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Parish Life in the North of Scotland
Chapter XIX - Ministerial Prospects - Marriage


1820-21.

I WAS invited when in Aberdeen on several occasions to assist Mr. MacLeod, of the Gaelic chapel in Dundee, at the communion. His church was nothing else than an ordinary-sized dwelling-house converted into a place of worship by being fitted up with seats and galleries. The congregation consisted of Highlanders from the mountainous districts of Perthshire—plain, unsophisticated men. It was during my visits to Dundee that I first became acquainted with Dr. Peters, who was married to a sister of the wife of Professor Stuart of Marischal College. Mr. MacLeod and I were invited to sup with him, where we found before us Mr. W. Thomson of Perth, brother of Dr. Andrew Thomson of Edinburgh. Mr. Thomson of Dundee was, I think, there also. Mr. MacLeod sang a few of the old Gaelic psalm tunes. ["In 1626 Lord Reav, Munro of Fowlis, etc., with thousands of their retainers, were influenced by their Protestant zeal to embark for Germany and fight for the ascendancy of their religion in that part of the continent Many of them fell there, others returned, and afterwards upheld the covenanting canoe in Scotland under General Leslie. The old Gaelic tunes are only to he found in those parts of the Highlands whence those soldiers came, and it is supposed that they; learned them in Germany, and brought them to this country." (Gustavus Aird, D.D.)—Ed.] These tunes, producing the most solemn impression when sung by a congregation in the open air, laboured under every possible disadvantage when set forth by Mr. MacLeod, whose voice, naturally husky and coming exclusively through his nose, made the effect so perfectly ridiculous that his guests had the greatest difficulty in reducing their countenances within the limits of decorum. Another of the acquaintances I formed at Dundee was a Mr. Kirkaldy. He was then a wealthy merchant in town, and had been married to a daughter of Dr. MacLauchlan, one of the town's ministers; but she had died, and the trial, a very sore one, for they lived most happily together, was eminently sanctified to her widowed husband.

In the year 1821 I received a unanimous call from the congregation of the Gaelic chapel at Rothesay. The offer was a most advantageous one in every way, and in looking back upon the circumstances, I can only wonder that I did not see my way to accept it. But Providence had designed for me another sphere.

About this time a great breach was made among the veteran watchmen on the walls of our Sion by the death of Dr. Ronald Bayne, minister of Kirtarlity, Inverness-shire, of whom mention has already been made. lie died in February, 1821, aged 66 years. His second son, Charles John, was at the time a preacher. He was a candidate for his father's charge and living, but the patron disappointed him. He became minister of Fodderty in 1826, and died in 1832, at the age of 35 years.

Mr. Kenneth Bayne, minister of the Gaelic chapel in Greenock, died in 1821. This truly eminent minister was brother of Dr. Bayne of Kiltarlity, who preceded him to his everlasting rest only a few months before. Mr. I3ayne's ministerial labours at Greenock were very specially owned and blessed. His wife, an eminently pious woman, died some years before then, and Mr. Bayne, tenderly attached to her, never fully rallied from the shock which that heart-rending event had inflicted upon him.

