Alford botanist and weaver John Duncan would have been widely known in the 1880s. So much so that Queen Victoria even sent £10 for his hardship fund with Charles Darwin also contributing, with global newspapers such as the New York Times even giving lengthy obituaries.

For most of his life he lived in relative poverty, renting a room from John Allanach where he became a local weaver for Alford as well as pursuing his interest in Botany.

The accounts of his life give a fascinating insight into the life of John Allanach and his family from the 1850s to 1880s, and the relevant chapters from the biography by William Jolly are shown below.

Also of note is that his main protégé, John Taylor, gave a realistic account of his experiences in a book called ‘Eleven Years at Farm Work: a true tale of farm-servant life from 1863 onwards. John married John Allanach’s daughter Jean in 1876.

He even had a fiddle tune named after him – The Alford Weaver.

John Duncan botanist

Further Info – More on the life of John Duncan – Blog from Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh , Article from Aberdeen University, and local history blog.

Presented below are the chapters from WIlliam Jolly’s book of 1883 ‘The Life of John Duncan’ which reference the Allanach family (references highlighted in red).

The Life of John Duncan
Chapter XXVI – Settlement and Word at Droughsburn

JOHN DUNCAN remained at Auchleven for three years. While he sojourned there, an event took place in 1851 which roused his highest interest, the first Great Exhibition in London, that wonderful world show—a happy prognostic of the Brotherhood of Mankind, seemingly more distant now than it was thought when its crystal dome was reared. That year also, the country lost two of its great benefactors—Robert Peel, one of John’s heroes in the political world; and William Wordsworth, the greatest interpreter of the higher influences of nature on man the world has yet seen.

John had long been connected with the Vale of Alford. He had lived for years in its north-west angle, at Tullynessle, had wandered and worshipped on its north-east side, about Benachie and Brindy, and had settled above a dozen years in its south-east corner at Tough; and now, in 1852, in his fifty-eighth year, he removed to its south-west chamber, in the valley of the Leochel, and there spent the remainder of his days.

After leaving, the village of Alford at its west end, a country road runs past the parish church amidst its tall trees, crosses a small stream called the Leochel, [Pronounced Loch’-el, with the guttural ch.] which joins the Don a short distance below, and then runs along its banks, over the hills to Ballater on the Dee. The valley of the Leochel is a lesser side glen opening on the greater Vale below, covered to its crests with sloping fields, and adorned with patches of wood, meadow and moor. Farms and cottages are scattered over its slopes, generally amidst clumps of ash and plane. It breathes a pleasant pastoral quiet, soothing and sweet, especially as seen on a sunny morning in autumn, the only sounds heard being the voices of cattle and children, or the purling of a brook as it hurries to join the river below.

Four miles from Alford, where abridge crosses a stream and a house stands by the highway, a clump of trees may be observed on the right, almost hiding from view the cottages they protect. These cottages, which are discovered chiefly by their blue curling smoke, are known as Droughsburn, [Pronounced Drochs’-burn, with the guttural ch. The name is also written and pronounced Droichs’-burn. It is also locally called Dreesh’-burn.] from the little stream that drains the hollow in which they stand. They are approached by an unfrequented path skirting the rivulet, which is almost hidden by tall grass, wild mint, and luxuriant watercress. An upward walk of half a mile brings you to a garden enclosed by a dike, and overhung by numerous great willows and rowan trees. Behind the garden appears a long thatched cottage, with a smaller one beyond, standing amid the corn. The little glen soon closes in to the left, and a low hill rises. behind crowned with broom and whin. The cottages thus nestle in a tranquil little nook, in solitary but happy seclusion, away from the great world without, overarched by the blue sky, clasped by the friendly hills, and turned to the sunny south—the very home and congenial retreat of a lover of nature and flowers.

The first door in the larger cottage was the entrance to the house of a crofter; a second opened on a weaver’s workshop; a third led into a barn ; and the last into a byre, with the crofter’s cows. On entering the shop by the low door, beneath which you had to stoop, you found yourself in a little room crowded with two large looms, a wheel, a winding machine, and other appurtenances of the weaving craft. It was very dimly lighted by three little windows in the front and one behind, which were obscured by the dust of the loom and the webs of busy spiders.

The whole space of the floor was occupied with the various apparatus required for his trade, except a small part near the door, which was filled with his chests and boxes. Yet that room constituted the whole of his dwelling-place, and there he spent his days and nights. Where was his sleeping-room? There also. Close by the door stood a short home-made ladder, leaning against the wall. On looking upwards, there could be seen some planks laid across the couples of the roof at that end of the room, and extending towards the other end two-thirds of the available space above, the rest being open to the rafters. These boards formed a kind of “bunk” or cabin supporting a bed, to which the ladder led up. It contained just sufficient space for the bed and a narrow passage by its side. That was John’s bedroom. Its roof was the thatch, and it was entirely without light except what came from the room below.

There, within these four low, narrow walls, lighted by these four dim windows, was included the whole of John’s interior domain. It formed at once his workshop, tool-house, dwelling-place and sleeping-room, as well as his library, study and museum. There he lived and laboured, read and studied, poor but contented, yea, happy,—a workman, a student, a thinker, and a God-fearing, upright man. Is it not blessedly true, that our happiness is bounded, not by our possessions, but by our desires; and that our life depends, not on what we have, but on what we wish to have?

William Watt, the weaver who held the croft of Droughsburn, and who now invited John to assist him, was no ordinary man. He possessed literary tastes, and was devoted to general self-culture. He was one of the founders of the Alford Literary Society, in the name of which we may trace his hand; its secretary for some years; and an active promoter of the Mutual Instruction Union. About a year after John came to Droughsburn, early in 1853, Mr. Watt removed to Aberdeen, to become one of the staff of the Aberdeen Gazette, but soon after joined Mr. McCombie, of Cairnballoch, when he founded the Aberdeen Free Press, which is still one of the ablest of our provincial journals. Besides being reporter, he was one of the reviewers on the paper, and did this work with ability. He also wrote one of the Prize Essays on the Sabbath evoked by the liberality of Mr. Henderson, of Park. His health, which never had been robust, was overstrained by this new and trying work, and he died in March, 1854, in his thirty-first year. A high tribute was paid to his memory by Mr. McCombie, in the Free Press of March 31st. He was praised for his steady and enthusiastic devotion to self-education and the acquisition of knowledge, and for his discriminative taste and profound love of truth; although, as was truly remarked, he had passed the greater part of his life “at one of the most harassing and worst remunerated of country handicrafts.” He rests in the churchyard of Alford, at a spot not far from where his successor at Droughsburn also now lies. [A son of Mr. Watt’s is the present sub-editor of the Aberdeen Free Press; the editor is the author of the inimitable “Johnny Gibb.”]

What a pity that these two uncommon weavers, thus brought together in 1852, did not longer influence each other for good! They might have mutually broadened and complemented their aspirations and studies, Watt introducing Duncan to the refinements of literary discrimination and taste, in which John’s self-education was greatly wanting; and Duncan showing to Watt the strength and beauty of science, which literary men are so apt to neglect and despise. It was well that they enjoyed the short communion they had together, and John fitly succeeded one whose career was at once a warning and an incitement. William Watt, the lit/efrateur, was another of those wielders of the shuttle—cut off before he had barely proved his power—who have done honour to their craft: along with Thom, the poet of Inverurie, who had then recently died in 1848; Wilson, the ornithologist; Tannahill; the lyrist; Simpson, the mathematician; and Dolland, the inventor of the achromatic telescope. Shall we not now add to the list the name of the man whom Watt invited to his house, John Duncan? John continued to carry on Mr. Watt’s work, and to board in the house, till Mrs. Watt left for Aberdeen, in June, 1853, when the business was wound up and the effects sold off. He had previously purchased the contents of the weaving shop, by private bargain, and with these he carried on work till the end. The house without the croft was now occupied by Mrs. Inverarity, a widow whose husband had been grieve on the neighbouring farm of Dorsell, [Pronounced Dor-zell’, with accent on the second syllable.] and with her John boarded for nine years. When the croft and cottage were taken, in 1862, by John Allanach, Mrs. Inverarity removed to a house by.the roadside close by the burn, called Droughsbridge, where John lodged with her for six months. He then returned to Droughsburn, after a settlement had been come to with Mr. Allanach, and there he remained till his death.

This small workroom was Duncan’s home for nigh thirty years, till he was borne to his .last resting-place in the churchyard at Alford.

For the first time in his life since leaving Aberdeen, John had at last settled down, in his fifty-ninth year, in a “hoose and haddin’,” or holding, of his own. He rented the shop from Allanach for £1 a year, and paid so much for his meals. He soon established himself as home-weaver for the district, and became quickly known as a first-rate workman. He produced the usual varieties of fabrics made by “customer-weavers,” as already described, and had the further and not very common advantage of being equally able to do linen and woollen goods, having learnt both branches of the trade. He supplied himself “the warp” for the cloth, “the weft,” or what was woven into it with the shuttle, being provided by the customers employing him. He sometimes got his “pirns” filled by a neighbour, but latterly he filled them himself. He also manufactured a rough kind of stuff called “clooty carpet,” which consists of narrow pieces of cloth, or “clouts” woven together. It is a material common in Scotch cottages, and a thrifty means of using up, when washed, the remainders of cloth and old garments useless for anything else.

He was a good judge of cloth, took a pride in doing good work himself, and liked to see it produced by others. Poor workmanship in weaving, as in all other things, he could not tolerate, and he expressed his criticisms of such in a dry, forcible and sometimes humorous way. Once, when shown a web of homespun in which he detected several faults, he remarked, “The makker o’ that claith had a sair wame,” [The belly, another form of the word womb.] meaning that he had not been able to move the treddles to good purpose.

It was his regular practice to carry home the cloth when woven, however far its destination. The necessary walk was wisely used by him as an alterative to his too sedentary life, and a means of prosecuting his favourite study. With this aim, he generally varied the track he took to and from a place, in order to see more of the country. He might often be observed, in his uncommon attire, moving at his usual rapid pace, in the early hours of the morning, before most folks were astir even in these early-rising districts. His well-known form, with the web under his arm, stick in hand and tall hat or broad bonnet stuck on behind, was easily observed from afar and raised the usual remark, “There goes the Droughsburn weyver, early afit as uswal!” In addition to the small payment for the weaving —for, as Mr. McCombie said, it was “the worst remunerated of country handicrafts”—he expected to be kindly but plainly entertained, by being offered a share of whatever meal was being prepared at the time. To this he was in every way fully entitled, if only for the saving of carriage in bringing home the cloth; and this he generally received ungrudgingly, from the fairness of the expectation after a long walk with such a burden, and from the genuine hospitality that has always reigned among our rural unsophisticated population. Though he had not a few bad debts in his time, he bore testimony to their being punctual payers about Alford.

When a web was finished, he carefully brushed it all over with a broad, flat feather fan he kept for the purpose, corrected all flaws, rolled it up neatly, and then tied it with cord. Being paid so much a yard for the weaving, it was necessary to measure it, and for this he required the help of some young person, generally one of Mrs. Allanach‘s girls. The child was rewarded for the service with some large, white, old-fashioned peppermint lozenges, of which he kept a store. She received one of them for every yard thus measured; with strict injunctions, however, not to be greedy and eat them all herself, but to be good and part them with her brothers and sisters.

To obtain warp for his webs, he was obliged to get the materials from Aberdeen, either ordering them to be sent, or more generally going to fetch them himself. In travelling to Aberdeen, he went very often the whole way there and back on foot, the distance between Droughsburn and the city being above thirty miles. Very frequently he accompanied, in his covered cart, David Miller, now dead, who was then carrier from Scuttery on the Leochel to Aberdeen; and he also rode with Charles Birse, the merchant there – both of whom were very kind to him at all times, and carried his parcels and himself without grudge and without charge. In going to town, they made a half-way stage at the inn of Liggerdale, above the Loch of Skene, where they stayed all night. They found the old man the best of good company. All this took place before the railway to Alford was opened in 1859, when there was no longer need of such slow but picturesque and pleasant locomotion.

Chapter XXVII – John’s Life and Habits at Droughsburn

DUNCAN’S tastes and habits during the rest of his days at Droughsburn remained the very simplest. His usual hour for rising was four o’clock in summer, and when he had a long journey to go with a web, he would set out at three. In winter, he rose about an hour later. His regular time for retiring was at seven, except when he was visiting or plant-gathering, and then he was often late enough. When he had friends calling on him, he sat up till nine. In the country, “early to bed, early to rise ” was and is the rule. How far it issued amongst the people generally in the proverbial health, wealth, and wisdom is another question; but it was certainly a salutary practice, with good results in the order of statement. John’s health was always very good, deflections being rectified by Culpepper’s aid ; his wealth, never great, was not only sufficient for his modest wants but yielded a surplus for his relatives and for his books; and his wisdom was certainly much greater than his neighbours deemed or could appreciate.

He lived entirely in his workshop, except when he went for his meals to the kitchen, the room next his own. This was a comfortable apartment, with the usual capacious fireplace, within which the children could sit, and was practically and pleasantly furnished, like all thrifty Scotch country houses.

The Allanachs were highly respectable, well-conducted, hard-working people. They brought up a large family with credit, and were exemplary in their religious duties, holding worship nightly at home and going regularly to church every Sunday.

Mr. Allanach was what would now be called a contractor, employing others in the jobs he undertook connected with all kinds of country work, such as harvesting, draining and the like. His self-esteem was considerable, and he wished laudably to achieve as good a social position as he could, which his want of financial success greatly prevented. His style was what his neighbours thought high, and it subjected him to consequent criticism. He was considerably inclined to look down upon his simple tenant, the weaver. For John’s habits and studies, he had not the smallest predilection, and he did not take any pains to try to understand the man. The result was that, though they sat at the same table and lived in such close connection, their relations were never very cordial. In Allanach‘s presence, John’s retiring nature, which was all his life keenly sensitive to chilliness and contempt and only opened out under friendly warmth, was effectually frozen up. At best, there reigned between them a slumbering armed neutrality.

The distance between them was also increased by Allanach‘s treatment of Duncan’s plants. John had a small part of the garden railed off for his own use, in which he cultivated what plants he pleased. In addition to this, during the nine years he had been there before the Allanachs came, he was allowed the use of the flower borders that ran on both sides of the walks. Allanach, a practical, business man who despised all sentiment, wished to have the whole of the space belonging to him devoted to such substantial growths as cabbages and turnips, and turned out all John’s plants. He might as well have plucked out his eye or cut off his hand. The result was, of course, the irretrievable extinction of all sympathy between them. Altogether, Duncan could scarcely have lived with a man whose tastes were more unlike his own. Allanach was a strong, dry, plain man who contemned all John’s dearest pursuits as oddities or weaknesses; and he was far too absorbed in his own occupations to feel or trouble himself in any way with this want of sympathy between himself and his tenant. To Duncan, their relations were fraught with no little pain and unhappiness, though he would have been the last to confess the cause.

But the iciness of the husband was more than made up by the geniality and warmth of the wife. She was an excellent, hard-working woman and mother, whose disposition and manner were bright, intelligent, and kindly. She appreciated and understood the old weaver, and respected his knowledge and ability. By her hearty motherliness and attention, she made his residence there comfortable, if not homelike. As Allanach was necessarily much absent in connection with his contracts, he seldom met the weaver except for a little in the evenings and on Sundays. So that John could tolerate this crook in his lot, for the sake of the kindliness of Mrs. Allanach; and thus, for nearly twenty years, he continued to live there, till the death of Mr. Allanach in 1880, and his own in 1881.

The result of this want of rapport with Allanach was that John lived a greatly repressed life in the house, kept himself more and more apart, and seldom or never blossomed out at Droughsburn as he always did in more congenial society. With Mrs. Allanach alone did he feel in any way at ease, or have any confidences; and he would talk at meals for a little, chat for some time by the kitchen fire after early supper, and occasionally read some of his books and show his plants. In other houses in the valley of the Leochel, he was much more at home, as at Mrs. Inverarity’s at Droughsbridge, and Charles I3irse the merchant’s, who lived up the glen at Skuttery.

But nowhere was his silent reserve more thawed and his heart more opened out than in the home of a crofter who also lived at Droughsbridge. Mrs. Webster, the good genius there, is a pleasant, couthy, warm-hearted little woman. She understood and appreciated Duncan more than most of his neighbours, and possessed the geniality and tact that won his confidence. Her husband is plain, practical, hard-working, and kindly. To their cosy fireside, John came more frequently than to any other in the neighbourhood. There he would read and talk for hours together about current events, his wanderings and his plants, and relate incidents in his past history confided to few. He would take the children on his knee, and tell them stories of his mother and his own childhood, which he seldom told to any. To Mrs. Webster, he came for many years to get his hair cut, and even when they removed nearer to Alford, he continued the old habit, in the notion that she alone could do it properly, and that her kindly fingers were pleasanter than those of others. For this bit of service, he brought his own comb and scissors, which he kept carefully rolled and tied up in paper. He had a special and unvarying cut of hair, by which it hung down equally all round over his brows, with very little shed.

To the Websters’, he also used to go to read the newspapers, and talk over matters treated there. When any place was mentioned they did not know, John would consult his atlas at home and tell them about it at next visit, and sometimes bring down the book to point it out. His conversation was chiefly about his varied experiences, but a frequent topic was the history of Scotland, ‘and especially of the Covenanters and their sufferings. The effect of sympathy and kindly appreciation on the reticent old man, so shy and distant with all but the friendly, is proved by this one fact, that, from Mrs. Webster, the author has learnt more of John’s early days than from any other person about Alford.

In his vigorous years at Droughsburn, John kept his room, full to crowding though it was, neat and well arranged; for he was scrupulously clean, and methodical in all he did, having “a place for everything and everything in its place,” if ever a man had, and every corner was utilised. The extreme care he bestowed on all he did and had, is shown by the excellent state in which his books, and especially his frail and brittle plants, have been left. Some of the books he preserved for more than sixty years, and many of the plants for above forty, in spite of all their natural enemies in dust, moths, mice and rats, all which were unusually abundant in that old thatched building, Indeed, the preservation of his specimens was marvellous under the circumstances, and proves a watchful care that is quite extraordinary.

He would allow no interference with anything in his room, doing himself everything required there, with his usual independence, making his own bed, dusting and cleaning up, and performing other offices generally done by women. He greatly objected to any intrusion, especially from children, who were naturally attracted by the curiosities there, on account of the many valuable things that lay in every corner, and he locked his door every time he went from home.

The most of his books and plants were kept in three large chests. The best of the books were carefully wrapped and tied up in several folds of paper. All the chests and plants and parcels were abundantly scented with camphor and dried native plants, such as mint and woodruff, to preserve them from the insidious moth. The insides of the chest lids were ornamented with pictures of various kinds, coloured and plain, pasted on the wood. These contained, amongst others, portraits of Queen Adelaide, William IV., Nicholas of Russia, Queen Mary, Queen Victoria, Rob Roy, Young Normal, a Highland chieftain in full coloured costume, plates of animals, and an old rude representation of Adam and Eve under the apple tree, round which the wicked serpent twined, with a quotation from “Paradise Lost” beneath.

Though John’s care of his books was so great, his desire to spread knowledge was greater, and he used to lend them a good deal to his friends and the more intelligent of his neighbours; for nothing gave him more pleasure than to discourse about the subjects he studied with others, and assist them in prosecuting these in every way in his power. To prevent the loss of the books he lent, he got a small card printed at Netherton, which was pasted on each of them, and of which this is a copy; but of its author I can find no clue, though others then used the same:—

He always took pains to see his books duly returned, and was not slack to remind any one when a book was kept too long; doing so even with Charles Black.

Nothing illustrates the remarkable solicitude he bestowed on all he possessed so well as the one fact that he wore the same suits of clothes, already described, all which were of his own weaving, for at least fifty years, and that they were presentable even to the last, though much worn and out of date. He had two suits with which he went out of doors, “a better and a worse,” in addition to his working dress; and during this long period, he never had any other till after the subscription raised for him in his eighty-seventh year. Besides two time-worn, tall dress hats —which were of the real old beaver, with long hairy pile—he had two round, blue, flat “Tam o’ Shanter ” bonnets, with great tassels on the top, which he wore in going about the house and on less formal occasions. One of these bonnets was borrowed by the Alford Mutual Improvement Society, to help in one of their dramatic entertainments. When John received it back, he gave it a good brushing, according to his wont, in presence of the member who returned it, although the man had previously cleaned it, knowing the scrupulosity of its owner.

John went regularly to church every Sunday, travelling four miles over the hill to the Free Church of Cushnie, and nothing but storm kept him at home. He always left Droughsburn in good time, to have leisure to visit or talk to a friend and pluck some of his favourites by the wayside.

The Rev. George Williams and his cousin, Dr. Williams of Tarland on the Dee, then lived with their parents about a mile from church, and both recall the old man from their early boyhood, with pleasant memories and great respect. Their homes were frequently visited by John, and there he was much appreciated and hospitably entertained. The children, glad to escape the over-restraints of sabbath keeping as then observed in the strict country, made a point of setting out very early for church to have a chat with the old botanist. They liked to hear him talking about the plants, and to repeat their grand names after him.

Though tight-laced on several religious matters, John never thought it any desecration of the holy day to admire, gather, and discourse of God’s illuminated herbarium, spread open by Him on that day as widely and beautifully as on other days—plainly and attractively inviting to study, and chiding all condemnation of it. Hence his ready and willing discourse to the boys about the flowers while going to and returning from church.

With old George Williams, an office-bearer, “who had a belief in the old botanist when others were inclined to think him daft,” he used also to talk about them before and after service, though many of his narrower fellow-worshippers would most likely have condemned both of them as sabbath-breakers for so doing. John always took some of the wild flowers to church with him, which the boys used to note with surprise were merely weeds, neither rare nor showy, but often the very commonest. These he would spread out on the desk in front of him, the Eyebright (Eupkrasia officinalis) being a special favourite. He did this evidently for the simple joy of seeing them, “looking at them,” as Dr. Williams remarks, “just as other people look, and cannot help looking, at those they love.” And in all his worship, the flowers were ever present to him, to brighten and inspire the sacred book and its glorious themes. One Sunday, shortly after being licensed, young Williams preached in the church of the village, from the text ( Matt. v. 45) “He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” John congratulated the young preacher after service, but added, “When ye ken mair aboot floo’rs, ye’ll be able to preach better upo’ sick-like texts.”

