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Sunday Night in tbe Cowgate, Edinburgh .
BY THE AUTHOR OF "THE ROMANCE OF THE STREETS.” HILE ranking among the most interesting of cities, Edinburgh
may be said to be a world in itself. The situation is romantic ; the society is refined, the majority of the tradespeople are well-informed, and the historical associations of the town are so remarkable that no genial-minded Englishman grudges the proud capital of the north her self-asserting title of “ The Modern Athens.” We do not pass a mere compliment when we say that ancient Greece never rose to be half so aitractive as modern Scotland.
Having something to say about the experience of a Sabbath evening which we recently spent in the lowest parts of the city, we shall preface our sketch by briefly referring to Sabbath morning as it is observed in the more respectable districts.
It is related of a distinguished English statesman, who was staying in a Scotch village, that he expressed high satisfaction on beholding the Christian union which apparently everywhere reigned. The parish was orderly and sober, and all seemed to be of one mind as they met regularly to worship God in the Free Church. “I suppose you have no Dissenters here ?” remarked the gentleman to the churchkeeper. “Dissenters ! Oh yes, there were some Dissenters. There were at least half a dozen specimens of that discontented genus, and they might be found at the Established Church over the way !” This intimation, accompanied by a significant jerk of the thumb over the speaker's shoulder, at once showed the visitor what kind of delusion he had harboured.
This anecdote will illustrate the state of religious parties in Edinburgh, and, indeed, throughout Scotland generally. While the majority of the better sort of people adhere to the Free Church, and stoutly defend her claims, the outsiders, as they may truthfully be called, belong to the State-provided Establishment; but all, in common, are subject to a strong love of Presbyterianism. Between ten and eleven o'clock on Sabbath morning the streets of the town present a spectacle such as We believe cannot be witnessed in England. The thoroughfares are thronged with passengers, grave and thoughtful, all making way to their respective places of worship. Then the clocks chime eleven. The streets are empty. The churches are full.
One Sunday, last January, being a stranger in Edinburgh, we walked to “ Free Saint George's," which, as the cathedral of the Free Church of Scotland, has its pulpit occupied by Dr. Candlish, a divine who deservedly occupies a foremost place among the leaders of theological thought. The elegant and spacious edifice is receiving a broad stream of people, reminding one of the crowds which find their way
into one or two of the largest of our London chapels. The congregation, too, is quite worthy of the church, including, as it does, the élite of the city population. The numbers who are passing in carry a thoughtful and devout look with them; and one celebrity and then auother can be recognised among them. Meanwhile, the plates at the doors, standing on little tables with spotless napkins, become piled with coins, as though a special collection were being made, instead of the usual Sabbath offering. Now the people are seated; there is a hush as the Doctor ascends the pulpit, and we are eagerly anticipating the sermon. Dr. Candlish is doubtless what the Puritans would have called “a solid and painful preacher;" and looking round, one can discern at a glance, in the calm and undivided attention of the great congregation, that it is mainly composed of hearers who are educated up to the exceedingly high standard of pulpit teaching, which is maintained at “Free Saint George's."
On leaving the church, the streets are again found to be thronged with the same orderly crowds as before. We say orderly because the absence of light conversation, laughter, or even smiles, is peculiarly observable. If the country were England we should now be going home to dine; but there is no dinner in Edinburgh until after the second service at a quarter after two, which will close the public exercises of the day. Having seen the real cathedral of the Free Church, we now repair to the ancient sanctuary of Saint Giles which in less happy times was the seat of a Bishop of Edinburgh. Saint Giles's is a great historical site, and as a mere building is the largest church in the city; yet the congregation assembling within its walls and that assembling at “Free Saint George's” so widely differ that they have little in common. The one is a congregation of the first class; the other is a congregation of the fourth class. Nevertheless, the hour spent in the High Church, as Saint Giles's is also called, was one to be remembered. The service was impressive, and the sermon one to be highly appreciated, even though while sitting in the fine old sanctuary of Knox and the Scottish Reformers, we could not but keenly realize that “ Free Saint George's” really represents the church of the nation. Historical Saint Giles's merely retains “the half dozen Dissenters” of the Establishment.
