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The Life of James Robertson

THE reputation gained as a teacher and especially as a master of discipline, during his two and a half years in the Corner School, secured for him a larger sphere of work in a school near Innerkip, where for three years, from 1859 to 1863, he gave himself with the same vigour and conscientiousness to his work as had made him so successful in his first school. His experience as teacher had developed him in many ways, but more particularly had wrought in him a self-confidence and a mastery of himself and others that led him to take a position of influence in the community. He is still remembered by those who were his pupils at that time, for the fearless and indomitable spirit which distinguished him above others. "He was afraid of nothing," writes one of his pupils, "man, beast or devil. There was a fractious colt on the farm where he boarded which none of us dared to handle. Robertson mastered him and rendered him tractable." The same spirit that made him wrestle all night long with the Edinburgh problem and afterwards with that of the oxen and the grass would not let him rest before any unconquered difficulty. "Frequently," writes the same pupil, "I remember when there were tough, gnarled pieces of wood lying around the yard that had baffled the skill and prowess of others to make stove wood out of them, he would go at them with that vim and vigour which later became so characteristic of the man, and in a little while he would stand victorious over their scattered members. What seemed to others impossible, that was the thing that had a peculiar charm for him."

He had his own opinions and was not to be moved from them without reason by any man soever, no matter how great he might be. His minister tells us that at a Sun-day-school picnic where some three or four hundred people were assembled, the orators of the day, both lay and clerical, had been emphasizing the importance of aiming high, pointing to high places in church and State which might be attained. Not a bit abashed by the high standing or the eloquence of ministers or Members of Parliament who had preceded him, the young teacher of Innerkip, in the rough eloquence of common sense, proceeded to demonstrate the impracticable nature of much of the counsel given. "You cannot all attain high positions; there are not enough to go round. You cannot all be preachers or premiers, but you can all do thoroughly and well what is set you to do, and so fit yourselves for some higher duty, and thus by industry and fidelity and kindness you can fill your sphere in life and at the last receive the ‘well done’ of your Lord."

His stay in Innerkip was marked by two events which determined for him the course and quality of his afterlife. It was at this time that he finally decided upon his life calling. From his childhood, he had shared with his mother the hope that he might become a minister, though, after the manner of their race, they never openly to each other expressed such a hope. It was his experience in Chalmers Church as teacher and superintendent of Sabbath-school, and as missionary to the Gaelic Cape Breton folk settled in Woodstock, that quickened his desire and strengthened his hope into a firm resolve to be a preacher of the Gospel. This aim he henceforth kept steadily before him, and to its accomplishment he bent every energy of his being.

It was while he was in Innerkip, too, that another event befell, whose influence followed him through all his days. He had the happy fortune to meet and to promptly fall in love with a sweet-faced, leal-hearted young maiden. About a mile from the school where Robertson taught, lived John Cowing, a well-to-do farmer of sturdy north of England stock. It had been the custom for the schoolmasters of previous days to make their home at Mr. Cowing’s house, but upon the departure of the last teacher it was decided in the family circle that this custom must end, so the new teacher went to board in the village. But a week of his boarding-house was enough for him, and on Monday evening, as the young lady of the house was washing up the tea dishes, looking out of the window she saw the teacher coming up from the road with her father, evidently engaged in earnest conversation. Well she knew what this meant. Disgusted and indignant, she declared to her mother that they were not to have any man board ing with them, and besides, she was "sick and tired of having to make up and carry every day to school the teacher’s dinner." The father brought the young man in and introduced him to his wife and daughter; an introduction it was, big with result to both the young people. As the young man looked into the sparkling black eyes that looked back at him perhaps none too kindly, the hour of fate struck for him. This young girl, looking back after forty-five years of life, describes their first meeting in the following words of exquisite and touching simplicity

