Fraser's Scottish Annual A Gaelic Service in
HON. GEO. W. ROSS, PREMIER OF ONTARIO.
AMONG many of the pleasant experiences on my visit to
Great Britain last summer, there is none that I recall with greater
pleasure than my visit to a Presbyterian church in Edinburgh, where the
service was conducted in Gaelic and according to the primitive simplicity
of such services with which I was familiar in my early days.
It was my lot in boyhood to be brought in close
contact with the Highland element of the County of Middlesex, where Gaelic
was treasured as a language in which the piety and devotion of the fathers
of the North of Scotland were embalmed. Apart from the fact that it was
the native tongue of many, if not the majority of the people among whom I
spent my youth, the language itself had a special charm to them, because
it recalled the ministry of such men as Dr. McDonald of Ferintosh, Dr.
Cameron of Eddrton, and Mr. Sage of Resolis, and the language of these
saints, as they were deemed, contained a spiritual force which could not
be obtained in any other way. The old Bibles and Gaelic psalm books, which
had directed their thoughts and nurtured their devotion among the glens of
Scotland, were then in use. I have one now in my possession dated 1795,
from which I heard many a lesson in the log cabin where I first saw the
But to my story. A delightful Sabbath morning in
August, found me in Edinburgh. I had arrived the previous afternoon to
take part in the reception to the Colonials (as we were called), attending
His Majesty's Coronation, to whom the Town Council of Edinburgh was giving
an official welcome. And a right royal welcome it was, brimful of that
generous hospitality so characteristic of the Scottish race; but what was
better, there was a cordiality and warmth about the whole proceedings
which made one feel as if he were present at a family gathering, where
every member of the household rejoiced with him in his successes, his
prospects and his good estate. Burns has said that all he could wish for
if ever he entered heaven was a Highland welcome. Well, we got it from
Provost, Councilmen and citizens generally.
But now it is Sunday morning and the bells are
ringing for religious service, and Princess street is filling up rapidly
with thoughtful looking people of all ages and conditions moving along
deliberately and yet quickly as if they knew whither they were going. Some
were crossing the King's Bridge, as if towards St. Giles, or Dr. Guthrie's
old church beyond the Gardens— others had their faces directed towards Dr.
Whyte's church in the East end. But now where should I go. I had been at
St. Giles' church before. I had heard Dr. Whyte on a previous visit in
1886. Dr. Guthrie is gone, but not the memory of his glowing periods as I
read them forty years ago in his "Gospel in Ezekiel," or the "City— its
Sins and Sorrows." But somewhere I must go—a Sabbath day and not go to
"Is there a Gaelic church near here?" I asked a
porter of the Balmoral Hotel, where I lodged for the time being. "A Gaelic
church," he asked; "I don't know I am sure, but Mr. Wilson, the chief
porter, can tell you." And so I interrogated Mr. Wilson. "Oh, aye," he
said, "there is one just ayont the Castle in College street, where they
preach Gaelic, I think, twice every day."
"Well," was my reply, "that is just what I want—at least for the morning.
We will decide about the evening later," and so calling a carriage—think
of that on the Sabbath day and in Edinburgh—I started for the Church. Up
Princess street, round the station of the Caledonia Railway, through a
narrow street under the brow of the castle and there was my Gaelic church
as plain and unpretentious as the services of the people to whom it
Did I say under the Castle walls? So it was, And what
an association? Above us three hundred feet or more frowned that mighty
rock, the scene of so many struggles in Scottish history. Defended by
claymore and pike, it has stood many a siege. Cromwell found it all but
impregnable. The Stuarts relied upon it for security. Its dungeons kept
many a stubborn chieftain under control, and from its gates issued many a
martyr to the stake or the gallows. But my thought was—strong though the
Castle may be and noted as its record was in Scottish history, it fell
more than once before the invader. It may, too, have borne a noble part in
preserving the liberty of Scotland from the oppression of an Edward or a
Charles, but the forces bred and nurtured in the little church which I was
about to enter, did more to preserve for Scotland her supremacy as a
nation and to indoctrinate the world with her own irrepressible love of
liberty than all the bastions of the Castle or the munitions of war with
which it was stored.
