Rev. John Watson, D. D.
An Appreciation by Mr. Clement Gerrard F. R. C. O.

[The author formed his acquaintance with John Watson in 1903, after the latter's health had failed.]

Annie Watson wrote:-- « My Father never allowed any of his many interests in life to become dormant or dead; what had once claimed his attention could still continue to interest him right up to the end ... For instance, when an old man he gave diligent study to Italian, a language he knew little or nothing of in his earlier days. He still loved to hear an account of a cricket match, and liked to recall the days when he experienced thrills at Old Trafford when watching Lancashire and Yorkshire or other well-known teams in some historic struggle ... This was also true in the friendships he formed. He loved and valued old friends, and to add a new friend to this circle gave him great joy. Though easy of approach he had much of the Scotchman's reserve and did not wear his heart upon his sleeve. But having once called you friend, he gave of himself unreservedly and was absolutely staunch and true. Mr. Clement Gerrard was admitted to this inner circle, and the friendship thus formed was of mutual benefit. »

[This appreciation exists only in typed form -- no manuscript.]

Let me tell the reader at once that I knew nothing whatever of Dr. Watson during his active ministry. When we met he was 70 years of age, slowly recovering from his wellnigh fatal breakdown, and I was a youth of 16. We became close friends and kept in intimate touch with each other to the end of his life. As I look back on our close association it seems more surprising to me now than it did then, that he should have been interested in one so much younger than himself. The fact of the matter was, that though he had grown old in body he had not grown old in mind. He had a great admiration for a novel of Beatrice Harraden's called "Interplay" in which, among other character transformations, an old woman, whose mind is apparently set, recovers the flexibility of youth. It was this flexibility which Dr. Watson so wonderfully retained. He was always interested in the doings of the young and ready to look at things from their point of view.

At the time, he was living at Swinton with his son-in-law and daughter, Rev. and Mrs. Wilson Eccles. Later, he moved to Guernsey with them, and then we corresponded frequently and regularly. Writing was not easy for him, for his illness had left him with a measure of paralysis in his right side and this affected his hand. Many times as I read his letters have I considered at what a price they were written. As he neared the end it became more and more difficult for him to write and his letters grew shorter. He always had an eye to good English and this was reflected in his own writing. His care in punctuation was perhaps all the greater for the work he had done as Editor of the Connexional Quarterly Review. When one considers the period to which he belonged, his language was remarkably free from religious jargon and his literary sympathies were distinctly broad. Naturally I am not in a position to place him connexionally. Others are able to do that. But when in the eyes of the church generally, he was apparently our of things, I can say that in reality that was very far from being the case. In his editorial days he had been in intimate association with Rev. J. Day Thompson and though this association was not maintained when he had to retire from the active ministry, his sympathy with and mental affinity for Mr. Thompson remained to the end. In the days when younger men took the line of heresy-hunting, his heart was with those who, like himself, were always open to new revelations of the truth.

When we first came to know each other, I was preparing to become a local preacher. He introduced me to Robertson's sermons, pointing out the qualities which gave them their unique position in religious literature. One Sunday morning, at a later date, when I was ill and confined to bed, he read to me one of these sermons to compensate me for my absence from church. It was one of those experiences one never forgets. He was an excellent reader.

Besides this, he stimulated my general reading, communicating to me something of his own enthusiasm for Scott and still more of his enthusiasm for Jane Austen. His appreciation of Jane Austen was the key to his literary tastes. Her novels not only appealed to him by their literary quality, but roused his sense of humour, a part of his nature which he confessed to having neglected. On questions of preaching, he gave it as his opinion that the day of the oratorical style, with its periods and climaxes, was over, and that the style of the future would be conversational. This judgment struck me as being remarkable in one of his years. He was a most sympathetic listener and more than tender in his criticisms. He once called a local preacher's attention to the fact that he waved his arms about like the arms of a windmill, but that was a very severe comment from him.

He maintained a very keen interest in politics and general affairs. Whatever course events took, he was never pessimistic. He looked at things with the eye of faith and took the long view. You would never find him sighing over the general indifference to organised religion. He had the greatest faith in man's innate goodness and he put that faith into practice. I have heard it humourously said that if he heard the devil being attacked, he would stand up in his defence. During a discussion at a district conference, an old minister had sounded a very doleful note, bemoaning the tendencies of the times and the decline of the old form of class meeting etc. Immediately he had sat down, Dr. Watson got up and expressed his faith that God was achieving his ends in ways that we did not altogether understand. The situation will never be forgotten by those who were present. Let the reader imagine the old man, his white hair, his bent form, his words expressed with a calm and wonderfully clear voice as much like Dr. Jowett's as any I have heard, and the strong note of faith which was more than everything else. Well might the president of the meeting say that he felt there was nothing more to be said than to pronounce the benediction.

I have said that he was an excellent listener to sermons, but that isn't half the truth. He was always a good listener, perhaps a rarer accomplishment than being a good talker. In this way he was soon on terms of intimacy even with the humblest members of the church. He was eminently approachable, a real embodiment of the beatitude "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth". To think of him is to be reminded of another of Christ's sayings, "Except ye become as little children, ye cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven". He was one of those who had unquestionably entered and who bore as near a resemblance to His Lord as some of us have ever seen.

Clement Gerrard.