From the president of the Greenock Gaelic chapel committee I received a letter asking me to preach as a candidate. I did not precisely understand the general regulations by which Chapels of Ease were guided, particularly during vacancies, and the letter of the committee to me was framed in a way to darken, rather than to enlighten, my views upon the subject. The purport of it was that, having heard of me as a minister of the gospel, and that I was, in my public teaching, at one in views and sentiments with their departed pastor, the wish of the congregation was that I should preach at Greenock on a certain Sabbath shortly thereafter, which was particularly mentioned. What occurred to me at once, on receiving this intimation, was that, as the congregation is situated in the very heart of a large district of the south-west of Scotland where the Gaelic was not understood, the request of the managers to me was neither more nor less than to favour them with a supply during the vacancy, Gaelic preachers being few in that part of the country. On this understanding solely, and not with any, the most distant, desire of preaching there as a candidate, I agreed to go. I went by the stage-coach from Aberdeen, first to Perth, and next day to Stirling and Glasgow. After remaining there for a night at the "Black-bull" hotel, I went next day by one of the small Clyde steamers to Greenock. I arrived on Saturday, and met on the pier my worthy friend Mr. Bannatyne, under whose hospitable roof I lodged during the whole time I remained there. I preached in the chapel on the Sabbath. What the effect on the audience, a very large and crowded one, really was I could not well say, but I felt very much straitened. Being quite unconscious of any intention on the part of the congregation to think of me at all, as their future pastor, even youthful vanity did not urge me to keep up appearances. My residence with Mr. Bannatyne, under his own roof, served to raise him high in my esteem. On the Monday he had planned an expedition, along with his brother James, to Rothesay, or "Rosay" as he called it. We went thither by a steamer, and the wind almost blew a hurricane. The smell of the steamboat, together with the violence of the waves, made me both squeamish and frightened. Mr. Bannatyne, to keel) up my spirits, although I was not much disposed to listen to it, told me an anecdote of Mr. Kenneth Bayne, their late excellent minister. He and his truly Christian brother, Mr. Mackenzie of Glasgow, had resolved, immediately after a communion occasion at Greenock, to go on a gospel expedition to Rothesay. They came to the boat; but, before stepping on board, Mr. Mackenzie who was but a "timid sailor," took out his handkerchief, held it up to the wind, and, finding that it very considerably "flickered" in the breeze, expressed his doubts as to the safety of going in "an open boat." fir. Bayne laughed at his fears. "O, man." said Mr. Kenneth, "where is your faith?" "Oh," said Mr. Mackenzie, "there are many who have no faith to be afraid." We arrived at Rothesay in safety, and were kindly received by our friends. I found Mr. I). Fraser, the minister they had chosen when I declined, there before me. We landed at a house situated close by the ruins of Rothesay Castle, and although the conversation between us was altogether on a very different subject, and far more profitable, yet I could not entirely keep my mind's recollections away from the majestic ruin so distinctly seen from the windows. I said nothing of it to my friends, and it was just as well. Our time was limited; the boat, after a rest and delay of half-an-hour, was just on the tiptoe of departure; we rose up. bade our friends a hasty adieu, and sailed back to Greenock. I Ieft Greenock for Aberdeen next day, under the impression, on my part, that I was no candidate for the chapel at all, but on their part that I was. I had not, therefore, been but about a month at home, when, by a letter I received from Dr. Dewar, I was at once made aware of the precise circumstances in which my agreement to preach at Greenock had placed me. I wrote off at once to the president of the managers of the chapel there requesting of him to withdraw my name from the roll of candidates, assuring him that it had been owing purely to mistake on my part that it was ever attached to it.

On the day of my arrival at Aberdeen by the coach from Greenock, I found a letter on the table before me from my then most intimate friend and acquaintance, Nathaniel Morren. It made a very plain and pointed reference, though not a little in the bantering style, to one of the most important events of my life—my first entrance into the marriage relation. The preliminaries had been begun some time previous to my visit to Greenock. I bad, since my first arrival in Aberdeen, been intimate with and almost a weekly visitor in the family of Mrs. Robertson at Tanfield, near Aberdeen. The eldest daughter I ever regarded, since my first acquaintance with her, as a thorough and devoted Christian. Her piety was vital and ardent. Maria, the youngest of the three sisters, was also a subject of divine grace, but her piety was more concealed. She deferred much to her eldest sister Frances. Harriet. however, was different from them all. She naturally possessed all that amiability and native power of mind which attach us to things spiritual and temporal at one and the same time. There was, therefore, in tier, even from the very moment of our acquaintance, a tie and an attraction which I could not attempt to• define; and this before either the one or the other of us ever thought of the relation in which we might stand connected with each other.

Some time in the month of February or March, of 1821, going out from Aberdeen towards the Printfield, with the view of visiting some of my congregation residing there, I met Mrs. Robertson and her two daughters, Frances and Harriet. near the Old Town. After a cordial greeting, Frances said that she and her mother had, on special business, to go to Aberdeen, but that Harriet was to return home, Harriet I offered to escort on her homeward journey. We entered the house, walked into the parlour, and sat down each of us on the sofa. I stammered out my attachment to her, long felt but concealed until now. At last she said, with a frankness peculiarly her own, that our attachment was reciprocal, but that, before we could take any important step, both our surviving parents ought to be consulted, for their approbation and blessing. Our conference, so interesting to us both, had just come to this point, when the entry-door opened, and her mother and two sisters entered the room. We had time to compose ourselves, rise from the sofa, and to stand, with all possible calmness, to receive them.

