Check all the Clans that have DNA Projects. If your Clan is not in the list there's a way for it to be listed. Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.

Click here to get a Printer Friendly Page

Scottish Reminincenses
Chapter II


Traces of Paganism in Scotland. Relics of the Celtic Church; ‘Deserts.’ Survival of Roman Catholicism in West Highlands and Islands. Influence of the Protestant clergy. Highland ministers. Lowland ministers. Diets of catechising. Street preachers.

The social history of Scotland has been intimately linked with the successive ecclesiastical polities which have held sway in the country. Nowhere can the external and visible records of these polities be more clearly seen than among the Western Isles, for there the political revolutions have been less violent, though not less complete, than in other parts of the country, and the effacement of the memorials of the past has been brought about, more perhaps by the quiet influence of time, than by the ruthless hand of man. First of all we meet with various lingering relics of Paganism; then with abundant and often well-preserved records of the primitive Celtic Church; next with evidence of the spread of the Roman Catholic faith; further with the establishment of Protestantism, but without the complete eradication of the older religion; and lastly with the doings of the various religious sects into which the inhabitants are now unhappily divided.

Various memorials of Paganism may be recognised, to some of which further reference will be made in a later chapter. Of these memorials, the numerous standing stones are the most conspicuous, whether as single monoliths, marking the grave of some forgotten hero or dedicated to some unknown divinity, or as groups erected doubtless for religious purposes, like the great assemblage at Caller-nish in the Lewis. Besides these stones, many burial mounds, resting-places of the pagan dead, have yielded relics of the Stone and Bronze Ages. In some respects more impressive even than these relics, are the superstitious customs which still survive amongst us, and have probably descended uninterruptedly from pagan times; such, for instance, as the practice of walking around wells and other places three times from east to west, as the sun moves, and the practice of leaving offerings at the springs which are resorted to for curative purposes. Some of these customs were continued by the early Celtic Church, persisted afterwards through the Roman Catholic period, and even now, in spite of all the efforts of Protestant zeal, they have not been wholly extirpated.

The vestiges of the early Celtic Church, by which Paganism was superseded, are specially abundant in the Highlands. Even where all visible memorials have long since vanished, the name of many a devoted saint and missionary still clings to the place where he or she had a chapel or hermitage, or where some cell was dedicated to their memory. The names of Columba, Bridget, Oran, Donan, Fillan, Ronan, and others are as familiar on the lips of modern Highlanders as they were on those of their forefathers, although the historical meaning and interest of these names may be unknown to those who use them now. When, besides the name attached to the place, the actual building remains with which the name was first associated in the sixth or some later century, the interest deepens, especially where the relic stands, as so many of them do, on some small desolate islet, placed far amid the melancholy main, and often for weeks together difficult or impossible of approach, even now, with the stouter boats of the present day. Such places, like those off the west coast of Ireland, were sought for retirement from the work and worry of the world, where the missionary devoted himself to meditation and prayer. The numerous Deserts, Diserts, Dysarts, and Dyserts in Ireland and Scotland are all forms of the Gaelic word Disert, derived from the Latin Desertum, a desert or sequestered place, and mark retreats of the early propagandists of Christianity. It fills one with amazement and admiration to contemplate the heroism and self-devotion which could lead these men in their frail coracles to such sea-washed rocks, where there is often no soil to produce any vegetation, and where, except by impounding rain, there can be no supply of fresh water.

Perhaps the most striking of these ‘deserts’ in Scotland is to be found on the uninhabited rock known as Sula Sgeir, which rises out of the Atlantic, about forty miles to the north of the Butt of Lewis. Though much less imposing in height and size than the Skellig off the coast of Kerry, it is at least four times further from the land, and must consequently have been still more difficult to reach in primitive times. I had a few years ago an opportunity of landing on this rock, during a yachting cruise to the Faroe Islands. With some little difficulty, on account of the heavy swell, I succeeded in scrambling ashore, and found the rock to consist of gneiss, like that of the Long Island. My arrival disturbed a numerous colony of sea-fowl. The puffins emerged from their holes, and sat gazing at me with their whimsical wistful look. Flocks of razorbills and guillemots, circled overhead, filling the air with their screams, while the gannets, angry that their mates should be disturbed from their nests, wheeled to and fro still higher, with mocking shouts of ha! ha! ha! A dank grey sea-fog hung over the summit of the islet. Everything was damp with mist and clammy with birds’ droppings, which in a dry climate would gather as a deposit of guano. Loathsome pools of rain-water and sea-spray, putrid with excrement, filled the hollows of the naked rock, while the air was heavy with the odours of living and dead birds. The only things of beauty in the place were the tufts of. sea-pink that grew luxuriantly in the crannies. Some traces of recent human occupation could be seen in the form of a few rude stone-huts erected as shelters by the men who now and then come to take off the gannets and their eggs, and who when there lately had left some heaps of unused peat behind them.

