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Significant Scots
Rev. Alexander MacGregor M.A.


IN our last we intimated the death of the Rev. Alexander Macgregor, M.A., of the West Church, Inverness, on the 19th of October last, from a stroke of paralysis. We then scarcely realised the great loss which Inverness and the Highlands had suffered, and we have not done so in its full extent even yet. It is, indeed, difficult to realise that we shall never again see him in the flesh. He who for years scarcely failed to make his daily call, until within the last twelve months, when he was perceptibly getting more frail and we were a little further out of his way. Even then he would pay a visit two or three times a-week, and have his interesting chat, his quiet, enjoyable laugh, and his puff, for he heartily enjoyed the calumet of peace, though he never carried pipe nor tobacco. His fund of anecdote, Highland story and tradition, was inexhaustible; and the various incidents in his own life-experience, which he enjoyed to recapitulate in his characteristically modest and charming style to his more intimate friends, were delightful and most instructive to listen to.

He was for ever doing good. The number of letters, petitions, and recommendations which he has written for the poor is scarcely credible. No one asked for such favours in vain from him. He was the means of starting many a young man in a successful career, especially young men from the Isle of Skye, among whom maybe mentioned Mr Rowland Hill Macdonald, of the Glasgow Post-Office, and Mr Matheson, Collector of Customs at Perth. He often related the particulars of their humble beginnings; how he was instrumental in securing their first civil appointments, and how interested he continued to feel in their success in life; and, were this the place, the story would well bear the telling much to his and their honour. Among other acts of goodness he succeeded in securing pensions, of £ioo each, for the late Misses Maccaskill, and for years before their death he personally drew the money for them.

In his ministerial sphere his labours were incessant. He was always in a hurry, visiting the dying, the poor, or the distressed in spirit; going to a marriage, a baptism, or a funeral. And it made not the slightest difference to what faith they belonged. The sympathies of his large heart extended to every denomination, Catholic, Episcopalian, or Dissenter; while, at the same time, he stood firmly by his own beloved Kirk, and fully believed in her as the Church of Scotland. Though his own congregation in recent years largely increased—more than double during the last fifteen—he was as often consoling the last moments of the dying of other denominations as those of his own flock. He was ever in request at the supreme moment to sooth and encourage. He left those of his cloth who had been cast in a more contracted ecclesiastical mould to thunder out the law. His favourite theme was the Saviour and His Gospel of love and peace to men. He was constantly smoothing away any difficulties occurring between his friends, and he almost invariably succeeded in bringing them again together. Some of his most intimate personal favourites were adherents of other denominations; and you were as sure to meet him at the funeral of a Roman Catholic as at that of a Presbyterian. His large heart, his truly catholic spirit, his boundless charity knew not the mean, selfish, repulsive creed of those that would scarcely admit to Heaven any one but those who could see eye to eye with them in mere matters of ecclesiastical form and ceremony. When a boy we would run a mile off the road to escape meeting the minister. Children almost adored Mr Macgregor. They would run after him, meet, and cling to him. He loved them; they instinctively knew it; and they loved him in return; and there are no better judges of the man who deserves to be loved than they are. He endeared himself, in short, to all who knew him—old and young.

We must, however, now deal more with his career as a minister and a man who left his mark, deeply impressed, especially on the literature of the Highlands. And we cannot more appropriately introduce the subject than by quoting a letter from the Rev. Robert Neil, minister of Glengairn, a gentleman who occasionally corresponded with our revered friend in his latter years. Mr Neil writes under date of 28th October:-

I was truly sorry to hear of the death of your much esteemed contributor, the Rev. A. Macgregor, an event which has called up many tender recollections in this, his native glen. As there will, no doubt, be a lengthened notice of him in an early number of the CeItic Magazine, I beg to communicate certain facts in his family history in correction of several mistaken statements made in the newspaper notices of his death. His father, the Rev. Robert Macgregor, came from Perthshire in the end of the last century to be Missionary on the Royal Bounty at Glengairn, and continued there until 29th December 1822, when he left to be minister of Kilmuir, in the Isle of Skye. During his residence in Glengairn he became exceedingly popular both as a preacher and as a member of society, and his memory is still fondly cherished by not a few of the older inhabitants who have a vivid recollection of his pulpit ministrations, and of the kindly way in which he mingled with them in their joys and in their sorrows.

