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Chronicals of Stratheden
Manses and Ministers in a Highland Parish of To-Day

THERE was a time, prior to the memorable Secession of '43, when the designation "manse" applied to one house only in a Highland parish. It is not so now, of course, there being to-day two houses that go by the name of manse—the homes of the pastors of the Established and Free Church congregations respectively.

We take the Established Church manse as the representative habitation, giving it, as is most due, the precedence belonging to age; and if we speak of the reverend occupant of the more venerable abode before making any observations regarding his reverence "over the way," this is because it might tend to confusion of ideas were the minister dissociated from his manse.

The parish manse of, Stratheden, is an ancient enough fabric, and has a very past sort of look about it. It has seen all this century's changes, and stood the storms of twenty winters before the century began. The manse and church literally stand high in the parish, being set upon a hill; and we have heard the parish minister—who, by the way, has no Ritualistic leanings—say that a friend lately teased him upon his high Church surroundings.

The parish minister of Stratheden — the Rev. George Cameron—is a comparatively young man; and while a first look gives the impression that he is of a cheerful disposition—"too happy like for a munnistarr," as some of the older natives have been heard to say—a discerning unprejudiced look discovers a reasonable •measure of professional gravity in his expression.

Mr Cameron leads an active life. Not that his pastoral duties can be called arduous; for, as is the case in many Highland parishes of to-day, the comparative smallness of the congregation precludes this supposition. An energetic earnest man, however, will always find plenty useful work to do. Mr Cameron, though not eager to take a prominent part in extra-professional work, is a member of the School Board and of the Parochial Board of the parish. In the latter he sits ex officio; and in almost all Highland parishes—the rural ones especially, by pretty general consent—it is considered right that the "paereesh munnistarr" should be a member of the School Board, in the deliberations of which latter body Mr Cameron should be able to offer some specially useful suggestions. He has himself been a schoolmaster for a considerable time, and the benefit of his experience should be felt. It is worthy of notice that very many of the Highland clergy of both denominations have been school teachers before or during their university training for the ministry. In most instances "exchequer" requirements explain this fact ; while in a few cases the desire to be employed induces the aspirant to the sacred office to take teaching in a school, or become tutor in a private family, during the vacation of the summer and autumn months. The Education Act of 1872 will go far to remove this long-prevalent feature in the history of the Highland clergy. It gives little or no countenance to the idea of a substitute teacher during the teacher's absence at the university; and thus, doubtless, the practice alluded to will soon cease to hold.

Regularity in pastoral visitation would appear to be highly prized by the average Highlander; for, whether or not there is a genuine wish to see "the munnistarr" at their homes, loud and sometimes bitter comments are made on those of the clergy that are thought to neglect the practice. The older people speak more strongly, and very probably with greater sincerity, on this matter. The two parsons of Stratheden seem to visit frequently. His reverence of the Auld Kirk has not so much to do in this way; and if his congregation had strong faith in the virtue of frequent visiting, it would be easy enough for him to meet their views in this respect : not that his congregation is very small, though we have heard him say he could wish it larger. Many of the Established Church congregations in the Highlands are small; but in several cases there has been an increase within recent years.

Useful as the two pastors of a Highland parish of to-day may be in their day and generation, time was when, in a more especial manner than now, the minister was "guide, philosopher, and friend" to his flock. As a rule, "a man he was to all the country dear:" and if the stipend was not at quite so slender a figure as "forty pounds a-year," the frequent calls on the minister's purse, and the generous giving practised by many, left often enough but a very attenuated balance on the right side at the year's end. Some forty years ago the minister often gave legal advice, not seldom medical prescriptions, to his people, and thus lightened the sheriff's duties and curtailed the doctor's bills. No doubt, even to-day, instances of this extra-professional work may be met with, especially in the matter of medical prescriptions. But doctors are becoming more numerous in the Highlands ; and as for the legal advice, the people seem fonder of going to "see the Shurra about it," and this latter dignitary now hears not a few of a certain kind of causes in which, in other days, the minister attempted, and often with success, to act the part of peacemaker. In short, the relation between the minister and people in a Highland parish of to-day is neither so close nor so firm as it was some forty or fifty years ago, and especially before the Secession of '43. Reasons for the change will probably occur to the reader.

