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A MEMORIAL SKETCH BY JOHN WATSON (IAN MACLAREN)

Henry Drummond

HE had been in many places over the world and seen strange sights, and taken his share in various works, and, being the man he was, it came to pass of necessity that he had many friends. Some of them were street arabs, some were negroes, some were medicals, some were evangelists, some were scientists, some were theologians, some were nobles. Between each one and Drummond there was some affinity, and each could tell his own story about his friend. It will be interesting to hear what Professor Greenfield or Mr. Moody may have to say; but one man, with profound respect for such eminent persons, would prefer to have a study of Drummond by Moolu his African retainer. Drummond believed in Moolu, not because he was “pious”—which he was not—but because “he did his duty and never told a lie.” From the chief’s point of view, Moolu had the final virtue of a clansman—he was loyal and faithful: his chief, for that expedition, had beyond most men the necessary endowment of a leader—a magnetic personality. It is understood that Drummond’s life is to be written at large by a friend, in whose capable and wise hands it will receive full justice; but in the meantime it may not be unbecoming that one should pay his tribute who has his own qualification for this work of love. It is not that he is able to appreciate to the full the man’s wonderful genius, or accurately to estimate his contributions to scientific and religious thought—this will be done by more distinguished friends—but that he knew Drummond constantly and intimately from boyhood to his death. If one has known any friend at school and college, and in the greater affairs of life has lived with him, argued with him, prayed with him, had his sympathy in the supreme moments of joy and sorrow, has had every experience of friendship except one—it was not possible to quarrel with Drummond, although you might be the hottest-tempered Celt on the face of the earth—then he may not understand the value of his friend’s work, but at any rate he understands his friend. As one who knew Henry Drummond at first hand, my desire is to tell what manner of man he was, in all honesty and without eulogy. If any one be offended then, let him believe that I wrote what I have seen, and if any one be incredulous, then I can only say that he did not know Drummond.

His body was laid to rest a few weeks ago, on a wet and windy March day, in the most romantic of Scottish cemeteries, and the funeral, on its way from the home of his boyhood to the Castle Rock of Stirling, passed the King’s Park. It was in that park more than thirty years ago that I first saw Drummond, and on our first meeting he produced the same effect as he did all his after-life. The sun was going down behind Ben Lomond, in the happy summer time, touching with gold the grey old castle, deepening the green upon the belt of trees which fringed the eastern side of the park, and filling the park itself with soft, mellow light. A cricket match between two schools had been going on all day and was coming to an end, and I had gone out to see the result—being a new arrival in Stirling, and full of curiosity. The two lads at the wickets were in striking contrast—one heavy, stockish, and determined, who slogged powerfully and had scored well for his side; the other nimble, alert, graceful, who had a pretty but uncertain play. The slogger was forcing the running in order to make up a heavy leeway, and compelled his partner to run once too often. “It’s all right, and you fellows are not to cry shame”—this was what he said as he joined his friends—“Buchanan is playing A1, and that hit ought to have been a four; I messed the running.” It was good form, of course, and what any decent lad would want to say, but there was an accent of gaiety and a certain air which was very taking. Against that group of clumsy, unformed, awkward Scots lads this bright, straight, living figure stood in relief, and as he moved about the field my eyes followed him, and in my boyish and dull mind I had a sense that he was a type by himself, a visitor of finer breed than those among whom he moved. By-and-by he mounted a friend’s pony and galloped along the racecourse in the park till one only saw a speck of white in the sunlight, and still I watched in wonder and fascination—only a boy of thirteen or so, and dull—till he came back, in time to cheer the slogger who had pulled off the match—with three runs to spare—and carried his bat.

“Well played, old chap!” the pure, clear, joyous note rang out on the evening air; “finest thing you’ve ever done,” while the strong-armed, heavy faced slogger stood still and looked at him in admiration, and made amends. “I say, Drummond, it was my blame you were run out . . . .” Drummond was his name, and some one said “Henry.” So I first saw my friend.

What impressed me that pleasant evening in the days of long ago I can now identify. It was the lad’s distinction, an inherent quality of appearance and manner of character and soul which marked him and made him solitary. What happened with one strange lad that evening befell all kinds of people who met Drummond in later years. They were at once arrested, interested, fascinated by the very sight of the man, and could not take their eyes off him. Like a picture of the first order among ordinary portraits he unconsciously put his neighbours at a disadvantage. One did not realize how commonplace and colourless other men were till they stood side by side with Drummond. Upon a platform of evangelists, or sitting among divinity students in a dingy classroom, or cabined in the wooden respectability of an ecclesiastical court, or standing in a crowd of passengers at a railway station, he suggested golden embroidery upon hodden grey. It was as if the prince of one’s imagination had dropped in among common folk. He reduced us all to the peasantry.

