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Scottish Reminincenses
Chapter IV


Superstition in Scotland. Holy wells. Belief in the Devil. Growth of the rigid observance of the Sabbath. Efforts of kirk-sessions and presbyteries to enforce Jewish strictness in regard to the Sabbath. Illustrations of the effects of these efforts.

Although ever since the Reformation the clergy have done their best to eradicate the pagan superstitions, which were alluded to in a previous chapter, traces of these superstitions have survived down to the present day in the Highlands. Even so late as the beginning of last century, people in the Lewis continued to make offerings of mead, ale, or gruel, to the God of the Sea. A man at midnight between Wednesday and Thursday walked waist-deep into the sea, poured out the offering and chanted the following prayer:

O god of the sea
Put weed in the drawing-wave
To enrich the ground
To shower on us food.

Those behind the offerer took up the chant and wafted it along the midnight air.

An interesting account of the surviving Highland superstitions will be found in two recently published volumes by the late Rev. John Gregorson Campbell, parish minister in the island of Tiree, who devoted himself with unwearied enthusiasm to collect the fading customs and traditions of the Hebrides and the Western Highlands.2 In my early wanderings over Skye I came upon many relics of the pagan period. At Kilbride, for example, one is reminded of a pre-Protestant or even a pre-Christian past by the tall rude standing stone known as the Clach na h-An-nait, or stone of Annat, a name which, by some Gaelic scholars, is thought to be that of a pagan goddess, though by others it is regarded as a term of the early Celtic Church, applied to a chapel where the patron-saint was educated, or where his relics were kept. Near the obelisk is the Tobar na h-Annait, or Annat’s well.

The fairies once formed an active and important community among the population of Strath. One of their chief abodes was underneath a large green mound in the middle of the valley, called after them Sithein (Sheean). Such fairy dwellings were looked upon with veneration; and it was a popular belief that the ‘people of peace’ who lived in them liked to have them kept scrupulously clean. Hence to remove the droppings of any horses or cattle that had strayed upon the rich green sward was believed to be a grateful deed to these beings, who would manifest their thankfulness by some significant reward to the thoughtful cotter who took the pains to do it. With the acknowledged example of the fairies before them, I never could quite understand how the West Highlanders could themselves live in such conditions of dirt and untidiness as have been so long prevalent among them.

The top of the Sithein of Strath is crowned with a few gnarled, stunted, storm-blasted black-thorns, like a group of shrivelled carlines stretching out their arms towards the east. These trees, or rather bushes, have undergone no appreciable change since I first saw them half a century ago, and I was told by the minister that they had not altered at all in his time, so that they must have stood, much as they are now, for more than a hundred years. If one first comes upon these weird forms in the mist of a stormy evening, when they seem to remain motionless, though the wind howls down the valley of Strath Suardil, one can easily realise how they might be connected in popular belief with the mysterious beings of another world. The fairy cattle, or red deer, live up in the corries of the Red Hills. On the top of one of these eminences a carline lies buried under a cairn and the hill is named after her, Beinn na Cailleach.

Near the house of Kilbride, a spring or well has been said, for more than two hundred years, to contain a single live trout. It is mentioned by Martin in his Description of the Western Islands of Scotland, written at the end of the seventeenth century, where he states that the fish had been seen for many years, and the natives, though they often caught it in their wooden pails, were careful to preserve it from being destroyed. The minister assured me that there was still a trout in the well, whether the same as that spoken of by Martin, he could not affirm. I must confess that I was never able to catch a sight of this legendary fish.