His lately deceased son was born in the Mission House in 1808, I believe, and he is also well remembered by several of his surviving school-fellows, by whom he was much beloved.

Besides preaching in Gaelic and English, his father taught a school through the week, and, as he was possessed of no mean scholarly attainments, he was enabled to impart to his son in early life that sound education which in after days bore such ample fruits. His excellent management in financial affairs is likewise worthy of record. Although his stipend here never exceeded sixty pounds, yet on that small sum he brought up a large family, and saved what was considered at the time of his leaving for Skye no trifling amount.

Young Macgregor entered the University of Aberdeen when a mere boy, and matriculated at King's College at the early age of twelve, two years before his father removed to Skye. Here he made the acquaintance of the famous Celtic scholar, Ewen Maclachlan, then Rector of the Grammar School, and the leading spirit in the Aberdeen Highland Association of his day. Mr Macgregor delighted to relate the circumstances connected with his first interview with his distinguished brother Celt, and tell how, under Maclachlan's influence, was fanned the natural love which even then existed in his own youthful bosom for the language, literature, and antiquities of the Highlanders. He regularly attended the University, graduating in due course, after having carried away several valuable prizes for distinction in natural philosophy and mathematics. Having gone through the usual course in the Divinity Hall, he returned to Skye, was duly licensed as assistant to his father, and soon became a very popular preacher. In one day he received presentations to no less than three charges, one of which was to Applecross, and another to the Parish of Kilmuir, as colleague and successor to his father, which he accepted, and to which he was ordained in 1844. Here he continued for several years, imbibing the fountain of his affection in after years for his beloved "Isle of Mist" and its people, and gathering the vast stores of traditionary Gaelic legend and lore, with which he afterwards, in these pages and elsewhere, delighted so many thousands of his countrymen. He continued in Kilmuir until his father's death; but soon afterwards received a call to the Gaelic Church, Edinburgh, which he accepted. He then removed, with some reluctance, from his beloved Isle to minister to his Gaelic countrymen in the Scottish metropolis.
In 1853, on the death of the Rev. Alexander Clarke, he was presented to the West Church, Inverness, where he ceaselessly ministered to a devoted and steadily increasing congregation until a week before his death. He was the most loveable man, and the best beloved in the Highland Capital. As the Courier prettily and accurately puts it—

His quiet and pleasant manner, and the kindly interest which he took in the concerns of his parishioners were not assumed for the occasion, but were natural and habitual traits of his character. It mattered nothing to him whether the persons who solicited his services belonged to his own congregation or not. He was incapable of refusing to do a kindly office, and he never dreamt of sparing himself trouble, He never acted as if conferring a favour: There was no formality in his nature. He chatted away with a frankness and simplicity that won universal confidence, and by their transparency kept guile at a distance.

Mr Macgregor, though one of the most eloquent and best Gaelic speakers of his time, curiously enough, did not, for many years, preach in his native language; but though he did not use it in the pulpit, he did so constantly in his ceaseless visitations of the Gaelic portion of his own flock and the general body of the Gaelic population of the town and district, and found it a sure and ready means to reach and touch their warm Highland hearts.

Though he will be sorely missed in the Highland Capital as a man, a minister, and as a Christian of wide catholic sympathies and true charity, throughout the Highlands and the country generally, he will be specially missed as a genuine type of the fine old Highlander, as our best Gaelic scholar, and the first authority upon all questions connected with the history, antiquities, traditions, language, and literature of his countrymen; and he was ever ready to give the benefit of his extensive knowledge to others. He has written what would form several volumes since he first commenced, in the parish of Kilmuir, to issue among his neighbours, his manuscript magazine, the "Kilmuir Conservative Gazette," written entirely in his own beautiful hand. He afterwards contributed to almost every periodical or newspaper that interested itself in any phase of Highland life and though:. lie coiiributed largly to "Cuairtear nan Gicanu," edited by Old Norman Macleod. Most of his contributions are signed "Sgiathanaci," or "Alasdair Ruadh," but many are only signed "S.," and, in several cases, not at all. On one occasion, during the absence of the editor, he wrote the whole number, and, he repeatedly wrote the greater portion of the monthly issue. He was afterwards a regular contributor to "Fear Tathaich nam Beann," conducted by the Rev. Dr Clerk, of Kilmallie. In his latter years he contributed largely to the Gael, published by Angus Nicholson, first in Glasgow and latterly in Edinburgh. To this periodical he contributed in all not less than some 270 closely printed pages of the purest, idiomatic Gaelic, between 1372 and 1877, while during the same period he wrote extensively for the Highlander and the Celtic Magazine.