Yet this desolate, bird-haunted rock, with the heavy surf breaking all round it and resounding from its chasms and caves, was the place chosen by one of the Celtic saints as his * desert.’ His little rude chapel yet remains, built of rough stones and still retaining its roof of large flags. It measures inside about fourteen feet in length by. from six to eight in -breadth, with an entrance doorway and one small window-opening, beneath which the altar-stone still lies in place. There could hardly ever have been a community here; one is puzzled to understand how even the saint himself succeeded in reaching this barren rock, and how he supported himself on it during his stay. He came, no doubt, in one of the light skin-covered coracles, which could contain but a slender stock of provisions. When these were exhausted, if the weather forbade his return to Lewis or to the mainland, he had no fuel on the rock to fall back upon, with which to cook any of the eggs or birds of the islet,' and there was no edible vegetation, save the dulse or other sea-weeds growing between tide-marks.

With the decay and dissolution of the Celtic Church, probably many of the chapels erected by that community were forsaken and allowed to fall into ruin. But some continued to be used, and were even enlarged or rebuilt, when the Church of Rome established its rule over the whole country. Architecture had meanwhile made an onward step. The buildings erected by the emissaries of Rome presented a strong contrast to those which they replaced, for they were solidly built with lime, in a much more ornate style, with a freer use of sculpture and on a much larger scale. The old church of Rodil, in Harris, for example, belonging perhaps to the thirteenth century, is full of sculptured figures; while the Cathedral of Iona would hold some dozens of the primitive cells.

In various parts of the country evidence may be seen that the Celtic sculptured stones had ceased to be respected, either as religious monuments or as works of art, when the Roman Catholic churches were erected. At St. Andrews, for example, the old chapel of St. Regulus, probably built between the tenth and twelfth centuries, was allowed to remain, and it still stands, roofless indeed, but in wonderful preservation as regards the masonry of its walls. But of the crosses that rose above the sward around it, many of them delicately carved with interlaced work in the true Celtic style, some were broken up and actually used as building material for the great Cathedral which was begun in the year 1160. Again, at St. Vigeans, in Forfarshire, a large quantity of similar sculptured stones of the Celtic period was built into the masonry of the twelfth-century church erected there under the Latin hierarchy.

The Roman Catholic faith, which once prevailed universally over the country, still maintains its place on some of the islands, particularly Barra, Benbecula, and South Uist, and in certain districts of the mainland. In Eigg, about half of the population is still Catholic, the other half being divided between the Established and Free Churches. The three clergymen, Protestant and Roman Catholic, when I first visited the island, were excellent friends, and used to have pleasant evenings together over their toddy and talk. The Catholic memorial chapel to the memory of Lord Howard of Glossop was determined ‘to be erected in one of the Catholic islands,’ and Canna was chosen as its site. The building has been placed there, and with its high Norman tower now forms a conspicuous landmark for leagues to east and west. But the crofter population is gone, and with it Catholicism has disappeared from Canna, though some five crofter families still live on the contiguous island of Sanday.

In my peregrinations through the Catholic districts of the west of Scotland I have often been struck with some interesting contrasts between them and similar regions in Ireland, where Catholic and Protestant live together. The Scottish priests have always seemed to me a better educated class and more men of the world than their brethren in Ireland. Students who have been trained abroad have their ideas widened and their manners polished, as is hardly possible in the case of those who leave their villages to be trained at Maynooth, whence they are sent to recommence village life as parish priests. Again, there has always appeared to me to be in the West Highlands far less of the antagonism which in Ireland separates Catholics and Protestants. They live together as good neighbours, and, unless you actually make enquiry, you cannot easily discriminate between them.

No feature in the social changes which Scotland has undergone stands out more conspicuously than the part played in these changes by the clergy since the Reformation. This clerical influence has been both beneficial and baneful. On the one hand, the clergy have unquestionably taken a large share in the intellectual development of the people, and in giving to the national character some of its most distinctive qualities. For many generations, in face of a lukewarm or even hostile nobility and government, they bore the burden of the parish schools, elaborating and improving a system of instruction which made their country for a long time the best educated community in Europe. They have held up the example of a high moral standard, and have laboured with the most unremitting care to train their flocks in the paths of righteousness.

