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PRINCIPAL CAIRNS

BY JOHN CAIRNS


FAMOUS SCOTS SERIES




The designs and ornaments of this volume are by Mr. Joseph Brown, and
the printing is from the press of Morrison & Gibb Limited, Edinburgh.




PREFACE


In preparing the following pages I have been chiefly indebted for the
materials of the earlier chapters to some MS. notes by my late uncle,
Mr. William Cairns. These were originally written for Professor MacEwen
when he was preparing his admirable _Life and Letters of John Cairns,
D.D. LL.D._ They are very full and very interesting, and I have made
free use of them.

To Dr. MacEwen's book I cannot sufficiently express my obligations. He
has put so much relating to Principal Cairns into an absolutely final
form, that he seems to have left no alternative to those who come after
him between passing over in silence what he has so well said and
reproducing it almost in his words. It is probable, therefore, that
students of the _Life and Letters_--and there are many who, like Mr.
Andrew Lang with Lockhart's _Life of Scott_, "make it their breviary
"--will detect some echoes of its sentences in this little book. Still,
I have tried to look at the subject from my own point of view, and to
work it out in my own way; while, if I have borrowed anything directly,
I trust that I have made due acknowledgment in the proper place.

Among those whom I have to thank for kind assistance, I desire specially
to mention my father, the Rev. David Cairns, the last surviving member
of the household at Dunglass, who has taken a constant interest in the
progress of the book, and has supplied me with many reminiscences and
suggestions. To my brother the Rev. D.S. Cairns, Ayton, I am indebted
for most valuable help in regard to many points, especially that dealt
with at the close of Chapter VI.; and I also owe much to the suggestions
of my friends the Rev. P. Wilson and the Rev. R. Glaister. For help in
revising the proofs I have to thank the Rev. J.M. Connor and my brother
the Rev. W.T. Cairns.

J.C.

DUMFRIES, _20th March_ 1903.




CONTENTS


PREFACE

CHAPTER I: ANCESTRY AND CHILDHOOD

CHAPTER II: DUNGLASS

CHAPTER III: COLLEGE DAYS

CHAPTER IV: THE STUDENT OF THEOLOGY

CHAPTER V: GOLDEN SQUARE

CHAPTER VI: THE CENTRAL PROBLEM

CHAPTER VII: THE APOSTLE OF UNION

CHAPTER VIII: WALLACE GREEN

CHAPTER IX: THE PROFESSOR

CHAPTER X: THE PRINCIPAL

CHAPTER XI: THE END OF THE DAY




PRINCIPAL CAIRNS

* * * * *

CHAPTER I

ANCESTRY AND CHILDHOOD


John Cairns was born at Ayton Hill, in the parish of Ayton, in the east
of Berwickshire, on the 23rd of August 1818.

The farm of Ayton Hill no longer exists. Nothing is left of it but
the trees which once overshadowed its buildings, and the rank growth
of nettles which marks the site of a vanished habitation of man. Its
position was a striking one, perched as it was just on the edge of the
high ground which separates the valley of the little river Eye from
that of the Tweed. It commanded an extensive view, taking in almost the
whole course of the Eye, from its cradle away to the left among the
Lammermoors to where it falls into the sea at Eyemouth a few miles to
the right. Down in the valley, directly opposite, were the woods and
mansion of Ayton Castle. A little to the left, the village of Ayton lay
extended along the farther bank of the stream, while behind both castle
and village the ground rose in gentle undulations to the uplands of
Coldingham Moor.

South-eastwards, a few miles along the coast, lay Berwick-on-Tweed, the
scene of John Cairns's future labours as a minister; while away in the
opposite direction, in the heart of the Lammermoors, near the headwaters
of the Whitadder and the Dye, was the home of his immediate ancestors.
These were tenants of large sheep-farms; but, through adverse
circumstances, his grandfather, Thomas Cairns, unable to take a farm of
his own, had to earn his living as a shepherd. He died in 1799, worn out
before he had passed his prime, and his widow was left to bring up her
young fatherless family of three girls and two boys as best she could.
After several migrations, which gradually brought them down from the
hills to the seaboard, they settled for some years at Ayton Hill. The
farm was at the time under some kind of trust, and there was no resident
farmer. The widowed mother was engaged to look after the pigs and the
poultry; the daughters also found employment; and James, the elder son,
became the shepherd. He was of an adventurous and somewhat restless
disposition, and, at the time of the threatened invasion by Napoleon,
joined a local Volunteer corps. Then the war fever laid hold of him,
and he enlisted in the regular army, serving in the Rifle Brigade all
through the Peninsular War, from Vimiera to Toulouse, and earning a
medal with twelve clasps. He afterwards returned, bringing with him
a Portuguese wife, and settled as shepherd on the home-farm of Ayton
Castle.

