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Scottish Reminincenses
Chapter III

The sermon in Scottish Kirks. Intruding animals in country churches. The ‘ collection.’ Church psalmody. Precentors and organs. Small congregations in the Highlands. Parish visitation. Survival of the influence of clerical teaching. Religious mania.

From the time of the Reformation onwards the sermon has taken a foremost place in the service of the Church of Scotland. There was a time when a preacher would continue his discourse for five or six hours, and when sometimes a succession of preachers would give sermon after sermon and keep the congregation continuously sitting for ten hours. These days of perfervid oratory are past. But a sermon of an hour’s duration or even more may still be heard, and, when the preacher is eloquent, will be listened to with deep interest. This part of the service maintains its early prominence. It is from his capacity to preach that a man’s qualifications for the ministry are mainly judged, not merely by the church which licences him, but by the congregation which chooses him as its pastor. The half-yearly celebration of the sacrament, which included a fast-day, services on two or three week days, and a long ‘diet’ on Sunday, was appropriately known as ‘The Preachings.’ The Fast-Day, when the shops were closed and there were at least two services in the churches, forenoon and afternoon, became in the end a kind of public holiday in the large towns. Attracted to the country, rather than to the sermons, the people used to escape from town, and railways carried an ever-increasing number of excursionists away from the services of the Church. The ecclesiastical authorities at last, some years ago, put a stop to this scandal, and the Fast-Day no longer ranks as one of the public holidays of the year.

Scottish sermons have always had a prevalent doctrinal character and a markedly logical treatment of their subject. It has never been the habit north of the Tweed to think that ‘dulness is sacred in a sound divine.’ The clergy have appealed as much to the head as to the heart. In bygone generations the doctrines evolved from the text were divided into numerous heads, and these into subordinate sections and subsections, so that the attention of those listeners who remained awake was kept up as at a kind of intellectual exercise. If anyone wishes to realise the extent to which this practice of subdivision could be carried by an eminent and successful preacher, let him turn to the posthumous sermons of Boston of Ettrick.1 Thus, in a ' sermon on ‘ Fear and Hope, objects of the Divine Complacency,’ from the text, Psalms cxlvii. In this famous divine, after an introduction in four sections, deduced six doctrines, each subdivided into from three to eight heads; but the last doctrine required another sermon, which contained ‘a practical improvement of the whole,’ arranged under 86 heads. A sermon on Matthew xi. 28 was subdivided into 76 heads. If it is not quite easy to follow the printed sermon through this maze of sub-division, it must have been much more difficult to do so in the spoken discourse. All the enthusiasm and fire of the preacher must have been needed to rivet the attention and affect the hearts of his congregation. It is still usual to treat the subject of a text under different heads, but happily their number has been reduced to more reasonable proportions.

It was not given to every occupant of a pulpit to rival the fecundity and ingenuity of Boston of Ettrick in the elucidation of his text. A subdivision of a simpler type was made by the worthy old Highland divine who preached from the verse, ‘The devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.’ Following a Highland habit of inserting an unnecessary pronoun after the noun to which it refers, he began his discourse thus : ‘ Let us consider this passage, my brethren, under four heads. Firstly, who the Devil, he is; secondly, what the Devil, he is like; thirdly, what the Devil, he doth; and fourthly, who the Devil, he devoureth.’

In many instances the sermons prepared during the first few years of a ministry served for all its subsequent continuance, with perhaps some modifications or additions suggested by the altered circumstances of the time. It used to be said of some clergymen that they kept their sermons in a barrel, which when emptied was refilled again with the old MSS.

Hanna, the biographer of Chalmers, used to tell of one such minister who had preached the same short round of sermons for so many years that at last the beadle was deputed by one or two members of the congregation to ask whether, if he could not prepare a new sermon, he would at least give them a fresh text. Next Sunday, to the astonishment of the audience, the minister gave out a text from which he had never before preached:

‘Genesis, first chapter, first verse, and first clause of the verse.’ Every Bible was opened at the place, and the listeners, nearly all of whom were ignorant of the suggested arrangement, leant back in their pews in eager anticipation of the new sermon. With great deliberation the preacher began: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Who this Nicodemus was, my brethren, commentators are not agreed.’ And the old story of Nicodemus was repeated, as it had been so often before.

