Dr W O Lonie by Thomas Brown

The article "Dr W O Lonie" by Thomas Brown appeared in the section The "Old Boys'" Chronicle of the Madras College Magazine (1908), 48-49. We present a version of the article here:


What old boy's heart does not warm at the mention of "Bim?". Dr W W Tulloch is at a loss to explain the origin of the soubriquet, used never in derision but always with the warmest sympathy and admiration. To me its origin has always been plain. it is simply the emphatic expletive with which the Doctor prefaced every command or declaration, "B'm - mount the form."

Dr Lonie was a native of Kinghorn. Another distinguished Fifer - Thomas Barclay, Sheriff Clerk of the county, grandfather of Sir Thomas Barclay - the eminent international lawyer of Paris and Vice President of the Franco-Scottish Society, belonged to the same town and interested himself in young Lonie's career. They were life-long friends.

After his College career at St Andrews, and taking his M.A. degree, Mr Lonie obtained a post as teacher in an English School. Here his youthful appearance gave the boys the idea that this was a teacher with whom they might take liberties and whose injunctions they could safely set at naught. But they were soon undeceived. The youthful teacher had more force of character and a stronger will than they. The reign of misrule they tried to inaugurate was soon brought to an end.

When the Rev William Martin was promoted from the Mathematical Mastership of the Madras College to the Chair of Moral Philosophy at Aberdeen, Mr Lonie was appointed to fill the vacancy. I remember sitting one day in the Latin class, when Provost Playfair entered in company with a young man whom he introduced to Dr Woodford, and the whisper circled round the class that this was the new Mathematical Master.

It was not long before he made his mark. His methods were not stereotyped or formal. He did not insist on the dry and rigid demonstrations of Euclid. He dealt with mathematics not as an exercise of memory but as an effort of intelligence and reason. His idea of education was not to plant seeds, but to develop the inherent powers and capabilities of the soil, so that the seeds when planted might grow and fructify to the utmost. His lessons were always interesting. His policy was to arouse an interest in the mind of his pupil, to show him that the master was interested in him and in this way to awaken in the pupil an interest in the master. To effect this purpose anything was employed. Did the pupil manifest a faculty in any direction, it was at once seized and utilised. Was it a liking for pictures and some faculty in drawing, or for reading in any particular line, or a love of flowers or other natural objects, it was drawn out and formed a link of attachment between master and pupil.

In this way the affection of the pupil was evoked and a foundation laid, for the devotion which characterises all who came under the Doctor's influence. Sometimes a casual reference in the class would set him off, and the hour was spent in a prelection which had little reference to mathematics. These occasions are remembered as the happiest and not least useful and stimulating incidents of the session.

" .... .... .... .... .... A willing ear
We lent him. Who but hung to hear
The rapt oration flowing free?"

With his mathematical ability Dr Lonie combined a love of literature and a fine appreciation of its beauties. He was fond of Tennyson and in his class of physical geography it was not unusual, amid the dry details of geographical phenomena, to hear from his lips -

"The moanings of the homeless sea,
the sound of streams that swift or slow,
Draw down Aeonian hills, and sow
The dust of continents to be."

or

"There rolls the deep where grew the tree,
O earth what changes hast thou seen,
There where the long street rolls hath been
The stillness of the central sea.
The hills are shadows, and they flew
From form to form, and nothing stands;
They melt like mist the solid lands,
Like clouds they shape themselves and go."

The weakness of Dr Lonie - who among us has not his faults and failings? - lay in his excessive sensitiveness. This led him to imagine slights and insults where none were conceived or intended. The failing made him sometimes difficult to get on with. It rendered the trials he met with in his life specially sore and oppressive. The loss of his wife was a great affliction; and the death of his only son, a young man of remarkable promise, who was cut off just when a brilliant career seemed assured to him, was a heavy blow. But the crowning calamity was his removal from the post he had long held, a consequence of the reorganisation of the institution. He never got over it. It broke his heart. To his sensitive nature it bore the aspect of disgrace. he looked on it as dismissal because he was considered no longer worthy to hold a position he was conscious of having filled with credit to himself and usefulness to the College and its alumni. He retired to a cottage at Trinity and died within a short time after.

Peace be to his ashes. he lives still in the memory and lives of his fondly attached and grateful pupils.

Thomas Brown


JOC/EFR July 2012

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