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Article about James King Hewison

From the book “Some Dumfries and Galloway Men” by James Reid published 1922

            FEW counties in Scotland are more rich in historical traditions than Dumfriesshire, and none, it may be added, has produced more capable historians whose labours have thrown light on the records of the pastAmong these an honourable place must be accorded to Dr James King Hewison, minister of Rothesay, whose contributions on obscure or disputed points of literary and historic importance are known wherever Scottish history and literature are studiedAn ardent student, unremitting in his labours in tracing facts, and weighing probabilities, brooding continually over the significance of historic incidents, he forms his own conclusions slowly and sticks to them pertinaciouslyHe is indeed a born fighter, who is never so happy as when he is breaking a lance with the champion of some other historic theoryBut withal he is one who bears no malice and 8howa no meanness while he gives and takes blows with joyous freedom
            He was born in Morton Schoolhouse in 1853, and is the son of Alexander Louttit Hewison, who was for half a century the parish schoolmasterHis father was a man of strong personality and of varied attainments, who would have come to the front in any walk of lifeMany of his pupils rose to distinction, and all acknowledge with gratitude the influence for good which he wrought in their livesWhen a lad of sixteen young Hewison entered Edinburgh University, where in 1875 he graduated M.AHe got distinction in English literature, mathematics, Hebrew, and theologyEven as an undergraduate he had begun to do literary workHe wrote a small geography of Dumfriesshire, which is now very rareIn 1874 he began to contribute articles to the “Dumfries Standard.” A history of the parish of Morton which was continued in several subsequent issues was begun in its columns in March of that yearbut he may have been contributing earlierIn August of the same year there appeared in the same paper an article on “Paisley and Tannahill,” and from that time down to the present valuable articles from his versatile and ever-busy pen have appeared at frequent intervalsNor did he confine himself to proseHe could versify with vigour and grace, and some of his efforts had all the qualities of good poetryAn anonymous piece, entitled “The Auld Kirkyaird,” drew attention to the scandalous condition of Morton Churchyard, with the result that the new Thornhill Cemetery was constructed and openedThis, it may be mentioned, was the only thing he ever had published anonymously
            After graduating, he became tutor in the family of Mr W. P. Adam, of Blairadam, Governor-General of Madras, who then occupied the responsible post of Liberal WhipWith this family he remained for close on three years, and saw all the political movements of the Gladstonian campaignHe did not share the political opinions of the family, but all the same he was much in their confidence, and might have made an interesting contribution to the political history of that stirring time, but with a scrupulosity that is rather rare in these later days he kept no diary and conveniently forgot things that it was not intended he should rememberDuring the year 1878 he studied at Leipzig Universityand in the following year he was licensed by Edinburgh Presbytery for the Church of Scotland, and began his life work as a minister
            Dr Hewison has made few changesAfter a short period of service as assistant to Dr Donald Macleod in the Park Church, Glasgow, he was elected parish minister of Stair, in AyrshireThere he laboured for three years, doing his parish work faithfully and employing his leisure in writing and in researchIn 1884 came his call to the more important parish of Rothesay, of which he is still ministerHe has done much to enlarge the bounds and increase the usefulness of the Church of Scotland in the beautiful island in which he has laboured for close on forty yearsIn his capacity as minister of the leading charge in Bute, he has been largely instrumental in building the new churches of St Ninian’s and St Brendan’s, Bute, and in renovating and beautifying the Parish Church which is the scene of his ministrationsRegarding his work as a minister it may be stated that he has the reputation of never preaching an old sermon over again even from the same textOne reason for this is that he has few manuscript sermonsMost of them are preached extempore from a few notes or heads
            But to thousands who never heard him preach, Dr Hewison is known by his scholarly historical writings, which have been produced in the leisure of a busy pastoral lifeHe has laid several districts and several important interests under obligationMuch of his work has had a direct connection with Church work, describing and interpreting as it does leading men and movements in the Church, In 1887 he undertook for the ScottishText Society the editing in two volumes the Works of the Abbot Ninian WjnzotWith his usual zeal for accuracy and first-hand information, he visited many libraries abroad, including that of the Vatican, in search of materialSince he settled down in Bute he had started to explore it ancient history, and as a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries he wrote several papers on the Archaeology of ButeThen he settled down to survey the whole field, with the result that in 1893 appeared “The Isle of Bute in the Olden Time,” issued in two handsome volumes
