When Mr. Burns, in
response to the invitation of Captain Trotter, went to Roseneath to be
introduced to Lord Ashley (or Lord Shaftesbury, as he became in the
following year), he found the “great philanthropist ”as he specially
disliked to be called— walking in the grounds with an enormous stick in
his hand, like that of Giant Despair in the “Pilgrim’s Progress,” a
stick which on more than one occasion figured in the caricature pages of
Punch. He needed it at that time, for his health had given way. Two
years previously he had been attacked with severe illness, and before he
had recovered, a sense of duty had called him to undertake Herculean
labours on behalf of the poor and suffering. More recently he had borne
the strain of a residence in London during the prevalence of cholera
which had turned it into a city of the plague. Day and night he, and a
small band of workers, almost alone in the field, had pleaded for
sanitary inspection and reform, and upon him had devolved, during that
trying period, the onerous duties of Chairman of the Board of Health.
In August, 1850, worn out with fatigue and anxiety, he left London for a
prolonged stay in Scotland, in the hope that he might renew his strength
and be braced up for the work which lay before him in the winter. The
Duke of Argyll had lent him Roseneath, the Duke’s place on the Clyde —
and it was here, as we have said, that Mr. Burns found him, leaning on
Mr. Burns was not in health or in spirits. Only two months before, he
had passed through the greatest trial of his life up to that time—the
loss of the Orion, with his brother and other relatives and friends on
hoard, who perished in the wreck.
"When, therefore, the two busy, earnest, hardworking men sat down
together to talk, their hearts opened to each other at once. “Love is
never lasting which flames before it burns,” but here it began to burn
forthwith. Each found that in speaking to the other, it was as though he
thought aloud. Both were “sound Evangelicals,” back-bone Protestants,
haters of Popery, lovers of the Jews, and students of Scripture; both in
their respective spheres were engaged in numberless works of
philanthropy; both were mild Conservatives; both were, above and beyond
everything else, possessors of that vital Christianity which puts the
love of God in Christ Jesus in the forefront of all things.
What they found in each other that day, they found more and more as the
years rolled on; the faculty in one, found a corresponding faculty in
the other; the understanding and the moral sense of one, was enriched by
the understanding and the moral sense of the other; the spiritual
affinities of one, were strengthened by the spiritual affinities of the
other, and in their long friendship they were ever able to touch the
chords of each other’s heart.
We cannot trace the progress and development of that friendship in
detail, only here and there can we gather up some stray threads to
indicate what the pattern of it was, and, at the risk of anticipating
events to be recorded later on, we will give the whole outline of that
Mr. Burns, it need hardly be said, was in thorough sympathy with the
great work, manifold in its forms, but one in its purpose, in which Lord
Shaftesbury was engaged. In 1868, "the lay-leader of the Evangelical
party,” as he was called, made a stirring speech at the Annual Meeting
of the Church Pastoral Aid Society. Many addresses had been given in
which amusements for the people, an extended system of education, and
various other remedies against the evils of the day had been suggested,
when Lord Shaftesbury broke into the discussion with his clear and
faithful utterance; “The sole sovereign remedy, in my opinion, is that
we should do what we can to evangelise the people by preaching day and
night and night and day, preaching on every occasion and in every
place, in the grandest cathedral and at the corner of the street, in the
royal palace and in the back slums, preaching Christ to the people, and
determined, like St. Paul, to know nothing among men save Jesus Christ,
and Him crucified.” He declaimed against “the wretched essays miscalled
sermons, mere milk-and-water dilutions of the saving truth,” and
appealed eloquently for a return to "the simple Evangelical truths of
The whole tone of the speech, as reported in the Record, its
earnestness, manliness, and piety, deeply impressed Mr. Burns, who wrote
to Lord Shaftesbury as follows:—
Wemyss House, May 13, 1858.
Dear Lord Shaftesbury,—I cannot remain satisfied with merely reading
your speeches at the present momentous period, and talking with
admiration of them to the circle of my acquaintances and friends, but
feel impelled and desirous to express my heartfelt thankfulness for your
utterances at the Church Pastoral Aid Society. Our rulers in the Church
see more or less the impending dangers, but most of them, I fear, are
not clear enough and sound enough in their views to see how the evils
should be met. There are some good men—truly good men—among the Bishops,
whose doctrines are sound and charges excellent, but who, nevertheless,
fall under the description applied by your lordship of being ‘silent,’
so far as boldly placing themselves at the head of their party and
facing the danger is concerned. I know that some of them say they are in
a minority on the Bench, and require to act prudently, otherwise they
would weaken what influence they possess. This I humbly think is a
I look mournfully at what is going on. I have no reason to be
dissatisfied with our position in Scotland as English Episcopalians, so
far as our intercourse with Christian people of other denominations is
concerned. We have met with kind consideration and respect from all, and
their association with us has been complete. Hut I cannot shut my eyes
to the fact that there is a growing apprehension that the organisation
of the Established Church has been found deficient for meeting the evils
of the times, within and without, so that when the conflict arises,
which I fear is coming, little sympathy will be felt with the Church of
England as a whole.
To this letter Lord Shaftesbury returned the following characteristic
House of Lords, May 14, 1868.
Dear Mr. Burns,—It is most gratifying to me that you approve what I said
at the Pastoral Aid Society. Our Church has got the dry-rot, and is
falling to pieces from its own corruptions.
