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Reminiscences and Reflections of an Octogenarian Highlander Chapter V. - Education and the Church of Scotland

IN the eighteenth century the Highlands became fully equipped with parish schools, and well sprinkled with side-schools of more kinds than one, but all of which were under the superintendence of the Church of Scotland. As a rule Whig and Presbyterian landlords co-operated with the Church, but it is to the ceaseless efforts and constant pressure of the Church that the remarkable spread of education in the Highlands between the Revolution and 1800 must be attributed. Jacobite landowners as a class, with many exceptions, looked upon the schools as weapons put into the hands of enemies (already too formidable) both to the Stuart dynasty and the feudal power of landlords. Yet before the third part of the eighteenth century had passed into history, a strong conservative element had tempered the doctrinal and disciplinary intolerance inherited from the Covenanters. The Erskine Secessionists and other subsequent bands of sectaries testified loudly against the unfaithfulness of the Moderate rulers of the Church of Scotland, who preached, they complained, cold morality sermons, did not excommunicate obstinate offenders, and did not ask the civil powers to burn witches and execute atheists. From the specimens of the decried sermons which have come down, I think the allegation that they were sound, and often excellently composed moral essays rather than purely doctrinal discourses must be accepted. But the question arises, were the ministers within the Highland line as moderate and cauldrife in matters of doctrine as the Lowland rulers of their Church? That question as regards many of them must be answered in the negative. In the Highland parishes watered by the Tay and its affluents, the parish ministers of the eighteenth century, from George the First's reign till the beginning of the next century, when a few slack ones appeared among them, were evangelical in their preaching, stern reprovers of the vicious, excellent guardians of the poor, and vigorous promoters of popular education. Mr Archibald Campbell, minister of Weem, who died in 1740, mortified six thousand merks, at that time a large sum, which could not have been saved from his small stipend, for endowing side-schools in three outlying parts of his extraordinarily divided parish. Mr Duncan Macara, for half a century, from 1753 downwards, minister of Fortingall, saw to it that Glenlyon and Rannoch had side-schools, in which reading, writing, and arithmetic, and the Bible and Shorter Catechism were efficiently taught. Mr James Stewart, minister of Killin, who first translated the New Testament into Highland Gaelic, the Irish version having been used before, was a zealous evangelical preacher. A similar tale had to be told of the large majority of the Highland ministers of the eighteenth century, both north and south of the Grampians. The hymns of Dugald Buchanan, who was Mr Macara's missionary-schoolmaster at Kinloch-Rannoch, may, I think, be taken to represent fairly the kind of theology then prevalent in the Highlands. Highland theology was in strong contrast to that of the cold morality discourses which evaded the enforcement of positive doctrines, and seemed to verge on philosophical deism. That fact explains how readily the religious revival which took place in the south in the early years of the nineteenth century received a hearty response in the Highlands, and how hotly afterwards the Highlanders went into the anti-Patronage movement.

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