to join his eldest brother. They are pushing, and vigorous, and well-doing.

"I leave to-morrow for London, and for Melbourne on the 19th by the Victoria. I received very great page 177attention to the right and left, and in many respects enjoyed my visit. Still, I will be glad to get away from the unceasing whirl of locomotion…."

The following letter addressed in 1888 to the Hon. W. Downie Stewart, shows us how closely he watched the trend of political feeling in the Colony, and the intelligent interest with which he followed the political movements of the day: "You are rapidly getting into the category of my oldest friends, as you have long been one of our best friends. I have always relied on your judgment in crucial times, and I found it well bottomed…. Glendining and I have been trying to forecast the course of politics. We have come to the conclusion that the Government policy, with considerable modifications, will get the endorsement of the House. I am glad that a discriminative Protection is to have a fair trial, for there is no teaching so effective as that of experience. A Freetrader from my student days, I came many years ago to see that valuable industries could not get bottomed in our new country if the products of Europe, with its cheaper capital, cheaper labour, and longer hours were to be free of our markets. Let Protection have fair scope, and the next five or ten years will show us which course is best for our young country. You have taken your fair share of the toil and argumentation which has given us this plank."

His voyage out to Melbourne was a very pleasant one. He had among his fellow passengers the Anglican Bishops of Nelson, Waiapu, and Sydney, and at the daily prayer which was offered all attended. On the Sabbath day there were combined services, at page 178which Dr Stuart sometimes preached and sometimes read the lesson, and all met together at the Holy Communion Table. When the ship reached Melbourne, the Doctor, on behalf of his fellow passengers, read an address, which was presented to the Bishops.

On his arrival at Melbourne, on the 26th November, his health was fairly good, and we expected to have the pleasure of a few days' social intercourse with him before he sailed for Dunedin. But a few lines hastily written told us of a great sorrow which overclouded the joy of his return. "Arrived this evening," he wrote. "News of Donald's illness, received at Adelaide, has been confirmed by cablegram. He is sick unto death, and I am required to leave to-morrow for home. A trial and a disappointment. Pray for him and me…"