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George Burns, His Times and Friends
Chapter XX. In the Gloaming


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 tranquil.

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 Robert Haldane.

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 history :—

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 earnest."

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 man.”

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 memoir.

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 Colonel Gardner:—

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,

James Gardner.

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,

E. Cunard.

A few hours after this letter was written, Sir Samuel Cunard passed away. In communicating the sad intelligence to Mr. Burns, Sir Edward wrote:—

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 following correspondence:—

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,

G. Burxs.

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 his.

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.


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