The boys used to be amused at John’s curious old-world attire on Sunday, which was “anything but gaudy.” They took special note of his dress hat, “useful, though not ornamental;” his swallow-tail, navy-blue coat, “with its collar of most ample dimensions, almost burying his neck, black neck-cloth and all;” his great shoes, with their abundant protecting irons on the sole; and his immense umbrella, “a kind of combined staff and tent,” they thought, “which even such winds as blow in upland Cushnie would with difficulty have turned inside out.” In church, he sat in the pew just in front of them, where they could study his peculiarities with ease—and it is to be feared they attended more to him than to the minister—noting, even the “cat’s-teeth” stitches of his home-made coat, as they showed themselves when he stood in prayer. They were, however, impressed, even at that age, with his remarkable reverence and attention during worship.

In reading, John’s short-sightedness caused him to hold the book almost close to his face, and “even then he had to re-adjust his position afresh at the beginning of every line. But what delighted us most,” the doctor tells, “was that every Sunday, just as the sermon was firmly caught between the heads and the application, John handed us his snuff-box (the finely painted one he had got from Mr. Beveridge in Tough). How kind we thought him! Taking snuff and its consequent sneezing not being considered absolutely heterodox proceedings, albeit held of doubtful propriety, John and we were allowed to repeat the proceeding once every Sunday.”

After service, the old man was generally hospitably treated by some of his friends in the Howe of Cushnie, and was thus strengthened for the four-mile walk home again. In returning, he generally had some willing companions, for one or more of the boys accompanied him to the top of the hill, to listen to his discourse about the plants, old times and distant scenes, seasoned with good advice.

Solemn and scientific, dour and distant, as he looked to many, John had, as we have seen, a secret fund of jollity and humour. He derived the greatest pleasure, for example, from keeping up the innocent old festivals of our ‘ore-fathers, and took an active and independent part in their celebration. He used to hold Halloween in full form, both indoors and out, inviting his friends and especially the children of the neighbourhood to assist him. He raised a great bonfire on the top of the hill behind the house, keeping watch over it himself to prevent its being kindled too soon by mischief-makers, who sometimes tried to do so. He set it on fire in the gloaming, “making a bleeze,” as it was called, which was seen far and near, from its elevated central position; and round it, he made the children join hands and dance hilariously, as in the old days of Baal worship, while he blew a loud blast, from a horn he kept for the purpose, which resounded over hill and dale. In the home ceremonies, in which the whole assisted, he joined heartily in all that was done, allowing himself, according to custom, to be led blindfolded to the “kail-yard,” or cabbage garden, to pull a “kail-stock,” the root stalk of the cabbage. This was duly placed above the door of his shop, to determine his matrimonial fate—the name of the first woman that entered showing that of the expected future partner.

Again, at Yule, that is Christmas, Old Style, on the 5th of January, he entered into all the merry frolics of the time, and into the homely games in which both young and old engaged, such as hide-and-seek, throwing dice for pins, and the like. He also drank “sowens,” and carried them to neighbouring houses to sprinkle them on the doors, the. infliction being counted a dishonour, which they tried to prevent by watching their gates with due care and endeavouring to catch the invaders—his own door coming in for its share of the baptism along with the rest.

On other occasions of general gatherings at Droughsburn and the neighbourhood, John entered into all the merriment and contributed his share, by both dancing and singing, and also by playing “the trump” or Jew’s-harp, a style of music which he still cultivated; and this he carried on even in his old age. At these times, his tastes were very abstemious; though he could “take a dram” with the rest, a very little soon raising his hilarity.

In his advanced years, he once went to a soire in. connection with the parish church of Alford, of which Dr. Gillan was then minister, a man whom he had held in great respect since he had known him in Tough. This shows that his opposition to the Establishment had mellowed with age, as it did with even the fiercest dissentients. He sang one of his old songs, new to folks there:

To the girl I lo’e I’ll ever prove true;
I’ll ne’er wear a stain on my bonnet sae blue.”

Though his voice was much cracked by this time, his singing proved effective from the intelligent heartiness with which the sentiments were rendered. His quaint appearance in his ancient garments, with his staff in his hand as he sang, is still recalled by those that heard him.

Chapter XXXI – His Disciples and Sympathisers at Droughsburn

THOUGH thus self-contained and self-absorbed, overmodest and retiring, and much misunderstood by his neighbours in general, Duncan’s influence over others was by no means small. Of this we have already seen proofs in the progress of our story, and it will be interesting to .adduce others in his later years.

He was never more truly delighted than when communicating knowledge, *and, with the spirit of the true lover of science, he was constantly trying to gain proselytes. But, in the prevalent state of education and opinion in regard to such pursuits, his success in making converts to Botany was not very great; and even with a more public-spirited, less retiring man, could scarcely have been greater as things then were. To John at times, notwithstanding his large hopefulness and knowledge of his own endeavours, his life in this respect sometimes seemed to have been spent in vain, though it was very far from being so. At my first visit to him, when, in talking on this subject, he deprecated such influence over others, Mrs. Allanach kindly broke out in his behalf: “Noo, John, I maun tell on ye; ye hae had scholars, and a wheen o’ them. There was my ain son-in-law, and that clever loon doon the road there, noo a grand teacher awa’ in Ingland, wha baith used, mony a day, to come to you wi’ their bits o’ floors and girses; and many a lauch I hae had at ye a’, as ye stud at the door there i’ the gloamin’, lookin’ at the unco’ things and gabbin’ over them to nae end!”

The first of John’s disciples here referred to was John M. B. Taylor, already mentioned. He was a farm-servant in the Vale of Alford, and for a time at Tillychetly on the Leochel, opposite Droughsburn. He first made the botanist’s acquaintance in 1871, when he saw his herbarium. At once he felt, as he says, “a peculiar charm in the man and his studies that struck a high-sounding chord in his nature.” In May, 1872, he took some schoolboys to the rare weaving shop, when the old man delightedly showed them his plants and described their peculiarities and discovery, till it was time to leave. John then accompanied them homewards, according to his kindly practice, and the young folks •indulged on the way in the unwonted pleasure of gathering the wild flowers by the roadside, and bringing them to be named by John, who spoke also of their medicinal properties. At parting, he talked earnestly to the ploughman of the joys of Botany, the charm it had been to himself in his loneliness, the contentment it had imparted in his lowly life, and his delight in solitary wanderings in search of his favourites, all uttered in what seemed to the young man a vein of “true poetry.”

Taylor was now thoroughly “bitten” with the subject, and set himself to its systematic study under John’s guidance. He commissioned his tutor that autumn to bring him a text-book from Aberdeen, which he did with pleasure, “Brook’s Introduction to the Linnwan System.” He visited the weaver at all spare hours, and went systematically into the study by reading books which John lent him. When John gave him the loan of any book, he was accustomed to say, “Noo, Johnnie, lad, dinna be over wed-fashioned wi’t ; be ill fashioned. Look in atween the brods and see fat’s in’t. There’s some fowks sac weelfashioned wi’ books that they never open them.”

In the mid-winter of 1873, John went to his garden and brought his scholar a Christmas rose, saying, “Tak’ that i’ yer han’, and gin ony o’ the ploughmen chiels speir fat it is, say it’s Helleborus nib er, and ye’ll sta’ them wi’ sic a name.”

The following summer, Taylor made his first collection of plants, of considerable number, which he named and arranged according to Linnaus. He now paid weekly visits to Droughsburn. His delight in plants so increased that, to have as much time as possible with the botanist, he used to leave the farm at once without supper when work was over—a bowl of milk and bread being, however, placed by the kindly kitchen-maid to wait his late return, in the hay-loft where he slept.

At these visits, they used to hunt for plants in the long summer nights, John telling their common and technical names, peculiarities of structure, and medicinal and other properties, and seasoning his talk with much fun and humour, stories of his adventures, and good advice. This pleasant intercourse continued for several years, and Taylor says he never brought a plant to John which he was unable to name and describe. John’s remarkable memory struck him, as it did all that knew him, with his familiar knowledge of the localities where he had found plants. One evening, John and he set out to search for a certain species at some distance, but by the time they reached the spot, darkness had come down, and nothing could be seen. The eager old botanist, nevertheless, knew the place so well, though he had not been there for a year or two and though the plant had just appeared above ground, that he found it—after groping in the dark on hands and knees—and presented it to the lad.

The botanical garden at the cottage was a frequent means of instruction and study, and every plant there was-examined and .described.

Taylor’s progress was rapid and secure, and all holidays, of which he had only two in the year, were devoted to science. In time, he formed a more complete herbarium. To extend his knowledge of the flora of the country, in 1875 he spent some time in Forfarshire, where John’s. intimate knowledge of the country and the stations of plants= there proved of the highest service to him. Since then, Taylor has advanced in Botany, and now possesses a very good knowledge of it, both practical and theoretical. He has accumulated a collection which includes, it appears, most of the flowering plants, ferns, and grasses of Aberdeen, Banff and Kincardine, as also species from the north of England, where he has also botanised.

His studies have not been confined to Botany. He has gathered specimens in Archoeology, Geology, and Mineralogy. In 1869, he began Phrenology, which he studied both practically and theoretically for years, in books and on the heads of his friends. From 1871 to 1876, he made a series of Meteorological observations, in which John was much interested. He also studied Astronomy with great. earnestness, securing assistance and ‘encouragement from the old star-gazer; and. in 1872, he made observations in the Vale, for the “Astro-Meteorological Society” of London. Since that, he has gone more or less into several branches of Natural History, as shells, insects, and animals, of which he has a good selection. He has passed the Science and Art examinations in Botany, Geology, Animal Physiology, and Practical and Theoretical Chemistry. Altogether, he has developed, under the extraordinary difficulties that beset poverty and lowly condition in the country, remarkable aptitude and enthusiasm for the natural sciences. As he gratefully acknowledges, he received his first and deepest impulses towards these from John Duncan.

Some years ago, he abandoned farm labour, and gave a realistic account of his experiences in a book called “Eleven Years at Farm Work: a True Tale of Farm-Servant Life from 1863 onwards.” In 1876, after marrying a daughter of Mr. Allanach‘s, whom he had met in his visits to Droughsburn, he removed to Aberdeen. There lie was engaged for some years in several employments, and occupied his leisure in writing for the newspaper press and in prosecuting science.

He is now assistant in the Public Library of Paisley, having been recommended to that post by an Irish professor, who examined his private collections. It is to be hoped that his scientific knowledge and enthusiasm will ere long be utilized in connection with some museum or other similar institution, in which he would be an undoubted gain. His affection and respect for Duncan are deep and permanent. From the first, he perceived the genuine worth and ability hid beneath the unpromising exterior of the old weaver. From Mr. Taylor, I have gained more regarding John than from any other friend.

In the Vale of Alford, there lived another farm-servant, a friend of Taylor’s, but somewhat older, called William D. H. Deans. With exemplary diligence and perseverance, under trying difficulties and ill health, he went to Aberdeen University—the nursing mother of thousands of her able but humble sons—and in due time took his degree. Though adorned with academic honours, he did not forget his old friends in the Vale, but, amongst other kindly services, used to assist his struggling companion, Taylor, in his neglected education; guiding his English studies, correcting exercises for him by post, and introducing him to Latin, to help him in botanical nomenclature. Deans determined to devote himself to teaching as a profession, in which lie had engaged during his college course.

In 1868, while conducting a school at Lethenty, in Fyvie, in Aberdeenshire, he was introduced by the parish minister, the Rev. Gavin Lang, [Now of Inverness.] to an earnest botanist, the Rev. William Lytteil, [Author of “Landmarks of Scottish Life and Language,” 1877.] then officiating at a church near the Cross of Jackson, who possessed a good herbarium, specially rich in grasses and ferns. Under him, Deans began Botany both in the book and in the field. In order to help him to do it in proper form, he bought Balfour’s “Outlines” of the science, and a vasculum. That summer, he returned to his mother’s house at Alford, and began its independent study. In coming home one evening after seeking for plants, he met a neighbouring farmer, who, when he saw his unwonted vasculum and its contents, said: “Weel, Willie, man, ye su’d gang up tae the aul’ weyver abeen the burn, for he’s near wud aboot plants and floo’rs; and some o’ the fowk up yonder say he’s whiles up gin four o’ the mornin’, wan’erin’ aboot the stanks and dike-sides aifter them.” This was the first time he had heard of John, though the weaver had then lived sixteen years by the Leochel! Willie at once conceived a strong desire to become acquainted with him, especially when he now learned his enthusiasm and success.

Shortly after this, while at Alford cattle market, Deans observed, as he writes, “an aged man standing in the centre of the fair, neat, clean, dressed in a blue home-spun coat with a large collar and brass buttons, and leaning upon a large blue umbrella.” Assured, from descriptions he had got, that this was the botanist he sought, he introduced himself to John, who received him with a kindly smile, saying, “Ay, laddie, fat dae ye dee and far dae ye bide?” The young man, having satisfied him on these points, told him how he had been working at Botany for five or six weeks, and said he would be greatly obliged for his kindly assistance in the . science. They at once entered into earnest confabulation, personal and botanical, and John finished with some counsels about the plants and a warm invitation to meet him next day at Droughsburn.

With a collection of wild flowers in his hand, William entered the weaver’s. curious domain at the appointed hour, and found him at his loom, the clatter of which had guided him to the door. John at once ceased work, and with wonted care, spreading a sheet of brown paper on the web at which he was working and a newspaper over that, asked him to lay out his plants there. Then, after arming himself with “Hooker and Arnott” and “Dickie,” he reseated himself at the loom, while the young student sat by, and they began the examination of the specimens. This was a long but interesting process, names, structure, properties, and adventures being variously intermingled. John’s odd pronunciation of the technical terms at once tickled the ears of the collegian, just fresh from university benches. The writing of the names from` his dictation was “downright Thracian,” as he says, John trying the spelling letter by letter, but giving it up, and asking him to “look at the buik.” In due time, Deans secured the names of the plants he brought, and got instructions in regard to gathering, drying, laying down, and other mysteries of practical Botany. When he left, John accompanied him up the hill above the cottage, naming and describing all the plants they saw, till they reached the summit. There he sat down beside a marsh,. and asked his companion to “look aboot’m.” The place was covered with the purple flowers of the Common Butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris), John’s pronunciation of the Latin being exceedingly amusing. When this had been examined and commented on, John asked the hour; bade him good-bye, and hastened homewards down the hill, shouting back to his young friend not to be Long before coming back again.

A day or two after this, John himself called at Mrs. Deans’ house, about six in the morning, saying he would return about seven that evening. He travelled a long distance to his former haunts at Keig and Tough, delivering to customers some “cloutie coverings” he had finished, but duly appeared on the road near the house at the hour named. The young student, who had been looking out for him with pleasant anticipations, at once went to meet him, and found him brisk and blithe, with a fine flower of the White Ox-eye (Cirysantlaelnum leucantlzelnum) stuck gaily in his button-hole—and a beautiful flower it is, commonplace as it is counted, surpassing many of our lauded garden asters. Holding up a parcel he carried, he exclaimed, “Sal, lad, I hae something here for ye!” As they walked towards the cottage, John directed his attention to the flower in his coat, and described the structure of the composite order, of which it is a very good, clear example. While tea was being prepared by the good mother, John, ever careful of the fragments of time, asked the lad to show his recent gatherings and get them named till the kettle boiled. After tea, which revived him greatly, being somewhat worn out by his long journey, the naming was resumed. This was accompanied by a varied commentary, scientific, social, and personal, all interesting and picturesque, as suggested by the plants. When this was finished, he opened the parcel he had himself brought, and described specimens of the rarer kinds, which he promised to “divide wi'” Willie after he had pressed them, when he came up to see him at the Droichs burn.

At subsequent visits, botanical investigations were continued, the mysterious boxes—shown only to the worthy—were opened, the books looked over, the herbarium untied, weaving described, and early memories of his life related. As their intimacy grew, they met twice or thrice every week. They botanised together all over the country round Alford and along the banks of the Don. Under John’s direction, Deans also visited many of John’s early haunts; amongst others, Castle Forbes, Monymusk, and Benachie. John often visited Mrs. Deans’ cottage on Sunday evenings, to have a cup of tea and talk with her son. At such times, his conversation never touched on Botany, but was confined to religious, political, and social themes, in which he wished to interest the young student. lie used to deplore “the decay of modern preaching,” and to bemoan the general run of sermons as “a rigmarole of ecclesiastical phrases”—a criticism, it is to be feared, too often merited.

In time, Mr. Deans left for a school in Stoke-on-Trent, and he is now head master of a successful upper-class school at Clifton, near Bristol; being the “grand teacher awa in Ingland,” referred to by Mrs. Allanach. He recalls his ancient botanical tutor with gratitude and appreciation.

Droughsburn is situated on the large farm of Dorsell, which lies on the slope of the valley above the road skirting the Leochel, and was then leased by Mr. McCombie, the celebrated cattle-breeder of Tillyfour up the Leochel, brother of the editor. To Dorsell, in i866, there came to learn Scotch farming, a young Swede, about thirty, called Hans J. Samson, belonging to Gothenberg. He was pleasant, intelligent and bright, had been well educated, being able to read Latin, and was a general favourite. He took lessons in English from the Rev. Andrew Christie, then schoolmaster of Alford, now parish minister of Kildrummic on the Don, and he could use the language very creditably.

The rough ploughmen with whom Hans worked used sometimes to visit Duncan, having encountered him on the road and met him at harvesting; and they laughed at his eccentricities, and especially at the droll names he gave the weeds. They told Samson about the botanical weaver, and accompanied him one evening’to the weaving shop, to get some fun, as they said, out of “the queer cretur.” But their merriment received an unexpected check from their companion. To their surprise, he entered earnestly into all that was said and shown by the old man. They never returned with him there, as it was evidently useless for their purposes; for the Swede was “tarred wi’ the same stick” as the man of weeds. He took to John immensely, studied Botany with him, and visited him frequently. John spoke highly of him to me, and had great pleasure in his company, delighted as he was at all times to gain a convert to his beloved science. They made some botanical journeys together, and became great friends during the year the young Swede remained on the farm. As John said, “Hans was unco’ fond to hear about the floo’rs and their names, and to talk about his great countryman.” At the mention of Carl Linn6’s name, he “would hae jumpit shortly,” John said; that is, he would start from his seat with enthusiasm. He made considerable progress in Botany, and could by-and-by decipher a plant with a little help from his aged tutor.

The purpose of Mr. Samson’s bucolic companions was thus pleasantly frustrated, in a way that issued in pleasure and profit to himself, and helped to cheer the old man’s latter days with the too rare joys of sympathy in his solitary and misunderstood pursuits. Samson left Dorsell for England, to prosecute his agricultural studies under eminent farmers there.. He then returned to Sweden, but his subsequent history I have been unable to trace.

Dr. Williams’ memories of John and his plants are pleasant and appreciative, recalling him from earliest boyhood, when he used to come to church, as already told. “How he loved Botany,” he exclaims, “and how he enjoyed it, few could believe. Truly, in that respect, John Duncan was a most remarkable exemplification of what the humblest student of nature may become. To a botanist, a visit to John’s out-of-the-way abode was quite a treat; and I have a lively recollection of John at home. Of course, one would find him weaving–a process that was to me new and interesting. The first visit, therefore, began with a demonstration in weaving. Thereafter, with evidently no reluctance, John went over with me pile after pile of his laortus siccus. Every specimen had its history, noted in his memory. The local floral resources he had exhausted, and could tell where any rare specimen was to be found. If he had it to spare, he seemed to have great pleasure in parting with a specimen, nor was he slow to give away a sample of a rare plant. Thinking medicinal plants suitable for me, as a medical student, he gave me a specimen, which I still possess, of Atropa belladonna, Deadly Nightshade. He called it ‘Atropia Beldonia,’ but what did it matter, though he occasionally mispronounced these neck-breaking names? Time to spare for interested visitors John seemed to have in abundance.

“That first visit was to me a rare treat, and is still vividly recalled. The man himself, compared with his circumstances and surroundings, was perhaps a greater rarity than his rarest specimens. Many a brown study have I had of him and the curious place he worked in. Then, John always saw his friend a good way along the road, when the visit was ended, bidding him `haste ye back.'”

Dr. Williams’ cousin, the Rev. George Williams, from -whose reminiscences of the botanist we have already gleaned, also recalls him from childhood, where he came to church and used to speak to the children and to his father about “the lilies of the field how they grow.” Afterwards, while he was attending college, John tried to induce him to begin the serious study of plants. “He brought me,” Williams says, “a book to help me in the subject. He pulled a buttercup to pieces, and explained its parts very carefully and minutely. I resolved to begin discovering for myself the names of the commonest wild plants. I began with Ragweed; but, alas! the florets of the disc, which I mistook for the petals, and the florets of the ray for the stamens, would not correspond with the book. I tried another of the Composita,, with like results. I got disheartened, and returned the book to John, at the same time telling him that I had no time for Botany. I think lie was vexed. If I had told him my difficulty, he would have been so glad to remove it and to instruct me further; but I did not, and so my technical botanical studies ended.

“I called one day on John at Droughsburn,” he continues. “We discussed the weather, crops, and church news. In a few minutes, John had dragged me to his wonderful patch of cultivation—his garden. He told me a great deal about the plainest-looking weeds. Amongst other things, he plucked a bit of common Yarrow (Achillea millefolZum), and told me that the plant was once called `Eerie,’ as lasses used to take it and put it in their breasts as a charm, repeating this rhyme..

‘Eerie, eerie, I do pluck
And in my bosom I do put;
The first young lad that speaks to me,
The same shall my true lover be.’

“I suggested that `eerie’ might be a corruption of ‘yarrow;’ or that it might be the Scotch word `eerie,’ meaning timorous, because the girl would go tremblingly and timorously to pluck and place the charm in her breast. John at once exclaimed, ‘ Oh, man, that’s it! ‘

” He had a plant called `Humility,’ or Aaron’s Beard, [Saxifraga sarvzentosa, a Chinese species of Saxifrage, having flowers like the other known as “London Pride” (Saxifraga umbrosa), a Lusitanian species, now wild in some places in Britain.] which he said was so called because it threw out long tendrils which hung down over the margin of the pot where it was suspended. `But,’ added John, `Aaron’s beard was nae larger than Moses’ beard, as far as we ken;’ and then he quietly repeated the first verse of the psalm..

‘Like precious ointment on the head,
`Which down the beard did flow,
Even Aaron’s beard, and to the skirts
Did of his garments go.’

‘So you see,’ he continued, `Aaron’s beard went down to the skirts o’ his garments.’ I think the old high priest sank considerably in his estimation when I pointed out that it was the oil, and not the beard, which flowed down to the skirts.

“I was speaking to him one day about the colours of flowers, and mentioned that the sweet scents and pretty petals attracted insects, whereby the flowers were fertilised. ‘Ay,’ said he, `they’re attractive to wee flees as well as to us. But some o’ the flees are killed by them.’ This led him to describe the irritability of the stamens in some plants, and he ended by saying, `There’s nae moray o’ them sac cruel, though.’ I replied, `they all hang out their colours and give out their sweets for a selfish end.’ ‘Na, na,’ he replied, `they’re jist like the lads and lasses, dressin’ themsel’s bonnilic to get a sweetheart;’ and he went away, laughing heartily at the conceit.