On the other hand, the clergy, having from the very beginning of Protestantism obtained control over the minds and consciences of the people, have naturally used this powerful influence to make their theological tenets prevail throughout the length and breadth of the land. They early developed a spirit of intolerance and fanaticism, and with this same spirit they succeeded in imbuing their people, repressing the natural and joyous impulses of humanity, and establishing an artificial and exacting code of conduct, the enforcement of which led to an altogether hurtful clerical domination. While waging war against older forms of superstition, they introduced new forms which added to the terrors and the gloom of life. These transformations were longest in reaching their climax among the Highlands and Islands, but have there attained their most complete development, as will be further pointed out in a later chapter. Happily, in the Lowlands for the last two hundred years, their effects have been slowly passing away. The growth of tolerance and enlightenment is increasingly marked both among the clergy and the laity. But the old leaven is not even yet wholly eradicated, though it now works within a comparatively narrow and continually contracting sphere.

Nevertheless, even those who have least sympathy with the theological tenets and ecclesiastical system of the Scottish clergy must needs acknowledge that, as earnest and indefatigable workers for the spiritual and temporal good of their flocks, as leaders in every movement for the benefit of the community, and as fathers of families, these men deserve the ample commendation which they have received. Their limited stipends have allowed them but a slender share of the material comforts and luxuries of life, and comparatively few of them have enjoyed opportunities to ‘ augment their small peculiar,’ yet they have, as a whole, set a noble example of self-denial, thrift, and benevolence. Secure at least of their manses, they have contrived ‘ to live on little with a cheerful heart,’ respected and esteemed of men. While supplying the material wants of their people, as far as their means would allow, they have yet been able to provide a good education for their families, and to

Put forth their sons to seek preferment out;
Some to the wars, to try their fortune there;
Some to discover islands far away;
Some to the studious universities.

The ‘sons of the manse’ are found filling positions of eminence in every walk of life.

With all this excellence of character and achievement, the clergy of Scotland have maintained an individuality which has strongly marked them as a class among the other professions of the country. This peculiarity is well exemplified in the innumerable anecdotes which, either directly or indirectly connected with clergymen, form so large a proportion of what are known as ‘ Scotch Stories.' If we seek for the cause of the prominence of the clerical element in the accepted illustrations of Scottish humour, we shall hardly find it in any exceptional exuberance of that quality among the reverend gentlemen themselves, taken as a body, though many of their number have been among the most humorous and witty of their countrymen. As they were long drawn from almost every grade in the social scale of the kingdom, they have undoubtedly presented an admirable average type of the national idiosyncrasies, though they are now recruited in diminishing measure from the landed and cultured ranks of society. Their number, their general dispersion over the whole land, their prominence in their parishes, the influence wielded by many of them in the church-courts and on public platforms, and the free intercourse between them and the people, have all helped to draw attention to them and to their sayings and doings. Moreover, since dissent from the National Church began, the clergy have been greatly multiplied. In each parish, where there was once only one minister, there are now two or even more.

A Scots proverb avers that ‘ A minister’s legs should never be seen,’ meaning that he should not be met with out of the pulpit. So long as he remains there, he stands invested with ‘such divinity as doth hedge a king’: unassailable, uncontradictable, and wielding the authority of a messenger from God to man. The very isolation and eminence of this position call attention to any merely human qualities or frailties which he may disclose in ordinary life. His parishioners, though inwardly glad if he can shed upon them ‘ the gracious dew of pulpit eloquence,’ at the same time delight to find him, when divested of his gown and bands, after all, one of themselves ; and while they enjoy his humour, when he possesses that saving grace, they are not unwilling sometimes to take his little peculiarities as subjects for their own mirthful but not ill-natured remarks. He may thus be like Falstaff, ‘not only witty himself, but the cause that wit is in other men.’ Hence the clerical stories may be divided into two kinds: those in which the humour is that of the ministers, and those in which it is that of the people, with the ministers as its object. In the first series, there is perhaps no particular flavour different from that characteristic of the ordinary middle-class Scot, though of course the many anecdotes of a professional nature take their colour from the calling of those to whom they relate. In the second division, however, a greater individuality may be recognised. Whether it be from a sort of good-humoured revenge for his incontestible superiority in the pulpit, there seems to be a proneness to make the most of any oddities in the minister’s manners or character. The contrast between the preacher on Sunday and the same, man during the week—it may be absent-minded, or irascible, or making mistakes, or getting into ludicrous situations—appeals powerfully to the Scotsman’s sense of humour. He seizes the oddity of this contrast, expresses it in some pithy words, and thus, . often unconsciously, launches another ‘story’ into the world. His humour, as in Swift’s definition,

Is odd, grotesque, and wild,
Only by affectation spoiled;
’Tis never by invention got;
Men have it when they know it not.

It is in the country, and more particularly in the remoter and less frequented parishes, that the older type of minister has to some extent survived. We meet with him rather in the Highlands than in the Lowlands. He cultivates his glebe, and sometimes has also a farm on his hands. He has thus some practical knowledge of agriculture, is often a good judge of cattle, and breeds his own stock.

