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Parish Life in the North of Scotland
Chapter III - Alexander Sage; His early days. The Reay Country


1753-1782.

MY father, Alexander Sage, minister of Kildonan, Sutherlandshire, my grandfather's sixth son, was born at the manse of Lochcarron on the 2nd of July, 1753. After acquiring the first rudiments of his education under the paternal roof, he was sent to the school of Cromarty. The teacher, Mr. John Russel, was a man of great worth, an expert scholar, and a licentiate of the Church. The gentry, the clergy, and the upper class of tenants, in the shires of Ross, Cromarty, and Inverness, sent their sons to his school. His method of teaching had not perhaps the polished surface of those systems which are most approved of now, but it was minute, careful, and substantial. In the elementary rules his pupils received a training they could never afterwards forget. My father could, at the age of seventy, repeat the construction rules of Ruddiman's "Rudiments" and of Watt's "Grammar" as accurately and promptly as he was accustomed to do when the fear of Mr. John Russel was before his eyes. When the pupils began to read Latin, they were taught to speak the language at the same time. Among the more advanced classes not a word in the school did any of them dare address to the teacher, or to each other, but in Latin, and thus they were made familiar with the language. Mr. Russel was a most uncompromising disciplinarian. The dread of his punishment was felt, and its salutary exercise extended, not only within the four corners of the schoolroom, but over the length and breadth of the parish. The trifler within the school on week-days, the sauntering lounger on the streets or oil the links of Cromarty on the Sabbath-days, had that instinctive terror of Mr. Russel that the beasts are said to have of the lion. The truant, quailing under his glance, betook himself to his lesson; the saunterer on the links, at the first blink of him on the brae-head, returned to his home. In addition to this peremptoriness, Mr. Russel exercised a spirit of vital piety. Profoundly versant in Scripture truth and in experimental religion, he was the companion of all who feared God. His love of discipline arose from a love of God, of moral duty, and of the sacred rights of an enlightened conscience.

A characteristic anecdote is related of him. Mr. John Cameron, a student of divinity and parochial schoolmaster of Tain, was on his trials before the Presbytery with a view to license. This young man possessed a fund of natural humour, and would not hesitate, for the sake of a jest, to sacrifice that which was important and sacred. He was afterwards minister of Falkirk in Caithness. Mr. Cameron and Mr. Russel were fellow-travellers on their way to the Presbytery seat where Mr. Cameron had some of his trial discourses to deliver before the court. They were at such a distance from their journey's end that they had to take up their quarters at an inn by the way. Mr. Cameron said that he had composed and committed to memory three Calvinistic prayers to offer before the Presbytery. Having fixed them in his memory, he kept them there in retenite, he said, to give them fresh to the Presbytery. Mr. Russel, however, contrived, much to poor Cameron's annoyance, to extract every one of them from him before they parted. When they came to the inn, and before they had their supper, Mr. Russel proposed family worship. To this Mr. Cameron did not venture to object; besides, as Mr. Russel was a preacher of some standing, he had no apprehension that there would be any demand for his personal services. He was mistaken. Mr. Russel asked him to pray, "and the end of it was," as Cameron himself told it, "that off went one of my best prayers." After supper they were shown to their beds, and were to be bed-fellows. Mr. Cameron was about to hasten to a corner of the room to his private devotions, but Mr Russel prevented him. "My friend, it is more becoming that we should pray together first, and then pray separately before we go to bed; and, as you are to be engaged to-morrow in prayer and preaching, you cannot any better prepare yourself than by being frequently engaged in social prayer." Mr. Cameron felt that an inroad had already been made on his stock of prayers, and to the new proposal he stoutly objected. But it would not do. Mr. Russel was peremptory—he must again pray; "so," as he related, "down I bent to my knees, and away went two-thirds of my stock." In the morning, when they were both dressed, Mr. Russel said, "We are entering upon our journey, and we ought to begin it with prayer together; let us kneel, and you'll proceed: it will suitably prepare you, and put your mind in a proper frame for the duties before you. Cameron resisted the proposal, but to no purpose. "I repeated my last prayer," said Cameron, "and where or how to get new ones in place of them I didn't know, unless I could splice them together."

Mr. Russel was a preacher of great power and unction. In 1774 he was settled minister of the high Church, Kilmarnock, and from thence he was, in the year 1800, translated to Stirling, where he continued until his death in the year 1817.

Mr. John Russel, minister of the second charge of Stirling, died on the 23rd February, 1817, in his 77th year and the 43rd of his ministry. Of somewhat uncouth aspect, with a stern and gloomy countenance, he was a fearless and most effective preacher. In his poem of "The Twa Herds," the poet Burns has celebrated him thus:-

What herd like Russel tell'd his tale;
His voice was heard through muir and dale."
And in the "Holy Fair," in these lines:-
"His piercin' words, like Highland swords,
Divide the joints and marrow
His talk o' hell, whare devils dwell,
Our vera saul does barrow."—Ed.