As in Ireland, springs or wells in the Highlands, not improbably famous even in pagan times, have often been subsequently dedicated to Celtic saints, and have long, been credited with medicinal or miraculous healing powers. There used to be a number of such wells in Skye, which were visited by the sick and the maimed, who went round them three times dciseal, that is, with the sun, or from east to west, and drank of the water or bathed the injured limb with it. On retiring they always left by the side of the spring, or on its overhanging tree, some little offering, were it only a torn bit of rag. On the mainland some of the holy wells, or saints’ wells, are still objects of pilgrimage from a distance. Thus the well of St. Maree, or the Red Priest, on a little islet in Loch Maree, still attracts its patients, and the trees that overshadow it are hung with tags of rag and ribbon which they have placed there as votive offerings. This tribute of recognition doubtless dates back to pagan times. It was adopted by the Celtic and then by the Roman Catholic Church, and in spite of the denunciations of the reformers and their successors, it is rendered still by presbyterians, who give it from the mere force of custom. Some years ago, while boating along the coast south of the Sutors of Cromarty, I was struck with the strange appearance of a tree that overhung the upper part of the beach. From a distance it. seemed to be decked with blossoms or leaves of black, white, red, and other colours. On landing I found that these were bits of rag hung up by the pilgrims who had come to drink of the saint’s well that gushed forth under the shadow of the tree. In the same region the well of Craiguck, parish of Avoch, has long been a place of annual resort on the first Sunday of May, old style. The water used to be taken in a cup and spilt three times on the ground before being tasted, and thereafter a rag or ribbon was hung on the bramble-bush above the spring.

In connection with this subject, it may be mentioned here that some years before his death, the late Mr. Patrick Dudgeon, of Cargen in Kirkcudbright, told me that he had cleared out one of these holy or pilgrim wells on his property, which had fallen into disuse, though still occasionally visited for curative purposes. Among the stuff which had gathered on the bottom of the pool, a large number of copper coins was found, extending in date from the reign of Victoria back to the times of the Stuarts. The surfaces of the coins had in many cases been dissolved to such an extent as to reduce the metal to little more than the thinness of writing paper. Yet so persistent was the internal structure superinduced by the act of minting that, even in this attenuated condition, the obverse and reverse could still be deciphered.

Another superstitious belief of which I found lingering traces in Skye was that of the water-horse (Each Uisge) and the water-bull (Tarbh Uisge). These fabulous creatures were believed to inhabit some of the lakes in the lonely moorland of the south of Strath. I could not find anybody who had actually seen one, but the belief in their existence was by no means confined to ‘ the superstitious, idleheaded eld.’ I was told that the water-horse had a special fondness for young women, and would seize them and carry them off into the lake, whence they were never more seen. No young woman in the parish would venture near one of these sheets of water, except in daylight, and not without fear and trembling even then.

Relics of old superstitions could be noticed, sometimes even among the details of domestic management in the houses of intelligent people.

At Kilbride they would not make butter at a certain state of the moon. In like manner they took care that the peats should only be cut when the moon was on the wane. Though the reason alleged was that the moon must influence the milk, just as much as it did the tides, there could be little doubt that the habit was a relic of the same pagan belief which survives in bowing to the new moon and turning a coin in her honour. The prejudice against the sow as an unclean animal survived in full vigour. Not only were no pigs kept at Kilbride, but, so far as I was aware, no ham, pork, or bacon ever formed part of the commissariat of the house.

While the reformed clergy endeavoured to uproot the ancient superstitions, they at the same time were engaged in rivetting upon the people other forms of superstition destined to exercise much more pernicious effects than those they replaced. One of these was their doctrine of the Devil and his doings, and another the enforcement of the views which they gradually adopted as to Sabbath observance.

Much has been written on the subject of the Devil and his influence in religion^jmythology, superstition, and literature, as well as on topographical features. The subject is discussed from a historical point of view in the learned volumes of Professor Roskoff of Vienna; but there is probably still room for a dissertation on the part which the* Devil has played in colouring the national imagination of Scotland. As is well known, all over the country instances may be found where remarkable natural features are assigned to his handiwork. Thus we have ‘ Devil’s punchbowls ’ among the hills and ‘Devil’s cauldrons ’ in the river-channels. Perched boulders are known as ‘Deil’s putting stanes,’ and natural heaps and hummocks of sand or gravel have been regarded as ‘Deil’s spadefuls.’ Even among the smaller objects of nature a connection with the enemy of mankind has suggested itself to the popular mind. The common puff-ball is known as the ‘Deil’s snuff-box’; some of the broad-leaved water-plants have been named ‘Deil’s spoons’; the dragonfly is the ‘Deil’s darning-needle.’ Then the unlucky number thirteen has been stigmatised as the ‘Deil’s dozen,’ and a perverse unmanageable person as a ‘Deil’s buckie.’

