As the quiet years went
on, new duties were added to former ones, new friendships were formed or
old ones revived, fresh interests were awakened with the progress of the
times—and still the river of life ran on at Wemyss Bay smooth and
It is no exaggeration to say that there was not a movement in Glasgow
having for its object the welfare of the people, in which Mr. and Mrs.
Burns did not directly or indirectly take part. Their charity was of the
broadest and most apostolic kind, and realised the aspiration of one who
wrote— “Oh, for a lofty generosity and a spirit of holy charity that
shall make us heartily rejoice in truth wherever found, in goodness
wherever seen, in noble deeds by whomsoever done, though by those who do
not take truth in the same form as we may most approve, who do not
receive goodness exactly as we most love, whose way of worshipping and
serving the Heavenly Father differs from our way! What a wretched state
are many in who believe that those not with them are not with Christ!
The spirit of Christ is broader than the broadest sect, the love of
Christ is higher than the highest church, the truth of Christ is deeper
than the deepest thoughts of the best and noblest minds. Oh, to
cultivate and cherish the disposition that can rejoice in love and truth
beyond the narrow limit of sect or church ! that can look through the
outward differences and discern the inward unity‘of those who differ and
yet are one in Christ! that can embrace lovingly all who love Him, and
rejoice in the progress of every movement, by whomsoever started, which
brings the sinner to the Saviour, the child to the Father.”
It would be pleasant to linger over the busy years of Christian labour
in which Mr. and Mrs. Burns took so active a share, and to introduce
some of the workers and their work. But time would fail to tell of
these, even if this were the appropriate place, and we wish now to bring
before the reader some of the men with whom Mr. and Mrs. Burns were on
terms of intimacy, and whose lives influenced theirs, and then pass on
to narrate some phases in their more personal history.
At the home of John Henderson, of Park, in Renfrewshire, on the banks of
Clyde, George Burns was a frequent visitor. Mr. Henderson was well known
for his unwearied work in promoting the observance of the Sabbath. It
was he who instituted prizes for essays on the subject which brought
forth one of the best little books ever written in advocacy of the
claims of the Sabbath, entitled “ The Pearl of Days." It was written by
a young girl, was awarded the first prize, and was warmly taken up by
the Eeligious Tract Society.
It was in the house of John Henderson that Mr. Burns first became
acquainted with the Bev. Merle D’Aubigne, with whom he remained on terms
of intimacy until D’Aubigne’s death in 1872.
He was almost the last of that galaxy of eminent ministers associated
with the movement begun in 1816, and called the Second Reformation of
Geneva, the story of which is told in the Lives of the Haldanes.”
Mr. Merle D’Aubigne, in an address which Mr. Burns heard him deliver at
Edinburgh, gave an account of the event which decided the whole current
of his future life, in these words :—
When I and M. Monod attended tlie University of Geneva, there was a
Professor of Divinity who confined himself to lecturing on the
immortality of the soul, the existence of God, and similar topics. As to
the Trinity, he did not believe it. Instead of the Bible, he gave us
quotations from Seneca and Plato. St. Seneca and St. Plato were the two
saints whose writings he held up to our admiration. But the Lord sent
one of His servants to Geneva; and I well remember the visit of Piobert
Plaldane. I heard of him first as an English or Scotch gentleman who
spoke much about the Bible, which seemed a very strange thing to me and
the other students to whom it was a closed book. I afterwards met Mr.
Haldane at a private house along with some other friends, and heard him
read from an English Bible a chapter from Romans about the natural
corruption of man—a doctrine of which I had never before heard. In fact
I was quite astonished to hear of men being corrupt by nature. At last,
I remember saying to Mr. Haldane—‘Now I see that doctrine in the Bible.’
‘Yes,’ replied that good man; ‘but do you not see it in your heart?’
That was but a simple question, but it came home to my conscience. It
was the sword of the Spirit; and from that time I saw that my heart was
corrupted, and I knew from the Word of God that I could be saved by
grace alone. So that if Geneva gave something to Scotland at the time of
the Reformation—if she communicated light to John Knox, Geneva has
received something from Scotland in return in the blessed exertions of
In the turmoil that ensued in Geneva, D’Aubigne escaped to Leipsic,
where he attended the lectures of the celebrated Church historian,
Neander. Later, on visiting Frankfort, he found that the third centenary
jubilee of the Reformation was about to he celebrated at Eisenach.
