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Reminiscences and Reflections of an Octogenarian Highlander Chapter XXVI. - The Disruption


THAT threat was dramatically fulfilled on Thursday, the 18th of May, 1843, when the majority of its ministers and elders went out of the General Assembly, protesting that secession was forced on them by the encroachments of civil law and rule which left the Church no proper freedom for carrying out spiritual functions. But the Protest still embodied the hope of early restoration by surrender on the part of the Government, for it contained, in legal phraseology, a claim for compensation on behalf of those who left for conscience' sake, for losses incurred during the time that they were left in the wilderness. As they were not expelled, but went out of their own accord, this claim had a strange look about it. Was it arrogant bravado, or the expression of an over-confident hope that in the face of such a demonstration as that of the 18th of May, and the popular support at the back of it, the Government would, stricken by dismay, yield all that was asked of it? I have no doubt whatever that among people and ministers in country places, the hope of immediate restoration through Government compliance was very generally entertained for a short time after the 18th of May. Nor have I any doubt that, had it not been for the assurances they had received on that point, many doubters would at an earlier stage have utterly refused to commit themselves to the secession threat, which the November Convocation had endorsed. A number of the doubters did draw back in time, and incurred no small popular obloquy thereby. Others of them who looked for early restoration and let themselves be hurried forward, repented of their credulity before the Disruption month came to an end, for they saw that the Government remained obstinately inflexible, and that the Free Church leaders, with admirable energy and secular skill, were setting that Church up on separatist foundations.

Telegraphs and telephones were yet undreamed of. The Highlands were yet unpenetrated by railways, but stage coaches were running, and favoured places had daily posts. Our Glen was not important enough to have a daily post except on week days in the shooting season; but before Sunday we got reports of how the "fathers and brethren" of the General Assembly had riven the veil of the temple of the Church of Scotland from top to bottom in Edinburgh on Thursday, and how the formation of the "Free Protesting Church of Scotland" had been impressively proclaimed. I do not think means had been pre-arranged for the dissemination of the news before Sunday, nor that there was need for doing so, since so many from all parts of the country, besides ministers and elders who were members of Assembly, had flocked to Edinburgh to witness the event, and returned home before Sunday, flushed with the enthusiasm of Covenant days or, in more instances than could be openly avowed, depressed by doubts and anxieties both on public and personal grounds. In some of the outlying places to which news of the Edinburgh proceedings had not come before Sunday, the sure conviction that secession must have taken place was assumed and acted upon. The storm of ecclesiastical excitement which swept over Scotland from end to end raged like an irresistible tornado in the Highlands north of the Grampians. Yet there were ministers there who held firm and kept the greater part of their congregations, because they had consistently set their faces against secession, and were men of good works and more than average talent and character. In the Highlands south of the Grampians, although it never rose to such violence, the storm was ruinous to the Church of Scotland.

Sunday, the 21st of May, 1843, was the people's day for giving their testimony. The Moderates who would not go out had to bear reproaches which were galling to flesh and blood and spirit. They were told that they were faithless Christians, and that on low, personal motives they were deserting in secular, as well as in religious affairs, the cause of the people. Moderate ministers were described in most cases, very untruly, as lazy workers in the vineyard, and lovers of loaves and fishes. Although there was no violence, the adherents of the Church of Scotland suffered no small amount of persecution when they were small minorities. Those who went out on that eventful Sunday were not so unanimous as the act of going out betokened. Some went out on the hope of being soon back again. Without that delusive hope hundreds and thousands of the older people, and of the more or less enthusiastic younger ones would not so suddenly have comraitted themselves to the Disruption. In the committal, were it, as they hoped not, to lead to permanent severance, they knew they were going against their own convictions and inherited sympathies. Old parish churches our Glen church, built in 1830, had no such ancient sacrosanctity were placed in the churchyards where the fore- fathers of untold generations slept. Of all people Highlanders think most of the reverence due to their dead, and of the privilege of being under the shadow of the old place of worship while living, and when dead of being buried in ancestral graves. In their minds old churches and churchyards seem to unite the living with their dead of many generations. The conservatism of mystic association has a strong hold on Celtic minds. A Highlander wishing to replace the old ancestral home by a better one, feels the necessary demolition a painful task because he remembers that at the door of the old building symbolic oat-cakes had been broken above the heads of incoming brides by his people in joy, and their dead had been carried out over its threshold in sorrow.

Our Glen church remained closed on that momentous Sunday, the charge being vacant, and the Presbytery too much engaged otherwise to provide a supply. Unless the handful of Baptists met as usual in the school-house, there was no Glen gathering at all for religious worship. It was a fine summer day, and their own feelings made the people think that a portentous solemnity overspread the whole Glen. They gathered in knots in houses or on hillocks, and spoke in hashed tones of what had taken place in Edinburgh three days before, and on what was likely to follow. Exultation was predominant, but it was not free "from misgiving. While the more sanguine heard a psalm of thanks- giving in the voices of the river and the streams, and saw omens of blessing from on high in the sun- shine on the hills, the more thoughtful looked with less assurance at the flitting shadows produced by passing clouds, and feared that there was an under- tone of wailing in the voices of the waters, and the sighing of the faint breezes in the leafy woods. Moderates were so few and so silent with one unfortunate exception that they were looked upon as being practically non-existent. The unlucky exception was Donald Macdonald, the "maor" or ground officer on the estate of Culdares, whose laird was still a minor and an absentee. "Am Maor Ruadh," the Red Maor, was not at all a bad sort of fellow, but his drinking habits scandalised the godly, and his intervention in Church affairs gave deep offence to many who were not exceedingly straight- laced. He would have given less offence if he had not presumed to more than hint that he was the mouthpiece of the trustees and of the young laird. It was well known that the young laird had become an Episcopalian, like many others of his class whose fathers, like his, had been members of the Church of Scotland. Intervention by any outsiders in this quarrel was resented deeply everywhere, and land- lords who were stauuch Presbyterians only retained extra influence by putting themselves on equality with ordinary members of the Church of Scotland. The Maor Ruadh, after the vetoing of Mr Stewart, lost any discretion he formerly possessed, and plainly threatened the Culdares tenants with eviction on the termination of their leases in 1845, unless they took warning now and remained quietly, as their landlord wished them to do, in the Church of Scot- land. This threat, garnished with many oaths, stiffened backs that were limp before. What came to pass in two years' time went far to prove that the Maor.Ruadh was really, in 1843, injudiciously acting on instructions from his superiors, although the inhabitants of the Culdares estate then thought so well of the absent young laird that they stoutly maintained the threatening interference on his part to be incredible, and attributed the Maor Ruadh's vapourings to his vanity and love of dictation.


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