|Rev Duncan Durward
(creator: Andrew Cheviot)
|Rev Duncan Durward becomes the new young minister at the parish church at Langrashes, a harbour town on the east coast of Scotland. It is the late 19th century. Before this he had been assistant at St Anne's, Edinburgh. His "solid ability and true kindliness" made him "admirably fitted for his position", even if he annoys local spinsters by announcing his engagement to Helen Monteith, the governess to Sir James Armstrong's daughter, to whom Duncan had previously been tutor.
Once he arrives, he finds that "drink is absolutery ruining the place" and, as "a man of a more robust mental type than his amiable predecessor", decides that "Strong measures must be taken .... for the daily sight of the starving, ill-clad wives and children down in the Seagate is really more than I can bear."
He had always been "a good fellow - hardworking and earnest", but by the end of the book, "his troubles have vastly improved him, both as a man and a minister .... He is less over-bearing and more charitable than he was before misfortune came to himself" and is convinced that "even in this world truth must prevail over falshood, and right over wrong", as "a higher power controls human destinies".
Any claim he has to be a detective is, it must be admitted, a slight one, but it is he who eventually finds a way of identifying the guilty party who has been plaguing him.
Andrew Cheviot was the pen-name used by James Hiram Watson (1852-1903), a Border historian, who was best known as editor of Proverbs, Proverbial Expressions, and Popular Rhymes of Scotland. His other books included Black Agnes: a Romance of the Siege of Dunbar and The Provost of St Foins. He was the son of a Church of Scotland minister and became Probationer in charge of Cellardyke Chapel - but after a year resigned the ministry in 1883 and took up writing. He never married.
Trick, Trial and Triumph. A Scottish Clerical Detective Story. (1891)
The names of the characters are nothing if not expressive. They include an unscrupulous journalist Joseph Sniggers and the jealous Miss M'Scandal (with her "bulky decanter of that generous liquor with a yellowish sheen which the genial natives of Scotland name after another national institution, and affectionately designate the Auld Kirk") as well as a Mr Spunger, Dr Scalpel, Janet Scarecrow, Dr Pestle and Parchment, the writer. They are lively creations, and it all makes quite an interesting story which is set against a background that the author seems to know only too well, as when Professor Blatters of the Divinity Hall in Edinburgh ('who had in the earlier portion of his career achieved some distinction as a popular preacher of the namby-pamby school” as “a bleating, whining orator beloved by elderly ladies more conspicuous for piety than brains .... had in his time ruined many a young preacher who had incurred his animosity, and his method of procedure in such cases was eminently simple and never varied. 'How I wish our dear young friend could see his way to take the pledge; it is for him the safest course.'
There is also a lively description of competing candidates for the minister's job where they were “over 100 aspirants, all of whom were certified by partial friends and professors to be endowed with the highest intellectual gifts, adorned by a sublimity of piety which might put an apostle to shame, and animated by a zeal for the cause of religion sufficient to distract from sheer envy General Booth and his mongrel gang". Then came the preaching match, in which candidates were judged by their sermons. "Under it, many a stupid rogue, though utterly incapable of producing a telling discourse, has crept into a snug landing for life by basically appropriating and boldly delivering, as his own, the eloquent words of some master mind. Many a good man has been rejected because he was not handsome enough to please the girls, or sufficiently genteel to satisfy the studious tastes of the drapers' wives and farmers' daughters, who give the tone, such as it is, to the the society of many an out-of-the-way community.”
And could the author have been speaking for himself when he gets Sir James to argue that hypocrites within the church are a disgrace and “a scandal to the cause of true religion”.
It is all written in a quiet gently humorous way that makes it surprisingly easy to read, despite the heavy Scots dialogue of some of the local characters, as when one of them explains, “Nae doubt it'll be a teuch fecht and a hard tuzzle" but you soon get the general sense of it. Only once does the author forget himself and allow "He saw him grasp the decanter, and, like a wise man, saved his head by jouking, and letting the jaw gae bye" slip into the actual narration. And the story gives a fascinating glimpse into life at the time.
|The book, originally published in 1891, has been reproduced in digitised form by the British Library and printed by amazon.co.uk.
Unfortunately they not only got the title wrong (it should be Trial not Trail), but ended up with a dreary grey page background (see below) that is distinctly off-putting.