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Significant Scots
Rev John Skinner


Rev John SkinnerSKINNER, (REV.) JOHN, the well known author of several popular poems, and of an ecclesiastial history of Scotland, was born at Balfour, in the parish of Birse, Aberdeenshire, October 3, 1721. His father was schoolmaster of that parish, and his mother was the widow of Donald Farquharson, Esq. of Balfour. Having in boyhood displayed many marks of talent, he was placed at thirteen years of age in Marischal college, Aberdeen, where his superior scholarship obtained for him a considerable bursary. After completing his academical education, he became assistant to the schoolmaster of Kenmay, and subsequently to the same official at Monymusk, where he was so fortunate as to gain the friendship of the lady of Sir Archibald Grant. The library at Monymusk house, consisting of several thousands of well-selected works, in every department of literature, was placed by lady Grant at his command, and afforded him better means of intellectual improvement, than he could have hoped for in any other situation. He now found reason to forsake the presbyterian establishment, in which he had been reared, and to adopt the principles of the Scottish episcopal church, of which he was destined to be so distinguished an ornament. After spending a short time in Shetland, as tutor to the son of Mr Sinclair of Scolloway, and marrying the daughter of Mr Hunter, the only episcopal clergyman in that remote region, he commenced his studies for the church; and, having been ordained by bishop Dunbar of Peterhead, was appointed, in November, 1742, to the charge of the congregation at Longside, over which he presided for sixty-five years, probably without a wish to "change his place." Of the severities with which the episcopal clergy were visited after the rebellion of 1745, Mr Skinner bore his full share. His chapel was one of those which were burnt by the ruthless soldiers of Cumberland. After that period, in order to evade an abominable statute, he officiated to his own family within his own house, while the people stood without, and listened through the open windows. Nevertheless, he fell under the ban of the government, for having officiated to more than four persons, and was confined, for that offence, in Aberdeen jail, from May 26th to November 26th, 1753. This was the more hard, as Mr Skinner was by no means a partizan of the Stuart family.

Mr Skinner’s first publication was a pamphlet entitled, "A Preservative against Presbytery," which he published in 1746, to re-assure the minds of his people under the alarming apprehension of the total extirpation of Scottish episcopacy. In 1757, he published at London, a "Dissertation on Jocob’s Prophecy," which received the high approbation of bishop Sherlock. In 1767, he published a pamphlet, vindicating his church against the aspersions of Mr Sievewright, of Brechin. The life of this good and ingenious man passed on in humble usefulness, cheered by study, and by the cultivation of the domestic affections. His home was a small cottage at Linshart, near Longside, consisting simply of a kitchen and parlour, the whole appearance of which was, in the highest degree, primitive. Here, upon an income resembling that of Goldsmith’s parson, he reared a large family, the eldest of whom he had the satisfaction to see become his own bishop, long before his decease. His profound biblical and theological knowledge is evinced by his various works, as collected into two volumes, and published by his family. The livelier graces of his genius are shown in his familiar songs; " Tullochgorum;" "The Ewie wi’ the Crookit Horn;" "O why should old age so much wound us, O?" &c. In 1788, he published his "Ecclesiastical History of Scotland;" in which an ample account is given of the affairs of the episcopal church, from the time of the Reformation, till its ministers at length consented, on the death of Charles Stuart, to acknowledge the existing dynasty. This work, consisting of two volumes octavo, is dedicated in elegant Latin, "Ad Filium et Episcopum," to his son and bishop. It may be remarked, that he wrote Latin, both in prose and verse, with remarkable purity.

In 1799, Mr Skinner sustained a heavy loss in the death of Mrs Skinner, who, for nearly fifty-eight years, had been his affectionate partner in the world’s warfare. On this occasion, he evinced the poignancy of his grief and the depth of the attachment with which he clung to the remembrance of her, in some beautiful Latin lines, both tenderly descriptive of the qualities which she possessed, and, at the same time, mournfully expressive of the desolation which her departure had caused. Till the year 1807, the even tenor of the old man’s course was unbroken by any other event of importance. In the spring of that year, however, the scarcely healed wound in his heart was opened by the death of his daughter-in-law, who expired at Aberdeen, after a very short, but severe illness. Each by a widowed hearth, the father and son were now mutually anxious, that what remained of the days of the former should be spent together. It was accordingly resolved, that he should remove from Linshart, and take up his abode with the bishop, and his bereaved family. To meet him, his grandson, the Rev. John Skinner, minister at Forfar, now dean of Dunblane, repaired, with all his offspring, to Aberdeen. This was in unison with a wish which himself had expressed. To use his own affecting language, it was his desire to see once more his children’s grand-children, and peace upon Israel.

On the 4th of June, he bade adieu to Linshart for ever. We may easily conceive the profound sorrow which, on either side, accompanied his separation from a flock among whom he had ministered for sixty-five years. He had baptized them all; and there was not one among them who did not look up to him as a father. After his arrival in Aberdeen, he was, for a week or ten days, in the enjoyment of his usual health. Surrounded by his numerous friends, he took a lively interest in the common topics of conversation; sometimes amusing them with old stories, and retailing to them anecdotes of men and things belonging to a past generation. Twelve days after his arrival, he was taken ill at the dinner-table, and almost immediately expired. He was buried in the church-yard of Longside, where his congregation have erected a monument to his memory. On a handsome tablet of statuary marble, is to be seen the simple but faithful record of his talents, his acquirements, and his virtues.

Rev John Skinner
Rev John Skinner

Below you will find a couple of pdf files which gives a larger biographical sketch as well as a number of his poems and songs...

Biographical Sketch  |  Poems and Songs


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