Drummond was a handsome man, such as you could not match in ten days’ journey, with delicately cut features, rich auburn hair, and a certain carriage of nobility, but the distinctive and commanding feature of his face was his eye. No photograph could do it justice, and very often photographs have done it injustice, by giving the idea of staringness. His eye was not bold or fierce; it was tender and merciful. But it had a power and hold which were little else than irresistible and almost supernatural. When you talked with Drummond, he did not look at you and out of the window alternately, as is the usual manner; he never moved his eyes, and gradually their penetrating gaze seemed to reach and encompass your soul. It was as Plato imagined it would be in the judgment; one soul was in contact with another—nothing between. No man could be double, or base, or mean, or impure before that eye. His influence, more than that of any man I have ever met, was mesmeric—which means that while other men affect their fellows by speech and example, he seized one directly by his living personality. As a matter of fact, he had given much attention to the occult arts, and was at one time a very successful mesmerist. It will still be remembered by some college companions how he had one student so entirely under his power that the man would obey him on the street, and surrender his watch without hesitation; and it was told how Drummond laid a useful injunction on a boy in a house where he was staying, and the boy obeyed it so persistently afterwards that Drummond had to write and set him free. Quite sensible and unromantic people grew uneasy in his presence, and roused themselves to resistance—as one might do who recognised a magician and feared his spell.

One sometimes imagines life as a kind of gas of which our bodies are the vessels, and it is evident that a few are much more richly charged than their fellows. Most people simply exist completing their tale of work—not a grain over; doing their measured mile—not an inch beyond; thinking along the beaten track—never tempted to excursions. Here and there in the world you come across a person in whom life is exuberant and overflowing, a force which cannot be tamed or quenched. Drummond was such a one, the most vital man I ever saw, who never loitered, never wearied, never was conventional, pedantic, formal, who simply revelled in the fulness of life. He was so radiant with life that ordinary people showed pallid beside him, and shrank from him or were attracted and received virtue out of him. Like one coming in from the light and open air into a stuffy room where a company had been sitting with closed windows, Drummond burst into bloodless and unhealthy coteries, bringing with him the very breath of heaven.

He was the evangelist to thoughtful men—over women he had far less power—and his strength lay in his personality. Without anecdotes or jokes or sensationalism of doctrine, without eloquence or passion, he moved young men at his will because his message was life, and he was its illustration. His words fell one by one with an indescribable awe and solemnity, in the style of the Gospels, and reached the secret place of the soul. Nothing more unlike the ordinary evangelistic address could be imagined: it was so sane, so persuasive, so mystical, so final. It almost followed, therefore, that he was not the ideal of a popular evangelist who has to address the multitude, and produce his effect on those who do not think. For his work, it is necessary—besides earnestness, which is taken for granted —to have a loud voice, a broad humour, a stout body, a flow of racy anecdote, an easy negligence of connection, a spice of contempt for culture, and pledges of identification with the street in dress and accent. His hearers feel that such a man is homely and is one of themselves, and, amid laughter and tears of simple human emotion, they are moved by his speech to higher things. This kind of audience might regard Drummond with respectful admiration, but he was too fine a gentleman, they would consider, for their homespun. Place him, as he used to stand and speak, most perfectly dressed both as to body and soul, before five hundred men of good taste and fine sensibilities, or the same number of young men not yet cultured but full of intellectual ambitions and fresh enthusiasm, and no man could state the case for Christ and the soul after a more spiritual and winsome fashion. Religion is without doubt the better for the popular evangelist, although there be times when quiet folk think that he needs chastening; religion also requires in every generation one representative at least of the higher evangelism, and if any one should ask what manner of man he ought to be, the answer is to his hand—Henry Drummond.