“We were talking one day, on the way from church, about the death of an acquaintance, when he very solemnly remarked, ‘Floo’rs come up oot o’ the caul’ grun’ gradually in spring; man will be raised up suddenly full blown.” The remark was in accordance with the generally hopeful view the old man took of things.”

On another occasion, Mr. Williams was passing Droughsburn and met the old botanist near the cottage. “It’s a fine day this,” said John. “Yes, John, a very fine day.” “But we’re sair necdin’ rain,” John went on. “The flees are busy nibblin’ awwa’ the neeps.” “Does rain kill them?” asked his young friend. “Na,” replied John, “I dinna think that; and even gin it did droon them, they’re sae breedy that ac generation o’ them, greedier than the last, wu’d spring tip wi’ the first blink o’ sunsheen. The rain maybe doesna kill them, but it gars the neep grow till it gets ower hard for the beesties’ teeth.” “What havoc farmers suffer from these small creatures!” remarked Mr. Williams. “Ay, ay,” consented John; “gin they were as big as hares, we cu’d gae oot an’ shoot them wi’ guns and trap them like rabbits; nae game laws cu’d prevent that. But they’re sae sma’ cattle ; catchin’ them winna pay ony mair nar clippin’ the soo.”

“Is work brisk just now, John?” “Oh, weel,” replied he, “I’ve aye plenty to dee. `Swift as a weaver’s shuttle’ is an auld sayin’; but ye canna keep the guidwives frae grumblin’ awa’ and ca’in’ me lazy ; just as gin they hadna ac steek o’ cla’es to cover their backs wi’ till I tak’ their wabs tae them.” “Are you not often wearied, doing the same thing over and over again?” “Ow, na,” briskly returned he. “The wark wud be gey an’ wearisome gin the min’ were tied till’t. But the min’s free like the shuttle, and sae it can rin aboot here and there, back and fore, ding dang.”

Here Mr. Williams mentioned the names of the greatest African traveller and a distinguished Aberdeen philosopher, who had -either been weavers or connected with weaving in their early days, and thereby shed honour on the loom. “Just sae,” consented the old weaver, proud of his trade, “oor wark mak’s us greater by ord’nar’; or a gey sicht less.” “And you have turned to plants and flowers,” pursued Mr. William, “to keep your mind green?” John brightened up at the mention of his favourites, but with his usual deprecation of personal praise, quietly assented; “the smell and sicht o’ them drives the dust o’ the shoppie oot o’ the lungs, nae don’t.” “I wish I knew as much about Botany as you do, John,” vainly sighed the young man. “Ye micht soon ken a hantle [Literally a handful, hence a considerable quantity.] mair ner me, gin ye wu’d set yersel’ till’t. Thae lang names pit me oot files, but ye wu’d ken the meanin’s o’ them and min’ them better.” “The scientific terms and meanings are almost of no use,” rightly remarked his friend, “until the things meant are known.” “Weel, weel,” wisely and encouragingly urged the real educationist John was; ” pu’ and look, read and speir, and never fear!”

He then began to show Mr. Williams some of his favourite plants, “bits o’ floories” as he called them. “This .ane,” he went on to explain, “I got at A,” mentioning the name of the place where he had obtained it. “That ane I pu’d and brocht hame frae B. Here’s ane ye winna see ilka day; I had a gey ca’in’ afore I got my neeves, on him. I wis he may grow doon here; but the snell air and mountain dew suit his constitution best. I got him awa’ up on the hill ‘o’ C. This wee bit thingie’s nae thrivin’. I got it in a hedge at D. Weel, weel, they’re a’ wild, as ye say, but I’m tamin’ them; killin’ some o’ theml;nae doo’t i’ the process, but kind to them a’. Here’s a girse I carried frae E; there’s lots o’t near your hoose.” And so the good old enthusiast went on, showing and speaking of what was dear to him and must be interesting, he thought, to every one that heard him.

Then the conversation drifted to other matters, and amongst these, the affairs of the Cushnie Free Church. Of a preacher they had lately heard, John observed, “He mak’s awfu’ moo’s; I liket him better when I didna leuk at’m.” The old man accompanied the young minister along the road, as he was wont, and after a hearty “good-bye, and haste ye back!” he returned to his quiet hollow.

The medical students from Aberdeen, in their botanical excursions, used sometimes to call on John, and he has led them on occasions to the spots where the rarer species grew. But ” puir fallows,” said he, “they cu’dna stand my walkin’ at a’; they had ower thin boots. But fat cu’d you expect frae thae young loons?”

The Rev. David A. Beattie, the first Free Church incumbent at Cushnie and John’s minister for eight years, used to visit him frequently, and was much interested in his uncommon parishioner. “In his lowly home,” he says, “he was all sunshine when conversation led to his favourite study. I remember once, after speaking to him of Christ as the `True Vine’ and His culture of the branches (John xv. i), how he warmed to the theme, and, ere I left, took me to see his little plot of rare plants, a wonderful and miscellaneous ‘gathering from all parts. There he showed his full acquaintance with the blossoms that smile on us in the garden and on the wayside, and he gave abundant evidence of his conquest over botanical terms, which showed hint to be an earnest student, ardently scientific while intelligently devout. As a botanist, he showed unwearying diligence in collecting facts and noting phenomena; but he did not search merely for cold, abstract, inexorable laws, but owned the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valley. He grasped his Bible tightly while repeating along with me the words `All flesh is grass—but the word of the Lord endureth for ever.’ His love of Botany as a specialist was great, and every discovery bearing on it filled him with delight.”

Chapter XXXIV – The Author’s First Visit to Droughsburn

FROM what I had heard of Duncan from Charles Black, whom I had known intimately for years, I conceived a strong desire to visit the old man and make his personal acquaintance.

Though too long prevented from gratifying my wish, in September, 1877, I saw the Vale of Alford for the first time. In company with a friend, the Rev. Thomas Bell, the minister of Keig, a botanist and entomologist, and a guest of his, the Rev. Mr. Johnstone, of Stranraer, I paid John the long-desired visit. Mr. Bell had called on him before, and was greatly interested in the man. I was quite unknown to him even by name, and my coming was altogether unexpected. On account of his sensitive reserve, only the minister of Keig and myself entered the workshop at first. We found him seated alone at his loom, in the streaming sunlight, behind the gauzy screen of threads and sticks, and busy with his shuttle as it made its merry music. The aged weaver, thus all-unconscious of our entry, formed a picturesque sight that would have made a pretty composition in lights and shadows. That one glance fulfilled the hope of years and raised the liveliest anticipations. After finding his way with some difficulty up the narrow passage between the looms and the winding-wheels, the clergyman advanced towards John, gave him friendly greeting, and introduced me as one who had come a long distance to see him. He looked very old, and well he might, for he had entered his eighty-third year, and his vigour, remarkable though it had been, had now largely abated. His head was uncovered, and we could see that it was not yet bald, the hair, only a little mixed with grey, falling from the crown all round and hanging over the brow. At once he ceased his weaving, and replied to the minister with evident pleasure, excusing himself for not returning his last visit, on account of the recent bad weather. The presence of a stranger seemed to create some shyness, as he turned to say that he was glad to see me ; but the mention of his friend, Charles Black, at once stirred a pleasure that raised a bright smile and lighted up his eye and countenance. That name had evidently struck a deep chord and wakened distant memories, for he was silent and absorbed for a little; but it charmed away at once and for ever his constitutional reserve. We soon got into active conversation, as I told him of Charles and his many tales of their past lives, and my own long wish to see a man so great a student of plants and so dear to one I so much esteemed.

After talking for some time, he returned to his loom, according to his custom, to reflect in silence on what he had heard, and to save time, for he generally talked to his friends amidst the clatter of the shuttle. He worked slowly, but with great regularity, earnestly watching the progress of the web and scanning the threads to notice any defects as it grew under his hands. Old as he was, he was “gleg o’ the e’e,” [Quick-sighted and keen, applied to any of the senses, but chiefly to sight.] as he said, and seemed to miss nothing; for all at once he caught an error in the warp, leant forward over the beam, put his head and arms through the cords, and tied the break with smartness and success. His hands were withered and wrinkled, the fingers bent, and the joints thick and knotted with long tying of threads and digging of plants. It was astonishing, for a man above eighty, how well he did that trying work.

By-and-by the third visitor was introduced. His entrance seemed for a little to cause a return of his natural shyness, for John shortly turned again to his web. He felt no doubt as if he were being interviewed, but the sunny countenance and pleasant humour of the new-comer speedily put him at his case.

Pointing to the “pirn” wheel, which stood opposite the loom where he was working, I asked, “Who fills your `pirns’ for you, John?”

“Ow, I dee’t mysel’! ” said he, with some surprise at the question.

“Dear me!” said I, for it is not usual for the weaver to do this work; “is there no woman to do it for you?”

“Na, na!” replied he, “no, for this mony a year. Besides, I dinna need their help, and I manage awa’ bravely mysel’; so that I am independent o’ them. I like to be independent,” said the little man, and his voice and look told this better than words.

“And do you wind your own warp too?” continued I, turning to the tall warping machine t that stood opposite his loom.

“Ay, ay! ” said he briskly; “I do the hale thing mysel’ frae beginnin’ to end. I get the spun threed frae the women that employ me, that’s a’; and frae that I manage a’ the lave wi’ my ain hands, till it’s made into claith and ta’en hame ready for use. Ye see, sir,” he went on, “when I becam’ a weyver, I made up my mind to be ane, and to maister the hale affair—and I did it; and tho’ I say’t mysel’, fyow cu’d beat me.” There the old man revealed the stuff that had carried him through his hard life and harder studies.

As we were pushed for time, we expressed a wish to see his collection of plants. John rose with alacrity, and went to the other end of the room, near the open door, which shed there a much needed gleam; for the small dim panes, overshadowed with trees, admitted only a diminished light, except where the sun shone directly on the loom. When he stood up, he appeared exceedingly round-shouldered and bent, the effects of years and the stooping required by his work and studies. He was clad in moleskin trousers and vest with sleeves, without a coat, and with a coloured napkin loosely tied round his neck. He wore the usual small white apron of the weaver.

At the end of the room near the door, stood his boxes and chests and parts of old looms, and on the top of these lay a mass of papers and some books. These papers contained dried plants. They were sadly covered with dust and “stoor,” and had evidently not been moved for some time. The plants were contained in rough, home-made foolscap volumes of white and brown paper and newspapers. I opened several of the books, while we all looked on. The specimens were laid down in the usual manner on the front of each page, but they had been much disturbed, and sadly showed the extensive ravages of moths. When I crushed some of these destroyers with an expression of annoyance, he remarked, “Weel, weel, it’s a peety, but I canna keep them clean noo, as I ance did, I can tell you. But,” added he, with a quiet smile, “they were ance leevin’, the puir things”—referring to the plants —”and they’re leavin’ again, ye see!” thus hiding his pain at the loss of his treasures behind a touch of humour. But they could scarcely have been other than wasted, even in better circumstances for preservation, for many of these plants had been gathered by him forty years before.

I was so saddened and disappointed at the sight of what I had looked forward to see with keen anticipation as a rare and valuable collection, that I could not continue the inspection, and asked if these were all; hoping that they were but duplicates and waste specimens, and that the best were still to come. [I found afterwards that we only saw a small part of his better herbarium containing the specimens now in Marischall College, which he never opened out unless there was ample time to examine it.]

Key in hand, he opened one of the chests close by the door and revealed a more cheering sight—a large number of books in very good condition. The under side of the lid exhibited the coloured pictures and printed matter he had pasted there to brighten the box and increase his pleasure when he consulted his library, herein partly contained. After turning over several books, at which we casually glanced, he produced two parcels carefully wrapped up in paper and tied with many strings. One of them enclosed a good and pretty large collection of the Grasses, in a book well bound in canvas and interleaved with blotting paper. The plants were fastened by cross strips of paper to each page with all the care of a practised hand, and duly inscribed with their technical names. The whole volume was neat, clean and carefully preserved, and the plants were classed according to order and species. The other parcel comprised the general wild plants of the neighbourhood, scientifically arranged and pressed with like care and neatness. These were the collections prepared for the Alford Horticultural Show in 1871. He showed them with quiet pride, and had kept the tickets announcing the honour then achieved. Our praise of these collections raised the old man’s spirits, somewhat depressed, as ours also had been, at the state of the other plants, and greatly gratified him. New animation seemed to inspire him, and his face wore a brighter and more youthful expression that was pleasant to see. After the general misunderstanding under which he had lived all his life, the presence of sympathetic spirits, students of his favourite subject, and the praise of admiring eyes, were like water in the waste to the thirsty wanderer. The carefulness with which he handled these finer plants was very great. Though I turned them over with all tenderness, he could not restrain himself from nervously saying more than once, “Tak’ `tent’ noo; tak’ ‘tent.’ [“Tent” means attention and care, and is derived from the same root as attention, tendo, to stretch.] See ye dinna hort them!” as he bent keenly over me, while I turned the leaves.

“But that’s no a’,” he said, after we had finished looking at these two volumes. He then lifted some other books from the chest, till he came to a larger parcel, which he ,delivered into my hands, with animated countenance, saying, “Look there noo, and see fat’s there!” We had no notion of what was within, but John’s proud bearing and beaming countenance raised our expectations.

I unloosed the string that bound it, unwrapped the paper, and found a similar string and wrapper inside. This I untied and uncovered, and again a third string and wrapper appeared. Once more untying and unfolding, I only exposed a similar protection within. “Dear me, John!” exclaimed I, “what have you here? Is it your silver plate, or a grand presentation, or what is it?” “Oo, just gang on,” replied John, “and ye’ll ken in due time!” He evidently enjoyed the lengthened process of revealing the mystery, and chuckled to himself with a growing humorous glee. After the fifth cord and wrapper had been removed, there was revealed—a book! It was manifestly a favourite with John, and must enclose something better and rarerthan we had yet seen. And it did. It was a collection of the Cryptobamia of the district, the obscure mosses and their allies, one of the hardest sections of the botanical field for any one to decipher, however expert and skilful.

As our Galloway friend remarked, the book was certainly well named Cryptogamia, for it was hidden as in a crypt, fold within fold, and buried under many a tome deep down in the bottom of a chest! John enjoyed the joke with evident relish, and still more our spontaneous and unrestrained expressions of surprise when we opened the -volume and saw what it contained. It was a victory to the dear old man to gain such rare praise from appreciative students of the flowers, as sweet in its way as when he first discovered the Li;rnaw. Was it vanity or childishness Lobe so elated over so small a matter? God send us all such vanity and simplicity!

The plants had been carefully pressed and neatly fastened on and named, and were scented with camphor to preserve them from the moths. We were truly surprised how an old man, his study of the cryptogams being recent, had been able to make out such obscure species; for they require the most minute and even microscopic examination. They certainly formed no mean monument of his enthusiasm and of his love and knowledge of the science. [John used to say truly that the llieracia, the Hawkweeds, and the Salicaceo, the Willows, were “eneuch to fleg a young botanist.”” The Cryptogamnia might have “flegged” one so aged.] The precious collection was sympathetically examined and then closed, as carefully covered with its multitudinous wrappings, and then restored to its old hiding-place in the bottom of the box, below its protecting companions.

Our time had now expired, and leaving John to put away the books, we turned to say good-bye in the doorway. But the old man would not permit us to depart so coldly, but, with the true feeling of the worthy host and gentleman, conducted us, bare-headed as he was, to the gate at the bottom of the garden; and, cordially shaking hands with us all and thanking us for the visit, which he said he had enjoyed, he bade us good night.

On the following day, I made my way alone once more to Droughsburn. The weather was fine, the Leochel flowed down its quiet valley in the bright sunlight amidst the ripening corn, and the retired nook where John lived, with its willows and rowans, seemed more removed from the outer world than before. I found him outside in his own little plot, bare-headed and bent but hale and bright, having come out for a rest from toil, for nothing cheered and restored him like the flowers. The enclosing dike was crested with honeysuckle in bright blossom and sweetest scent; and the Woody Nightshade, with its lurid flower, rose prominent above the rest. John gave me cordial welcome and a warm shake of the hand, and seemed in excellent but quiet spirits. After some remarks on the plants, we entered his house, and seated ourselves opposite each other between the two looms. He placed himself with his back to the front windows, through which the sunbeams streamed and prettily touched his head and eager, intelligent face. He was brighter and more communicative than on the previous day. My relations with his bosom friend, Charles, had evidently opened to me his solitary and silent heart, and I enjoyed the glow created by memory and friendship.

As he sat, he told me in considerable detail, amongst other things, the story of Linnmus, suggested by some subject we had mentioned, characterising him as “a gran’ chiel, [Or chield, a young man, often used with endearment. Pronounced cheel or cheeld; the same word, likely, as the English childe, as in “Childe Harold.” It occurs frequently in the old ballads.] an awfu’ clever man, wha had to fecht his way up frae naething, for they were to mak’ ‘im a shoemakker.” Thus, in delightful Doric, which somehow sounded strange regarding one so associated with bristling technicalities, he told of the early struggles of the great Swede—his going to college, assisted by “a kind and bonnie lass,” to whom “the only return he cu’d mak’ was by-and-by to mar’y ‘er ; ” his journey to Lapland; and his afterwards rising to dignity and renown.

“Do you not feel lonely,” I asked, “thus living by yourself, your family gone, and Charles so far away?”

“Na,” said he, “only noos and naps. [“Nows and thens,” the English “now and then.”] Ye see, I hae my newspaper, for I aye get that, and my books; and there’s aye the bonnie floo’rs to look at. Oo na! I’m no lanely!”

“Do you ever get tired, working so hard, now that you are getting so old?”

“Some,” said he. “But then I just rise and gang aboot a bit, and oot to the gairden to see the floo’rs for a wee. And a body, ye ken, maun just begin again!” continued he, with cheerful practical philosophy; “but I aye likit to wirk.”

We continued our talk on many topics mentioned by me and suggested by incidents and associations as they occurred. He discoursed pleasantly and fluently—of God’s use of poisonous plants for the cure of diseases; of the most useful of plants, the potato, belonging to the dangerous order of the Deadly Nightshade; of his own medical practice by use of herbs, and of the successes he had had with them in his own and others’ experience; of the Loch of Drum, and his dangerous adventure there; of his searching for the Bladderwort in Tillyfourie Moss; of his methods of learning and remembering the difficult technical words in Botany; and similar bits of science and reminiscence, described in capital Scotch, and seasoned and .illustrated with apt saw or sentiment from his rich “proverbial philosophy.” When I told him anything that greatly surprised him, he burst out in simple tones of wonderment, exclaiming, “Od be here, man! Ye dinna say sae?”

As we thus sat talking, the bright sun was shining outside and streaming pleasantly through the cords and beams of the loom. I wished much to get John out into the field, that I might see more of his habits and let the flowers do their office of suggestion, and I proposed that we should take a walk. He was ready at once to go, and was evidently willing to devote the day to me, as, certainly, I was to him. He rose, put on his broad bonnet, and, shutting the door of his dwelling, staff in hand, he led the way up the hill behind the house. He walked at a smart pace, with short steps, leaning forwards on his staff, which was put down on the ground with each foot, being apparently required to support him. The way was rough, there being no proper path except the field or dike side, but he would not accept any assistance even in difficult places, as when getting over the dike, climbing fences, or pushing through the tall broom on the steep hill slope. “Na, na, I dinna need ony help, sir, thank you. I can manage awa fine.” Yet, tottering as they seemed, his steps, though short, were firm and smart, and he moved onwards at a good rate. He could still take long journeys, going, for instance, some four miles over hill to church, which he still attended very regularly; and undertaking to visit my friend, the minister of Keig, next summer, a promise which involved some sixteen miles of a walk! “I only need a little time noo, ye see,” he explained. “I ance didna, for I was a smart walker i’ my day, and can do something till’t yet. Mony a fit I hae gane, I can tell ye.”

He led me first to a quarry of twisted Silurian slate; there largely developed; for in the valley of the Leochel, we were west of the granite upheaval of Alford and Benachie. We then ascended to one of the prehistoric cairns so common in the north. It was circular and some twelve yards in diameter, once surrounded with tall standing stones, some of which still remained, and covered with sloe bushes and vegetation—known as ” the Captain’s Cairn.” John told me that the cairn was once high and large, but, with much indignation, that the stones had been removed to build the factor’s dikes–a not unusual fate for such antiquities during the blind Vandal period of our history, scarcely yet gone by. He gave the usual local explanation of such remains, that some great captain or chief had died in a great battle that took place there. Rising through wet bog and tall broom and whin, which completely hid us from view, John led manfully upwards, though it was hard upon him. He would nevertheless move on alone, evidently believing, to the last, in “a stoot heart to a stey brae,” [A steep brae Qr hill slope. From the Gaelic, and occurring in many names of places in the Highlands, as the Braes of Lochaber, of Portree, etc.] as he had always done in more things than in hill-climbing. The Grass of Parnassus catching his eye as it grew in the vet places of the hill, he called on me to look at “that bonnie snaw-white floorie!” in tones of truest appreciation as well as in words of correct description. When shown by me the backward movement of the sensitive stamens of the Rock Rose (Heliantlaemum vulgare) after the base of the style has been titillated, which is certainly very striking, he exclaimed, in childlike wonder, “Ay, man, ay! so it does! The cretur has sense!” He was exceedingly taken with the phenomenon, [This property, which he knew, as John Taylor informs me, he had forgot for the time. We have several British sensitives, with active and striking powers, such as this one ; the barberry stamens ; the open stigma of the mimulies, which smartly and firmly closes when touched, especially under sunlight; and the spurred spores of the horse-tail, which move like long-legged insects, as seen under low microscopic power.] and frequently repeated to himself, “Ay, man, ay! ay, ay!” as if pondering over the sight and its suggestive relations.

We climbed at length to “the croon o’ the hill,” where he wished me “to see the view.” It certainly commanded a splendid prospect, looking down, on the one side, across the fine Vale of Alford, with Benachie at its far extremity; and on the other, away to the south, over a sea of rounded, rolling hills, like heaving waves on a calm day in mid-ocean, the taller peaks of the Grampians rising beyond, still adorned with gleaming patches of snow and surmounted by the fine top of Loch-na-gar. We rested there for some time, enjoying the far-stretching scene and the warm sunshine. He talked fluently of the various plants and places and features of the hill and landscape, which afforded him abundant matter for remark ; and I exceedingly enjoyed his interesting communications and picturesque speech.

Near the top of the hill, there is a shallow loch or marsh, where he had found some good water plants. He pointed out the site of a wood, now cut down, on the other side of the valley, just opposite, where he had discovered the rare Pyrola secuiada, or Serrated Winter-green.

