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The Long Glen
Chapter XXIV - The Disruption


ON the 18th of May, 1843, the venerable Church of Scotland, most reformed of all the churches of the Reformation, and strongest of them all in national character and acceptance, was riven from top to bottom. The event was deplorable enough, both in regard to cause and effect, but the heroism of self-sacrifice and fidelity to convictions at any cost surrounded it with a halo of glory. On that day 470 ministers, with a fervour truly Scotch, left their livings and departed from the Church of their fathers nurture and ordination.

"Thank God for my country!" exclaimed the Episcopalian Lord Jeffrey—who was too bitter a critic to be much of a maudlin sentimentalist—"there is not another land upon the earth where this deed could have taken place."

Assuredly the deed was nobly done. But the causes and means which led up to it were not very creditable to either Church or State. Its results also, notwithstanding much that must be truly described as grand and good have proved most disastrous to Scotch nationality, and severely shaken the credit and endangered the stability of the Reformation. The sacrifice made by the Disruption ministers on the altar of conviction, astonished a material age, and raised his country's fame immensely in the opinion of every patriotic Scotchman at home and abroad, whether he approved or disapproved of the cause for which the -.acrifice was made. But so great a schism for a cause which, by patience and simple political effort, was easily removable, made far-sighted Protestants distrustful of the permanence of all their oldest and best organisations'; and anti-Protestants were encouraged to take the aggressive strongly now against hostile communities which were in a state of continual flux, and expended their energies in internecine feuds.

The Glen for many weeks after the Disruption had no public worship at all, either in connection with the "Residuary" or Free Kirk. The Presbytery of the bounds lost more than half its ministers on the 18th of May, and very soon after one or two of its remaining ministers were appointed to better livings elsewhere. The loaves and fishes had come in for redistribution in a great heap. It was no longer a case of six candidates for one vacant living, but of six vacant livings for every one candidate worthy of appointment. The dramatic sacrifice on the altar of conviction was irresistibly attractive to the generous unformed minds of unselfish, uncalculating, imaginative youths. So the Disruption not only swept away the popular moiety of the beneficed clergy, but also the enthusiastic and energetic section of the theological students.

 The outed ministers of the Presbytery of the bounds, and their ciders and congregations, had for weeks after the Disruption too much necessary work to do at home, getting temporary preaching places, finding lodgings for manse families, and canvassing for Sustentation Fund subscriptions, to bestow any thought on the spiritually destitute condition of the Glen. Mr Stuart, the vetoed presentee, on receiving the offer of a better living, gladly relinquished his right to the desolated church to which he had been previously presented, but of which he had never got possession. The few remaining ministers of the Established Presbytery could not be in many places at the same time ; and so they chiefly confined their attentions to their own people, and let the vacant churches be closed for months.

It was generally supposed that the Glen people were all out with the exception of the numerically insignificant band that signed the Crown presentee's call ; but no practical test of separation was applied till towards the end of July. Several of the prominent Free Church leaders were tenants of the Liberal Marquis—now a ruling elder in the new body—whose wholesale evictions had so much excited Duncan Ban that he always took to banning him whenever his name was mentioned. Even now, with the blessings of the Disruption Assembly on his head, the Marquis was planning a fresh series of evictions. One or two of the Glen Free Church leaders, and a great many of the rank and file, were tenants and crofters on the estate of the young Laird, then studying at Oxford. The lad's estate was under the control of three trustees—-neighbouring Highland lairds all of them—who during a dozen years of good nursing had paid off debts and placed many thousands to the young heir's credit.

The trustees knew their countrymen too well to think of trying to either persuade or compel those subject to their territorial influence in religious matters. Where the laird or noble proprietor was a resident landlord, and a member of the National Church, the influence of his natural leadership extended often to ecclesiastical matters also; but it was always enough to provoke Highland blood, to suggest that a man not of the National Church could lord it within her borders. The grievance of patronage would not have been half so grievous if so many of the patrons had not declined to belong to the church whose ministers they claimed the right to appoint.

