St Peter's Free ChurchSt. Peter’s Free Church, Dundee. geograph: Dan / Creative Commons

In keeping with her usual hectic schedule while in Scotland, Harriet Beecher Stowe arrived in Dundee on the afternoon of April 22, 1853, attended an anti-slavery meeting that evening, rode around the city by carriage the next day and left by 2:00 in the afternoon to return to Edinburgh. As her brother Charles noted in his diary, Stowe and her party had now visited the four principal cities of Scotland: Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee (Harriet Beecher Stowe in Europe, Stowe-Day Foundation, 1986, p. 53). As she relates her journey to Dundee in the first volume of Sunny Memories of Foreign Lands:

Our way at first lay over the course of yesterday, along that beautiful sea coast—beautiful to the eye, but perilous to the navigator. They told us that the winds and waves raged here with an awful power. Not long before we came, the Duke of Sutherland, an iron steamer, was wrecked upon this shore. In one respect the coast of Maine has decidedly the advantage over this, and, indeed, of every other sea coast which I have ever visited; and that is in the richness of the wooding, which veils its picturesque points and capes in luxuriant foldings of verdure.

Stowe’s group stayed in Dundee with Patrick Hunter Thoms (1796-1882), a publisher who served as provost of the city from 1847 to 1853. At the evening anti-slavery gathering Harriet noted the attendance of Rev. Thomas Dick, a minister and scientist whose writings emphasized a harmony between Christianity and science.

Thomas DickThomas Dick

In Sunny Memories, she notes that Dr. Dick was the author of the Christian Philosopher and the Philosophy of the Future State. The former work was published in 1823, the latter in 1829. Harriet writes in Sunny Memories:

The next morning we had quite a large breakfast party, mostly ministers and their wives. Good old Dr. Dick was there, and I had an introduction to him, and had pleasure in speaking to him of the interest with which his works have been read in America. Of this fact I was told that he had received more substantial assurance in a comfortable sum of money subscribed and remitted to him by his American readers. If this be so it is a most commendable movement.

What a pity it was, during Scott’s financial embarrassments, that every man, woman, and child in America, who had received pleasure from his writings, had not subscribed something towards an offering justly due to him!

Our host, Mr. Thoms, was one of the first to republish in Scotland Professor Stuart’s Letters to Dr. Channing, with a preface of his own. He showed me Professor Stuart’s letter in reply, and seemed rather amused that the professor directed it to the Rev. James Thom, supposing, of course, that so much theological zeal could not inhere in a layman. He also showed us many autograph letters of their former pastor, Mr. Cheyne, whose interesting memoirs have excited a good deal of attention in some circles in America.

Moses Stuart, who had passed away the previous year (1852) had long been a professor of sacred literature at the Andover Theological Seminary. He became known for his work, A Letter to William E. Channing D.D. on the Subject of Religious Liberty, first published in 1830. Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1813-1843) was the pastor of St. Peter’s Church in Dundee from 1836 until his early death at the age of 29. After his death, his friend Andrew Alexander Bonar edited The Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray M’Cheyne, a book that continues to be popular with Evangelical Christians.

As Harriet wrote, “After breakfast the ladies of the Dundee Antislavery Society called, and then the lord provost took us in his carriage to see the city.” In Sunny Memories, she notes some details about the history of the city, writing that, “Most of these particulars I found in a History of Dundee, which formed one of the books presented to me.” Perhaps this book was The History of Dundee, from Its Origin to the Present Time (1842), The History of Dundee: From the Earliest to the Present Time (1847), by James Thomson, or the Historical Description of the Town of Dundee (1836), by Charles Mackie. Harriet writes of the city:

In our rides about the city, the local recollections that our friends seemed to recur to with as much interest as any, were those connected with the queen’s visit to Dundee, in 1844. The spot where she landed has been commemorated by the erection of a superb triumphal arch in stone.

Royal Arch

The original wooden arch, erected for the Queen’s visit, was replaced by one of sandstone, erected between 1849 and 1853. Called the Royal Arch, or Victoria Arch, it stood until 1964, when it was demolished as part of the land reclamation scheme, and to make way for the construction of the Tay Road Bridge. Returning to Stowe’s account:

The provost said some of the people were quite astonished at the plainness of the queen’s dress, having looked for something very dazzling and overpowering from a queen. They could scarcely believe their eyes, when they saw her riding by in a plain bonnet, and enveloped in a simple shepherd’s plaid.

The queen is exceedingly popular in Scotland, doubtless in part because she heartily appreciated the beauty of the country, and the strong and interesting traits of the people. She has a country residence at Balmorrow [Balmoral], where she spends a part of every year; and the impression seems to prevail among her Scottish subjects, that she never appears to feel herself more happy or more at home than in this her Highland dwelling. The legend is, that here she delights to throw off the restraints of royalty; to go about plainly dressed, like a private individual; to visit in the cottages of the poor; to interest herself in the instruction of the children; and to initiate the future heir of England into that practical love of the people which is the best qualification for a ruler.

I repeat to you the things which I hear floating of the public characters of England, and you can attach what degree of credence you may think proper. As a general rule in this censorious world, I think it safe to suppose that the good which is commonly reported of public characters, if not true in the letter of its details, is at least so in its general spirit. The stories which are told about distinguished people generally run in a channel coincident with the facts of their character. On the other hand, with regard to evil reports, it is safe always to allow something for the natural propensity to detraction and slander, which is one of the most undoubted facts of human nature in all lands.

We left Dundee at two o’clock, by cars, for Edinburgh.