It will be remembered that his name appeared on the title- page of our first volume as joint Editor, a fact which, no doubt, greatly helped to secure for the magazine its early popularity among educated Highlanders. His contributions are still fresh in the memory of the reader, but we may recal a few of the most important, such as "Destitution in the Highlands;" "Highland Superstition," afterwards considerably extended, and published as an Appendix of 64 pages to the Second Edition of "The Prophecies of the Brahan Seer;" and the "Life and Adventures of Flora Macdonald," now passing through the press in volume form. In addition to these he wrote over twenty articles on other subjects connected with the Highlands, making altogether more than 230 closely printed pages of this magazine.

His "Parish of Kilinuir," Published in the "New Statistical Account" in 1842, extends to 50 pages, and is one of the most valuable contributions to that work. What he had written for that publication would have made about 20 pages additional, but the Editor found it necessary to limit the various writers to a much smaller space than Mr Macgregor was actually allowed. We have perused the original MS., and can safely assert that some of the most interesting portions to Highlanders are left out. These have, however, found their way into print in our own pages and elsewhere in connection with other subjects. He translated the Apocrypha into Gaelic several years ago, at the request of Prince Lucien Bonaparte, who paid him a visit in Inverness, and afterwards published Mr Macgregor's beautiful translation in a handsome volume. The MS., apart from its high literary merit, was itself a work of art. Several of his most valuable contributions to Gaelic Literature were delivered at meetings of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, all of which are preserved in their Annual Volume of Transactions. Among these will be found a Gaelic Lecture of great value, delivered on the 24th of October 1873, on the Highlanders, their Language, Poetry, Music, Dress, and Arms. His knowledge of Highland music was equal to his other Celtic acquirements. He was an excellent performer on the great Highland bagpipes and on the violin, and he was almost invariably, for many years, one of the judges of Highland music at the Northern Meeting. He was a popular lecturer, and delivered several in Inverness, always to large and appreciative audiences, on Highland subjects.

He was scarcely ever in bed after five o'clock in the morning, which accounts for the great amount of work he was able to perform in addition to his ministerial and parochial duties. Before breakfast he had already done a fair day's work with his pen, and, unlike most ministers, he prepared and wrote his sermons on the Mondays and Tuesdays. He had thus the rest of the week at his disposal for his other duties. He was Honorary Chieftain and Life Member of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, and on one occasion presided at one of its Annual Assemblies It was probably very much owing to his great modesty and retiring disposition, and perhaps in consequence of the neglect of his friends that his Alma Mater did not confer upon him some Degree of recognition in his latter days, a fact often referred to with regret in literary circles for the last few years.

About six weeks before his death he paid a visit to his son Duncan, a Medical Doctor in Yorkshire, who took advantage of his father's visit to take him to London, where he greatly enjoyed the wonders of the Metropolis. His experiences there, and the impressions made upon him, he humorously described in a Gaelic letter to the writer, which appeared in our October number.

No one was ever more universally and sincerely mourned, not only in Inverness but throughout the Highlands, and even among his countrymen abroad, as we have a good opportunity of knowing. Scarcely a letter reaches us but contains warm expressions of regret for his loss.
The Rev. P. Hately Waddell, LL.D., who enjoyed an evening with him here a few years ago, writes, among hundreds of others :-
It gave me great grief to see that you lost so dear a friend and so valuable a contributor. The announcement of his death in the papers was a sad surprise to myself, for I was not aware that he was complaining, and it was by your own reference to them in the magazine that I understood at all about the circumstances attending it. The slight opportunity I had of his personal acquaintance at Inverness was enough to satisfy me that he was a most estimable man, and I am quite sure that his loss will be very deeply felt by the whole community.

