Sermons—The Minister's Place in the Social and Intellectual Life of the
People—Sermon Evolution—Tendency to become commonplace—A rather Exaggerated
Parody —Impromptu on a 'Dreich' Preacher—Frank Self-criticism— The Brechin
Beadle—The Collections and Plate at the Door— Candles—Peppermints—Anecdotes
of Dr. Foote—An Outside View of the Subject—' Great Preevileges' o' the Auld
Saints— literalism of the old Bible Critics—Rendering Scripture History
realistically — Humorous Instances — Aubraham's Bosom — Pawky Estimate of
King David's Character—'The Scarlet Woman.'
Innumerable are the stories
told at the expense of ministers, and having reference to 'the services of
the sanctuary' generally.
It is little to be wondered
at that 'the minister' in the days of our grandfathers was in many respects
a person of even greater consequence than 'the laird him-sel' When we
remember how meagre were the opportunities for acquiring information, how
few the facilities for procuring intellectual nutriment of any kind, can we
wonder that the hebdomadal utterances from the pulpit furnished a theme for
criticism and comment which nowadays would be supplied by the daily
newspapers or the cheap magazine ? Beyond a few standard works such as The
Scots Worthies, and a few volumes of sermons, with possibly Wilson's Tales
of the Borders, or some such book, there were no libraries in the Mearns;
scarcely even a volume of Burns was to be found. A Bible and a shorter
Catechism were, to be sure, found even in the lowliest habitation; but the
toil during the week-days was so incessant, and the conditions of life so
irksome and depressing,—bodily fatigue and weariness was such a constant
factor in the daily life of the peasantry,—that the Sabbath rest was in very
sooth a heaven-sent boon; and the deliverances of the minister from the
pulpit were the only medium, as a rule, through which the intellectual side
both of farmer and farm-labourer was approached at all.
Little wonder, then, that the
sermon formed a theme of never-failing discussion, and little wonder, too,
that the minister himself felt impelled to 'give good measure, pressed down,
shaken together and running over' in his weekly dole of intellectual
pabulum, when it had to fulfil such an important function. Quite apart,
therefore, from the sacred demands of his calling as a preacher, and as one
who had the handling of the sacred oracles, the Scottish minister of the
olden time felt instinctively that he had really to fill the place in the
social cosmogony which is filled by the journalist nowadays, who, when he
starts a new paper, always sets out with the truthful proposition that he
does it, purely,' to supply a much-felt want.'
A mere emotional address,
therefore—a mere impassioned appeal, and a rhetorical display of verbal
fireworks, such as too often constitutes the modern sermon of twenty
minutes' duration,—would never have satisfied the intellectual, to say
nothing of the spiritual, cravings of the old-fashioned Scottish
congregation. The sermon had to be a highly-polished discourse, constructed
on well-recognised, conventional lines, containing doctrine, exposition,
logical inference, and practical application. So trained were the people in
this critical habit of mind that it undoubtedly stimulated the minister to
put his best powers into his work, although from our modern point of view
much of the work produced looks dreary, turgid, involved, and unspeakably
depressing. That there were giants of pulpit eloquence in those days goes,
of course, without saying; but many of the ministers were indubitably 'unco
dreich' as preachers; and when we consider that in addition to visitations,
prayer-meetings, Bible-classes, presbytery deliberations, and other duties
pertaining to the ministerial office, they were expected to turn out Sabbath
after Sabbath two, and sometimes three, long sermons of the kind just
described, it will easily be seen that the sermon must often have drifted
into bald commonplace. A highly artificial and conventional style became the
order of the day. Instead of being a preacher, the minister in fact too
frequently became merely a professional sermoniser; and many comical
anecdotes are related illustrative of this prevailing habit of mind and
thought. It became the fashion to veil the paucity of their ideas by the
liberality with which they interlarded the sermon with quotations from
Scripture, and frequent repetitions of some text or favourite phrase,
delivered with astonishing lung-power and much gesticulation. In fact, the
arms were used sometimes in place of the brain, and the rustic congregations
got so accustomed to this outward and visible manifestation of the
theologian's equipment that they refused to think any good of a man who
could not at least perspire freely in the pulpit, and 'ding the dust oot o'
the cushion, or the guts oot o' the Bible,' as one homespun critic forcibly
I have heard of a Highland
parish minister who preached on one occasion a sermon something after this
fashion, taking for his text the words, 'Waalk ye caircumspaictly.' He
proceeded in this wise—
'Ma dear breethren, maybe
some o' ye 'ill no ken what the apoastle means by caircumspaiction? "Waalk
ye caircumspaictly." Weel, caircumspaiction, ma dear freends, is jist
caircumspaiction, caashion. "Waalk ye caircumspaictly."