As a rule, the staff of domestics in the parish manse of to-day is not quite so large as was the case some fifty or even twenty years ago. In those days the manse kitchen was a largely peopled place. In addition to the ordinary servants there was the old woman who presided at the spinning-wheel,---a very important personage in the days when woollen manufactories were unknown in the Highlands. She was a great favourite with the young people of the manse, by whom she was in some cases familiarly called "Granny Spinning." She could spin more than one kind of yarn, and had many stories the little ones liked to hear. She often combined the management of the poultry with spinning, and was indeed willing to make herself generally useful. There is now no room for this follower of other days. Her chief occupation is gone: homespun fabrics are daily becoming more unfashionable. Woollen manufactories are being established in Highland parishes—there is one in Stratheden—and Granny Spinning's winter work can now be overtaken at the mills in a few hours. Hence this retainer of a Highland manse will soon be known to history alone.

There is another retainer of other days now comparatively unknown. We refer to those half-witted, harmless persons taken into manses from charitable motives, and who were ordinarily employed in herding cattle, running messages, and helping generally about the manse or glebe. It would seem—to the regret of many kind-hearted ones by no means foes of progress—as if most of these persons nowadays found their way to poorhouses and other parochial institutions as people needing supervision.

"The. minister's man," of course, still endures. He is a permanent institution, and a person of very considerable self-importance. The parson, generally speaking, is not particularly strong in the knowledge of farming; and when this is the case, where there is a suitable moan, the glebe management is intrusted to the latter, the sense of responsibility thus imparted giving an air of self-importance to the man's general bearing. Then he is, as a rule, the kirk officer, which likewise helps to make him a person of consideration. The Stratheden parish minister's man is somewhat of a character. James Morison—this is the man's name—is a little man with an air not little. He seems fond of hearing himself talk but as he is fond of working,—James is a very diligent workman, often first done with spring and harvest work in the parish,—his propensity for talking is overlooked by those most interested. James is kirk officer in the parish church, and discharges his duties with commendable precision. From certain observations we have heard, it appears that some of his Sunday duties entail a considerable facial strain on James. The normal aspect of his physiognomy is not one suggestive of gravity, or one that speaks of placidity; but it is well known that James on the Sunday, while acting beadle, and especially while gathering "the collection" with the ladle, looks a very model of calm gravity and official propriety.

There is another of the manse staff that deserves a passing notice—Thomas Macleod, a party of some thirty years of age, and somewhat of an original character. When quite a boy he came to the manse in the capacity of herd, and was subsequently promoted to the post of general farm-servant. Being "a quate lad," and a faithful servant, Thomas, in respect of his originality, has been much "made of," a consequence of which is that a certain familiarity in addressing superiors falls to be enumerated among his peculiarities. Referring at family worship one evening not many weeks ago to the pool of Siloam, his reverence was somewhat amused, if not startled, by hearing Thomas abruptly volunteer the observation, "There's a well like that in oar place,"—the reference being to a well in Thomas's native parish supposed to possess miraculous powers of healing.

Thomas is one of the now rapidly diminishing number that are more at home in Gaelic than in English, notwithstanding that he affects a preference for the latter. An instance of this preference for English-speaking, and, at the same time, of his wish to be thought clever,—Thomas, like many others, is very vain in this respect,—is worth repeating. We had the facts from the parish minister of Stratheden. The minister and a brother clergyman were one day not long ago driving from the manse to the railway station. Thomas accompanied them in the capacity of driver. Mr Cameron, finding the train would very soon be due at Stratheden, by way of a hint to Thomas as to the driving rate desirable, remarked, "I hope we have time enough." Thomas, who, it seems, thought the reverend gentlemen might have left the manse a little sooner, gravely replied, "Indeet am no sure aboot it. 'Time wull no wait for tide nor for no man'!" Both parsons were nigh convulsed with laughter at poor Thomas's rendering of the well-known proverb; but it may be the latter interpreted the laughter as a compliment to his cleverness and correct quotation.