When one admits, without reserve, that his friend was not made by nature to be a successful officer of the Salvation Army, it must not be understood that Drummond was in any sense a superior person, or that he sniffed in his daintiness at ordinary humanity—a spiritual Matthew Arnold. It would strain my conscience to bear witness that working people, say, however much they loved him, were perfectly at home with him, and it is my conviction, from observation of life, that this is an inevitable disability of distinction. One may be so well dressed, so good looking, so well mannered, so spiritually refined that men with soiled clothes and women cleaning the house may realize their low estate, and miss that freemasonry which at once by a hundred signs unites them in five minutes with a plainer man. While this may have been true, the blame was not his, and no man lived who had a more unaffected interest and keener joy in human life in the home or on the street. No power could drag him past a Punch-and-Judy show—the ancient, perennial, ever-delightful theatre of the people—in which, each time of attendance, he detected new points of interest. He would, in early days, if you please, gaze steadfastly into a window, in the High Street of Edinburgh, till a little crowd of men, women, children, and workmen, loafers soldiers, had collected, and join with much zest in the excited speculations regarding the man—unanimously and suddenly imagined to have been carried in helpless—how he met with his accident, where he was hurt, and whether he would recover, listening eagerly to the explanation of the gathering given by some officious person to the policeman, and joining heartily in the reproaches levelled at some unknown deceiver! One of his chosen subjects of investigation, which he pursued with the zeal and patience of a naturalist, was that ever-interesting species—the Boy, whom he studied in his various forms and haunts: at home for the holidays, on the cricket field, playing marbles on the street with a chance acquaintance while two families wait for their food, or living with many resources and high enjoyment in a barrel. There was nothing in a boy he did not know, could not explain, did not sympathize with, and so long as it lasts his name will be associated with the Boys’ Brigade. While any other would only have seen two revellers in a man and woman singing their devious way along the street at night, Drummond detected that a wife, who had not been drinking, was luring her husband home by falling in with his mood and that before it was reached she might need a friendly hand. His sense of humour was unerring, swift and masterful. If he came upon a good thing in his reading he would walk a mile to share it with a friend, and afterwards depart in the strength thereof, and he has been found in his room exhausted with delight with nothing before him but one of those Parisian plaster caricatures of a vagabond. Lying on his back in the pitiable helplessness and constant pain of those last two years, he was still the same man.

“Don’t touch me, please—I can’t shake hands, but I’ve saved up a first-rate story for you,” and his palate was too delicate to pass anything second-rate. Partly this was his human joyousness to whom the absurdities of life were ever dear; partly it was his bravery, who knew that the sight of him brought so low might be too much for a friend. His patience and sweetness continued to the end, and he died as one who had tasted the joy of living and was satisfied.

His nature had, at the same time, a curious aloofness and separateness from human life, which one felt, but can hardly describe. He could be severe in speaking about a mean act or one who had done wickedly, but in my recollection he was never angry, and it was impossible to imagine him in a towering passion. He was profoundly interested in several causes, but there was not in him the making of a fanatical or headlong supporter. None could be more loyal in the private offices of friendship, but he would not have flung himself into his friend’s public quarrel. In no circumstances would he be carried off his feet by emotion or be consumed by a white heat of enthusiasm. He was ever calm, cool, self-possessed, master of himself, passionless in thought, in speech, in action, in soul. Were you in trouble, he had helped you to his last resource, and concealed, if possible, his service; but of you, in his sore straits, he would have neither asked nor wished for aid. Many confidences he must have received; he gave none; many people must have been succoured by him; none succoured him till his last illness.

