Memoirs of Sir Wemyss Reid 1842-1885

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The sense of personal loss occasioned by my brother's death is still so keen and vivid that if I am to write at all about him—and my duty in that respect is clear—it must be out of the fulness of my heart. My earliest recollections of him begin when I was a child and he was a bright, self-reliant lad in the home at Newcastle, the characteristics of which are with artless realism described in the opening pages of this book. It is the simple truth to say that we grew up in an atmosphere of love and duty. Our father was a man of studious habit, passing rich in the possession of a library of dry works on theology which his children never read, and among which they searched in vain for the fairy books and stories, or even the poetry, dear to the youthful heart. He was a faithful, rather than a gifted preacher, and I have always thought that his power—it was real and far-reaching—lay in his modest, unselfish life, and in that unfailing sympathy which kept him on a perpetual round of visits to the sick and sorrowful, year in, year out. He had a quiet sense of humour, and was never so happy as when he could steal a day off from the insistent claims of pastoral work for a ramble in the country with his boys.

Always a public-spirited man, and keenly interested in political affairs, he talked to us freely about the events of the time, and made us feel that the little affairs of our own home and immediate environment could never be seen in their true perspective until they were set against the larger life of the town, and, in a sense, of the nation. When any great event occurred he used to tell us all about it; when any great man died, if we did not know the significance of his life and the loss it meant to the country, it was not his fault. He was a quiet, rather reserved man, terribly in earnest, we thought, and with a touch of sternness about him which vanished in later life. He mellowed with the passing years, and long before old age crept quietly upon him the prevailing note of his character was charity. He had been in early life associated to some extent with the Press, and later had written one or two books, so that ink was in my brother's blood.

Our mother was almost his opposite in character. She was quick, almost imperious in temper, vivacious and witty of speech, full of sense and sensibility, in revolt—I see it now—against the narrow conditions of her lot, and yet bravely determined to do her best, not merely for her husband and children, but for the rather austere little community in which she was always a central figure. There was a charm about her to which all sorts and sizes of people surrendered at discretion, and she loved books more modern and more mundane than the dingy volumes on my father's shelves. She had received, what was more rare then than now, a liberal education, and, besides modern languages, had at least a moderate acquaintance with the classics. She held herself gallantly in the dim, half-educated society of her husband's chapel, but reserved her friendships—sometimes with a touch of wilfulness—for those who represented whatever there was of sweetness and light in the wider society of the town. In one respect she was absolutely in harmony with my father, and that was in her sympathy with the poor and in quiet, unparaded determination to hold out a helping hand to all that sought it. She had imagination, and she sent it on errands of good-will. I think my brother inherited from her his alertness of mind and not a little of his quickness of apprehension.

I can remember him coming back from Bruce's school all aglow with his prizes, and I can recall, as if it were but yesterday, his audacious speeches, and the new books with which, as soon as he earned a shilling, he began to leaven the dull old library, much to the delectation of the other children. I can recall a rough cartoon in one of the local journals which was greeted with huge merriment in the family circle, because it represented Tom as "Ye Press of Newcastle"—a mere boy in a short jacket perched on a stool, scribbling for dear life at the foot of a platform on which some local orator was denouncing the tyranny of the existing Government. He must then have been about seventeen, certainly not more, and he was even at that time somewhat of a youthful prodigy....