The Reverend Norman Nicolson, Free Church Minister of Stratheden, like his brother of the Auld Kirk, is a comparatively young man. Otherwise, so far as appearance goes, they seem unlike each other. The Free Kirk parson, to look at him, seems sombre, gloomy even, while his reverence of the Established Church would appear to be cast in a livelier, happier mould. We have heard, however, some that know Mr Nicolson say that at home he is not particularly, if at all, sombre,—that there he seems cheerful; and we ourselves—it is our privilege to number the reverend gentleman among our acquaintance—have more than once seen that he can enjoy a joke, and even tell what some of his people would call a worldly story. The austere look that at times seems to grow on Air Nicolson's countenance is not, however, unfavourable to his popularity with a certain section of his people. In referring to the facial contrast the two parsons present, one of the older natives, an adherent of the Free Church, commenting on some jocular remark the "Moaderat munnistarr " made to a neighbour he met on the road lately, said, "Och, munnistarrs shouldna be making people laugh; it's no for laughing they're int. Look at the soalam face Messtur Neeculsan hess; try wull he be laughing." The older native residents reckon a cheerful face as incompatible with clerical sanctity, and who knows but Mr Nicolson and some others are aware of this—who knows, indeed, but the fact has some sort of influence upon them in the matter of the regulating of their facial aspect?

The Rev. Norman Nicolson is believed by many to be what is called a diligent pastor, visiting his flock regularly, and endeavouring to provide what he considers suitable pabulum for Sunday instruction. His brother of the Established Church is likewise, to all appearance, entitled to be called a diligent pastor, though, so far as diligence in pulpit preparation is concerned, it is not so easy to compare the two parsons. Assuming that both are endowed with even an ordinary amount of brain-power, the Sunday duties cannot necessitate any considerable effort. For merely learned discourses, or for sermons demanding sustained thoughtful attention, the average resident is not greedy. In fact, among the older natives generally, anything savouring of research or independent thinking would not be appreciated. The sort of criticism, indeed, one hears now and then made on preaching and preachers is slightly peculiar. If the preacher think it necessary for clearness to make a few historical allusions to persons and places, many will say, "There was too much Iznsstary there the day." Length and loudness seem to have a charm for not a few; and by a certain section of the Free Church community a hit at the "Moaderats" is reckoned admirable spicing in a sermon. A few years ago we attended the services in a certain Free Church, and the preacher discoursed in Gaelic for two hours, the Gaelic service alone—there was more to follow in English--occupying three and a half hours! To this day we feel inclined to- yawn at even the recollection of the weariness of these long and long-remembered three and a half hours. Not so, however, with many that were there. As the audience dispersed, we overheard several speaking admiringly of the "grawnd long sairman we got the day. Some munnistarrs is too short wi' their sairmans in the day that's int." "Ah, he's a splendid preacher yon!" is another frequent comment; "you could hear him fearful far away!"

The intoned or "sing-song" style of preaching, practised chiefly by the older ministers of the Free Church, is popular with many, and we have heard some Free Church clergymen do it in a way rather pleasing to the car. There was a sonorous, and soporific element in it which tended to place the hearer beyond the reach of the feeble and vague utterances often thus conveyed.

As to the matter of some of the discourses thus delivered, it is unnecessary to say much. Very often they are beyond the reach of ordinary criticism. An incident lately came under our notice, which may indicate the quality of the discourses of at least one disciple of the sing-song school,—one of the very few the Established Church can boast of. The Communion was being observed in a Highland parish, and a clergyman from a neighbouring parish, a person strong in the gift of intonation, was officiating. Another minister from a distance was present, and this latter, being unavoidably detained, did not arrive at the church until the preacher had proceeded some length with his discourse. Naturally desirous to know the text, he indicated his wish to the pastor of the church—a shrewd, clever man, not of the sing-song order—who was sitting beside him. The latter simply handed the stranger a Bible, at the same time whispering, "Open anywhere! it's all the same!" Many impartial observers are of this reverend gentleman's opinion, that discourses thus delivered are remarkable chiefly for the extent of ground they go over.

Mr Nicolson, the Free Church minister of Stratheden, is known more as a lengthy preacher than as one given to loudness or intonation, though by no means despising the two latter qualifications. Although, however, some of the younger Free Church clergymen think it right to imitate the style of certain Highland divines of other days, many of whom are celebrated among impartial people for the length, loudness, and narrowness of their preaching, a healthier sentiment is beginning to make its presence felt in a growing "sweet reasonableness."

