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Reminiscences and Reflections of an Octogenarian Highlander Chapter LXXVI. - Farewell to England


BEING crippled for life, the fireside miscellaneous newspaper work in which I was chiefly engaged during the eleven years at Thwaites House suited me well enough. I usually got plenty of it to do, notwithstanding fluctuations, some of which were due to two health breakdowns on my own part, and some to outside changes. For several years I continued to send my monthly budget to the Cape, and that connection came only to an end with changed proprietorship. At one time, for a lengthened period, I was writing leaders and other articles to three daily papers. On having formed their Club, the Conservatives of Keighley determined to have likewise a weekly newspaper. I was its editor for some years, and through its leader columns gave vigorous expression to moderate men's views, and their fears of the devious paths into which Mr Gladstone was leading his party. I happened to have a right to call myself the godfather, if not the father, of the Keighley Press, for I was the first editor of the first newspaper a weekly one Keighley ever had. This first paper was an offshoot of the Bradford Observer when, except on the Liberation Society's policy, it was still of the old Whig type. The Conservatives of Keighley kept to the old paths, while the followers of Mr Gladstone had, in our opinion, strayed away into the path that, if followed far, would lead them to secular education, as well as the separation of Church and State, to interference with parental rights and responsibilities, and all kinds of rights belonging to and forming the soul of individual freedom. Among the Keighley Conservatives were, I think, no more Tories than could be counted almost on the fingers of one hand. The rest of us were old Whigs, or moderate Liberals, who refused to be dragged into the new path that led to revolutionary perils. I felt strongly, and wrote strongly, but made no personal enmities. Educational enthusiasts, Liberationists, and Radicals saw that T wrote as I spoke, and gave me credit for speaking honestly as I thought on public questions. When the time for parting came, and after the Conservative Club had presented me with a valuable timepiece, bearing a complimentary inscription, Liberal and Conservative friends joined to give me a farewell dinner, and to send me off with a well-lined new purse.

During my twenty years' absence I took a lively interest in legislative measures, and all other things which concerned Scotland. I know that people of my generation and rearing remained true to Scotland wherever they went and however long away, and I hope it is so yet, and ever will be. I was much excited and buoyed up with inflated hopes of Presbyterian reunion when the Conservative Government proposed to abolish patronage in the Church of Scotland. English old Tories, large and small patrons of all political parties, and pundits of the English Universities would like to stop short at an amendment of Lord Aberdeen's Act. Mr Gladstone, looking with High Church hostility at a project of liberation which, reason ruling the divided bodies, might again give Scotland a mighty Presbyterian Church, tabled a series of adverse resolutions, from which, however, he fled when the time for moving them came. The English Liberationists and the Scottish United Presbyterians were more valorous in their opposition than either Mr Gladstone or Dr Rainy and his Free Church followers. I wrote a long letter to Lord Advocate Gordon, in the opening sentence of which I told him I did not want him to reply and he did not, except by sending a copy of the Bill, which was a perfectly satisfactory reply. In my letter I gave him my own and other people's experiences of the mockingly illusive nature of Lord Aberdeen's Act, with its costly, prolonged procedure, so irritating to objecting parishioners, and so damaging to objected presentees, whether the frequently inconsistent decisions were favourable to them or the reverse. I was afraid not so much of Gladstone and Non- conformist hostility as of the feeling which was rather prevalent among English Conservatives that a mere tinkering of the Aberdeen Act should suffice, and that to abolish patronage in Scotland would be the first blow of the axe to patronage in England, which has a market value it never had north of the Tweed. In my letter to the Lord Advocate and in the English newspapers which allowed me free expression of opinion, I pleaded earnestly for total abolition, with reasonable compensation to patrons.

The Lord Advocate and the Government stood to their guns. Hesitating English Conservative members were reassured, and followed their leaders; and if I remember rightly, some Liberal peers and commoners, who were well instructed in Scottish history, past and contemporary, supported the policy of root and branch abolition, which was carried out. And as soon as the Act was passed, several dukes and other noblemen of Scotland, who were the chief lay patrons, generously resolved to forego their claims to compensation, and the extensive Crown patronage, which in the main had formerly belonged to the bishops, was also relinquished without compensation. With this relief, and its Revolution and Treaty of Union guaranteed rights and privileges, the Church of Scotland was made the freest of all the Churches of Christendom, whether established or non-established. The Church of Scotland was thus much strengthened, and yet the ardent friends of Presbyterian reunion had much cause to feel deeply disappointed. Instead of the reunion, which they believed would have been, religiously, morally, socially, and economically, in the highest degree beneficial to Scotland, they saw the hedges of partition trimmed afresh, and armed with the barbed wire of the separation of Church and State, devised by English Nonconformists when, losing hold of their Puritan doctrines, they had stepped into political dissenterism.