Thither he went, and it was in the midst of these celebrations that he
formed the design of writing the “History of the Reformation.”
Mr. Burns was a backbone Protestant, and found great pleasure in the
society of D’Aubigne, to whom he could open his mind freely on religious
subjects of common interest, for D’Aubigne, unlike his friend Dr. Caesar
Malan, was comparatively free from theological crochets. When D’Aubigne
went back to Geneva, his son, who remained in Glasgow to learn business,
until he left for New York, became a frequent visitor in the house of
Mr. Burns at Brandon Place.
Another of Mr. Burns’ intimate friends and frequent correspondents was
Lieutenant-Colonel Janies Gardner. They had been boys together in the
Grammar School at Glasgow. Gardner knew the family of Dr. Cleland well,
and was intimate with Mrs. Burns when she was a girl, and always called
her “Jeanie Cleland.”
After leaving school, Mr. Burns did not meet with his old friend for
many years. 'When they did, they found the old feelings of affection as
fresh as ever, and in the leisure of life’s eventide, they loved to tell
the story of their past to one another. Some episodes in Colonel
Gardner’s career are remarkable, and his name will always be pleasantly
and gratefully associated with that of the valorous Sir Henry Havelock.
In 1823, Lieutenant Henry Havelock, then in his twenty-eighth year,
embarked for India in the General Kyd. During the voyage he came into
contact with Lieutenant Gardner, through whose instrumentality he was
brought to that crisis in his spiritual life which shaped his eternal
destiny. Havelock has thus described the great turning point in his
It was while the writer was sailing across the wide Atlantic towards
Bengal, that the Spirit of God came to him with its offer of peace and
mandate of love, which, though for some time insisted, at length
prevailed. Then was wrought that great change in his soul which has been
productive of unspeakable advantage to him in time; and he trusts has
secured him happiness in eternity. The General I\yd, in which he was
embarked, conveyed to India Major Sale, destined hereafter to defend
Jellalabad ; but she also carried out a humble, unpretending man, James
Gardner, then a lieutenant in the 18th Foot, now a retired captain,
engaged in home missionary work and other objects of Christian
benevolence in Bath. This excellent person was most influential in
leading Havelock to make public avowal by his works of Christianity in
Throughout the voyage Gardner ministered to him in things spiritual, and
lent him the “Life ot Henry Martyn” and Scott’s “Force of Truth,” both
of which he read with great interest and profit. “Before the voyage
terminated, Havelock,” says his biographer, “had added to the qualities
of the man and the soldier the noble spirit of the Christian; and thus
was he accoutred for that career of usefulness and eminence which has
endeared him to his fellow-countrymen. Vital religion became the
animating principle of all his actions, and a paramount feeling of his
duty to God rectified and invigorated the sense of his duty towards
On arrival in Calcutta, Gardner and Havelock shared the same rooms
together for some weeks, and when they separated, Havelock said to
Gardner— “Give me your hand; I owe you more than I owe to any man
living.” Their friendship lasted through life, and some of Havelock’s
letters to his “spiritual father” are among the most interesting in his
When the intimacy between Colonel Gardner and Quoted in Marsliman’s
“Life of Havelock.”
George Burns was resumed, they visited from time to time, and
corresponded frequently. The following are extracts from letters of
11, Elm Place, Bath, Dec 5, 1859.
I have not forgotten your kind offer of the Prophet's Chamber, if I come
to Scotland; but, although I have long made a resolve to visit the old
land once more, something has always intervened to prevent my doing so.
I am now getting an old man, although I have some remains of Light
Infantry movements about me, and I trust I may be able, before it is too
late, to put my much-longed-for visit in force. I know I shall see all
things changed and much enlarged after an absence of tirenty-jour years,
but it would be a curious satisfaction to walk solitary through old
frequented scenes once known, and to gather up some wisdom from
regarding the past. . . .