The best example of a Highland clergyman I ever knew was the Rev. John Mackinnon, minister of the parish of Strath, Skye, to whose hospitable house of Kilbride I have already referred as my first home in the island. He succeeded to the parish after his father, who had been its minister for fifty-two years, and he was followed in turn by his eldest son, the late Dr. Donald, so that for three generations, or more than a hundred years, the care of the parish remained in the same family. Tall, erect, and wiry, he might have been taken for a retired military man. A gentleman by birth and breeding, he mingled on easy terms with the best society in the island, while at the same time his active discharge of his ministerial duties brought him into familiar relations with the parishioners all over the district. So entirely had he gained their respect and affections that, when the great Disruption, of 1843 rent the Establishment over so much of the Highlands, he kept his flock in the old Church. He used to boast that Strath was thus the Sebastopol of that Church in Skye.

The old manse at Kilchrist, having become ruinous, was abandoned; and, as none was built to replace it, Mr. Mackinnon rented the farm and house of Kilbride. There had once been a chapel there, dedicated to St. Bridget, and her name still clings to the spot. Behind rises the group of the Red Hills; further over, the black serrated crests of Blaven, the most striking of all the Skye mountains, tower up into the north-western sky, while to the south the eye looks away down the inlet of Loch Slapin to the open sea, out of which rise the ridges of Rum and the Scuir of Eigg. The farm lay around the house and stretched into the low uplands on the southern side of the valley. The farming operations at Kilbride will be noticed in a later chapter.

In the wide Highland parishes, where roads are few and communications must largely be kept up on foot, the minister’s wife is sometimes hardly less important a personage than her husband, and it is to her that the social wants oh the people are generally made known. Mrs. Mackinnon belonged, to another family of the same clan as the minister, and was in every way worthy of him. Tall and massive in build, with strength of character traced on every feature of her face, and a dignity of manner like that of a Highland chieftainess, she was born to rule in any sphere to which she might be called. Her habitual look was perhaps somewhat stern, with a touch of sadness, as if she had deeply realised the trials and transitoriness of life, and had braced herself to do her duty through it all to the end. But no Highland heart beat more warmly than hers. She was the mother of the whole parish, and seemed to have her eye on every cottage and cabin throughout its wide extent. To her every poor crofter looked for, sympathy and help, and neve looked in vain. Her clear blue eyes would at one moment fill with tears over the recital of some tale of suffering in the district, at another they would sparkle with glee as she listened to some of the droll narratives of her family or her visitors. She belonged to the fanv’ly of Corriehatachan, and among her prized relics was the coverlet under which Samuel Johnson slept when he stayed in her grandfathers house. That house at the foot of the huge Beinn na Cailleach has long ago disappeared; some fields of brighter green and some low walls mark where it and its garden stood.

The younger generation at Kilbride consisted of a large family of stalwart sons and daughters, whose careers have furnished a good illustration of the way in which the children of the manses of Scotland have succeeded in the world. The eldest son, as above stated, followed his father as minister of Strath ; another became proprietor of the Melbourne Argus; a third joined the army, served in the Crimea, and in the later years of his life was widely known and respected as Sir William Mackinnon, Director-General of the Army Medical Department, who left his fortune to the Royal Society for the furtherance of scientific research.1 Most of the family now lie with their parents under the green turf of the old burial-ground of Kilchrist. Miss Flora, the youngest daughter, was gathered to her rest not many months ago. The later years of her life had been spent by her at her beautiful home of Duisdale in Sleat, looking across the Kyle to the heights of Ben Screel and the recesses of Loch Hourn. She was a skilled gardener and had transformed a bare hillside into a paradise of flowers and fruit. She lent a helping hand to every good work in the parish, managed the property with skill and success, and knew the pedigree and history of every family in the West Highlands. When I paid her my last visit, feeling sure it would be the last, it was sad to see her once tall muscular frame bowed down with illness and pain, and to find her alone, the last of her family left in Skye.

[Dr. Norman Macleod, writing in 1867, stated that since the beginning of the last wars of the French Revolution the island of Skye alone had sent forth 21 lieutenant-generals and major-generals; 48 lieutenant-colonels; 600 commissioned officers; 10,000 soldiers; 4 governors of colonies; 1 governor-general; 1 adjutant-general; 1 chief baron of England; and 1 judge of the Supreme Court of Scotland. The martial tide is now but feeble, though some additions could still be made to the list.]

In former days, before inns had multiplied in the Highlands, and especially before the advent of the crowds of tourists, and the inevitable modern ‘hotels,’ the manses were often the only houses, other than those of the lairds, where travellers could find decent accommodation. Their hospitality was often sought, and it became in the end proverbial. Kilbride was an excellent example of this type of manse. Not only did it receive every summer a succession of guests who made it their home for weeks at a time, but every visitor of note was sure of a kindly welcome, even if he were unexpected. Astonishing is the capacity of these plain-looking Highland houses. When the company assembles at dinner it may seem impossible that they can all find sleeping quarters under the same roof. Yet they are all stowed away not uncomfortably, sleep well, and come down next morning with appetites prepared to do full justice to a Highland breakfast.

