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George Burns, His Times and Friends
Chapter XVI. Life at Wemyss Bay


When Mr Burns retired from business, he purchased the whole of Wemyss Bay, and built for himself a handsome house in one of the most charming positions of this lovely spot. Wemyss House is a picturesque structure, lying hack from the road and nestling under a luxuriantly wooded cliff. It stands only thirty or fort}’ yards from the shore, and commands delightful views over the Firth of Clyde. Just opposite is Innellan and Toward, with Rothesay in the distance; in front is Bute, with its magnificent background of the mountains of Arran; to the left lies the pleasant village of Skelmorlie, stretching towards Largs, while Great and Little Cumbrae lie low on the horizon.

Lawns and gardens, fringed and interspersed with line clumps of evergreen and flowering trees and shrubs, surround the house, at the rear of which rises a background of rock to the height of about 112 feet.

Once it was rock, and rock only; inaccessible for use to the regions beyond. But some years after Mr. Burns had made Wemyss House his summer residence, Mrs. Burns, who was incessant in her philanthropic labours throughout the neighbourhood, happened to say how pleasant it would be if it were possible to pass over the rock instead of always having to go round by the road. It was one of his chief pleasures in life to give surprises of affection, and to gratify any wish of one to whom he was so tenderly attached, and, keeping his own counsel, he determined to make those rough places plain. Calling to his aid the good services of his head gardener, Mr. Henderson, he set to work, with the result that the almost perpendicular rock was converted into a region of fairy-like beauty.

Viewed from below, there is nothing to suggest anything but crags tastefully clothed with deciduous trees and choice shrubs intermingling with each other in natural fashion. No one would imagine that all this wealth of arboreal growth is a skilfully contrived screen to conceal the existence of a score or more of surprises in the shape of irregular terraces cut out of the solid rock, bowered walks, grottoes, and exquisite Tower-gardens. From every change of elevation a fresh and interesting view is obtained of the lovely landscape which spreads out in wonderful breadth and variety to the south-east and west. Access to these terraces is by a series of flights of steps from the western end of the lower lawn, and from the eastern end by zigzag walks of easy gradients, all perfectly concealed, so that no artificial line is visible.

On the uppermost terrace is a fine range of plant and fruit houses, the largest of which is devoted to a superb specimen of the New Zealand fern-palm (Cyathea dealbata), believed to be the largest and finest in Europe. This last terrace is 112 feet above the level of the lawn surrounding the house, and its outer edge is only about 100 yards in direct line from the shore of the Firth.

It has been well said that the working out of so much picturesque beauty from bare, barren crags in so limited an area has been no mean feat of landscape gardening skill, and the result seems like a realisation of the Babylonian gardens of Nebuchadnezzar.” A year after Mr. Burns had taken up his residence in Wemyss Bay, his son, John Burns, was married to Emily, daughter of George Clerk Arbuthnot, of Mavisbank House, Midlothian; and in the following year his second son, James Cleland Burns, was married to Selina Louisa Colquhoun, daughter of William Laurence Colquhoun, of Clathick, Perthshire. Mr. James Cleland Burns took up his abode at Lochside, Lochwinnoch, while Mr John Burns settled down at Castle Wemyss.

Unless the reader can picture to his mind’s eye the position of the house of Mr. Burns, and the castle of his son, much of the succeeding part of this narrative will be to some extent unintelligible. Castle Wemyss is a lovely mansion, built upon a rock at the extreme edge of the promontory where the river Clyde widens into the Firth of Clyde. Every one acquainted with the West Coast of Scotland, knows this well-situated and elegantly designed castle. It was built in three different portions at three different times, and was converted into one harmonious whole, in the old Scotch baronial order of architecture, by a man of distinct genius, one Mr. Billings, who unhappily died soon after the completion of the work, upon which he has left literally the impress of his own hand In some singularly good stone-carving.

Sweeping lawns surround the castle on the landward side, studded with clumps of evergreens and towering shrubs, where, through vistas of ornamental trees, exquisite views—never the same for two hours together—are obtained of Dunoon and the rugged peaks of Arran. Cardens and plantations slope down to the shore, where a handsome red sandstone pier forms a harbour and a landing place for the boats of the yacht in which Mr. John Burns spends most of his summer-time.

