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George Burns, His Times and Friends
Chapter III. In the Old Home


Mr. Burns had no manse, but he had a most delightful house, which he had built for himself on the Barony glebe, then a pleasant, out-of-the-way country place, although now standing in the midst of a populous neighbourhood.

One of the most unselfish and simple-hearted of men, he had brought up a large family upon a very small stipend, refusing for a long time to ask for any augmentation, until his scruples were overborne by the pressing entreaties of his “heritors.”

How Hr. Burns “got his augmentation” in 1826, is worth the telling, because it gives us a glimpse into a curious phase of Church life and history. The tiends of the Burgh and Barony of Glasgow belonged at one time to the Church, and subsequently to the Crown, which, ever since the abolition of Episcopacy in 1G90, granted leases to the magistrates of Glasgow, renewable every nineteen years. Eor a long period the “tack duty”* was merely nominal, but at Martinmas, 1798—the year when the crypt in which Dr. Burns preached was pronounced unfit for public worship, and it was resolved to build a Barony Church—a lease of nineteen years was given to the magistrates “on the following terms, viz. (1) To pay the stipends of the ministers of the Cathedral and Barony Churches; (2) To furnish Communion elements for both Churches; (3) To pay one thousand marks for repairs on the Cathedral; and (4) Two hundred pounds Scots as tack duty.”

When the new tack for nineteen years was obtained, Dr. Burns was too modest to think of asking for an increase from the tiends of the parish, but Principal Taylor, of the Inner High Church, who had hitherto been paid his stipend out of the Corporation Funds in common with the other Glasgow ministers, made application for an augmentation. Then a wise councillor uprose and said, “Why does Dr. Taylor apply to us? He is only one of the Barons parish; let him go to the heritors and get what he wants from them.”

This put the heritors of the Barony parish on their mettle. Forthwith they called a meeting, and, after the manner of the times, their trumpets gave no uncertain sound. They said, "Here is 'our own minister” (as they were pleased to call Dr. Burns) “who has never in his life asked for an augmentation. Why should we pass him by for Dr. Taylor? No, fair is fair; whatever Dr. Taylor succeeds in getting, Dr. Burns shall have.” Then James Hill, a descendant of the Rev. Laurence Hill, the predecessor of Dr. Burns, being learned in the law, rose to his feet and said, "No man has a higher respect for Dr. Burns than I have; but he is getting to be an old man, and although he will never trouble you as long as he lives, his successor may, and may come upon you and claim from the tiends what you give, or even more than what you give, to Dr. Burns. My advice, therefore, is this, raise an amicable suit in the Court of Tiends, and that will fix the period to nineteen years before another increase can take place.”

This course was approved; Dr. Taylor and Dr. Burns both went into Court, and both got an equal augmentation. Later on Dr. Taylor obtained a further addition, but Dr. Burns did not apply again, being content with the first decision of the Tiend Court.

Since that time great changes have taken place. The Barony Glebe became eligible for feuing, Whether the income of Dr. Burns was larger or smaller, his home was always the brightest and happiest place in the world to his children. When George was a youth, it was undergoing the inevitable changes experienced in family life. Of Dr. Burns' nine children, four had died young. John, the eldest son (Dr. John Burns, P.B.S., the first Professor of Surgery in the University of Glasgow), was married and living in a house in Spreulds Land in the Trongate; Elizabeth was married to a well-known citizen, Mr. David MacBrayne; Allan was lecturing on anatomy, writing the books that made him famous, and spending much of his time in traveling, on account of his failing health; while James and George were at home.

But, in one sense, the whole family was always at home: their affections and memories clustered round it, all their interests were centred in it, and they loved, as they had ever loved, its pleasant and helpful associations. A more united family it would have been difficult to find anywhere; they loved one another “with pure hearts fervently,” they took unselfish delight in each other's successes, they sought to help one another in their multifarious undertakings, and all their affection was based on Christian principle.

Although George was so much the junior of his brothers and sisters, they took him into their full confidence even as a boy, and as there were elements in his character that theirs lacked, they were apt, even in his youthful days, to consult him. John was contemplative, although in conversation abounding in forcible expression, and at times indulging in great humour and jocularity, Allan was erudite, James was gentle and easy-going, while George was brisk, energetic, and business-like, with a shrewd judgment of men and things.

Every member of the family delighted in the home life and in the company at the Barony Glebe. It was a “house of call” for all the ministers and notable men of Glasgow, who were sure of a pleasant “crack” whenever they dropped in.

