Robert Ellis Cringan (1883-1907)
CRINGAN, Robert Ellis (1883-1907)
Sex: Male
Birth: 1883
Death: 1907
Father: Alexander Thom Cringan (1860-1931)
Mother: Lillias Rennie Waugh (1861-1929)

CRINGAN, Robert Ellis (1883-1907) Edit

(Son of ATC & LRW; he,his parents and his brother John were the first CRINGANS of Toronto)

Robert Ellis CRINGAN, the eldest child of Alexander Thom CRINGAN and Lillias Rennie WAUGH, was born in Carluke, Lanarkshire, Scotland, Aug. 10th, 1883. He came to Canada with his parents and younger brother, John in 1887.

He was Uncle Bob to us. By us, I mean the 25 grandchildren of ATC & LRW, from Cringan TRIMBLE (1919-1994) to Bill CAMPBELL (1941- ). Even though none of us ever knew him, we heard much about Uncle Bob from his ten surviving siblings.

Bob was described as one of the most promising of the younger musicians of Toronto by the editor of Canadian Magazine. He was president of the Glee Club as well as the Literary Society at the University of Toronto. Bob sang at Windermere Church which the CRINGANS attended during the summer. A member of the congregation recalls Bob singing a few days before he died "I'm nearer home today than I've ever been before." A poem which Bob wrote, entitled Inspiration was recited by a Miss Ingles in Massey Hall while Bob played hymn music softly on his violin.

Bob was a medical student and president of his class the year he was drowned in an accident during a sailing race at the Windermere [1] Regatta in Muskoka in 1907. A plaque dedicated to Bob is in Convocation Hall [2], University of Toronto, the only plaque ever dedicated by classmates to one of their members. While attending University, he was a founding member of Ontario Alpha, Phi Delta Theta.

I met Toronto’s eminent fisheries professor A. G. Huntsman [3] at the University of Guelph in the late 1960s. On hearing my name, he said “I used to know a Bob Cringan”. I replied that I had a brother named Bob. Dr. Huntsman said “No, he would have been too old for that.” He had known Bob when they were both students at Toronto some 50 years earlier. What a thrill it was to know that Bob had created such a lasting impression!

Following are the short story, The Adagio Pathetique, and the poem, An Inspiration, both written by Bob. There is a song within this poem, and a poem behind that song.

The "Adagio Pathetique"


Showing that, after all is said and done, experience is the great teacher.

"No, no! you do not understand! You play the notes, but it is not the music. Listen!"

The pupil, a beautiful girl of about twenty years, lowered her violin impatiently, and stood listlessly watching the old man.

"Look," he said, "it is sad, very sad. It is like big waves that moan after the storm, and all is dark, dark. Ah! It is very sad. But now there comes a bright star - listen! It is a song of comfort, molto pianissimo, and sweet, sweet, like a pearl."

Yvonne listened as the master-hand swept slowly over the moaning chords; listened, but heard only a sweet melody in a minor key. The voice of sorrow, the moan of the waves, the song of comfort she heard not, yet from the intense emotion reflected in his yearning, gray eyes and from the deepness of his irregular breathing she felt that there was something there beyond her comprehension.

When he had finished, Yvonne raised her violin and tried again, but even she soon recognized that her efforts were only an imitation. Disappointed, the old man seated himself in a comfortable arm chair and watched with an uncontrollable feeling of pity. How beautiful she appeared to him! The afternoon sun breaking in through the curtains cast its beams on the graceful folds of her soft, rich gown, throwing its sapphire hue into innumerable harmonious shades; it shone on the ruddy, brown varnish of her violin, making it glow to the colour of her soft, wavy hair; it glanced on a magnificent diamond, flashing triumphantly as her fingers slowly shifted from one note to another; it illuminated a bright, happy face, the face of one who had yet to learn life's sadder lessons.

"No," he said, affectionately, "there is something I cannot teach you. Some day you will learn. For your next lesson let us try the allegro brillante. "

At the next lesson hour, a week later, the professor stood reading a letter edged in black, signed by Yvonne.

"Poor, poor dear," he said.

Six months later he sat at the piano, idly shaping his passing fancies into melodious tone pictures. All day he had worked hard, striving patiently to make the irresponsive minds of his pupils sensitive to musical emotion, but how hard it was: they did not understand. Now, as he played, ethereal visions of beauty, of love, of tenderness, like the inviting dreams of the frost-doomed traveller, passed lingeringly before his mind. Suddenly there was a light rap at the door, and a sweet-looking girl quietly entered. Pausing, she stood for a moment in the light of the low burning lamp, and the old man recognized Yvonne.