That short saunter with the old man revealed him more than ever, and I enjoyed it immensely. I was delighted to see him out in the field, under the blue sky, and amidst the plants he had loved so long and so well. I felt how pleasant and instructive a companion he must have been in his younger days, when mind and body were full of his enthusiastic vigour.

We wandered slowly down the hill again towards the burn, he leading the way, and entered the cottage. We were welcomed by Mrs. Allanach, a striking-looking old dame, with abundant traces in face and figure of the tall, handsome and good-looking woman of earlier life, though now bent with rheumatism and needing a staff. The house was kept sweetly clean, both “but and ben,” [In the kitchen and the better room, for there are but two in such cottages. The words are derived from be-out and be-in, the better room being reckoned the inmost one or sanctuary.] by the youngest daughter, a growing pretty girl, active and bright-smiling, who bade fair to reproduce her mother’s youth.

We sat in the cheerful kitchen chatting for some time with the vigorous old lady, who is a splendid talker in first-rate Scotch, while the young housekeeper prepared a meal for us in “the best room.” Mrs. Allanach told me that the last year had made a “terrible odds ” on John, and that he was now not like the same man, as if natural decay were rapidly beginning to tell upon him. She was sorry I had not seen and known him in his more active years. At length, John and I retired to “the other end,” where a homely but substantial meal was neatly laid down on a snowy cloth, consisting chiefly of the home produce of the field and the byre. We did full justice to the viands after our appetising walk, seasoning our rustic meal with “smooth discourse and joyous thought.”

After finishing, we once more entered his own room and went over his books, which I wished much to see, and which he was justly proud to show.

The day had passed with a strange speed to me, and, as evening was now drawing nigh and I had a long way to return, I was reluctantly obliged to go. Staff in hand, he accompanied me down the burn, that sang its evensong beneath the cress and scented mint, and along the highway some distance towards Alford. The sunshine was bright and warm, and the valley of the Leochel was filled with a calm sunset light, as we walked on together, pursuing the pleasant talk that had winged the hours with such delight to me and happiness to him. I told him how I had enjoyed the time I had spent with him; how it had realised a happiness I had looked forward to for years; and how, seeing he looked so well, I hoped ere long to come again to Droughsburn, before he passed to his long home. I told him that I should write his friend, Charles, of my visit and all I had seen and heard. This visibly affected him, and touched a chord that trembled on his lip and gave a pearly-brightness to his eye. He assured me that he had enjoyed the day, and would remember it, for he now had few to visit him, and fewer to understand and sympathise with his pursuits; and he sent his best remembrances and many messages to Charles. We shook hands, warmly and parted. I went back to the outer world of work, and he returned to his solitary labour and study and contentment, in that retired hollow among the hills.

Chapter XXXV – Fame. Pauperism and Weakness

EARLY in 1878, I wrote an account of my visit and a short sketch of John’s life, which appeared in “Good Words” [In April, May, and June, with a portrait of the man and a picture of the cottage at Droughsburn, neither of which were very correct.] of that year. It roused interest in the man, both local and general. It also brought him not a little substantial assistance from some who appreciated his story and rare enthusiasm, as well as several visitors desirous of seeing himself in his striking surroundings. With all this, the old botanist was greatly gratified, as he had the best right to be; for the public appreciation which he had never sought and which had been so much denied him in his long and secluded life, had to some degree come at last, though late.

The Rev. Mr. Williams, meeting him a little after this, spoke of “Good Words,” and remarked, “So they have found you out at last!” He looked very thoughtful for a little, and then said, “I kent it wu’d come to that, come time.” What precisely he meant it would be difficult to say. It could scarcely be that he ever anticipated becoming in any way famous in his lifetime, for of that there was not the least likelihood, so far as he could expect or wish, and it is most improbable he ever did. With such a quiet, simple soul, hidden away from the world, fame was not and could not be

“The spur that the clear spirit doth raise
To scorn delights, and live laborious days.”

That “fair guerdon ” he never followed nor hoped to find, though it found him in the end. His pursuit of knowledge truly was, if it ever was, “all for love and nothing for reward.” He may have only meant that he expected something to come of my visit, though I was very careful to prevent any such impression being conveyed at the time. Or, “did he mean,” as Mr. Williams suggests, “that his devotion to the beautiful flowers of God’s creation, although unseen and unknown here, would be seen and known and used in the beautiful land whither his failing frame told him he was soon to set out? Probably,” Mr. Williams thinks; “for his words had often a deeper meaning lurking about them.”

He called on James Black some time after, and the conversation turned on the same subject. “Oh, John,” said James after dinner, with his usual bantering earnestness, you’re now a great man!” “Oo, ay,” said he; “am I?” Then, after a pause, “But, faith, man, it pays, an’ that’s better!” smiled the blithe old man, entering into James’s key; “Sal, lad, it pays. Umpha! Twa notes an’ a half whiles in a day. Oh, wed, I ance got a’ that frae a man awa sooth there, and I get a note or some shillin’s ony day. Sal, Jamie, dinna tell me,” continued the old boy, getting chirrupy and humorous, as was his wont in genial society, “dinna tell me that leernin’ gets nae reward!”

James walked with him into town, and the conversation turned on one who had some time before showed the sensitive man some slight on account of his calling in his worn clothes—”meanly dressed,” as was said; and John’s old-world dress and queer style were certainly trying to those friends who prized city style more than country worth. John expressed his indignant annoyance, and concluded thus, “Alan, Jamie, I hae leddies callin’ at my door i’ their carriages! Real leddies; nane o’ yer wu’dbe dirt! Their maids wu’dna look ower their shouther at sich like as they, peer things!” Who could censure the old man, then far above eighty, for this little elation at these late-found attentions from his fellow-men, and also from rank that had till then looked down on him or passed him unregarded by, even while living in his own neighbourhood?

John parted with James, asking him to convey his love to Charles, “dear Charlie,” and tell him to write him “ae letter sune, and to write it plain, as he wu’d read it aften.” Dear, simple, true-Hearted creature, how he did love that man! And Charles did write him, warmly congratulating him on his new-found, well-deserved renown—the sweetest praise John received—Charles only deprecating that the himself had been so much and so highly extolled, in connection with his dear friend!

During his long, hard-working life, though labouring at one of the most ill-remunerated trades, which was gradually being extinguished by modern improvements, he had always been able to earn enough to make a living, and even now, in his old age, was in debt to no man—a highly honourable achievement that few could have made in the same or even in better circumstances. He had not only supplied his own wants, but had always spared not a little for his needy family and their poor connections, which he had for many long years regularly and ungrudgingly bestowed — giving to his errant wife, paying for his daughters’ board, and helping them after marriage up to recent years. Even in 1867, when he was seventy-three and his earnings were becoming painfully small, he had to bear some expenses connected with the death of his wife’s son, Durward.

His one luxury had been the buying of books. His food had cost very little; he had never spent money on liquor; he had been no snuffer, though that habit was very common ; and his extensive wanderings had increased his means instead of lessening them. But books he must have. The money spent on them might perhaps have made him richer in pocket, but it certainly would have rendered him poorer in thought and happiness, if not, with his hidden sorrows, a wreck. Which of us could have the heart to grudge him this one intellectual extravagance, saved, as it undoubtedly was, from stomach and back?

After 1870, when trade became daily duller and strength feebler, and when he had passed his seventy-sixth year, for the first time in his life he began to feel the pressure of actual want—the breath of “poortith cauld.” He worked all the harder and later, and did without a fire in his workshop even in winter, to save a little; still trying to make ends meet, with the sturdy, admirable independence that had always characterised him since he began to earn his own bread at ten years of age, more than sixty-six years before. He was too proud, too sensitive, too reticent, and too kindly and tender to others, to tell his wants and fears even to his friends, who would have hastened to help him. The daily lessening income and all that it meant, known but to himself, only made him drive his shuttle the faster, to maintain himself free of assistance, debt, or the dreaded pauper’s dole—a dear liberty which it was one of the strongest desires of his heart to preserve inviolate to the end, till he should drop into the grave beneath his beloved flowers.

His books were numerous and valuable, and, if sold, would have brought a considerable sum, which could have loosened the stern grip of poverty and postponed, if not prevented, the disgrace he feared. But with these, the dear companions of his long life, pleasant studies and scientific struggles, he could not—could not—bring himself to think of parting, even under such cruel straits ; especially after testing his own endurance of separating from them, by selling a few of the less important. His plants—these were still dearer than his books, each a drop of veriest heart’s blood; and he could not, would not, barter them for heaps of gold even in dire extremity. No, no, a thousand times no!

But it became daily more painfully plain to the decaying workman that the shuttle could no longer provide even the little portion that formed his daily bread. He was getting into debt to his landlord, and every day made it deeper. To his friends, true though few, he would not apply, to save himself the pain of asking, and them the obligation of giving, what he could now never repay. When need grew greater, he did stoop to tell his only relative—and was refused! When work became still scarcer, he even sought employment at a neighbouring sawmill, willing, anxious, to do anything—except to beg—to win an honest penny! But the evident unfitness and weakness of the tottering old man, in his eightieth year, of course made his application unsuccessful.

As a friend, speaking of this incident, remarks, his willingness to do the hard work connected with a sawmill “illustrates, in a telling manner, his grand old spirit of Scottish independence. Would even Burns,” he asks, ‘had he lived to John’s age with all its infirmities, have had the resolution to tramp to the sawmill and ask for work?”

In 1873, so low were his circumstances, with present needs and increasing frailties, and so sad and down-hearted did he become in the darker prospects before him, that the old man took to bed, sick with melancholy heart-ache, for the first time in his life losing hope amidst the gathering blackness. What a new meaning did that childlike and trustful petition in the model prayer of our childhood possess now to John in his age and want—”Give us this day our daily bread!” And what a new but inexorable commentary on God’s only method of answering all such prayers, did his darkening prospects afford!

How unutterably bitter and heart-sore must have been the hours then spent by that keen, sensitive, silent, pious and proud old man, in that dark, cold bed on the rafters under the thatch of the solitary workshop, with the fire extinguished on his hearth in the cheerless November, and the flame of hope only flickering on its dying embers in his heart—alone in the world in that desolate hut, widowed and childless, bread even denied him, strength departing when most needed, and God seemingly deserting him in his old age! May none of us ever catch the most distant glimpse of such agony!

But lying there in the dark would not mend matters. Bread must be found, somewhere and somehow. Dire necessity thus nerved his sick heart, and he rose to finish the web he had in his loom, looking for more to follow. Hope increased with busy hands, work came when this was done, strength grew with exercise, and the future brightened. For a whole year after this taste of despair, he struggled on, bravely facing the fiend that had grappled with him in the darkness and even now stood grimly and cruelly in the near distance, with relentless look towards him.

It was in vain. He could not win enough to support dear life. But he was never again plunged into the hopelessness from which he had then escaped. With the resolution that had upheld him throughout life, even in the bitter waters of his home and heart, he now nerved himself for what seemed to him the knell of life—at least, of all happiness. In soul-crying silence, without a word spoken to any one, he went down the Leochel side one winter morning, on the 2nd of November, 1874—to beg a pauper’s portion! Ah, the pangs unutterable that act involved to such a man! How sad his heart, how dark his prospects, how distant God, as he trudged with reluctant feet along the familiar paths, which now looked so different, on that forbidding errand ! Even the very flowers that might have comforted him, as they did Wordsworth, [See his poem, composed after the death of his only brother, the original of his portrait of “The Happy Warrior.”] in his woe, were dead and hidden from view beneath the bitter frost and snow. Often, often as the same misery has been felt and most powerfully sung, never was it more truly tragic and magnanimous than that day by the Leochel, as transacted in the inner depths of that bent little body that leaned on a tottering staff, while the soul stood bravely erect, silent and alone, in dread darkness. But the energy of resolution prevented any return of the despairing grief that had descended on him the winter before. He had now steeled his heart to bear and to do—and he bore and acted, outwardly without emotion or seeming difficulty, but inwardly with pathetic repulsion and unutterable shame.

It is scarcely possible for any one who has not seen and sympathised with the proudly sensitive and nobly honourable feelings that in Scotland make such an appeal to the parish so full of horror and dismay, adequately to understand John Duncan’s feelings in this transaction. His own nature revolted against such dependence, and the traditional opinion and popular hatred of that condition had burnt it deep into his heart as the last and lowest depth of disgrace. May this feeling long, long exist in the country, a protection and an impulse to higher endeavour after independence amongst our poor.

He arrived at the Poor Inspector’s after midday, and stated his circumstances. That officer took note of these in his books, which bear that “his average earnings were only about two shillings a week; he was failing in strength, and his trade was almost gone.” He then received five shillings, and at the first meeting of the Board, on the 17th of November, 1874, he was formally admitted on the roll of paupers, at an allowance of three shillings weekly ; and one of the usual pauper’s cards for entering the sums received, inscribed with his name and number, lies before me. That badge was the consummation of his shame, as it felt to him, and seemed to stamp him with the brand of Cain, which all men might read. Yet every month for years, the old man carried it to the parochial office, to receive his pittance, until the present inspector, Mr. James Reid, now one of his trustees, a man full of the milk of human kindness, used to bring it up to Droughsburn, in order to save John’s feelings. In May, 1879, through Mr. Reid’s good offices, on account of his increasing weakness and inability to work, he was boarded with Mrs. Allanach at four and sixpence a week; and his old shop, in deference to his feelings, was retained at the old rent, after the question asked by the chairman—alas for local fame!—”Is Duncan a deserving pauper?” had been at once “answered by a dozen in the affirmative.” Thus did this keenly sensitive, aged man eat a beggar’s bread for six years in silence, till relieved in his last year by the kindly gifts of admirers; never telling the painful fact to a single one of his friends, whom he still used to visit as in his old days of high-hearted independence. To me, he did not breathe a whisper of it.

In the year of my visit to him, 1877, John’s vitality, remarkable and vigorous as it had been, began obviously to fail—and no wonder, for he had entered his eighty-fourth year in December.

When he called on James Black that summer, he had begun to look, as James expressed it in a letter to Charles, “old in earnest.” His skin “felt clammy with exhaustion,” and his power of walking was so much lessened that he had to stay a night on the way to town. When James entered the house, finding John sitting by the fire with his back to the door, he caught him by the shoulders and held him till he laughed and guessed who it was. With his friend’s good cheer and hearty company, the old man greatly revived, and talked brightly of old days at Whitehouse. Despite his inherent reticence, though with difficulty, he also gave his friend details on certain points of his early life and domestic experiences, confided to few, which Charles had asked him to get for him, and which have been utilised in this history.

In the following year, 1878, on the first Sunday of May—a favourite month of the old botanist’s, as it was to Chaucer, and as it has been to all lovers of nature, for then

“The floures gynnen for to spring”

—he set out for church, climbing the hill above the cottage that lay between him and the Howe of Cushnie where it stood. The way was long—four miles to go—and the road steep and trying to, the aged. But the day was smiling, the tender spring flowers thrilled him with their opening beauties and countless memories, and he gathered as usual some of his favourites to lay before him in church. When he reached the top of the hill, he sat down on a stone to rest, and gazed on the familiar prospect over hill and dale that stretched all round him, as he had often done before. It was a sweet Sabbath morning that sent its soothing peace into the good man’s silent and receptive heart, and breathed a benison on him and on all nature, linked to the man by subtle ties of knowledge and sympathy, which few of the other church-goers could understand. Like Wordsworth’s Wanderer-

“Early had he learned
To reverence the volume that displays
The mystery, the life which cannot die;
But in the mountains did he feet his faith.
All things, responsive to the writing, there
Breathed immortality, revolving life
And quietness still revolving; infinite:
There littleness was not; the least of things
Seemed infinite; and there his spirit shaped
Her prospects; nor did he believe—he saw.”

After resting for a space in such “still communion,” generated by “the blessed time” and his dear life companions, that smiled to greet him all around, he rose to continue his journey. But in doing so, a strange and new sensation swam round his heart for an instant ; then all became blank, and he fell to the ground insensible. There he lay for some time, unnoticed by any one, for the way he had come was little trodden. By-and-by, with a bewildered feeling, he slowly revived. Gazing round, he recalled his position, and with difficulty rose to his feet. He was obliged to seat himself again, but, after some rest, regained sufficient strength to totter towards the church, for it was the Sacrament day—a holy time he would not lose, unless compelled by sheer weakness. The sick man crawled along the road, till his pale appearance and weak steps were observed by the schoolmaster, Mr. Reid. He ran to his assistance, compelled him, in real alarm, to sit down, and brought him some needed brandy. This friendly draught revived him much, and, in spite of remonstrance, with his usual determination he insisted on going on to church. Mr. Reid, seeing his weakness, kindly got his phaeton ready; and, seated beside him, the old man was carried pale but smiling to church, where he arrived almost restored to wonted vigour.

He sat out the long service of the day, comforted and strengthened by the good words he heard from the cheering text, strangely appropriate to his circumstances—”As for God, his way is perfect: the word of the Lord is tried : he is a buckler to all those that trust in him ” (Psa. xviii. 30). His friends had crowded round him both before and after :service, inquiring anxiously and kindly how he felt after his “drow.” [A fainting fit; a word from the Anglo-Saxon.] But he would not complain, and, according to his wont, he tried to make light of the matter; for to a nature like his, public sympathy at such times is pure pain. But as old Mr. Williams said, on returning home that day, “I knew quite weel that he was waur than he wu’d allow. Peer breet, [“Poor brute,” a curious term of endearment, used there and elsewhere in Scotland.] I doo’t he’ll never come to the kirk ony mair.”

After service, he was refreshed by kindliness and food, and by a sympathetic and helpful gift from the good minister, and, declining all offered conveyance and accompanied by friendly feet, he walked homewards down the hill to the familiar cottage.

That was John’s last visit to church, and his first decided warning of the coming end. His stout heart, which had for more than fourscore years done its work so well, was at length beginning to fail, and, for the first time in their long journey together, had ceased its vital offices—still willing and able, however, to continue them for a period; only now, like a prophetic friend, giving due warning that ere very long they must finally part company.

One day, the Rev. Mr. Williams met the old man on the road, now tottering somewhat more than before. After friendly greeting, “John,” said he, “you’re getting the worse of the wear, I fear.” “Ow, ay,” brightly returned he, “jist at the fa’in, like an aul’ tumble-doon, feal dike!” Though, after this, his strength wonderfully revived, he was never the hale old traveller along the paths of time he had formerly been. Yet, when the lady called on him in July of that year, and asked him to get the Linnwa borealis for her, as a memento of himself and his cottage, the old spirit returned, and he fearlessly and unflinchingly undertook for it the long and trying journey to Manabattock Hill, in Tullynessle, on the other side of the Vale. But that terrible night to the aged botanist, alone on the mountain, in the rain and the storm, was an experience at his advanced years from which he never fully rallied; and no doubt, in some degree, it hastened the end. As he remarked, in speaking of it to a friend who inquired how he had fared, “I never cowered that day.”

Before the close of autumn, nevertheless, he was able to pay his friends in Aberdeen a visit, for his vitality at his age was extraordinary. But he took four hours to find out James Black’s house, poor old man, and when he arrived there, was so exhausted that, overcoming his unconquerable shyness even with intimates, he asked for something to drink. This revived him, and he talked quite brightly of my visit and the gifts the story had brought, thinking, as he always did, that somehow “Chairlie was at the buddom o’t!” which, in a sense, he was.

Next day, he called on Mr. Beveridge, who noted at once a marked change upon the man. “Time was,” he says, “telling sadly upon him; his limbs were stiff and shaky, and his appetite was poor.” Though he was generally tidy in person, his beard was fearfully overgrown, and William took him to a barber, who shaved him “clean and snod” in what seemed to John an incredibly short space, no doubt the first time he had ever sat under tonsorial fingers. On coming out, he laughingly remarked, “how cleverly the chiel’ had done the job!” He was greatly refreshed by the operation, and still more by the steaming cup of tea provided by Mrs. Beveridge on their return. He then toddled home to his brother’s house at Rubislaw, near the city, where he spent the night.

The last time John called on Mr. Beveridge was in the following summer, two years before his death. He looked greatly improved in strength and spirits, and was remarkably merry over “Good Words” and the kindly presents from admirers it still brought him. He stayed the greater part of the day, revelling as usual in the happy past; and William parted with his “good old friend, alas! never more to meet again in time.”

In January, 1881, I sent him a volume which gratified him much—”Leaders of Men: a book of Biographies specially written for Youth,” by “H. A. Page,” our good friend, Dr. Japp, who has produced many such high-toned books for the young. There John’s story, as given in “Good Words,” was reproduced, beside such goodly company as those of the Prince Consort, Commodore Goodenough, George Moore, Lord Lawrence, and Robert Dick of Thurso. And John had already been a “Leader” in his sphere, humble though it was. But his influence in this respect may now be only beginning, and it is to be hoped that he will yet become a source of “light and leading” to an army of kindred spirits, stirred by his life to prove his deeper delights.

Chapter XXXVII – Public Appeal made on his behalf, and its generous results

This presentation of the herbarium and the subsequent accounts of the man revealed the painful fact of his being a pauper. It was only then that I became positively assured of his depressing financial condition. At once, I prepared an appeal in his favour, which appeared on the 5th of January in the chief newspapers in Britain, and which was speedily transferred to others in all parts. In this appeal, notice was directed to the man as “one of those silent enthusiasts that are an honour to our country, earning daily bread by incessant toil, but filled with a pure love of nature and science, the joy of which had been its own reward; for, unlike many enthusiasts, he never let the flowers still the music of his shuttle.” It was pointed out that he had pursued the study of science “amidst difficulties, discouragements, and trials more than common, with a beautiful devotion that had been as honourable as it was pure, telling the world nothing of his labours, and utterly unknown till dragged into notice in 1878.” I also gave some particulars of his life and studies, and spoke of his accepting pauperism rather than the pain of making money by the sale of his beloved plants and books. I pointed out that “he then lived widowed, simple-minded, independent, pious, and happy, but, in absolute poverty, at last obliged to accept a pauper’s dole;” and concluded with an appeal to the scientific and generous to help, at such a season, “with their superfluities, which to him would be abundance, to lift him above such pain and shame—heavy on an independent, sensitive heart—before he should pass away for ever, and we should be only able, instead of bread, to give him a stone.”

The response was immediate and generous, subscriptions being spontaneously sent from all parts of the empire, including India. These gifts were still further increased after I gave an account of him in Nature, on the 10th of January. That scientific serial at once took up the case in the warmest way, solicited subscriptions, and, besides numerous sums sent direct, collected through its own office above £70.