A contemporary of my father, under Mr. Russel's tuition at Cromarty, was Charles Grant, one of the directors of the E. I. Company, member of Parliament for Inverness-shire, and father of Lord Glenelg. He was then a shop-lad in the employment of William Forsyth, an enterprising merchant. How long my father remained at the school of Mr. Russel I do not recollect. His father came frequently to see him, and took a lively interest in the progress of his education and in the moral culture of his mind. Iie went to the Aberdeen University in 1776, and prosecuted his studies at King's College. One of the professors, Ir. Thomas Gordon, was a model of Scottish scholarship. Latin was his element, the classics his friends; while his minute knowledge of the language of Rome, unbalanced by an enlarged mental quality, rendered him a pedant. He loved to express himself, not only to his students, but to his friends, in the correct and studied periods of Sallust, or Cicero, or Livy. The students called him "Jupiter." One of my father's class-fellows was Duncan Munro of Culcairn. This gentleman was pervaded with an inexhaustible fund of drollery, in which he was wont to indulge at the risk of a broken head. May father, on one occasion, was one of those who, for "value received ' at the hands of Duncan, was able and willing to repay him. The students of King's College had a ball or dance in the College lobby every Saturday evening. At this dance, on one occasion, my father, a tall, gaunt lad; was practising his steps, when his activity, exhibiting far more strength than grace, attracted Munro's notice. He was holding an orange between his thumb and forefinger, when he cast his eye on my father; the sense of the ludicrous got the advantage of hint, and he sent the orange at my father's head with such dexterity that, after hitting him on the nose, it bounded to the top of the room, with the result that all the party laughed merrily. Calculating the consequences, Culcairn took to his heels, while my father gave chase—down the lobby stair, out at the entry, twice round the court-yard, until at last Culcairn, scrambling quickly over the court-wall, got off. This facetious gentleman was heir to the estate of Foulis. He was also connected with George Ross of Cromarty; and his son, had he lived, would have succeeded, on the death of the present baronet of Foulis, both to the estates of Cromarty and Foulis. Culcairn sold his paternal property to clear off incumbrances on the estate of Cromarty, and lived at Cromarty House, where he died in 1820.

Having finished his classical studies my father, on the death of my grandfather, removed from Ross to Strathnaver in Sutherlandshire; his mother went with him. His sister Catherine was there before him, married to Charles Gordon of Pulrossie. They took up their abode at Clerkhill, in the immediate vicinity of the Parish Church of Farr. Charles Gordon was a native of the parish, descended from that branch of the clan Gordon which originally came to Sutherland along with Adam, Lord Aboyne, second son of the Earl of Huntly. The place of Clerkhill lie occupied as a farm; he was besides factor on the Reay estate, and an extensive cattle-dealer. He was twice married; by his first wife he had no family. By his second wife, my father's eldest sister, he had three sons and two daughters. John, the eldest, succeeded to the family estate; William, the second son, lived after his return from the American war at Clerkhi]l, and George at the farm of Skelpig, on the north bank of the Laver. His eldest daughter, Fairly, married James Anderson of Rispond, in Durness. His younger daughter married an Englishman named Todd, and thus gave offence to her friends, as her husband was obscure and indigent. But in London Mr. Todd got into business, and afterwards became affluent.

Charles Gordon took a lively interest in my father's welfare, and, he is one of the most influential men in the Reay country, he had much in his power. To his friendship and influence, under God, my father was indebted for every situation which he held in that country. His first appointment was that of parochial schoolmaster of Tongue, a situation which he held until lie received license. When he went to Tongue his mother accompanied him. There she died, and was buried in the tomb of the Scouries.