Sometimes the manuscript of a sermon was by mistake left behind at the manse, and the minister or the beadle had to set off to procure it. On one of these occasions, the manse being at some little distance from the church, the minister, who had to go and find the document himself, gave out the 119th Psalm, that the congregation might engage in singing during his absence. When he returned with his MS. he asked his man, who was waiting for him anxiously at the door, how the congregation was getting on. ‘ O sir,’ said he, ‘ they’ve got to the end of the 84th verse, and they’re jist cheepin’ like mice.’

To interrupt the service by requesting the congregation to sing a psalm or hymn is an expedient which sometimes relieves a clergyman when, from faintness or other cause, he finds a difficulty in performing his duty in the pulpit. Some years ago a young minister had recourse to this mode of extrication. On the conclusion of the service, one or two of his friends came to him in the vestry to ascertain what had ailed him. He told them that he could with difficulty refrain from laughing, and his only resource was to leave the pulpit.

‘Did you see,’ he asked, ‘a man with an extraordinarily red head sitting in the front of the gallery?’ ‘Yes, we noticed him, but he appeared to be a quiet attentive listener.’ ‘So he was, so he was; but did you see a small boy sitting behind him? That young rascal so fascinated me that, though I tried hard to look elsewhere, I could not keep my eyes from sometimes turning to watch him. He was holding up the forefinger of his left hand behind the red head, as if he were heating an iron bolt in a furnace, and he would then thump it on the desk in front of him, as if he were hammering the iron into shape. This went on until I had to leave the pulpit, and send the beadle up to the gallery to have the young sinner cautioned or removed.’

The English sermon in Highland churches was often a curious performance. As already mentioned, there were, and still generally are, two sermons—one in Gaelic as part of the earlier service, and one in English in the second part. Those of the congregation who thought they understood both languages might stay from the beginning to the end, but the purely Gaelic-speaking population generally thinned away after the Gaelic service. In some cases, the preacher’s command of English being rather limited, his evident earnestness could hardly prevent a smile at his solecisms in grammar and the oddity of his expressions. Many years ago an acquaintance told me he had been yachting in Loch Eil, and on a Sunday of dreary rain and storm went ashore not far from the roots of Ben Nevis to attend the English service, when he heard the following passage from the lips of the preacher :

‘Ah, my friends, what causes have we for gratitude; O yes, for the deepest gratitude! Look at the place of our habitation. How grateful should we be that we do not leeve in the far north! O no ; amid the frost and the snaw, and the cauld and the weet, O no ; where there’s a lang day tae half o’ the year, O yes; and a lang, lang nicht the tither, ah yes; that we do not depend upon the auroary boreawlis, O no; that we do not gang shivering about in skins, O no; snoking amang the snaw like mowdiwarts, O no, no!

‘And how grateful should we be too that we do not leeve in the far south, beneath the equawtor and a sun aye burnin’, burnin’; where the sky’s het, ah yes; and the earth’s het, and the water’s het, and ye’re burnt black as a smiddy, ah yes! where there’s teegers, O yes; and lions, O yes; and crocodiles, O yes; and fearsome beasts growlin’ and girnin’ at ye amang the woods; where the very air is a fever, like the burnin’ breath o’ a fiery draigon. That we do not leeve in these places, O no! no!! NO!!!

‘But that we leeve in this blessed island o’ ours, called Great Britain, O yes! yes! and in that pairt o’ it named Scotland, and in that bit o’ auld Scotland that looks up at Ben Naivis, O yes\ yes!! YES!!! where there’s neither frost nor cauld, nor wind nor weet, nor hail, nor rain, nor teegers, nor lions, nor burnin’ suns, nor hurricanes, nor’ At this part of the discourse a fearful gust from Ben Nevis aforesaid drove in the upper sash of the window at the right hand of the pulpit, and rudely interrupted the torrent of eloquence.