In association with witches and warlocks Satan plays a leading part in the legends, myths, and superstitions of the country. The general popular estimation of him in Scotland has never been so admirably expressed in words as by Burns, more particularly in his Address to the Deil. But even in his day ocular proofs of the evil spirit’s presence and activity were becoming scanty, and the poet had to rely partly on the testimony of his 'rev’rend grannie.’ In the interval since that poem was written, now nearly a century and a quarter ago, the belief in a personal devil, ready to present himself as a hairy monster with a tail, cloven feet, and horns—‘Auld Hornie, Satan, Nick, or Clootie ’—has still further faded. The late Dr. Sloan of Ayr, however, told me that in the year 1835, after he came out from making the post-mortem examination of a poor miner who was taken out alive from a coal-pit near the village of Dailly, after having been shut up for three weeks without food, but who died three days after his rescue, he was accosted by some of the older miners with the question, ‘Did ye fin’ his feet?’ The doctor had to confess that he had not specially looked at the man’s feet, whereat the miners went off with a knowing expression on their faces, as much as to say, ‘We thought you had not, for if you had, you would have found them to be cloven hoofs. We believe that the body was not that of our John Brown, but the Devil himself, who had come for some bad purpose of his own.’ Although even the most superstitious cotter in the loneliest uplands of the country would hardly expect it to be possible now that the Devil should waylay him at night, relics of this belief may be found in the language of to-day, especially in the imprecations prompted by anger or revenge. Various versions have been given of an illustrative incident which I have been told really occurred at a slim wooden foot-bridge over the river Irvine in Ayrshire. An ill-tempered man was crossing the bridge, when a dog, coming the opposite way, brushed against his leg. ‘ Deil burst ye,’ exclaimed he. Immediately behind him came a woman, and as they were nearly across the bridge a small boy, trying to press past the man on the narrow pathway, was greeted with the same angry imprecation. The little fellow drew back, but was encouraged by the voice of the woman behind, who called out to him, 'Never fear, my wee man, come on here oiitowre. The Deil canna harm ye eenoo, for he’s thrang on the ither side o’ the brig burstin’ a dog.’

Occasionally the apparition of a dark hairy body crowned with a pair of horns has received a natural explanation, but not before revealing the innate belief in the designs and power of the Prince of Darkness. There used to be a goat in Greenock which occasionally escaped from its enclosure, and prowled about the streets in the dark. On one of these occasions, in the midst of its perambulations, it came to an outside stair, which it thereupon ascended. At the top of the short flight of steps stood the closed door of a room wherein an elderly couple were asleep in bed. Nannie, being of an inquisitive turn, and having some experience of gate-fastenings, easily succeeded in opening the door and entering the room. The fire still gave a low ruddy light, and the goat at once descried a tin pitcher, at the bottom of which there remained some milk over from the frugal supper of the little household.' The animal had forced its nose so well down in order to lap the last drops, that when it raised its head it brought up the pitcher firmly clasped round it, and the handle fell with a thump against the metal. The crash awoke the old woman, who in the dim light could see a pair of horns and a hairy body. Thinking it was the arch enemy that had come for her, she called out imploringly, ‘O tak’ John, tak’ John; I’m no ready yet.’

The adjective ‘devilish’ has in recent times come to be used by many in the humbler walks of life as almost synonymous with wonderful, extraordinary, supernatural; as may be illustrated by ‘the ejaculation of a Paisley workman, who with a companion ascended to the top of Goatfell in Arran. He had never conceived anything so impressive as the panorama seen from that summit, with its foreground of serrated crests and deep glens. After the first silence of amazement, he exclaimed to his friend,

*Man, Tam, the works o’ God’s deevilish.’