In those Highland parishes where Gaelic is still commonly spoken, two services are held in the churches' on Sunday, the first in that language and the second, after a brief interval, in English. This practice was followed in Strath. In the days of the Celtic Church, a chapel dedicated to Christ stood in the middle of the parish and was known as Kilchrist. On the same site, the Protestant Church was afterwards erected, and continued to be used until towards the middle of last century. But, like the adjacent manse, it fell into disrepair and was ultimately allowed to become the roofless ruin which stands in the midst of the old grave-yard of Kilchrist. Instead of rebuilding it, the, heritors, about the year 1840, resolved to erect a new church at Broadford, nearer to the chief centre of population. For two Sundays in succession the services are held at Broadford ; on the third Sunday they take place at a little chapel in Strathaird, on the western side of the parish, for the benefit of a mixed crofter and fishing community.

At the Gaelic service in the Broadford church, a prominent feature used to be the row of picturesque red-cloaked or tartan-shawled old women, who, sitting in front immediately below the pulpit, followed the prayers and the sermon with the deepest attention, frequently uttering a running commentary of sighs and groans, while now and then one could even see tears coursing down the wrinkles into which age and peat-reek had shrivelled their cheeks.

The Sundays at Strathaird were peculiarly impressive. The house party from the manse —family, guests and servants—walked to the shore of the sea-inlet of Loch Slapin, embarked there in rowing boats, and pulled across the fjord and along the base of the cliffs on the opposite side. No finer landscape could be found even amidst the famous scenery of Skye,—the pink and russet-coloured cones and domes of the Red Hills, and the dark pinnacles and crags of Blaven behind us, and the blue islands that closed in the far distance in front.

During the long incumbency of the minister’s father, no built place of worship existed in Strathaird. The little chapel of the early Celtic Church, of which the memory is preserved in the name Kilmaree, had long disappeared, and the clergyman used to preach from a recess in the basalt crags, with a grassy slope in front on which his congregation sat to hear him. My host, however, in the early years of his tenancy of the parish, had succeeded in getting a small church erected wherein his people could be sheltered in bad weather. I can recollect one of these Sundays when the weather was absolutely perfect—a cloudless blue sky, the sea smooth as a mirror, and the air suffused with the calm peacefulness which seems so appropriate to a Sabbath. We were a large but singularly quiet party, as we steered for the little bay of Kilmaree, each wrapped up in the thoughts which the day or the scene suggested. As we approached our landing place, we were startled by two gun-shots in rapid succession on the hillside above us. The sound would under any circumstances have intruded somewhat harshly into the quiet of the landscape. But it was

Sunday, and such a thing as shooting on the Lord’s day had never been heard of in Strath. An Englishman had rented the ground for the season, and he and his wife were now out with their guns. The surprise and horror with which this conduct was viewed by the minister and his family soon found an echo through the length and breadth of the parish.

[It will be remembered what a high opinion Johnson formed of the learning and breeding of the West Highland clergy. There is no reason to think they have deteriorated since his time, though possibly their learning would not now be singled out for special eulogium.]

The sacramental season brought together to Kilbride some of the other clergymen of Skye, whom it was always a pleasure to meet. They were a race of earnest, hardworking, and intelligent men,1 though, having remained in the Establishment, they would have been stigmatised by the seceding party as ‘ Moderates ’ who had clung to their loaves and fishes, in spite of the example of the Free Kirk. I remember being especially struck by Mr. Macrae of Glenelg and Mr. Martin of Snizort. With Mr. Macrae I had afterwards more intercourse. Over and above his ministerial duties, to which he conscientiously devoted himself, his great delight in life was to be on the sea. He had a little yacht or cutter, on which he lived as much as he could, and which, as it passed up and down the lochs and kyles, was as familiar as Hutcheson’s steamers. He was never happier than when, with his two daughters, he could entertain some friend on a cruise in these waters, and tell what he knew about the ruins and legends of the district—the Pictish towers, the mouldering Barracks, the traditions of 1715 and 1745, the Spanish invasion, the battle of Glen Shiel, the naval pursuit and the battering down of Eilean Donan Castle. Once when I was staying at Inverinate, the minister landed there from his little vessel, and hearing that I wished to examine a piece of the Skye shore south of Kyle Rhea, was delighted to offer to convey me there and back next day. My host jocularly remarked that the visit would be sooner made by land and crossing the Kyle at the ferry, than by trusting. to the minister. The little cruise, however, was arranged, according to Mr. Macrae’s desire, and he duly dropped anchor in front of Inverinate next morning. We started early, and, with a gentle south-easterly breeze and unclouded sky, made good progress down Loch Duich. But the wind soon fell, and we crept more and more slowly past the ruined Eilean Donan into Loch Alsh. There could not have been a more glorious day for a lazy excursion, or a nobler landscape to gaze upon, as hour slipped after hour. Behind us rose the great range of the Seven Sisters of Kintail, in front were the hills of Sleat with the Cuillins peering up behind them, all suffused with the varying tints of the atmosphere. It was a source of keen interest to watch how the hues of peak and crag which one had actually climbed, were transformed in this aerial alembic, and one felt the truth of Dyer’s beautiful lines :