The Rev. Norman Nicolson, it is said, speaks occasionally against the "Moaderats" in the course of his ordinary pulpit ministrations. It pleases some people, the older ones especially, and that in itself is a very important matter. This practice was much in vogue at, and Ion- after, the Secession of '43, but, while always a foolish practice, must to most people sound terribly out of date at this time of day. Such weak displays are happily much rarer now than thirty, or even fifteen, years ago, but they must become rarer still as enlightenment spreads. Pulpit attacks of this sort may be convenient when the preacher has nothing else to say, and the orthodox time has not been made up, and they may be resorted to in the effort to satisfy a certain local estimate of Christian charity; but, fortunately, forces are marching along that must tend to sweep away the silly, if not cowardly, practice. All Highland Free Church clergymen, happily, are not alike in this respect. Some of them—earnest, thoughtful men, who have breathed a healthier, brighter, religious atmosphere, and who undoubtedly practise a manlier, more useful preaching—are sorry enough for the feeble and vulgar intolerance of certain of their brethren.

The Free Church minister of Stratheden is a member of the Parochial and School Boards; and representing, as the Free Church does, so large a proportion of the people, it is proper that its ministers should have a voice in such business. The Established Church clergy in most Highland parishes are also members of these Boards; and though ordinarily the latter minister to a minority of the ratepayers, not a few of these ratepayers are sensible enough to look at the Auld Kirk parson's qualifications for office apart altogether from the ecclesiastical question, within which limits people of greater pretensions to culture and wisdom unfortunately too often refuse to confine themselves. We are glad to understand that the Rev. George Cameron, parish minister, and the Rev. Norman Nicolson, Free Church minister of Stratheden, get along with a pleasing measure of harmony at the meetings of these Boards. It is said that some little sectarian displays do occur, and we have also heard it stated who, as a rule, the aggressor is; but, as it is just possible this latter allegation may come from a prejudiced source, we do not lay too much stress upon it. When the qualifications of candidates for a vacant school in the parish are being considered, we have heard people who ought to know say that the clerical School Board members manifest a readiness to be influenced by sectarian considerations, and this gives rise to a little fecliag. But of the clergy even, people should not expect too much.

We referred to the comparative harmony apparently subsisting between the two parsons of Stratheden. It is strange, sad indeed, that such a fact should require to be specially noted. But so it is. In too many Highland parishes these brethren do not dwell in unity, though preaching brotherly love and kindness. We know of a parish not fifty miles from Stratheden where the Free Church minister will not speak to his "brother" of the Established Church—will not even return the compliment of the common courtesy of bowing, with which the Auld Kirk parson salutes his brother of the Free Church. No one seems to know the reason. The Free Kirk parson is said by many to be a good man, and the "Moaderat munnistarr" in question is also believed, by Free Church people, as well as by members of his own congregation, to be a very estimable character. Why will the Free Church parson not speak, not even bow, to his brother? Some say it is envy,—something regarding the "steepand," as the people call it, and the "posceslian (position) o' the Moaderat munnistarr;" but surely there must be more than that in it. One day last autumn, these two clergymen, going in opposite directions, happened to be crossing a bridge. They must meet. Here was a terrible dilemma for his reverence of the Free Church. Fortunately, as the latter no doubt believed, a means of escape appeared. A ship lay fastened to a pier close to the bridge,—had lain there indeed for many weeks previously. The Free Church clergyman knew the name of that ship very well, but to let his fellow Christian of the other denomination pass, he turned his back to the latter and bent down as if eager to know the name of the ship! and thus the terror passed. A member of the Free Church in the district witnessed the scene, and understood it. Meeting the Established Church minister a few minutes after the Free Church minister's devout bend, the witness referred to said, "Oh, dear me! yon work was awful!"

Many instances of this contemptible sort of feeling might be given, but it is not a pleasant theme, and we pass from it in the hope and belief that such weak and cowardly displays will, not long hence, be swamped in the grand results of time. The younger clergy of the Free Church are not so prone to such displays of feeling, although, for fear of offending certain of the older and more bigoted ones among their people, they cannot well afford, as some of themselves say, to fraternise much with their brethren "over the way."