The house of Tanfield stood at the foot of a rather steep hill. The top of the hill was crowned with the ancient and, at that period, rather dilapidated and much decayed house and policies of the ancient family of the Johnstones, Baronets of Hiltoun. The place of Hiltoun stood at the top of the eminence above, and to the north of Tanfield. Thither Harriet and I, often afterwards, strayed together. We passed the house, and entered a clump of trees behind the garden wall, where there were several green glades opening up here and there between them. There we sat down, and conversed upon various topics, but always concluded with the renewal of our warm attachment to each other, and thus the intervening time between our engagement and our nuptials passed away.

I happened one day to be passing down slowly from my own house, through Woolmanhill Street, and had entered School-hill Street on my way to the discharge of some congregational duty. 1 had not very far passed the gate of Gordon's Hospital when I noticed two respectable and clerical-looking persons talking very cordially and anxiously with each other. As I drew nearer I recognised one of them, and discovered him to be none other than my old teacher of Moral Philosophy, namely, Dr. George Glennie, and I overheard him say, "I am exceedingly sorry to learn that our truly excellent brother, Mr. Arthur of Resolis, is no more." Some weeks thereafter I had occasion to pass up Gallowgate Street, and had just reached the end of it, when a Highlander, a member of my own congregation, met me fully in the face. After the usual salutation I was about to pass on, when he said, "Stop, sir, if you please, I have something to tell you; you will have heard, perhaps, that Mr. Arthur of Resolis is dead." I replied that I had. "Then, said he, "I am a native of the Black Isle, and have just returned from visiting my relations in that country. I had occasion to know, when in the north, that the people of Resolis have held several meetings in expectation that the patron, the laird of Newhall, will give them their choice. So far as I could ascertain, they are likely to choose you." I replied, in general terms, that such a thing might be probable enough, but that I had never heard of it till now, nor even thought of it. I left him, but the intelligence, however undecisive, took a stronger hold of my mind than I had anticipated. Could it be true P If it were not, would it not be strange that, when two parishes (Dornoch and Golspie) had not the power of choosing, I should have been their selected candidate, and if now, when a parish had the power, I should not be the object of their choice? Soon afterwards, however, I got a letter from a Mr. Young, a writer in Fortrose, and married to one of the Cordons of Swiney, cousins of my own, intimating that the people of Resolis, having got their choice of a minister from the patron, had held several congregational meetings; that they were divided into two parties; that they had three candidates in view, viz., Mr. William MacPhail, then in Holland, Mr. John Munro of the Gaelic Chapel in Edinburgh, and that I was the third. He suggested that, as he was on an intimate footing in the way of business with many of the Resolis people, I should privately authorise him to canvass the parishioners to secure a majority in my favour. I wrote back that such a measure I utterly repudiated, seeing that one of the questions expressly to be put to me, if I were settled there, would be, "Did I use any means to procure the living?" and that I would rather be without the living than so burden my conscience.

My marriage took place, according to appointment, on the 21st of July, 1821. My brother-in-law, Mr. Forbes, officiated, and Prof. Tulloch of King's College acted as " best man." After the ceremony, we all partook of a glass of wine and the marriage cake. Our marriage-jaunt had been planned to be a visit to the north, to my dear and venerable father. Into the same post-chaise which had carried me from Gilcomston to Tanfield we stepped immediately, accompanied by Mr. Forbes and Harriet's elder sister, Frances. We arrived that evening at the inn of Pitmachie, about twenty miles north of Aberdeen, where we remained that night. How often have my recollections hovered around that country inn! It was my usual resting-place on my way to and from college, but its only association in my mind is with that wedding journey. With all our joy and mirth, we never once thought of joining "trembling." 'ay, the very anticipation of sorrow or bereavement in the future, I should have regarded as mere morbid apprehension.

Next day we rose early in expectation of the coach, and had full time to take a stroll before breakfast. Mr. Forbes, in the course of his walk, had fallen in with a Ross-shire Highlander employed as a day labourer on a farm near the inn. He greatly shocked us by repeating the man's description of what he had seen in the parish church on the preceding Sabbath at the communion table. He had seen old and young, male and female, rushing forward to the table, jostling each other rudely in order to get a seat, and boys, not much above fourteen years of age, tittering and laughing, and throwing the bread in each other's faces. No wonder that the man said he would not presume to be a communicant in such a manner.