Mark yon summits, soft and fair,
Clad in colours of the air,
Which to those who journey near,
Barren, brown, and rough appear.

The worthy minister, in his capacity of experienced yachtsman, playfully indulged in the usual whistling incantations that are supposed by the nautical imagination to propitiate iEolus, but without success. The air became so nearly motionless as to be able to give only an occasional sleepy flap to the sail. But we continued to move almost imperceptibly towards our destination, borne onward by the last efforts of the ebbing tide. By the time we had reached the open part of Loch Alsh, however, and had come well in sight of the coast I intended to traverse, the tide turned and began to flow. Gradually the yacht was turned round with her prow directed up the loch, and to our disgust we saw ourselves being gradually carried back again. Helpless on a perfectly smooth sea, and without a breath of wind, we had to resign ourselves to fate, and got back opposite to Inverinate just in time for dinner.

Another Highland minister of a very different type lived on the shores of Loch Striven —a long inlet of the sea which runs far up among the mountains of Cowal, and opens out into the Firth of Clyde opposite to Rothesay. He was a bachelor and somewhat of a recluse, with many eccentricities which formed the basis of sundry anecdotes among his colleagues. One of these reverend brethren told me that the erection of a volunteer battery on the shore of Bute, where it looks up Loch Striven, greatly perturbed the old minister, for the reverberation of the firing rolled loud and long among the mountains. One morning before he was awake, the chimney-sweeps, by arrangement with his housekeeper, came to clean the chimneys. Part of their apparatus consisted of a perforated iron ball through which a rope was passed, and which by its weight dragged the rope down to the fireplace. By some mistake this ball was dropped down the chimney of the ministers bedroom, where, striking the grate with a loud noise, it rebounded on the floor. The rattle awoke the reverend gentleman, who, on opening his eyes and seeing, as he thought, a cannon-ball dancing across the room, exclaimed, ‘ Really, this is beyond my patience; it is bad enough to be deaved with the firing, but to have the shot actually sent into my house is more than I can stand. I’ll get up and write to the commanding officer.’

As he had a comfortable manse and a fair stipend, various efforts were made by the matrons of the neighbourhood to induce the minister to take a wife, and he used innocently to recount these interviews to his copresbyters, who took care that they should not lose anything by repetition to the world outside. One of these interviews was thus related to me. A lady in his parish called on him, and after praising the manse and the garden and the glebe, expressed a fear that he must find it a great trouble to manage his house as well as his parish. He explained that he had an excellent housekeeper, who took great care of him, and managed the household to his entire satisfaction. ‘ Ah, yes/ said the visitor, ‘ I’m sure Mrs. Campbell is very careful, but she canna be the same as a wife to you. You must often be very lonely here, all by yourself. But if you had a wife she would keep you from wearying, and would take all the management of the house off your hands, besides helping you with the work of the parish. Now Mr.- there’s my Isabella, if you would but take her for your wife, she would be a perfect Abishag to you.’ This direct and powerful appeal, however, met with no better success than others that had gone before it. The incorrigible old divine lived, and, I believe, died in single blessedness.

In the Lowlands the younger ministers, educated in Edinburgh or Glasgow, and accustomed to the modernised service of the churches, and the more distinctive ecclesiastical garb of the officiating clergy, have lost the angularity of manner which marked older generations. I can remember, however, a number of parish ministers who belonged to an earlier and perhaps now extinct type. Though thoroughly earnest and devoted men, they would be regarded at the present day as at least irreverent, and their sayings and doings would no doubt scandalise modern eyes and ears. One of these clergymen had a large Ayrshire parish. He was apt to forget things, and on remembering them, to blurt them out at the most inappropriate times. On one occasion he had begun the benediction at the close of the service, when he suddenly stopped, exclaiming: ‘We’ve forgot the psalm,’ which he thereupon proceeded to read out. Another time, in the midst of one of his extempore prayers, he was asking for a blessing on the clergyman who was to address the people in the afternoon, when he interrupted himself to interject: ‘It’s in the laigh Kirk, ye ken.’