The younger son, John, as yet little more than a child, was hired out
as herd-boy on the neighbouring farm of Greystonelees, between Ayton
and Berwick. His wages were a pair of shoes in the half-year, with his
food in the farm kitchen and his bed in the stable loft. His schooldays
had begun early. He used afterwards to tell how his mother, when he was
not more than five years old, carried him every day on her back on his
way to school across a little stream that flowed near their cottage.
But this early education was often interrupted, and came very soon
to a close; not, however, before he was well able to read. Writing he
taught himself later; and, later still, he picked up a good working
knowledge of arithmetic at a night-school. He was a quiet, thoughtful
boy, specially fond of reading, but, from lack of books, reading was
almost out of his reach. He had not even a Bible of his own, for Bibles
were then so dear that it was not possible for parents in humble life to
provide those of their children who went out into the world with copies
even of the cheapest sort. In place of a Bible, however, his mother had
given him a copy of the Scottish Metre Version of the Psalms, with a
"Preface" to each Psalm and notes by John Brown of Haddington. This
was all the boy had to feed his soul on, but it was enough, for it
was strong meat; and he valued and carefully kept that old, brown,
leather-bound Psalm-book to the end of his days.

When James left home, the shepherding at Ayton Hill was taken up by
his brother John. Though only a lad in his teens, he was in every
respect, except in physical strength, already a man. He was steady and
thoughtful, handy and capable in farm work, especially in all that
concerned the care of sheep, for which he had a natural and probably
an inherited instinct. He was also held in great regard by the
Rev. David Ure, the earnest and kindly minister of the Burgher
Meeting-house, which stood behind the Castle woods at the lower end of
Ayton village. The family were of that "strict, not strictest species
of Presbyterian Dissenter," and John attended also the Bible-class and
Fellowship Meeting. The family of John Murray, a ploughman or "hind"
from the Duns district, and now settled at Bastleridge, the next farm
to Ayton Hill, also attended Mr. Ure's church. An intimacy sprang up
between the two families. It ripened into affection between John
Cairns and Alison, John Murray's only daughter, and in June 1814 they
were united in marriage. The two eldest daughters of the Cairns family
had already gone to situations, and were soon to have homes of their
own. The grand old mother, who had been for so many years both father
and mother to her children, was beginning to feel the infirmities of
age. When, therefore, the young couple took up housekeeping, she left
the home and the work at Ayton Hill to them, and with her youngest
daughter went over to live in Ayton.

John Cairns and his wife were in many respects very unlike one
another. He was of a grave, quiet, and somewhat anxious temperament,
almost morbidly scrupulous where matters of conscience and
responsibility were concerned. She, on the other hand, was always
hopeful, making light of practical difficulties, and by her untiring
energy largely helping to make these disappear. She had a great
command of vigorous Scotch, and a large stock of homely proverbs,
of which she made frequent and apposite use. Both husband and wife
were excellently well read in their Bibles, and both were united
in the fear of God. Built on this firm foundation, their union of
twenty-seven years was a singularly happy one, and their different
temperaments contributed to the common stock what each of them
separately lacked. Ayton Hill remained their home for six years after
their marriage, and here were born their three eldest children, of
whom the youngest, John, is the subject of the present sketch.

In the spring of 1820 the trust under which Ayton Hill had been worked
for so many years was wound up, and a new tenant took the farm. It
became necessary, therefore, for the shepherd to seek a new situation,
and this brought about the first "flitting" in the family history. The
Berwickshire hinds are somewhat notorious for their migratory habits,
in which some observers have found a survival of the restlessness
which characterised their ancestors in former times, and was alike
the result and the cause of the old Border Forays. Be that as it may,
every Whitsunday term-day sees the country roads thronged with carts
conveying furniture and bedding from one farm to another. In front of
the pile sits the hind's wife with her younger children, while the
hind himself with his older boys and girls walks beside the horse, or
brings up the rear, driving the family cow before him. In some cases
there is a flitting every year, and instances have even been known in
which anxiety to preserve an unbroken tradition of annual removals
has been satisfied by a flitting from one house to another on the
same farm.

The Cairns family now entered on a period of migration of this kind,
and in the course of eleven years they flitted no less than six times.
Their first removal was from Ayton Hill to Oldcambus Mains, in the
parish of Cockburnspath, where they came into touch with the Dunglass
estate and the Stockbridge Church, with both of which they were in
after-years to have so close a connection.



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