Wemyss House is just outside the castle grounds, but, handsome as is the residence of Mr. Burns, it bears no comparison with that of his son. The reason may be readily explained in this manner. Mr. Burns, when he retired from business, naturally felt that he was nearing the end of his journey, while his son was, comparatively speaking, only just beginning. Both were “given to hospitality” in an unusual degree, and such perfect harmony existed in every wish, thought and feeling between parents and son, that, while ready to share all things in common if need be, the elders reserved to themselves those chances of quiet repose which were not so necessary to the happiness of their children.

So it came to pass that the guests at Castle Wemyss were guests at Wemyss House and vice versa, and the interests of all, in working for the common good, were one.

Mr. Burns’ life at Wemyss Bajr was “full-orbed,” and we can only in this chapter glance at some phases of it.

Works of philanthropy in divers forms became the main business of liis life in his retirement. He was a conscientious man in all things, and he gave liberally to almost every form of charitable work. But he did not let his “right hand know what his left was doing,” and nothing can be said here of the extent of his benefactions.

It is not the cost, however, that makes the real value of any gift, but the painstaking kindness, the thoughtful tenderness, the kindly sympathy that accompany it. And through all those thirty years and more of his retired life at Weni3rss Bay, scarcely a day passed in which he and his wife did not make some home happier, cheer the heart of some poor weary plodder, or minister to the necessities of “him who was ready to perish.”

The demands upon the Benevolence of Mr. Burns were almost innumerable, and he was wont to respond to them all, or nearly so. It was his custom not to give large sums to any one object, hut to contribute to an infinite variety of objects.

He not only gave himself, but in so far as he could he inspired others to give, and no man knew better than he how to put a charitable petition in train.

He loved to assist poor and struggling churches, and to help towards building new ones ; he and his wife put into circulation books that they thought would be as silent messengers in households and do good; he was interested in evangelization on the Continent, and rarely withheld a solicited subscription ; he watched the good services to the poor of London and other cities rendered ha his friend Lord Shaftesbury, and backed up his labours by contributions to such movements as, for instance, the "Watercress and Blower Girls Mission".

The demands were incessant. A packet of letters from applicants lies before the present writer. In one. a poor family, wishing to leave Ireland, ask Mr. Burns to give them a free passage. In another, a minister has a friend who is extending Sunday-school operations in Rio de Janeiro, which “will be like a lighthouse on a dark and dangerous coast, the light of God’s truth streaming from it.” Another says, “I always remember what Mr. Burns said to me after the misfortune I had, when he gave me the £100: that he had pleasure in doing a good turn when good comes out of it.” Good came out of it in the case in point; it was the social salvation of the man and his family.

One letter is from the secretary of a society who grumbles because he has not had a larger subscription, instead of giving thanks for what he has received. To this Mr. Burns appended the reply he sent :—

I reserve to myself the right of judging from time to time what I will give, or whether I will give anything at all. This practice is and has been my custom with regard to all Institutions.

Although Mr. and Mrs. Burns joined together so successfully in their works of charity, they had to share the common lot of philanthropists, and suffer occasional imposition. To one such occurrence, Sir T. H. Farrer, writing from the Trinity yacht Galatea on the 6th of September, 1883, to Mr. John Burns, refers:—

I was sorry that I did not see your father, with whom I had so much pleasant intercourse thirty years ago. Indeed his name, and our visit to Iona yesterday, carried me back to a still earlier memory when my first wife, then Fanny Erskine, was taken by Mrs. Burns in one of their steamers to Iona, and where, after Mrs. Burns had kindly and charitably purchased all the stockings they had knitted, she found on opening the large packet they had nought that they had sold her all their old stockings, worn in holes and dirty. Innocent, helpless Islanders!

In the welfare of seamen, it was only natural that Mr. Burns should take a special and a lifelong interest. He had done much for the men of his own fleet, but he hailed every opportunity of advancing the moral and spiritual condition of seamen generally. It grieved him to find, for example, from official documents forwarded from our North American Colonies and from the West Indies, that in about the year 1851, more than 58,000 seamen (British subjects) annually frequented those harbours, while the provision for their moral well-being was of the most scanty description, and none whatever by the direct and immediate agency of the Church of England.

Various societies were originated, and agencies set to work to alter this state of things, in which he took part in conjunction with his old friends, the Rev. C. B. Gribble, Admiral Sir Edward Parry, Admiral Sir James Hope, and others.