I wonder if any, or many, of our Allison class-fellows are in existence,
and whether on the Lord’s side. "Writing to you warms and revives my
heart with recollections of early days, but ‘ many a weary foot I have
trod since Auld Lang Syne,’ yet bright, very bright, have been the marks
of the Lord’s goodness to me, to mine, and to my children. . . .
I shall indeed account it a great happiness to visit you in Scotland,
and shall look forward to the summer with expectation. I am gratified by
Mrs. Burns’ remembrance of me, and shall feel sincere interest in seeing
her and my old school-fellow once more.
The writing of this letter seems to have unlocked the doors of memory,
for a few days later he wrote another long letter, of which the
following is a portion :—
... I remember the time well when you and I as boys sat together on the
same form in the Grammar School, and the close intimacy, I would say
affection, which then existed between us, and how often we mutually gave
up places in the class to come down to each other. The form we usually
sat on was certainly not an upper form, nor we over-studious, but
perhaps respectable. Our chief delight was in rehearsing marvellous
tales to one another, and I think your stories very much excelled mine
in interest, and so greatly were we absorbed at times that sudden
castigation came upon us by surprise. You may wonder that I, who have
been knocked about the world, and in all climates for so many years,
should remember such things, and so accurately; but I hold that early
impressions are the strongest, nay, I would say are imperishable. I
still remember some names of good Mr. Allison’s last class, but none
more vividly or affectionately than my amiable companion, George Burns.
Is it, therefore, a strange thing that our present communications should
be most interesting to us both? God has been most gracious to us from
our youth, and called us to a knowledge of Himself and His great
Salvation, and has enabled us to cast our bread upon the waters, and by
His continued grace our children also have tasted and seen that the Lord
is gracious: this is such a tale of mercy the fulness of it can only be
realised in eternity, and to know so much after a lapse of not less than
forty-four long years—(for I entered the Army, and finally left Scotland
in 1815)—is indeed good news as it were from a far country.
We must not call such things ‘gossip,’—blessed things they are, and if I
were with you I would tell you much, ever to be thought of with
gratitude by me, of my choice friends the late Sir Henry Lawrence and
the noble Havelock (my own son in the faith), my early military
companions. They are gone, but we remain to struggle against enemies too
potent for us, but not too great while we lay hold of the strength which
alone is all sufficient. . . .
In 1868, Colonel Gardner wrote:—
My dear Mr. Burns.— . . . First let me say how gratified I was by your
kind visit to Bath, and simply to see me, your old and true friend; such
pleasures do not occur every day, and to see you and dear Mrs. Burns,
your son and his wife, was indeed to me a pleasure I shall never forget.
We were kind and intimate friends in the days of our youth, and God
having graciously added another ingredient by His grace in our hearts,
we may believe that that sacred bond cannot be broken.
When at the York House, Mrs. Burns asked me concerning the family of the
‘Havelocks,’ and I could only refer her to Marshman’s Life of my late
friend, Sir Henry; but what is curious enough, the sheet of the Record
newspaper you gave me that evening seems to contain a solution to the
question ‘From whence come the Havelocks'?’ 1 have cut out the notice,
and now send it to you for Mrs. Burns. If my friend was really descended
from the Prince of Denmark, his is no mean origin; and if blood be
indeed handed down from generation to generation and prove itself in
great deeds, no man can give proof of higher or more noble descent than
the famous Sir Henry, whose Christian character stands transcendent
among military heroes. . . .
Believe me to be your very old and affectionate friend,
With his former partners in business, and their families, Mr. Burns
remained on terms of sincere friendship. He was interested in their
business successes, and not less so in their personal joys and sorrows.
It was no small distress to him, therefore, when, in 1865, he received
from Mr. (afterwards Sir) Edward Cunard, the intelligence of the illness
and death of his old friend and partner, Sir Samuel Cunard.
20, Prince's Gardens, London, April 28, 1805.