When we remember the length and technicality of the sermons, the bad ventilation of the kirks, and the effects of six days of toil on a large number of each congregation, we can hardly wonder that somnolence should be prevalent in Scotland. Many anecdotes on this subject have long been in circulation. The same tale may be recognized under various guises, the preacher or sleeper being altered according to local circumstances. Perhaps no series illustrates better how such stories continue to float down through generation after generation, and are always reappearing as new, when they receive a fresh personal application. Sleeping in church is such a natural failing, and the reproof of it from the pulpit is so obvious a consequence, that even if no memory of the old incidents should survive, the recurrence of similar circumstances could hardly fail to give birth to similar anecdotes. For example, a story is at present in circulation to the effect that in a country church one Sunday the preacher after service walked through the kirkyard with one of the neighbouring farmers, and took occasion to remark to him, ‘Wasn’t it dreadful to hear the Laird of Todholes snoring so loud through the sermon?’ ‘Perfectly fearful,’ was the answer, ‘he waukened us a’.’ Two or three generations ago a similar incident was said to have occurred at Govan, under the ministration of the well-known Mr. Thom, who in the midst of his sermon stopped and called out, ‘Bailie Brown, ye mauna snore sae loud, for ye’ll wauken the Provost.’ But more than two centuries ago the following epigram appeared:

Old South, a witty Churchman reckoned,
Was preaching once to Charles the Second,
But much too serious for a court,
Who at all preaching made a sport:
He soon perceived his audience nod,
Deaf to the zealous man of God.
The Doctor stopp’d; began to call,
‘Pray wake the Earl of Lauderdale:
My Lord! why, ’tis a monstrous thing,
You snore so loud—you’ll wake the King.’

Though this scene took place in the south of England, it is interesting to note that the snorer specially singled out for rebuke was a Scottish nobleman.

Now and then a reproof from the pulpit has drawn down on the minister a sarcastic reply from the unfortunate sleeper, as in the case of the somnolent farmer who was awakened by the minister calling on him to rouse himself by taking a pinch of snuff, and who blurted out ‘Put the snuff in the sermon, sir,’—an advice which found not a little sympathy in the congregation. .

In a parish church about the middle of Ayrshire the central passage leading from the entrance to the pulpit is paved with large stone-flags. On the right side a worthy matron had her family pew, wherein, overcome with drowsiness, she used to fall asleep, with her head resting on her large brass-clasped Bible. She was an admirable housekeeper and farmer, looking after all the details of management herself. In her dreams in church her thoughts would sometimes wander back to her domestic concerns and show that she was not ‘mistress of herself, though china falls.’ One Sunday, in the course of her slumbers, she succeeded in pushing her massive Bible over the edge of the pew. As it fell on the stone-floor, its brass mountings made a loud noise, at which she started up.with the exclamation, ‘Hoot, ye stupid jaud, there’s anither bowl broken.’

The genial Principal of Glasgow University, in the course of a public speech a year or two ago, told a story of an opposite kind. An old couple in his country parish had taken with them to church their stirring little grandson, who behaved all through the service with preternatural gravity. So much was the preacher struck with the good conduct of so young a' listener, that, meeting the grandfather at the close of the service, he congratulated him upon the remarkably quiet composure of the boy. ‘Ay,’ said the old man with a twinkle in his eye, ‘Duncan’s weel threetened afore he gangs in.’ .

When an afternoon service is held, the attendance is sometimes apt to be scanty. A minister who was annoyed at a lukewarmness of this kind on the part of his congregation, remonstrated with them on the subject. ‘I canna tell,’ he said, ‘how it may look to the Almichtie that sae few o’ ye come to the second diet o’ worship, but I maun say that it’s showin’ unco little respect to mysel’.’