The laity of her communion are becoming more indifferent every day, and,
in the real hour of trial, will stand as motionless as a Ritualistic
You, at any rate, are safe from this charge. No man has done, under God,
more to maintain and advance the true scriptural doctrines of the
Reformation and the Church of England than you have.
In 1871, Lord Shaftesbury paid his first long visit to Wemyss Bay. It
was a memorable year in his experience as well as in that of his
friends. He had always loved Scotland, and Scotland had always loved
him. It was there the first public honour was ever accorded him-—the
presentation of the freedom of the town of Nairn. Now, however, he was
to be feted in a royal manner by the city of Glasgow, and the honours
were to be given him while he was a guest for the first time of the
It was arranged that he should stay at Castle Wemyss, instead of at
Wemyss House, as the former was better suited for the entertainment of
the many friends who were to meet him, while in Glasgow he would be the
guest of Mr. Burns at his town house in Park Gardens.
The early part of the year had been full of exceptionally busy work for
Lord Shaftesbury. He had been fighting the battle of the chimney-sweeps,
of the children cruelly employed in brickfields, in hopelessly
attempting to resist the Ballot Bill, and finally in attempting to
improve it; and in addition he had been in much domestic trouble in
consequence of the illness of his family and the giving way of his own
It was therefore a great relief to him when, at the end of August,
health having been partially restored in his household, he started for
In his diary Lord Shaftesbury wrote :—
Castle Wemyss, Scotland, Any. 29.
All safe hitherto, by God’s goodness. Travelled to Carlisle and slept
there. Arrived here on 27th with Yeat and Hilda. The place is beautiful,
the house supremely comfortable, and the people of it kind, hospitable,
and pleasant beyond all description. On Sunday, 27th, had Boultbee, the
Principal of our Training College, for officiating minister; and he gave
us two right good, first-rate sermons. His second, on the text ‘We love
God, because He first loved us,’ was equal to the best.
On the following day Lord Shaftesbury left Wemyss Bay for Glasgow, to
receive the Freedom of the City. Mr. Burns and Mr. John Burns
accompanied him and the other guests, including Lord Lawrence, the Hon.
Arthur Kinnaird, the Hon. Evelyn Ashley, Sir Harry Parkes, British
Minister at Japan, and many more. After the ceremony, Lord Shaftesbury
proceeded to Lenzie Junction to lay the foundation-stone of the Glasgow
Convalescent Home. Next day (Tuesday) he attended a monster
demonstration in the City Hall in favour of Sabbath observance. On
Wednesday he visited various institutions of the city, laid the
foundation-stone of Stonefield Free Church in the afternoon, and spoke
at a great meeting of the Young Men’s Christian Association and other
societies in the evening. On Thursday he attended a conference on “City”
and other Home Missions, and in the evening a “People’s Meeting” on the
Glasgow Green, when the factory workers presented him with an address.
Later in the evening, a conversazione in his honour was held in the
Corporation Galleries, and on Friday he proceeded to Inveraray in the
In all these engagements Lord Shaftesbury was received with the greatest
enthusiasm. Throngs of people watched his progress through the city;
thousands pressed into the halls and buildings where he was to speak,
and where his arrival was greeted by the whole assembly rising and
saluting him with cheers and the waving of handkerchiefs ; while in the
out-door demonstrations the factory hands, the artisans, and the poor
folk generally, hailed him with unexampled enthusiasm.
During this time Lord Shaftesbury and his family, Lord Lawrence, Sir
Harry Parkes, the Hon. Arthur Kinnaird, and many others, were the guests
of Mr. and Mrs. Burns in Park Gardens. On the first night, in accordance
with his invariable custom, irrespective of who might or might not be
present, Mr. Burns conducted family worship, and offered up an extempore
prayer. Lord Shaftesbury was greatly struck by this, and taking Mr.
Burns aside he said, “Like Abraham, you command your household after
It was a peculiarity of Lord Shaftesbury’s to give familiar names to
those he specially loved, and from that time forth he designated Mr.
Burns “Abraham ” and his wife “Sarah.” On returning to Castle Wemyss,
which stands on an eminence, Lord Shaftesbury named it “the Hill
Country,” while Wemyss House, on the level of the shore, he called
“Hebron.” Everything seemed to lend itself to the continuation of the
analogy, and even Walker, the faithful butler of Mr. Burns, came in for
the nom de plume of “Eliezer of Damascus.”
Deferring to the events in Glasgow, Lord Shaftesbury wrote in his
Sept. 1st.—After several days of intense work and speechifying, back
here last night (Castle Wemyss) by special train. Must be off again
immediately by steamboat to Inveraray. No time to record anything except
humble, hearty, and eternal thanks to Almighty God, who has so
wonderfully sustained me in body and mind, and has so wonderfully
prospered everything in the affair, even to the smallest particle. From
the time we began the campaign to the hour we ended it, not an hour was
interposed of bad weather. And yet the large proportion of our work was
in the open air. Ought we not to bless God for this? Is it presumption
so to do? I trow not. The whole affair, had we been exposed to wet, must
have been a sad failure.