One of the institutions in which Mr. and Mrs. Burns took a lively interest, was the Irish Island Society, founded by Mrs. Pendleton, of Dublin, in 1818, for promoting the scriptural education and religious instruction of Irish Roman Catholics, chiefly through the medium of their own language. By this instrumentality, thousands of Irish speaking people have been instructed in the art of reading in the vernacular, their text-book being selected portions of the Bible. Flowing from this, there has been a constant succession of Scripture-readers and missionaries, with churches and school-houses in their train.

From those early days when Mr. Burns, as a young man, commenced his business career by travelling in Ireland, he had taken a deep interest in the people and the unhappy state of their country. It was borne in upon his mind that the only remedy lay in the enlightenment of the young by education, the unfettered circulation of the Scriptures, and kindly help and sympathy.

The “Irish question,” whether taken up by private philanthropists or public bodies, or by the State, bristles with difficulties, and so Mr. Burns found. He was greatly interested in the spread of education in Scotland, and especially among the ever-increasing population of Glasgow; but work in that behoof was sadly hindered by the immigration of the Irish, and the parochial school system, in consequence, received its death-blow.

At one time Mr. Burns was brought much into communication with Sir George Cornewall Lewis, who visited him at Glasgow, and was extremely anxious to know about the progress of immigration from Ireland.

I gave him (says Mr. Burns) all the information I could obtain as to the number we carried from Belfast, especially in harvest time, and the result for the whole year came out very much as follows: Of every hundred brought across, ninety-four were returned by our steamers to Ireland, most of them being harvest labourers, leaving only six per cent to settle in Scotland. After that period, the number remaining in Scotland increased to a marvellous extent.

All admirable institution in which Mr. and Mrs. Burns were much interested was the Pilgrim Mission of St. Chrischona, near Basle. It was established in 1840 by Mr. C. F. Spittler, who, in 1815, had founded the celebrated Basle Missionary Society. He conceived the novel idea of utilising an old ruined church, which had been turned into a cart-house by the farmer who owned the adjoining fields. Having obtained the permission of the Government to use the church, Father Spittler gathered around him a number of young men of the artizan class with the object of training them as Christian missionaries, and then sending them forth to gain their livelihood by the work of their hands and at the same time to preach the gospel. From a very small beginning the Pilgrim Mission grew and prospered; scores of young men were sent forth as evangelists in Palestine, Egypt, Nubia, Central Africa, as well as in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland; a cluster of houses sprang up round the old church, a printing-press and book-binding establishment did good auxiliary work, and many other forms of usefulness came into operation. Associated with the institution was a Home of Rescue for men of all ages and conditions who had gone astray, and who, submitting to strict discipline, constant manual labour, and total abstinence, expressed their wish to return to paths of righteousness.

All the teachers of the institution, as well as the students, worked without salary, satisfied with the apostles’ rations, “having food and raiment, let us he therewith content.” Mr. and Mrs. Burns went to Basle on one occasion on purpose to inspect the mission, and to acquaint themselves fully with the scope of its operations, and thenceforth they never ceased to take an active interest in its welfare. They received a hearty welcome from the leaders, but venerable Bather Spittler was absent. He died in 1867, in his eighty-sixth year; and his adopted son, now working in a distant country in the same good cause, was for a long time the guest of Mr. Burns, who held him in high esteem.

Mr. Burns was President of the Glasgow Branch of the Church Missionary Society, and this brought him into contact with many great and good men, who rallied round him not only when he presided at the annual meetings, but whenever there was any fresh wave of activity. The annual deputations from the parent society, of which Mr. Burns was also a governor, were always received and entertained at his house in Brandon Place, Glasgow; and the visits of such men as Weitbrecht, whose abundant labours are known in all the churches, or of Leupolt, the missionary at Benares at the time of the Mutiny, were occasions of great pleasure, for Mr. Burns entered into all the minutiae of their work with the keenest interest, and greatly relished the stories of peril, adventure, and success they had to tell.

Every organisation that had for its object the welfare of the Jews, he not only supported with his contributions, but aided by all other means within his power. To him the Jew was God’s standing miracle on earth.