In summer weather, when the doors and windows of churches are sometimes kept open for air, occasional unwelcome intruders distract the people and disturb the preacher. Butterflies and small birds are the most frequent; dogs are not uncommon, and in some districts these calls are varied by the occasional appearance of a goat. A dog is amenable to the sight of the minister’s man approaching with a stick, and bolts off without needing any audible word of command, but a goat is a much more refractory visitor. One of these creatures entered a country church one Sunday in the midst of the service and deliberately marched down the central passage. Of course every eye in the congregation was turned upon it, and the luckless preacher found much difficulty in proceeding with his discourse. The beadle at last sprang from his seat and proceeded to meet the intruder. He had no stick, however, and the goat showed fight by charging him with its horns and making him beat a retreat. A friendly umbrella was thereupon passed out to him from one of the pews, and he returned to the combat. By spreading his arms and wielding the umbrella, he prevented the animal from reaching the pulpit stairs and succeeded in turning it. But once or twice it wheeled round again, as if to renew the fight. He contrived, however, to press it onwards as far as the church porch, when, lifting up his foot and dealing the goat a kick which considerably quickened its retreat, he gave vent to his feelings of anger and indignation in an imprecation, distinctly audible through half the church, ‘Out o’ the house o’ God, ye brute.’

A characteristic feature of many churches in Scotland is the ‘collection,’ that is, the gathering of the contributions of the congregation for the poor of the parish or other purpose. In the Highlands where there are services both in Gaelic and English, the performance is repeated at the end of each. One or more of the elders, attired in Sunday garb, and looking as sad and solemn as if they were at a funeral, take the ‘ladle’ or wooden box at the end of a pole, and push it into each pew. The alms as they are dropped into the receptacle make a noise so distinctly audible over the building that a practised ear can make a shrewd guess as to the value of the coin deposited. Nearly the whole contribution is in coppers, only the larger farmers and the lairds families furnishing anything of higher value. Hence such congregations have been profanely valued at threepence a dozen. An amusing incident in one of these collections took place at a parish church in the west of Cowal. A family whom I used to visit there had come to their seat in the gallery while the earlier service was still going on, • and when the Gaelic ladle came round they put into it their contributions. After the ladle had traversed the church at the end of the second service and was being brought back to the foot of the pulpit, the minister, who noticed that it had not been taken up to the laird’s seat, beckoned vigorously to the man who was approaching with the money and pointed to the gallery. In response he received only a knowing shake of the head from the collector, who at last, impatient at the ministerial gesticulations, exclaimed aloud, ‘ Na, na, sir, its a’ richt, I wass takin’ the laird’s money at the Gaelic,’ In this same kirk on another occasion, after the whole contributions of the congregation had been collected, the box came up to the gallery, but unluckily was carried violently against the corner of a pew, the bottom came out, and the accumulated coppers rattled noisily to the floor.

Another part of the church service which cannot but strike a stranger, especially in the Highlands, is the singing. In the more remote and primitive parishes the precentor, standing in a lower desk directly under the minister, reads out one, now more usually two lines of the psalm, and then strikes up the tune. At the end of the first two lines, he reads out the second two, which he proceeds to sing as before. The congregation usually joins heartily in the music, which is the only part of the service wherein it can actively participate.

It is not always easy to secure a precentor. He must, in the first place, be a man of tried good character, and in the second place, he must of course be able to distinguish the metres of the psalms, and have voice and ear enough to raise at least three or four psalm-tunes. His repertoire is seldom much more extensive. Occasionally he begins a tune that will not suit the metre of the psalm, or he loses himself altogether. A precentor in the north Highlands to whom this happened, suddenly stopped and exclaimed, ‘Och, bless me, I’m aff the tune again.’ Another more sedate worthy struck up the tune three times, but always lost it at the second line. He paused, looked round the congregation, and after solemnly saying ‘Hoots, toots, toots,’ went at it the fourth time successfully. When the precentor at Peebles had failed twice in his efforts, the old minister looked over the pulpit and said aloud to him, ‘ Archie, try it again, and if ye canna manage it, tak’ anither tune.’