On the next morning Mr. Burns, and Mr. and Mrs. John Burns, with a large
party including Lord Shaftesbury and three of his family, Lord Lawrence,
Sir Harry Parkes, and Mr. and Miss Shaw Lefevre, left Wemyss Bay in the
Camel, and proceeded to Inveraray, where they spent the afternoon,
returning later in the day to the Camel, on board of which Her Royal
Highness the Marchioness of Lorne and the Marquis of Lorne—who had been
married on the 21st of March of that year—the Duke of Argyll, Bari
Percy, and a host of others, embarked, and spent the night, proceeding
towards the Cumberland by way of Arran. An incident of the voyage is
told by Mr. Burns thus:—
On this voyage, Lords Shaftesbury and Lawrence were like schoolboys.
After luncheon, on the Loch going up to Inveraray, Lord Shaftesbury
suddenly rose, and in an eloquent speech proposed his own health; but
taking the character and life of Lord Lawrence as his own, he said,
‘Some people call me the “Saviour of India,” others the “Conqueror of
the Punjaub,” but by whatever name I go, I am a very great man,’ and so
on, telling many interesting stories of Lawrence. As soon as he sat
down, Lord Lawrence rose and said that he, too, wished to propose his
own health. He began by saying that he was the greatest philanthropist
of the day, and had been picking up little boys and girls out of the
gutters all his life; and so on he went through the life of Shaftesbury,
making a most humorous speech which, coming from the grave Lord
Lawrence, astonished every one present.
The visit to the Cumberland training ship concluded Lord Shaftesbury’s
long series of public labours—for it is needless to say he had to speak
on every occasion—and then he was able to give himself up wholly to the
enjoyment of cruises with Mr. John Burns, and to the home-life of Castle
Wemyss — “that hospitable place, blessed in its position and climate,
and blessed in its possessors,” as he wrote.
To Lord Shaftesbury the visit to Wemyss Bay was so restful and
enjoyable, that for fourteen years in succession he never omitted to
spend some months of each year with his family under the hospitable roof
of Mr. John Burns. To Lord Lawrence the visit was equally beneficial.
The heat and excitement of a great meeting that he had attended in the
early part of August had seriously affected his health, and he had gone
northward to recruit, taking Wemyss Bay on his return journey. Writing
to Mr. Burns from Brockett Hall, in November, Lady Lawrence said:—
We have a grateful remembrance of your kind hospitality to my dear
husband in the autumn. The complete change was of great use to him, and
he can never forget the happy time he spent with you.
Many were the pleasant little anecdotes which Mr. Burns was wont to tell
of the “Saviour of India.” He says:—
I knew him intimately. When he was Sir John he was staying with my son
John, who took him out in one of the large steamers with a very numerous
family party. The sea was smooth as glass; every shadow was reflected in
the water as in a mirror. They went round Arran, and when off the coast
were ready for lunch. ‘Come down, Sir John, and have some lunch,’ said
J. B. ‘No, thank you,’ said Sir John, ‘I won’t go down; I’m reading.’
Afterwards he came to me and said: ‘Now I’ll tell you; I am a shocking
sailor. Your son, James, gave me some tonic liqueur called “the doctor.”
I was afraid of sea-sickness, for I cannot stand the sea. Six weeks on
my way to India I was seasick.’
When he was appointed Viceroy of India, Jamie sent him a dozen bottles
of an American tonic called ‘the doctor.’ When he came back as Lord
Lawrence, I said, "How did you get on with “the doctor”? He shook his
head and laughed. It had not cured his sea-sickness, and he was no
better sailor than he had been.
Very interesting were his conversations upon Indian matters.
On one occasion he told my wife that it was the custom for the Viceroy
to go to church in a state carriage. ‘But I would not countenance that,’
he said; ‘I just took my cotton umbrella for the sun. Of course my
conduct gave rise to a great deal of discussion. People said it was not
keeping up the proper state, and that was the exact point on which I
differed with the people. An official curtain is wot the proper state
for the observance of religious duties.’
The last time I saw him was in 1878, the year after my dear wife died. I
was in London, and called upon him. Near Queen’s Gate I met him on the
road; he was leaning on the arm of his wife, almost blind. But he knew
me at once by my voice. He pressed me to dine with him, but I could not;
I was not in spirits. That was the last I saw of him, except forenoon
visits in his house.
In August, 1872, Lord Shaftesbury made another long visit to Wemyss Bay.
Clouds were gathering around him at that time which were soon to break
in unexpected ways. Shortly after his return the Countess of Shaftesbury
was stricken down with illness, and in a few weeks passed away. Mr.
Burns wrote to him in his sorrow, and received the following touching
Oct. 23, 1872.
Dear Abraham, For so I must call you, though I gave the name in livelier
days. But it is a good name on the present occasion, for ‘he looked,’ as
I must now more than ever look, ‘to the city which hath foundations,
whose builder and maker is God.’
‘Pardon you,’ my dear friend, ‘for writing to me.’ Why, I love you for
it, and rejoice in the sympathy of believing and praying people.
I do not disguise the fact, that, old as I am, the blow is terrific. But
God give me grace not to repine or murmur, but to confess with devout
gratitnde His wonderful goodness that He allowed me to live, for forty
years, in union with such a woman, and then took her to Himself for
ever, to perfect security and joy.
Faith in the all-atoning blood of Christ was the dominant feeling of her
heart and the sentiment of her life. Here is a special mercy in itself.