"I hope," he said, after they had talked for nearly an hour, "that you have not forgotten your playing."

"No," she said, "I have learned to love, I have learned to love the Adagio."

"Play it," said the master, anxiously.

Then leaning back in the big arm chair, he saw, in the dim light of the lamp, the same rich, golden hair and the same violin that he had known before, but all else was changed. The sad, sweet face was not the one he had seen six months ago. The flashing diamond, too, was gone, and the only contrast to the dull black of her dress was a small pearl brooch at her throat, a brooch in the form of a wounded heart. Yes, it was a different picture, but he listened. Closing his eyes, he heard the moan of the billows, the great swelling moan of sorrow, and then the sweet pianissimo of the song of comfort, "sweet like a pearl," and the tears streamed down his withered face.

"Ah! my child!" he said, "you have learned. Now you understand."

* EDITOR'S NOTE: Mr. Cringan, who was one of the most promising of the younger musicians of Toronto met a sad and untimely death by drowning while on a holiday last summer. Canadian Magazine, Oct. 1907.

An Inspiration

ORIGINAL EDITOR'S NOTE, Canadian Magazine: The following poem was written by the late R. E. Cringan, the young musician who was drowned this summer. This is the first time it has appeared in print.

He was rather wild and fond of fun,

Yet at heart not really bad;

And though his habits were not of the best,

We could not help liking the lad.

A soul more generous, heart more true,

Than his, 'twere hard to find;

But the thought of wasting his precious life

Ne'er seemed to enter his mind.

'Twas his only fault, indifference

To the Heavenly Father's love.

His heart was filled with the joys of earth;

He'd no time for things above.

And every Sabbath we like to hear

His bright young voice in the choir,

As when after the sermon with some sweet hymn

Our worldly minds he'd inspire.

Though he led in the hymn of praise

To the God who made us all,

And sang of the love of Him who died,

Still he heard not the Saviour's call.

'Twas a vexing thought to the godly men

Who cared for the church's weel,

That a man of the world should voice thee the e the thought

Of praise that he did not feel.

So they talked it over on meeting night,

An argument keen they had.

He was rather wild and fond of fun,

But they couldn't help liking the lad.

They spoke of his wayward, wandering life;

Of the habits he possessed;

And because of his sins through the week, they thought

Him unfit to sing with the rest.

Reluctantly they framed a note

In kindly terms to say

That, though they found no other fault,

And fain would have him stay.

They thought it not a fitting thing

That one of worldly ways,

And not within the fold, should voice

The congregation's praise.

'Twas grudgingly sent, this note of doom,

With many a silent prayer

For the wayward lad they liked so well

Who did not seem to care.

But little we know how an all-wise God

Accomplishes His plans,

In an unconscious harmony

His ways are not like man's.

Disgrace came to save the erring youth,

A key to the golden door,

And he thought of his misspent life and hishis God

As he never had thought before.

It came as a storm from the darkening cloud.

To a parched and waiting land,

A storm that seemed to desolate

Whilst blessing with lavish hand.

A vision returned of his childhood days

And his dear old mother's prayer,

For her darling boy (she was now in heaven);

Perhaps she was praying there.

Through sleepless nights he tossed and raved

In an agony of shame -

He prayed and cried for mercy

Till a ray of sunshine came.

'Twas the words of a hymn he'd often sung

In a meaningless sort of way.

But his eyes were opened, and now through the dark

He saw the dawn of day.

His soul was filled with a quiet calm.

A peace hitherto unknown,

While in heaven the white-robed angels sang.

And there was joy around the throne.

The next Lord's Day was to be his last

In the choir he liked so well,

Ah, here was his chance repentantly

God's wondrous love to tell.

A hush fell over the little church

As he gazed past the waiting throng

To the gates of heaven, whence he seemed to hear

The words of an angel song.

The organ trembled and faintly rose

In a yearning, plaintive strain.

Then shaped a few sweet melting chords

To the mournful, sad refrain.

Then in clear, true tones his voice rang out

In a sweetly sorrowful key.

And he sang as never before, the hymn

That was meant for such as he.