The Reay country, or "Duthaich Mhic Aoidh," extending from the river Torrisdale to the arm of the sea dividing it from Assynt to the west, was the territory of the clan Mackay, of which Lord Reay was chief. When my father first came to reside in that country, Hugh, sixth Lord Reay, bad, six years before, succeeded to the title and estate on the death of his brother George. In early youth he showed no symptoms of that weakness on account of which it was found necessary to place him under a tutor for the efficient management of his estate. He made progress in his studies, and had a great taste for music. When his intellect gave way, he was lodged in the house of a clansman, a relative of my father, James Mackay of Skerra, where he continued until his death, which took place in 1797. His first tutor was his paternal uncle, Colonel Hugh Mackay. of Bighouse, second son of George, third Lord Reay. On his death, George Mackay of Skibo, his brother, and third son of George, Lord Reay, was appointed. It was during the tutorage of Mr. Mackay of Skibo that my father came first to the country as schoolmaster of Tongue. George Mackay was a man of note in his time, but choleric and hasty in his temper—a propensity which has markedly characterised the whole race of the Mackays. He was also improvident and extravagant, while his wife, the granddaughter of Kenneth, Lord Duffus, was not more careful. To be, during the nonage of the proprietor of a large estate, what was usually called the "Tutor," was, in those days, tantamount to being the actual owner. Yet, with all this advantage, George Mackay of Skibo died a bankrupt. At his death everything went to the hammer, and so completely stripped was his family that his children were conveyed from the castle of Skibo in cruppers on the backs of ponies. Mackay of Skibo, during the minority of Elizabeth, Countess and Duchess of Sutherland, was returned member of Parliament for that county. His Parliamentary career was distinguished by a persistent taciturnity. How he came to be proprietor of Skibo I cannot say. I am inclined to think that it was a part of the property belonging to the Reay family within the limits of the Sutherland estate, and was gifted to him by his father. After the present Lord Reay succeeded to the inheritance of his ancestors, it is said that he could never pass the manor of Skibo, then in possession of the Dempsters, without shedding tears. " It would have been my principal residence," he used to say, "and would have suited me so well, had my father had but common sense." But his lordship was at least equally deficient in common sense, as the recent sale of the Reay estate so clearly proves. Col. Hugh Mackay of Bighouse was elder brother of George Mackay of Skibo, and preceded him in the tutorship. He became proprietor of the estate of Bighouse in consequence of an arbitrary stretch of chieftain power by his father George, third Lord Reay. The estate of Bighouse for four generations was the hereditary patrimony of a family of the name of Mackay, lineally descended from William, youngest son of Mr Mackay of Farr, chief of the clan. The last of the proprietors of this family was George Mackay of Bighouse, who bad a son, Hugh, and two daughters, Elizabeth and Janet. Hugh their brother died young, and his surviving sisters became co-heiresses of the estate of Bighouse. Elizabeth, the elder, married Colonel Hugh Mackay, and Janet espoused William Mackay of Melness, the lineal descendant and representative of Colonel Eneas Mackay, a younger son of Donald, first Lord Reay. On the death of George Mackay, last laird of Bighouse, the estate came to be divided between his two surviving children, Mrs. Col. Hugh Mackay, and Mrs. Mackay of Melness. Lord Reay, however, got the property settled on the elder sister, to the exclusion of the younger. This proceeding was resented by William of Melness, and being a man of as much resolution as he was hot and choleric, he resolved not tamely to submit to the injustice. Having ascertained that his chief was at home, Melness armed himself with his claymore, secured by a strong leathern belt round his loins, to which was added a pair of loaded pistols. Thus accoutred Melness crossed the Ferry below Tongue, and directed his course to the residence of his chief. Demanding entrance he was admitted to the parlour. ' His lordship received him with smiles, begged he would be seated, and asked him the news of the day. "My Lord," said Melness, "I have come to demand at your hands my just rights. My wife is co-heiress of the estate of Bighouse, and I know," he added, raising his voice to a. wrathful pitch, "I know that you have the titles in your possession, and that—that—you're scheming to denude me and my wife of our share that your son Hugh may have it. I'll not allow this; I demand the title-deeds and the will of my father-in-law." Lord Reay attempted to parry him off with friendly assurances. At length, Melness got furious. "My Lord," said he, "I am not now to be trifled with," and, striding to the room door, securely bolted it. "Take your chance," said he, "either produce the will and the title-deeds or take this," and pulling out his loaded pistol, he placed it full cocked within four or five inches of his lordship's breast. Matters had become serious, and the chief waxed pale. "Melness," he exclaimed, "since you must have the papers you ask, will you allow me to go for them, they are in the strong box in my writing-room above stairs?" Melness assented, and his chief walked out at the parlour door and tripped upstairs. His lordship, however, had no sooner put a strong door doubly bolted, and a double pair of stairs between him and his kinsman, than lie took other measures. Opening the window, he called to his footman, whom he saw in front of the house, instructing him to request Mr. Mackay of Melness, whom he would find in the parlour, to come out and speak to him. The message was delivered, and on Melness making his appearance in the close, Lord Reay called from the window, "William, go home and compose yourself, the papers you'll never handle." Closing the window, he put an end to all further conference. Lord Reay's son got possession of the property, and his removal from the Reay country to reside at Bighouse took place soon thereafter. [Rob Donn, on that occasion, composed one of the ablest effusions of his poetic muse. It is one of the most graphic and complete hunting songs in any language.] These occurrences happened long before my father came to that country. William Mackay of Melness flourished in 1727, and must have been dead either before my father was born, or when he was a child. During my father's residence in the Reay country, George Mackay of Skibo was, as tutor of Reay, succeeded by his brother, General Alexr. Mackay, after whose death, George Mackay of Bighouse filled the office, and continued to do so until Lord Reay's death. The leading men in the Reay country were all members of the clan Mackay, and descended from the principal family. They held farms by leases, or on tradset, that is, until the proprietor redeemed the land by paying up a sum advanced on mortgage.