Many of the chief journals also advocated the cause in the strongest terms. Amongst many others, the Times referred to him as “a remarkable Scotchman, whose knowledge of Botany was scientifically thorough and wonderfully wide;” and to his need of seeking parish relief, through sheer decay, as “peculiarly galling to one who had hitherto led ‘so independent a life.” The Pall Mall Gazette spoke of him as one who was “as remarkable in many respects for his devotion to the study of nature as either Edwards or Dick;” and as “a hard-working, spare-living man, who had denied himself every luxury save that of studying Botany;” and said that “to the appeal there ought to be a prompt and generous response.” The Glasgow Evening Times, in an earnest, well-written leader, urged its readers to listen, “amidst the clatter of politics and the rush of business, to the world’s still small voices, calls, and claims, many of which were too often allowed to utter themselves unheard, or, if heard, to remain unanswered,” saying that this was a clamant example. It referred to his herbarium as “a noble work … many a patent of nobility and many a pension having been conferred for a less valuable and less dignified piece of labour;” but it did not fear that “many a comforting message would be sent to the brave old botanist.” The People’s Journal, which is extensively read by the humbler classes all over Scotland, specially took up the case, declaring that it was “incumbent upon all who desired to honour worth of character and to reward work well done, to see at once that provision was made for the free-hearted donor of the herbarium, who had no thought of reaping any advantage when he presented it to the University.”

Most of the subscriptions were accompanied with the kindest, most appreciative and, in many cases, very touching words of sympathy and admiration. Her Majesty sent “the poor man” a donation of £10, as having been “interested in his story and work.” Several of the nobility subscribed; amongst others, the Duke of Argyle, who gave £10 saying that “the subscription ought to be zealously supported by all who are interested in the pursuits of science, and who honour the high moral and intellectual qualities for which John Duncan was so distinguished.” The Dowager Lady Stanley of Alderley not only subscribed herself, but successfully brought the case before her numerous friends, recommending it to “the many who love science, and the still greater number who admire virtue.” Many distinguished scientists contributed. Amongst these, were the late veteran, Charles Darwin, who wrote as “a fellow-botanist;” an eminent professor of Botany, as “an old botanist like himself,” sending him the kindest of letters; another, as “a fellow-worker in natural science; and others in like strain—a distinguished emeritus professor in Aberdeen contributing ” as an old weaver.”

The words of kindness were warm, and as varied as the writers. One hoped “he might be spared for many years to enjoy, not charity, but the willing gifts of admiring although unknown friends;” another gave in “sympathy for the worthy veteran; “another contributed ” in memory of a brother botanist and for Christ’s sake;” anothc, “admired his steady, persevering industry as beyond all praise,” and wished he were “a richer man to do more;” another sensibly ” came to the conclusion that he was one to be helped as well as admired; “another thought “he had set a noble example of perseverance in the cause of science;” another was “thankful for the opportunity of contributing;” while still another “would like to see the good old man and shake his hand.” Mrs. Alfred Morrison, of London, affected by “the touching story of the fine old man,” of whose falling on the parish it was “piteous to think,” sent £30 and the present of a handsome easy-chair to comfort his declining years.

Some of the letters were not a little curious. One benevolent lady, who was sorry to hear that one who was, like herself, a great lover of nature, was in want of aid, said, “he must promise to spend her gift in getting ten barrels of coals, a pair of warm blankets, some clothing, and the balance in good food.” Another contributor sententiously observed that “if the prophets and others sent for our instruction are not now stoned, they are apt to be starved, even in this generation.” Another gave five shillings “to keep the wolf from the door till once his position was known to the public, of whom none could have a poorer opinion than the writer; for whoever tries to uphold fallen humanity tries a most difficult task—hog won’t eat hog, dog won’t eat dog, but man will devour his fellow-man in true cannibal fashion;” and concluded by asking John to ” read the thirty-seventh psalm, and to trust with implicit confidence in the Great ‘I Am,’ and when plenty comes in to supply your every want, as doubtless it «-ill, thank God first and man next.”

The manner in which some of the subscriptions were gathered was also interesting. Families interested in botany and the botanist united together in personal gifts, from the oldest to the youngest, as in Lord Claude Hamilton’s. Some public works and offices joined in small subscriptions, which together became considerable, such as the Addiewell Chemical `Yorks. Aberdonians in several places sent joint presents to their countryman. One gentleman in Glasgow fastened one of the leader appeals to a sheet in his office, which drew many an unreluctant coin from his visitors. Other kindly hearts in various parts, near and distant, became generous beggars amongst their friends. Not a few who contributed large amounts desired to be nameless. One wrote from a sick bed, making suggestions for increased subscriptions, which happily, from the prompt fulness of the gifts, it was unnecessary to adopt. Several newspapers acted as recipients of moneys, the Aberdeen Tree Press and People’s ‘ournal being specially active.

Several societies took an earnest and praiseworthy part in increasing the fund and honouring the man. On the yth of January, the evening of the day when the appeal appeared in the Edinburgh papers, the annual meeting of the “Aberdeen, Banff and Kincardine Association” took place, at which the case was advocated, and above £5 collected on the spot. In 1878, after the “Good Words” story appeared, the Largo Field Naturalists’ Society, one of the most active and successful Field clubs in the country, at once elected John an honorary member—the first honour of the kind received by the old man, who was intensely ;ratified. After the appeal, it sent a handsome subscription to the fund, and watched its progress and appropriation with the greatest interest; Dr. Laing, of Newburgh, its indefatigable president, being greatly attracted by ” the self-taught botanist,” and delighted at this means of perpetuating his memory. The Inverness Scientific Society and Field Club also at once elected him an honorary member, with every expression of admiration and a donation of £5. The Banff Field Club speedily followed with the same honour and similar assistance. In February, the Edinburgh Naturalist’s Field Club circulated an urgent appeal to the members, containing my letter to the Scotsman, which resulted in a substantial sum. The Ross-shire Educational Institute quickly subscribed above £3. In March, at the monthly meeting of the Aberdeen Natural History Society, Mr. John Taylor gave an interesting account of his scientific father, illustrated by the exhibition of his it nogman “or sun-watch, and the herbarium itself. On the motion of the president, Professor Struthers, supported by Mr. James Taylor, “as an old friend of thirty-five years,” Duncan was cordially elected an honorary member, “as an honour to him, but still more an honour to themselves.”

In all these endeavours to give deserved recognition to a man who, as Professor Struthers then said, had “cultivated science, working at the loom, with the Yes angusto domi pressing upon him,” it is remarkable that the active Edinburgh Botanical Society did not join in bestowing honour on such a student of the science which it is one of its functions to foster. The veteran Professor Balfour, its founder in 1836, who took a warm interest in Duncan, at once brought the matter before the council of the society, with a view to his being elected; but his motion was overruled in his absence, on the curious plea that Duncan neither was a member of the Society nor had contributed to it by paper or otherwise! Such a rule would for ever preclude any society from honouring even the most distinguished; and, surely, the sooner it is rescinded, the better for the society and the science it represents. A still more surprising instance of silence, where the earliest and most active efforts might have been and were expected, as was publicly expressed at the time in local journals, with indignant astonishment, was that of the. University of Aberdeen, to which the herbarium had been generously and unconditionally gifted by the more than penniless student, but without one thought of fame or reward. But so it was and so has remained. Nothing has been said or done in the matter either by the Faculty most concerned, or by the Senatus that should have supplied its neglect.

These simple details are given as not only interesting to admirers of the humble and silent student, thus late but not reluctantly acknowledged by his fellow-men; but as showing that a sound heart does exist in humanity, notwithstanding its apparent callousness, amidst the over-eager race for power, pelf, and self-indulgence, and that it requires only to be fully informed and truly touched in a deserving cause, to well out into most substantial and generous sympathy. The appreciation of the honours thus bestowed, as felt by the old man himself, was simply inexpressible. They were valued a thousand times more than the comforts by which they were accompanied, and became a well-spring of quiet blessedness in his declining days and on his dying pillow, that it must charm every contributor to have had an opportunity of bestowing on such a susceptible, uncomplaining and grateful heart.

The subscriptions were chiefly sent through the author, but many were transmitted direct to their aged recipient himself. He was then, however, far too weak to attend to them, or even to sign the receipts ; and they were very kindly taken charge of by the Rev. James Gillan, parish minister of Alford. He acknowledged them all to their thoughtful donors, and was kindly indefatigable in everything connected with the decaying old man, as were also several others in the neighbourhood. In all, the handsome sum of above £320 was subscribed.

On receiving the first earnest of this pleasant harvest from admiring friends, steps were at once taken by Mr. Gillan and Mr. Reid, the kindly Poor Inspector, to increase John’s personal comforts in the cottage, and to supply the more generous fare required for his increasing infirmities than the little he had ever allowed himself, even in his robust years. He was removed from the workshop, where he had slept till then, to the best room in the cottage. This apartment was lined with wood and otherwise improved, and a new bed was erected in it for his use, close by the fire. He was clothed in a new warm suit, the first he had received for fifty years; a comfortable arm-chair was purchased, and everything was done to add to his comfort that money could procure or kindly hearts suggest. His parochial dole at once ceased ; and the parish doctor, who had been attending him with all kindness, now became his personal feed physician, an uncounted joy to the late receiver of hated but helpful relief. His capable and kindly nurse, Mrs. Allanach, whose husband had been removed from her about a year before, and who had been attending him during his weakness for a very inadequate sum paid by the Board—larger, however, in the special circumstances of both, than was generally allowed—had her allowance suitably increased to a satisfactory amount. All debts due by John, before and since he had given up work, were fully discharged; and the old weaver sat in his own cosy chair, by his own bright fire, once, more a free and independent man, owing nothing, as he had done for fourscore years.

To prevent possible difficulty at his decease, or the unworthy dissipation of his estate, a Trust Deed was formally drawn up, disposing of his effects in detail, and trustees, present and permanent, were appointed. [The trustees are Robert O. Farquharson, Esq., of Haughton, near Alford, chairman of the School Board of Alford, and his successors in that office; the Rev. James Gillan, of the parish of Alford, and his successors; the Rev. William G. Brander, of the Free Church of Alford, and his successors; William Anderson, farmer, Wellhouse, near Alford; James Reid, Inspector of Poor for Alford; James Taylor, of Clashfarquhar; John Al. B. Taylor; and the author. The number of trustees never to be less than five.] The whole was duly signed by John on the 15th of April, and the deed registered and deposited in official keeping, the original in Edinburgh, and an extract in Inverness.

By this deed, the provisions of which were cordially concurred in by the old botanist and lover of nature and science, the whole sum that remained after his death, together with any other moneys realised from his effects, was to be invested, and the interest devoted, for all time, to the formation of a scholarship or scholarships, or, in the absolute discretion of the trustees, to the purchase of prizes, all to be called after his name, “for the encouragement of the study of Natural Science, especially Botany, among the youth, both boys and girls, of the parishes of Alford, Leochel-Cushnic, Tullynessle, Tough, and Keig,” in the Vale of Alford. The trustees are empowered to fix “the amount and number of each scholarship, scholarships, or prizes, and the conditions, rules, and regulations on which they shall be awarded;” and, what is a wise provision, too frequently omitted in such educational endowments, “to alter, vary, or modify the same from time to time, as the trustees may think necessary for adapting them to growing improvements in education in the future, with a due regard to the purpose for which the scholarships or prizes are instituted.”

In carrying out these most praiseworthy intentions of the deceased scientist, the trustees, at a meeting held immediately after the funeral, determined, at present and for some time to come, to devote the proceeds of the existing fund, which is above £200 to the foundation of annual prizes, offered to each of the schools in the above parishes—first, for the best collections of native plants in the district, gathered and named during the year by the candidates, male or female, in order to encourage practical botanising in the field; and, second, to the successful candidates after. examination on Botany, according to the three years’ course laid down in the Specific Subjects of the “Revised Code” for Scotland, in order to encourage a theoretical study of the science.

It was further generously and wisely enacted in the Trust Deed, that John Duncan’s large library of valuable scientific and other books should be made over to the parish of Alford, for the promotion of the same purposes in connection with science; and that their present custody be given to the Alford Mutual Improvement Association, and after it ceases to exist, to the School Board of the parish; a few books only being reserved, to be presented by the trustees as souvenirs to intimate friends.

It is devoutly to be hoped that these incitements to practical work and study will rouse interest in subjects painfully neglected in our schools, the pleasure of which will alone be a great reward, apart altogether from their higher results; and introduce the youth of the district in which John made his own happy triumphs, to the delights of scientific research and a knowledge of the beauties of nature around them, to which the untrained eyes of their fathers were blind.

Chapter XXXVIII – His growing debility: and the Author’s last visit

FOR a year before his death, John’s vitality began rapidly to decline. About this time he took a severe bleeding at the nostril, which was with difficulty stopped before the doctor arrived; and it was distinctly observable that, after that, his memory was seriously impaired and never again recovered its wonted power. His fainting on the way to church in May, 1880, was a significant premonition of decay, but one which the keen, healthy old veteran was very slow to heed.

He still continued weaving on till July, when growing debility and irretrievably spoiling a web he was trying to put into his loom at last convinced him, however reluctantly, of the necessity of giving up work. His bed was removed from the rafters above the looms, where he had slept for twenty-eight years, and a covered close bed was erected in the shop; as it was becoming dangerous for him to climb the rude ladder that led to the upper box where he had lain so long. The door between the shop and the kitchen, which had been built up when John took the place, to secure greater seclusion for himself, was now again opened, that Mrs. Allanach might more easily attend upon him with his increasing needs. The fire in the shop smoked so badly, as it had always done, that it could seldom or never be lighted with any comfort, so that he had to do without it, as he had greatly done all these years.

He now often wandered about in sleep, and was often affected with strange hallucinations. One night, for example, he hurried in his shirt into the cottage at midnight, in the greatest consternation, urging them to save themselves ; for, he said, he had just been up the brae, where he had seen the gable of the house falling in, and had rushed home to alarm them! His door had therefore to be kept locked at night, to prevent him unconsciously going outside, as he had sometimes done. Mrs. Allanach slept in the kitchen within easy distance of his bed, with the alert, sleepless ear of the thorough nurse, and had to attend upon him several times every night.

He was still, nevertheless, able to walk about, round the cottage and garden, for he was restless and his old habit of wandering was strong upon him to the last. He even took considerable journeys along the Leochel to see old friends. One day that winter, he had gone down the burn alone—for he was too self-reliant to ask assistance, the offer of which his undying independence resented—and was found by Mrs. Allanach, who was alarmed at his absence, lying unconscious by the burn side alone, having fainted as on the way to church. He was with difficulty brought round, and was hardly prevailed upon to try to get home, wishing to be allowed to lie down again undisturbed.

Shortly after that, he made his last journey up the glen. He set out after midday, alone and without notice as usual, determined, it appeared, to visit his friend Charles Birse at Scuttery, two miles or more up the Lcochel. The frost had been very keen for days, and the roads were covered with ice, which made walking difficult even to the strong. Poor John fell on the way and cut his face badly, but not having fainted, he was able to gather himself up and continue his journey. When he appeared at his friend’s, they were alarmed to see him covered with blood, for the wound had bled profusely. Mrs. Birse soon bathed the place, and washed the blood from his face and dress. With the help of a little stimulant, he was restored to somewhat of his old blitheness, and a warm cup of tea completed the renovation. The sturdy old traveller would not allow any one to accompany him homewards, saying he was quite able for the journey himself. Knowing the man, they allowed him to depart, after seeing him so far on his way.

It proved too much for him, however, with the loss of blood he had sustained and the state of the roads, and he fainted about half-way home. It was a blessing he did not fall into the burn which runs by the highway. There, happily, he was observed by Mary Munro, a young servant at a neighbouring farm, who chanced to pass along the road shortly after, fetching home a load of turnips in a wheel-barrow. She found him partially recovered, holding hard by the paling that ran along the stream, but so exhausted that, even with her strong arms, he could not move a step. She therefore emptied the turnips from the barrow, put him into it, and carried him along the road and up by the Droichs burn towards the cottage. Here she was noticed by Peeny Allanach, who had come to seek him. He was brought home by the two kindly women, and put to bed, utterly prostrate. He was unable to rise again for a fortnight. The doctor was sent for, and prescribed for him, being of opinion that this loss of blood was the first serious cause of his death, which did not take place, however, for more than six months after. How very ill he must have been, to allow himself to be “hurled in a wheelbarrow,” only those who knew the unconquerable mettle and high pride of the keen old soul can fully understand.

After this, he was less able to walk about, and had to be more carefully watched, to prevent his going far from home. But this needful care the stout spirit took very ill with—he had always been so very self-reliant and so accustomed, above most _men, to do for himself even the most detailed domestic offices. He declared to the close of his life, even when most helpless, that his good nurse “took far ower inuckle charge o’m;” and he used to oppose her assistance, saying that “that even his mither cu’dna hae done mair for him when he was a bairn; and he wasna gain’ to be made a bairn o’ noo!” Yet with all this, his appreciation of her kindness was very high, and it was frequently so expressed to herself and others.

I was very desirous to see the old man again, especially after I heard that he had become so weak, fearing that he might pass away before I should accomplish the visit. The winter of 1881, which was, as will long be recalled, one of the severest within the memory even of the aged, quite prevented my undertaking the journey across the uplands of Banff and Aberdeen, where the snow was unusually deep and where the railways were frequently blocked. At length, with the milder weather of March, I succeeded in reaching the Vale of Alford once more, six months before his death. The very day I arrived, the third of the month, one of the heaviest snowstorms of the season began, and rendered all exit from the Vale impossible for about a week—a captivity made most agreeable through the happy hospitality at the comfortable manse. It was with the greatest difficulty, and only with the help of alpenstocks, that Mr. Gillan and I struggled up to Droughsburn through the snow, which had almost effaced the road in a few hours. During my stay, I managed daily to reach the cottage, though it looked well-nigh impossible, but only by taking the straightest path over field, dike and hill; for all landmarks were hidden from sight under the continuous blinding drift—a severe experience never to be forgotten.

I had written John of my coming, so as to prepare him for it, and he had been eagerly anticipating it for some time, rising at nights to go to meet me, and sometimes, during the day, asking his nurse to do the same or to accompany him. The unexpected shower of gold that had fallen upon him in the evening of his life in consequence of my appeal, had refreshed and strengthened him. It now roused his interest in my coming, and that morning he had been considerably exhausted by going to the door several times, eager for my arrival. When we entered, we found him seated in his great cosy chair, in the best room, close by the cheerful fire, beside Mrs. Allanach ; for he could not now long be left alone. He looked tidy and comfortable, but painfully changed for the worse since I had seen him. His early excitement in anticipation of our coming had told upon his strength, and he looked quite absent-minded. When the minister shook hands with himY John scarcely recalled him and returned his greeting with a vacant look. It had to be explained to him who I was, and even then, for some time, it did not seem to dawn fully upon him, so rapid were the transitions of strength and weakness, intelligence and dulness, through which he now passed. We seated ourselves and talked to the bright old lady and the other inmates, allowing him time to recover. This he gradually did, and he was able by-and-by to take part in the conversation with considerable brightness. But the day was too far advanced for him to become what he had been earlier, and he had soon to retire to rest. On seeing this, we left, after cordial parting and a promise from me to return on the morrow. We found our way home again with increasing difficulty, through the gathering storm.

The room in which he now lived was small but comfortable. The walls were adorned with pictures, plain and coloured, of Da Vinci’s “Lord’s Supper,” Rubens’s “Bearing the Cross,” and other Bible scenes. The small window was hung with gauze curtains, and had a pretty bead basket pendent in its centre. The floor was covered with thick “clooty carpets” of John’s weaving, and the whole formed a snug nest, pleasantly contrasting with the wild drifting snow without that obscured the windows.

During the four succeeding days while I stayed in the Vale, I spent as much time with John at Droughsburn as his strength was able to bear, retiring to the kitchen when he needed rest, to talk with his intelligent landlady. Her kindness to the weak old man, who was now restless, wandering and in many respects troublesome, and required unremitting attention, was beyond all praise; and it was well for John that he had such a nurse in his last days, who had known him in his vigour and respected his talents and character. She was ably assisted at all times by her daughter Penelope, [The long word “Penelope” was colloquially shortened into “Penny,” or more frequently into “Peeny.”] as active and constant in work as the celebrated queen whose name she bore, and who had developed, since I saw her first, into blooming womanhood. At that time, too, a niece called Jessie was staying with them, whose power of managing John, as well as Peeny’s, was remarkable; for that required, in his weaker turns, both strength and tact, fun and firmness.

When I arrived next morning, John looked bright and strong, and rose from his chair, though with difficulty, to welcome me. He expressed his concern at seeing me covered with the drifted snow, which was so deep round the cottage that it almost blocked up the door and shut out the light. He said it was “a terrible time,” which reminded him of the winter of 1838, after he first knew Charles Black, and, like me, had to struggle through the drifts to get to Whitehouse; and of an earlier winter at Drumlithie, in 1811, when the corn was so bad after it that “it crunched between his teeth.” These memories showed that this was one of his strong, clear-headed seasons, which it would be well to take advantage of. After morning greeting in the busy kitchen, I seated myself at the table beside John, and gradually led him to continue the reminiscences of his past life which the snowstorm had begun.

He was unusually clear and communicative, recalling what he had been in 1877, when we climbed the hill together; and I secured a long series of important notes regarding his history, which have been already embodied here. It was surprising to observe how minute were the details he gave, especially of his earlier days; for, as with all old folks, the distant was nearer than the near in his memory. His recollections of his mother stirred his best affections. He always spoke of her with loving respect; and when Mrs. Allanach did him any kindly service, such as wrapping the clothes round him in bed, he would murmur, in tremulous tones of feeling, that it reminded him of his mother. Never did he speak spontaneously, however, of another who should have been more to him than even a mother, and whom he once expected to be such. When I introduced the tender subject, after conversation had led naturally to it, he talked of his wife with painful hesitation ; and speedily tried to dismiss, it, by saying, “Ye see, that’s a’ by noo,” evidently desirous to forget for ever the secret shame and pain of his life. When I asked if he would not now care, after all these years, to meet her in the other world, the idea seemed to be new to him and gave him a deep and painful shock. He moved his hands deprecatingly, and was silent—which revealed the untold intensity of the hidden grief her conduct had caused him.

