Sign up to our monthly newsletter

Please confirm that you are happy to hear from The Church of Scotland:

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. For information about our privacy practices, please visit the Privacy Policy on our website.

We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By clicking below to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing. Learn more about Mailchimp's privacy practices here.

Home  >  Features  >  Looking Back - archibald fleming

Looking Back

Friday January 17 2014

Looking Back: 'This Charterisian Foundling'


The Rev Archibald Fleming was the third editor of Life and Work, holding the position from 1898-1902 before leaving for the Ministry of St Columba's in London - where he was to remain for 40 years, becoming a prominent figure and, later in life, a pioneer religious broadcaster.

Many years later, he was asked by the then editor, William Pringle Livingstone, to set down some reminiscences which appeared under the title 'Autumn Leaves' between January and June 1934. In this extract from the first installment, Fleming recalls some of the opposition and even ridicule faced by Life and Work in the early days.



THESE random reminiscences of long – or not so long – ago are set forth for such readers as may, in an idle moment, care to glance at them. The attempt to do so is rash on the part of one who has an unretentive memory, and has kept no diaries on which to fall back for its refreshment. Rasher still, perhaps, is the kindly insistence of the Editor of this magazine in urging him to set down, even under such handicaps, what fragmentary memories he can muster. I have consented on one condition – that if even half a dozen responsible readers cry “Hold, enough,” the shears of Atropos which the Editor wields shall at once cut short the series.

“Life and Work” is Born

I may begin by saying something reminiscent of the history of this magazine itself. I remember well the advent of Life and Work on the terrain of letters – and that is now fifty-four years ago. The conception of it was in the fertile brain of Professor A. H. Charteris – now acknowledged to have been one of the most farseeing and constructive Scottish churchmen of his time; but not so always. Partly, no doubt owing to some idiosyncrasies of his which lent themselves to banter of a kind, he was then the convenient occasional target of certain contemporary wits of the classroom, the Assembly, or the fireside.

Among these shadowy Voltaires was Dr. John Cunningham of Crieff, author of a history of the Church of Scotland – not yet out of date because, perhaps, nothing up to date of the same calibre; a work at least readable, often dignified, and in the main reliable. Cunningham was always an acceptable “turn” in the General Assembly, despite his weak voice, his occasionally jejune treatment of serious affairs, his flippancy, and his hardly engaging manner.

Charteris and Cunningham

Life and Work had just made its pink-coated bow to a not yet numerous public, and Charteris was its editor - which was enough for Cunningham. The magazine was well written from the beginning; very definitely literary, although hardly of a Saturday Review or Edinburgh Quarterly robustiousness.  The insinuation, an unjust one, came to be that the new periodical was a trifle namby-pamby and invertebrate; and who wanted that sort of thing in the Auld Kirk? This Charterisian foundling, it was mischievously thought, might be smothered in ridicule; and Cunningham was surely the fit assassin of the babe in Printing House Tower.

One day accordingly, in the Assembly he picked up the little pink offender, looked at it comically and curiously, and then quoted with obvious relish the lines –

Twinkle, twinkle, little star;
How I wonder what you are.

Much laughter greeted the not too subtle bon mot. But the “little star” survived the laughter of the Assembly and the arrows of the wits; from twinkling it took to shining with a steady light.

Looking Back menu