The most distinguished of the Mackays of that age was "Rob Donn" the poet. This unlettered, but highly-gifted, individual was born in the year 1714, at Alt na Caillich, Strathmore, parish of Durness. From his early years his rich and original poetic vein was strongly exhibited. His poetry was the plant, not in its improved and cultivated, but in its natural state, growing in its first soil, in wild and inimitable simplicity. Even Burns himself, high as his claims are, must yield to Rob Donn. Burns and all his great poetic compeers could read and rightly estimate the poetry of others. Rob Donn could neither read nor write. He stood alone. With a poet's eye be looked into the face of nature. Nature in its fairest or in its most abject forms, whether animate or inanimate, rational or irrational, was at once his theme and his study. In his poetry there is a variety of subjects embracing all the incidents of common life. His poetry is history—a history of everyone and everything with which he at any time came into contact in the country in which he lived. His descriptions do not merely let us know what these things or persons were, but identify us with them; we behold them not as things that were, but as things that are. They are all made to pass in review before us, in their characters, and language, and peculiarities, and habits. His Elegies open a fountain of sadness. They bring us to the house of mourning, they place us by the dead man's bed, and compel us to feel a sinking of heart in sympathy with every member of the family at the breach that has been made, His love songs are chaste and inimitably tender. In his satires every vulnerable point, whether a moral deformity or a bodily defect, is seized upon, laid bare, and subjected to the lash, every stroke of which draws blood, and not one of which misses its aim. Unlike many poets of eminence, he is the advocate of religion. Then and for many years after his death, the only library in which his poems were to be found was the memory of the people. When he composed a song, he no sooner sang it than, with all the speed of the press, it circulated throughout the country. An edition of his poems was published in 1829, under the revision of Dr. Mackay of Dunoon; but it is singularly defective. The editor was anxious to .give Rob Donn universal publicity in the Highlands by correcting his Gaelic; but being, unfortunately, no poet himself, he, in his attempts to improve the poet's Gaelic, has strangled his poetry. My father, when schoolmaster of Tongue, met with the poet. He invited him to dinner, an invitation which was accepted. The poet was pleased with his fare and still more with his host, and, at parting, offered to make his entertainer the subject of a poem. This offer my father declined, aware of those high powers of satire with which his guest was endowed, and which, like a razor dipt in oil, never cut so keenly as when intermingled with compliment and praise. Rob Donn died in 1778, at the early age of sixty-four. A monument of polished granite was, by subscription, erected to his memory in 1829, in the churchyard of Durness, his native parish. A monument far more in keeping with the originality and simplicity of his character was placed upon his grave by his surviving friends soon after his decease—a rude, unpolished slab, containing no other inscription than the two emphatic words "Rob Donn."

That which chiefly distinguished the Reay country in my father's time was its religious society. The ministers who constituted the Presbytery of Tongue were eminent for piety. The minister of Parr, Mr. George Munro, a man of great worth and Christian simplicity, was married to my father's maternal aunt Barbara, third (laughter of John Mackay, minister of Lairg, by whom he had a daughter Mary. She was, after her father's death, housekeeper to her uncle, Mr. Thomas Mackay, at the Manse of Lairg, and after his death, resided at Dornoch. Her father, Mr. George Munro, was one of the most-honoured and useful ministers of his day. Previous to his settlement at Farr, lie was missionary at Achness in the upper part of the parish, and there he began his ministerial labours at an early age. When he first came among the people of the district they were disposed to "despise his youth." A pious man applied to him for baptism for his child. Mr. Munro came to the mans house to celebrate the rite. While preparations were making for the ordinance, Mr. Munro began to play with one of the children. He fenced with the boy with a rod which he had in his hand, and chased him round the room. The pious father was so shocked at this apparent levity, that he had almost resolved not to receive baptism at his hands. The service, however, was commenced, and before the conclusion Mr. Munro so clearly and scripturally laid down the nature of the ordinance and the sum of parental obligations, that the man declared he was overwhelmed with shame that he ever allowed himself to harbour any unworthy suspicions of his visitor's ministerial zeal. His ministry at Achness and afterwards at Farr was signally blessed. Some of the most eminent Christians who subsequently made Strathnaver another Bethel were the fruits of it. Mr. George Munro was ordained minister of Farr in 1754; he died in 1775, at the age of seventy-four.—Ed.

Two other eminent members of the Presbytery of Tongue were Mr. John Thomson, of 1)urness, and Mr William Mackenzie, of Tongue. Mr. Thomson was a native of the parish of Avoch in the Black Isle. When settled minister of Durness, he was deficient both in Gaelic and in sound theology. The former defect he never overcame; not so, however, with regard to his theology. He had not been many years minister of Durness when it underwent a decided change. His doctrine, at first, had been a mixture of law and gospel, grace and good works, not, however, placed in their proper and scriptural relation. Rob Donn, in a poem which he composed on the clergy of a former generation—the predecessors of those who have been named—remarks that "one of them may be found who on Sabbath day will assert that Christ is our Saviour, but who a week after will declare that there is no profit but in works; at one time he will fly so high and, anon, he will creep so low that, being like neither a bird nor a mouse, be makes of himself a filthy bat."