God be with you in life and death. Give my heartfelt love to dear old
Sarah, and may our Lord be with you for ever and ever.
The following year was the most sorrowful in Lord Shaftesbury’s life. He
was mourning the loss of his wife and daughter. “They are never out of
mind, hardly out of sight,” he wrote. “St. Giles’s is solitary and sad.”
But he struggled on through all the wearisome wrork of May meetings,
labouring among the tedious machinery of philanthropy and fighting the
hopeless battle against the spread of Ritualism and Heology.
In July of this year, the threatened introduction of the Confessional
into the Church of England drew from him one of his strongest
philippics. Writing to him on the subject, Mr. Burns said:—
My heart warmed with thankfulness when I read, immediately on
publication, your noble protest against the Confessional. This is a
crisis in which we must have substantial and fearless exposure of the
evil. A strong outspoken effort is required to rouse the indignation of
the country, and may God in His mercy grant that the means employed may
be effectual. Irrespective of the religious aspect, it is surprising
that men of sound mind and right feeling remain so passive, under the
threatened flood of abomination and thraldom, bucli a bolt as that you
launched upon the ‘Baalites’ could hardly fail, in present
circumstances, of being followed by bodily suffering to yourself, and we
were indeed grieved this morning by your letter to John to learn that
you had been ill and confined to bed.
Abraham and Sarah hope that your visit to Hebron may be attended with
It was with the first gleams of new hope that Lord Shaftesbuiy turned
towards Scotland, where everything that affection could devise was done
to cheer him in his loneliness and sorrow.
We cannot do better than let him tell his own story of this visit in
extracts from his diary hitherto unpublished :—
July 29th.—Off Oban in the Ferret. Reached Castle Wemyss on Saturday
night at twelve o’clock; remained there Sunday. Started on the 28th, and
moored, after a sail of about one hundred miles, in a safe and peaceful
bay of the Island of Jura. Day sublimely beautiful—God be praised for
it—from four in the morning till the moment of bed-time; started at
half-past five in the morning, and reached this place at half-past nine.
Again, for the third time, are we enjoying the munificent hospitality of
our most kind and excellent friends the Burns family, the like of whom I
have never known.
And 10th, Sunday, Castle Wemyss.—Returned here yesterday afternoon safe
and sound. God be praised. Lots of rain and wind, but lots also of
enjoyment and health. We thank Thee, 0 Lord.
A glorious time “The Ferrets,” as the occupants of Mr. John Burns’ yacht
were named for the time-being, enjoyed. They visited Iona and Staffa;
landed in the Isle of Bum, then proceeded to Stornoway, along the whole
eastern side of Lewis and Harris, “wild and inhospitable and without a
trace of life;” then driven by wind and rain to Portree, and, when fine
weather came, along the coasts of Skye, Inverness, and Argyleshire to
Other pleasant cruises were taken and places of interest visited. One
spot In particular, Ochtertyre, had a special charm for Lord
Shaftesbury, where he visited Mr. James Cleland Burns, who, like
himself, was mourning the loss of his wife. He refers to it in his diary
thus: “A happy and healthy time at Ochtertyre; here again after an
interval of fifty-three years! First came in 1820, year of Queen’s
trial, with my college and life-long friend George Howard, now, I trust,
Referring to his cruise, Lord Shaftesbury wrote:—
Amj. 11th, Arruchar.—Head of Loch Long, on hoard Ferret. Remained
quietly on Sunday and Monday at Wemyss. Sunday perhaps the most
beautiful day ever known in Scotland. Sun bright and warm; landscape
clear as crystal. Monday less so. Made up arrears of papers, wrote
letters, and blessed God all day.
Again aboard Tuesday. A fearful storm of rain and wind; it appeared
hopeless. Started for Loch Katrine; occasional showers, but day picked
up. Ought we not to be thankful that we saw Loch Katrine, and the
Trossachs in perfection? Back to Arrochar in afternoon.
Aug. 15th.—Yesterday afternoon flag of the Ferret hauled down, our
voyaging ended. We bless Thee, O Lord, for a happy and healthy time.
Gave to all on board a copy of the ‘Filgrim’s Progress,’ from the
captain to the ‘trimmer’; a good, obliging, civil crew. May the grace
and mercy of God, in Christ Jesus, watch over them for ever.
Aug. 16th.—The day opens very unfavourably. The Jubilee Singers
expected, and a large party invited to hear them, and of necessity in
the open air. May we not pray for fine weather? God be gracious to them;
they are on a holy mission.
Aug. 22nd.—Yesterday returned to Wemyss Hay. To-day very fine; crossed
to Castle Howard to lunch with Mr. Finlay. Much thought of what further
account I can be in this world. It is good and right to abide God’s
time. He is wise, beyond all conception wise. Sir H. Holland, eighty-six
years of age, is gone off for a journey to Russia and Siberia. Why, I
dare not think of such a thing! and what good should I do, if I did?
Only grant, 0 Lord, that so long as I breathe on this earth I may be
employed in Thy service, Thou blessed Saviour of mankind.
