The De Gurbs window in King's College chapel
Memorial Window to Distinguished Graduate
In connection with the unexpected gift of a memorial window to the University of Aberdeen by the Baroness De Gurbs in memory of her late husband, the Baron De Gurbs, as intimated at a meeting of the University Court yesterday, it is interesting to note that four or five years ago the baroness paid her first visit to Aberdeen and called at King's College. She appeared greatly interested in everything she saw, and on entering the library she asked the librarian, Mr P J Anderson, if the old records of the college were still accessible, and whether the name of Gurbs appeared in them. Mr Anderson very soon found the name of Stephen Gurbs, who entered the college in 1823. About three weeks ago Mr Anderson was favoured with a second visit from the baroness, who intimated that the purpose of her visit was to arrange about presenting to the university a memorial window in remembrance of her husband. It appears that Stephen Gurbs's father was a French peer who had fled from that country when the Revolution broke out. How he came to Aberdeen is not known, but in 1823 he entered King's College and attended for three sessions in succession. There was a lapse in his attendance of two sessions - 1826-27 and 1827-28 - during which time no record of him could be found. The following session, however, he returned to King's College, and in 1829 he graduated and was the winner of the Hutton Prize, which goes to the most distinguished graduate of the year. While in Aberdeen he was known only as Stephen Gurbs, but the title was resumed after he left college. The Baroness De Gurbs, in her letter to the University Court, mentioned that her husband throughout his life regarded the college with feelings of affection and gratitude. The following appeared in the London "Notes and Queries" - "Gurbs or De Gurbs Barony. Stephen Gurbs, of Surrey, matriculated at King's College, Aberdeen, 1823, and took the degree of M.A. there in 1829, also the Hutton Prize (i.e. the most distinguished graduate of the year). He appears to have been known in later life as the Baron De Gurbs. Information is desired as to this barony.- Q.K.B."
King's College Chapel
The De Gurbs Memorial Window
A stained glass window, the gift of the Baroness de Gurbs, in memory of her husband, who as Stephen Gurbs graduated at King's College, Aberdeen, in 1829, was dedicated in the ancient chapel yesterday afternoon, and accepted on behalf of the university authorities by Principal Marshall Lang. There was a large congregation, the students - many of them with their scarlet gowns - occupying the seats in front, and the other members of the congregation and general public filling the pews and chairs behind. Baroness de Gurbs occupied a seat in one of the reserved pews near the organ, along with Lady Geddes and Mrs Marshall Lang. The preacher was Professor Cowan, who gave an able and eloquent sermon on Luke, the beloved physician, a subject bearing upon the symbolic features of the new memorial window. The Scripture lessons were read by Mr D Daley, divinity student, and the organ accompaniments were played by Miss Christie, organist of the chapel. At the close of the service, Professor Harrower proceeded to the pew in which the Baroness de Gurbs sat, and conducted her along the aisle to the chancel, where he presented her ladyship to the Principal of the university.
Baroness de Gurbs, addressing the university authorities and the congregation, said she had much pleasure in presenting the window in the chapel to the university, in memory of her husband, who had loved the place, and had ever fondly remembered it, its professors, and the hospitality of the citizens.
Principal Lang, in accepting the window on behalf of the university, said 'The gift that you have so generously presented is not unique in the form that it has assumed. It is the seventh memorial window in this ancient chapel. But it is unique in some of its circumstances. The sixth window, excluding your own, the one in the west ante-chapel and those on either side of me in the apse, are tributes to men who filled and adorned conspicuous positions in the university, the one exception being the memorial to Professor Robertson Smith, an Aberdeen graduate whose fame and reputation were world-wide. He to whose memory you have offered this loving token had no other special relation to the university than that of an alumnus who, when he passed through King's College, seemed to have bidden farewell to academic halls and pursuits. That he was an able, indeed, a brilliant student, is sufficiently attested by the fact that he gained the Hutton prize which, in the period of his success, was awarded to the most distinguished student at the termination of his arts curriculum. But this laureation was in 1829, 75 years ago, and until you, madam, visited these northern parts, the career of the erstwhile Hutton prizeman was an unknown quantity. I need not, and I cannot, say much concerning him. The information that I possess warrants the assertion that he did full credit to his Alma mater, that he was a man of kindly heart and scholarly taste, charitable exceedingly in thought and in deed. Born in 1800, he died in 1892 at the age of 92 years, and when I say that he lived respected and honoured by a wide circle of friends and that he died lamented, I sum up all that may be said in this sketch. But it is the scantiness of the information that we possess that lends a special interest to the ceremony of this afternoon. I have it from you, madam, that he never forgot his old university, that he delighted to recall the happy days he passed in it, the teachers at whose feat he sat, the Aberdeen hospitalities, the comradeships and the companionships he formed, the scenes and the incidents, and the successes of his time of scholarship. Thus far we know from yourself. But what occurs to us, and is suggestive to us, is the power, the underlying charm of early associations, especially of those that connect with the time in which the window of the soul opens to the illimitable spaces of knowledge and truth, and the mind looking forth on this vast domain is helped and moved aright in worlds not realised, and when, besides this dawn of intellectual day, this beginning of a richer individual life, there is experienced the formative power of the competitions and condescences that distinguish the brotherhood of the young. By many of whom we hear not at all, all the same feeling that animated your departed husband towards the university must be cherished. It is to them ever an institution under whose shadow they felt the rustle of the illuminating angel's wings, the soft touch, the breadth of the dayspring that visited them. And teacher who sometimes think they are expending much of their strength for naught may well be encouraged by the remembrance that none can tell how far the influence of their instruction and their personality carries. And students, such as those you see about you this afternoon endeavouring to make the most and the best of their opportunity, may well recall the story of the scholar of the long ago, who, amidst all the vicissitudes of his life, turned to this old place, this hoary building, the quadrangle, the classrooms, the chapel, with something of the emotion of the exiles by the rivers of Babylon when they turned their eyes towards Jerusalem. He remembered his university, testified to the benefits he had received, and, madam, if you will allow me to say so, inspired the same affection in the breast of her who shared his life and his confidence. Suffer me to offer you an expression of the indebtedness of the university to your munificence. Of your free will you have, in your own lifetime, beautified our sanctuary by a striking work of art; a work that depicts what in a chapel as everywhere we should recollect, as we have been reminded this morning in the Gospel of our blessed Lord, that "now abideth faith, hope, love, these three," and your action this afternoon illustrates the love that is the greatest of these three; the love that is the power of the keys whereby the thought of the beloved is entered, appropriated, interpreted. May your heart, madam, be ever restful, and may yours be a long, happy, tranquil evening time, suffused by that delight that has no need of sun or moon. On behalf of the University Court I gratefully accept the window you have presented. It shall be guarded with care in the hope that to generations that follow it may perpetuate a fragrant memory and adorn an edifice all of whose features should harmonise with the worship offered in it, saying, "Glory to the All Glorious, world without end, Amen."
Professor Cowan then offered the dedicatory prayer, concluding as follows:- We do now solemnly dedicate this memorial to our departed brother, and we pray that this tribute of our sister's loving and devout remembrance may not only beautify our sanctuary, but minister to our devotion. We thank Thee, O Lord, for all who in early or later time have been prepared in this city of learning for usefulness in the world. Enable us, we beseech Thee, to imitate their work and their virtues. Help us, we entreat Thee, as this memorial teaches, to unite the graces of charity and mercy with the gifts of wisdom and of knowledge, and so, even as we here behold Thy Holy Child Jesus presented in the Temple, may we be moved to present ourselves anew a living sacrifice upon Thine altar of reasonable service.
JOC/EFR August 2017
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