Mr. Thomson at first preached in such a strain as this, and, having neither the powers of oratory nor of mind to shape his doctrines into a regular system, nor anything like intelligible language to convey it, his preaching was rejected by the pious and scoffed at by the profane. Having preached a sermon on one occasion at Eriboll, a place within the boundaries of his parish, some of the best and most eminent Christians among his hearers were highly dissatisfied. At a fellowship meeting held at the same place next day, at which Mr. Thomson presided, they resolved to give out a question bearing on his doctrine. It was taken up and discussed. Mr. Thomson saw their device, and, highly offended, dismissed the meeting. The attack, however, led him to reflect and to test his own views by the Scriptures, the result being that, after many private conferences with his co-presbyter, Mr. William Mackenzie, he retracted his erroneous opinions, eagerly embraced the gospel, and preached it to his people. He became thereafter a zealous and devoted servant of Christ, and, to the close of his life, was a most exemplary pattern of that "simplicity and godly sincerity" by which the Spirit of Christ is most clearly manifested. He died in 1811, and was succeeded by his son-in-law, Mr. William Findlater, who was inducted in 1812. Mr. John Thomson was a man of great Christian simplicity, but very peculiar in his manner. When be preached, or when he expressed himself keenly in any argument, he had an odd habit of spitting in his fist. His powers of utterance, especially in the Gaelic language, being very limited, he made much use of his hand when he spoke to enforce what he did say. lie was the immediate successor of Mr Murdoch .Macdonald, the patron and warmly-attached friend of Rob Done, with whom, however, Mr. Thomson was by no means such a favourite. The bard, though prejudiced against Mr. Thomson, could not but respect him. But the brother of the minister could not escape the wit of Rob Donn in one of the bitterest of his satires is hurled at the head of poor Lewis Thomson.

In 1769 Mr. William Mackenzie succeeded 24r. John Mackay as minister of Tongue. Previous to his settlement in that parish he was missionary of Achness, having succeeded Mr. Munro of Farr in that charge. He was a lively, eloquent preacher of considerable talent and fervent piety, also of a fine personal appearance. He was much beloved at Achness, and no less so by the parishioners of Tongue, among whom he laboured for upwards of sixty years. While at Achness he married Jean, daughter of the Rev. William Porteous of Rafford, a near relative of the eminent John Porteous of Kilmuir-Easter in Ross-shire. She was a woman of considerable accomplishments, and a great talker. Her husband was also rather loquacious, and, when they were both present, whether at their own hospitable board or elsewhere, conversation was not allowed to flag. They not only engrossed the whole of it, but went full tilt against each other, for the purpose of talking one another down, especially when they both resolved to tell the same anecdote. It was the practice in those days for the people to bring presents to the minister, consisting entirely of eatables, such as butter, cheese, and mutton. Mr. Mackenzie was loaded with such gifts. On one occasion, when he was at Achness, as lie used to relate, lie had gone out in the forenoon to visit his people. Upon his return he came in to witness an amusing spectacle. The floor of their little parlour at Achness he found covered with six wedders, each of which was flanked with parcels of fresh butter, cheese, and baskets of eggs. Six honest housewives, the donors and bearers of these presents, were placed, side by side, on a form close by the wall. His wife stood in front of them, and laboured hard to do the honours of her house. It was, however, rather a puzzling task. She could speak no Gaelic, and not one solitary syllable of English did they know. But she was determined not to stop at this rather formidable obstacle. She produced meat and drink, the best the house could afford, and began and ended the repast by a round of kisses, beginning at the first and ending at the last of them, being the only way by which she could make them to know that they were heartily welcome to their lunch, and that she was grateful for their presents. Coming to her relief, Mr. Mackenzie spoke to them in language which they could better understand. [Mr. William Mackenzie was admitted to the parish of Tongue in 1769; he died in January 1534 at the ago of ninety-six, in the 67th year of his ministry.—Ed).]