Aug. 24th, Sunday.—Yesterday, City Missionaries from Glasgow invited by
good old Burns, the father and patriarch. Had to address them, but felt
somewhat low and dispirited. Yet if anything were said according to the
mind of our dear Lord, and to their encouragement, I praise and bless
It was not until the end of the month that Lord Shaftesbury left his
“home in the North," as he used to call Castle Wemyss. When he did, he
wrote in his diary:—“We have stayed here very long, in the enjoyment of
unbounded kindness. Our home, now solitary, without the light and life
of my blessed and beloved Minny, did not, as heretofore, call us
away.’’— It was always with regret that he tore himself from Castle
Wemyss.—“Its external and internal charms are alike equal. Nature is
rarely so beautiful as here, and society rarely so kind. May every
blessing of time and of eternity descend on this family—on them, on
theirs, on old Abraham and Sarah, and on all they love in Christ Jesus.”
On the occasion of Lord Shaftesbury’s first visit to Wemyss Hall his
hosts abandoned him, as we have seen, to almost a surfeit of public
life; but after that year they did everything in their power to protect
him from being called upon to speak or take part in any public movements
in Glasgow or elsewhere. They knew that as the years went on, what he
wanted in his holiday time was rest and recreation, and many of the
happiest days of his life were spent under their auspices. On one
occasion Lord Shaftesbury said to the present writer (who at that time,
from having seen so many of his letters headed “Castle Wemyss,” was
under the impression that it was his own estate in the North!: “It is
not my estate at all; but it is my northern home. I can never thank God
enough for the dear Burns familly; I believe that, humanly speaking, my
visits to them have added ten years to my life.”
Free to do as he pleased, with a suite of rooms for his own
uninterrupted use, in the midst of exquisite scenery, and with
carriages, boats, yachts, and all that heart could wish at his disposal,
Lord Shaftesbuiy revelled in his freedQin. “I long for Wemyss Bay,” he
wrote, “as a schoolboy longs for his holidays.”
To Mr. John Burns, whom he was wont invariably to address by speech and
letter as “J. B.,” he once said, “You are the best host I ever knew; you
entertain your guests by never entertaining them at all.” A trifling
incident or two will illustrate how completely he was “at home” in his
Scottish headquarters. He was in the habit of dispensing with the
formality of evening-dress at dinner, and wore instead a short and easy
velvet coat. The feelings of his valet were somewhat outraged at this,
especially on one occasion, when he said to him—
“There will be eighteen to dinner, to-night, my lord."
“Eighteen is a good number, my lord.”
“Shall I put out your dress suit, my lord?”
“No!” roared Lord Shaftesbury, in the voice he was wont to give out the
number of a hymn at a “monster” meeting. “I’m at Castle Wemyss!” One day
a visitor who had called upon him, remarked upon the pleasantness of the
rooms he was occupying. “Yes,” said Lord Shaftesbury, “they are very
pleasant, but the whole place is mine, only I confine myself as a rule
to these rooms, and allow J. B. to do what he likes with the rest!”
Lord Shaftesbury at Wemyss Bay was very unlike Lord Shaftesbury at
Exeter Hall. Away from the heat and turmoil of controversy, and the
harassing business of philanthropy; away from the sight of slums and
misery, away from the annoyances of consequential secretaries and
persistent beggars, he gave himself up to quiet rest and enjoyment. The
gloomy views that settled round him like a cloud when in London, seemed
to be swept away by the sea and mountain air of Wemyss Bay, and it was
proverbial that wherever the ripple of laughter was to be heard and the
most fun was going on, there Lord Shaftesbury was invariably to be
Every day he used to go down from the “Hill Country” to “Hebron” to see
Mr. and Mrs. Burns, and spend some time with them. It would fill a
volume to record Mr. Burns’ reminiscences of his old friend. We select
one or two almost at random:—
Sitting one day upon the lawn, Lord Shaftesbury said to me, ‘If I
followed my inclination, I would sit in my armchair and take it easy for
the rest of my life; but I dare not do it, I must work as long as life
lasts.’ I had many conversations with him on religious questions. He was
in the habit of walking quietly and thoughtfully, and then suddenly
giving out the result of his cogitation. On returning from Church one
Sunday forenoon, we walked together as we generally did, and when
opposite the gate of this house he stood still, and said to me, ‘Did yon
ever think of these remarkable words in Scripture, “the wrath of the
Lamb”?—the Lamb, an emblem of gentleness, and yet, on account of sin,
these words are applicable to Him.’
Lord Shaftesbury told me many stories connected with the people with
whom he had worked. He said that Oastler of Huddersfield had helped him
greatly in his Factory legislation. Oastler, who was on the Radical
side, was very desirous to have an interview' with the Duke of
Wellington, who was at that time Premier. The Duke had no wish to see
him, but Oastler persisted, and at last, the Duke having consented to
receive him, he presented himself at Apsley House. Lord Shaftesbury
asked how the Duke received him. ‘He was standing with his back to the
fire,’ answered Oastler, “and did not ask me to sit down, but said, with
a slap on his thigh, “Mr. Oastler, God has endowed me with a good
understanding. Speak on!”’