This is at least perfectly certain, that from his youth he refused to have his life arranged for him, but jealously and fearlessly directed it by his own instincts, refusing the brown, beaten paths wherein each man, according to his profession, was content to walk and starting across the moor on his own way. Nothing can be more conventional than the career of the average Presbyterian minister who comes from a respectable religious family, and has the pulpit held up before him as the ambition of a good Scots lad; who is held in the way thereto by various traditional and prudential considerations, and better still—as is the case with most honest lads—by his mother’s wishes; who works his laborious, enduring way through the Divinity Hall, and is yearly examined by the local Presbytery; who at last emerges into the butterfly life of a Probationer, and is freely mentioned, to his mother’s anxious delight, in connection with “vacancies”; who is at last chosen by a majority to a pastorate—his mother being amazed at the blindness of the minority—and settles down to the routine of the ministry in some Scotch parish with the hope of Glasgow before him as a land of promise. His only variations in the harmless years might be an outburst on the historical reality of the Book of Jonah—ah me! Did that stout, middle-aged gentleman ever hint that Jonah was a drama?—which would be much talked of in the common room, and, it was whispered, reached the Professor’s ears; and afterwards he might propose a revolutionary motion on the distribution of the Sustentation Fund. Add a handbook for Bible-classes on the Prophecy of Malachi, and you have summed up the adventures of his life. This was the life before Drummond when he entered the University of Edinburgh in 1866, and it ought to be recorded that he died an ordained minister and Professor of the Kirk, so that he did not disappoint his home, nor become an ecclesiastical prodigal, but with what amazing variations did he invest the years between! What order he took his classes in no one knew, but he found his feet in natural philosophy and made a name in geology. His course at the New College he completed in three years and one year, with two years’ evangelistic touring between; and he once electrified the students by a paper—it seems yesterday, and I know where he stood—which owed much to Holmes and Emerson, but revealed his characteristic spiritual genius. His vacations he spent sometimes in tutorships, which yielded wonderful adventures, or at Tubingen, where his name was long remembered. As soon as Moody came to Edinburgh, Drummond allied himself with the most capable, honest, and unselfish evangelist of our day, and saw strange chapters in religious life through the United Kingdom. This was the infirmary in which he learned spiritual diagnosis. For one summer he was chaplain at Malta, in another he explored the Rockies; he lived five months among the Tanganyika forests, whence he sent me a letter dated Central Africa, and mentioning, among other details, that he had nothing on but a helmet and three mosquitoes. He was for a time assistant in an Edinburgh church, and readers of the illustrated papers used to recognise him in the viceregal group at Dublin Castle. His people at home—one could trace some of his genius and much of his goodness to his father and mother—grew anxious and perplexed; for this was a meteoric course for a Free Kirk minister, and stolid acquaintances—the delicious absurdity of it—remonstrated with him as one who was allowing the chances of life to pass him, and urged him to settle. His friends had already concluded that he must be left free to fulfil himself, but knew not what to expect, when he suddenly appeared as a lecturer on Natural Science in the Free Church College of Glasgow, and promptly annexed a working-men’s church. Afterwards his lectureship became a chair, and he held it to the end, although threatened with charges of heresy and such like absurdities. You might as well have beaten a spirit with a stick as prosecuted Drummond for heresy. The chair itself was a standing absurdity, being founded in popular idea to beat back evolution and to reconcile religion and science; but it gave Drummond an opportunity of widening the horizon of the future ministry and infusing sweetness into the students’ minds. He may have worn a white tie on Sunday duty at his church, but memory fails to recall this spectacle, and he consistently refused to be called Reverend —declaring (this was his fun) that he had no recollection of being ordained, and that he would never dare to baptize a child. The last time he preached was about 1882, in my own church, and the outside world did not know that he was a clergyman. From first to last he was guided by an inner light which never led him astray, and in the afterglow his whole life is a simple and perfect harmony.

Were one asked to select Drummond’s finest achievement, he might safely mention the cleansing of student life at Edinburgh University. When he was an Arts student, life in all the faculties, but especially the medical, was reckless, coarse, boisterous, and no one was doing anything to raise its tone. The only visible sign of religion in my remembrance was a prayer meeting attended by a dozen men—one of whom was a canting rascal—and countenance from a professor would have given a shock to the university. Twenty years afterwards six hundred men, largely medicals, met every Sunday evening for worship and conference under Drummond’s presidency, and every evening the meeting was addressed by tutors and fellows and other dignitaries. There was a new breath in academic life—men were now reverent, earnest, clean living and clean thinking, and the reformer who wrought this change was Drummond. This land, and for that matter the United States, has hardly a town where men are not doing good work for God and man to-day who have owed their lives to the Evangel and influence of Henry Drummond.

When one saw the unique and priceless work which he did, it was inexplicable and very provoking that the religious world should have cast this man, of all others, out, and have lifted up its voice against him. Had religion so many men of beautiful and winning life, so many thinkers of wide range and genuine culture, so many speakers able to move young men by hundreds towards the Kingdom of God, that she could afford or have the heart to withdraw her confidence from Drummond? Was there ever such madness and irony before Heaven as good people lifting up their testimony and writing articles against this most gracious disciple of the Master, because they did not agree with him about certain things he said, or some theory he did not teach, while the world lay round them in unbelief and selfishness, and sorrow and pain? “What can be done,” an eminent evangelist once did me the honour to ask, “to heal the breach between the religious world and Drummond?” And I dared to reply that in my poor judgment the first step ought to be for the religious world to repent of its sins, and make amends to Drummond for its bitterness.