Though the above may be a correct picture of respectable Edinburgh as the city appears in the earlier part of each Sabbath day, the evening will surely bring a less satisfactory experience. The church-going populace have gone home to dine and to spend the remainder of the sacred hours in the profitable exercises prescribed by the religious customs of their country. Vulgar Edinburgh, which, to a casual observer, appears as little subject to Christianity as a colony of Hindoos or Chinese, has not been to church at all, and has no intention of going, and, accordingly, the Church must needs follow those waifs and strays who refuse to seek anything good for themselves, and press the Gospel upon their acceptance. There is no necessity to travel far from the handsome streets and squares to find subjects worthy of compassion. Looking down from an arch of George the Fourth's Bridge, we obtain a view of a picturesque but squalid and riotous thoroughfare, and the inhabitants moving hither and thither, might, to judge from appearances, belong to another economy in the universe from those with whom we associated in the morning. That picturesque thoroughfare is the Cowgate. We will go down and see what new phases of life are to be met with in that unfashionable region, and learn something of the -agencies which seek to relieve its abounding ignorance and destitution.
Being now fairly landed in the Cowgate, and remembering our late
experience, we seem to be suddenly transported to some far-away land, at the antipodes of the world we moved in during the morning. To add to the melancholy discomfort of the scene, a mizzling rain is falling, while the air is charged with effluvia similar to that which obliged Dr. Johnson to confess on his arrival in the Canongate, that he could smell the Scotch capital in the dark. On either side of the way stand tall ancient houses with grimy windows, gaunt-looking fronts, and heavy stone stairs ascending from the street, some of which must have done duty ever since those stirring days when their worn steps were trodden by heroic covenanters and stedfast Christian confessors. The region wears an altogether dark and forbidding aspect, while the evidences of the existence of a dense and unruly population are painfully manifest. Unwashed men and roystering youths swagger about the middle of the roadway; and hard-featured women are to be encountered on all sides. The whisky shops are closed because their landlords dare not trifle with Scotch law; but numbers of chandlers have their gas burning, their doors open, and, to judge by what we see, the Sabbath brings by no means a scant trade to this low grovelling race and their frowsylooking stores. The children, prompted by natural instinct, have turned the street into a common playground, and the Scotch and Irish nationalities would seem to coalesce satisfactorily, so far as the juveniles are concerned; for the romping and shouting does not include too large a proportion of the quarrelsome element. There is one peculiarity however, about these children which we have never observed in London: no sooner do we essay to speak to them han the girls especially hie away like frightened aborigines, from a white man ; imagining perhaps that we wish to accommodate them with places in the ragged-school or the mission chapel.
But where are we; in the Cowgate of old Edinburgh ? Yes, and in spite of the heavy atmosphere, the sickly-looking shops and the teeming degraded populace let us realise that we are now treading on classical ground-that we stand among buildings which in prouder days were made to play a conspicuous part in the history of Scotland. Here was the Solemn League and Covenant drawn up and signed in 1638. Here was the young and beautiful Queen Mary entertained by admiring citizens, before troubles, preshadowing death overtook her; and here, too, in a quaint little chapel, wherein the Medical Mission holds its weekly meetings, the first General Assembly of the Church of Scotland is said to have been held. Rich in historical association, and picturesque notwithstanding its squalor and abounding vice, is this ancient thoroughfare. Evil days and a bad reputation may have fallen upon its weatherbeaten homes ; but choice words of Scripture on the walls, quaintly spelt, peep out from the encrusted dirt of ages to remind us of noble names belonging to the past, and to inspire us with the hope of seeing better days in the future.
We have now arrived at the chapel, or the Cowgate station of the Medical Mission, a building of great historical interest
, dating its foundation from pre-Reformation times.* Passing down a dimly-lighted,
* For some account of this antique hospital, and of the Medical Mission generally, see " A Day with the Edinburgh Medical Mission,” published in our March number.