Lord Shaftesbury told me a curious circumstance connected with Hone, the
author of the ‘Every-day Book.’ It was told to him by Mr. Plumptre, M.P
for Kent, who, being present at a meeting of the Directors of the
Religious Tract Society, in London, was surprised to see Hone there. On
the breaking up of the meeting, Hone went to him and said, ‘I noticed
that you looked at me very much, and no doubt you were wondering why I
should be here. I will tell you. I was walking up from Blackheath to
London, and came to a part of the road where two ways diverged, and I
did not know which way to take. I saw a little girl sitting in a garden
with a book in her hand. I went in to ask for information, and after I
had found out what I wanted, I said to the girl, “What book is that you
are reading?” She answered, “The Bible.” “Oh,” I said, “surely that is
not a book for a child like you to read?” “Why not?” she replied; “my
mother reads it, and gets all her comfort from it." Well, I walked on
towards London, and the reply of that child haunted me. I felt that I
had never gone into a proper examination of that book, so as to make it
a source of comfort to myself, and I determined that I would do so. I
have made that examination, with the result that it has entirely changed
my opinions with regard to the Bible, and that is the reason why I am
At one time when Lord Shaftesbury was staying with us he became
acquainted with good John Henderson, who established a prize for the
best essay on the Sabbath, which prize fell to the lot of the author of
‘The Pearl of Days.’ Lord Shaftesbury asked me what was the business
that he carried on with his brother. I told him a drysalter; ‘perhaps
you do not know what that is?’ ‘I presume,’ said Lord Shaftesbury, ‘it
is the sale of dried fish.’ He was greatly astonished when I told him it
was the sale of chemicals for bleaching and other purposes.
We must not linger to tell of the annual visits and all that was said
and done in them, hut rather pass on to glance at some of the frequent
letters that were exchanged between Lord Shaftesbury and Mr. Burns, and
the members of his family.
In 1874, his mind was greatly disturbed about the state of the Church,
especially in connection with the Public Worship Bill, and, in his
correspondence with Mr. Burns, he was wont to open his mind as freely as
when he was writing in his diary. Here is one example:—
Oct. 20, 1874.
Dear Abraham,—Clouds are gathering and storms threatening in greater
number and force than when I left you at Hebron. Matters, both infidel
and superstitious, are going railway-speed— they pass every station, and
no man living can say what is their terminus.
I find an universal opinion that the late Brighton Congress has revealed
the nakedness of the land. The laity and the clergy are separated by an
impassable gulf. They can agree neither in doctrine nor discipline.
I do not anticipate Disestablishment. I expect collapse — sudden and
complete. The dry rot is in her, and she will go down some morning in
dust and uproar. God be with us! His long-suffering has been good; and
He has not abandoned us until we had abandoned Him.
But here is something before us. As God rejected the Jews and called the
Gentiles, so now, He is preparing to reject the Gentiles and recall the
Jews. A capital thing for you and Sarah! But what shall we do—and what
will many do—if Wemyss House is let because the worthy proprietors of it
are gone to Palestine?
Our farmers here alternately chuckle and grumble. The wheat-harvest has
been divine—they cannot, though they would willingly do so, deny it; but
then they have the sure place of the labourers and the reduced price of
meat, and the necessity of some complaint or other. . . .
Love to every one about you. May God preserve and bless you
To Mr. John Burns, Lord Shaftesbury was in the habit of frequently
writing. They had many interests in common, and training-ships was one
of them. The following letter will give an illustration of the tone of
The Saint. Dec. 19, 1874.
Dear J. B.,—Your letter, with its enclosure, has this instant arrived. I
will read it forthwith. The School Board and the Secularists have, I
doubt not, stirred the Government to take training-ships into their own
hands. They will, thus, be able to eliminate all religious teaching, as
the public, having no individual conscience, shares the conscience of
every form of belief and unbelief, and finds its satisfaction in setting
aside everything on which it can act.
The Goliah, a parochial training-ship, is, I hear, a sad proof how
duties such as these are discharged officially.
We were delighted to hear of young Mackenzie’s escape, and his father’s
promotion. The Admiralty seems to ‘deviate,’ as Dryden would say, ‘into
The world has had a cold. We are barking and sneezing in the South, as
you in the North. We, however, are at leisure, comparatively so; but you
cannot be;—and, indeed, such is man’s frailty, or wickedness, or
ignorance, that unless, by God’s goodness,
We bad a presiding heart, not only a presiding mind, over the Cunard
Company, we might hear of more than one La Plata in traversing the
What a loss! what a sacrifice! and what iniquity is somewhere! Even your
Company could not have produced nobler specimens of men than the Chief
Engineer and the Captain.
All, I gather by your silence, is well in the Hill Country, but Sarah is
ailing in the Plains below. Bless her dear soul! God in his mercy
restore her to health and strength. I grieve that Abraham should be
disquieted. I have nothing but commonplaces to offer; it would be
wonderful indeed if one found a new consolation for so ancient a sorrow.
The next Session will be full of efforts, doubts, fears, misgivings,
‘men’s hearts failing them,’ but, in some cases, encouraging them in
evident progress of evil. But I do not foresee any decided issues,
unless, indeed, Dizzy’s constitution should break down, and this vast
Empire be again ‘put up for sale.’ Ecclesiastical questions will be
prominent, but I can hardly think long, as the House of Commons will be
very restive under a large consumption of its time in squabbles about
eastward position, green silk garments, incense and genuflexions. The
Law Tribunal will never be completed. There is as yet no judge, and,
were there a judge, there is no salary to pay him with. The Act was
neither more nor less than a gust of wind, which blew down one half of
the house and left the other half standing, but incapable of repair.
Hy best love to your dear and excellent wife, with my sincere thanks to
you and her for all your kindness.