As a teacher, my father had three distinguishing qualities—assiduity, fidelity, and, I must add, severity. The last of these arose from a hasty temper and his own early training. My father's temper was hot, but it was connected with that generosity which makes kind-hearted, hasty men the favourites of those who personally know them. His natural heat of temper too was the more formidable inasmuch as it was combined with a more than ordinary measure of personal strength. lie was six feet one inch in height, with great breadth of chest and shoulders. To his scholars therefore his temper when ruffled was no trifle. Let me do him only justice, however, by saying that, it was never called forth but by carelessness, disobedience to authority, or vice—in short, by any of those things which thoughtless youth are so ready to throw as obstacles in the way of their own progress or improvement. To remove these obstacles he subjected his pupils to strict discipline, and the heat of temper with which he did so was expressive, not of any ill-will towards the offenders, but of anxiety that the ends of discipline should be secured. On one occasion his severity excited a mutiny. His pupils combined to pay back in kind some very hard knocks which some of them had received. In those days scholars were not invariably schoolboys. Many attended his school who were nearly as old as himself, and some of them of considerable strength. At the head of the conspiracy were, of course, the strongest of them. They had agreed that on the first occasion when any boy was flogged, a simultaneous attack should be made upon the master. The occasion they anticipated soon offered itself. One of the scholars was called up to account for some misdemeanours, and was convicted. But just as the master was in the act of inflicting punishment, the mutineers rushed out of their seats and attacked him. The onset was so sudden, and on his part so unexpected, that, for a moment, he offered no resistance. But his apparent passiveness was but as the calm which is the prelude to the storm. With his ponderous arm he dealt heavy blows on his assailants, and, in a few minutes, cleared the schoolroom. The lesson of subordination which he so impressively taught was not forgotten so long as lie filled the office, and lie received from his pupils ever afterwards an implicit obedience. One of the ringleaders was Hugh Mackay, a native of the parish of Tongue, who, in 1793, became minister of Moy, Inverness-shire. Mr. Mackay was known as a decided and deeply-exercised Christian. He was the intimate friend in Christian fellowship and ministerial labour of my uncle, Dr. Fraser of Kirkhill. He died in 1804, amidst the lamentations of his flock.

Though my father's severity was resented by some, yet he was a favourite with others, and indeed ultimately with all his pupils. After passing the usual preliminary trials before the Presbytery of Tongue, lie was by them licensed to preach the gospel on the 2nd of April, 1779. He now resigned the school, and was employed for several years as assistant to the Rev. Alexander Pope, minister of Reay, which office he held until Mr. Pope's death in 1782. When he assisted Mr. Pope, he resided, in the capacity of private tutor, in the family of his relative, by the mother's side, and the principal heritor of the parish, George Mackay of Bighouse. Mr. Pope was a native of Sutherlandshire. His father was the last Episcopal minister of Loth, and he was the lineal descendant of Charles Pope, Episcopal minister of the parish of Kirkmichael. now united with Cullicudden. Another of his ancestors, William Pope, was precentor of the Cathedral of Dornoch, of whom Sir Robert Gordon, in his history of the family of Sutherland, supplies some notices. Alexander Pope was the eldest son of a numerous family of sons and daughters. He had been most liberally educated, and being himself a man of more than ordinary talent, he made a corresponding use of his advantages. He was an accomplished classical scholar, an intelligent antiquary, and was intimately conversant with science. [Mr. Pope was an accomplished antiquary; he contributed materials to Mr. Pennant, in relation to Strathuaver, Caithness, and Sutherland, was a writer for "Archaeologia Scotiea," and translated a portion of the "Oreades" of Torfaeus.—Ed.] When a young man he became acquainted with his namesake, Alexander Pope, the poet. He went to England purposely to visit this celebrated man. Their meeting at first was rather stiff and cold, arising, it is believed, from his having taken the liberty of calling in travelling attire. After he had come in contact with the strong and well-furnished intellect of his Scottish namesake, however, the poet relaxed, and their intercourse became cordial. Their correspondence was kept up. A copy of his poems, published in 1717, the poet sent to his friend at Reay, which, at the auction of Mr. Pope's books, after his death, was purchased by Mr. Thomas Jolly, minister of Dunnet. Mr. Pope was settled at Reay in 1734. He was a man of extraordinary strength, fervent piety, and unflagging zeal. His parishioners, when he was first settled among them, were not only ignorant but flagrantly vicious. Like the people of Lochcarron, they were Episcopalians in name, but heathens in reality. Mr. Pope soon discovered that they required a very rough mode of treatment, and being from his strength furnished with a sufficient capacity to administer any needful chastisement, he failed not vigorously to exercise it. He usually carried about with him a short thick cudgel, which, from the use he was compelled to make of it, as well as from a sort of delegated constabulary authority he had from Sinclair of Ulbster, the Sheriff of the county, was known as "the bailie." One Sabbath evening, after preaching to a small audience, he sat down on a stone seat at the west end of the manse. About a hundred yards distant stood a small hut used as a tavern. Mr. Pope soon observed that the inn was better attended than the church had been, and discovered among those visiting it a number of his parishioners, whose little measure of sense and reflection was overpowered by the fumes of the liquor in which they had indulged. As he was revolving in his mind what he should do to break up this pandemonium, two stout fellows from the crowd moved towards him. On coming up, they said that they were requested by their companions to ask him to come over and join their party. Mr. Pope declined the invitation, and told them that, while he commended their hospitality, he was very much grieved at their conduct in thus employing the day of sacred rest, instead of engaging in the services which God had enjoined. He accordingly exhorted them to disperse. "You are most ungrateful," said the deputies, "to refuse our hospitality, and if you think that we are to give up the customs of our fathers for you, or all the Whig ministers in the country, you'll find yourself in error. But come along with us, for if we repeat your words to our neighbours they'll call you to such a reckoning that you will be wishing you had never uttered them." Mr. Pope told them that he spoke the truth, that the truth he would never retract, that he was accountable to God, and that, in the path of duty, he never saw the man, or number of men, that would daunt him. Hearing this the men set off at a round pace to join their associates. In a few minutes after their arrival the inmates of the tavern turned out, and Mr. Pope saw nearly a dozen strong, able-bodied men advancing upon him, not so drunk that they could not fight, nor yet sober enough to refrain from so doing. Guessing their intentions, Mr. Pope rose from his seat, placed his back to the wall, grasped " the bailie," and stood firm. The foremost of the gang held in his hands a bottle and glass. When within three feet of Mr. Pope, he deliberately filled the glass, asked the minister to drink, and told him that it would be far better for him to warm his heart with a glass of whisky than, by refusing, to risk the safety of his head. Mr. Pope refused, and again renewed his remonstrances against such practices on the Lord's day. This was the signal for battle. The fellow now threw the bottle towards the minister's head, when Mr. Pope prostrated him by a stunning blow with his baton. Three or four strong savages next came forward in turn to avenge the fall of their companion, but these, one after the other, succumbed under the weight of "the bailie" vigorously applied. The rest of the gang soon beat a hasty retreat, carrying with them their wounded companions.