A precentor is naturally jealous of any more practised and clearer voice than his own, which, he rightly thinks, ought to predominate. In the little Free Church of Raasay Island, the precentor had it all his own way until the minister’s sister came. She sat at the far end of the church, and. having some knowledge of music and a good voice, she made herself well heard as she sang in much quicker time than the slow drawl to which the people had been accustomed. Before the precentor had done a line she was ready to begin the next, and the half of the congregation nearest to her followed her excellent lead. This was too much for the precentor. He raised his voice till it almost cracked with the strain, and for a few notes drowned the rival performer at the other end. But he could not keep it up, and as his notes dropped, the clear sweet voice of the lady came out as before. Sitting about the middle of the church, I was able to appreciate the strange see-saw in the psalmody.

The most remarkable change which has taken place within living memory in the services of the Scottish Church is unquestionably the introduction of instrumental music. In most of the large congregations of the chief towns, the precentor has given way to an organ, which leads the choir, as the choir leads the congregation. Had any one in the earlier half of last century been audacious enough to predict that in a couple of generations the ‘kist o’ whistles,’ which had been long banished as a sign and symbol of black popery, would be reintroduced and welcomed before the end of the century, he would have been laughed to scorn, or branded as himself a limb of the prelatic Satan. Of course, there has been much searching of heart over this innovation, and many have been the head-shakings and even open denunciations of such manifest backsliding. But the cause of enlightenment has steadily gained ground in the Lowlands, and a few generations hence it may not improbably prevail even over the Highlands. Meanwhile in most Highland parishes, the first notes of an organ in the church would probably drive the majority of the congregation out of doors, and lead to years of angry controversy.

The horror of anything savouring of what is thought to be popery shows itself sometimes in determined opposition to even the most innocent and useful changes. Sir Lauder Brunton has told me that in a Roxburghshire parish with which he is well acquainted, the church being excessively cold in winter, a proposal was mooted to introduce a stove for the purpose of heating it. This innovation, however, met with a strong resistance, especially from one member of the congregation, who said that a stove had a pipe like an organ, and he would have nothing savouring of popery in the Kirk of Scotland. He actually delayed the reform for a time.

In the same county, where it had been the custom from time immemorial to winnow the corn with the help of the wind, a farmer, alive to the value of modern improvements, procured and began to use a machine which created an artificial and always available current of air. He was at once rebuked for an impious defiance of the ways of Providence.

A proposal to put a stove into a Fifeshire parish met with the opposition of one of the heritors, who, when the minister came to him for 'a subscription towards the warming of the kirk, indignantly refused, asking, ‘ D’ye think John Knox asked for a stove, even for the cauldest kirk he ever preached in? Na, na, sir, warm the folk wi’ your preachin’, and they’ll never think about the cauld.’

At the time of the Disruption of the Church of Scotland in 1843 the congregations were apt to side with their minister, if he were an able and efficient pastor to whom they were attached. Thus in Skye, as I have above mentioned, so powerful was the influence of John Mackinnon among his people that he kept them with him in the pale of the Establishment. But in most Highland parishes the Free Church early took ground, and in a large number it has been so predominant that the congregation of the Parish Church sometimes consists of little more than the clergyman and his family. In such cases the position of the adherents of the ‘Auld Kirk ’ may sometimes be rather trying. More especially is it felt by the ‘ minister’s man,’ who is sometimes placed in sad straits in his endeavour to put the best face on the situation and conceal the feebleness of his flock. Without knowing his official position, or to which of the churches he belonged, I once met one of these worthies in the west of Ross-shire, and, with a friend who accompanied me, had some talk with him about the parish.

‘How does the Established Church get on here?’ we asked.

‘O fine, fine, sirs.’

‘Has the minister been here a long time?’

‘Ow ay, it’ll be a long time noo, I’m sure.’

‘And has he a large congregation?’

‘Ow ay, it’s a fery goot congregation, what-efer.’

‘Is it as big as the Free Kirk?’

‘Weel, I’ll no say that it will be just as big as the Free Kirk.’

‘How many do you think there may be in church on Sunday?’

‘Weel, ye see, there’ll be sometimes more and sometimes fewer.’

'But have you no idea how many they may be?’

‘Weel, sir, I dinna think I wass ever counting them.’

‘You go to the parish church yourself, I think?’