'Noo, caashion or
caircumspaiction is a great Christian vairtue, and I mean tae explain by
means o' a seemilee or meetaphor or eelistraation, what caashion or
caircumspaiction is. " Waalk ye caircumspaictly."
'Noo, ma freends, ye've a'
seen a gairden,—oo ay, nae doot, a gairden ye've a' seen. "Waalk ye
caircumspaictly." And in this gairden will be growin' berry busses, an'
currant busses, an' aiple trees, an' pear trees, an' cherry trees, an' a'
the fruits that are pleesant tae the eye an' guid for the taste o' man. "Waalk
ye caircumspaictly." An' tae keep the fruit from bein' stolen by robbers an'
thieves an' deepredawtors, it will be surroondit wi' a heich wa', an' for
the mair effectual defence, the tap o' the wa' will be plaistered wi' bits
o' broken gless stuck everywhere a' roond. "Waalk ye cair-cumspaictly. " I
hae nae doot, ma Ghreestian breetherin, ye hae a' likewise seen a caat—a
common, domestic caat, it may be a gray c&at, or a black caat, or a broon
caat, or a brockit caat; but nae doot ye hae seen this caat come upon the
tap o' the surroondin' wa', plaistered wi' the bits o' brocken gless. "
Waalk ye caircumspaictly."' (And then as he approaches his climax, he
increases in fervour. He shakes his head, gives a tremulous intenseness to
his pronunciation, and pounds the cushion in front of him; while, suiting
his action to his word, he imitates the delicate, gingerly gait of a cat
walking on glass, as he thus proceeds :)—' And ah ! ma dear freens; ye hae
seen it pit its yae fit doon this w'y, an' its tither fit doon this w'y; an'
tha-a-a-t's ca-a-a-tion, ma dear breethren—tha-at's ca-a-ation.' (His voice
rising to a shrill tremuloso.)—'Ca-a-ation! Gaircumspaiction !
Cair-cumspaiction! Ca-a-ation! "Wa-a-a-lk ye caircumspaictly. . . ."'
And so it would go on—a
weary, dreary, droning-out of platitudes; and however extravagant the above
travesty may seem, I solemnly declare I have heard nearly as bad myself from
more than one preacher of the old school.
The following impromptu,
written by a victim, not inaptly describes one such:—
"With reverent step we mount
Intent to hear a teacher;
But oh! the disappointment sair,
We found a weary preacher
He gabbled owre the sacred page,
He hirpled throwe the prayer;
A gowk confessed, though lookin' sage;
My very heart was sair.
Yearning for " bread," he gave "a stone " :
His ilka thocht was addled;
Let it be written with a groan,
He didna preach—he twaddledI'
Few ministers, however, would
be so frank in their self-criticism as the kindly old pastor of a northern
parish, who used to commit his confessions to a private * diary, and about
whom the following is told.
On one occasion, it being the
fast day with his people, he made arrangements for a friendly minister in a
neighbouring parish to conduct the services. He himself was but a poor
preacher. He could scarcely have delivered an extempore address for his very
life, and even written composition was at all times an irksome task for him.
