A kind of halo used to
surround the Parish Minister in former days, as though he were a being
from another world. This often led no doubt to his becoming opinionative
and peremptory; yet as the elders and beadle were opinionative too, any
undue exaltation on his part was kept in check.
On the whole, however, the
Minister ruled his district like a prince, in things temporal and
A Divine of the old school,
very authoritative but a trifle deaf, had a manner that was rather
awe-inspiring. Once at a baptismal service when the child was presented by
the diffident mother, he majestically demanded the baby's name for a
second time, not having caught the whispered word at first.
"Lucy," was the trembling
"What?" he said. "Speak
out. What's the name?"
"Lucy, Sir;" said the
"Lucifer!" cried his
reverence in horror; "Madam, I shall baptize no child by the name of the
Prince of Darkness. The child's name is John!"
The parish liked that sort
of rule. People had only a contempt for a minister that got confused and
incoherent in public. This was the case with a young preacher once who
used an extemporaneous form of the marriage service. Losing the thread of
what he was saying through the excitement of officiating in this way for
the first time, he accosted the married pair with the startling
pronouncement: "Those who have been joined asunder, let no man put
Tradition does not tell us
if this was the same speaker who once - he was a small man and near
-sighted, just before preaching, built up on the reading desk a kind of
barricade with double cushions, a Bible and Hymn-book and several odds and
ends. Spreading out the manuscript upon this structure, which almost hid
him, he surprised everyone by giving out the text: "Greater things than
these shall ye see."
Curiously enough a clear
and simple sermon was not always to the taste of country parishes. "He is
too simple for me," said a beadle, criticising to his own minister a
certain plain-spoken student he had heard.
"Now I like a preacher that
jumbles the judgment and confounds the sense. And, Sir, I never heard
anyone to beat you at that."
But as a rule definite and
closely reasoned discourses were demanded; and they were expected to be
delivered with fire. That is, a measure of intellectual enthusiasm and of
religious fervour was looked for; and mere noise was at a discount. The
most illiterate seemed to know that screaming and wild gesticulation had
little to do with thought.
One of these loud-voiced
preachers had appeared on trial in a particular church, and afterwards he
inquired of the beadle about his chances. He did so, of course, in a very
round-about and (as he thought) diplomatic way. "How did the people regard
the sermon of Mr. Anderson?"
The beadle said: "It was no
soun." (no soun' = not sound, not orthodox)
"And what did they think of
Mr. Bowen?" he asked.
"Oh," replied the beadle.
"They say Mr. Bowen is verra soun."
"Well; and what about
"Deed, Sir," was he reply;
"they say you are a' soun." (a' soun' = all sound, all noise)
If a minister had earnest
ness and force of character he enjoyed the esteem of all classes.
Norman Macleod is a good
example of this old type. Queen Victoria liked him and consulted him in
difficulties; and so popular was he that the people of Glasgow used to
call him "oor Norman".
By the way, he is a good
instance of a Scotsman who is witty as well as humorous. Many of his
sallies are still remembered. Once he went to the Hebrides and for some
weeks stayed at the house of a minister called Honey. Mr. Honey was one
day late in rising, and after the bell had gone, he rushed into the
breakfast-room with signs of a hasty toilet on his hair.
Macleod looked up with a
twinkle in his eye and greeted his friend. "Hillo, here comes Honey -
fresh from the comb!"
Many curious instances are
given of the commanding influence of these divines of a former day. Though
times are very much changed, yet now and again a preacher is still found
who excercises a sort of patriarchal rule over all and sundry.
One famous Glasgow orator
in the last century was much annoyed on a Sunday morning by noticing that
one or two hearers kept tittering and giggling. He bore it patiently for a
while; then stopped, and, looking at the disturbers, said: "Some years
since, as I was addressing a congregation, a young man drew off my
attention by constantly laughing, talking and making faces. I paused and
administered a severe rebuke. At the close of the service, however, a
gentleman came up to me and said: `Sir, you made a great mistake; for that
young man you reproved is an idiot!'
"Well, since that time, I
have always been anxious to avoid finding any fault with those who
misbehave, lest I should repeat the mistake and - reprove another idiot!"
It was in another church
that the preacher was distracted during the first half of his sermon by a
curious sound like `Swish', `swish', coming from the gallery.