The personal influence of Lord Shaftesbury can never be properly
estimated. It lives in a thousand lives. A casual word spoken in his
earnest manner, or a few lines written in his easy and pleasant style,
won their way to the hearts of men, who took from him counsels to which
they would probably have been deaf if presented by others.
A specimen of this Christianly and fatherly solicitude comes out in a
letter to Mr. John Burns, from which we will quote.
In the early part of 1876 there had been several terrible railway
accidents, one near Huntingdon, in which twelve persons had been killed
on the spot— the eldest son of Dion Boucicault, the actor, and the only
son of Noble, the sculptor, being among the number.
Mr. John Burns had been staying in London, and was called away hastily
before he could see Lord Shaftesbury, who wrote to him:—
It is a great disappointment to me that you leave London so soon. I had
much to say; but no matter. You must make me a promise; I earnestly and
seriously request you never to start on a railway journey before having
committed yourself to the care of our Lord, as though you were going to
the field of battle. God for ever be with you and yours.
Many friendly letters passed from time to time between Lord Shaftesbury
and Mr. and Mrs. Burns Thus to Mrs. Burns he writes:—
Feb. 20, 1875.
You are always thinking of me, my dear old friend; but then, in return,
I am always thinking of you. The marmalade has arrived, and I shall
have, along with Hilda and the rest, ‘a feast of fat things’ (and so
Feb. 24, 1875.
I receive every day fresh treatises to show that we, the Anglo-Saxons,
are the lost ten tribes. We are bad enough for anything! Material and
spiritual idolatry are as rife among us now, as among them formerly.
In his letters to Mrs. Burns he frequently gave an epitome of current
subjects of interest, as in the following extract:—
Jan. 12, 1875.
I am glad to have your approval of the Cabmen’s Rests. It is an ill-used
class, and with far less of demerit than they have credit for. . . .
Two of our Chichester boys went down in the Cospat rick. Coller, an
admirable boy, was saved along with Macdonald—the two others were lost.
What a season of horrors!—the La Plata, the calamity at Shipton, and the
great moral degradation of England in the visit of the Lord Mayor of
London to open in Paris the temple to Venus and Bacchus, Jupiter and
Juno. You won’t do such things in Palestine.
In 1876, Lord Shaftesbury sent to Mr. Burns a pocket edition of the
Psalms. “The book is worn, and stained with ink, hut it will sometimes
remind you of me and our conversations on Israel, and his future
In acknowledging its receipt, Mr. Burns replied:—
The little book which you have carried as an unobserved companion has, I
am sure, afforded you solace and support. This agrees with the
experience of all who receive its Divine inspiration. These Psalms were
the Songs of Zion in the Hebrew Church, and are equally, or more so,
now, under the Christian development.
'Remember the word unto Thy servant upon which Thou hast caused me to
There were also frequent little interchanges of friendly gifts, and in
1879, when acknowledging the receipt of a box containing “the good
things of Hebron,” Lord Shaftesbury adds: “Very many thanks; they bring
back many reminiscences that are solemn, though not really sad ”—the
allusion being to the memory of Mrs. Burns, who delighted in ministering
to the comfort of her revered friend.
One subject in which both were equally interested was the welfare of the
Jews, and this often formed the burden of a part of their
correspondence. Lord Shaftesbury was never weary of pleading their cause
in public, and Mr. Burns was never weary of hearing of his successes. In
1880, when, on a charge of Nihilism, the Jews were threatened with
expulsion from Russia, Lord Shaftesbury wrote :—
These charges against a people the most quiet, obedient, and
peace-loving on the face of the earth, are wicked and utterly false as
against the nation. . . . Rut if the expulsion takes place, will not
many of the exiles seek a refuge in the land of their forefathers? . . .
It is a singular, nay, a providential coincidence with present
circumstances, that the Government are about to send out to
Constantinople as Ambassador, Mr. Goschen, a man inheriting great
intellectual vigour of mind and power of perseverance.
The allusion to the Jews in the following letter is in connection with a
great meeting at the Mansion House, at which Lord Shaftesbury presided
24, Geosyenoe Square, March 1, 1882.
My dear old Friend,—The ‘tribute’ has arrived, worthy of the place and
the donor. How steady your handwriting is! Why, you are younger than I
am by twenty years!
We are in a sad plight in public affairs—private are not much better. I
am shocked and alarmed by the total absence of all real patriotism on
either side of politics; people do not know where they are, or what they
say, so drunk are they with party spirit. Meanwhile, the country
suffers, and no one gains anything but the infidels and the extreme
Radicals. May God bless and prosper you. I wish you joy of the grand
success we have had at the Mansion House and elsewhere, on behalf of
your people. It was a special intervention of a merciful Providence.
Love to -J. B., Mrs. J. B., and all the J. B’s.
Mr. Burns not only rejoiced to hear from Lord Shaftesbury himself about
the labours in which he was engaged; it gratified him to hear from other
friends their opinion of the great philanthropist. Many of Mr. Burns’
friends knew this—knew that he was wont to pray for the success of every
great effort in which Lord Shaftesbury was about to engage; knew that he
would render special thanksgiving to God when those labours were crowned
with success; knew that he would send some stimulating and encouraging
word if by chance they failed.