Rejoicing in the prospect of
one day's unwonted freedom, and expecting to meet his friendly co-presbyter
at church, he went to the sacred edifice, quite unprepared to speak, and you
can easily imagine his concern when, the hour of worship having struck, his
expected substitute had not arrived. As a matter of fact, the poor minister
who had promised to officiate for him had been thrown from his horse at a
boggy bit of the road some eight or ten miles away, and was little likely
that day to mount the pulpit.
With growing anxiety, our
poor minister, seeing the congregation assembled, was confronted with the
awkward situation, quite unprovided with a sermon, and unprepared with ten
consecutive ideas. Necessity impelled him to make some pretence of
preaching, and he had to get into the pulpit.
His diary, which was found
after his death, had an entry relating to this memorable occasion, which
will best describe the poor minister's feelings. I would ask the reader to
note the last six words of the entry, as being one of the finest
illustrations of the pithy, condensed expressiveness of the Scottish
language with which I am acquainted
The entry ran thus—
'June 16th.—Fast-day in oor
pairish. Expeckit auld Andra Macilwr^aith tae preach for me. Didna come.
Haed tae dae't masel'.'
(Now come the six words.)
'Haivert awa—sair forfouchen—wauchled
An amusing instance of the
exaggerated ideas of their own importance some of the residents in these
small provincial towns occasionally had, is told of the beadle of the City
Road Church in Brechin. The church used to be called the Back Side Church by
adherents of rival sects. The beadle was engaged one day sweeping out the
church and dusting the seats. It happened that a young probationer, rather a
tyro in pulpit oratory, had been engaged to preach on the morrow, and he had
stolen down quietly to have a look at the church and familiarise himself
somewhat with the surroundings. The supercilious beadle watched him out of
the corner of his eye for a few moments, taking a mental inventory of his
appearance, etc. Then, with all the conscious pride of office, and a
swelling sense of local importance, he addressed the timid, shrinking youth:
'Are ye the chield that's tae
preach the morn?'
'Yes, I believe I am.'
'Aweel, see an' tak' care o'
yersel' Ye ken this is Brechin.' The significant emphasis put on the word
'this,' was simply delicious.
It may give some idea of the
niggardliness and cold, apathetic indifference of the old 'moderate' order
of things before the Disruption, when I say that from reliable sources I
have been informed that out of a congregation of some 1600 worshippers in
Brechin, the average collection seldom exceeded £2 per Sabbath. Little
wonder that scoffing critics have given as a reason for the existence of
farthings, that they were simply invented for the use of Scottish Church
offertories. I am inclined to believe, however, that such instances of
meanness were the exception and not the rule. In fact, I am inclined boldly
to place on record my belief that, notwithstanding many sneering slanders to
the contrary, the Scottish people, to their credit be it said, have always
been trained to give liberally to the support of their churches—that is,
when one considers how naturally poor the country was, and how little
realised wealth was divided amongst the bulk of those who formed the
ordinary church-going masses. The big pewter plate always stood invitingly
at the church door, and one of my earliest recollections associated with the
'ordinances of the sanctuary,' was the patter, patter, and tinkle, tinkle,
of the offerings of the poor people, showered with a noisy clatter into the
plate. By connoting the volume of sound thus produced, the elders and
deacons in the vestry could always shrewdly gauge what sort of congregation
was in the church. At that time we had no gas in the village, and had to
depend for church illumination on homely tallow candles. These were stuck in
tin sconces at intervals through the church, and diffused what was certainly
only 'a dim religious light/ and not a very savoury smelling one either, for
the place was seldom swept. Nearly every old woman seemed to think it part
of a religious duty to bring some pungent-smelling herb or flower with her,
and when these had faded in the hot air they were left on the benches or
seats, or thrown on the floor, there to accumulate. At the end of months,
what with dust, cobwebs, and withered flowers, and various other flotsam and
jetsam, there was almost enough litter in the sacred building to provide
bedding for a well-supplied stable. We boys used to look upon the
candle-ends in the sconces as our particular perquisites. At all events we
used surreptitiously to appropriate them, and they were used afterwards with
