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Reminiscences and Reflections of an Octogenarian Highlander Chapter XXIV. - The Presentee


WITHOUT any long delay the Glen petitioners received their reply in the substantial form of a presentee a Mr Stewart, whom they had never seen, and about whom they had no previous information whatever. The Melbourne Liberal Government was in 1841 succeeded by a Conservative Government headed by Sir Robert Peel. To do them justice, the men who passed the Veto Act, and continued through thick and thin to defend it on grounds of spiritual rights which might have suited Pope Hildebrand, never pretended that the Veto was the complete remedy, which the Parliamentary abolition of patronage would have been. If asked, when Lord Melbourne was in office with a Liberal majority behind him, why they did not go to Parliament for abolition, their answer was that it would have been no use to do so, because English peers and English commoners had heavy material interests in English Church patronage, and on this Scottish question they would be sure to side with the Scottish Tories. I believe the supposition was indisputable that nothing more was to be expected from the Melbourne Government than this, that in dispensing Crown patronage some attention would be paid to the wishes of congregations ; as in the case of Glenlyon before the Peel Government came into office. Yet before that event occurred, things had come to such a crisis that only the abolition of patronage by Act of Parliament could bring Church and State out of the conflict in which the rash passing of the Veto Act by an Assembly majority had involved them both. The Veto Act had been declared illegal by the Court of Session and the House of Lords before the Glen male communicants were persuaded, incited, and morally coerced by their ecclesiastical leaders to go through the form of vetoing Mr Stewart. They resented the manner in which their petition had been rejected when they only wanted peace. Their sympathies were enlisted on the side of the leaders of the majority in the Assembly, and reports of what was happening in other places and cases aroused their indignation. So before they ever saw or heard him they resolved to veto Mr Stewart. He received a cold but respectful reception when he did come, very different indeed from the warm and hospitable one that had been given to the nominee of the non-intrusionist Vetoists. On the two Sundays on which he officiated, young and old flocked to hear him ; and not a few of his hearers frankly said afterwards that they liked his sermons and his looks, and that if he had not been forced down their throats they would willingly sign a call to him. But although he made a favourable impression on them, the presentee did not benefit by it. Matters had come to such a pass that liberty of individual judgment and of congregational action had to give way to war partisanship. Our Glen communicants felt bound in honour to follow the lead of the assertors of popular religious liberties, and if any of them showed an inclination to desert the cause, or decline entering into contest with the declared law of the land, his womenkind kept him in the road laid down for him and vigorously pushed him on. Female communicants were shabbily debarred from exercising the veto, but for all that they were the most zealous of the supporters of the Veto Act. When the Presbytery met in the church the most zealous of the women went there as spectators to see that the men did their duty, and the men fulfilled expectations by putting Mr Stewart under their veto. The Presbytery suspended proceedings pending an appeal to the next Assembly. The next Assembly was that of 1843, and the case was not continued further because Mr Stewart soon got a much better place.

Before the people of the Glen had been called upon to testify their adherence to the Veto Act by acting contrary to the statute law as interpreted by the civil Courts, Candlish and Cunningham had been to Inverness as fiery-cross bearers, and all over the Highlands, and I suppose the Lowlands also, meetings were held to hear the cause expounded by able debaters sent out from the Church's head- quarters. Principal Dewar of Aberdeen in his best Breadalbane Gaelic addressed the meeting held in our church. He did not, like others who were with him, go out at the Disruption. That fact deprived him in his native district of the honour in which, contrary to the proverbial saying, he was formerly held. I must say that in my teens I thought well of the people ridiculed as the "Forty Thieves," who made a last futile effort to prevent the Disruption catastrophe, and wished to go to Parliament for the abolition of patronage, and, afterwards, more mature consideration and more experience convinced me that if they had been listened to, a great mistake would not have been made through the blind, passionate intolerance of both the fighting parties, a Government bent upon suppressing by main force a national movement for the redress of a long-felt grievance, and an ecclesiastical party which advanced extreme papal claims of spiritual jurisdiction, and had, when thwarted, soon lost sight of moderation and the wisdom of working out a desirable purpose by patient adherence to, and persistency in, orderly and legal methods. Moderation so lost its character that the word "Moderate" was used then and long afterwards as a term of reproach.


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