I. A HOUSEHOLD OF FAITH
ALBERT B. SIMPSON came of generations of sturdy and upright stock and was reared in surroundings congenial to the development of noble and godly character. The "Bonnie Highlands" of Scotland is the home of a race as rugged as its rocky hills, yet as sensitive as its matchless lakes to the moods of wind and weather. Neither Roman legions nor Saxon knights ever subdued those haughty, crafty clansmen, and on every battlefield of modern nations the tartan and bonnet of "The Kilties," marching to the weird skirl of the pibroch, have been in the hottest of the fray. As widely scattered, as easily recognized, and as successful as the sons of Jacob, some one has sung of them,
"They thrive where ever they fall. Oh, grasp the hardy thistle close, Or grasp it not at all."
Nor need young Canada, his own much loved native land, be abashed even in the presence of the Highlands. As Dr. Simpson himself said in a lecture, delivered both in his native island and in the church where fifty years before he had been ordained, "Every Canadian seems by his very attitude to be forever saying, I can.' His life story will reveal many influences, all instrumental in the making of a life of rare completeness. But it would be a very faulty interpretation that overlooked the effects of his ancestry and early environment. For the seeds of character are the fruit of a family tree, and the home and the community are as soil and sunlight to the young life."
The Simpson family emigrated from Morayshire, Scotland, and settled in Prince Edward Island in 1774. James Simpson, the grandfather of Albert B. Simpson, was then a boy of five years. In after years he married a daughter of the island and reared a family of seven boys and four girls. The fourth boy, James, married Jane, the daughter of William Clark, who with his wife was also of Scottish ancestry, being descended from the "Covenanters." He was a member of the Legislature, and on his death, his son William, then only twenty-one years of age, was elected to his seat, which he carried in every election till he was eighty years old. The family is still widely known and greatly respected.
Jane Clark's maternal grandmother, Mrs. McEwan, a very godly woman, told her tales of the persecutions her people had suffered at the hands of Claverhouse and his dragoons; of their faithfulness to the truth amid the fiercest persecution; of Peden, the prophet, and other great preachers; of the secret conventicles among the hills where these godly folk worshipped at the risk of their lives; of miracles of deliverance, and of the final triumph of the reformers in Scotland. No more thrilling chapter has been written in Church History, and the heart of this high-minded girl was stirred to a passion of devotion to the faith of her fathers and the God whom they worshipped.
Nor was James Simpson less earnest in his consecration to Christ than the young lady whom he sought as his helpmeet. Carefully instructed in the great truths for which his forefathers had bled, and converted at the age of nineteen, he became an earnest student of the Bible. Though away from home during the years of his early manhood and cast among godless companions who scoffed at his religion, he continued true to his convictions and steadfast in his Christian life. He stood at the marriage altar a clean, capable, industrious, and prosperous young man, worthy of the remarkable woman whose heart he had won.
The iron crane was hung in the home of James and Jane Simpson in Bayview, Prince Edward Island, on February 1st, 1837. Here five of their nine children were given to them. Albert Benjamin, the fourth child, was born on December 15th, 1843. The firstborn, James Albert, was taken away when only two and a half years old. William Howard and Louisa were older than Albert, and Margaret Jane two years younger. It was a happy home, and sunny skies smiled upon it.
James Simpson had established himself as a shipbuilder, miller, merchant, and exporter. He carried on his business in connection with the Cunard Steamship Company, exporting the product of his mills -- flour, oatmeal, and pearl barley -- and importing British goods which he sold in his store to the farmers for their produce. Such a medium of exchange was a necessity, and the business prospered till the financial depression which tested the foundations of British commerce swept over the empire. Shipbuilding was suspended, and export trade was threatened with extinction. James Simpson sold his business and with part of the proceeds bought a farm in Western Ontario.
Miss Louisa Simpson, the only surviving member of the household, gives us the following intimate sketch of the journey to their new home and of the family.