"It was in the Fall of 1859 that my future husband, then a young man of about twenty-one years, came to our section to teach school, where he used his talents and influence for the good of all with whom he came in contact. He was an excellent teacher, loved and respected by parents and pupils alike. He soon found his way to my and mother’s home, for the former teachers had not been strangers there. He said afterwards that when he saw me for the first time that day in my own home, he determined that I should be his. The task proved to be not as easy as may have seemed, but he had made up his mind, and, as in after-years in more important matters, when he won in spite of difficulties, so it was then. He poured forth his wealth of love and affection and compelled me to love him in return as I had never loved before. Of course we had to wait, but the time did not seem long. It was unalloyed bliss. Three years of school, of walks and talks, and when he left for college there were the letters, the visits, the hopes and aspirations and preparations, and, with all, at times a tinge of sadness lest I was not quite worthy of it all."

Ten years after that eventful evening, the young man writes a love-letter so characteristic in its manliness and tenderness, and so revealing of the loyalty and patient fidelity of both, as to be worth reproducing:

"Union Theological Serninary,
"New York City, Sept. 23, 1868.

"My DEAR BATTY:— "To-day is your birthday, as you call it, or what others would perhaps style the anniversary of it, and I think I must write you a short letter. It was almost the first thought that came into my mind this morning after I arose, but why or how I do not know, for I had not thought of it the night before. I was thankful, however, that it was so, and I only regretted that you were so far away and wished that you were near. But why regret what we all know must be for the best. I hope you are as happy as I wish you on this day, and I hope you may witness its return often and find pleasure in it and that it may be mine to help you to make it ever happier. I felt well all day, I think, from the thought that it was your birthday, and consequently the day has been to me half a holiday. Were I near you, it would have been no half, but a whole holiday. A whole holiday in New York, however, with the work of the Session commenced, is not to be thought of, especially when one is alone with no kindred spirit to make up what is really needed to make all go off well.

"I was going to add, and I may just as well do it, that I hope this will be the last time that I cannot be with you on the return of this day. It is God’s mercy that we cannot see so very far down the way. This is, of course, hoping, that is all we can do for the future except active preparation in the present. It will be soon ten years since I made your acquaintance first. You know I loved you at first sight. During that time considerable changes have taken place. I have ceased to be the Innerkip teacher, the very house in which I taught has been removed. I have passed through my grammar school studies. I have lived in Toronto for three years and am now spending one in New York, and still I think my first impression of you has not changed except in one way, namely, that it is deeper. The lines that appeared then drawn on the surface, are now cut deep into the solid, so that effacing them would be destruction. It might almost appear reckless to choose on the instigation of an impulse, but never have I regretted my choice, except at those times when its object appeared to be beyond my reach. Wherever I am, I can look back on my choice and now turn to the object of my love with a warmth of feeling, the pleasure of which can be experienced but not expressed. Long engagements are considered an evil. I really think that, generally speaking, they are so. Long engagements like mine are not. Could I be free I would not. Had I the course to pursue again with my present experience, I would act in that respect as I have done. My engagement has been to me a source of profit, the fountain of my affections has been kept open, and while I have been living and acting among men, my heart has been educated as well as my intellect, and this I consider a real benefit. Had I been unengaged till now, I think I would stand a good chance of being a bachelor for life. Study is fascinating to me. But now things are different and I am glad of it. Of course, your part in the matter has not been so easy as mine. You had to wait, while with me there has been no waiting. When you consented to take me you consented to wait these long years, for you were ready to marry then. The exciting activity of work you lacked, and your part was harder to bear. Work may not appear easy, yet it is a relief when you are called upon to lend a hand rather than stand and look at another work. I had the work, you the looking on, waiting till I was done. Your part appears the more difficult. I hope for your sake as well as my own that this waiting will soon cease. None can wish this more than I.

"But I must bid you good-night, merely asking you to send one photo out of your album. I could have given a good deal to have had it to-day, and regretted my having forgotten it since I came. Forget me not as you are not forgotten.

"Yours ever,


He is no master in the art of writing love-letters perhaps, but he is a master in the fine art of loving, and in this fine art his heart never loses its skill through all the after-years.

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