"There were ninety and nine that safely lay

In the shelter of the fold,

But one was out on the hills away,

Far off from the gates of gold.

Away on the mountains wild and bare, Away from the tender shepherd's care."

Not an eye was dry in all the church

As the singer stood in his place,

And told them of a Shepherd's love

While the tears streamed down his face.

And they sank in their seats, those godly men

Who cared for the church's weel

No longer the singer sang the songs

Of praise that he did not feel.

'Twas a hymn he had often sang before

In a meaningless sort of way,

But 'twas the voice of God Himself they heard

As the singer sang that day.

"All through the mountains thunder riven.

And up from the rocky steep,

There arose a cry to the gate of heaven.

Rejoice, I have found my sheep.

And the angels echoed around the throne, Rejoice for the Lord brings back His own."

He was rather wild and fond of fun,

Yet at heart not really bad,

And though he had wandered and strayed from the fold,

God couldn't help liking the lad.

The Poem within the Poem

A story is to be told about the song 'the lad' sang. Padre William Young, who was Chaplain at the University of Guelph while we were there from 1955 to 1970, told me that the poem is inscribed on a tomb-stone in a Wellington County cemetery, in Fergus, I think.

I later learned a more complete story of the origin of this song, from evangelistic web-sites on the Internet.

In 1842, a young Scottish lad by the name of George Clephane, went to Canada to try and begin a new life! Although George was only in his early twenties he had a problem with drinking. Sadly, the change of country did not help George with his drinking problem. He fell into the kind of company that did not in any way encourage him other than to drink more. He only got deeper and deeper into the kind of life he had been living. Soon all his money was gone and George was living rough.

One very cold frosty morning George was found by the police lying along the roadside. And because George was left exposed to the elements of the night he died. He was buried in the town of Fergus, Ontario.

The news of his death stirred the hearts of all that knew him in his old home in Fife, Scotland. Most of all, the heart of his youngest sister Elizabeth Cecilia was broken. The news of her brother's death arrived just before she was about to celebrate her 21st birthday. No matter what she had heard about him since leaving for Canada, she never ceased to love her black sheep brother and never wavered in her belief that God loved him too. The thought burned itself into her mind that somehow in his dying hours, her brother had come to the Lord Jesus and been saved. That conviction shaped itself into immortal words. She penned a poem to her own soul. "There were ninety and nine that safely lay in the shelter of the fold!" She locked the poem away in her desk and there it lay unread for many years. She died in 1869, her poem still unpublished.

It was not the only poem she had written, but that poem, somehow found its way into a Glasgow newspaper in the year 1874. It was just at that time Mr. Moody and Mr. Sankey were in Glasgow holding evangelistic meetings. They were just finishing meetings in Glasgow and were making their way to Edinburgh. At the station Mr. Sankey bought a newspaper, as he glanced through it his eye caught this amazing poem written by Elizabeth Clephane. He cut the poem out and placed it in his musical scrapbook. At the noon meeting on the second day in Edinburgh the subject Mr. Moody selected for his sermon was "The Good Shepherd". When Mr. Moody had finished his sermon he invited Dr. Bonar to say a few words. At the conclusion of Dr. Bonar's message Mr. Moody asked Mr. Sankey if he had an appropriate message to sing on the subject with which to close the service. Mr. Sankey, lifted his heart to God in prayer for help, placed the little newspaper slip on the organ, and began to sing the poem, note by note to the tune it is still sung to today.

That hymn touched the heart of the Scottish audience, and Mr. Moody was greatly moved. And so that hymn, born under such strange circumstances, was launched upon the world. It has found its way into many hymnals, into many countries in the world, and into many languages. Pastor Humphries of the UK asserts that it has been a ministering angel to many a lost soul, leading them back to God.

Most information contained in this biographical sketch is from a sketch by Dorothy Trimble in her 1990 book, “The Heritage of the Past”. Ms. Michelle Alfano of the U of T provided the photo of the plaque. The story about about Sankey, Moody and Elizabeth Clephane is from the Evangelistic Sermons of Pastor Kenneth Humphries of the UK. ATC


Trimble, Dorothy Irene Robertson. 1990. The heritage if the past: Settlers: Alexander Thom Cringan and Lillias Rennie Waugh. Published privately, Toronto.

GSU Film Number 1854462, Digital GS Number 4174948, Image Number 934, Reference Number yr1907cn19978