A SCOTCH TUTOR.
THE Scotch student who begins with bright hopes of a pulpit career, then finds the entrance thereto too narrow for his expanding mind, and at last has to content himself with the humble lot of private tutor, is a common character in the pages of fiction. In real life, he is not met often now-a-days, and is sometimes believed impossible, in these more liberal times. There was one, however, well known to many London Scots, whose remains a few sorrowing friends quietly interred at Kensal Green last Saturday afternoon. Once at least his story has furnished materials for a character-sketch, but at some points it was more touching than anything of the kind contained in fiction. Wherever he went, he made friends. There was a charm in his open countenance and sparkling eyes that spoke to every heart. A pure Highlander, the liquid drawl of his speech and the not very gainly movements of his tall figure added a piquancy to the flow of his talk ; and no long intercourse was needed to reveal a mind of unusual power, and a memory that seemed to overflow with information on every conceivable sub- ject. Even when in controversy he became—as was so often the case—unmeasuredly scathing in his rebuke of what he thought wrong, those who differed from him could not help admiring the outspoken ingenuousness of his fervid nature. Still to the end R. G. Tolmie remained but a humble tutor.
He was born some forty-five years ago, in the Black-isle of Ross-shire, a rather bleak peninsula on the east coast, with the birthplace of Hugh Miller at the one end and that of Roderick Murchison at the other, and in between, the school-days home of Sir James Mackintosh. His father was the schoolmaster and also the catechist or lay-pastor of his parish. He was one of a band of godly men whose piety gave such intensity to the Evangelical movement that led to the well-known Disruption of 1843. The district was, indeed, at that time pre-eminent for its religions zeal. "The Apostle of the North " was its leading presbyter, and most of his colleagues were similarly famed. The schoolmaster's boy early revealed gifts that marked him out for the ministry, and soon he was found among the Highland students at the University of Edinburgh. Teaching in his father's or some other local school was, of course, a necessary alternative with the College sessions. Still, he pursued his studies with increasing ardour, and these were not confined by the mere limits of class requirements. Then began the course of reading in every direction of study that seemed to make of him for the rest of his life a walking encycloptedia. Hebrew literature, from Moses to Maimonides, and all the windings of English theology, seem to have had particular attraction for the young Highlander. With progressing studies came doubts of his suitability for a Free-Kirk pulpit. The difficulty soon received a practical solution. He crossed the Border, bade good-bye for the time to pulpit ambition, and sought employ- ment in the less fettered calling of "teacher." His wants were few, his tastes simple, and so far, success was not difficult to gain. Wherever he went, his eyes and ears were open. Local history, local customs, social and politieal conditions, and the like, all were inquired into, and never forgotten. London, however, had its strong attractions. There was the British Museum, over whose library his mind could range with unrestrained delight. There, too, in Edward Irving's successor he found a presbyter who could appreciate the free and open utterances of his young mind. James Hamilton was no theological innovator, but his cultured nature and catholic sympathies always placed him on the side of freedom. Particularly did he display this among his young men. These, mostly recent arrivals from Scotland, were just beginning life, fresh from the restraints of home, with their young minds at the most critical point of develop- ment. A society, formed among them by Hamilton, for the serious discussion of everything that interested them, soon became a school of thought that for nearly forty years has, in its quiet way, been one of the most useful institutions in London. Here Tolmie found a most congenial field. The pupils of his daily work were important, but they were little compared with this constant-flowing stream of young merchants, bankers, lawyers, and the like, who were now shaping their characters, and would soon be scattered over every colony and settlement where a Scotchman finds employment. Here, week after week, he poured forth the floods of his thought and reading. Cautious elders shook their heads, and some muttered loudly when his speculations became unusually daring, or his generalisations amazingly sweeping. But there was a devout reverence and spiritual fervour in all he said that compelled toleration, and gained over the young minds a never-to-be-forgotten influence.
Theology and ecclesiastical history were his favourite themes; but a rare instinct for seizing great public questions just before they became prominent made his work in that direction parti- cularly useful. Land Reform, for example, was a subject he had widely studied. Long did he strive to enlighten and inform every one he could reach on all its bearings, and deeply grateful was he to see the swift progress of public opinion concerning it.
About fifteen years ago, he settled for some time at a middle-class school near Southampton. The work was con- genial, and London was near enough for an occasional visit with some fresh disquisition to his admiring young friends at Regent Square. After a few years there, he was per- suaded that if he would only attend the Presbyterian Col- lege for a year, the usual further study could be dispensed with, and he could at once enter the ministry. His early ambitions seemed to return. He gave up his teaching, and sat at the feet of Professors who would be the first to acknowledge his superior attainments. But still lie was more than a student. Many a young Scotchman fighting doubts and difficulties found his way to the quiet lodgings near the British Museum, and there found a guide, philosopher, and friend,—another " Sandy MacKaye," who was never so delighted as when, over quiet pipe or frugal supper, he saw the young mind unfolding before his expositions.