The coach-hour arrived, so, dismissing the chaise, we took seats for Alves on the outside, as those inside were occupied. We dined at Elgin, and met there Captain Mackay, old Araidh-chlinni's son, who then lived at Inverness. We now set out for the manse of Alves, alighting right opposite to it at a small village. Mr. Duncan Grant, my predecessor in Aberdeen, was then minister there. We found him waiting for us, and got a most hearty reception from himself and his sister. The next day we resolved to proceed to Burghead, about six miles to the north, and thence to hire a boat and crew to take us to Tarbatness, or to land us as near the manse of Tarbat as possible. Mr. Grant, accordingly, conveyed us thither in a cart, and no sooner had we arrived than we sought out, found, and arranged with the boat's crew; so we proceeded on our journey. The weather was sufficiently mild, and we experienced neither difficulty nor danger in crossing, in an open boat, that wide arm of the sea. At the Tarbat shore we landed in a small creek called Wilkhaven, two or three miles to the east of the manse, where conveyances awaited us. We received a cordial welcome from my sister and her family, who all, then in the bloom of youth, still clustered around her.

We remained at Tarbat over Sabbath, and on .Monday we all three, Harriet, Frances, and myself, left by a fisherman's boat for the Sutherland coast, which stretched out, right opposite, about twenty miles across. We landed at about six o'clock below the manse of Loth. After dismissing the boatmen, we went to Kilmote, then tenanted by Mr. Robert Mackay, one of the sons of Robert of Achoul, parish of Farr, and nephew of old and venerable William of Achoul. We left Kilmote that evening for Wester-Garty, the abode of Mr. James Duncan, where we remained during the night. Mr. Duncan was kind enough to furnish us with a conveyance to the manse of Kildonan next day. We left his house after breakfast, and arrived at Kildonan, coming by Helmisdale and the Strath, about three o'clock in the afternoon. My father met us at the door. His gigantic figure and his large countenance, beaming with love and kindness, were calculated to make a deep impression upon us all. He stood before us with all the affection of a venerated father, and with the native dignity of a gentleman of the old school. I presented to him my young and dearly-beloved wife. lie opened up his large and massy arms, into which dear Harriet, in the gushing warmth of her natural affection, threw herself at once. He clasped her in his embrace, and imprinted a paternal kiss upon her forehead. We spent many happy days at Kildonan, every one of which we enjoyed.

But the time arrived when we must depart. We left Kildonan for Aberdeen, but many things intervening prevented us from getting there so soon as we had intended. We went first to the manse of Dorngch, where we remained for some time. While here, my father wrote asking me to return and assist him, as he proposed administering the sacrament. Leaving my wife and her sister, therefore, in Dornoch, I returned to Kildonan. There I found my sister Elizabeth, though her husband, Mr. Cook, being similarly engaged in Caithness, could not be present. On Sabbath I preached the action sermon in English. My sister was my hearer, but she was dissatisfied. She expressed this feeling to me at the close of the communion season. Her objections were well-founded, but I did not receive them as I ought to have done, and it was no wonder. Her mind and mine were, at the time, in two very different, and even contrary, frames. She was in sorrow, I was in joy; she mourned the loss of a beloved babe, whilst I rejoiced in my recent union to the wife of my youth; her sorrows turned her to Christ's death and atonement, my joys, alas of a far less spiritual character, turned me to the opposite side, even to the world, which whispered insidiously into my mind's ear that to-morrow would be as to-day, and every day thereafter accordingly. How egregiously was I mistaken! I was then like a foolish boy spending his time in pursuing the butterfly which, as he caught it, was crushed in his grasp. This I afterwards bitterly realised. I spoke to my sister of her recent bereavement, but she was silent, and could not find utterance for the swelling of her heart; she turned from me and walked away.