great effect in the illumination of turnip lanterns, for which purpose they
acquired a mercantile value, and were frequently the subjects of profitable
barter for ' bools' and ' peeries,' and other objects dear to the schoolboy
Another truly 'reeligious'
commodity was peppermint lozenges of the very strongest kind. These were
consumed in immense quantities, presumably to keep the good folks awake if
the sermon happened to be 'by-ord'nar' dreich.' The old wives patiently
sucked and masticated these pungent confections for hours at a time, much in
the same way as a cow chews the cud. Not unfrequently even more substantial
refreshments, in the shape of apples, oranges, and other fruits, were
stealthily assimilated by the younger worshippers in much fear and
trembling, the stolen bite being sometimes accompanied by a sounding box on
the ear from some maternal hand, which, for a time, would wake the echoes of
the cobwebbed ceiling. The windows were of the diamond-lozenge pattern, set
in a leaden framework, and were inconceivably grimy; and thus whenever a
thunderstorm hovered over the church the atmosphere inside became as dull
and gloomy as oftentimes was the officiating preacher. I remember on one
occasion hearing the Keverend Dr. A. L. K. Foote, a learned theologian and
well-known author in his time, make rather an abrupt ending to the service,
much to the amusement and relief of his younger hearers—at all events I can
answer for one of them—although some of the Conservative old folks professed
to be much scandalised. The worthy Doctor, who was a most eccentric
character, although one of the kindliest of men, and deeply attached to my
father, happened to be very short-sighted. He also shocked the
susceptibilities of the unco-straitlaced by insisting on reading closely
from the manuscript, that being considered a great drawback to his
usefulness by some of the older people. However, on this occasion, during
the sermon, a dense black thundercloud overspread the heavens, and produced
an intense gloom in the church. Old Sandie Dorrit, the church officer, had
gone down, decent man, to regale himself with kail and bannocks at his home
in the village, as he had other duties devolving upon him that day, which
would occupy his usual dinner hour. My father was preaching for Doctor Foote
in Brechin. My mother, who ordinarily would have been equal to the occasion,
was, I am afraid, on this particular date sound asleep, having been
overcome, no doubt, by the hot weather, certainly not by the fervour of the
preacher's delivery. I suppose most of the elders and deacons had succumbed
to the same somniferous influence. At all events the poor doctor boggled and
stumbled, wiped his glasses, looking round in vain to see if any one would
come to the rescue. At last he lifted his manuscript boldly from the
concealing recesses of the bulky pulpit Bible, and, to the horror of such
old people as were awake, defiantly produced it in the sight of the whole
congregation, and turning it from side to side in the effort to get more
light upon its crabbed handwriting, he tried in vain to decipher his learned
discourse. Alas! the cloud outside got thicker as his confusion increased.
At length, seeing no help for it, the good old Doctor shut up the Bible with
a bang which awakened all the sleepers, and said, in very broad homely
Scotch, 'Weel, sirss, may God bless the preachm' o' His word, for I canna
see tae read nae mair.'
The above anecdote of Dr.
Foote recalls another of the same fine old Christian gentleman which well
illustrates the shrewd, practical character of the man, combined with a
whimsical eccentricity which often led to his being misjudged and rather
He had occasion to visit one
of his parishioners, an old ailing woman, named Janet D------. He was due at
a rather important meeting in another part of the town, and had scant time
at his disposal. After saluting Janet in pleasant, homely fashion, he
proceeded somewhat in this way—
'Noo, Janet, jist turn up the
Fourteent o' John, an' read the first verse.'
Janet did so, and the worthy
doctor expounded and explained the verse, saying some very beautiful and
comforting things to the poor old body. Then, in his abrupt but kindly way,
'Noo, read the second verse.'
She did so, and the
exposition proceeded; and so, in like fashion, the old woman and the doctor
got through some six or eight verses. Suddenly the doctor, remembering his
other engagement, looked at his watch, and finding his time had flown faster
than he had imagined possible, he rose to his feet, and with a kindly pat on
the back of his aged and frail friend, said :
'Noo, Janet, I find I hae
little time to bide, so ye'll jist pray for yersel' the day, for indeed ye
ken better fat ye're needin' than I do!'