The Secretary of the Gaelic Society received the following letters, among several others, expressing regret.

Sir Kenneth Mackenzie of Gairloch wrote—

I am glad the Gaelic Society is to attend the funeral of our friend Mr Macgregor. I certainly should have joined in the tribute of respect that will be paid to his remains had I been able to do so. Indeed, for him it will, I think, be something more than a tribute of respect; it will be one of affection. Others will succeed him, but no one will ever replace him, and I can hardly explain to myself how much I feel the loss of one who was to me a kindly, pleasant acquaintance.

The Rev. Mr Bisset, R.C., Stratherrick, wrote—

For Mr Macgregor I have always entertained, since first I knew him, feelings of the deepest respect. As an unworthy member of the Gaelic Society, I would have considered it a melancholy duty to attend the funeral of this most worthy man—a father and pillar of the Society, and a most genuine Celt.

Colonel Cluny Macpherson of Cluny, C.B., wrote—

I was very sorry to hear of the death of the Rev. Alex. Macgregor, for whom I have had a very great regard, and I regret extremely being unable to be present at his funeral, and to pay the last mark of respect to the memory of one so much beloved.

The funeral, which was a public one, was one of the largest ever seen in Inverness. The people began to gather at 4 Victoria Terrace, the residence of the deceased, at noon, though the cortege was timed to start at i P.M. The Chronicle, for which Mr Macgregor also wrote several Gaelic contributions, accurately describes the scene:—

Among the first to arrive were the members of the Presbytery of Inverness. Religious services were conducted in the house by the venerable Dr Macdonald. Meanwhile the muster outside grew larger and larger. All classes were represented. Landowners, magistrates, clergymen of all denominations, merchants, farmers, and humble workmen assembled with the one desire to pay a last tribute to a man who had so well represented broad charity and universal brotherhood. Dr Mackay aud the Primus, as well as Dr Macdonald, were there with their weight of years. The Rev. Mr Dawson, the Catholic priest, was there also, and so were Free and Established Church ministers from a distance. The Masons of St Mary's Lodge, of which the deceased was chaplain, turned out to the number of 120; and so, to the number of zoo, did the Gaelic Society, headed by Mr Fraser-Mackintosh, M.P., one of their honorary chieftains. Mr Mackintosh of Raigmore was also present.

Shortly after one o'clock the procession started in the following order The Town Officers.

The Provost, Magistrates, and Town Council.
The Lodge of St Mary's Freemasons.
The Lodge of St John's Freemasons (No. 6 of Scotland).
The hearse.
The chief mourners and immediate friends.
The Presbytery of Inverness.
The Kirk-Session of the West Church.
The Members of the Gaelic Society.
The public.

In this order the long procession moved slowly by Millburn Road, Petty Street, High Street, and Church Street to Chapel-yard, where the interment took place in the presence of thousands. The pall-bearers were:

Mr Robert Macgregor, Edinburgh, and Dr D. A. Macgregor, Clayton West, Huddersfield—sons.
Mr James Menzies, Melrose, and Mr Duncan Macgregor, Inverness—cousins.
The Rev. Dr Macdonald, High Church, Inverness.
The Rev. J. Macnaughton, Dores.
Colonel J. P. Stuart, Inverness.
Mr A. A. Gregory, Inverness.

Along the route spectators lined the sides of the streets. The town bells and those of the High and West Churches were tolled. Shops, banks, and places of business were closed. In short, business was universally suspended, and it might be said that almost all the population was in the streets. Nothing could be simpler and nothing more impressive than the manner in which Inverness paid its last tribute to the man who had so long gone in and out among its people, unostentatiously doing good, and making friends of all and enemies of none.

Inverness shall certainly never see his like again, and for ourselves, we can only repeat what we said in our last issue:—In him the Celtic Magazine has lost its first and best friend; while the Editor personally has lost the society of one whose most intimate and personal friendship he valued above all others, and whose life and walk he admired as the most complete model of true Christian charity and gentleness it has ever been his lot to know.

His loss to his own family and more immediate friends is not for us to measure; but their cloud of sorrow has a silver lining, which ought to qualify their bereavement, in the universal regret and sympathy of a whole people. A. M.


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