I forgot to mention that, while we were at the manse of Tarbat, I received a letter from Mr. Macdonald of Ferintosh in which, after congratulating us on our marriage, he proceeds to say:—"The presentation in your favour to the parish of Resolis is drawn out, and no time, in that case, is to be lost in proceeding to the other steps requisite to be gone through. On this account you would require to be at hand, say at Kirkhill or at my house." My letter of acceptance of the presentation to the church and parish of hesolis, or rather Kirkmichael and Cullicudden, was drawn out by Mr. Fraser of Kirkhill, and signed by me. It was dated at Killearnan on the 14th day of August, 1821. We went to Kirkhill for some days. Harriet and Lilias Fraser, Mr. Fraser's eldest daughter, a very lively and affectionate girl, got enthusiastically fond of each other. They were kindred spirits; whilst they both knew and revered the truth, which evidently was the undercurrent of their souls, the playfulness of youthful minds and their natural vivacity during these halcyon days, like a gentle summer breeze, swept over their more serious thoughts. To entertain us, Mr. Fraser proposed a trip to the Fall of Foyers, in which Lily was to accompany us, a proposal which we readily accepted. We set out for Inverness on the preceding evening, and were most kindly received by my aunt, Mrs. Fraser, widow of Dr. Alex. Fraser of Kirkhill. Thence, next morning, we set out for the canal to proceed up Loch Ness by the steamer as far as Foyers. We landed at Foyers by the steamer's yawl, and proceeded through a few glades and thickets, until we came to the banks of the river at the foot of the mountain, down which the fall in its course runs headlong. We then began to ascend, and about midway, within a few hundred yards of a cottage built in 1737 by Gen. Wade, and commonly called the "General's but," a narrow, scrambling pathway brought us to the lower fall 'which, hidden as it was by the rocks and trees rising on each side of it, burst upon us all at once, and overpowered us with a sense of its rugged grandeur. We stood upon a protruding ledge of rock which brought us within 20 feet of the cataract, and from which we had a perfect view of the whole sheet of the lower fall both upwards and downwards. Looking upwards, we could see that the river was compressed between two rocks not apparently more than 15 feet apart. Thence it began its downward foaming course of at least 90 feet. It passed us on our stance enveloped in a cloud of spray and with a deafening noise. Looking downwards, we could see its termination. It threw itself into a deep chasm considerably dark, but not so obscured that we could not discern its boiling rage lose itself in a still-flowing current. On the opposite side of the river, and situated on a fairy knowe, we saw far beneath the manor-house of the proprietor of this beautiful Highland domain, Mr. Fraser of Foyers. The " General's hut" was very justly so designated. It was a low, old-looking building; its walls, gables, and chimney tops evidently the rude, clumsy rubble-work of the masons of 1733, when set to execute, no matter how, in that hyperborean clime, a Government contract, responsible only to the final approval of General Wade, who knew nothing about the matter. The roof was of heather thatch, not of course so old as the walls, but pretty well stricken in years notwithstanding, as its appearance very plainly showed. '1'he internal arrangement and whole aspect of the hut were still more in unison with its name. There was a huge chimney in the principal room which did not vent, for the obvious reason that it never was intended for any such purpose, and the walls which, when originally built, had been plastered with lime, and, of course, quite white, were jet black, hearing upon them the annual incrustations of smoke and soot from the chimney of nearly a century. We left the " General's hut," and proceeded towards the shore of Loch Ness, where, after waiting about an hour, the steamer made its appearance. Next day we returned to Kirkhill, and soon after went home to Gilcomston, where we arrived about the end of August.

On our arrival, our domestic establishment underwent a complete revolution. Mrs. Robertson and her two daughters could not possibly separate themselves from Harriet. Frances they all looked up to as a faithful and conscientious monitor, but Harriet was the very soul and life-spring of the whole family circle. If I remember well, Mrs. Robertson kept her house at Tanfield until we finally left Aberdeen for the north, but she and her daughters resided principally with us at Gilcomston.

My reception by my congregation was not altogether what I could have expected. They had all heard to a man that I had been presented, at the request of the people, by the patron to the parish of Resolis. I naturally thought that when 1 returned to them again, they would have been, if not angry at me, at least disappointed or sorry. Not so, however, they were rather gratified that a parish in Ross-shire had chosen their minister above others; though they would have been far better pleased had I elected rather to remain with them than to accept, as I had done, the offer made to me. I was just three years minister of the Gaelic Chapel, and the people were attached to me. But the call to Resolis just came in time both to foster their attachment to me, and to raise me in their estimation. Many of them told me so.

