Humour and Heroism
Chapter XIV -
In all her contests with England or when she clung to
the fortunes of the Pretenders, Scotland’s firm and consistent ally was
France. But in her great religious struggles when she suffered for the
Covenants, it was Holland that was her best helper and her most
These Covenants were solemn religious vows in which the
participants — mostly Lowlanders — while still acknowledging the authority
of the Crown, pledged themselves to abide by the worship and doctrine of
their choice. The National Covenant (1637) was exclusively Scottish. By it
the people claimed the right to decide on their own form of worship, and
strengthened themselves against the arbitrary interference of the First
Charles. Its aim was defensive and idealistic; and it stirred the whole
The Solemn League and Covenant (1643) was political as
well as religious.
Accepted at first by England, it was little by little
abandoned there — abandoned to those stubborn
Scots who never forgot it, never denied it, but held fast to it as their
creed — their rallying cry —
perhaps, at times, their boast. Of course opposition came.
The worst troubles arose when Charles the Second became
King. Then the Royal Party endeavoured by outlawry and persecution to
subdue the Lowlands to their will, and stamp out a free and simple faith.
Here and there the Covenanters resisted, but were broken and banished.
Executions were numerous; multitudes fled. The twenty worst years still go
by the name of the Killing Time. It was then that the Netherlands came to
the rescue and opened wide their doors. With characteristic generosity
Holland bade glad welcome to all sufferers for conscience’ sake. And for
years the stream of fugitives poured into the Low Countries, all
— peer and peasant, young and old, rich and poor
— to find in the free Dutch cities, not
toleration merely, but sympathy, unstinted hospitality, and effective
help. Scotland never can forget what Holland did for her exiled sons in
their hour of need.
They were given a home everywhere they came. And at the
end of the Seventeenth Century there were something like a score of Scotch
Churches in the Netherlands.
So we have two long tragedies —
one of the Highlands, and one of the Lowlands.
On the side of the Highlands, we can see the outcome of
Celtic loyalty to the Stuart monarchs and the younger members of their
Line; a sentiment associated, though by no means exclusively, with Prelacy
and with the Older Faith, and which ever rose superior to disaster. That
was a fidelity to be entertained by none but high and noble spirits; and
they have handed on their tradition so that the fire still smoulders
underneath its ashes.
On the other side we may see the Lowland Ideal,
followed with a still intenser zeal, and demanding yet more heroic
sacrifices; where stern and inflexible attachment to principle was
ennobled and sustained by a Spiritual Mysticism and a sense of the Unseen
as exalted as it is rare.
The nation was divided, but it was by no selfish
dividing-line. For no base or material ends drew the Jacobites to the one
side to uphold the honour of a Royal House, to fight and die for their
And no base or material ends, nor any worldly motives
whatsoever, constrained the Men of the Covenant to espouse the other side
— to resist their Sovereign —
to maintain their purpose and their faith, and —refusing
spiritual submission to any but the Heavenly Powers, —
to preserve unsullied, amid persecution and loss, their own and
their nation’s Hope.
Before their eyes, dazed with grief and trial, and
blinded not seldom with the prejudices of the time, there floated a vision
— a mystic vision of Heaven on earth
— a revelation of what might one day be
— a picture that enthralled them and subdued
them and led them on, stumbling sometimes, as in the dark, but always
resolute, towards the sublime but ever-receding goal.
They were content to endure all things for it. And from
first to last they were called upon to suffer.
There is Scotland’s pathos. It is in that dream
— the dream of heaven on earth, with the nation
covenanted under the Most High, — the dream of a
people consecrated, set apart, to live for spiritual certainties, for
There have been Utopias since man began to think, when
brave, young, hopeful, spirits tried to paint a good. time coming and
bring it near.
But no Utopia has ever surpassed this; for none was
loftier, none more supremely audacious, and none nearer fulfilment.
The genius of the race came to flower in that concept
— a Covenanted Kingdom under Christ as King.
And when it faded — as dreams
must fade — and died away on the purple mountain
into the light of common day, it was not that despotism destroyed it; it
was not that the flame died out in faithful hearts; it was that the ideal
was too vast, the aim too lofty, for any nation, for any race, as yet.
As yet; for it is carried on, not to fade, in generous
minds wherever the strange story is told.
And the granite hills, and the desolate or smiling
lochs, and the wild wash of the North-Sea billows, and the cloud shadows
that play, amethyst and purple, on the moors and moss hags of Galloway,
and the Bass Rock and the Pentland Hills, bear witness not alone to the
resolution of a race, but to the power of ideals everywhere to ennoble and
exalt the souls of men.
And if Pagan Literature supplied the nation with its
motto, Nemo me imjune lacessit, it was Sacred Literature that gave
her Capital — one of the fairest surely that the
sun shines upon — the watchword, Nisi Dominus
frustra, — Except the Lord do keep the city
the watchman waketh but in vain.
And it was from Scripture that motto was derived for
her Church and Faith — Nec tamen consumebatur
—Burning but not consumed.
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