Monday, 10 December 2012

A Mission of Mercy

I had a very enjoyable day off from work today.  After dropping three boys off at school, and after a much needed porridge and coffee at Pret a Manger (a great company who give a lots of money and food to homeless charities), I made my way to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Queen Street.  To my shame I can't ever remember visiting before although I'm sure I must have been taken at some point in my childhood.  

After a recent discussion with the fount of all things Free Church, Mr Bill Anderson, I went to look at the two current paintings of Dr Thomas Guthrie hanging in the gallery and ask to look at others in their archives.  The first painting on display was originally entitled 'Dr Guthrie on a Mission of Mercy'.  It is of Guthrie standing at the top of the Lawnmarket with St Giles clearly in the background.  Having just re-read Guthrie's 'Seed Time and Harvest - A Plea for Ragged Schools' the painting doesn't quite capture the harrowing scenes of emaciated children that Guthrie describes.  It does, however capture Guthrie's tenderness for the thousands of 'ragged children' who were victims of the extreme poverty, lack of access to education and general abuse by addicted or absent parents.  Guthrie conservatively estimated the figure of ragged children in Edinburgh to be around 1000 in the mid 1840's although the figure could well have been twice that.

Rev. Thomas Guthrie, 1803 - 1873. Preacher and philanthropist (Exhibited as Dr Guthrie on a Mission of Mercy)

I can't say much about the painter other than what I have picked up on line.  It was a James Edgar (1819 - 1876) who also has a painting of Robert Burns in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.  The inscription below the painting gives a very brief overview of Guthrie's life.

The other painting of Guthrie currently hanging in the gallery is a much more domestic scene with Guthrie out fly fishing with his children Patrick and Anne on Lochlee.  

The inscription reads; 'The influential churchman and social reformer Thomas Guthrie was born in Brechin in Angus. He helped found the Free Church of Scotland in 1843. Guthrie was also an outspoken supporter of education for all and a passionate opponent of alcohol abuse. Guthrie took up fishing in order to spend time outdoors. Whilst at his Highland retreat at Lochlee, he practised trout fishing and was often found on the loch: 'We are all fishing daft here. My brother Patrick says that between us all together he cannot get a word of rational conversation; nothing but "trouts, baits, hooks, bobs, drags, flies, dressings, hackle and tackle.”' This oil sketch depicts a father at leisure with his children but also alludes to Guthrie’s profession as a 'fisher of men'.'  The painter was Sir George Harvey (1806 - 1876); 'Harvey is best known for his Scottish history painting and contemporary narrative scenes. Many of his subjects, designed to invite an emotional response, appear rather sentimental to modern viewers but were extremely popular when first exhibited.'

Rev. Thomas Guthrie, 1803  -1873. Preacher and philanthropist (With his children, Patrick and Anne, fishing on Lochlee)

There are around 60 other photos or prints of Guthrie in the archives including one of his Kirk Session in Free St John's which I hope to go back and see. 

After a very enjoyable morning I spent some time in the Chalmers Hall of the Free Church College trying to track down the book 'Out of Harness' which Guthrie wrote about various periods of his life.  Prof John Macintosh gave me some help with other Thomas Guthrie sources I hope to look at  over the next few months including Session Minutes from Arbirlot, Old Greyfriars, St John's and Free St John's at the National Archives.  

It was a quick sprint back to Tollcross for a very entertaining Gaelic Pantomime by some very talented actors from Inverness.  A busy but enjoyable day!!

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