"When my father moved to this country in 1847, he chartered a sailing vessel, and, taking with him seven families some of whom had worked with him in his large business, crossed the Gulf of St. Lawrence and sailed up the river. At Montreal he took a boat for the Great Lakes. From Detroit a river boat brought us up the Thames to Chatham. It was a journey of thrilling pleasure to me. Albert, then three and one-half years old, was sick all the time, and it was a great trial to him. On his arrival at Chatham, father at once bought valuable property and settled us in a nice home, intending to remain permanently and enter into partnership with a shipbuilder in town; but our little sister took ill and died in an epidemic which nearly depleted the town of its infants; and my mother, in dread for the rest of the children, insisted on going to the farm nine miles away, not caring what the hardships might be if only she could save her three remaining children from death."
"Father was not a farmer, and it was a hard struggle for him, but he was very courageous and with hired help he soon cleared the farm. Being an excellent carpenter, he converted the log house into a comfortable home and with his own hands made beautiful furniture from the walnut on the farm. My mother decorated the home and surrounded it with beautiful flowers. A few years later a new house and fine farm buildings were erected. The surrounding country was gradually transformed into the garden of Western Ontario."
"While speaking of my father, I feel that I owe it to his memory to say that, in a period ranging from my babyhood till he was nearly eighty-five years of age, I never once saw him lose his temper or say an unkind word, to anyone, though I often saw him hurt deeply, for he was very tender and most affectionate. His life was radiant with sunshine. As my brother James, who lived on the farm, stood with me beside father's coffin, he said almost enviously, 'There lies a man who never wronged his fellow.'"
"Mother was a most earnest Christian all her life. She was a woman of the highest ideals. I could add a long list to the names of her favorite poets which my brother has mentioned. In fact we had about all the poets worth while in our little library. What Albert says in his sketch regarding her sensitive nature and poetic temperament is emphatically true. Deeply religious, she trained us to take everything to God in prayer. When I was not more than six years old, I used to talk to Jesus and tell Him everything as if He were really present in person."
"With such parents ours was a very happy home. The children who were brought to the farm and the others who were born there made a large family circle. Albert was very timid and imaginative, and anything unusual left a deep impress upon his memory. The thought of punishment would fill him with terror. I never saw him get a whipping; and if he ever got one, it was very tenderly administered. He had been devoted to the Lord in his infancy, but my parents withheld this knowledge from him as they felt that God alone had any right to influence him in this matter."
"Howard was four years older than Albert. He was shy, sensitive, affectionate, a great lover of flowers and of everything beautiful, a brilliant student, and a writer of many poems of considerable merit, yet he thought nothing of his own attainments. His thirst for knowledge was insatiable, and he would stand beside his father at his work all day and ply him with questions. He was always delicate, probably as the result of being burned almost to death when less than three years old, and he contracted an illness during his last pastorate in Frankfort, Indiana, necessitating his retirement from active work while still in middle life and his return to Chatham where he died August 22nd, 1888."
"James Darnley was born on the farm, and there he spent his life. Sturdy and healthy, he was generous to a fault. Albert when writing to my father spoke of him as 'my noble brother James.' He united mother's high ideals and father's beautiful disposition. His conversion was very similar to Albert's, his conviction of sin being terrible, and his peace, when at last it came, was most profound. He lived wholly for others, helping them in their bodily needs in order to reach their souls."
"Peter Gordon, our youngest brother, was a carpenter and builder. In temperament he was mathematical rather than literary. He was delicate in health and died at the age of forty-seven."
"We had a little sister, Elizabeth Eleanor, born on Albert's birthday, December 15th, 1852, of whom he was exceedingly fond, but she was taken from us when less than four years old. A baby brother died at birth."
"And now the family tree has but one leaf left, and that is fluttering in the breeze ready to drop and soon all will meet above an unbroken family, not one missing."
The Life of A. B. Simpson is the Official Authorised Edition by A. E. THOMPSON, M. A. with Special Chapters by Paul Rader James M. Gray, D. D. Kenneth Mackenzie, J. Gregory Mantle, D. D. F. H. Senft, B. A. R. H. Glover, M. D. W. M. Turnbull, D. D. Published by Christian Alliance Publishing Co. 318 West 39TH St., New York in 1920. Lightly updated to the language of the 21st century by D. N. Pham. (c) 2012.
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