One, of course, remembers that Drummond’s critics had their reasons, and those reasons cast interesting light on his theological standpoint. For one thing, unlike most evangelists, it was perfectly alien to this man to insist on repentance, simply because he had not the painful and overmastering sense of sin which afflicts most religious minds, and gives a strenuous turn to all their thinking. Each thinker conceives religion according to his cast of mind and trend of experience, and Christianity to Drummond was not so much a way of escape from the grip of sin, with its burden of guilt and loathsome contact, as a way of ethical and spiritual attainment. The question he was ever answering in his writing and speaking was not how can a man save his soul, but how can a man save his life. His idea of salvation was rising to the stature of Christ and sharing His simple, lowly, peaceful life. This was the text of his brochures on religion, which charmed the world, from “The Greatest Thing in The World” to “The City Without a Church”. It is said even they gave offence to some ultra-theological minds—although one would fain have believed that such persuasive pleas had won all hearts—and I have some faint remembrance, perhaps a nightmare, that people published replies to the eulogy of Love. It was quite beside the mark to find fault with the theology in the little books, because there was none and could be none, since there was none in the author. Just as there are periods in the development of Christianity, there are men in every age corresponding to each of the periods—modern, Reformation, and Mediaeval minds—and what charmed many in Drummond was this, that he belonged by nature to the pre-theological age. He was in his habit and thought a Christian of the Gospels, rather than of the Epistles, and preferred to walk with Jesus in Galilee rather than argue with Judaizers and Gnostics. It would be a gross injustice to say that he was anti-theological: it would be correct to say that he was non-theological. Jesus was not to him an official Redeemer discharging certain obligations: He was his unseen Friend with Whom he walked in life, by Whose fellowship he was changed, to Whom he prayed. The effort of life should be to do the Will of God, the strength of life was Peace, the reward of life was to be like Jesus. Perfect Christianity was to be as St. John was with Jesus. It was the Idyll of Religion.

Perhaps his two famous books, “Natural Law in the Spiritual World,” and “The Ascent of Man,” ought to be judged as larger Idylls. A writer often fails when he has counted himself strong, and succeeds in that which he has himself belittled. It was at one time Drummond s opinion that he had made a discovery in that fascinating debatable land between nature and religion, and that he was able to prove that the laws which govern the growth of a plant are the same in essence as those which regulate the culture of a soul. It appeared to some of us that the same laws could not and did not run through both provinces, but that on the frontier of the spiritual world other laws came into operation, and that “Natural Law” set forth with much grace and ingenuity a number of instructive analogies, and sometimes only suggestive illustrations. Had Drummond believed this was its furthest scope, he would never have published the book, and it was an open secret that in later years he lost all interest in “Natural Law”. My own idea is that he had abandoned its main contention and much of its teaching, and would have been quite willing to see it withdrawn from the public. While that book was an attempt to identify the laws of two worlds which, under one suzerain, are really each autonomous, the “Ascent of Man” was a most successful effort to prove that the spirit of Religion, which is Altruism, pervades the processes of nature. It is the Poem of Evolution, and is from beginning to end a fascinating combination of scientific detail and spiritual imagination. Both books, but especially the “Ascent,” were severely criticised from opposite quarters—by theologians because the theology was not sound, by men of science because the science was loose, and Drummond had the misfortune of being a heretic in two provinces. But he had his reward in the gratitude of thousands neither dogmatic nor partisan, to whom he has given a new vision of the beauty of life and the graciousness of law.

His books will do good for years, as they have done in the past, and his tract on “Charity” will long be read, but the man was greater than all his writings. While he was competent in science, in religion he was a master, and if in this sphere he failed anywhere in his thinking, it was in his treatment of sin. This was the defect of his qualities, for of him, more than of any man known to me, it could be affirmed he did not know sin. As Fra Angelico could paint the Holy Angels because he had seen them, but made poor work of the devils because to him they were strange creatures, so this man could make holiness so lovely that all men wished to be Christians; but his hand lost its cunning at the mention of sin, for he had never played the fool. From his youth up he had kept the commandments, and was such a man as the Master would have loved. One takes for granted that each man has his besetting sin, and we could name that of our friends, but Drummond was an exception to this rule. After a lifetime s intimacy I do not remember my friend’s failing. Without pride, without envy, without selfishness, without vanity, moved only by goodwill and spiritual ambitions, responsive ever to the touch of God and every noble impulse, faithful, fearless, magnanimous, Henry Drummond was the most perfect Christian I have known or expect to see this side the grave.

JOHN WATSON (IAN MACLAREN)

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