Well, it is just five minutes to eleven o'clock and
the worshippers are coming down and up the streets leading to the church.
And as the church, so the people. But they are not Edinburgh folk, so far
as I can see. If they had assembled forty years ago in the Presbyterian
church which I first attended, they could not be more plainly dressed, or
if they had all come down from Inverness or Argyleshire they could not be
more typically Highland. Well, in with them I went, dropping my collection
on the plate as I entered, and found a pew about the centre of the church.
I said the congregation was typically highland. What
does that mean? First, there were the strong angular features of the
ancient Celt, with deep lines in forehead and face as if some hard task
had been committed to them and they had toiled to perform it many years.
There were also the square shoulders that appeared to have borne life's
burdens with firmness, but still with signs of their weight, and there was
that solemnity which I well remember as the characteristic of the men who
took a leading part in the services of the Church of long ago. I could
almost name the people as I looked around, so much did they appear to
resemble the Campbells, and Camerons, and Macphersons, and Munroes, who
filled the pews of the old log church in East Williams. And the women too.
Was I dreaming? There was Mrs.---an old neighbour who visited at my
father's house and told in Gaelic great stories of the Scottish wakes when
I was a boy. But surely I am mistaken, for Mrs. ---is dead these
forty-five years and there has been no resurrection since that time. And
yet it was only a delusion as to the individual. There was no delusion as
to form, or dress, or attitude. It was the same plain black bonnet, with
its simple black silk ribbons, covering a white cap or mutch, and
enclosing the same kind of a sober, earnest face, from out of which peered
two black eyes, piercing and keen as a blast of the north wind. And there,
too, was the shawl of Paisley pattern, tightly drawn around the shoulders
and pinned over the chest as if to prevent the outside world from looking
too inquisitively into that secret, serious Scottish heart. Even the young
people of both sexes had the look of the boys and girls of forty years
ago. And as for the elders and precentor! No change except in name. I
could identify them as they walked up the aisle, and when they took their
places in front of the pulpit, it almost seemed as if I had risen from the
sleep of the early fifties (I do not mean a sleep in church) and found
myself with the Rev. Lachlan Macpherson and his elders on a summer morning
Well, the hour has struck. The congregation has
assembled, not many in number but most devout in appearance. The precentor
takes his place as a signal that his duties are soon to begin. The beadle
carries up the big Gaelic Bible and Psalm book and puts them in their
place, and through a side door there enters a young man of Scottish type,
full whiskered and somewhat pale and nervous looking, and with quiet easy
step ascends the pulpit. He is not the regular minister. He is a
student—the minister of the parish is on a visit to the Highlands —and his
nervous manner indicated that he has not yet acquired the easy manners of
the fathers. He sat down for a moment and before I had taken his measure
(how apt we are to judge by appearance) he was on his feet, and in a clear
voice with something of the ring of battle in it, he said, "Toisichimid
aoradh an Tighearria le bhi seinu chum a chliu,'s antrieamh saim tharan
fhichead." The announcement almost startled me, as if it were a voice from
the dead. "An trieamh saim thar an fhichead." The twenty-third psalm, I
said to myself, translating mentally. Did I understand it in Gaelic? I
thought to myself. Yes, it is the twenty-third psalm, and taking up a
Gaelic psalm book from the pew desk in front, I turned it up with the
haste of one that looked for some expected treasure, for it was a psalm I
had once committed to memory in Gaelic, and my eye had scarcely rested on
the first line when the minister in his loud clarion voice rang out the
words which had not fallen on my ear for many a long year:
"Is e Dia fein a's buachaill dhomh, Cha bhi mi ann an
dith. Bheir e fa'near gu'n luidhinn, sios Air cluainibh glas' le sith."