He was very lively in regard to his wanderings, and recalled, with astonishing vividness, his old impressions of the many places he had visited, some of which have already been given under that head. His military days were well remembered, and he was glad he had gone through them, telling tales of them with zest. His characterisation of the persons he had known was well put and often humorous. His memory of his friends and the happy past he had spent with them gave evident pleasure, though attended with sadness in proportion to their former intimacy, expressed by the gathering moisture in the eye. The flowers roused his enthusiasm, and were linked with more of his past life and deeper memories than anything else, with a single exception. In talking of them now, he recalled the technical terms with surprising ease, though it cost him much effort, often unsuccessful, to remember the rarer ones. His harder or more dangerous adventures in search of them were dramatically related, and roused much of the old fire in eye, voice and manner. When he failed to recollect a word, he would bend his neck, scratch his head, say, “that was what-ye-ca’—what-ye-ca’;” and if he did not succeed, which was always painful to him, he would excuse himself by saying that his “memory was noo gey failin’, though it was ance a very guid ane;” while regretting that “hadna kent him in his, better days.” After he had talked for an hour or so, he got exhausted and had to give up. When I offered him refreshment, of which abundance had been provided, he accepted it with reluctance, but he often refused it, saying: “I was never muckle o’ a drinker—never indulged; I ha’d awa frae intoxicatin’ liquors. Whisky’s a hasty [Quick and fiery, as in the phrase “a hasty fire.”] concern, destructive to baith mind an’ body, raisin’ ye up to a great pitch and then lattin’ you fa’ doon a’ at ance.” It was noticeable that moral conceptions always roused his vigour, even under weakness.

At intervals, he passed through states of extreme debility, when he could with difficulty rise from his chair, and consciousness and memory became confused. This he himself attributed to rheumatism, but its true cause Was the natural decay of great age, and, in the doctor’s opinion,. loss of blood and sluggish and intermittent action of heart. On these occasions, he confounded time, place, and circumstances. For instance, when Mr. Gillan and I left the first day, he forgot, in one of these collapses, who we were, and, confusing us with ever-present memories of Charles Black, who lived at the mouth of the Nith, he suddenly asked ” Whar’ are yon men ? They’ll hae had to cross the Solway !” In these states of excessive weakness, his temper was much affected ; for temper is the first and surest indicator of mental and physical condition in all of us, even in the healthiest. He would then become very cross and difficult to deal with, speaking sharply, refusing assistance when most necessary, and exhibiting a general spirit of rebellion, while it lasted. But the temper passed with the weakness that caused it, and he soon again became bright, hopeful and repentant. As Mrs. Allanach put it, “he was sune up and sune over” at these seasons. When they came on, her management of him was that of a skilled tactician, combining firmness and kindliness, as in the case of a sick child. She would talk to him quietly and cheerfully, express surprise when repulsed, clap him softly like an infant, and say, “Noo, noo! Ye’re nae John ava the day; nae half a John,” and use like soothing, bantering, and cheering words. Her attentions would be at first repelled; but he would by-and-by smile, return the clapping, and express sorrow, excusing himself by saying, “Fowk wears oot,” and asking her never to mind him.

But it was no wonder, poor old body, that he became cross and moody, for his weakness at times was very great; while the old strong will, hard to subdue and never altogether overcome, rebelled against this unusual and depressing debility. The fretfulness exhibited was simply the natural outward expression of this inward struggle between latent independent strength and the unaccountable and unaccustomed feeling of helplessness and need of assistance, which he had always objected to in his self-dependent solitude. His prostration was so great at times that he became quite blind; asking them, for instance, to light the candle which was burning before him! He was, on such occasions, put to bed for a while. He would soon rise again, refreshed and amiable, and become quite talkative, all the former clouds being dispelled and forgotten. His life was now a succession of April sunshine and shower, and the light, when it came, beamed all the brighter after the previous gloom.

During one of these blithe blinks, he mentioned to me the songs he used to sing, recited vigorously and humorously several lines in “Johnnie Cope,” a favourite with him and Charles Black; and, poor dear soul, now as the inner fire under these inspiring strains of other days blazed up into stronger flame, he rose from his chair, leant forward with his hands on the table, and, in trembling but surprisingly vigorous notes, sang a verse of the favourite old ballad called “The Blaeberries”—

“Will ye go to the HieIands wi’ me?”

He talked of the story it contained, and of “Scots wha hae” and “Auld Lang Syne;” the last being mentioned with a natural sigh, raised by the feeling of waning strength and the remembrance of departed joys.

The fund his friends had recently subscribed, and his present comforts due thereto, affected him beyond expression, and brought the tears of genuine gratitude to his eye. Ibis deep gratefulness welled up in broken, child-like words all too weak to express his crowding feelings. In reality, the weight of obligation to distant unknown and generous sympathy seemed to oppress the old heart like a happy burden which at times seemed too heavy to be borne. I reminded him that he now sat “a free man.” The very sound of the words inspired him with joyous vigour which sparkled in his eye, and was speedily succeeded by the gathering mists of emotion, and he only could brokenly utter, “Very good, very good, very good! admirin’ good!” Then in real tones of earnestness, with a touch of anguish, he exclaimed, “I wis’, I wis’ I had seen you sooner!” as the recollection of the misery of the dark night spent in his cold bed in the winter of 1873, and the subsequent degradation of heart through absolute penury, once more returned, and let us hope, for the last time.

To relieve his sadness, I spoke encouragingly of the reputation he had deservedly won, and the late but genuine recognition of his life-long devotion to science, which would survive when he was gone. He looked proud of the honour, and sadness giving way to joy, he quietly said, “Ay, ay Dae ye say sac?” Then the annoyances he had suffered for the sake of the flowers from the ignorant and unsympathetic came back to his mind in contrast to the present appreciation, and brought the remark, ” They’ll no seek to bather me noo! But e’en then I was ower mony for them—ower knowin’!” He then recounted the story of the juniper bush on the braes of Tough. His constant feeling, frequently expressed, was one of grateful comfort which he could scarcely realise as now his, and he always deprecated its desert by saying, “Ye’re makkin’ me ower grand, ower grand! Dinna be ower quid to me!”

In his weak states, his natural humility and fear of being made “over grand,” as he put it, was curiously expressed. He could not then be prevailed upon to sit in the fine arm-chair that had been purchased for him—insisting that it “far ower fine, far ower braw” for him; and, like the sturdy old soul he had been, accustomed all his days to hard fare and plain living, he said he had had always a hard seat to sit on, and he would use it to the last ! He was also timorous in trying to sit down in it, for it went away from behind him on its smoothly running casters, as he tried with difficulty, from his stiff joints, to take a seat there.

He was especially and proudly grateful for the Queen’s gift, as presented to a poor, hidden man like him! To raise his spirits, I suggested the possibility of Her Majesty visiting him, as she had done others, not being very far distant while staying over the hill at Balmoral. “Ay,” said he, more than once, his face lighting up, “it was great prefarment, very great prefarment.” Then, thinking himself still young and able to go out into the world, he continued, ” Fowk’ll be jokin’ me aboot it!” But the reality of his position suddenly returned, and he added, ” Ah, had it been but half a dizen years syne”—”half -a dizen” being his constant expression at that time for a considerable period—”half a dizen years syne, I cu’d hae spoken till’r and thankit ‘er. But noo, it’ll be sune ower. Eli, man, ay! Half a dizen years back, and I cu’d hae held discoorse wi’ her! But noo, noo it’s ower late; it canna he!” Then, after a pause of sadness, he continued, with growing earnestness, “Ah, but she’s a nice ‘umman, a very hyoom’le [Humble, meaning that she did not stand upon her elevated rank in her intercourse with her subjects.] ‘umman, and has aye been sae, I believe. God bless ‘er!” The following night, the subject had recurred to him, and he rose in a dazed state in the dark, calling to Mrs. Allanach to “tell the Queen’s men I’m ower walk to gae to kept [Too weak to go to meet them.] them the nicht, I’m no wed l ava;” and he would only return to bed when she promised to do as he had asked her.

But the ever-present, ever-recurring subject of his thinking and talking was his life friend, Charles Black. As Mrs. Allanach said, “I never heard him speak sae muckle aboot ony body as aboot him; it was really won’erfu’ hoo he likit that man.” It was the same in talking to myself—that was the dominant topic of conversation, brightening his eye, inspiring new vigour when weak, and soothing him like a charm when irritated and when nothing else could. His memories of their first meeting, early studies at Whitehouse, and later intercourse were now the sweetest solace of his dying days.

The night before my last visit, he had not slept well, and was restless and excited. From my much questioning, he had thought me a lawyer after I left, an idea that recalled a disagreeable reminiscence of the time he was brought to court about his wife’s son. When I entered, I saw he was dull, feverish and ill at ease, and he received me not in the most gracious manner, confounding me, I afterwards ascertained, with a fellow who had deceived him and got a lot of his books. He was very unwilling to converse at all, and rising up shortly afterwards and moving his hands in angry deprecation, said, “I’ll hae nae mair o’t.” Mrs. Allanach, who was seated by, explained to him who I was, that I had come a far way to see him, and had travelled that morning through the deep drift to say good-bye. But he would listen to nothing, and cried, “I ken naething aboot it and dinna care!” I remained silent, till Mrs. Allanach succeeded somewhat in allaying his annoyance and making him smile. He then rose, went to the window, and looked out at the huge snow-wreaths heaped against the panes, and at the shrouded landscape. He spoke of the “sair time” it was, which would be heard of for long. Deeming it wise to leave the room, to allow him to rest for a time, I went to the kitchen, followed shortly by his nurse, after she had settled him in his chair and still further pacified his perturbed spirit. Peeny went,, in a little, to attend upon him, as her presence and. services often succeeded when others’ failed.

Not long after I left his room, he sent word by Peeny, that he was very sorry he had spoken as he had done and that he hoped I would return. I did so immediately.. He received me with a smile and cordial shake of the hand,. and said he did not know who I was at all but thought I was another man altogether, one who had stolen his books. We at once entered on the pleasantest relations, his old brightness having returned, and we sat long together alone by the fire, talking of many things, as we had done before. Poor good soul, he could not make amends enough for the temper he had unwittingly showed me, and his heart now opened out more than it had hitherto done. Nor could he refrain from frequently returning to the subject, saying: “It was a mistak’ in me—a great mistak’. I thocht it was somebody come to scrutineeze me. I didna ken ye ava, and I sent word wi’ the lassie when I did. O, had ye but seen me twenty or thretty years syne! I was a different concern a’thegether then, and cu’d hae ga’en aboot wi’ ye and shown ye the flo’ors, ilk ane o’ them.” I told him that I should like to have known and botanised with him then, but that I was happy and proud to know and respect him now ; as I had done long before I saw him, having heard so much about him from his friend Charles. I told him also how Charles remembered and loved him, and ever would do so, till he should follow him to the grave. These words brought all the spirit into his face and thrilled him with a new tide of life, and he wept with mingled sadness and joy, hiding his face in his hands, while the tears rolled between and gradually relieved him.

He then handed me Charles’s last letter to him, received a month before, which he asked me to read, though he had heard it often before. I read it in parts, broken by our mutual comments as I proceeded, while his increasing tears flowed unstinted and unheeded. Charles, addressing him as his “dear and much respected freend,” said he was truly glad that the appeal in his favour had been so well responded to, and that his comfort in his old age was now secured. He thought he should have been able to see him, as he had long wished to do, if it had not been for the trying weather and the weight of sixty-seven years. He spoke of the pleasure Geology had also been to him, in which his study of Botany had greatly assisted him. “I often think,” he went on, “if you and me had known something of it forty years ago, it would have told us wonderful tales about the Great Creator.” After some account of his family, Charles continued, “I really do intend to come and see you before long, and I trust we will be spared to meet each other. We will have much to speak about, for God’s mercies and blessings to us both have been great, though we must confess we have been ill-deserving.” After wishing him to write him if he could or to get some friend to do so for him, and expressing the happiness of himself and his wife to think that he was “so comfortable for the remaining years of his life,” he subscribed himself his “old and true freend.”

The effect of these simple, sincere words upon the man, supplemented by my accounts of Arbigland and Charles and Charles’s love of him, was deep and touching. He wept truly like a child, in child-like unreserve and affection, that made it difficult or impossible not to join in his strong emotion ; and part of his love for his friend overflowed on me in terms of confidence and appreciation. During the recital, he continually ejaculated, “Eh, ay! eh, ay!” When I concluded, he said, “I canna, canna say what I feel : an’ the tears winna come richt”—for “the tears of bearded men” are wrung from the very depths. At length, he became calm, and drying his eyes, excused himself by saying, ” I’m sair overcome the day, some way or ither; but I’m glad ye’re here.”

In the succeeding composure, we discoursed of the perennial subject of the flowers, to which he ever recurred for Charles and the plants were indissolubly united in John’s heart. “I wu’d hae been much overjoyed,” he said, forgetting his weakness in the pleasure roused by his favourites, “to hae ga’en to the hills wi’ ye, an’ it hadna been sick a terrible day.” He spoke again of his introduction to the subject, through his “father” Charles, of his first “vulgar” attempts under his guidance, and of his subsequent progress and delight in the study. He talked also of the blessing his books had ever been to him. He had not, he said, bought many at a time, but only as he could afford them; and they were well chosen, he thought, for he “never likit varieties in readin’ ony mair than in eatin’. Books,” he warmly continued, “are real freends.” “Yes,” echoed I, quoting Wordsworth, “they are

“‘A substantial world, both pure and good.”‘

They’re a’ that,” he eagerly assented, “I cu’dna hae dune withoot them!” The plants then suggested Dunnottar, and the memory of his youthful strength and happy adventures there swept through his aged heart like an exhilarating breeze on the thymy crags themselves. Then, recalling the struggles of the Covenanters for God and for freedom, he spoke of these for some time, and then exclaimed, ” O, I aye likit to read about thae times fine—excellent! And Charlie likit them tae; and he had a fine idea o’ them.”

After leaving him to rest for a little, I returned to bid him farewell. I told him that his comfort was now secured, and that he should not be removed from the cottage—a possibility that had disturbed him. He still deprecated being “ower wed l treatit and made over grand.” I mentioned to him that a good lady was willing to send him any books he wished; but, while grateful for the kindly offer, he said that he did not care for more, as he could not now use them. I promised to write Charles Black of my visit and all we had said and done. “O yes! ” replied he, with a return of the old emotion, ” write him for me, and tell him I write wi’ a tear i’ my ee, and thinkin’ aboot auld lang syne.” “I’ll say,” said I, “the very words you have used, John.” “Ay, dae ye,” replied he; “ay, dae ye. It’ll gar him drap a tear tee!”

I assured him that there were many interested in his happiness, and that I should be his friend to the very end. He then stood up in his frailty, and in tones of earnest solemnity, lifting his hands towards me, as in patriarchal blessing, exclaimed, “Ay, ay, that’s vera guid, vera guid. Gweed be wi’ ye, Gweed be wi’ ye!” We shook hands warmly and long. Then, as cheerfully as I could under natural emotion, I told him I should come to see him again in summer, when the snow was gone and the flowers were blooming, and when he could tell me about them. “Ay, dae sae—every individual ane o’ them.” Then I left him as he stood, bathed in tears. It was for the last time. When next I saw the good man, he lay in the calm majesty of death.

Chapter XXXIX – The Happy and Honoured Close

JOHN remained in much the same condition for several -months after my visit to Droughsburn in March. He was surrounded by every comfort, attended by the most assiduous of nurses, and regularly visited by his friends ; Mr. Gillan taking special charge of his affairs, and receiving and acknowledging all gifts, which continued to be sent. The poor soul still passed through the same rapid changes from remarkable keenness to extreme dulness, accompanied at times with exhibitions of trying temper, regretted and apologised for when the spasm had passed. He had no active pain, no real disease. His astonishing vitality made it evident that he would not depart till the last particle of the dying taper had burnt out.

In the beginning of May, when crossing the room one .Sunday, he suddenly fell on the floor and cut his temporal artery. It bled profusely, but Mrs. Allanach quickly stopped it by applying a spider’s web to the place. He was sponged and put to bed, but, in his feverishness, he could not rest there. In getting up, he re-opened the wound, and they sent for Dr. Simpson, who had been most attentive to him throughout, being much interested in his uncommon patient. The bleeding, meantime, was once more prevented by the same simple but effective means. When the doctor arrived, he said at once that his life had been saved by the skilful use of the “moos wabs.” [Spiders’ webs. The word is Teutonic, originally meaning moss, and applied to things like it, as the Scotch word, and the French mousse, moss or foam.] John, who had then one of his blither seasons, replied that he knew something better, which he could have got at the end of the house if the snow had not been on the ground, the remains of the severe winter–the Plantago major, Greater Plantain, or “the healing leaf already spoken of, whose virtues were known and praised by Pliny, George Herbert, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Shen-stone, and many others. He said it was the best thing for stopping bleeding and healing cuts he knew, as he had often proved. He also said it was very good for allaying thirst, but not nearly so good for feverish thirst as Water Cress. How vital and tenacious are all ideas once truly grasped and acted on, as in John’s astonishing memory of plants and their properties even in sickness and death!

When the doctor was mixing a soothing draught for his patient, John inquired what he was compounding, for his eyes were still as keen as in younger days and his old medical instincts all alive. The doctor told him it was Hyoscyamus niiger, or Henbane, and remarked that he had not found it in the Vale of Alford, but that he had seen it at Dunnottar, when he was a student in company with Professor Dickie. At once John’s infirmity was forgotten under the charm of the thousand associations stirred by that one word, Dunnottar, and he talked of his youthful adventures and its Covenanting memories. To the last, the keen old spirit asserted itself. Some time after this, the doctor had put some bromide of potassium into the porter which had been prescribed for his morning porridge, a dish he still greatly relished. When John was asked if he liked it, he said that he did, but that he “didna like the doctor’s smugglin’, “referring to his clandestine use of the drugs without telling him all about what he was doing.

John’s weakness increased greatly after this accident, and his need of attendance became more constant and exhausting. At length, in the beginning of July, Mrs. Allanach found the work too much for her and her daughter, and she asked her son-in-law, John Taylor, who had then some leisure, to come to assist her and attend to his old friend. Mr. Taylor came at once, and remained with him till his death, a month afterwards. He nursed him, anticipating and supplying his wants like more than son, inspired by reverence and affection for the man, which was now raised to tenderness by the patient’s weakness. It was an admirable and fortunate arrangement. It was also.a strange and unexpected happiness to the old botanist, that one of his most attached pupils should return the benefits he had received from him by soothing his dying pillow. The task was not light, either by night or day, for John gradually became helpless, and had to be lifted in and out of bed; but the strong arms that bore him were both able and willing.

The last time John was capable of going outside was on the 16th of July, when he was unusually vivacious, and went twice to the cottage door, leaning on the arm of his friend, to gaze, in the sweet summer light, on the dear familiar scene, on which he had looked so long, across the everflowing Droicks burn. The sight of his once beautiful garden

“Where sweetnesse evirmore inough was;
With flowr6 white and blewe, yellowe and rede,”

as Chaucer sings, now saddened him, from its very strength of untended life; while he that had so diligently watched over its flowers was now fading away. He never stood under the blue heavens again, and only once was able to rise from bed, to which he now retired for the last time.

His friends still continued to visit him regularly to the end. Some of the neighbouring clergymen kindly came to read and pray with him, services the good man always enjoyed. One day, when very weak, after a special message of emergency had brought the doctor, the Rev.1MTr. Brander, of Alford, called. On seeing the man so ill, he sat for some time in silence by his bedside, and then softly asked him if he would like him to read a little. The old man faintly replied, “It winna need to be muckle, than,” evidently feeling himself too weak to bear more. The sweetest pastoral of the ancient Hebrew shepherd, so singularly appropriate to the time, was quietly recited ; soothing the dying man with its invigorating assurance, that when he should walk through the Valley of the Shadow, into which he was just entering, he should fear no evil, because accompanied and comforted by the Good Shepherd.

The whole poem seemed like a rapid review of his life. He had verily, in a more literal sense than common, been surrounded by “green pastures,” though at times he had had to pass through trials, which had proved to be “still waters.” Now, in old age, he had a table prepared for him, in the presence of his enemies, penury and despair, for of human enemies he had none; his head was anointed with the oil of gladness, and his cup was running over with the freewill offerings of admiration and the tendance of affection. “Surely,” the old man’s heart would deeply respond —”surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;” while the faith that had consistently and firmly sustained him throughout his long and trying life, would, even in dissolution, enable him triumphantly to believe that he should “dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” When he had finished the lyric, Mr. Brander asked if he should pray with him. John replied in weakness, “Ay, jist a few words;” and words fit though few were offered for the departing pilgrim.

After his decease, a friend of the dead met a man in the neighbourhood who affected piety of the sterner, exclusive sort, and who would in a moment ask any one the question “Are you saved?” In speaking of John’s recent death, this friend inquired if he did not think John Duncan was a God-fearing man, according to the general opinion. He replied, with the rigid cruelty of that class of religionists, that he was sure he was not. When asked why he thought so, he referred to this episode of the shortened reading and petition, which had been retailed with exaggeration in the neighbourhood, and he mentioned, with an ominous shake of the head, that John had, on his death-bed, asked the minister’s prayer to be short! This saint forgot his Master’s repeated injunctions and example, to avoid long prayers, which, according to Him, were a sign, not of sanctity, but of heathenishness—a truth echoed by all His best disciples, who have felt, with Luther, that ” the fewer words, the better prayer.” Perhaps if this man had known the whole circumstances, his judgment might not have been so harsh; let us hope so—for, as Hood truly and sympathetically reminds us

“Evil is wrought by want of thought
As well as want of heart.”

Happily and justly, this rash estimate was not shared by the clergyman to whom John’s natural words were spoken. As he says, he knew the man and liked the blunt, honest answers he used to receive from him on religious as well as other matters, “which scorned the slightest tinge of pretension and waived all ceremony.” One day shortly after, on parting with him, Mr. Brander remarked that God was “the hearer and answerer of prayer.” Opening his closed eyes and looking up into his face, John replied, with an emphasis and in a way that could not be mistaken, “Ay, ay, I ken that!” ” It is impossible,” says Mr. Brander, “to describe the manner in which these simple words were uttered; but to me they conveyed a full conviction of the firm faith and the quiet repose of apostolic assurance of the man.”

In the middle of July, Mrs. Morrison’s gift of a fine arm-chair arrived, delayed thus long through the illness of the generous donor—alas! too late to be used by the old man, whose declining years it was meant to comfort. About the same time, he received an invitation to attend a Joint Meeting of Scientific Societies, held at Elgin on the 29th and 30th of the month, the first of the kind in the north, the secretary being unaware that John was so near his end. Three of the societies concerned had elected him an honorary member, and the old scientist would have been welcomed with enthusiastic respect; but his earthly studies were now closed, and he looked forward shortly to join “the great assembly” on the other side

“Where everlasting spring abides,
And never-withering flowers.”

This he did ten days after the pleasant union at Elgin.

He now gradually grew weaker and more helpless, and his breathing became increasingly laborious, though he had no suffering. To the last, he enjoyed bright intervals, when he talked freely with his attendant, of the past and the future. Mr. Taylor asked him one day if he had any advice to give to the young who might read the story of his life. He counselled them, amongst other things, as a dying man reviewing his past experiences, “To keep good company, and to study some branch of Natural Science, which would save them many a blot, and inspire them with untold pleasure.” To the very close, the delights of science and the intellectual and moral gains it had brought to himself and would bring to all, were ever present to him, and were the subjects of many an exhortation.