It is an interesting study to trace among the records of kirk-sessions and presbyteries the gradual growth of strict Sabbath observance until it became a kind of fetish. The first reformers enjoyed their relaxation on Sunday, and for many years after the' old system had been displaced by the new, the youth of the country continued to play their pastimes after church hours. Markets were still held on Sunday, and in many places plays were performed, especially that of Robin Hood. But after the establishment of the reformed religion in 1560 these amusements and employments came to be frowned upon more and more by the clergy, who by persistent efforts succeeded in securing a succession of Acts of Parliament which made Sabbath-breaking an offence punishable by a civil magistrate. Delinquents were everywhere brought up before kirk-sessions and subjected to church discipline, while, if they proved impenitent sinners, they might be handed over to the civil power for more condign treatment. Nevertheless, in spite of the stringency of these regulations, the ecclesiastical authorities had to undertake a long struggle before they finally uprooted the effects of the usage of many centuries, and succeeded in impressing on the mind of the general community the belief that what they called ‘ violating the Sabbath-day ’ was an act of moral turpitude that could only be expiated by exemplary punishment and public confession of penitence. Under the head of this violation were included some of the most natural and innocent habits. Men were warned that not only must they refrain from all ordinary week-day work, but that they must not take a walk on Sunday, either in town or country, save to and from church. They must not sit at their doors, but remain within. They were expected to maintain a solemn demeanour; laughing, whistling, or any other sign of gaiety or frivolity being rigidly proscribed. They might not bathe, or swim, or shave. They were forbidden to visit each other, to water their gardens, to ride on horseback, or to travel in any other fashion. They must attend each church service; if they failed to appear, they were searched out by church officers deputed for the purpose, and were subject to ecclesiastical censure. In short, the first day of the week was one on which all mirth was expelled from the face and all joy from the heart, and when a funereal gloom settled down upon everybody.

Sabbath-breaking, as defined by this inquisitorial code of observance, was exalted into a crime more heinous even than theft. Thus, an entry in the Register of the Presbytery of Dingwall, of date 30th July, 1650, records that the case of Alexander M'Gorrie and his wife, within the parish of Kilmorack, had been referred to the Presbytery for censure, the charge being ‘profanation of the Sabbath by stealling imediatelie efter the receaueing of the sacrament.’

The diligence with which the ecclesiastical authorities pursued their quest after Sabbath-breakers is well illustrated by the Register of the Kirk-Session of St. Andrews. During the latter half of the sixteenth century infinite trouble appears to have been taken to establish what the Session was pleased to term ‘the cumlye ordour of this citie.’ The fleshers (butchers) proved especially incorrigible. Though they had been often cited and admonished, they had ‘nocht obeyit the sam, bot contemptuusly refusit to obey.’ At last these recalcitrant parishioners were made the subject of a stringent decree whereby, if they did not thereafter keep holy the Sabbath day, they, their wives, children, and servants would be debarred from all benefit of the Kirk, and might further be excommunicated. Nevertheless, even the vision of these dire pains and penalties did not prevent an occasional transgression. Some years later one of the fleshers was summoned for putting out skins upon the causeway on Sunday—a practice which had formerly been general in his craft. He admitted the accusation, but stated that the fault had been committed, without his knowledge, by his servant. He was required to dismiss that servant, and to undertake that none of his servants in future should do the same, otherwise he would have to pay the penalty himself. There is an interesting entry in the Register, showing how far back the attractions of golf can be seen to have led men to neglect their duties. On the 19th December, 1599, it is recorded that the brethren ‘ understanding perfytlie that divers personis of thair number the tyme of sessioun passis to the fieldis, to the goufe and uthir exercise, and hes no regard for keiping of the sessioun, for remeid quhairof it is ordinit that quhatsumevir person or personis of the session that heireftir beis fund playand, or passis to play at the goufe or uthir pastymes the tyme„of sessioun, sail pay ten s. for the first fault, for the secund fault xxs., for the third fault public repentance, and the fourt fault deprivation fra their offices.’

It is curious to note that rigid enforcement of Sabbath observance was not effected on the north side of the Highlands for somewhere about a century and a half after it had been secured in the Lowlands on the south side. The proximity of the wilder Celtic population, on the one hand, and the existence of a considerable leaven of Episcopalian Protestantism in the community, on the other, probably had a large share in retarding the progress of the movement. The northern clergy themselves were not averse to sharing in the innocent amusements of their people. Marriages and funerals continued to be performed on -Sunday, and to be accompanied, even in the case of the lyke-wakes, with festivities that sometimes reached a scandalous excess. Against these customs, which had come down from Catholic times, the kirk-sessions and presbyteries waged incessant war, but probably not until the extinction of the rebellion of 1745 and the abolition of the heritable jurisdictions, with the consequent freer commingling of the north with the south of Scotland, did the Sabbatarian spirit which had become rampant in the Lowlands reach the intensity with which it has maintained its sway in the north for the last three or four generations.