One evening the same clergyman was dining with a pleasant party at a laird’s house about a mile from the village, when it flashed across his mind that he ought to have been at that moment performing a baptism in the house of one of the villagers. Hastily asking to be excused for a little, as he had forgotten an engagement, and with the assurance that he would soon be back, he started off. It was past nine o’clock before he reached the village and knocked at the door of his parishioner. There was no answer for a time, and after a second and more vigorous knock, the window overhead was opened, and a voice demanded who was there. ‘It’s me, Mrs. Maclellan. I’m very sorry, indeed, to have forgotten about the baptism. But it’s not too late yet.’ ‘O minister, we’re in bed, and a’ the fowk are awa’. We canna hae the baptism noo.’ ‘Never mind the folk, Mrs. Maclellan; is the bairn here?’ ‘Ow ay, the bairn’s hfcre, sure eneuch.’ ‘Weel, that will do, and so you maun let me in, and we’ll hae the baptism after all.’ The husband had meanwhile pulled some clothes on, and with his wife came downstairs to let in their minister. The ‘ tea-things,’ which the good woman had prepared with great care for her little festival, had been carried back to the kitchen, whither the husband had gone for a lamp. The woman appeared with the child, and begged that they would come into her parlour. But the minister, assuring her that the room made no difference, proceeded with the ceremony in the kitchen. When the moment came for sprinkling the baby, he dipped his hand into the first basin he saw. ‘O stop, stop Mr , that’s the water I washed up the tea-cups and saucers in.’ ‘It will do as well as any other,’ he said, and continued his prayer to the end of the short service. As soon as it was over, he started back to the laird’s, and rejoined the party after an absence of about an hour.

To this baptismal experience another may be added, where the rite was celebrated in the face of great natural obstacles. Dr. Hanna relates that a Highland minister once went to baptise a child in the house of one of his parishioners, near which ran a small burn or river. When he came to the stream it was so swollen with recent rains that he could not ford it in order to reach the house. In these circumstances he told the father, who was awaiting him on the opposite bank, to bring the child down to the burn-side. Furnished with a wooden scoop, the clergyman stood on the one side of the water, and the father, holding the infant as far out in his arms as he could, placed himself on the other. With the foaming torrent between the participants, the service went on, until the time came for sprinkling the babe, when the minister, dipping the scoop into the water, flung its contents across at the baby’s face. His aim, however, was not good, for he failed more than once, calling out to the father after each new trial: ‘Weel, has’t gotten ony yet?’ When he did succeed, the whole contents of the scoop fell on the child’s face, whereupon the disgusted parent ejaculated, ‘ Ach, Got pless me, sir, but ye’ve trownt ta child.’ Dr. Chalmers, in telling this story, used to express his wonder as to what the great sticklers for form and ceremony in the sacraments would think of such a baptism by a burn-side, performed with a wooden scoop.

A certain parish church in Carrick, like many ecclesiastical edifices of the time in Scotland, was not kept with scrupulous care. The windows seemed never to be cleaned, or indeed opened, for cobwebs hung across them,

And half-starv’d spiders prey’d on half-starv’d flies.

There was an air of dusty neglect about the interior, and likewise a musty smell. One Sunday an elderly clergyman from another part of the country was preaching. In the midst of his sermon a spider, suspended from the roof at the end of its long thread, swung to and fro in front of his face. It came against his lips and was blown vigorously away. Again it swung back to his mouth, when, with an indignant motion of his hands, he broke the thread and exclaimed, ‘ My friends, this is the dirtiest kirk I ever preached in. I’m like to be pusioned wi’ speeders.’

It is recorded of an old minister in the west of Ross-shire that he prayed for Queen Victoria, 'that God would bless her and that as now she had grown to be an old woman, He would be pleased to make her a new man.’

The same worthy divine is said to have once prayed ‘ that we may be saved from the horrors of war, as depicted in the pages of the Illustrated London News and the Graphic.’

One of the most serious functions which the Presbyterian clergymen of Scotland had formerly 16 discharge was that of publicly examining their congregation in their knowledge of the Christian faith. Provided with a list of the congregation, the officiating minister in the pulpit proceeded to call up the members to answer questions out of the Shorter Catechism, or such other interrogatories as it might seem desirable to ask. Nobody knew when his turn would come, or what questions would be put to him, so that it was a time of trial and trepidation for old and young. The custom appears to be now obsolete, but reminiscences of its operation are still preserved.

