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Reminiscences and Reflections of an Octogenarian Highlander Chapter XX. - The Outside Discussions


WHILE the Sunday services remained much as they were before, devotional and doctrinal, the Glen people plunged on their own account into discussion and study of the Church question. Before the Reform Bill I think no more than three or four weekly newspapers came regularly into our district. Some second - hand ones came irregularly from Glensmen in the Lowlands, England, and Canada, and the United States. Intellectual activity was never wanting among the Children of the Gael. It. would have been better for the material prosperity of their race if they had more stolidity, less imagination, arid a smaller share of mingled mysticism and love of daring adventure. In the period admired by the "Gray Egyptians" there was a wonderful burst of original and, tested by any standard, high class Gaelic poetry; and the masterly translation of the Bible into Scottish Gaelic, which anticipated many of the recent amendments of the revised English version, had been completed about that time. In that period the spread of education and the freer inter-communication had made the greater number of Highland men and women bi-lingual. So even in our isolated Glen, where Reform and the raising of the Church dispute brought more newspapers, and many controversial pamphlets, we had people ready to translate them round the firesides, and to discuss them on hillsides, or even over their farming work.

I remember how deaved I was by those fireside readings, translations, and the discussions that followed in their train, ere I got fairly into my teens, and when "Robinson Crusoe," the "Pilgrim's Progress," "Arabian Nights," ponderous Guthrie's "Grammar of Geography," and Sir Walter Scott's poems and novels were the English books which I then wanted to pore over. But after all, this imposition had its educational value, and gained in interest as the quarrel progressed to its crisis. In an accidental way the libel case against Mr Maclaurin, minister of Strathfillan, which was dragging its slow length along before the Presbytery of Weem, intertwined itself in Glen discussions with the larger question. Mr Maclaurin had been missionary minister in Glenlyon before it had been made into a separate parish. He was a promising young probationer of impulsive and revival-evan- gelical type. He married in Glenlyon, and within little more than a year lost the young wife whom he dearly loved, and was left with a baby daughter. It seems that after some years of what was acknowledged to be good service at Strathfillan, he fell into irregular habits. After a long trial, which went through all the Courts of the Church, he was deposed on the charge of drinking and fighting. He went to the United States, where he recovered himself, and obtained a church and congregation. Our Glen people watched this case in all its stages, and through that watching they for the first time acquired a real knowledge of the constitution of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. The deposition of Mr Robertson, of Fortingall, in 1716, for reading treasonable papers in his church at the time of Mar's rebellion, was the only similar case in which the Glen had been interested since the Reformation. The Presbytery of Weem had not then been cut out of the huge Presbytery of Dunkeld, and a case heard at Dunkeld was beyond their limit.

At first our people discussed the Church question as if it were an abstract one which was not likely to cause trouble to themselves. If their minister remained with them, all would be well. If, like his predecessors, he went away, why should they not as before get the man of their choice through the action of Crown patronage? Possessed of this sense of what happened to be unsafe security, they looked without fear or passion at the question in all its bearings, and qualified themselves as best they could for an impartial jury business. There was a little parish library under the control of the kirk- session, which contained some books on Scotch history, and one or more copies of the Confession of Faith. These books were now in request, and those who read them expounded their contents to those who could not read them, or, if they could read them, could not easily understand them. All this reading and debating training for intelligently exercising the functions of an impartial jury took place after the Assembly had crossed the Rubicon by passing the Veto Act.


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