Hospitality has been a characteristic of the Burns family from the earliest times of their history—that good old-fashioned hospitality which, as Washington Irving says, is “an emanation of the heart breaking through the chills of ceremony and selfishness, and thawing every spirit into a genial flow.”

There was no standing in the hall, hat in hand; no waiting in the drawing-room for some one to arrive and coldly discuss the weather; but, almost simultaneously with the knock at the door, there was the genial “Hey man, come awa’,” the warm welcome, and the snug corner by the fireside.

Such hospitality died in England years and years ago; it still survives in Scotland, and it is possible, even now, to get a flavour of the good old sort that was common in Dr. Burns’ day.

There was much more enjoyment in company in those times than in these. Men were not spoiled by newspapers and reviews and magazines. They talked over the events of their day, and thought out for themselves the problems of current history, instead of having all their thinking done for them by the penny press. They told good stories one to another with a hearty relish impossible in these days of so-called “comic" papers.

Let us take a glance at some of the frequent visitors, old and young, who enjoyed the hospitality of Dr. Burns when George was a hoy; and first of all the “ministerial brethren.”

There was, Dr. Balfour of the Outer High Church, an erudite, but withal a genial, pleasant man; and Dr. Love, very eminent but very sombre. Attached to the Barony parish were four chapels-of-ease, but there was no seat carried by them at that time into the Ecclesiastical Court. Dr. Love ministered at one of these chapels. Afterwards he laboured for some years in London, and had a principal hand in the formation of the London Missionary Society. His sermons, which were published in two volumes in 1829, four years after his death, were considered valuable. Although they went deeply into theological lore, they were anything but interesting to ordinary hearers or readers. George Burns tells of a man coining out of Dr. Love’s church and saying to his neighbour, “Was not that sermon deep?” “Yes,” answered the other, “as deep as a dungeon, and about as gloomy.” No circle of friends wrould be complete without a sombre man in it, and Dr. Love was a capital foil.

One day he and Balfour and others were dining at Dr. Burns’ house, and when the guests rose to go, Love sat still and silent. Seeing that he did not move, Balfour went up to him, and throwing his arms about him said, “Let brotherly Love continue!”

Dr. Burns was very intimate with Dr. Balfour, and they spent much of their time together. Once they went on an excursion to England In company, and chanced to be in Whitehaven, where they heard a Scotch minister, named Musliet, preach. They kept as much as possible out of sight, neither of them wishing to take any part in that or in any other service while they were travelling. But Mr. Musliet had his eye upon them, and in his concluding prayer asked “that the Lord might bless the preaching of one of the ministers who had popped in amongst them, and who would take the service in the afternoon!” He carried his point, and “one of the ministers” (Dr. Balfour), preached. Strange to say, this same Mr. Musliet was afterwards appointed to Shettleston, one of the four chapels-of-ease in the Barony parish. One of the heritors, Mr. MacNair, said to a neighbour, “I wish you’d come and hear our new minister; he’s a strange mixture of grace and glaikitry.” It was an accurate description, and Mr. Musliet became a valuable acquisition, as possessor of these qualities, to the ministerial circle.

It was the practice in the early Church of Scotland on sacramental occasions for the ministerial brethren to assist one another. Thursday was the Bast Day, Saturday the Preparation Day, Sunday the Sacramental Day, Monday the Thanksgiving Day. There was a “running dinner” on all the days, but on Monday there was something special; and the “Monday dinner” was always looked forward to as an occasion when there should be free, happy, and unrestrained conversation and innocent amusement. On these days every minister was supposed to tell his best ancedotes.

Few things delighted young Burns more than to hear the stories told on these occasions. Here are a few of the crumbs which fell from that table:—

At one of these dinners I remember there was present the Rev. George Logan, of Eastwood, who related how at a similar Monday dinner they had cold punch—a great Glasgow drink—and the beadle attended as servant. When he was carrying in the punch he had the ill-luck to let it fall, whereupon George Logan exclaimed, ‘Sir transit glorious Monday!’

Another minister who was always present at my father’s sacramental time, the Rev. Adam Foreman, of Kirkintilloch, told how on one occasion when he had his ministerial friends staying with him, they had, as usual, prayers at breakfast-time. Just as they were about to kneel down to prayers, a parrot, which had been taught to speak, remarked sententiously, ‘That’s good boys!’ which upset the gravity of those Scottish ministers!

