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In the Shadow of Cairngorm
XLX. The Sithean of the Double Outlook


AT the entrance to Glenmore, a little south of the Green Loch, there is a conical hill, called " Sithean dubh-dà-choirnhead," the black Sithan of the two outlooks. The name is descriptive. It appeals to memory and imagination, and brings the scene before us as in a picture. Standing on this height, you can look on the one side to the great glen opening out before you, with its far-stretching fir woods, mixed with birch and juniper, its well-watered glades and sheltered nooks where the deer love to feed, and its grand back-ground of snowy corries and rugged cliffs, and lofty mountains whose tops seem lost in the clouds. On the other side you look as through a cleft in the sky, across the moors to the strath of the Nethy, with its green fields and smiling homesteads, and the many signs of life and civilisation. This is the double outlook, which has charmed many an eye in the course of the ages. Something of the same kind happens now and again in human life. We come to some height, from which, as from a vantage ground, we can look before and after, and ponder the thoughts that arise from the prospect. Solomon tells us how in his time there were some who said, "The former days were better than these." This is a common saying even still, but it is the result more of sentiment than reason.

Macaulay in his famous chapter on the progress of England (Vol. I.) endeavours, with much ingenuity, to account for the belief—" it may at first sight seem strange that Society, while constantly moving forward with eager speed, should be constantly looking backward with tender regret. But these two propensities, inconsistent as they may appear, can easily he resolved into the same principle. Both spring from our impatience of the state in which we actually are. That impatience, while it stimulates us to surpass preceding generations, disposes us to over-rate their happiness. It is, in some sense, unreasonable and ungrateful in us to be constantly discontented with a condition which is constantly improving. But, in truth, there is constant improvement precisely because there is constant discontent. If we were perfectly satisfied with the present, we should cease to continue to labour, and to say with a view to the future. And it is natural that, being dissatisfied with the present, we should form a too favourable estimate of the past."

As to ourselves, there should be no delusion or mistake. In what is set forth in this book alone, there is sufficient evidence to enable us to come to a right decision. "The former days were better." But which days? "The days" of barbarism, when "wild in woods the noble savage ran ?" No. "The days" of the Caterans, when rapine and murder were common? No. "The days" of the Baron Bailies, when life and liberty were at the mercy of irresponsible power, and deeds were done, as Parson John has told, rivalling the atrocities of Tippoo Sultan ? No. "The days" of ecclesiastical state, when the Parish Church was vacant for nineteen years, and, according to Archbishop Spottiswood, "atheism, idolatrie, and every sort of wickediness" prevailed? No. " The days" of last century, when, as Lachlan Shaw records, there was no School (legal) from Keith to Ruthven, and the bulk of the people were still sunk in ignorance and superstition ? No. Perhaps if the Elders were asked, they would say, " The days of Mr Martin" were the best, "the Golden Age" of Abernethy. At that time there were several families of good position in our parish, who gave a higher tone to society, and there was munch of the spirit of good neighbourhood and brotherly sympathy among the people. At that time there was virtually no dissent," and the people went up together in unity to worship in God’s house. At that time there was a marked revival of religion, and Sabbath-schools, Bible Societies, and other benevolent agencies were brought into active operation. But granting this, it may still be held that " the present," and not " the former days," are on the whole the best.

There have been losses, but there have also been gains. There have been changes for the worse, but there have been also changes that are greatly for the better. The environment of the people is improved. Houses are better, and home comforts are increased. Education is free, and has been brought within the reach of all. Books and newspapers are common, and facilities for intercourse and travel have been multiplied. The management of the poor, of schools, and of parish business is in the hands of the people. Opportunities for culture and advancement have been gained, while the Bible is still taught in our schools, and the Gospel of Christ is preached in our churches. In these and in other ways there has been decided improvement, and if the people of the present time are not equal to or better than their fathers, it must be their own fault—they cannot rightly throw the blame on circumstances. We cannot go back to the past. Our duty is to make the most of the present. If each of us were to do his part in his own place, living a Christian life in peace and charity—if we were all, old and young, to "stand fast" in truth, and ‘‘serve one another in love "—then we might hope that God would bless us more and more, and that our dear parish would be a praise in the land, and the old glory be restored.

Look not mournfully into the past—
It comes not back again.
Wisely improve the present. It is thine.
Go forth to meet the shadowy future without fear and with a manly heart."


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