‘The world knows nothing of its greatest men,’ says Sir Henry Taylor in his Philip Van Artevelde; and it knows much less of its greatest women. I have not found Marion M’Naught’s name once mentioned outside of Samuel Rutherford’s Letters. But she holds a great place—indeed, the foremost place—in that noble book, to be written in which is almost as good as to be written in heaven.
Rutherford’s first letter to Marion M’Naught was written from the manse of Anwoth on the 6th of June 1627, and out of a close and lifelong correspondence we are happy in having had preserved to us some forty-five of Rutherford’s letters to his first correspondent. But, most unfortunately, we have none of her letters back again to Anwoth or Aberdeen or London or St. Andrews. It is much to be wished we had, for Marion M’Naught was a woman greatly gifted in mind, as well as of quite exceptional experience even for that day of exceptional experiences in the divine life. But we can almost construct her letters to Rutherford for ourselves, so pointedly and so elaborately and so affectionately does Rutherford reply to them.
Marion M’Naught is already a married woman, and the mother of three well-grown children, when we make her acquaintance in Rutherford’s Letters. She had sprung of an ancient and honourable house in the south of Scotland, and she was now the wife of a well-known man in that day, William Fullarton, the Provost of Kirkcudbright. It is interesting to know that Marion M’Naught was closely connected with Lady Kenmure, another of Rutherford’s chief correspondents. Lord Kenmure was her mother’s brother. Kenmure had lived a profligate and popularity-hunting life till he was laid down on his death-bed, when he underwent one of the most remarkable conversions anywhere to be read of—a conversion that, as it would appear, his niece Marion M’Naught had no little to do with. As long as Kenmure was young and well, as long as he was haunting the purlieus of the Court, and selling his church and his soul for a smile from the King, the Provost of Kirkcudbright and his saintly wife were despised and forgotten; but when he was suddenly brought face to face with death and judgment, when his ribbons and his titles were now like the coals of hell in his conscience, nothing would satisfy him but that his niece must leave her husband and her children and take up her abode in Kenmure Castle. The Last and Heavenly Speeches of Lord Kenmure was a classic memoir of those days, and in that little book we read of his niece’s constant attendance at his bedside, as good a nurse for his soul as she was for his body.