Thus the Rev. T. M. Macdonald writes from Manchester, soon after Lord
Shaftesbury had received a splendid ovation in that city, to his old
friend Mr. Burns as follows :—
Kersal Rectory, Manchester,
July 14, 1883.
My dear Friend,—We were delighted with Lord Shaftesbury’s visit. He was
so well, so vigorous, and so happy, and the ovation he received at the
Free Trade Hall was so singular a demonstration of hearty and grateful
respect for the man to whom Lancashire especially, but the whole
country, owes so much. The vast and packed crowd in the Free Trade Hall
on Monday night behaved splendidly. The representatives of the various
Christian work for the children of the poor—Refuges, Industrial and
Ragged Schools —spoke admirably; and when one who was himself a ragged
boy, found in Charter’s Street and taken to school—now a respectable and
Christian citizen, in good position, came forward to present the
magnificently illuminated and framed address (which was carried to the
platform by four children), the interest reached its climax. There were
many eyes moist while ‘Mr. Thomas Johnson,’ this ragged boy grown into
an excellent and useful citizen, addressed Lord S. in plain, natural,
and deeply grateful and affectionate words. I wish I could have
photographed the scene when Lord Shaftesbury came forward and grasped
that honest man’s hand, accepting in the same spirit the loving
gratitude of the representatives of his class. Lord S. said it was not
given to many men to have such feelings as that grand meeting and its
proceedings awakened in his bosom.
Honours more enduring and a dignity higher than his earldom belong to
the man who has so steadily, for more than fifty years, and with so
grand success, lived for the poor and the outcast and the oppressed. . .
. Would that England had many such heroes!
Yours very sincerely,
T. M. Macdonald.
Lord Shaftesbury always felt that his friends in Wemyss Bay were so
fully in sympathy with him, that even if they could not invariably
endorse his peculiar views in relation to the spiritual history of the
times, they would at least appreciate the motives which induced him to
give them constant expression. Many of his letters have reference to
these matters, and are full of pessimist sentiments. The following is an
St. Giles’s House, Ceaxborxe,
Dec. 29, 1877.
Well done, J. B., you worthy son of that dear, grand old patriarch, whom
God bless in time and in eternity! But mark the progress of things. The
secrets of men’s hearts are being revealed; and before long it will be
found that nineteen-twentieths of our people, clerical and lay, rich and
poor, learned and unlearned, are in a state of disbelief. This disbelief
will run its course and (strange to say, but true) will prepare the way
for the restoration of Popery, that short yet powerful dominion it is
again to exercise over the minds and souls of men. ‘Then cometh the
end’; for that condition of things can be encountered only by the
personal presence of our most precious Lord, who will destroy
Anti-Christ by ‘the brightness of His coming.’
Is that day far off, or is it near? Well, we must not fix times or
seasons, but we may speculate on ‘signs.’ You yourself may live to see
it. Certain I am that I and old Abraham must see it (as it was seen by
the first Abraham) in faith and hope Love to every one.
Ever yours truly,
As old age came on apace, preventing him from doing many things he had
been wont to do in years gone by, it never prevented Lord Shaftesbury
from making his annual visit to Wemyss Bay.
“The Session has been very trying,” he wrote on one occasion to Mrs.
John Burns, “and I am impatient for rest and repose. ... I am specially
longing for Castle Wemyss, because there I can go out or come in, walk
or lie down, eat and drink, or fast, as I like; in short, I can feel at
Often he would express his desire to he at “The Castle.” “There is,” he
would say, “but one real Castle, and that is yours.”
In August, 1884, he paid his last visit to his old Scotch home, and one
brief entry in his diary reveals a world of tender interest: “Sept.
18th. Sat a long time with Abraham at Hebron.” In 1885, he wrote his
last long letter to his old friend:—
24, Grosvenor Square, Feb. 25, 1885. My dear old Friend,—‘The good
things of Hebron’ have arrived safely, and rich they are in size and
number, and I was delighted to receive the announcement of their
departure in your own young and vigorous handwriting.
I was glad to see J. B. so much better. No one knows what health is
until he has lost it, and then we remember, or at least we ought to
remember, the numerous and indescribable mercies we enjoyed in our
We are renewing the whirl of politics; we are entering on a scene of
convulsions, social, domestic, and imperial, that will shake us to our
very foundations. Many will admit so far; but my apprehensions carry me
still farther, and I believe that the day of Great Britain is drawing to
its close. But so seems the case of nearly all the kingdoms of the
earth. I suppose that there is hardly one (including even the Republic
of America) that is not rife with spoliation, confusion, and anarchy.
Well, then, that looks like the end of all things. God grant that it may
I am better; I am improving gradually; but I have not as yet much power
of activity. I am kept a great deal to the house, and can do little or
no public business.
Whether I shall ever see you again in the flesh is very doubtful, but I
shall ever respect and love you.
These two veterans never met again in the flesh to talk over old days
and fight their battles o’er again. On the 1st of October in that year
the labourer’s task was done, and Lord Shaftesbury was called to his
Should the reader ever visit Wemyss Bay, he will be sure to see the
beautiful church there and when he enters it, he will not fail to
observe an exquisite stained-glass window, by Clayton and Bell, over the
pew where the great philanthropist sat for fourteen summers in
succession. It is a memorial of the friendship we have attempted to
describe in this chapter, and it bears the family legend which so well
describes Lord Shaftesbury’s life—“Love and Serve.”