On another occasion, Miss
Brown, sister of the author of that most pathetic little sketch, Rab and his
Friends, and one of the gentlest and kindliest of women I have ever met, was
sitting in the church with my sister Jeannie, and the preacher happened to
be one of the 'dreich' and dreary sort. After a wearisome and tedious
stretch of involved dogmatic disquisition, poor Miss Brown getting more and
more weary at every sentence, he drawled out, 'Noo, ma breetherin, let's tak'
anither view of the subject.' This was too much for Miss Brown. Whispering
to my sister, she said, 'Come away, Jeannie dear, we'll tak' an outside view
of the subject'; the sleepy hearers no doubt envying her independence, and
wishing that they could adopt the same method of freeing themselves from the
irksome thraldom of the pulpit
The Miss Brown above referred
to lived with us in the manse for some time, and her gentle ways and sweet
disposition endeared her to us boys, as she was always kindly alert to make
our boyish life more pleasant and refined. To this day her sweet, patient
face and gray silk dress stand out as one of the brightest pictures on my
boyish memory's screen. Her brother, Dr. John Brown, who had a keen
appreciation of quaint Scottish humour, used to tell a story at the expense
of his sister, which I venture to give here. When Miss Brown had left my
father's house, and taken up a course of housekeeping for her venerable old
father, the Rev. Dr. Brown, at Arthur Lodge, Dalkeith Eoad, in Edinburgh,
she devoted herself largely to works of charity and benevolence, which made
her memory beloved under many a lowly roof where suffering and sickness had
cast a shade. Her Christianity being of an intensely practical character,
she dispensed many delicacies for the poor aged objects of her bounty; and
of course, while supplying their bodily wants, she was not unmindful of the
higher claims which belong to the spiritual nature, and while providing
jellies and provisions, she always read a chapter of the Bible and
administered a few words of kindly counsel to her old pensioners. But there
was one rather callous old fellow upon whom she never seemed to be able to
make any impression. He would always greedily accept the creature comforts
provided for him, but whenever the Bible was produced he, like King Hezekiah
of old, would ' turn his face to the wall'; and Miss Brown could never
ascertain whether this was the result of a reverent regard for the book or a
distaste for its contents. The old fellow, who must have been over seventy
years, kept a most immobile countenance; not even by the flicker of an
eyelid would he betray either interest or weariness, either distaste or
satisfaction. One day the gentle lady had opened the sacred volume at
random, and began reading the first chapter that presented itself, which
happened to be a description of the great Jewish monarch's splendid court
and Oriental luxuries. When she came to that part of the story which records
the great number of Solomon's wives, etc., much to her astonishment, the old
bedridden cripple manifested for the first time some appearance of awakening
interest, and, slowly turning round to the surprised lady, with a flicker of
humour in his faded eyes, he said, in a very shaky voice, 'Eh, Miss Broon,
what great preevileges thae Auld Testament saints maun hae enjoyed!'
Now, this quaintly familiar
way of speaking of Biblical characters and sacred subjects was strongly
characteristic of the older generation of 'Oor ain folk.' There was not a
suspicion of irreverence in the familiarity they allowed themselves in thus
referring to scriptural persons or incidents, though possibly to more modern
and modish notions it would appear rude and irreverent.