My father used to tell many stories of the minister of Balfron, near Loch Lomond, showing how strong the feeling of Scotch people was regarding the sanctity of the Sabbath and its strict observation, which prevented many from shaving on that holy day. One was that the minister was shaving late on a Saturday night, when the clock gave warning that it was about to strike twelve. Running to the top of the stairs, he called out hurriedly to the servant, ‘Betty, Betty, put back the clock five minutes!’

Another story of the same man was this:— A farmer came to him with a beautiful dog as a present. The minister asked him why he was parting with it? ‘Oh!’ said he, 'whenever we “tak’ the books” the dog always sets up a howling.’ ‘Ay,’ said the minister, ‘and ye think that I don't “tak’ the books” and ye may give the beast to me.’

We must not leave the ministers without introducing the session clerk and parish schoolmaster for the Barony parish, Mr. Clugston. He was a good-looking, well-informed old man of most gentlemanly bearing, and very highly esteemed. He knew a good sermon when he heard it, and he could recognize a sermon that he had heard before. His son was commissary under Wellington in the Peninsular War, and on one occasion young Clugston took the old gentleman to London to see the sights and to hear some of the great preachers. Coming out of one church the commissary said to him, “That was a good evangelical sermon; did you not enjoy it?” “Very much, very much. A most excellent, sound, gospel sermon, but I read the whole of it in the Christian Observer as we came in the smack from Leith to London!”

The circle of Dr. Burns’ ministerial friends was not limited to any section of the Church. Although of the Evangelical type, he was a very liberal-minded man. In his day there was no evening service in the Church of Scotland—only morning and afternoon and he took the opportunity of worshipping at the Episcopalian chapel whenever there was any eminent English clergyman preaching in the evening. This was an unusual mark of liberality of sentiment, and it was accentuated by the fact that he took his young son George with him. This was a privilege and a pleasure felt both then and afterwards, for it gave the youth the opportunity of hearing such men as Mr. Simeon, of Cambridge; Mr. Saunders, of St. Ann’s, Blackfriars; Henry Venn, the Secretary of the Church Missionary Society, and many other celebrated Evangelicals.

Dr. Burns had known Toplady, the hymn writer, who had given him a list of the supposed Evangelical clergymen in his day in the Church of England, and the number was under forty!

But we must not linger with the ministers. There was another and even a wider circle of frequent visitors at the Barony Glebe.

Amongst the oldest and most intimate friends were Dr. Cleland and his family. He was a man of great ability, and was rising into eminence when George Burns was a boy. Early in the century he commenced those inquiries which he afterwards embodied in "The Annals of Glasgow” and other important works. He was one of the leading statists of the day, the first to draw public attention to the value of regular mortuary tables; and he held a number of public offices, not the least important being that of Superintendent of Public Works. Withal he was a plain, straightforward, and unaffected man, always a welcome visitor.

Much as young George Burns liked Dr. Cleland, he liked his daughter Jeanie better, and having no young sister of his own, he found in her a companion and friend from comparatively early years. Later on, as the two families were so intimate, he thought he could not do better than incorporate them. But at the time of which we are writing, he was only a boy, and, as they say in novels, “we must not anticipate.”

Time would fail to tell of the Duncans, the Stevensons, the Finlays, the Campbells, the Bairds, the Balnianos, and a host of others we need not even mention here, as we shall meet with them again in the course of this narrative; but we may gather up in this place a few of George Burns’ reminiscences of those we have named.

Mr. Duncan was Mr. Balfour’s son-in-law, and son of the Rev. Mr. Duncan, of Alva parish, near Stirling. My brother, the doctor, married his sister, consequently there was close family intercourse. He was much in society. He once told me he had an introduction to Mr. Bolton, of Bolton and Watt (James Watt), of Birmingham. Mr. Bolton invited him to his country house, and Mr. Duncan, who was then a young man, thanked him for doing so, but said he was sorry to give him any trouble. Mr. Bolton at once replied, ‘It will not give me any trouble, but it may my housemaid.’ Mr. Duncan said to me, ‘George, when any gentleman asks you to visit him, take care not to say anything about the trouble it may give.’