Mr. Pope visited his parishioners, when first settled amongst them, in the disguise of a drover, pedlar, or stranger on a journey, asking lodgings and hospitality, which in those days were never refused even by the rudest. On one occasion, after partaking of hospitality, lie by main force compelled his host to allow family worship to be conducted. When the poor man discovered that his guest was his minister, he was much impressed; ever afterwards he kept family worship himself, became a devout man, and was subsequently ordained as an elder. Mr. Pope chose as elders, not only the most decent and orderly, but also the strongest men in the parish, the qualification of strength being particularly necessary for the work which they often had to do, and which was performed on what Dr. Chalmers would have called the "aggressive principle." A very coarse fellow, occupying a small farm, kept a mistress, by whom he had two children. Cited to appear before the Session, he obeyed the summons, and, in a few words, made his statement of the case. Mr. Pope pointed out to him the sinfulness of his conduct, and insisted that, in conformity to the law and discipline of the Church, he should make a public profession of his repentance, by appearing before the congregation on the following Sabbath to be rebuked. "Before I submit to any such thing," said the farmer, "you may pluck out my last tooth." "We shall see," replied the minister, dismissing him. This Session meeting was held on a Monday, and it was agreed, before the close, that three of the strongest elders should repair to the farmer's house next Sabbath morning, and forcibly bring him to church. When Sabbath came this was done. The elders went to the man's house about ten o'clock, and, after a stout conflict, he was mastered, bound with a rope, and marched to church. One of the elders now went to Mr. Pope for further instructions. "Bind him to one of the seats before the pulpit," said Mr. Pope, "and sit one of you on each side of him till the service is finished." His orders were obeyed. At the close of the service, before pronouncing the benediction, Mr. Pope rose to reprove the offender. "You told us," said the minister, "that we might pull the last tooth out of your head before you would submit to be where you are, but," pointing his finger in scorn at him, and uttering one of the most contemptuous sounds with his breath between his lips, which can better be imagined than described, he added, "Poor braggart, where are you now?" The address was in Gaelic. The fellow duly served discipline, but the epithet applied to him on this occasion stuck to him for life, and to his family for several generations.

During the course of his ministry, many of Mr. Pope's parishioners advanced in the knowledge of the truth, and also in the arts of civilised life. Ale and whisky drinking was discontinued on the Sabbath evenings, though too much indulged in on week days. One evening the landlady of the tavern came to him with the complaint that six men from a distance, who had come in the forenoon, had continued drinking ever since, that they refused to leave, and were now fighting with each other, and that she was afraid they would break all her furniture, and set the house on fire. After reproving her for keeping so disorderly a house, Mr. Pope directed her to get a ladder and place it against the back wall of her dwelling, to fill so many tubs of water, leaving them at the foot of the ladder, and to await his coming. All this was done, and in about half-an-hour thereafter, when the topers were holding high carnival within, Mr. Pope, seizing one of the tubs, mounted the ladder, and, sitting astride the roof, removed some thatch and turf, and emptied the contents of the tub upon the Bacehanalians below. This was followed by a. second and a third down-pour as quickly as Mr. Pope could be furnished with tubs of water from below, with which he was readily supplied by the active co-operation of the landlord and his wife. The consequence of this ready method with the drinkers may be easily conceived. Their coats were drenched, and, like as many bulldogs under similar treatment, they let go their hold of each other and rushed out. Coming to understand, however, that the landlord and his wife had a hand in the matter, they were about to deal with them rather roughly; but Mr. Pope had already descended from aloft, and, with "the bailie" in his hand, stood beside them. It was enough, they all scampered off.