The culprits proved to be a
young man and a young woman who were whispering, with their heads near
together. At last not being able to endure it any longer, the minister
stopped at the sixth subdivision of the third head, and looking straight
at them said: "Ma yong freens (freens = friends) ! If you come to my house
to-morrow nicht at eight o'clock, I'll marry ye for nothing - if only ye
agree to stop saying 'swish, swish' during the rest of the sermon."
Not a sound more was heard
! The young people were in terror lest perhaps he might make them man and
wife before the Benediction was pronounced.
These divines of a former
generation were very fatherly in a way. They had a great deal of sympathy
with those who were poor and ignorant. A signal instance of this
forbearance is related in the case of Robertson of Irvine. A message was
brought to him that an old labourer belonging to his congregation had
something on his mind, and that, being much troubled, he must see the
Robertson hurried off, at
considerable inconvenience, in the late evening, and found the old man in
bed with a cold. This was puzzling; and the divine inquired was there
nothing more; for he had heard that there was some matter of conscience
involved. Well, yes; there was. The old man averred that he was much
troubled about a pressing question of religion. He had offered his evening
prayers, he said, - without taking off his nightcap! And how could he
expiate this irreverence?
A learned scholar like
Robertson might very well have treated a trifle of this sort with
contempt, and scornfully have told him not to be childish. This, however,
he would not do.
The experienced parish
minister knew that there was here a scrupulousness that arose from the
cottar's best qualities, and needed delicate treatment. So he drew his
chair near the bedside and reasoned. "You know, Hamish," said he, "there
are two ways of showing reverence. In the West we uncover our heads; but
in the East, you remember, people uncover their feet. You will recall what
Moses did at the burning bush. He took his shoes from off his feet."
"Yes, yes; a min' that weel",
"Now," resumed the Doctor,
"I presume you had not your shoes on when you offered your evening
"Na, na" said the labourer
vehemently. "A hadna the shoes on - nor my stockin's either."
"Well then," concluded his
minister triumphantly. "You're all right; for you have shown reverence in
the Eastern way!"
The answer was final and
There is no end to the
stories told about probationers or licenciates, and their endeavours to
secure a favourable hearing in this or that vacant congregation.
Popular election leads at
times to curious demands on the young preacher coming to a church `on
were impressed by the aptness and fitness of the speaker's exposition of
Scripture in reference to events of the hour.
Forcible speech and clear
thought were most prized. But an odd time the bare selection of a strange
text has been known to carry weight.
This, of course, must have
been a rare and occasional taste, seeing that for the most part sound
learning and vigour carried the day, Yet anecdotes survive of the clever
use of the words of a text, - where indeed it was more an intellectual
excercise or play of wit, that was aimed at, than ought else. All this
trenching on irreverence (as we should deem it now) was part of the old
life of a century ago, and has quite passed away.
But curious compilers give
us some quaint stories.
Once, it appears, there
were two probationers preaching on trial the same Sunday for the same
large country charge.
There had been a vast
amount of canvassing on the part of the followers of both young men; and
excitement ran high.
One of the candidates was
called Lowe; the other bore the name of Adam.
In the morning Mr. Lowe
preached a moving discourse on:
"Adam, where art thou?"
Everyone felt that there
was a decisive utterance that could not be easily surpassed. But in the
evening all were thrilled by Mr. Adam's sermon from the text; "Lo! here am
I." The discomfited Lowites had to admit Adam's superiority.
But the ministers of those
days were `masters of assemblies', and took good care to keep even the
bitterest party strife within reasonable bounds. Congregations but seldom
got out of hand.
Still, the coming of a
youthful incumbent into a parish always remained a matter of considerable
Witness the excellent
answer given by a boy of ten to his Sunday-School teacher. She was an
attractive young lady, and was accompanied on this occasion by the
juvenile divine to hear the examination.
Now, as it happened, this
young clergyman and she had often been observed together at various
meetings and ecclesiastical functions; and the parish had drawn
conclusions. "Well, Johnnie," said the teacher turning to her pet pupil,
after the other children in the class had missed the question, "can't you
tell me? What is a miracle, Johnnie?"
"Aye; A ken fine! Mither
says it will be a miracle, if you don 't marry the new Minister!"
In the good old times the
Precentor, the Beadle, and the Minister's man used to shine with a kind of
reflected ecclesiastical glory. The latter especially had a fitting sense
of his importance, and was ready with advice. Here is an instance.