He had no fear of dying, but was filled with a calm, trustful peace in its prospect; as he said one morning, “I’m just waitin’ my time.” On being then asked if he had any message to send to me, he replied, in great weakness, “Just tell’m I’m deein’!” “And are you going to a better place?” returned John Taylor. “Ay!” was the prompt, firm, but simple reply. “Have you anything to say to Charles Black?” “Just the same as to Mr. Jolly;” and Mr. Taylor says that at the mention of Charles’s name, “a glow of joy passed over his countenance, and his eyes brightened.” Mr. Taylor then read, with his consent, the third and the fourteenth chapters of St. John’s Gospel, which breathed soothing peace to the dying Christian, and whispered to him of the near “mansions” in the “Father’s ather’s house ” which he hoped soon to enter. After the reading was concluded, John remarked, in quiet accents of peace, “I’m very frail, but I hae nae trouble noo;” words that had, no doubt, a mental as well as a physical reference.

Some time before his death, lie again spoke of his grave, and expressed a desire to be buried in Alford churchyard, without, however, indicating any special spot there. He wished his last resting-place to be marked by “ane o’ nature’s rough stanes”—some natural stone undressed by any tool, like the lover of nature he had been. A similar wish has not unfrequently been expressed by other lovers of nature, both scientific and poetic: amongst others, by Macodrum, the poet of North Uist, who lies in the solitary graveyard of Kilmuir on its far-seen knoll, under a mass of rude, grey, gnarled gneiss, selected by himself; in the midst of the green “machars” [The Gaelic name for those wide flats that face the Atlantic, on the western side of the Uists. The same word for a plain occurs as the name of one of the triple divisions of Galloway, the Moors, the Machars, and the Rhinns.”] whose praises he had sung, and within hearing of the solemn requiem of the wild Atlantic that lashes in grandeur the island of his birth.

John continued gradually to sink. But his tenacity of existence was even yet quite astonishing, and his candle burnt down to the very socket. He became so wasted and light that he could be lifted like an infant. At times, there still recurred paroxysms of strength and almost fierceness each succeeded by a relapse into greater weakness, like the sudden upward flickerings of the expiring taper before it subsides into final darkness. His breathing grew more and more difficult, and was attended by an ominous sound in the lower chest ; but he never complained of any suffering. Like Fontenelle, he frequently said, “I hae nae pain;” and he might have added, like the brilliant Frenchman, “I have only a little difficulty in keeping up life.” In his quiescent periods, which lasted longest, he was perfectly calm and resigned, waiting peacefully for the close. His gratitude for the unremitting services rendered him was deep, and amidst all his helplessness, it was frequently expressed in thrilling whispers of thanks. Some days before his death, when he was lifted in his friend’s arms, he murmured the feeble but earnest words, “May the Lord bless you!” twice repeated. When asked, on the same day, if he had any message for me—for Mr. Taylor wrote me regularly of his state—he muttered several things in an inaudible voice, the only words that could be made out being, “I’m very sober.”

A day or two before the end, Mr. Brander prayed with him very briefly. In doing this, he used the expression “the God of Nature and the God of Grace.” Notwithstanding his deep prostration, the words struck an old congenial chord, and the dying man opened his eyes, and with an earnest gaze and firm grasp of the hand, he whispered—it was all he was able to do—”Very comprehensive! He is the God of Nature and the God of Grace!” They then parted for ever, and as the clergyman walked down the burnside, he felt, as he says, “that in John’s heart, these words had touched two chords, the one responsive to the harmonies of Nature, which he had listened to so long, and the other almost ready to burst into the melody of Heaven.”

The evening before he died, John Taylor raised him gently into a sitting posture, and propped him up with pillows, which seemed to relieve him. In reply to a question if he did not feel easier, he gratefully murmured, “Oo, ay!” and lay back in full repose. These liquid vowels were the last syllables he ever uttered. His mouth never rightly closed again after speaking them, and he died with his lips in the same attitude of grateful consent with his lot, in which his spirit had lived so long and so truly, humble and hard as it had been, and from which, by a wise transmutation of soul, he had extracted such deep joys.

He continued to breathe heavily to the last, his chest doubly heaving with each involuntary respiration. When softly asked how he felt, he seemed to make an attempt to reply, but the features were fixed and no sound issued. John Taylor remained faithfully with his friend and teacher till the end. After four o’clock on the morning of Tuesday, the 9th of August, no pulsation could be felt, beyond an occasional flutter which told that the heart yet beat. Life was slowly ebbing—ebbing out into the great ocean of eternity.

He survived, however, till past noon. A kindly neighbour who had come to inquire for him was then sitting by his bed, while John Taylor watched in silence for the latest lingering breath. A sudden change in the countenance arrested their attention, as she rose to go. One long but silent respiration followed, like a higher ripple in a quiet sea, and then another longer and harder, and all was over: it was the last. It was eighteen minutes past twelve. Mrs. Allanach, who had been urgently sent for, and her two daughters, then softly but eagerly entered the room on which the great shadow had just descended. “I doo’t he’s awa!” said Mary Emslie. “He’s gone,” returned John Taylor. ” Oh, dear!” burst out his old nurse, “it’s sad I su’dna hae seen the end, though I hae watched lang for’t.” Then followed the strange dread silence felt at such a moment, only broken, or rather more truly expressed, by the ticking of the clock, which stood like a calm sentinel in the corner of the room and repeated the inexorable tread of time, now loudly audible though till then unheard. The women looked at each other for a little with the silent utterance of natural awe and emotion, and then began to prepare for the last offices to the dead.

Mr. Taylor soon after set out for Alford to make arrangements for the funeral. A cold north-east wind was then blowing, and the sky was overcast with heavy clouds, recalling the chilling penury in which the life of the departed had been spent. On his return, these had all passed away, the day became clear and bright, and the sun went down behind the hill above the cottage in unusual glory. By the time he reached home, the orb of the harvest moon hung in the south, large, round, and red. As he entered the chamber of death, the moon looked in through the little window in placid beauty, lighting up the room, and flushing the pale face of his dead friend with a touching halo, as he lay stretched on the table in the centre, beneath the snow-white linen that now shrouded him. The sweet evening light and the double beams of sun and moon that had gilded the scene, were beautiful and appropriate emblems, as he could not but think them, of the real glory that had irradiated his lowly pilgrimage, and dispelled the sorrows that brooded there by the blessed influences of nature, the delights of higher thought and the sanctities of religion. The young man stood for a time in silence and veneration, and consecrated himself anew to kindred noble aims.

Everything was prepared by attentive friends for the funeral, which was delayed for some time that I might be present. I arrived in the Vale on Saturday, and went up that afternoon to Droughsburn, in a beautiful autumn evening that flooded the valley of the Leochel with a charming light. “To me alone there came a thought of grief.” The exquisite stillness, the quiet sweetness of the hollow in which the cottage nestled, with its blue smoke rising heavenwards, all spake of “something that was gone.” The garden was there in its unconscious vigour, but the kindly hand that had gathered its flowers from far and tended them so well was cold in death. The roof of the old workshop was dilapidated and sunken downwards. Its thatch was broken and covered with parti-coloured moss, where flourished stitchwort, sorrel, groundsel, ragweed, broom, and spiky grass; and the lintel bent under the weight of the falling roof, as if in sympathy with its departed lord. And the dead hero lay in his coffin in the centre of the silent room, while his shrunken face looked upwards with eager marble gaze that seemed straining into futurity.

His shroud was appropriately adorned with a selection of the plants from which he had drawn his dearest joys. These had been expressly chosen by John Taylor, to symbolise his life, as well as, like John Milton’s “bells and flowerets” for his dead friend

“To strew the laureate hearse where Lycid lay.”

They went with him to the grave. On his breast, lay a sprig, in full blossom, of his favourite, the Linn~a borealis, to signify his devotion to the science created by the man whose name it bore; and beside it the uncommon Serrated Winter-green (Pyrola secunda),* as a proof of the discoveries he had made of the rarer species and their habitats. At his head, drooped some faded rose leaves, as sweetest tokens of the decay of even the best and dearest. By his side, was placed a specimen of the Mimulus rinbans,t as a specimen of the plants he had introduced from a distance; in his right hand, a bunch of water-cress, suggestive of the hardships he had endured in his studies and the simple tastes that had sufficed him; and at his feet, a branch of the Spurge Laurel4 with its bright green leaves and scarlet berries, a cherished plant which grew in the garden before his door—a fit emblem of the man himself, sending forth its pretty florets before the leaves, like our own blackthorn, amidst the snows and blasts of winter, and only reaching its highest beauty in the maturity of autumn. He lay on a bed of the sweet-scented peppermint, amidst which the Droichs burn had so often sung to him its quiet song, as it perfumed- the air with its grateful fragrance. The sight of the dead was an impressive, inspiring vision and an abiding memory.

But amidst the natural sadness, the dominant feeling was one of “silent homage paid to mind.” As Mr. Taylor accompanied me on my return down the valley, not far from the cottage, we passed through a field of newly mown hay, which shed its delicate odour on the evening breeze ; and it seemed to us to carry a happy augury of the future greater influence John Duncan might yet wield, which, faint though pleasant as it had been in life, would, like the hay and the ScentedWoodruff, become stronger and sweeter after death.

The funeral took place on Monday the 15th of August. The day was calm and agreeable. The enclosing hills seemed to shut out the cottage more seclusively from the world, and the quiet that pervaded the scene breathed

But happy feelings of the dead.”

The gathering was large and representative, of neighbours and friends, several from a distance, come to do the last honours to departed worth. The chastened assembly stood round the door beside the old wild-flower garden, that spake of its dead master. Mr. Gillan read the prayer of Moses, the man of God, with its sad burden of the “labour and sorrow” of life, written amidst the dim light of the ancient Jewish faith; followed by St. Paul’s powerful argument regarding the “mystery” of immortality, appropriately based on the analogies of plant life, and his pean of victory over death and the grave, which closes with the philosophical assurance that “our labour is not in vain in the Lord “—on which the experience of John Duncan was a suggestive commentary. The minister of the church John had so long attended offered a trustful and intelligent prayer, touching on the lessons of the life now closed. Friendly hands then bore the coffin to the hearse by the side of the Droichs burn, which flowed, under John’s aromatic flowers,

“Dancing to its own wild chime,
As laughing at the lapse of time.”

The procession then wended its solemn way down the Leochel, along which John’s eager feet had so often trod, to the old churchyard of Alford, amidst its tall trees, where he had wished to be laid. There, surrounded by uncovered heads, his dust was reverently deposited, while a handful of earth and a flower were dropped by the author on the coffin. Then the whole was buried from sight and covered over with kindly sod, embedded with wild flowers, which now blossom over the quiet heart that had loved and studied them so long.

He rests close by the entrance to the church, beside honoured dead of the Vale of Alford, the lowly weaver not the least of these.

A tall granite obelisk now marks the spot, bearing the simple inscription: “To the Memory of John Duncan, Weaver and Botanist. Born at Stonehaven, 19th December, 1794, Died at Droughsburn, 9th August, 1881. Erected with part of the Gifts of Admirers throughout Britain, the rest being devoted to the Promotion of Science amongst the Young in the Vale of Alford.” After the date of his death, across the middle of the tablet, a sprig of his favourite, the retiring and uncommon Linnzoa borealis, is sculptured, with its double leaves and drooping florets; as an appropriate symbol of the rare and enthusiastic love of nature that had brightened and blessed the life of him who sleeps so well below. In accordance with his dying wish, a rough block of one of “nature’s stones,” on which no tool has ever passed, will be placed upon his grave.

Chapter XL – Duncan’s Characteristics and Character

IT will now be well to gather the scattered threads of our presentation of the man, and weave them into a closer web, while inserting additional colours to complete the fabric.

Physically, John Duncan inherited an excellent constitution, being remarkable healthy, “teuch,” as he said of himself, and unusually enduring; and he was never laid up with sickness all his days. In stature, he was short, being at his best only five feet seven. Muscular and spare, he was never “what you call a heavy man,” as he remarked—a style of body which his abstemious habits, great activity, and much walking preserved to the end. His general appearance, especially in his later years, was what was reckoned “odd,” even in his own time, as has been frequently noted, and his peculiar, old-fashioned garb increased the quaintness of his aspect; so that latterly, in the streets. of Aberdeen, he drew the attention of passengers as a kind of Rip Van Winkle of the early century, just reawakened to the modern world.

His head was larger than common, and indicated unusual capacity of both thought and feeling. [Its dimensions, as taken by his friend John Taylor, who is a practical phrenologist, were 22 inches in circumference, 5½ inches. from the car to the top of the forehead, and 78 inches from the ear to the crown. The measurement from the ear to the occiput or top of she back is not to be depended on, from the accident by which it was broken. (See p. 74.) The average measurements in this country are 20 to 21 inches in circumference, 4 19/20 from ear to top of forehead, or individuality, 5 18/20 from ear to top of head; the last two, according to George Combe, being the average of twenty representative specimens.] It showed the projecting brows of the keen observer, the broad forehead of the thinker, the lofty crown that betokened kindliness and piety, and the breadth between the ears that indicated immense energy and power of work. His countenance was striking and pleasant, and his firm features proved him to be a man of strong, nervous temperament, keen, clear-sighted, and active, full of the vigour and resolution that command success, with the quiet shrewdness and humour of the Scottish peasantry; while the deep-set eyes, their colour hidden by the penthouse brows, looked as if they could see much where most would see nothing.

His extreme shortsightedness interfered all his life with his proficiency as a reader, and to some extent with the prosecution of his . botanical studies, necessitating in these more stooping and groping than would otherwise have been required. But, as is often the case with nearsighted people, he never needed to use spectacles, and his eyes remained good to the last; so that he could read the smallest print with ease till he was eighty-seven, and never used any other than a very small-print pocket Bible. [The “Paragraph Bible” issued by the Religious Tract Society, the print of which is sufficiently trying even for young eyes. The possession of a copy of the Scriptures with the modern innovations on the old verses and the like, shows also his intelligent love of progress in even such conservative religious subjects.] This continued nearness of sight had also another interesting aspect, for it prevented him, notwithstanding his enjoyment of nature, from ever seeing and enjoying the general aspects of a broad landscape, whether of earth or sky, with their special beauties. In fact, it rendered him blind for life to the pleasures of expansive scenery, a sore deprivation to a man who loved nature so deeply. This was, no doubt, one reason for his preferring Botany to Astronomy, seeing that long sight is all-in-all for the stars, whereas with plants, he could bring the subjects of his study as close to his eyes as he pleased.

His tastes were throughout severely simple. He was always content with the very plainest fare, limited to the lowest scale conceivable for bare subsistence. Like Chaucer’s model parson, “he cowde in little thing han suffisance;” nay, as Dryden, describing the same good man, says, he “made almost a sin of abstinence.” Of meat, he ate little all his days, for it then was much more costly and uncommon than now ; and he never saw it except when visiting his better-to-do friends. At home, the staple food of his life was plain water brose and porridge, sometimes with milk, but often without, taken not seldom three times a day. In the field, it was a piece of bannock or a little oatmeal, and water from the mountain stream, seasoned with nature’s own savour in water-cress and appetite, as has been told. Even tea, for the most of his life, he never used, but rather despised as a womanish luxury; and it was only when the infirmities of age made some stimulant desirable, that he began to relish it.

Could anything be more natural, unsophisticated, and primitive? And yet, on such fare—hardly more than the widow’s “handful of meal in a barrel and a little oil in a cruse”—this man lived an unusually long and active life of both work and thought, and enjoyed the highest health and vigour. In this respect, his experience is a fresh testimony to the fact which modern scientific cookery is demonstrating—that a simpler, more vegetarian diet would be healthier and better for us all.

Yet with all this plainness of food, or perhaps because of it, his appetite was unusually strong, and remained so to the last. He was, as one of his young friends at Milton observed, “a hale-stamach man,” that is, a man with a whole or healthy stomach. His simplicity of taste, notwithstanding this strength of digestion, is well illustrated by an incident related by James Black.

John ate, as a rule, Mr. Black observes, whatever was placed before him heartily and contentedly, and one thing only at a time, never mixing meat and potatoes together, for instance; and James had often to resort to artifice, to avoid giving offence, in order to get the due proportions observed. This want of preference sometimes made his friend think that his sense of taste was defective, an idea that was increased by his general “hard and horny” aspect; and tempted, as he confesses, by him who sat “squat like a toad” by the ear of mother Eve, he determined to test it one day when John came late to dinner, and he himself was left free to experiment.

There was a bottle of pickles on the table. “Will you have some pickles, John?” asked he. “Oo, ay,” replied John, “I carena. Pickles? What’s that?” Not being able to answer precisely, James merely said, “Mixed pickles, John; very nice indeed!” ” Oo, ay,” returned he; “weel, I can eat onything, wi’ ae single exception—honey; I canna manage honey.” In a trice, James forked out some of the biggest pieces he could find and put them on John’s plate. Now came the moment to solve the problem, whether John had any taste in that queer, leathery-looking mouth of his. If that lump of cucumber nearest his hand, so green, so cold, so intensely acid, does not result in at least a wry face, the thing is settled in the negative.

Once, twice, thrice—missed; meat every time. John had got on to the war, the Russo-Turkish war then raging, and he was a keen “bag-and-baggage” man. James began to think of doing something to help him to express himself and lead to his taking the cucumber; when lo, he spits a great lump of gherkin on his fork, whole, as he lived! But no. “Confound the Turks!” said James; “take your dinner, John, or it will be spoiled.” But the exhortation was unheeded. Waving his hand above his head, fork, gherkin and all, John tried to give vent to his indignation. As James feared he might notice the pickle there, he struck in, “Quite right, John. I would sweep the last sinner of them out of Europe, sweep every harem and mosque of them, and sweep the very earth on which they trod—sweep and make such a dust till you couldn’t see your finger before you, and the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn were coloured like clay bree! ” John held up his hand with the gherkin before him, and, bringing it down firmly on the table, he summed up his friend’s harangue in a single word, so like him—”Purged!”

John gazed at the orator with a look of admiration, and evidently satisfied that his heart was in the right place, promptly popped the entire pickle into his mouth! Now came the proof that what James had taken for leather or something like it was not leather at all, but a live membrane, just like yours and mine. One squeeze, and John’s mouth filled to overflowing with water, which oozed out all round. He raised the edge of the tablecloth; looked to the floor, meaning to drop it; noticed the carpet; shut his eyes, shuddered visibly, and bolted it! A moment’s silent pause after this feat, and then, turning over with his fork the remaining pieces on the plate and closely examining them, he asked what that stuff was called. James answered, with all gravity, “Mixed pickles, John.” “Mixed?” replied he, in perplexity. “I think it is mixed. But what is it mixed wi’?” “Well,” explained James, “they consist of various kinds of vegetables, mixed together and pickled.” “Oh! It disna mater,” returned John. “That’s twa things noo, then.” “What two things?” persisted his friend. “Honey and that stuff—I can eat nether. Dae ye eat muckle o’ that yersel’ noo, Jamie?” queried John. “Well, not much,” replied James. “Na, I was thinkin’ sae!” chuckled John, as he attacked his dinner and the Turks again. When he finished, he examined the pickle bottle and its label with silent criticism, and seemed finally to come to the conclusion that such fierce condiments were actually in use amongst civilised nations.

His extreme poverty induced a marked peculiarity—namely, an exaggerated estimate of the value of money. This seems a paradox in one who had so little of it and pursued it less, and whose whole life seemed to be a .despising of it for higher things. Nevertheless, it is true. His labour at the loom was so unremunerative, even with so capital and laborious a workman in the prime of life, and every mite he saved represented so much hard toil and daily self-denial in expenditure, that he placed, and couldn’t but place, an inordinate value on even a few shillings. He once told James Black of “a great loss” he had sustained during a harvest in the Lothians, when a rascal borrowed from him and decamped. ” How much was it?” inquired James. “A lot, a great lot o’ money,” he replied. Being curious to find out how much it really was, but knowing John’s wonderful reticence, he bluntly asked him to state the exact amount. “Nearly a paper note,” warily returned John. “Perhaps fifteen shillings?” suggested his friend. “Oo, a lot mair than that,” he earnestly replied. “Seventeen and six?” “Ay,” said John, impressively and sadly, as if again realising the pain of the theft; “ay, ilka bawbee o’t ! Think o’ that!” And James did think of it, and with surprise and pain, as he says, and to this day still recalls it, for it was an incidental but striking revelation of his poverty.

Yet, dear as money thus become to him — and may none of us ever know the dire need that forced in poor John such natural but excessive estimate—he could not hoard it, as some natures would have done in the circumstances, or gather it to increase his comfort, or invest it in a house and holding of his own, as some of his friends did. Like them, he did invest his savings, but in something very different—in what was dearer to him than all other possessions, in his one dissipation, the tools of his intellectual trade, in books ! This sheds a strong side light on the value he put on books, on the strength of his intellectual appetite, and on the pure necessity mental food was to him. As he said at our last interview, “I cu’dna keep frae buyin’ buiks.” It also increases our astonishment, shared by his neighbours, at the large library he was able to acquire under such narrow circumstances, which was surprisingly extensive even by middle life. But it is the old story over again, of the will finding a way.

John’s temper was naturally warm, if not keen ; but it was generally held in good control, even in argument, till that waxed too hot, when he would strike out in some characteristic expression. As to his command of temper, Charles Black is very decided, and similar testimony is borne by other friends. In his later years, when the infirmities of age weakened his self-restraint, he began to manifest impatience and give way to bursts of crossness as we have seen; but these were generally evanescent, and passed away with the weakness that caused them. It ,speaks highly for his moral strength, that, possessing naturally fervid combative feelings impatient of opposition, and having passed through those peculiar domestic trials that affect temper perhaps above everything else, he should have maintained throughout life the generally even disposition he did. His treatment of his wretched wife under her continued persecution of him for so many years, is a monument to the man’s philosophy and forbearance, which nothing but a strong will, sustained by high moral purpose and powerful self-control, could have achieved.

His kindliness of heart was a marked characteristic; as one of his friends said, “he wi’dna do hairm to onything.” When staying at Netherton, after carrying a web to a “gude wife” near Monymusk, he was returning through the heather according to custom, when his attention was drawn by the piteous screams of a poor hare that had been caught in a hidden snare. John, “whose heart was all compassion even to the lower animals,” as Mr. Beveridge, who relates the story, remarks, cut the string and let poor poosie go free. On returning home, he told the adventure with much feeling; but, instead of praise, was met with contemptuous upbraidings for his sheepishness in letting off “the bawd;” surely, when it was in his power to make the pot play brown, he might not have been so silly! John indignantly retorted that, besides being dishonest and a crime requiring to be hidden, it would have been pitiless cruelty to kill the poor beast, which they should never get him, at least, to do, whatever they might say or think.