In the later years of the seventies, while clearly seeing the trend towards secular education, and the adoption of hasty devices, pregnant with dangers to come, in making the splice with the past which altered circumstances required, there were surprises impending which I could not have believed if an angel from heaven had foretold them. Who could then believe the plunge into the bog of Irish separation possible? or deem it credible that any British Ministry would, through unavenged Majuba, the retrocession of the Transvaal, and the miserable Conventions, make the Boer war, as soon as the Boers completed their preparations, as sure as death, unless our once great country sank so low as to abandon her loyal children in South Africa, and to eat her leek of dishonour before envious and mighty Powers, who wished for opportunities to seize British colonies and dependencies? In the seventies I saw, in their initiating stages, movements in operation which I feared would develop into dangers to all existing institutions and principles of liberty and order, on which nations had built up their somewhat varied forms of Christian civilisation. As yet indeed Holyoake, the argumentative thinker, and Bradlaugh, the blustering orator of infidelity, had not a numerous army of followers, and the all-plundering and all-levelling theory of Socialism had got only a slight grip of the maddest of trade-unionists in strikes and wars with capitalist employers and companies. Higher criticism, archaeology, and the unproved theory of evolution were working together to undermine the old reliance on the plenary inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible which had so long been common, with variations of interpretation to all the Churches of Christendom, but as yet neither the attacks on the Bible nor the evolution theory, which went far beyond them, had much visibly weakened the faith or changed the habits of nine hundred in the thousand of the British people.

From early youth I was conscious of the great revolution that was being irresistibly worked out by new mechanical inventions, steam power, rail- ways, and steamships, and looked with apprehension upon the growth of cities and towns, and the dispersion, by healthy emigration to colonies or unhealthy migrations to centres of crowded urban industries at home, of the rural population that had ever been in all times of trial the backbone of national strength. But in I860, when I left Scot- land, children were brought up in the old way, which had given Scotsmen for centuries a high ranking among the nations of the world. The three parties into which Presbyterians had divided themselves, while bitterly wrangling over minor matters, were zealously working on the old principles in worship and education. They had by their divisions lost the moral policing power of the grand parochial system, which had been in rural districts the marvel-working agency for religious and civil advancement before the Disruption. Professing the same creed, and having the same form of Church government, and looking fully in the face the war with infidelity which was already waxing hot, it was reasonable to expect that a reunion of the Presbyterians of Scotland would take place when patronage, the chief cause of disunion, had been abolished root and branch, and when, in electing their ministers, Church of Scotland congregations had got a voting equality between the rich and the poor members, which is very rarely found among Dissenters, because those who are the greater givers of money are of more account than poor and perchance more pious members.

In the seventies I was fully conscious of the fact that the white-race nations were doomed to go through the ordeal of a transition period which involved far more than wild outbursts like the French Revolution or wars of conquest. It seemed to me then, and it seems to me so yet, that Christianity alone can be relied upon as a break- water against raging floods of materialistic degradation and suicidal revolutionarism, and that with readjustment of creeds, broadening of views, and co-operative efforts, Romanists, Greeks, and Protestants should form solidly into battle line to defend faith in God and life beyond the grave against those to whom the present life is the be-all and end-all, and also against the predominating pretences of science to transgress beyond the realm of matter, its proper sphere, wherein it works wonders, while of the soul-side it knows nothing. While looking forward to the greater muster of the forces of Christianity, I was in the seventies grievously disappointed because the three sections of Scottish Presbyterians did not at once seize upon a great opportunity for closing up their ranks.

I was not so much surprised at the hardened Liberation Society sectarianism of the United Presbyterians as at the renegading recalcitrancy of the ruling majority of the Free Church. The old sects of Seceders in 1847 formed their Union by burying the "Testimonies" of their founders, and erecting on the tomb an obelisk inscribed, "Voluntaryism." I had no idea that during my absence from Scotland the new rulers of the Free Church had '43 men not yet having disappeared or changed been quietly burying Disruption principles, and making ready an obelisk of their own, which as yet had no clear inscription. The political element was already making sad inroads on the spiritual life of Dissenting Churches. Reactionary Ritualists were alienating or provoking Church of England Protestants, but there was still so much religious vitality a thing which has not so much connection as many people suppose with flourishing finances and grandiose places of worship in all our Churches of the Reformation that one had a right to expect a general rally of all denominations in support of Christian ethics, and the laws, customs, and institutions which had been founded on them. Full of the hope that there would be such a rally as soon as the Christian laity understood how faith and morals were endangered by the streams of revolutionary and utterly subversive ideas which were flowing in from various and widely separate sources, I wrote a series of articles, expressive of my mingled hopes and fears, which appeared in the Glasgow News, and it was in consequence of these articles that, to my surprise, I was called back to Scotland.

One fine day in September or October, 1880, I received a note intimating that Mr Charles Innes, solicitor, Inverness, and Sheriff-Clerk of Ross-shire, who was in search of an editor for a weekly Conservative newspaper about to be started at Inverness, was coming to see me, and hoped to find me at home. As we were living in the country, this note only reached me a few hours before Mr Innes arrived. We talked the matter over freely and frankly. I was a cripple for life, and subject to breakdowns, which did not disable me for writing but kept me tied to the home, sometimes for a few days, and sometimes for a week at a stretch. I was in my fifty-third year, and felt it a serious matter to pull up stakes. That night we came to no settlement, but he called me again to meet him and dine with him at Leeds, and there and then I was persuaded to make the venture. I trusted in Mr Innes, who was to be managing director. That trust at first sight was more than justified by our friendly and mutually co-operative relations for a long period of years, till Mr Innes, who was ten years my junior, died.


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