One day the present writer drew Mr. Burns into a long conversation on God’s ancient people, and a recollection of that conversation is, briefly, as follows:—

For sixty years I have never omitted praying for the Jews in the daily prayers of our household. I have from early life taken a strong interest in them, and the societies established for their spiritual welfare. My wife and I were always fond of attending their synagogues both in London and abroad. In the synagogue at Carlsbad, one of the officials came to me and asked that I would read the law. I declined, but sitting next to the Chaplain to the English Embassy in Berlin, himself of Israelitish descent, I asked him what was meant by it, as I was not a Jew. He said, ‘It is meant as a compliment, but it is always expected in such cases that some contribution to the funds should be given.’ I said, ‘Will they put a phylactery upon me'?’ He said, ‘No, they will only invest you with a scarf.’ I have since learned that the custom of expecting a subscription is disapproved of now. In Carlsbad it is usual for visitors to subscribe to some of the public institutions, and one of the police calls and asks to which of such institutions the contribution is to be devoted. I desired that mine might go to the Jews’ Hospital, when the canvasser looked at me with astonishment, and said, ‘Oh, nobody ever subscribes to that!”

The study of prophecy may be said to he almost limited in the present day to the Evangelicals. It does not advance the interests of the High Church party—it is a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence to Broad Churchmen.

The views of a man of strong common sense, combined with strong Christian principle, who for sixty years not only studied the whole of the Bible, but made it a subject of daily prayer, cannot fail to be of interest. Here are some crude recollections of a conversation with Mr Burns, in which he stated his opinions to the present writer :—

I have always found much comfort in the doctrine of the Second Coming of our Lord, and to a considerable extent I agree with the writings of Elliott, and more recently with those of Mr. Grattan-Guinness, but I do not understand or appreciate fanciful interpretations, except as they agree exactly with the Bible. It seems to me to be helpful to one’s faith to think of things to come. We meditate upon God in the past and in the present; we should think of Him equally as in the future. I have never had a feeling in common with those whose gloomy views represent the world as growing more and more wicked, until the Lord should come to destroy and annihilate. At the same time I do not overlook the saying, ‘When the Son of Man cometli, shall He find faith on the earth?’ I would rather think of the knowledge and love of Christ as growing and expanding until He came, and with Him the restitution of all things. I believe that there will be upon the earth a Millennial glory ; that subsequently there will be a falling away, and after that the end will come. But I have not arrived at the opinion of many of my most intelligent and valuable friends that our Lord may be expected to appear to-day or any present day. But when He shall appear we shall see Him, and every one who has this hope in Him will purify himself even as He is pure.

With regard to the Jews, I certainly gather from the Scriptures that they will return to their own land, and I read the passages relating to their restoration in as literal a sense as I read those relating to their dispersion. For me, every individual Jew has an interest; he is a living witness to the truth of Christianity and of the Bible ; and for centuries has been God’s witness in the world. Every Jew is a warning to those who reject God’s mercy or despise His threatenings. Although a homeless race, and clinging to a hopeless faith, they are still the 'People of God,’ and I think the blackest pages in the history of our country have been those in which we, as a nation, have taken advantage of their unhappy position, and have treated them with injustice and cruelty. Although the veil is still over their hearts, I cannot doubt that it will be removed. God hath not cast away His people whom He foreknew, but for the individual Jew, as for the nation at large, the only hope lies in a reception of our Lord as the Messiah of God.

Closely allied to the concern of Mr. Burns for the Jews, was his interest not only in their country, but in all the Bible lands surrounding it. He watched with intense pleasure the growing prosperity and usefulness of the Cairo schools under the able management of Miss Whately, and did what he could to assist them. But there was nothing in the East which absorbed him more than the education of the children of Mohammedans, Druzes, Maronites, and Greeks, in the hill-country of Lebanon.

In 1832, a Methodist gentleman, Mr. Lothian, of the neighbourhood of Carlisle, went to Syria, and there became acquainted with a Syrian family named Saleebey. He lived with them for a considerable time, and assisted in getting up schools in their district, El Schweir, near Beyrout. On his return to this country he brought with him young Saleebey. After a time, Lady Leith wrote to Mrs. Burns introducing him, and asking if she could render him any assistance. She found that when he arrived in this country he had asked a porter where he could lodge, and had been sent to a dwelling, which, on visiting, she considered to be anything but a desirable one. She therefore invited him to Brandon Place, and there he stayed for a long time. Mrs. Burns energetically took up the cause of the schools, and through her influence a society was formed in the Lebanon, having for its object the education of the children of Mahommedans, Druzes, Maronites and Greeks, in a very populous neighbourhood.