‘O, to be sure, I do: where wad ye think I wad be goin’ else?’

It was quite clear that our interlocutor must be a staunch adherent of the Auld Kirk, and probably had some scantiness of the congregation to conceal; but we had no idea then - of what we learnt soon afterwards, that he was no less a personage than the ‘ minister’s man,’ and that, saving the family from the manse and an occasional stranger, he was himself the whole congregation.

It has been made a matter of reproach to the clergy of the Scottish Church that, though they spend more time over the preparation of their sermons and place these on a higher intellectual level than is common in the English communion, they fall short of their brethren south of the Tweed in the assiduity of their visitation of their people. Where a parish extends over an area of many square miles, it must obviously be difficult for the minister to move freely and constantly among his parishioners, so as to be in close touch with all of them in their mundane as well as their spiritual affairs. In such cases, he finds it necessary to arrange the times of his visits, which are thus apt to become somewhat formal ceremonies, announced beforehand, and prepared for by those to whom notice is given. An example of this kind is related of a minister who had recently been appointed to the parish of Lesmahagow, and who made known from the pulpit one Sunday that he would visit next day a certain hilly district of the parish. Accordingly, on Monday morning he set out, and, after a walk of some seven or eight miles, arrived at a farm-house, where he meant to begin. After knocking for some time and getting no reply, he hailed a boy outside, when the following conversation ensued:

‘Is Mr. Smith at home?’


‘Is Mrs. Smith here?’


‘Are you their son?’


‘Weil, I have walked a long way, and I would like to sit and rest for a little. May I go in?’ (answering the question by entering). ‘And did your father and mother not expect me?’

‘Na, they didna think ye wad begin up here; sae they’re awa’ doon to the roup o’ Ritchie’s farm.’

‘Well, now, my man, are these all the books that your father has in the house?’


‘Now tell me which of them does he use oftenest?’

‘That ane,’ pointing to a large leather-covered family Bible.

‘O, the Bible; that’s right: I am pleased to know that; and when does he use it?’

‘On Sabbath mornin’s.’

‘Only once a week! Well, how does he do? Does he read it aloud to you all?’

‘Na, he shairps his raazors on’t.’

I once had quarters at South Queensferry in a house through the centre of which ran the boundary between that burgh and the adjacent parish of Dalmeny. I asked my landlady how she arranged about the claims of the clergy. ‘Well, ye see, I go to the Burgh Kirk, and my minister comes to see me frae time to time. And Mr Muir of Dalmeny, he visits me too, but I try to be quite fair to them both. The parlour here is in the burgh, so I take my ain minister in there, and, as the other half of the house is in Dalmeny, I put the other minister in the kitchen, which belongs to his parish.’

In the striking, delineation which Wordsworth has given of the early surroundings of his ‘Wanderer,’ and the circumstances that moulded his character, special stress is laid on the clerical influence which from infancy had guarded this son of the Braes of Athol.

The Scottish Church, both on himself and those With whom from childhood he grew up, had held The strong hand of her purity; and still Had watched him with an unrelenting eye.

It is to be feared, however, that the result of such continual guardianship is to be recognised rather in the theological bent of the people than in their moral behaviour. The high standard of conduct held up in the pulpit, and generally followed by the clergy themselves, has not prevented the statistics of drunkenness and illegitimacy from attaining an unenviable notoriety. Yet no one can turn over the pages of the records of kirk-sessions and presbyteries without obtaining a deep impression of the untiring earnestness and devotion with which the Church has struggled against these two great national sins. If in the heyday of her power she could not eradicate the evils, her task must now be tenfold more onerous, when the 'strong hand ’ can no longer reach large masses of the population, and when the ‘unrelenting eye' though as keenly watchful as ever, can only note the decadence which the hand is powerless to reclaim. Unhappily a spirit of heathen ignorance, or of pagan indifference, has largely replaced the unquestioning faith of an older time, especially among the artisans of the large towns and the miners in the great coal-fields. It is mainly in the country districts, where social changes advance more slowly, that the religious instruction given at school and in church still continues to colour the outlook of the people on life here and hereafter.