It was simply the outcome of
the close, intense, and constant attention which was given to the study of
Biblical history and biography as part of the parish and denominational
school system, as well as the Sunday school system, of the bygone days. It
appeared possibly as a part too of the theological training of which I have
spoken, as embodied in those tedious pulpit utterances which took the place
of the countless modern agencies which are now employed to train the
intellect and fill the mental horizon of our latter-day young people. When
libraries were few, when the newspaper press was almost an unknown power,
and when the Bible really formed the great lesson-book for young and old,
scriptural characters became invested with a. living reality. They were
personified, so to speak, in the daily thoughts of the people, and heroes
like the Judges and Kings of Israel took the place in the popular mind of
those national characters, or the creations of literature, which have now
become household words among. a people to whom modern historians have opened
the great picture gallery of the past. Wizards such as Sir Walter Scott,
Dickens, Thackeray, and the glorious company of our masters of modern
fiction, have filled the chambers of imagination and memory of even the
poorest amongst us with a long array of living creations, who, alas! may
have jostled aside the old scriptural characters which were such real and
living entities to our forefathers. Some of the Scottish stories bearing
upon this point are among the highest in their unconscious humour that can
well be imagined. It is in fact impossible to reproduce exactly some of the
best of them. They would be looked upon as quite outrageous and altogether
too irreverent and audacious for the sophisticated tastes of modern readers.
Yet if one can only call up the peculiar state of society which gave them
birth, it will be easily understood that they arose quite naturally, and
were a direct outcome of that easy familiarity with scriptural subjects
which was one of the most marked characteristics of the old rural state of
things. Here for instance is one of them.
A farmer, who had been a loud
professor of religion, but whose daily conduct gave the lie to his
professions, had just died in the odour of sanctity. As he had been a
leading elder in the kirk, it seemed incumbent on the parishioners to give
him a burial befitting the high position to which he had attained. His
private character had, however, become pretty well known. Various
circumstances of little credit to his previous sanctimoniousness had leaked
out, and at the funeral, to which, as in duty bound, nearly all the
parishioners had come, further disclosures had passed from mouth to mouth of
discreditable dealings and dishonest doings, and a feeling of disgust had
taken the place of the sympathy with which many of the mourners had set out
The only man who had a word of praise to say for the deceased was another
elder of like kidney with the departed hypocrite, who quite overdid his part
by loudly vaunting the virtues of the dear departed,— dear in more senses
than one, for it soon became known amongst the assembled farmers that they
would each and all be heavy losers when the dead man's estate came to be
administered. One young farmer in particular, who found himself a likely
victim to the tune of some hundred pounds, felt rather resentful, and when
the fulsome, hypocritical Pharisee who was thrusting himself to the front
began once more loudly and aggressively to vaunt the virtues of the
deceased, the young farmer's soul waxed wroth within him.
'Ah!' said the smug-faced
panegyrist; 'so poor Tammas has gaen tae his lang hame. Ah!' turning up his
eyes and smacking his lips, 'Ah, but he wis a fine man wis Tammas.'
'Ou ay,' growled the young
farmer; 'I dare say he wis, afF an' on, as guid's some o' his neebors'
(putting a tremendous emphasis on the 'some'.
'Ah!' again exclaimed the
wily humbug; ' but he wis, a graund, upricht, strauchtforrit, godly, pious
man, wis Tammas. Eh, sirss, I've nae doot he's in Aubra-ham's bosom noo.'
This was too much for the
bluff young farmer. He saw through the oily humbug at a glance, and said:
'Humph; I hae ma doots. I'm
thinkin' Aubra-ham's no sic a fule as tae let him creep sae far ben.'
Or take yet another. The
minister had been attending at what he supposed was the deathbed of one of
his parishioners. The presumably dying man had been famed for his keen sense
of fun, and for a bright, pawky turn of expression, which had made him
somewhat celebrated as a humorist. The minister, in his anxiety 'to improve
the occasion' and take advantage of the solemn opportunity, had opened the
Book just at random, and began to read in tremulous accents the touching
story of the chaste patriarch Joseph and his adventure with Potiphar's wife.
To his consternation, and not a little to his indignation, happening to look
up he saw the bed shaking under the suppressed laughter caused by a paroxysm
of humour which was convulsing the frame of his sick friend. In tones of
indignant remonstrance he demanded to know what was the cause of this
outburst of unseemly levity. 'What wicked thought/ %he demanded, 'has Satan
put into your head, that you should indulge in this ungodly mirth at such a
time as this, when you should rather be preparing for your exit from this
vale of tears, and your entrance into a higher and a nobler life? I demand
to know, sir, what is the cause of this wanton laughter, of this lamentable
exhibition at such a solemn time.'