Mr. Pope made an annual practice of visiting his people and catechising them. When thus engaged he sought particularly to impress on his parishioners, especially the heads of families, the duty of holding family worship, giving them directions how they should proceed, and, in his subsequent visits, questioning them whether they had or had not followed his directions. Coming to the house of one William Sutherland, at a place called Caraside, he questioned him on this important duty. Sutherland answered that he was not in the habit of keeping family worship, as lie had no prayers, "but my goot parson," he added, "gin ye give me a twelvemonths after this day, by the time ye're coming roun' amang us the next year, I'll be ready for you." To this proposal Mr. Pope agreed, and at about that time next year lie called at Caraside. "Weel, minister," said Sutherland, "I'm ready for ye now," and, without further prelude, he went down upon his knees, and uttered aloud a long Gaelic prayer. Scarcely had the last syllable ceased on his lips, when he started up again, and said, "Now, sir, what think ye of that?" "O, my friend," Mr. Pope replied, "it will never do; you must begin again if you would learn to pray aright." Sutherland was amazed. "It won t do, do you say, sir; I have spent a whole year in making up that prayer, and rather than lose my labour, if it winna do for a prayer, I'll break it down, and make two graces of it." And Sutherland was true to his word; to the day of his death the blessing before meat was implored in the words of the first part of his prayer, and thanks returned in the words of the second.
Mr. Pope was a rigid disciplinarian, so much so as to induce many, who had rendered themselves liable to discipline, to become fugitives from it. On one occasion he had, at the close of the service, to refer to an individual, who, from his conduct, had fallen under the ban of his Session, but dreading the severity of the tribunal before which he had to appear, had absconded. Mr. Pope was very indignant, and said that, hide himself as he chose, he would find him out; "yes,' he added, " and should he go to hell itself, I'll follow him, to get him back." Mr. Mackay of Bighouse was in the church, and, after the service, he called at the manse. Addressing Mr. Pope, he said, "I have called upon you to-day, sir, to bid you farewell, before you set out on your perilous journey." "What do you mean, Bighouse?" said Mr Pope. "Oh, you told us to-day," said Mr. Mackay, "that you were to set out in pursuit of an evil-doer, and that you would follow him even to hell." "Don't jest, my good friend, on a subject that eternity will make serious enough," replied Mr. Pope; "hell is the place appointed, no doubt, for all evil-doers in eternity, but the ways of sin and its delusions are hell on earth, and if I follow the sinner, with the word of God and the discipline of the church, into all his attempts to hide his sin, I go to hell for him, and, if successful, from hell I shall be instrumental in bringing him back."

Towards the close of his life, Mr. Pope lost the use of his limbs, and, for some time, was carried to the pulpit in a sort of litter. His son James, who had gone through the usual course of study for the church, was licensed to preach, and was, in 1779, admitted as his father's assistant and successor. He was a young man of very superior talents, and of decided piety, and gave every promise of being the worthy successor of so good a father. But he died soon after his ordination, sorely lamented by his father and all the parishioners. It was in consequence of this that my father became his assistant, which he continued to be until Mr Pope's death in 1782.

When the parish became vacant my father's friends made every exertion to procure him the succession. The living was in the gift of the Crown, and due application was made by his friends, Mr. Mackay of Bighouse and Mr. Gordon of Pulrossie, warmly seconded by a great majority of the parishioners. These, however, were not the days of popular settlements, and the application was not successful. George Mackay, a ferryman at Bonar, had a son. David, who was a preacher, and this young man was recommended to Mr. Mackay of Skibo, the tutor of Reay and Member for Sutherland, who made him his protege. Mr. David Mackay was, through his interest, presented to the parish, and admitted minister of Reay in 1783. He was a worthy, pious man, hut, during his incumbency of fifty-one years, he was unable to effect much good in his parish. Soon after his settlement he became an invalid. He suffered from a nervous disorder which, though it did not interfere with his physical health, totally unfitted him for the discharge of his ministerial physical with the exception of preaching every Sabbath.

He laid down some rules, however, whereby to regulate both his diet and his physical exercise, and, by a strict adherence to these, he succeeded in turning his imaginary ailments into the most efficient means of preserving his health and prolonging his life. He died when upwards of eighty years of age.

Mr. David Mackay, minister of Reay, was noted alike for his piety and literary industry. So early as four in the morning he commenced his studies daily. He was particularly remarkable for fostering rising merit, and in bringing forward, from humble life to stations of usefulness, young persons of ability. He died in 1835, at the age of eighty-four years.—Ed).


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