It is no exaggeration to say that every fresh step in the progress of these Lebanon Schools was under the immediate observation or direction of Mr. and Mrs. Burns. It would not interest the general reader to narrate the many vicissitudes through which these schools passed, but in the spring of 1870, at the instigation of Mr. Burns, Principal Lumsden of the Free Church, and Dr. Alexander Duff, the celebrated Indian missionary and reformer, went out to Lebanon to inspect them. Their report was in all respects satisfactory, and the result was that the schools were taken up by the Foreign Mission Scheme of the Free Church of Scotland, that they are still carried on under the same management, and are not in connection with any other Lebanon schools.

Mr. Burns did not sympathise with the “uttermost parts of the world” at the expense of his own neighbourhood.

The Royal Infirmary of Glasgow, of which Dr. John Burns was the first house-surgeon; the Magdalen Society; the Glasgow Branch of the London City Mission, whose founder, the justly esteemed David Nasmyth, was a personal friend; the Cottage Home for Infirm Children, and the House of Shelter for Women—these, and many more, were all institutions in which Mr. Burns delighted. Nor was he interested only in the philanthropic labours which made so heavy a demand upon his own time and that of his wife; he participated in and sympathised with the good works of his children, all of whom have been distinguished for their ready and liberal support of measures calculated to improve the moral, social, and religious condition of the people of Glasgow, so that an appeal for support to a deserving object was never made to them in vain.

Mr. Burns watched with fatherly pride the valuable services rendered by his son John in assisting to establish the Cumberland training-ship—an institution which, in its proved results, has done more than all the rest of the industrial institutions of Glasgow put together to reform the street Arabs, and to inspire them with higher aims and better motives in life. Nor were Mr. John Burns’ activities less in connection with other societies, which embrace within their pale those of the humblest ranks of life.

Mr. Burns spent much of his time in reading, and kept well abreast of the current literature of the day. It was a never-failing source of delight, and at the age of ninety-three he was studiously reading Landell’s “Central Asia,” in two volumes, having just before finished Drummond’s ‘‘Natural Law in the Spiritual World,” concerning which he wrote: “The consequence of his Biogenesis chapter is so decisive in favour of evangelical teaching on the subject of conversion, that it is impossible it could be palatable to the carnal mind.” He guarded himself, however, against giving unqualified approval of the work.

One of his chief pleasures was the study of religious books, and all through life everything he could lay his hands upon dealing with the Evidences of Christianity he read and studied carefully. He was a life member of the Victoria Institution, and received regularly its valuable publications, which he read with interest and profit, as evidences in support and proof of the historical accuracy of the Scriptures. It was not that he was in any kind of religious difficulty, but that he liked to be furnished with a good reason for the hope that was in him. Nor did he confine himself to the works that advocated the tenets of any particular sect. Wherever, and by whomsoever, good was being done, therein lie rejoiced, yea and would rejoice.

It was characteristic of the man that he could say : —

For sixty years I have never turned away from the Lord’s Supper in any church whatever, where I had the privilege of partaking of it. Many a time in our travelling days we found the Table spread for us. And my practice is continued by those spared to be still around me, and dear to me. I love the Communion of Saints.

He was singularly free from religious doubt, and had a childlike faith in the efficacy of prayer. He agreed with what Justin Martyr said in his “Apology”: “When we say that prophecies have been delivered respecting future events, we assert not that they were foreseen, because they happened by a fatal necessity, but that God, well knowing what the actions of men would be, and having determined that He would reward every man according to his deeds, declared by His prophetic Spirit that His dealings with them would correspond with those actions, thus always leading the human race to reflection and repentance, and showing His care and providence for them.” From which he argued that they who would have the Divine blessing must, in order to ensure it, walk in the appointed way. All God’s ways being regarded as part of God’s plan, it did not matter what the circumstances might be— the state of the weather, cattle plague, pestilence, bereavement, domestic anxiety—he believed that the laws which governed these things had been formed with reference to the conduct of men towards Himself. If these things humbled men into sincere prayer, their conduct became incorporated with God’s own plan; if they hardened men’s hearts, they stood alien to God and liable to His hot displeasure. Blessings might he lost through the neglect of prayer—therefore lie would pray, without inquiring too closely in what way “the laws of Nature” might be bent to grant an answer. “Ye have not, because ye ask not,” says St. James, and therefore George Burns was wont to take everything to God in prayer, believing, as Dr. Chalmers said, that “God may interfere among the physical agents beyond that limit to which human sagacity can trace the operation of law.”