It has been suggested that this increasing strictness of observance arose from the desire of the clergy to obtain a greater hold on the minds and consciences of the people. According to this view they are believed to have found that the restoration of the Jewish Sabbath, with its prohibitions and injunctions, would serve their purpose, and ‘being precluded by various circumstances of their situation from having recourse to the expedients of the Catholic priests to gain possession of the minds of the votaries, they have exerted all their power by its means to attain this object.’ It has been further asserted that ‘these are the reasons why we hear more of the heinous crime of Sabbath-breaking than of all other vices together.’

Obviously it was not in human nature to keep always within the strict letter of such an artificial code of conduct. Joyousness of heart, so long as it was unquenched, could not be restrained from smiles and laughter, or from showing itself in song. The temptation to the young and happy to escape from imprisonment within the four walls of a house into the country, amongst birds and flowers and trees, must have been often wholly irresistible. Lapses from the strict rules of conduct laid down for observance were inevitable; and since, as Butler observed nearly two centuries and a half ago,

In Gospel-walking times The slightest sins are greatest crimes, such lapses, when repeated, tended to harden the mind in transgression. Sabbath-breaking being held up as so heinous a sin, the transition came to be imperceptibly made to the breaking of the moral laws, which according to the current dogmatic teaching did not seem to be more imperatively binding. ‘ Hence it is,’ as has been pointed out, ‘ we continually find culprits at the gallows charging the sin of Sabbath-breaking, as they call it, with the origin of their abandoned course of life; and there can be no doubt that they are correct in so doing.’

This excessive zeal for a strict observance of Sunday has been regarded as a special characteristic of Calvinistic communities. But it does not seem to have reached anywhere else the height of intolerance which it maintained, and to a great extent still maintains, in Scotland. Doubtless the prevalent Sabbatarianism was in Sidney Smith’s mind when he called Scotland ‘ that garret of the earth —that knuckle-end of England—that land of Calvin, oat-cakes, and sulphur.’ And it may have been Byron’s recollections of sanctimonious Sundays in Scotland, as well as in England, that inspired his exclamation:

‘Whet not your scythe, Suppressors of our vice! Reforming Saints ! too delicately nice!'

By whose decrees, our sinful souls to save,
No Sunday tankards foam, no barbers shave;
And beer undrawn, and beards unmown, display
Your holy reverence for the Sabbath-day.’

An octogenarian friend has told me that he believes he was the first man in Edinburgh to make a practice of taking a Sunday walk. He remembers that on some of these occasions he was accompanied by a well-known professor in the University, who besought him not to get back to the town until the church-goers had safely returned to their houses from afternoon service, as he was afraid of the public odium he might draw down not only on himself, but on the University. I myself recollect when it was a common practice to pull down the window blinds on Sunday, in order that the eyes of the inmates might be hindered from beholding vanity, and that their minds might be kept from wandering away from the solemn thoughts that should engage them. There was one lady who carried her sanctimonious scruples so far that she always rose a little earlier than usual on Sunday morning, and took care, as her first duty, to carry a merry-hearted and loud-throated canary down to the cellar that its carol might not disturb the quiet and solemnity of the day. It was considered sinful to use any implement of ordinary weekday work. Hence though a servant might perhaps scrape away with her fingers the earth from the roots of potatoes in the garden, if these were unexpectedly wanted for the Sunday dinner, on no account could a spade or graip be used to dig them up expeditiously. In the same spirit, a lad might be employed for half an hour on a Sunday morning in laboriously carrying armfuls of turnips or other vegetables for feeding the cattle, but he could not be allowed to use a wheelbarrow with which he could have done the whole work in a few minutes. As it was a heinous offence to write letters on Sunday, people used to sit up till midnight; what would have been a sin before the clock struck twelve, became quite legitimate thereafter.

Happily this rigidity is gradually being relaxed, except perhaps in parts of the Highlands. How it looks to an observer from outside may be illustrated from some of my own personal experiences.