One of my uncles, Captain Allan Stevenson, was at the taking of Martinique in 1786. He retired from the army in order to marry a Hamilton lady. This intention he carried out, and built a house at Hamilton, where he lived for many years. Afterwards he came to Glasgow for a short time, and then went down to Rothesay, where he built a house, the first ever erected in Craigmore, a suburb of Rothesay. At that time juries were made up chiefly of country gentlemen, and it was always my delight, as a young man, when he was summoned, because he then came to my father’s house. He was kind and genial, and his war and other stories, and his interesting conversation, had a great charm for me. He. like all others of that class, wore high top-boots.

The brother of Captain Allan Stevenson was also in the army, and he settled in a house of his own in Hamilton. The son of the latter was born on the same day that I was, viz., the 10th of December, 1707, and, like myself, was named George. I was born in the morning, and he in the afternoon, and I used to say to him,

‘You’ll take care, George, to understand that I am your senior'. He entered the army as a boy, and it was a great disappointment to me, when I saw him with his uniform on, that I could not enter also. I was very anxious to get in, but I aimed at nothing higher than being a player on the triangle!

Mr. Kirkman Finlay, member for the boroughs of Glasgow, of which there were five, was always very kind to my father, who was intimately acquainted with his father, Mr. James Finlay. My father baptized all Mr. Finlay’s children. It was customary on the occasion of marriages or baptisms to present the minister with a little compliment, such as a pair of silk gloves for use in the pulpit. On a particular occasion, when my father baptized one of Dr. Cleland’s children, he sent him, as a present, a cocked hat, at that time an article of clerical dress among many ministers. My father, however, declined the gift. On another occasion, not in connection with either wedding or baptism, but as an ordinary compliment, Mr. Kirkman Finlay sent him a present of six dozen bottles of claret.

Claret, although formerly drunk in Scotland, had been very much shut out by the Continental wars. My brother Allan, the surgeon, had Dr. Gordon and several other medical men from Edinburgh dining at our house, and as claret was not then so common as it is now, they were enjoying it to their hearts’ content, when a note was handed to my father from Mr. Finlay, saying that his butler had made a‘mistake in sending claret instead of port; and believing that my father would prefer the latter, he sent to suggest an exchange! What happened to the claret drinkers I cannot tell; but, at all events, it served the purpose of raising a good laugh.

I could tell you stories about many old Glasgow families, with some of whom I was familiar in my youth and some in later life. Let me specify one or two. There was Dr. Balmano, for example, after whose name one of the streets in Glasgow is called. He had a sister who was well known in Glasgow, and was famous for her smartness of intellect and of repartee. On one occasion at a dinner party she sat next to a Mr. Kingliam, a man not particularly noted for his love of religion or its observances. In those days a round of toasts was common at the dinner-table, and, what was still more troublesome and perplexing, a round of ‘sentiments.’ When it came to the sentimental part, Miss Balmano said to Kingham,

'Give me a sentiment.’ He said, Give “Honest men and bonnie lasses.” ’She promptly replied, 'No, no; that’ll neither suit yon nor me.’

Another well-known family was that of the Bairds, the great iron-masters. Two of the brothers were in Parliament. Alexander Baird, commonly called Sandy, had a great deal of mother-wit, and was remarkably quaint and natural in the way in which he made use of it. Upon one occasion he had a party at dinner, including a well-known and respected citizen, the head of a great warehouse, whose name if I gave it would be recognized and esteemed, and Colonel Lockhart of Milton Lockhart, then commanding the 92nd Highlanders, who were quartered in Glasgow, the brother of John Lockhart, Sir Walter Scott’s son-in-law, sons of the Rev. Dr. Lockhart, for nearly fifty years minister of the Blackfriars Church in Glasgow.

Colonel Lockhart was a remarkably courteous man, and very polite according to the old school of manners. Mr. Baird was a bachelor, and in the drawing-room, when dinner was announced, he asked Colonel Lockhart to go out first; but the colonel demurred.

'No, no,’ he said, ‘Seniores priores.’ Mr. Baird’s reply was, ‘Na, na; warriors before weavers!’

On another occasion, when Mr. Baird was one of a party at dinner in a friend’s house, while he was having his great-coat taken off in the hall, his arrival was announced, one of the servants calling to another, 'Mr. Baird' and the other servants repeating it on the different landings of the stairs, so as to announce his name in the drawing-room. On hearing his name being repeated, and thinking that the flunkeys were hailing him to come up the stairs, Sandy called out, 'Haud yer whisht; I’m comin’ as fast as I can!’

We must not lose sight of George Burns in the midst of his own and his father’s friends, but this somewhat digressive chapter will perhaps assist the reader to understand more clearly his subsequent history and his personal surroundings.


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