The plain statements of Scripture on the subject of prayer were, however, ample for the faith and practice of George Burns. We are not aware that he ever attempted to justify either philosophically. Had lie done so, he would have used an argument like that employed by John Foster in one of his “Lectures delivered at Broadmead Chapel, Bristol,” in which he says: “God has certainly pre-determined what He will do, and His purpose cannot be changed, yet, in many instances, He has pre-deter-mined it to he done, as in answer to Prayer, and not otherwise, not separately from it; so that, not to petition for the supposed good, involves a certainty of not obtaining it, and vice versa”

One little incident which, although it occurred quite late in his life, was nevertheless characteristic of any period of it, will illustrate the character of his faith and prayers.

Mr. Burns was always a lover of dogs. One that was a great favourite was lost, and his master mourned for him. Every search was made, but without effect, and one evening, when at last he was obliged to give it up as hopeless, he talked much about his old and faithful friend. It was a trouble to him, for he loved the dog, and in the simplicity of his faith he believed that every shadow of a trouble might be brought before the Heavenly Bather in prayer. And so in the family worship that night he prayed “to Him who preserveth man and beast, and without whose knowledge not a sparrow falls to the ground,” and reverently asked that “wherever his old friend and companion went, it might please God to find for him a home where he would be kindly treated.”

“He prayeth well who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast;
He prayeth best who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear Lord who loveth ns,
He made and loveth all.”

Like all really good men, Mr. Burns was a lover of humour and bright innocent merriment in any and every form. He saw no piety in dulness.

There was always fun of some sort or other going on where he was ; everybody who had a really good story to tell would take it to him, certain that he would not only see and enjoy the point of it at once, but would “cap” it with another. Everything that made life glad and bright and beautiful, song of bird, scent of flower, love of friends, pursuit of ideals, merry jest and “ happy thought ”—quip, crank, subtilty, oddity, even nonsense itself, were enjoyed in their proper time and place. He was a wise man who said—

“A little nonsense now and then
Is relished by the wisest men.”

Men of mirth were those in whom Mr. Burns delighted, provided their mirth was not

“Of the nature as to make
One’s fancy chuckle while his heart doth ache.”

A number of such men formed themselves into a society which was styled “The Gaiter Club”—their bond of union being walking tours in Scotland in gaiters, and an annual dinner at which humorous speeches were made and the doings of the members recorded.

Of this Club Mr. John Burns was President, and Mr. J. Cleland Burns, Secretary; Dr. Norman Macleod was the Chaplain; and among the members were Sir Daniel Macnee, the painter, President of the Royal Scottish Academy, Laurence Oliphant, Anhony Trollope, John MacGregor (“Rob Roy"’), Hon. Evelyn Ashley, Admiral Sir James Hope, Lord Ivinnaird, Professor Ramsay, Sir William Thomson, and a host of others; Mr. Bums being for a long time the only honorary member. He took an unfailing interest in the Club, and well he might—his son and Dr. Norman Macleod were the life and soul of it. Norman Macleod was minister of the Barony Church for twenty-one years, and this fact alone would account for his intimacy with Mr. Burns and his family. Of that intimacy but little will he said here; but how interesting and refreshing it was, those will appreciate best who knew Dr. Macleod personally. He was one of the most genial, generous, and delightful of companions; a man of sparkling wit, of pathos and humour to touch the springs of laughter and of tears at will; of great intellectual force; of delicate poetic fancy— a man with an impressive personality, a many-sided character, and a lovable nature. He was at home with old and young, rich and poor, educated or uncultured, and everywhere and with every one he was always frank, open-hearted, cheerful, sympathetic, and manly. He was a frequent guest at Castle Wemyss, and most of the stories he told found their way to Wemyss House. Once, when staying at the Castle after a yachting cruise, the minister of the Barony was conducting family worship, just at the intended commencement of which the Rev. Dr. Honey, the minister of Incliture, came into the room rather late. He had curly hair; and Dr. Macleod immediately saluted him with, “Come away, Honey; fresh from the comb.” But a better story is told of Norman Macleod and John Burns, when together with Anthony Trollope on a tour in the Highlands. On arriving at an inn in Oban late at night they had supper, and then told stories and laughed without stint half the night through. In the morning an old gentleman, who slept in a bedroom above them, complained to the landlord that he had not been able to sleep on account of the noise from the party below; and added his regret that such men should take more than was good for them.” “Well,” replied the landlord, “I am bound to say there was a good deal of loud talking and laughing; but they had nothing stronger than tea and herrings.” “Bless me,” rejoined the old gentleman, “if that is so, what would Dr. Macleod and Mr. John Burns be after dinner?”

