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

Chapter XXXVI. — Sociability and Benevolence

page 251

Chapter XXXVI.
Sociability and Benevolence.

In private life, Dr Stuart was frank, genial, and warmhearted, accessible to callers even in his busiest hours; and simple and frugal in his style of living, his hospitable board was seldom without its guests. Tourists, and especially clergymen, deemed it to be their duty to make his acquaintance, and hardly ever failed to be impressed with his remarkable individuality and force of character. The humblest of men felt at ease in his presence, and were carried out of themselves—above all abasing self-consciousness—by his glad recognition in them of brotherhood in the humanity that the Lord of glory has shared and redeemed. His invariable good humour and kindly benevolence and joyous laugh were as sunshine and strength to their souls. He had the faculty of drawing out of them all that was best in them, of concerning himself with their smallest interest, of exalting their conception of duty, and deepening their sense of responsibility to God.

"Many of the comforts of existence," he said, "are the outcome of our social nature—as our neighbourly, industrial, and family relationships. Without this element life would scarcely be worth living. Home, sweet home, is the creation of our social nature."

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None knew better than he the value of fireside counsel, and few knew how keenly he felt his own loss in this respect. As he used to say himself, he was tender in his judgment in all his dealings with his boys, because they had so little knowledge of a mother's love.

By ten thousand tender allusions both in his correspondence and speech he indicated how entirely the sweet memory and influence of the wife of his youth had entered into the very warp and woof of his being, and how much her sainted form was ever present to his thoughts. Behind the geniality that was sometimes even boyishly boisterous in its playfulness the acute observer might sometimes have caught a glimpse of an undercurrent of chastened sadness, which, at moments, dimmed the brightness of the mirthful eye. He felt his loneliness in the latter years. "Oh that I had a bit lassie of my own blood!" he said to us, "but let me not murmur."

He was eminently social, talked with clearness and force on great public questions; and brimful of anecdote and of humorous reminiscences of olden days, we have seen him repeatedly keep a company for hours in rippling laughter at his quaint descriptions of characters and customs that he had stumbled upon in his way through life.

The keenest rebuke we ever heard him give was to a lady who spoke to him with some warmth of feeling because her husband had not been elected to some office in the Church. "Mrs ——," he replied, page 253with something of a glow of emotion in his face, "I did not think you were so immature."

His management of men, and knowledge of them, and tact in dealing with them, were very remarkable. After the Davidson episode one of his office-bearers who had some sympathy with the junior minister, called to "speak his mind" to the Doctor on the subject. He writhed and twisted on his seat and restlessly fidgeted with his fingers among his hair for a little while, and at last blurted out: "This is a serious business, Doctor."

The Doctor knew quite well what was coming, and broke in upon the sentence with his genial laugh, and with that deprecating gesture of his hand which we used to know so well, and said: "That's all right; never mind that. It's nothing at all."

The office-bearer sat speechless, meekly accepting defeat, and took his hat to go, fervently expressing the hope that the Doctor would be careful of his health, and be spared to labour among the people whom he loved.

His well-known benevolence and helpfulness to others sometimes led him into the depths in connection with trust estates. "No work," he wrote to us, "has brought me more vexation than trusteeship, and especially where there was a going business. For years I have steadily declined to act, even when pressed." Fortunately, in 1860, his office-bearers extracted a promise from him that he would keep clear of all entanglements as surety on behalf of others, page 254and the Doctor never ceased to feel grateful to his elder, the late Mr John Gillies, in exacting from him a promise which had kept him out of many difficulties.

One afternoon a letter was put into his hand containing a cheque for £100, with a request that he would devote the amount to personal or family uses, or apply it in any way he deemed best. But with the noble unselfishness that always marked him, he distributed the thank-offering among some of the more important schemes of the Church.

When he was about to set out for the North, on a month's holiday, a cheque for a large amount was put into his hand, to defray the expense of travel. But on his return home the bulk of the sum, we believe, was put into the Church plate in aid of the Debt Liquidation Fund.

"I was preaching," he wrote, "anniversary sermons last Sabbath at ——. As I paid my own pulpit supply and passage, the trip cost me five pounds. That is how the stipend melts."

In referring to a movement to present a testimonial to a minister who had retired from active work, he mentioned, half-apologetically, his own subscription of £3, which looked small alongside that of another minister who gave £10. "I put down my name only for £3," he wrote. "As the movement is to embrace the country, I did not feel called on to give a larger sum. The fact is, the organ has taken £50 from me; the Highland Church in which my father worshipped, £10; my own University page 255scheme to raise the Foundation Bursaries, £10; and other movements, £15: so that I find myself, not hard up, but at my tether's length. Our anniversary of the opening of the Church comes on next Sabbath. A soiree follows on Tuesday. Collection and a table will mulct me to the tune of £10.