My father just now desired me to send his siucerest wishes to you for
your welfare and all your family, and this is the last message, I fear,
you will ever receive from him. He has passed through a week of intense
suffering, has never once uttered a complaint since he has been ill, and
has been constant in his thanks to God for His support throughout a long
life, and the blessings He has bestowed upon him. He took the communion
today with all who are with him. Mr. Gordon, the clergyman, said he
never saw any one more happy in his mind, or better prepared to die. He
expresses bis firm belief in the mediation of our Saviour, and feels
that he can only be saved through Him. He may yet linger a short time,
but he thinks himself that his hours are numbered, and we shall soon
have to close his aged eyes, and fold his aged hands, when their owner
will be no longer old.
Believe me very sincerely yours,
A few hours after this letter was written, Sir Samuel Cunard passed
away. In communicating the sad intelligence to Mr. Burns, Sir Edward
God granted his wish, that he should retain his consciousness and
intelligence to the last; and when I told him that I was going to write
to you, and asked him if he had anything to say, he desired me to send
his warmest regards to you and Mr. Maclver, and then raising his head
again, he said, ‘Particularly to Mr. Burns.’ He has within the last week
frequently spoken of you in the strongest terms of affection, and
referred to years long past. Through all the troubles and vexations
which afterwards sprung up, he never ceased to entertain the same regard
he always had for you and Mrs. Burns, and John and Jamie. No death-bed
could have been happier than his.
In 1871, Mr. James Burns, the brother and partner in business of Mr.
Burns, died at the age of eighty-two. He was a good and holy man, and
his removal made a great blank in many circles. He had been blessed with
abundant wealth, and had used it aright. None of the merchant princes of
his day contributed more largely than he to all kinds of benevolent and
religious objects. In the wynds of Glasgow and in his father’s old
parish of the Barony, the great work of evangelising the masses was
largely fostered by his munificence. He belonged to a type of character
almost peculiar to Scotland, and which even there is rapidly passing
away. Calm, unimpassioned, reticent; standing in the old paths
persistently, yet ready to help those who struck out into paths that
were new; simple and self-denying in his mode of life; unconventional
and unostentatious in his piety; full of bodily health and mental vigour
to the last— he lived the whole of his life.
In the business of “G. and J. Burns” he confined himself almost
exclusively to the local arrangements of finance, and he did it well.
But he took little or no part eagerly in those large measures which made
the great successes of the firm. He never had anything to do with
obtaining Government grants or amending oppressive shipping laws, nor
was he ever within a public office in his life, or even in London at any
time on business.
Old Dr. Bums of the Barony used to say of his son George, “If he gets a
sixpence in his pocket, it will burn a hole till it gets out.” And Mr.
Burns gives this testimony to his brother James, “He was always far more
deliberate in financial matters than I was, and wisely held his hand in
regard to time and circumstance.”
In a biographical notice of Mr. James Burns, the Rev. Dr. Macmillan
records that “his religious life was thoroughly natural, forming no
separate element, but blended with his business and ordinary life,
making an attractive and consistent whole. He spent long hours in
solitary communion with God. Far into the night, alone in his own room,
he read and prayed; and more than once was he found by his faithful
attendant in the morning asleep on his knees beside the unused bed— the
spirit willing, but the flesh weak.”
On the 10th of June, 1872, Mr. and Mrs. Burns celebrated their golden
wedding. It had never been a custom of theirs to take any notice of
their wedding-day, and on this eventful occasion they were away in Paris
for rest and relaxation, and for the purpose of giving three of their
grandchildren a first glimpse of the Continent. But they did not escape
the congratulations of their family and friends.
A pleasant little glimpse of life and character comes out in the
Mr. Burns to Mr. John Burns.
Hotel du Rhin, Paris, June 14, 1872.
My dear John,—I certainly did not expect congratulations for the 10th,
and had we been at home the day would have passed over without outward
observation, as is our wont. But our absence has been the occasion of
bringing out much, and valued, Christian affection from those who are
most dear to us. We have a happy home, founded on the affections of our
family, and encompassed with the richest blessings our Heavenly Father
bestows on His children travelling by His grace towards the eternal home
our loving Saviour has gone to prepare. Far longer than the Israelites’
wanderings through the wilderness has been our sojourn, and goodness and
mercy have followed us all our days. Not one good thing that the Lord
promised has failed; notwithstanding that the parallel to Israel’s
rebellions holds lamentably true in my experience. Blessed be God, not
because He saw anything good in us, for we have indeed been rebellious
and self-seeking; but because He loved us, and for His own name’s sake,
has He done wondrous things in our salvation.