When Norman Macleod got hold of a good story it was torture to him to keep it in. One day his brother, Sir George Macleod, heard a capital tale and told it to Norman, taking care, however, to add that he intended keeping it for the Gaiter Club. But Norman was too sharp for him. No sooner had he sat down at the Club meeting than he blurted it out before his brother had a chance of opening his mouth.

On one occasion at a dinner on board the Heron, Dr. Norman Macleod proposed the health of Mr. John Burns, who was at that time a bachelor— though there was a rumour afloat that he was no longer heart-whole—in these words :—

“Gentlemen,” said the Doctor, “I remember a minister of my persuasion taking for his text the word ‘Deevil.’ 'Deevil, my frien’s,’ he said, 'is an awfu’ word. If ye tak the “d” from it, it maks the word “evil”; if ye tak the "e” from it, it leaves the word "vile”; if ye tak the "v” from it, it leaves the word "ill ”—ill, vile, evil, deevil—eh, my friends, it’s an awfu’ word!’

"In like manner, gentlemen, I take for my text the word 'Heron’—the name of the good ship we are now aboard. If you take the "n’ from it, you have the word 'hero’—the gentleman whose health I have the honour to propose; if you take the 'o’ from it, You have the word 'her’—her whom we hope soon to see sitting beside him; if you take the 'r’ from it you leave 'lie,’ the gentleman himself; and if you take the 'e’ from it you leave the letter 'h’— and we all hope there’ll be no hitch about it.”

The 2nd of April, 1863, was a red-letter day in the history of the Gaiter Club, when a breakfast was given to Admiral Sir James Hope, fresh from his exploits in China. He was the guest of Mr. Burns in Park Gardens, and when he came out of his bedroom in the morning he was greatly astonished to find the lobbies and staircase lined with the blue-jackets of H.M.S. Lion, who saluted him.

Lord Palmerston was at that time in Glasgow, where a few days previously he had been installed as Lord Lector of the University. He was to have been the guest of Mr. Burns, but the Lord Provost, who lived close by, had also invited him, and very properly he went as guest to the chief magistrate. But he came to the breakfast of the Gaiter Club to be enrolled as an honorary member—the only other honorary member being Mr. Burns. Fifty gentlemen sat down to breakfast—at which Mrs. Burns presided—a goodly assembly of distinguished men.

After breakfast, on the motion of the President, (Mr. John Burns), seconded by the Rev. Dr. Norman Macleod, Lord Palmerston was duly elected an honorary member of the Gaiter Club.

There is a famous rule of the Club, which is as follows: “That at ‘Gaiters’ there shall be no upright speaking.” But Norman Macleod induced Mr. John Burns to waive it upon the occasion of the Prime Minister of England being made a member of the Club; and although the President demurred, he rose proposing Lord Palmerston as a member, followed by Norman Macleod, who also rose, both making upright speeches.

The minister of the Barony was in great force, and said that he was sure that the highest Lady in the land would wish all honour to be paid to Lord Palmerston, but he did not know what the Sovereign would say to a subject receiving both the Garter and the Gaiter”; and so on capering away to the great delight of Palmerston and the other Gaiters.

