Reminiscences and Reflections of an Octogenarian Highlander
Chapter XX. -
The Outside Discussions
WHILE the Sunday services remained much as
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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