The poor patient, whose
hearty, though silent laughter had been working upon him as a good tonic, at
length gasped out between paroxysms of attemptedly suppressed mirth, ' Losh,
meenister, I carina help it—I canna help it.'
'But,' said the minister, 'I
demand to know, sir, what ye mean? What in the world is causin' ye tae laugh
at this noble record, and at such a time too?'
'Ha ha, ho ho!' faintly came
from the bed. 'I canna help it, sir — I canna help it; the thocht jist
struck me that if it hed bin auld Davit the Psalmist, feth he wadna hae been
Take still another, which
very clearly illustrates the characteristic of which I have been speaking.
Our next character is a blind, toothless, old body, whose advancing
infirmities precluded her from attending church, but who still retained all
her wonted critical faculty, and a great desire to hear what the minister
had been 'preachm' aboot,' but who of course had now to depend on
information got secondhand.
She was only an ignorant old
body, not very refined, intensely matter of fact, and she evidently took the
Bible story in a practical, literal way that we do not meet with among
critics nowadays. The personages in the sacred record were very real
characters to her, and she must have possessed at least one fundamental
qualification of the poet, viz. the gift of personification. She was sitting
at the door of her humble shieling. It was a beautiful summer's day. Great
billows of crimson heather rolled from hill-crest to hill-crest in
successive undulations of odorous bloom, and the subdued hum of satiated
bees filled the air with an all pervading, languorous, drowsy monotone. Deep
down in the dells, hidden amid waving bracken and sweet-scented birch trees,
the mountain rills glanced and gushed, with here a silvery tinkle, and there
the melodious gurgle, which caused the scent-laden air to vibrate with
throbbing waves of sweetest sound. Afar in the distance the mellowed,
deadened boom of the waterfall, dashing its tawny waters over the black
rocks that sought to impede the tumultuous rush of the brawling stream, came
fitfully at intervals on the soft breeze. Earth and air alike were redolent
of beauty. Nature had put on her fairest robes; and the good old lady,
leaning, like Jacob, 'on the top of her staff/ simply basked in the mellow
sunbeams, drinking in delight at every pore of her being. Presently, upon
her somewhat dulled senses broke the sounds of rippling, childish laughter,
and anon her little granddaughter came tripping up the braeside, recalling
'Granny' to the consciousness of the fact that it was Sunday, and the ' kirk
was oot.' Peering eagerly forward with her dimmed, bleared eyes, and putting
one hand at the back of her ear, she mumbled, 'Is that you, Leeby?'
'Ay, Granny', came back the
quick, clear, childish response.
'Ye'll hae ben tae the kirk,
'An' fat wis the meenister
preachin' aboot th' day, hinny?'
'Oh, Granny! it wis sic a
'Yea na; and fat wis the tex',
'Oh deed, it wis an unco
queer tex': I cudna unnerstan' heid nor tail o't.
'Imph'm,' said the old body,
now growing quite eager and excited; 'an' fat wis't aboot than?'
'Oh, it wis a' aboot the
Scarlet Wumman—the great whore o' Babylon.'
The old lady at once pricked
up her ears, and smiting her staff with some vehemence on the ground, she
exclaimed, in tones betokening a sort of reminiscent, confused surprise:
'Od save's a', sirss! Can
that wumman be on the ran-dan yet? Heth, I mind she wis a rael bad yin when
I wis a wee lassie.'
Now, it must not be supposed
that I vouch for the absolute truth of this story; but I give it as a very
apposite illustration of quite a vanishing phase of the old Scottish rural
character. It is also doubtless an illustration of the numberless Scotch
stories which perhaps are sometimes just a trifle too prononce for the
conditions of modern literature. The quaint, racy outspokenness of the
Biblical criticism is, however, I imagine, sufficient to win my pardon from
the lenient reader, especially if he be 'ane o' oor ain folk.'