If indeed we could judge from expressions that have survived from older generations, we might infer that many of the articles of the Christian faith retain a firm hold on minds which, if questioned on the subject, would probably express doubt or denial of them, such as the doctrine of a material heaven and hell, of a system of future rewards and punishments, of a personal devil intent on man’s ruin, and of the sinfulness of Sunday work.

The way in which the acceptance of a material heaven and hell shows itself in ordinary conversation, might be illustrated by many anecdotes. One or two examples may here suffice. About forty years ago a well-known wealthy iron-master gave a dinner-party at his country house. Among his guests was an old friend of mine, from whom he had purchased a portion of his estate. The conversation turned on the great changes that had taken place in the district within the memory of those present, —the dying out of old families and the incoming of new, the making of railways, the laying out of roads, the growth of villages, and so forth,— when my friend remarked, ‘ Ah, me ! I dare say I would see just as much change again if I were to come down sixty years hence.’ Whereupon the host instantly ejaculated from the other end of the room, ‘What’s that ye say? Come down! Tak’ care ye haena to come up.’

Of similar character is another Ayrshire story which has been told of a man who built a large and ostentatious tomb for himself and family, of which he was so proud that he boasted to the gravedigger that it would last till the day of judgment, when they might have some trouble to get up out of it. As the man’s reputation was none of the highest, the gravedigger replied, 'I’m thinkin’ ye needna be wonderin’ how ye’re to come up, for if they knock the bottom out o’t ye’ll aiblins gang doun.’

A country doctor, who was attending a laird, had instructed the butler of the house in the art of taking and recording his master’s temperature with a thermometer. On repairing to the house one morning he was met by the butler, to whom he said: ‘Well, John, I hope the laird’s temperature is not any higher to-day?’ The man looked puzzled for a moment, and then replied: ‘Weel, I was just wonderin’ that mysell. Ye see he deed at twal’ o’clock.’

A clergyman’s son had taken to drink, and had given great trouble and pain to his worthy father. On one occasion, after a debauch of several days, he returned to the manse in the evening, and found that there had been a presbytery dinner in the house, and that the reverend fathers who had dined were now engaged over their toddy and talk in the study. He made for the room, and was immediately welcomed by his father, who tried to put the best face he could on the situation. He asked the young man where he had been. ‘In hell,’ was the answer. ‘Ah, and what did you find .there?’ ‘Much the same as I find here: I couldna see the fire for ministers.’

In a country parish in the West of Scotland the minister’s man was a noted pessimist, whose only consolation to his friends in any calamity consisted in the remark, ‘ It micht hae been waur.’ One morning he was met by the minister, who told him he had had such a terrible dream that he had not yet been able to shake off the effects of it. ‘I dreamt I was in hell, and experienced the torments of the lost. I never suffered such agony in my life, and even now I shudder when I think of it.’ The beadle’s usual consolatory remark came out, ‘It micht hae been waur.’ ‘O John, John, I tell you it was the greatest mental distress I ever suffered in my life. How could it have been worse?’ ‘ It micht hae been true,’ was the reply.

Cases of religious mania have been common enough in Scotland, where questions of theology have for centuries been keenly debated among all classes of the community. It has been said that ‘ the worst of madmen is a saint run mad.’ Whether this dictum be true or not there would appear to have been always cases where brooding upon some one doctrine of the Christian faith has led to mental aberration more or less serious. An instance of this kind occurred in the north of Ayrshire, where a man, who had lost his wits over theological speculation, would sometimes accost a stranger on a quiet country road, and taking him by the button-hole would abruptly ask him, ‘ What do you think of effectual calling? Isn’t it a damned shame ? Good day to you.’ And off the poor fellow marched, ready to propound the same or some similar problem to the next passenger he would meet.

A less pronounced case of the same tendency was that of a countryman who felt much aggrieved by the story of the fall of man as told in the Book of Genesis. ‘And it comes specially hard on me,’ he would complain, ‘for I never could byde apples raw or cooked a my days.’

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