Often did friends urge Iiim'to write for the Press, but he was slow to move. His free, full flow seemed to shrink from the restraints that brief space imposes, and his Celtic reserve could not face the persistent assertion required for gaining a footing on the London Press. Now and again an article from his pen saw the light, and in this new student-time he seemed to have stirred himself with fresh energy. Two or three articles in the British and Foreign, several short notices in the Contemporary, and similar productions, seemed to promise new activity.
Now, however, came the sore blow of his life. The year of study was over. The application to the Synod was to have been simply formal, and in a few days he would have made the advance looked forward to in youth, drawn back from in doubt, but now deliberately sought. But, alas ! it was not to be. At the Synod some one whispered heresy, and at its very mention the formal application disappeared, without, apparently, a word of defence. On Tolmie's proud Celtic nature the stroke fell like a death-blow. Others might think it a
small matter. To him, it meant disgrace. He was not the man, nor had he the standing from which to fight for freedom, so be brooded over it in dejection. Friends might think he was better out of the pulpit, and urge on him other enterprises, but the sting of his treatment would not heal. Before next year's
Synod several of his young friends moved on his behalf, a com- mittee was appointed to confer with him, and the application refused the previous year was quietly passed. This so far relieved his sensitive mind, but the past could not be removed. It had taught him how the Presbyterian pulpit is hampered even in these days, and he did not care to enter any other, although overtures were made to him. So he returned to teaching, and remained to the end " a Scotch tutor." The year of study and the unsettled time that followed must have absorbed all his savings, yet friends could never find any opportunity of directly aiding him. His Celtic reserve and stern independence was proof against every effort, however adroit. His wants were few, and his habits simple, and so long as he could keep the wolf from the door he was content. By- and-by, pupils were gained ; he often conducted examinations for the College of Preceptors and other bodies, and now and again engaged in some small literary-'enterprise. He never became quite as genial as before, but his rich stores of learning and thought continued to be poured forth, wherever an opening could be found. A Highlander and student-of Celtic literature, he was drawn to the Gaelic Society of London, one of the many which, in their quiet way, preserved the enthusiasm that gave such success to Professor Blackie's campaign for a Gaelic Chair. Here Tolmie was particularly at home. His countrymen were delighted to welcome one as ardent as themselves, and his wealth of information did much to enlarge the scope of their studies. His interest in land reform made him often turn to the working-classes of London for an audience. A series of short articles from his pen on " The Land Question" appeared in the Secularist, then conducted with no little earnestness by Mr. G. W. Foote; and once, at least, he was known to lecture from a Sunday-League platform on this question. To some old friends this was a crowning offence. Tolmie was now a Secularist, they said. But that was impossible. The warm Celtic nature, the intense spirituality, of this son of a Highland Elder could never succumb to Secularism. The step may have been unwise. for himself, but contact with such a fervid nature could not fail to be salutary to a secular audience. He still continued, however, to visit the young men of Regent Square, where fresh audiences were learning to admire the greatness of his gifts.
Some eighteen months ago he became exceedingly unwell. The privations of the past, notwithstanding the never-varied regularity of his habits, seemed to have weakened his robust constitution. Even now anxious friends found it all but impos- sible to overcome his Celtic reserve and independence, and give him the aid they would gladly have rendered. The Deacon's Court, at Regent Square, kindly offered him pecuniary aid, but be firmly answered "No." He could not bear to think of permitting his religious profession to become a pretext, for charity. Mistaken the feeling . may have been, but who can help admiring it ! After a time he was able to revisit his Highland home, and there seemed to gain fresh strength. Last winter be was back in London, looking as fresh and strong as ever. He was often found busy at the British Museum ; and the political campaign of the spring he followed with great interest. Frequently was his voice raised in denunciation of Conservative misdoings, and he even took his share in the voluntary canvas of Marylebone—where he belonged to the Four Hundred—on behalf of the Liberal candi- dates. His friends rejoiced in his new vigour, and hoped soon to see his great abilities finding scope in some new direction. But these hopes were soon disappointed. His recovery was only apparent, and a few days ago he suddenly became unwell in the street, reached his lodgings with difficulty, and after twenty-four hours of intense suffering was gone.
It was but a handful of friends that joined Mr. Fremantle in the last service they could render to his remains. Yet there was something characteristic of Tolmie's own catholic nature in the gathering with whom a Broad-Church rector read the beautiful burial-service over this stern Nonconformist's grave. A Pro- fessor of Political Economy and a Presbyterian Elder, the secretary of the Gaelic Society and the secretary of a Liberal Club, it Scotch doctor and a young publisher, a Church archi- tect and a granite-mason, these, with a few others, represented the large circle who learned so much from his lips, and who will hear of his death with surpriseful regret. Stern conscientious- ness and adverse conditions prevented him from fulfilling the hopes they could not fail to cherish concerning him. Still, in their memories he will long have an enduring monument, for scattered over the globe and moving in every rank of life, from the workshop to the Senate, is many a Scotchman who owed the first real opening of his mental vision to this obscure Scotch tutor.