In the summer of the year 1860, 'I found that the strict maintenance of the Highland view of Sabbath observance might have had serious consequences for myself. In company with my old chief, Sir Roderick Murchison, I had walked on a Saturday from the head of Loch Torridon, through the wild defile of Glen Torridon, to Loch Maree. Along the mountain slopes that sweep upwards from the southern side of that valley, I noticed so many features of interest, some of which, if further and more closely examined, might help to clear up problems of Highland geology for the. solution of which we were seeking, that I felt I must ascend these mountains and look at their crests and corries. But we were pressed for time, and although next day was Sunday I determined to devote it to the quest. The morning broke auspiciously, and ushered in one of the most superb days which I have ever been fortunate enough to meet with in the West Highlands. As it was desirable to save time and fatigue by driving some six miles to the point of the road nearest to the ground to be traversed, a request was made for a dog-cart. But the answer came, that it was the Sabbath, and nobody would drive a ‘ machine ’ on the Lord’s Day. There was no objection, • however, to allow the use of a dog-cart, nor to charge for the same in the bill (for Highland innkeepers, like Dryden’s Shimei, ‘ never break the Sabbath but for gain ’); we must, however, do the driving ourselves. It was accordingly arranged that Sir Roderick’s valet should drive me to the place and return with the vehicle, leaving me to make my tramp and find my way back to the inn on foot. The fresh buoyant air of the mountains; the depth of the glens with their piles of old moraines; the ruggedness and dislocation of the cliffs and slopes; the utter solitude of the scene, broken only now and then by the bound of a group of red deer, startled from a favourite corrie, or by the whirr of the snowy ptarmigan; the ever-widening panorama of mountain-sumrhit, gorge, glen,-and lake, as each peak was gained in succession; and then from the highest crest of all, the vista of the blue Atlantic, with the faint far hills of the Outer Hebrides and the nearer and darker spires of Skye—all this, added to the absorbing interest of the geology, filled up a day to the brim with that deep pleasure of which the memory becomes a life-long possession. The sun had sunk beneath the western hills before I began to retrace my steps, and night came down when there still lay some miles of trackless mountain, glen, river, and bog between me and the inn where my old chief was expecting me at dinner. Fortunately, in the end the moon rose, and I arrived at the end of the journey somewhere near midnight.

The delay in my return gave Murchison not a little uneasiness. As hour, after hour passed, he grew so impatient that he began to insist on some of the people of the inn turning out with lanterns as a search party. His remonstrances, however, were met with a sullen indifference, very unlike the usual attentiveness of the household. ‘It was the Sabbath day,’ they said, ‘the gentleman shouldn’t have gone out to walk on the Lord’s Day.’ In short, the gentleman, had he been lost, would have deserved his fate, and would have furnished to the pulpits of the district a new and pregnant illustration of the danger of Sabbath-breaking!

Some fifteen years later, being in the east of Sutherland, I greatly desired to visit the two remarkable cones of Ben Griarri, which, rising far over out of the desolate moorland, form such a prominent feature in the landscape of that region. Had they stood within easy reach of the little inn where I was staying, I would have walked over to them in order to spend a quiet Sunday in examining them and in- meditation over the marvellous story of past time which they reveal. But the distance being much more than a Sabbath day’s -journey, I applied to my host for a dog-cart to take me by road to the nearest point from which I could strike across the moor on foot. He confessed that none of his servants would drive me, and that he did not wish to shock the prejudices of his neighbours in the parish, but that if I would wait until the people were in the kirk, he would drive me himself. As we passed along the lonely road he gave me his history, which had no ordinary interest. Born in the district, he had gone south early in life, and eventually became an engine-driver on one of the main railways. He was next attracted, by the offer of better pay and prospects, to enter the service of the Chemin de Fer du Nord and drove the first train between Paris and Calais. He continued in the service of that railway for many years, made his home in France, and finally retired with a pension from the French Government. As he had no longer any daily occupation, a longing for the old country came on him and grew so strong that he in the end broke up his home in France and took the inn where I found him. But. he soon discovered that his long stay in a freer theological atmosphere than that of Calvinistic Sutherland had taught him to look on life from a very different point of view from that still maintained by his fellow-countrymen. He found them, he said, narrowminded, prejudiced, and bigoted, disposed to look askance on him and what they thought his laxity of belief, and to show in many little spiteful ways the antagonism between them. The old home was no longer the place that had dwelt all these long years treasured in his memory, and he seemed disposed to regret that he had ever come back to it. That Sunday was a day of sunshine, of white floating clouds, and of blue distances stretching away from the purple moors to the sea on the one side and to the inland mountains on the other—a day to be alone with Nature and one’s own thoughts. My reverie on Ben Griam, which led me far into the backward of time, was touched now and then with thoughts of the strange fetichism of to-day that has turned the Sunday from a day of joyfulness to one of gloom.