A young preacher at
Greyfriars Church was given a huge bundle of announcements to intimate. He
wondered as to the method of reading them, and was told that he should
give the important notices in the morning, and keep the others for the
This happened in the
vestry. The young man was about to divide the intimations into two parts,
when the minister's man who had been measuring the probationer in his
mind's eye for some time, broke in with the advice; "Ye'd better give them
all now, for there'll be naebody here in the evening."
"Now, Jeams", said a parish
minister to his man as they were walking about, looking at some proposed
improvement. "Don't you think these proposed alterations a great
"Weel," replied Jeams, "I
don't know. Do you think it would make ye preach better?"
"Well," said the incumbent,
"I believe it would."
"Then," said Jeams
emphatically, "there's nae doot about the improvement; and the sooner it's
done the better."
In old-fashioned churches
the precentor took a great deal on him', as the Scots phrase runs. He had
to read out the Psalm line by line, after he had raised the tune.
He chose the tune, and then
got the note from a tuning-fork, which he struck on his desk. Organs and
other instruments of music were not used in the services. The praise was
led by the precentor, in many cases quite unsupported by a choir.
This reading out of the
Psalm line by line was a survival of the times when books were scarce, and
when the congregation really required to have the words given to them in
Dean Ramsey relates that in
many a congregation the precentor was inclined to import into his office a
considerable sense of authority, and that he used to hurry up people
lingering in the aisles, and to direct them to their seats in a kind of
This was in the Parish
Church which the Earl of Eglinton attended. One Sunday morning when the
Earl's family came to Public Worship, they found Jock Halliday blocking up
the passage, and shyly hesitating about moving to his seat.
The service had already
begun. The precentor had sung the first three lines when he noticed this
confusion near the door. Sotto voce, he called out audibly: "Come back,
Jock Halliday; and let the noble family of Eglinton go to their seats."
Then turning to his Psalm-book, he announced in stentorian tones: "Nor
stand in sinner's way."
Of course this line-reading
was likely to be productive of confusion in many other ways. This was
particularly the case in congregations where hymns had begun to be used,
but were not familiarly known.
A grotesque tradition comes
down from those queer times. It bears internal evidence of being a
fabrication; but we give it for what it is worth.
The aged precentor in a
congregation of this kind, having one day forgotten his spectacles,
endeavoured to carry through his work without their aid.
After rising in his place
and pitching the tune, he tried to see the line to be given out, but could
note. He apologized by saying: "My eyes are dim, I cannot see."
This line seemed
sufficiently like a Hymn, and the congregation unhesitatingly sang it.
Hastily, however, the precentor explained, when the singing ceased "I
spoke of my infirmity."
This, however, did not mend
matters, The people treated the apology as the second line of their Hymn.
Almost frantic with shame
and annoyance, the old gentleman, as soon as he could be heard,
interjected emphatically: "I did not mean to sing a hymn. - I only said my
eyes were dim!"
But alas ! explanations
were useless; and the assemblage sang the words through to the end !
Possibly the most
noteworthy person in many a country parish used to be the dominie, or
schoolmaster. For generations these schoolmasters used to be University
Graduates with a great love for learning. Admirable and enthusiastic
pedagogues, they were, too.
Their special pride was to
prepare their pupils in Latin and Greek for the University; and they
produced excellent scholars.
The dominie's chief
ambition was to turn out really good writers of Ciceronian Latin. When we
take into account the early age at which boys used to matriculate, it is
astonishing what an amount of literary taste and even fine Latinity the
country schoolmaster could induce his quicker pupils to acquire.
Sometimes the work of the
precentor and the clerk were combined; and if the person holding these
offices were the village schoolmaster as well, he deemed himself important
A brisk clerk of this type
frequently made the announcements, in church, the minister merely
emphasizing what specially required the people's attention. We are told
that, many years ago, this custom was observed in a big country church,
the elderly incumbent of which was exceedingly deaf. Notwithstanding this
defect, he was eager to improve the music and had given himself a world of
trouble about a new Book of Hymns with music.
One Sunday the clerk made
several intimations, the last of which was, "Those parents having children
to be baptized are asked to give in their names by Thursday."
The minister, imagining
that these words were about the new Hymn-book, hastily got up and said:
"And, brethren, let me add for the benefit of those who have none, that
they may be had in the Session Room at one shilling each, and a special
kind with beautiful red backs at one and sixpence."