From December, 1821, till the following May, when I was inducted minister of Resolis, most of our time was occupied in preparation for our departure, and it was resolved by us all, both at Gilcomston and Tanfield, that we should live together at Resolis under the same roof.

My intercourse with my congregation, in the meantime, was nothing less cordial and confidential than it was before. I had abundant proof of their attachment to me, especially from such of them who truly feared God. There were but few of these comparatively; in going to Ross-shire, certainly, true Christian intercourse would be very much increased. The eminent and decided piety of Ross-shire was well known all over Scotland, both to the friends and to the enemies of the truth. The Moderate party in the church was wont to point the finger of scorn at that county, and say, " Behold the hot-bed of fanaticism," meaning, by that expression, the vital influence of divine truth on the heart. How true it is that "the natural man receiveth not the things of God; they are foolishness to him!" Those, however, in the north or the south, who had experienced that influence on themselves, regarded it as the mother-county of true Christianity in Scotland. The peculiarity connected with it was, however, that while, in other parts of the country, true religion was to be found among the middle classes, in Ross-shire it was almost entirely confined to the peasantry.

At this particular period of my life the country had scarcely yet settled into a calm after the political excitements of 1815. The battle of Waterloo terminated a long and sanguinary struggle, during which the balance of power in Europe, after being often nearly lost, and as often nearly won, was at last settled by the triumph of the allied armies and the downfall of Bonaparte. The great military leaders who had survived that bloody contest, at the bead of whom was the Duke of Wellington, were loaded with emoluments and honours. But a great many more, natives both of England and Scotland, had fallen during the Spanish and other wars, and no reward could be conferred on them but the honours usually accorded to the mighty dead. The fallen heroes of England had already a `Westminster Abbey in which their deeds and their prowess could by suitable memorials be perpetuated. But Scotland had nothing of the kind, and therefore the idea of a National Monument was started. It was proposed that an ornate edifice should be erected on the Calton Hill of Edinburgh, and that, within this building niches or stalls should be prepared for the monuments of those Scottish heroes who fell fighting the battles of their country, and further, that, like its Westminster prototype, the building should be a place of worship in connection with the National Church. Such was the scheme itself, and the question then came to be discussed, how the funds were to be collected? For this purpose was named a committee, described as "The Committee of the National Monument." This committee consisted of many of the nobility and gentry, and of the principal subscribers, and, by means of their exertions, a very considerable sum was realised. But as this fell far short of that required for the purpose, and as it was moreover to be, in the strictest sense, a national monument in which the whole, body of the Scottish people was to have a personal interest, the committee made application, in 1819, to the General Assembly for sanction to apply to all the ministers of the church for subscriptions. These efforts failed, yet the redoubtable secretary, Mr. Michael Linning, was able to collect as much money as cleared the expenses of the erection of a few pillars on the Calton Hill, which remain a picturesque object, but, at the same time, a monument of the great power of design with which Scotsmen are endowed, and of the limited power they have of executing those designs.

On the 28th of April, 1821, the foundation stone of Lord Melville's monument was laid in the centre of St. Andrew's Square, Edinburgh. The monument is a. huge stone pillar, hollow in the centre, containing a spiral staircase, and surmounted by a full length statue of the political hero whose fame it is intended to transmit to posterity. I can well recollect the enclosed centre of the Square previous to the erection of the memorial, and I also remember to have seen it when half up.

On Thursday the 17th of May, 1821, the General Assembly met. Its proceedings were not very interesting, the only thing worthy of notice being the contest between Dr. Cook of Laurencekirk and Dr. Warns of King's College for the moderatorship. Both were of the Moderate party in the Church, but, from the animosity of this party against Dr. Cook, and of the Evangelicals against Dr. Dlearns, it so turned out that, while Dr. Mearns was supported by his own party, Dr. Cook had for his supporters the whole of the Evangelical party with Dr. Andrew Thomson at their head. Dr. Thomson was not a member of the Assembly, so he could not vote, but he did what was far more effectual. He, in the "Christian Instructor," of which he was editor, gave on the question of the moderatorship, his strong support in favour of Dr. Cook.


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