That this relentless intolerance of any innocent and instructive employments, other than that of church-going, still persists in certain quarters with undiminished rigour was brought painfully to m)r notice only six years ago in Skye. A reading party of bright young men from one of the English Universities had settled down for steady work and recreation at a well-known hotel, and the landlady, anxious to obtain for them more space and quiet than they could find under her own roof, arranged for the use of a large room in a house which had been temporarily taken by a Free Church clergyman who had been displaced during the progress of the controversy respecting the union of his church with the United Presbyterians. On the first Sunday, the young men spent the morning partly in reading and partly in examining under the microscope some of the natural history specimens they had been collecting during the week. The sight of these instruments, opened on the Lord’s Day, was too much for the minister’s wife. Next morning my hostess received a letter from her requesting that the young men might be removed, bag and baggage, as she could not submit to such profanation under her roof. She concluded by beseeching that the innkeeper’s children might be sent to her as a consolation, ‘that she might hear their innocent prattle.’ The landlady showed me this letter, but was anxious that, at least while they were her guests, the students should know nothing about it, as she would not like them to think that this intolerance was a fair sample of Highland opinion.

I have sometimes been astonished to see how this superstitious veneration for the Sabbath has blinded intelligent men and women, otherwise liberal and enlightened in their views, to the real meaning and use of the day. Having been taught from their youth to deem certain things unlawful and reprehensible if done on that day, they studiously refrain from these, but at the same time they unconsciously allow themselves to say and do other things which on due reflection they would admit to be no better than those which they condemn, if not indeed much worse. I once spent a Sunday in a Highland Free Kirk manse, and in the afternoon was entertained by the minister’s wife, who was as kindly in disposition as she was narrow in her views. We discussed the whole parish. Some Roman Catholics had come to the district, which filled her mind with dismay. She was grieved, too. that a well-known dignitary of the Church of England had called the day before on her husband, a broad-minded and accomplished scholar, and had carried him off to examine some ecclesiastical ruins in the neighbourhood. She gave me an account of various marriages which were in contemplation, and of the changes that were imminent in the tenancy of the farms. At last I asked her to excuse me as I had some letters to write which I was anxious should go by the early post in the morning. ‘What?’ she exclaimed in surprise, ‘Do you mean to say that you write letters on the Sabbath?’ I could not resist the temptation to assure her that I thought writing to my friends and relatives on that day was at least as allowable as to spend the afternoon over parish gossip.

A story is told of a young clergyman on the mainland who had not been long placed in his charge when rumours began to circulate about his orthodoxy. Some of his friends hearing these reports set themselves to enquire into the grounds for them. But they could only elicit vague hints and suggestions. At last they came upon an old woman who declared roundly that the minister was ‘no soun’.’ ‘Not sound! what makes you think that?’ ‘Weel then,’ she answered, ‘I maun tell ye. I wass seein’ him wi’ my ain een, standin’ at his window on the Lord’s Day, dandlin’ his bairn.’

An incident which illustrates the strictness of Sabbath observance in the North Highlands has been told me by a friend. During one of her tours in the Highlands Queen Victoria visited Ross-shire. When spending a Sunday at Loch Maree, the Royal party, tempted by the beauty of the day, made an expedition by boat to one of the islands of the loch. This ‘ worldly acting ’ upon the Lord’s day caused a great scandal in the neighbourhood, and eventually the Free Church Presbytery took up the matter and addressed a letter to the Queen ‘dealing with’ her for her conduct. Our good Queen was naturally much disquieted that she had unwittingly offended any section of her faithful subjects, and consulted one of her chaplains, a distinguished minister of the Church of Scotland, who was then at Balmoral, as to what she ought to do. He counselled her not to take any notice of the letter, and allayed her anxiety by recounting to her the following incident illustrative of the attitude of mind of the Highlanders towards all departures, however trivial, from their notions of strict Sabbath observance. The story greatly amused the Queen, and at her request it had to be repeated to other members of the royal household.