An elderly minister was asked to take the catechising of the congregation in a parish in the pastoral uplands of the South of Scotland. He was warned against the danger of putting questions to a certain shepherd, who had made himself master of more divinity than some of his clerical contemporaries could boast, and who enjoyed nothing better than, out of the question put to him, to engage in an argument with the minister on some of the deepest problems of theology. The day of the ordeal at last came, the old doctor ascended the pulpit, and after the preliminary service put on his spectacles and unfolded the roll of the congregation. To the utter amazement of everybody, he began with the theological shepherd, John Scott. Up started the man, a tall, gaunt, sunburnt figure, with his maud over his shoulder, his broad blue bonnet on the board in front of him, and such a look of grim determination on his face as showed how sure he felt of the issue of the logical encounter to which he believed he had been challenged from the pulpit. The minister, who had clearly made up his mind as to the line of examination to be followed with this pugnacious theologian, looked at him calmly for a few moments, and then in a gentle voice asked, ‘Wha made you, John?’ The shepherd, prepared for questions on some of the most difficult points of our faith, was taken aback by being asked what every child in the parish could answer. He replied in a loud and astonished tone, ‘Wha made me?’ ‘It was the Lord God that made you, John,’ quietly interposed the minister. ‘Wha redeemed you, John?’ Anger now mingled with indignation as the man shouted, ‘Wha redeemed me?’ The old divine, still in the same mild way, reminded him 'It was the Lord Jesus Christ that redeemed you, John,’ and then asked further, ‘Wha sanctified you, John? Scott, now thoroughly aroused, roared out, ‘Wha sanctified me?’ The clergyman paused, looked at him calmly, and said, ‘It was the Holy Ghost that sanctified you, John Scott, if, indeed, ye be sanctified. Sit ye doon, my man, and learn your questions better the next time you come to the catechising.’ The shepherd was never able to hold his head up in the parish thereafter.

An old woman who had got sadly rusty in her Catechism was asked, ‘What is a sacrament?’ to which she gave the following rather mixed answer, ‘A sacrament is—an act of saving grace, whereby—a sinner out of a true knowledge of his sins—doth rest in his grave till the resurrection.’

Dr. Hanna used to tell of a shoemaker who lamented to his minister that he was spiritually in a bad way because he was not very sure of his title to the kingdom of heaven, and that he was physically bad because ‘that sweep, his landlord, had given him notice to quit and he would have nowhere to lay his bead.’ The minister could only advise him to lay his case before the Lord. A week later the minister returned and found the shoemaker busy and merry. ‘That was gran’ advice ye gied me, minister,’ said the man, ‘I laid my case before the Lord, as ye tell’t me—an’ noo the sweep’s deid.’

In connection with the regular clergy, reference may be made to the free-lances who, as street-preachers, have long taken their place among the influences at work for rousing the lower classes in our large towns to a sense of their duties. These men have often displayed a single-hearted devotion and persistence, in spite of the most callous indifference or even active hostility on the part of their auditors. The very homeliness of their language, which repels most educated people, gives them a hold on those who come to listen to them, while now and then their vehement enthusiasm rises into true eloquence. The most remarkable of these men I have ever listened to was a noted character in Edinburgh during the later years of the first half of last century, named Bobbie Flockhart. He was diminutive in stature, but for this disadvantage he endeavoured to compensate by taking care that

The apparel on his back,
Though coarse, was reverend, and though bare, was black.

Eccentric in manner and speech, he long continued to be an indefatigable worker for the good of his fellow townsmen. He used to spend the forenoon and afternoon of every Sunday in flitting from church to church, listening to the sermons, of each of which he remained to hear only a small portion. Then in the evening, not only of Sundays but of week days, he would hold forth from a chair or barrel outside the west gate of St. Giles, and gather round him a crowd of loafers from the High Street, who, it is to be feared, were attracted to him rather by the expectation of some new drollery of language, than from any interest in the substance of his discourses. They would interrupt him now and then with ribald remarks, but they often met with such a rebuke as turned the laugh against them, and increased the popularity of the preacher. He was discoursing one evening on the wickedness of the town, especially of the district in which his audience lived, when in his enthusiasm he pointed up in the direction of the Castle, where stands the huge historic cannon, and exclaimed: ‘O that I could load Mons Meg wi’ Bibles, and fire it doon every close in the High Street!’ On another occasion he was depicting to the people the terrors of the day of judgment. ‘Ay,’ said he, ‘some of you that mock me the day will be cornin’ up to me then and sayin’, “Bobbie, ye’ll mind us, we aye cam’ to hear ye.” But I’ll no’ help ye. Maybe ye’ll think to cling on to my coat-tails, but I’ll cheat ye there, for I’ll put on a jacket.’ He was fond of similes that could bring home to the rough characters around him the truths he sought to impress on them. He was once denouncing the careless ingratitude of man for all the benefits conferred on him by Providence. ‘My friends,’ he said, ‘look at the hens when they drink. There’s not ane o’ them but lifts its heid in thankfulness, even for the water that is sae common. O that we were a’ hens':’


Return to Book Index Page

 


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus

Quantcast