narrow passage, and catching by the way some uncomplimentary remarks from divers natives, who are watching our progress with needless curiosity, we soon emerge into a small court-yard where are a number of rooms and a dispensary, all of which in other days formed the hospital apartments belonging to the quaint little chapel in the front. Here the ragged-school classes assemble on Sabbath evenings ; and the students of the Medical Mission are now earnestly engaged in teaching troops of little outcasts, fresh from the dens of this dreadful Cowgate, the first principles of Christianity. “Barren Ground !” “ Casting pearls before swine ! we are tempted to exclaim in our short-sighted wisdom, as we stand watching the teachers' painful efforts. Let us, however, be sparing of sentimentality. God is blessing the seed so faithfully and unsparingly sown. Then see! There is an unmistakable northern inquisitiveness implanted in the young hearts before us, and the eagerness with which they listen to what is spoken is at least, encouraging. The lessons for the evening are printed on large shects, pasted on boards, each being embellished with a large engraving; and now and again, when something striking is said, the heads of a whole class bend forward to re-inspect the picture and to catch the meaning of what is being explained. Perhaps the scene is as unlike a London ragged-school as Scotland is unlike England. Several of the pinched little faces carry an expression painfully striking, as if their owners were already old in vice, through being thrown among associations cruelly out of keeping with bodies so young. These we may pronounce to be the children of whisky-drinking parents. There are others, on the contrary, whose pretty youthful features bear the stamp of childishness, while their persons are cleaner and their clothing is better kept than is the case with their more unfortunate companions. It is a sight calculated to make one yearn for the little creatures' welfare. Nor shall we yearn in vain ; for now the lessons are finished we pass from the hot close atmosphere into the open court, feeling that the efforts thus put forth in faith, or even in tears, will surely be blessed by God and yield a full return.
At half-past six a meeting will be held in the Mission Chapel, when one of the medical students will give an address; but, meanwhile, the congregation has to be sought-literally compelled or persuaded to come in. Though some may scoff and refuse compliance, others will yield, so that the assembly is quite a motley company, full of interest to a student of human nature. See them now gathered together. There sits an aged Scotchman, infirm and afflicted, who by misfortune, perhaps rather than by wilful misconduct, has been driven into the notorious locality of the Cowgate ; and he appears to profit by what he hears. Near the old man is a decent demure-looking woman in widow's weeds, who also prizes the religion of her fathers, or her features belie her heart. The sad picture has its lighter shadings, but is a melancholy study taken as a whole. The background contains nothing cheerful, being chiefly made up of a number of young men and lasses whom to look at even makes one heart ache with misgivings. The most promising thing in connection with them is the fact of their being found in the mission chapel at all.
One of the mission churches is also open to-night ; for as the regular
services close with the afternoon, this building is used for evening lectures by the Free Church Students of New College. This practice should successfully introduce ministerial candidates to an effective style of preaching. In the main it doubtless conduces to this end, though the gentleman we heard for a brief space has a long road to travel before he will reach the desired goal. It was to be regretted that the sub-editor of The Sunday Magazine sat silently by; for though we may take exception to the innovation of Sabbath novel reading, which his journal is fostering, we could not doubt his ability to arouse and exhort a Cowgate crowd. We turned from this service disappointed. As a missionary effort the whole was a failure. The young speaker, an able and classical scholar, and one deeply read in general literature, made so ready a use of his book-lore that his sermon might be called the Gospel according to the English Poets.
There are many other evangelistic agencies in the Cowgate which we cannot notice, but their existence and success reflect high honour on the Christian community of Edinburgh. There are ragged-schools, children's services, and churches founded on Dr. Chalmer's Territorial System, all reaping a precious harvest surprising to contemplate when we recollect the nature of the ground in which the good seed is
Yet notwithstanding the marked success of the missionaries in this chosen retreat of sin, we cannot be surprised when we find the workers themselves half imagining that Christianity is losing ground in a degenerate age. It is true these brave men work and succeed, and they are persons well qualified to take a correct measure of their success; but in places exceptionally degraded, a band of Christian labourers, however successful, cannot produce an impression very visible to outside observers. They succeed in reclaiming certain numbers, and these they raise in the social scale by engendering those higher tastes and soberer habits which always accompany religion. But what are the immediate consequences ? The converts become the subjects of new desires and aspirations, and these oblige them to flee from their old quarters as from a lazaretto or a doomed City of Destruction. They almost invariably move away to respectable neighbourhoods, while new comers as surely fill up the vacancies in the common haunt to invite in turn the attention of the mission pastors. This is what is continually happening in the territorial churches of the Cowgate and Westport; and Mr. Pirie, of the former place, assured us that he expected it would so continue till the end of his days.
It may be in a sense disheartening to hard-working men, whose lot is cast in a low and degraded neighbourhood, to see their converts move off to swell the roll of prosperous churches; but none the less does the general result, so far as this one vicinity is concerned, appear to be magnificent. Into one mission church in the Cowgate no less than two thousand persons have been received in about a dozen years, and two hundred and ten of the number were admitted during the past year. Nearly the whole of these have been fairly drawn from the native populace-have, in reality, been won for Christ on one of Satan's most fiercely contested battle-fields. True indeed it is that the fair city of Edinburgh, like our own great London, does not and;