A Highland minister, after the services of the Sunday were over, was noticed sauntering by himself in meditative mood along the hillside above the manse. Next day he was waited on by one of the ruling elders, who came to point out the sin of which he had been guilty, and the evil effect which his lapse from right ways could not fail to have in the parish. The clergyman took the rebuke in good part, but tried to show the remonstrant that the action of which he complained was innocent and lawful, and he was about to cite the famous example of a Sabbath walk, with the plucking of the ears of corn, as set forth in the Gospels, when he was interrupted with the remark: ‘ Ou ay, sir, I ken weel what you mean to say; but, for my pairt, I hae nefer thocht the better o’ them for breakin’ the Sawbbath.’

A member of the Geological Survey was, not many years ago, storm-stayed in a muir-land tract of South Ayrshire upon a Saturday, and gladly accepted the hospitality of a farmer for the night. Next morning he asked the servant if she thought her master could oblige him with the loan of a razor. In due time the razor arrived, but was found to be so wofully blunt that the maid had to be summoned again to see if a strop was available. She soon came back with this message, ‘Please, the maister says this is the Sawbbath, and ye’re jist to put pith to the razor. Ye canna get the strop.’

The late Lord Playfair, when he was Professor of Chemistry in the University of Edinburgh, told me that, passing his nursery-door one Sunday, he overheard the nurse stilling a child in this fashion: ‘Whisht, whisht, my bonnie lamb; it’s the Sawbbath, or I wud whustle ye a sang, but I’ll sing ye a paraphrase.’

The sacredness of the Sabbath, by a natural transition, came to be also attributed to the Fast Day, which heralded the half-yearly Communion-Sunday. A Fife shepherd, who was in the Grassmarket of Edinburgh on a week-day, found that his dog had strayed to some distance, and was making off in a wrong direction. He begged an acquaintance whom he had met to whistle for the animal.

‘Whustle on your ain dowg,’ was the indignant reply. ‘Na, na, man,’ said the perturbed drover. ‘I canna dae that, for you see it’s our Fast Day in Kirkcaldy.’

Nobody has satirised the Scottish perversion of the day of rest with more effective sarcasm than Lord Neaves in his Lyric for Saturday Night:

We zealots made up of-stiff clay,
The sour-looking children of sorrow.
While not over-jolly to-day,
Resolve to be wretched to-morrow.
We can’t for a certainty tell
What mirth may molest us on Monday;
But at least to begin the week well,
Let us all be unhappy on Sunday.
What though a good precept we strain
Till hateful and hurtful we make it!
What though, in thus pulling the rein,
We may draw it so tight as to break it!
Abroad we forbid folks to roam,
For fear they get social or frisky;
But of course they can sit still at home,
And get dismally drunk upon whisky.

A habit which has been followed for generations to the sound of the ‘drum ecclesiastic ’ is not easily thrown off. The Sabbath look of funereal sadness may still be seen on many a sturdy Presbyterian face. But happily the gloomy intolerance is passing away. In no respect is the freer air of the modern spirit more marked than in the relaxation of the old discipline in regard to the keeping of the Sabbath in lowland Scotland. A country walk on that day is no longer always proclaimed to be a violation of one of the ten commandments, innocent laughter is not everywhere denounced as a sin, nor does it appear that the growth of Sunday cheerfulness leads to any depravation of character, or to a less keen feeling for whatsoever is of good report. There is now, however, a tendency for the pendulum to swing perhaps too far on the other side. Welcome though the disappearance of the old gloom may be, there would be a questionable gain if what should be a day of quiet rest and refreshment were turned into one of frivolous gaiety and dissipation.

In other directions a relaxation of the old rigour in regard to the innocent enjoyments of life is to be welcomed. But these various signs of greater charity and enlightenment have made much less rapid progress in the Highlands and Islands. In these regions the influence of the protestant clergy, as it was longer in bringing the people into subjection, still maintains much of the vehemence which has elsewhere died down. The intolerance appears to be decidedly more marked in the Free Church communion than in that of the Establishment. One of the latest examples of it which has come under my own observation was that of a lady who went to a dance. For this enormity she was reprimanded by the Free Church minister to whose congregation she belonged. Things at last became so unpleasant that she left his ministrations and went to the parish kirk,


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