There lived at Netherton, in a cottage near the weaving shop, an idiot lad, who, like many such weakly children, was the apple of his mother’s eye. At intervals, this poor creature would crouch for days, gazing into the fire and. refusing all food. Duncan took a kindly interest in the harmless soul, and they became fast friends. Jamie would sit for hours beside John, amused by his drollery, while he watched the wonderful play of the loom and was soothed by its music. Nothing roused John’s fiercest anger more than any attempt, however slight, to make fun of his simple and serious companion, which many tried to do in those rougher times; and he would at once seize on the first thing that came to hand and throw it at the offender, after warning, in order to punish him severely, if he did not at once desist. All which and like friendliness and protection won the very heart of the innocent.

When John was forced to stoop to pauperism, the parochial board kindly ordered, for several years, a distribution of six hundred-weight of coals to the paupers in mid-winter—a grateful boon, especially in the cold workshop at Droughsburn. This he only once accepted in full for himself, kindly and characteristically asking it to be given, except one hundred-weight, to a poor imbecile who had long lived in the neighbourhood, and whom he deemed more needy than himself—a simple but beautiful action, in its degree recalling the noble self-denial displayed on the field at Zutphen: “thy need is greater than mine!”

He was noted for his obliging helpfulness on all occasions, and he was prepared at any time to walk long distances to assist his neighbours in every way he could. Many was the patient he cured, many the garden he dressed, many the tree he pruned, the pleasure of the deed his sole reward. Charles Black expressively says that in natural kindliness, “John Duncan was ‘a man after God’s own heart.”‘

It was also a pure delight to him to share his stores of knowledge with all that showed the least desire to receive them, a pleasure that rose almost to the strength of propagandism. As one of his Auchleven friends remarked, he was “grateful and proud to be listened to,” and he felt “obliged to you if you paid attention to him.” His desire to lead the young to higher things was a beautiful trait constantly acted upon, and a proof of high moral health.

His gratitude for benefits received, however small, was sincere and intense. Mrs. Emslie, of Auchleven, says that it was something extraordinary; and that it was generally expressed in the simple words, “Ye’re very kind, very kind,” but uttered in such a tone of over-gratefulness, as it seemed to her, that it made her refrain from offering him even a cup of tea so frequently as she would have done.

He was honest to the very core, and no pain was greater to him than that of getting into debt. In spite of his small wages from an increasingly poor and decaying trade, he owed no man anything till he was compelled in his destitution to fall on the parish. So sterlingly upright was he in all things, that, as Mr. Brewster, the secretary of the Auchleven Society, put it, “he was above, far and away above, even using any other person’s information without full acknowledgment.” At my last visit to John, in speaking on the subject and of a case in which he had suffered by its violation, he exclaimed, “O honesty, honesty! I do like honesty!”

His orderliness in all he did would have made him be counted a martinet by most. This was apparent in the neatness with which he kept his property in the confined space where he lived. In all his transactions in trade, he cultivated thorough business habits, regularly keeping a ledger and rendering accounts for everything he weaved—a proceeding uncommon and quite unnecessary in the work of a country weaver.

His tidiness in person and dress and his care in the preservation of his possessions were something quite remarkable, as has already been seen in the way he brushed and folded his clothes. The fact that he possessed and used the same suits for fifty years, and preserved them presentable to the end, requires no comment. His desire to keep his dress from possible harm reached the eccentric: as when he walked almost constantly with turned-up trousers, even in the critical city; and when, on entering a carpeted room, he always dusted even a drawing-room chair with his napkin and blew off any possible remaining dust, before depositing his precious hat upon it, old and worn though it was—oblivious that the lady of the house might be of opinion that it was his hat that required brushing and not her chairs in her best room! The success is simply beyond praise with which lie preserved the frail contents of his herbarium, without any of the means now abundantly available to botanical students—under such miserable and seemingly impossible conditions, amidst the constant and virulent attacks of insects, specially potent in such confined thatched cottages, their choicest nurseries and habitations.

John’s unusually reticent and retiring disposition made him, to a great extent, shy and distrustful of strangers, and indeed of all but his intimates ; so that he seemed to outsiders “a terrible distant cretur,” as Mrs. Allanach felt even to the end. He never blossomed out, never opened his sensitive affections, except amongst his most trusted and congenial friends; and it was only then that the real depth and kindly warmth of his heart made itself fully felt. This backwardness in the presence of others checked the outward expression of his feelings even to his friends, unless when strong emotion compelled utterance, as at my last interview with him. At these times, such exhibitions surprised and pained himself, as they always do beings of that type, especially in Scotland ; feeling as if the holy of holies had been forcibly violated and opened to vulgar gaze.

His natural secretiveness had also been greatly increased by the bitter need he had, during the most of his life, of hiding the domestic griefs which preyed on his heart, and which might have led to questionable indulgences to hide them from himself, had he not possessed higher resources. Even his best friends were sometimes disappointed and pained by this want of emotive utterance, except when he was much moved. James Black, between whom and John—though radically dissimilar in many respects—there existed a true and lasting friendship, and whose warmth of nature is a dominant characteristic, used to feel pained by this chilliness of outward manner in meeting him. “He never,” he complains, “came spontaneously forward to shake hands. I had every time to lay hold of his and do all the pressing and shaking, while he neither aided nor resisted. And such hands! So stout, so rough, so gnarled, so funnily put together! Warm, clean, and dry, but otherwise as lifeless and meaningless to the feeling as a small bunch of early horn carrots! Had they been flowers and his digits petals, John would have described his thumbs as reflex. His fingers seemed to have no tips; whatever he laid hold of, he grasped far back towards his palm. I have felt,” he continues, “hands that pressed warmly, hands that throbbed and quivered as if they would impart some thought or wish unspoken—for there are persons, like Adam Bell, in whom every hair seems alive,—but John Duncan seemed, in saluting, to be preoccupied as far as his feelings were concerned, and to look on the transaction as an unmeaning ceremony. He did not even say `Good-bye’ in parting, but only a simple, careless-seeming `’bye.”‘

Yet with all this apparent outward callousness, his feelings were truly deep and strong. They rose on occasions to the poetic, as when he was silently and electrically beatified on meeting Charles Black for the last time; though even then his manner belied his heart.’ But this reserve did not surprise Charles, who is infected with a similar undemonstrative reticence, and hates everything like “fracas.” He knew, as he said, “John’s very heart,” believed in and felt the reality, and the outward expression in manner passed as nothing in his eyes, or as but the bashfulness of a lover. Such men as John and Charles are quite unable to express their feelings by external signs of hand or habit, though they show it in the eye and in a hundred silent ways; thinking the sacredness of the heart as desecrated when thus made “a public show of,” as Charles often says. In everything connected with the emotions, including his religious feelings, John was, as a friend expresses it, “undemonstrative, if not taciturn.” Yet this external coldness was only the upper soil, hiding a deep fountain of feeling, that welled up at times even to tears. “Frequently,” writes the Rev. J. M. Shirreffs, his second minister at the Milton of Cushnie, “he appeared to be much affected in church, and I have often seen him quietly weeping there.”

In walking with his friends, the same still reserve pervaded his action. “At these times,” as James Black relates, “we talked, in general, but little ; John ever busy amongst the herbage, muttering names and properties, now plucking a plant and putting a piece into his mouth to try its taste, and then handing me a leaf or other part, say of Wood-sage, with the remark, ‘If that binna fale, ca’ ye me knotty-stick!’ It was bitter indeed, as I felt, and I could have called him `knotty’ out of spite. Then, in the ditch by the roadside, he would talk to himself and me, calling out Myosotis, Veronica, and a host of similar technicalities, accompanied with admiring expressions like `bonny blue floories,’ and the like.

“John,” he continues, “was my human protoplasm, man in his least complex form. He seemed to be a survival of those ‘rural swains’ who lived in idyllic simplicity, as pictured in our pastoral poetry, and whose even tenor of existence our modern complexity renders impossible. As for his goodness, his pure simplicity of nature,” he observes, “I never saw any evil in him. I do not say there was none, but I say, in real earnest, that I never saw any in the good, inoffensive soul.”

While they were resting one day during a botanical ramble in Tough, and James was indulging quiet reflection on many matters suggested by the bent enthusiast, John awoke him from his reverie by some remarks on the medicinal properties of digitalis, which he had in his hand. Just then a man appeared on the road, naked down to the waist. He walked sideways, with one arm raised to the level of his shoulder and pointing forwards, and the other slanting downwards behind him. On he came, without observing them, his whole features contorted as if he were oppressed by some hidden, overwhelming power. He passed them, unconscious of their presence, and held on his strange path in the same silent and constrained attitude till out of sight. When he disappeared, John burst out spontaneously with the lines of Addison, uttered in the most earnest tones

“When When all Thy mercies, O my God,
My wondering soul surveys,
Transported with the view, I’m lost
In wonder, love, and praise.”

He then discoursed of reason being God’s greatest gift to man, saying how thankful we ought to feel to be thus “clothed and in our right mind,” and asking his friend if he had ever viewed the possession of decent dress as a proof of sanity.

John inherited a good deal of naive mother-wit, combined with no little latent humour, though his sallies in this direction were considerably checked by his reticent nature and stern religiousness. He liked to give common things characteristic names, calling the teapot, for instance, “crook-moo’,” and the kettle, “the black duchess.” During the Disruption excitement, when his contempt of the Erastian “Moderates” who remained in the “Auld Kirk” for the sake of “the loaves and the fishes,” was keenest, he used to remark that “fyow o’ them cared to gang to Auchterless, but when they did change, they likit aye to gang to Auchtermair!”—Auchterless [Part of the pun lies in the first syllable also, “aucht” being Scotch for “possessed.” The name of the place is Gaelic.] being the name of an Aberdeen parish frequently punned upon in this and :similar ways.

John had several humorous stories which he used to tell in genial society. When he observed any exhibition of silly pride, accompanied by super-fineness of speech, he told a story of a Scotchman in humble life who went to Jamaica and became rich. On returning home, he treated his former acquaintances with supercilious hauteur, and, despising his mother tongue, used only the finest English at his command. He pretended not to know even the names of any of the common objects of the farm where he had been brought up. Pointing one day to a “riddle” or sieve for corn, he asked its name with a grand air; but before he could receive a reply, happening to trample on it, he turned it sharply on its side and caused it to give himself a severe blow on the front part of the leg. The pain made him at once forget his fine Attic accents, and the native Doric burst out in the vigorous exclamation, “Damn the riddle!” which at once exposed his hollow pretensions,. amidst a general titter. When any one put on airs and affected an unnatural polish, John would quietly remark, “Ay, just bide a wee, and ye’ll sune hear him `damn the riddle!'”

On asking a friend to accept a suit of his own weaving,. made from native wool prepared by the fireside, he recommended the home-made cloth by saying, “Ay, man, there’s a bane in’t even aifter it’s gaylees dune; far better than the. Galashiels sey, though no just sae brave”—an apt way of putting the facts regarding good home-spun. In talking to one of his disciples, John said that there were two things at the very least that a good botanist required, though these were not all: “Tae wit, a .gweed memory and to be licht ‘o fut”—that is, good at walking; to another friend, he remarked that Botany needed “a gweed e’e and a gweed understandin”‘—the four requirements constituting, no doubt, a capital equipment for the successful study of flowers.

Although he seldom spoke of his unhappy married life, he once told a young friend whom he was counselling to thrift, and to whom he was talking of the influence of “sillar” in the world, this experience of his relations to his ill-conditioned wife. Weaving in Aberdeen becoming scarce at one time, he was obliged to take employment at a distance as a labourer, in order not to “fa’ ahent,” that is, not to get into debt, which he abhorred. When he returned home, his wife sat sullen by the fire without asking him to come near it. John stood in silence for a time at the door, until shame compelled her at last to speak. “Weel, man, ye’ve won hame?” said she. “Ay, hive I,” returned lie, “and three poun’ ten i’ my pooch!” “Hae ye, man, though?” exclaimed his wife, at once brightening up, in more friendly tones. “Come in by.” In telling the tale, John concluded by saying, “Af’n hae I mint on that sin sync, Willie. Fin ye hae plenty o’ sillar, fowk’ll aye bid ye `come in by’!”

John was never very smart at repartee, his whole style being too staid and slow for such rapid coruscations of the moment, though the steel of opposition did occasionally strike real fire out of him. In argument, he could “give a good cut” to an opponent, as “I hae aft’n felt,” Charles Black says; and as many of those who tried to make fun of himself and his plants also did to their cost, as we have seen. John looked to most, as James Black justly observes, like a harmless pill that you could easily swallow, though it generally turned that you were in the power of “a marvellously potent little agent.” But hard hitting was not much in John’s line; he was too subdued and kindly for that—dealing more in quiet, humorous replies when occasion offered.

Charles Hunter met .him one day near the Free Church of Keig, as he was returning to Netherton after some absence, carrying a bundle on his back, his oil jar in one hand and his weaver’s lamp in the other. “Here ye are again, John,” said Charles, “and wi’ yer lamp i’ yer hand.” “Ay,” replied John, with an arch gleam in his eye, “but I’m no like the foolish virgins; I hac my oil tae!” He once engaged to work with a friend near Woodside, who, as market gardener, employed several hands. One of these was a professional gardener from Ellon, whose incapacity in his trade struck John very forcibly. “That Ellon man o’ yours,” said he one day to his employer, “has been terribly honest wharever he served his apprenticeship.” “How? ” asked his master, not catching John’s meaning. “‘Cass,” returned John, with a sly twinkle, “he has ta’en terrible little wi’m!”

Sometimes his humour almost approached the grim.. He was speaking one day to a friend about some vigorous botanists who, having gone a-plant-gathering on Sunday, had on that account incurred public censure. “Weel,” says. John, who sympathised with them in spite of his sabbatarian creed, “if you chaps gang tae hell, they’ll no be easy to bin’; and the fiends ‘ill need to dish them up in eyrons, and even then they’ll float and stay the storm. A gey fyow o’ sick like wou’d mak’ even hell bearable! Mind on Sodom, which e’en ten gweed men wu’d hae saved!”

Like all old Scotchmen of any individuality, John: always spoke in broad Scotch, except in reading a formal paper, when technical terms required to be used, or in talking on religious subjects, when Biblical or theological language became appropriate. He used, of course, the broad Aberdeen or Kincardine Doric, very recherche’ and fine, with the genuine flavour of the old pure speech in word and phrase. His expressions were always clear, pointed and forcible, and generally piquant and picturesque. Like all old men who have had a varied experience, he frequently illustrated and clinched what he said with appropriate anecdote, proverb, sentiment, or verse from a song. In speaking, to me one day, for instance, of a greedy fellow who would part with nothing even to a friend in need, he said he was

“Like the wife o’ Glenshee;
He likit better to get than to ga’e.”

Not seldom the words he used were unconsciously poetical. When we were crossing a little burn together, he wished me to notice “hoo bonnily the watter trinkled!” Once, in referring to the “bad harvest” of 1811, when he was in Drumlithie, he characterised the following year, which had abounding plenty, as “rinnin’ ower!” In speaking to him, I wished greatly to take more notes than I was able of his telling Scotch and naive remarks, but that would have stopped the natural flow of the words for in such talk, as in a quotation from a poet, the chief value lies in the exact expression, the ipsissima verba, of the moment, which the speaker himself could scarcely repeat and with difficulty correctly recall.

Solemn and retiring as John looked to all outsiders, he could beam amongst his friends, as we have seen. On these occasions, he took an active part in all the frolics of their happy meetings, and often added to the general harmony by singing a song. He could sing several songs, and his want of voice, which was, as Charles Black expresses it, of a “heather and dub ” order, was more than made up by his vigorous and sympathetic rendering of the sentiment. Amongst others, his favourites were “The Blaeberries” already mentioned, “Johnnie Cope,” “Scots wha hae,” “John Anderson, my Joe,” and “Auld Lang Syne.”

Strangely for the ardent Scot he was, though singing more than one of his songs, John had no great favour for Burns, and he never possessed a copy of his poems. In this respect, he represented the prejudices of the stricter religionists of the country, to whom by nature and training he belonged. Here he was the very antipodes of his friend, Charles Black, who had, as John said, “an awfu’ notion o’ Robbie,” and even in the Whitehouse days, had learned most of his poems by heart. Charles used to quote him on all occasions with felicity and ease, sometimes in the poet’s freer utterances, to John’s surprise and horror, duly expressed in strong remonstrance. John liked many of Burns’ pieces, and had a great appreciation of “Man was made to Mourn,” which Charles used to recite well ; John feeling that it admirably expressed the soul-hidden sorrow through which he had passed, though he did not relish the anti-Calvinism of the poem.

When I asked him his opinion of the poet, he said he liked him “nae that ill, only he just didna tak’ sick a notion o’m as Charlie, for Robbie was terrible ramsh whiles;” that is, he was too rough and outspoken at times for his taste, as he is even to admirers not of the unco’-guid order, when he utters his over-mastering virility. To Charles, he frequently characterised the poet as “a filthy loon,” his offences against decorum overbearing, in John’s intolerant puritanism, his eminent merits in other departments.

This want of poetic appreciation of Burns is related to a defect in John’s constitution, a certain deficiency of poetical feeling. In this also he formed a marked contrast to his greatest friend, to whom, as Charles says of himself, poetry with all it signifies forms half his life. John purchased few books of poetry, though he had some general collections and the works of individual poets. Yet it is certain that he was not wanting in appreciation of the poetic aspects of nature, especially as connected with flowers, in regard to which his feelings rose, beyond question, to poetic strength. He also possessed some poetic sensibilities, often uttered in appropriate and deep-felt words, of which examples have been given. Indeed, it is quite impossible for any one to love and study the floral world with John Duncan’s intense enthusiasm without being inspired with a great deal of true poetic feeling; for, as Cowley asks regarding flowers

“Where do we finer strokes and colours see
Of the Creator’s real poetry?”

Charles Black’s opinion was that he had “not a particle of poetry in his composition;” but this opinion was formed thirty years ago, before John had developed deeper and broader tendencies. The truth on this subject seems to be, that John’s original endowments in imagination and the related intellectual and emotional faculties that constitute the poet were comparatively small, and that his appreciation of poetical literary form was narrow, though he had a real enjoyment of its rhythm and expression as exhibited in the simpler forms of poetry, and especially in song and ballad; but that his abundant and life-long intercourse with the beautiful and wonderful in nature increasingly inspired him with poetical sentiment, especially when, in his later years, he caught glimpses of the deeper problems of the universe. He used to enjoy natural descriptive poetry, for example, especially when connected with flowers, and a favourite piece of his was Mrs. Heman’s poem, “The Voice of Spring,” beginning “I come, I come! ye have called me long,” which he often carefully transcribed on paper and used to quote. But his very devotion to other pursuits, combined with the practical tendencies of his nature, prevented his ever taking up poetical literature as a study. As John said himself, he “hadna time for sick things.”

In this connection also, his perception of the beauties of art, especially high art, was very small, as expressed in painting and especially in sculpture. His life had never introduced him to these, and thus far artistic taste had never been kindled in him. He did not despise them: he never saw them. James Black, for instance, had some pretty examples of the artistic in his house, but these never once seemed to attract John’s notice. His perception and love of the beautiful were strictly limited to its presentation in wild nature, and there they were real and delightful as far as they went.

His capacity for true friendship was unusually deep and lasting. It flowed in a narrow stream, but its concentrated energy was all the more powerful. His love for Charles Black was pure, unselfish, genuine, and undying, far “passing the love of woman,” as Charles says. It became a clear, perennial fountain of joy that flowed unstinted through the quiet wilderness of his life, like the divine stream that accompanied ancient Israel, refreshing, strengthening, and cheering him; as necessary and as blessed to him as the Nile to the land of the pyramids. In his silent, self-contained, and comparatively solitary existence, this union with one man—the “friend of his bosom, this more than a brother”—to whom he tendered the worship of his deepest heart, was more to him than troops of friends; and, in his forced and painful widowhood, dearer and better to him than wife and child. Its intensity and purity were something quite uncommon, and revealed a largeness of soul found only with the few, and in hearts of finer mould. It stirred the very springs of life with more than even the overmastering fervour of early love, and was a permanent holy passion that burnt on his dying pillow and was extinguished only by death. What this affection was to him in his silent heart of hearts was revealed, as by a momentary lightning flash, in the beatific effect it had upon the self-suppressing man at his last meeting with Charles. All this reads like a bit of old romance or a passage from a modern novel, though it was but the literal truth. It recalls, at least, in no mean degree, the world-famous friendships between men celebrated in history and poetry.

And Charles’s love for John was as deep and tender, as permanent and full of blessedness. He frequently says, “Naebody would credit the love I had for John.” It still wells out at all times and in all forms, and it has become all the more sacred now that it has been hallowed by the grave. “The dear old man !” as Charles recently wrote to a friend; “he was the lealest and truest friend I ever had. If I said, `Rest his soul!’ would I be sinning?”

Is the capacity for such romantic attachments between man and man dying out amongst us, amidst the shallow sentiments, artificial stimulants, and prevalent philistinism of modern society ? Let us be thankful of this new proof that such beautiful love can and does still exist.

Of Duncan’s deep and earnest religiousness of nature, we have already had abundant proof. It was an abiding and essential element in his life, all the truer that it was too holy to be talked about in rude, every-day speech, though expressed in silent action. Sombre and puritanic, and in some respects stern, uncompromising and Covenanting in its character, as his training, early influences and natural earnestness made it, his religion was a living, regulating power and a vigorous element of strength in his solitary homeless life with its hidden sorrows, and had proved a stable support and the source of strong and energising moral power and dignity.

All the clergymen who knew John bear the same strong testimony to his sincere and abiding devoutness. The opinion of the Rev. David A. Beattie, his first pastor at Cushnie Free Church, is that of all the rest, though less decided than others. “He was,” he says, “a regular attendant on the ministry, and always in his place when weather permitted. His attentive and reverend appearance as a worshipper in the house of prayer is still vividly present to me. His full countenance and placid eye are like a picture before my mind. I found, when visiting him, that he was always ready to listen to divine things, and would add a remark or two of his own which showed that he had a manifest personal experience of the power of the gospel in his own breast. I don’t know when the incorruptible seed of grace was dropped in his heart, but it seemed to be there, and during my acquaintance with him, it appeared to spring and grow up and show fruit in a humble childlike walk. He was like one of a class of lowly plants whose evergreen freshness pleases the eye at all seasons. I did not witness the bud of his early promise, but I saw the vigorous root grow stronger and thrive before its transplantation to a better clime.”