Rumour strongly asserted that the young lad at Oxford was less wise, as he was less experienced than his father's trustees. He did not know his native country, nor the character of his countrymen. He was brought up among those reactionary Tories, who were then trying, with an immediate success that involved heavy future disappointment, to recover, by pressure of territorial power, the political supremacy of which the Reform Bill had deprived them. The Laird's Maor or ground officer used what chances he possessed to produce mischief between landlord and tenant. The Maor was given to tippling and improper language, and, without meaning much evil, he aggravated the Free Church people, and scandalised the Moderate minority, by loud talk and threats which, as subsequent events seemed to show, were not altogether without the sanction and authority of his young and ill-informed employer.

The leaders of the Glen Secession knew perfectly well that their waverers could not be entirely trusted until they severed themselves completely from the old church by communicating or affiliating in the new. They therefore although the customary day was still far off, began immediately after the Disruption to take steps by asking several popular ministers to come to make the first Glen Free Church Communion a striking success.

From the early days of the Reformation the Communion rota in Highland parishes, and in many Lowland ones likewise, was arranged with a view to secure chances of favourable weather for pilgrimages and field preachings, and to encourage the inhabitants of groups of parishes to congregate to each others' Communions in circular order. The Reformation abolished the Christian year of Roman Catholic times ; but the parish saints' days remained as secular fairs, and the Communion days came in the place of annual pilgrimages to holy shrines.

The Sacramental Fast-day, shifted back from Friday to Thursday so as to have nothing in common with the Pope, was originally no doubt meant for penitence and mortification of the flesh ; and, as such, it was strictly observed by some old Covenanters. But it seems to have been from the beginning observed in the Highlands as a day for preaching and feasting. In the Glen it was always a day on which ministers, elders, and people, after fervid sermons, soberly and decorously feasted on lamb, chicken, and new potatoes, washed down with a moderate allowance of whisky. The Secessionists saw that this year the Communion would have to be shorn of its accompanying preaching days, since there was neither church nor manse, and the ministers of renown in the Land of the Gael, whose services, after much correspondence, had been secured, could only promise Sunday work, as they were overwhelmed with similar engagements.

The word passed from man to man, and especially from woman to woman, six weeks or more before the time fixed that the first Free Church Communion would be held on a heath-clad piece of ground near the deserted church on the usual Communion day, which was always the third Sunday of July. And in due time the women folk "redd " up their homes, and aired their best dresses; and lambs and chickens were fattened, so that the established customs might be sustained, and friends and guests from a distance suitably entertained.

The news that the Free Church Communion was about to be held on the Laird's land, in close proximity to the deserted church, made the Maor very angry. And, his anger being heated by too much whisky, he went forthwith to Do'ull Uilleam, the farmer who granted the use of his pasture to the Free Church leaders, and, not only remonstrated with him, but threatened, in the name of the young lad at Oxford, that, unless the promise was recalled, he would lose the farm as soon as his lease, which had not much time to run, should expire. Do'ull Uilleam remonstrated in return, saying that it was wrong for the Maor to use the Laird's name in such a manner, and showing that the spot being central had been selected for the convenience of the people, and not with a view to exasperate either landlord or Maor. But the Maor refused to be pacified. He said it was a cursed impertinence on the farmer's part to promise the place for such a purpose without the Laird's sanction or his. Do'ull Uilleam then got angry too, and said nobody in the wide world, except the Maor, thought the Laird had the smallest right to interfere with the man who paid rent for the pasture in the legal use of it, and, as for an Episcopalian and a beardless boy, besides, interfering in the religious affairs of Presbyterians, it was not a thing to be tolerated.

Do'ull Deora did not lay his head on the block, or go out, as both friends and foes expected. He executed a strategic movement at the last moment, and retained his Principalship at the expense of popularity and consistency. The fiddler of Kilfaolain did not heartily rejoice over him as a stray sheep recovered for the fold, and as for Duncan Ban, he never afterwards respected anything about the man except his Gaelic scholarship, which he thought only second to that of Norman Macleod—" Caraid-nan-Gael" one of his greatest heroes.

The Elder Claon died before the 18th of May. Like Moses, he only saw the Promised Land from the top of Mount Pisgah. He bore his short but painful illness with uncomplaining fortitude, and went down into the Valley of Death saying, "Death where is thy sting, grave where is thy victory." If his views were narrow, his faith was strong, and in earlier times he would probably have been canonised.


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