When it came to Lord Palmerston’s turn to reply, he not only did not rise, but buried half his body under the table, and in that quaint, dry style which distinguished his humour, said, amongst many other good things—

“Gentlemen, I am very proud and flattered to be associated with such a distinguished body. I am informed, though gaiters have an intimate connection with legs, that no gaitenman is allowed to speak upon his legs. He may speak about his legs, but not upon his legs. Now, as we in these days never show our legs, inasmuch as trousers would conceal even the gaiter if we wore it, you will excuse me if I am very short in my thanks. I can only assure you that whether I wear long gaiters or short gaiters, my memory of your kindness will be long, and not short.”

A well-known reporter on the Times staff begged permission of Mr. John Burns to be present at the breakfast, who assented on the distinct understanding that he was to take no notes. However, Norman Macleod’s speech was too much for him, and down it went. But after the breakfast was over, it dawned upon Norman that everything would appear in the Times next morning—and sure enough it would, had not Mr. John Burns succeeded in arresting the appearance of the speech in print, to the great comfort of the Doctor.

Lord Palmerston’s speech was telegraphed north, south, east, and west, to the utter confusion of mind of the majority of those who read it.

Not so, however, to Mr. Archibald Campbell of Blythswood, father of the present Baronet, who wrote the same day to Mr. Burns: “I see you have been presenting Lord Palmerston with a pair of gaiters; if you could have given him a new pair of legs as well, the gift would have been complete.”

Apropos of the visit of Lord Palmerston to Scotland, it may be mentioned that Mr. John Burns gave him a sail down the Clyde in the Royal Mail Steam-ship Wolf, and on going past one of the ship-building yards, he pointed out to the Premier a blockade runner then being constructed. Palmerston looked at the vessel with great interest, but, putting his sleeves across his eyes, he said slyly, “I don’t see her.” What most affected the Premier upon this voyage was the Wolf carrying the flag of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports at the main, the flag having been woven on purpose from a sketch obtained from the Admiralty to do him honour, as he then held that office. When the Wolf arrived at the Tail of the Bank (off Greenock), H.M.S. Lion and other war-ships saluted the flag with nineteen guns, to which it was entitled; yards were manned, and all honour paid to the chief of the State. The flag now hangs in the hall at Castle Wemyss, as a memento of a great man and a great occasion.

To return to the Gaiter Club. At one of the annual dinners, Sir Daniel Macnee,—always abounding in anecdote,—told one of his long and most humorous stories of a Highland family in Argyleshire, who, like Rob Roy, had the propensity of ‘lifting,” that is, of stealing cattle wholesale. It was a story full of humour, and Mr. Burns followed it the same evening by a sequel. The story was this. Mr. Robert Stuart, Writer to the Signet in Edinburgh, and also Clerk to the Circuit Court, had recently told him that on the last occasion he was at Inveraray a case of cattle-stealing was brought before the court. Mr. Stuart said the evidence was so imperfect that the judges thought a conviction could not possibly be obtained, although there was no doubt whatever in the minds of all connected with the case that the parties concerned were guilty. The usual proceedings went on; the Crown lawyer stated to the jury his view of the case for the prosecution, and, in due course, the advocate for the panels pled their cause. The jury retired to consult, and brought in a verdict of “guilty.” This greatly surprised the court, and when, shortly afterwards, Mr. Stuart met the foreman of the jury in the street, he expressed his surprise at the verdict, and asked how the jury arrived at a conclusion. “Well,” said he, “I said to the jury, ‘I have no manner of doubt of the guilt.’” Then, turning to Mr. Stuart, he said, “You read the indictment so impressively, and it was so clear, that I made up my mind from the first!”

Time would fail to tell the thousand and one stories that cluster round the Gaiter Club. Lord Lawrence, grave at times, was almost as full of fun as Lord Kinnaird, grave as he was at times. When, as Sir John Lawrence, he became a member of the Gaiters, Arthur Kinnaird (as he then was) made a most amusing speech in seconding his election, and wound up by saying :

“Sir John Lawrence has been extolled as the Saviour of India—that, no doubt, is an honour; but does it not pale into insignificance beside the fact that he has been elected a member of the Gaiter Club!” and so on, ad lib.

We have but glanced at a few of the occupations, the interests, and the visitors that made up the sum of daily life at Wemyss House. Until the reader can appreciate the number of the friendships, the amount of the correspondence, the fulness of the hospitality, the burden of Church cares, of the “Patriarch of Wemyss Bay,” as Mr. Burns was called, he will only have, however, a very partial view of life at Wemyss Bay.


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