            Born and bred in a district associated with the deeds and the sufferings of the Covenanters, it was only to be expected that the struggle for religious freedom should attract himFront his boyhood Dr Hewison busied himself collecting facts concerning the relics of the Covenanters, and after visiting all the more important places connected with them, he published in 1908 his Magnum Opus, “The Covenanters,” a work of such breadth and insight and such accuracy of detail that it has been designated “the last word on the subject.” Much as he loves his own parish of Rothesay, Dumfriesshire still exercises on him the greatest charm, and it may be said that from Corsincone to Criffel Dr Hewison knows every memorial of the past worth inquiring intoHis love for the scenes of his boyhood days is testified by the fact that he has purchased his mother’s home in ThornhillIn 1912 Cambridge University Press entrusted him with the writing of their County Geography of Dumfries, a beautifully illustrated work, in which he has summarised with admirable judgment the leading historic and topographical facts relating to the county
            Two years later Dr Hewison produced another work of great local importance“The Runic Roods of Ruthwell and Bewcastle”, which was illustrated with magnificent photographs and drawings specially preparedThe age of these splendid monuments has for long been s subject of dispute among archeologists, and as the work produced a good deal of controversy, Dr Hewison wrote a long article, in which ho answered his critics very trenchantlyThis reply, which first appeared in the columns of the 
Dumfries Standard “ in June, 1921, was thereafter republished in pamphlet form. 
            Besides these important works, mention might be made of the numerous byproducts of his labours which have appeared in the form of reviews, articles, and letters to newspapers and magazinesIn the  Dumfries Standard “ there appeared a lengthy series entitled, “The Chisel Prints of Old Mortality.” These valuable historical descriptions of all the churchyards in Nithsdale from Cumnock to Dumfries were much appreciated at the timeThe first literary controversy in which Dr Hewison was engaged was regarding the Portraits of Robert Burns which he started in the “Kilmarnock Standard” when he was the young minister of StairAs we have hinted, he rather enjoys being in literary hot water, and no one is more certain of that than he who attacks old legendsDr Hewison created lively correspondence by articles which he wrote on The Logan-Bruce Myths; The Logan-Bruce Forgeries; The Annie Laurie Legends; The Sir Patrick Spens Myth; Cross-Grained Heresies in Scots History, and similar topicsThe titles indicate pretty well the attitude of Dr Hewison to the subjects dealt withOne may be sure that the combative doctor did not allow the critics to have the best of the argument
            If there are any who imagine that the production of such a mass of literary and historic work as we have enumerated could only be done by a stooping, pale- faced, studious-looking man, the sight of Dr Hewison’ full-blooded jovial countenance would dispel the mythThough a hard student Dr Hewison enjoys life, has a keen sense of humour, and a rare fund of storiesHe has always been a great traveller, and as he is unmarried and generally goes alone, he can exercise to the full his proclivities for antiquarian research wherever he goes, unhampered by consideration for the convenience of companionsHe has been round the world, and has visited every country in Europe, prying into the pastThere are three places which he says he invariably visits in any town he is in—the church, the churchyard, and the town-houseIn these three, he maintains, may be found summed up the history of the localityHe speaks several languages, and is therefore able to find his way about the quaint old places of Europe, whose art galleries and museums had a great attraction for him
            Like his father, who was one of the pioneers of photography in the county, Dr Hewison is a photographer also, and has many mementoes of famous places and objects—among others two hundred photos of the Holy Land, taken by himself and often exhibited on the screenDr Hewison is much in quest as a lecturer on historical and literary topicsIn Bute he has been a keen promoter of Presbyterian Church union, and has preached in every church in Bute save those of the Roman Catholics and EpiscopaliansHe had the honour of being invited to conduct King George, Queen Mary, and the Princess Mary through the ancient palace of Rothesay and tell the story of the home of their ancestors, during the royal visit in 1920
            In April, 1902, the University of Edinburgh conferred on him the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity in consideration of the value of his historical workHis eminent qualifications led to him being placed in the short leet of three for the Chair of History in Edinburgh UniversityHe has for long been a leading figure in Masonic circles, and was at one time Grand Chaplain of the Order in ScotlandHe acted as chaplain to the Bute Battery Territorials, and when the war broke out he mobilised and marched off with the Mountain Artillery of Bute to Bedford, being the first Scots chaplain to cross the Border.

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