Anecdotage of Glasgow
Trial of the Rev. Neil Douglas
eccentric divine, the Rev. Neil Douglas,
rented with the money of his wife the old Andersonian Institution,
No. 2 Upper John Street; and therein, about A.D. 1817, commenced a series
of discourses on the Prophecies of Daniel, in the course of which he had
the temerity to liken King George the Third, then an invalid in Windsor
Castle, to Nebuchadnezzar, nay, as even worse in his mental and
corporal capacity. And as for his son George, Prince Regent, he was termed
the prodigal son, and
characterised as a drunken debauchee, etc.
The authorities, hearing a sough
of these discourses, which created a great sensation in the city,
deputed three spies to go next Sunday to the Andersonian
Institution, and to take notes with a view to future action.
But, unfortunately for the success
of their mission, their wives began to blab about it to some of their
neighbours, and in this way it came to the ears of some of the reverend
gentlemans admirers, who, thereupon, gave him a hint to be careful as to
what he might say in his next lecture, telling him their reason for so
Accordingly, on the following
Sunday, the preacher was on the lookout for his professional auditors,
whom he espied on their entrance, and who, either in their zeal to be near
enough to hear him distinctly, or because the place of meeting was
crowded, came forward and squatted themselves down on the pulpit stair.
The preacher began the services with
calm and cold serenity, but ere long he cleared his throat, and eyeing the
three spies fiercely, from his vantage ground in the pulpit, began to
pitch in and give it to them hot and heavy.
He denounced them as "A parcel of
infernal scamps, or spies, sent, not by Nebuchadnezzar, but by Beelzehuh,
from the Council Chambers to entrap him."
The officers, at the beginning of
the tirade, began to scribble down their notes, but the vehement wrath of
the preacher and the dagger-like looks of many in the congregation so
alarmed and nonplussed them that they were glad to desist, and to
trust to their unaided memories for the rest of the lecture, which turned
out to be the spiciest and most fiery part of it.
They subsequently drew up a written
report, or declaration, giving the awful words of the Rev. Neil Douglas,
time and place above mentioned. This precognition was duly forwarded to
Lord Advocate MConochie, in Edinburgh; and within a few days orders were
sent to Glasgow from the Crown counsel to seize "The person of the said
Rev. Neil Douglas, as guilty of the crime of high treason, or sedition,
and to imprison him in the jail of Glasgow till liberated in due course of
Be was next indicted to appear
before the High Court of Justiciary, at Edinburgh, on the 26th of May,
1817, on the modified charge of "sedition," or of "wicked sedition," in
his pulpit as aforesaid.
The three town officers who had been
sent by the official scribes, were, of course, to appear as the chief
witnesses against the accused on his trial, which the law officers of the
Crown felt confident, and the friends of the accused in Glasgow feared,
would end in the conviction and transportation of the reverend old man,
who was then in the 70th year of his age.
But, luckily for the accused, when
the day of trial came, the trio were found to vary seriously as to
what the preacher really did say. All that they could remember distinctly
and agree about were the emphatic use by him of the words,"
Nebuchadnezzar and Beelzebub," but as to the application of the lecture
they were all three hopelessly at sea.
An attempt was made to have their
memories refreshed by a perusal of their precognition to the fiscal in
Glasgow, but at this stage, Francis Jeffrey, the eloquent counsel for the
accused, interposed, and said: "No, no, these precognitions must not be
shown; they cannot bear any faith in judgment."
The learned counsel argued
powerfully against the competency of the precognition, and contended that
it was to the facts then spoken to, under their oaths that the Court or
thejury could attend on that trial.
In this view the Court concurred, so
that the case against the reverend old prisoner broke down completely, and
he was again a free man amid the cordial congratulations of his eminent
counsel, and to the great joy of his many friends.
In conclusion, it may be stated that
ere he left the court, the venerated divine made a voluntary promise,
couched in the most respectful language, to the Lord Justice-Clerk, that
he would never more lecture about Nebuchadnezzar, nor speak in a
derogatory way of His Majesty the King; and it is believed that he kept
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