Thoughts too deep for tears, was the very apt
description of my feelings. Was it a voice from the spirit world? Was it a
passage suggested by the unseen as for me? "Is e Dia fein a's buachaill
dhomh" --the Lord is my Shepherd. I have come thousands of miles by land
and sea to this spot without hurt or harm, in health and comfort, and was
it because I had a good Shepherd under whose care no harm can come to me?
Well, I cannot say whether it was this the uppermost thought, or whether
it was the memories recalled—the echoes wakened by the voice and tone of
the preacher. But at all events my thoughts, quicker than wireless
telegraphy, were far away —far away, but the Shepherd was with me still—on
the sea—in Scotland—everywhere. And so my thoughts ran. But the psalm is
read over and the minister calls upon the congregation to sing the whole
psalm. And up rises the precentor, taking up two lines read by the
minister to the tune of Coleshill. How familiar! And then he chants the
"Bheir e fa'near gu'n luidhinn sios."
And the congregation take up the refrain. It was
weird, but glorious. Oh those notes, how simple, but how they stir up the
deeper depths of history as well as of the soul. The bloody Claverhouse
heard them at Drumclog, but they only fired him to greater cruelty. The
saints and martyrs heard them too, as the faggots crackled around them,
and angels took up the retrain as their spirits floated beyond the
jailor's walls. But here there was no Claverhouse. Martyrdom got its crown
and left to us the liberty which that crown purchased. No Marsellaise ever
stirred to greater fortitude and valor for right and conscience than the
simple songs of the Covenanters who dared to die as well as sing.
And so the service went on. A psalm, a Bible lesson,
a prayer, another psalm, the sermon, prayer, the parting psalm, the
benediction. No change during my life—such is the constancy of the
I need not speak of the sermon. It was a solemn
exposition—highly Calvinistic—of the doctrine of the Atonement. The human
heart was very hard. Eternal death was the very least punishment that
would be equal to the offence. No escape except through the atonement of
the Saviour. Although the minister was not an orator, he gave a methodical
and logical exposition of the truth.
Gaelic orators we have heard in Canada, and we have a
few Gaelic orators still—notably Dr. Carmichael. But who that has heard
and understood the language will ever forget the fiery oratory of John
Ross of Brucefield, "The Man with the Book," as he has been called. No
preacher that I have heard in English, unless it be Henry Ward Beecher, or
W. Morley Punshon, could rise to the same lofty heights of molten burning
eloquence as he attained in Gaelic. He seemed inspired when at his best
and no doubt was.
But the service is over now, yet the benediction is
still 'ringing in my ears:
"A nis, gu robh gras Dhe an athair, gradh Dhe am Mac,
agus co-chomunn solasach an Spioraid Naoimh, maille ribh is ri uile Isreil
Do, bho so a'mach 'a gu siorruidh. Amen."
I am home again-I still hear the words:
"Is e Dia fein a's buachaill dhomh."
And so it is—still the Shepherd, the buachaill, and
who would want any other—for Scotland or Canada —for himself or for his
A CANNY SCOT.—A Scotsman in London noticed a
bald-headed chemist standing at his shop door, and inquired if he had any
"Yes, sir," said the chemist. "Step inside, please.
There's an article I can recommend. Testimonials from great men who have
used it. It makes the hair grow in twenty-four hours."
"Aweel," said the Scot, "ye can gie the top o' yer
heid a bit rub wi' it, and I'll look back the morn and see if yer tellin'
The chemist returned the bottle to the shelf and
kicked the errand boy for laughing.
NOT JUST WHAT WAS WANTED.—In the far north of
Scotland a gentleman called on an old lady on behalf of the South African
"You will recollect," began the visitor, cheerfully,
"that you asked me to come back in a week's time that I might have your
"That you will, my good man. Sic misery I never heard
o'." And the kindly old soul tripped back to the kitchen, and returned
with a big bundle.
"Noo, sir, dirina bother tae thank me, but see the
Boers dinna get it, There's scones, an' tatties, an'-".
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