May the Holy Spirit continue to guide us through all our life, and may
the Divine blessing rest on Emily and you, and on Ena and Jamie, and on
all our descendants and relations.
With warm affection, your loving Father,
In acknowledging a handsome present, the joint gift of her two sons,
Mrs. Burns wrote :—
Hotel du Riiin, Paris, June 15, 1872.
My dear John and James,—I am just in receipt of your joint letter, and
have great difficulty in replying to it. My object in not naming the
fiftieth anniversary of our marriage was simply from the apprehension of
some demonstration on your part. I thank you most truly for this renewed
proof of your affection. The motive which prompted the gift, I receive
with thankfulness to God who puts it in your power, and the affectionate
feeling to carry out this substantial proof of your regard, But I do not
feel that I required any further proof of your affection. With regard to
purchasing anything here with the money, I hope you will not
misunderstand me when I say, in St. Paul’s language (although in a minor
sense), ‘I have everything and abound’ in this world’s goods; so, with
your permission, I would rather use your money as I have done before, in
cheering the hearts of those who have not been so fortunate. Age
chastens our desires; what I longed for when young and could not yet,
now these things seem of little value comparatively. The feeling of old
age comes very vividly to my remembrance. It just occurs to me that it
would be well, for those who succeed us, to keep your remembrance of our
fiftieth anniversary with an inscrptiion. Perhaps a watch, as I have
none but a very small one that is of little use.
My dear sons,
This from your loving Mother.
This after-thought, “lest,” as she said, “it should seem a cold
recognition of their thoughtfulness to lay out the money in charity,”
was adopted, and brought pleasure to all.
The jubilee year of Mr. and Mrs. Burns ended sadly. The young and
beautiful wife of their son, Mr. James Cleland Burns, was called away to
her eternal home, leaving five daughters and a wide circle of relatives
and friends to mourn her. To her devoted husband the loss was
irreparable, and the blow peculiarly severe. But in the dark hours of
his bereavement he felt the force of that sweet saying of the Holy Book,
“As one whom his mother comforteth.” Mrs. Burns brought all the strength
of her strong love and character to his aid, and ministered to him in a
thousand ways. In one of her letters at this time she wrote to him :—
Dec. 27, 1872.
Grief deepens after the first gush is passed, and but for the strength
from above would be overwhelming. When our great trial took place at
Calderbank, I was able for every duty so calmly that other people might
have supposed that I had no grief; but when all was over of positive
duty, then came the reaction. . . . But as our need is, so the Lord
sends strength, and fits us for the new sphere of exercise. A good
minister said to me, ‘Never look into the grave, that can yield no
comfort; look to the glorified spirit now with Jesus, for ever done with
sin and sorrow. In this we can not only have peace but joy.’
It was about this time that Lord Shaftesbury was called upon to bear the
double loss of wife and daughter. In acknowledging a letter from Mr.
John Burns, he wrote:—
Dec. 22, 1872.
A heavy affliction has indeed fallen upon me, but God in His goodness
has vouchsafed so many comforts in the assurance I have of their
everlasting happiness, that I almost fear to feel sorrow. How deeply I
sympathise with your brother. God in His special mercy be with him. I
see how gentle is the affliction that has fallen on me compared with
Time passed by, but not with healing in his wings. In his Perthshire
house, Mr. Cleland Burns had placed in his bedroom a beautiful bust of
his late wife, and one day when Lord Shaftesbury paid him a visit, he
took him into his room to show him the exquisite memorial. After looking
at it, and admiring it without a word, Lord Shaftesbury went down on his
knees, and offered up a prayer full of tender sympathy and inspiring
hope. Then, as he rose from his knees, he took the hand of his friend
and said, “Jamie, plunge into the affairs of life!” It was the course he
himself pursued when the great sorrow of his life came upon him, and
which he continued until the day of his death.
Mr. Cleland Burns took his advice, followed his example, and found the
strength and comfort he needed.