We referred to the commendable regularity with which the Free Church minister of Stratheden visits his flock. Certain persons, adherents of the other denomination very probably, allege that the frequency and regularity of Free Kirk pastoral visits are greatly prompted by the hope that the visit may result in increased contributions to the Sustentation Fund. Without inquiring as to how much, if any, uncharitableness there is. in the insinuation, it should be noted that the efforts and success of the Free Church, in this matter of the Sustentation Fund, deserve all praise; and many persons are of opinion that not a few Established Church people might well imitate the habit of giving it has called forth. We suspect, however, the cheerful giving to the said fund, so far at least as Highland parishes are concerned, is not so prevalent as some would wish it to be believed.

It would further appear there is no authoritative law against receiving a contribution to this fund from others than Free Church people. If there be, we know of a case where it was disregarded in a sheepish sort of way. A farmer, an adherent of the Established Church, was buying sheep some three or four years ago from another farmer, who belonged to the Free Church, in the same parish. The seller demanded sixpence a-head more than the purchaser would give, and they could not, or would not, strike a bargain. Ultimately a happy thought seized the Free Church party—the seller—and he said to the purchaser, "Well, well, will you do this? if you'll not give me that sixpence"—meaning sixpence a-head, which would come to about thirty shillings—"give me a pound-note for the Sustentation Fund, and the sheep are yours!" The Established Church dealer consented. He wanted the sheep, and it was so far a gain—about ten shillings—assuming the seller would hold out, and he gave the pound-note—to the Sustentation Fund! The collector for the district annually thereafter called at the house of the Established Church party for his contribution to the fund, and never, we understand, went in vain.

We hinted that the manse is not to-day so great a centre of influence as of yore. This change, so far, was inevitable, seeing the Secession of '43 divided the people. There are cases, of course, where both manses in a Highland parish of to-day exercise a very considerable influence for good. There are not a few Highland manses in which intellect and art are well represented; and we know of some manses, of both denominations, where "the feast of reason and the flow of soul " make their brightening, better-in( influences felt. The success of many "sons of the manse" of a Highland parish in one or other of the learned professions, as well as in other departments of life, is a tribute to the excellence of the atmosphere breathed in early days; and in many Highland parishes of to-day, the daughters of the manse will be found equal at least in the usual accomplishments to some that make greater pretensions, and superior to many that have had greater advantages of a financial kind.

Sometimes, however, it will happen that the wife of the manse, or even the daughter, and where neither wife nor daughter is, the sister of the minister, may be of a disposition not calculated to strengthen the kindly feeling that should exist between pastor and people. She may be, and now and then is, a gossip, and this tends to bring about certain unpleasantnesses. Such a one soon gathers local news of various kinds, at times neither edifying nor even reliable. She makes the acquaintance of certain of her own sex, who frequent the manse with stories. The minister cannot help hearing some of these. He may even wish to hear them. Nay, he may be sanctioning, if not enjoining, this method of hearing the local news, and he may even make certain rumours thus circulated the subject of comment on the Sunday,—a result not always favourable to the growth of pure and undefiled religion in his congregation.

We are glad, however, to think such cases do not form the rule, though undoubtedly they exist. In certain high places connected with one of the two denominations ordinarily represented in a Highland parish of to-day, there was, not long ago, a melancholy complaint uttered as to the qualifications of certain aspirants to the office of the holy ministry in the denomination in question. The complaint was followed by the expression of the hope that representatives of a better class would become more numerous. It should, of course, be no disparagement to a man that he is of poor parentage and limited means; and, indeed, many a humble cottage has contributed to the Church, and other professions, men that would be an honour to any home. At the same time, while gossips and busybodies are found among every class, it cannot be doubted that in proportion as the supply of clergymen is more drawn from among the liberally-brought-up class, the entanglements and unpleasantness occasioned by taking gossip to the manse will become less frequent.

There was a time when the average native resident was afraid to "say anything aboot the munnistarr." It was not considered "canny," the parson being believed to be either beyond criticism, or one whom it was best to let alone. This superstitious belief is dying out. To-day no one in the parish is more freely commented on than the minister, every one seeming to have a right to say what he should be and do, and even say. His preaching, his outgoings and incomings generally, his style and manner of dress even, are subjected to pretty free, and sometimes unkind, if not unjust, criticism.

And yet to this day there linger traces of the undiscerning reverence of other days. Whatever weakness of temper or other uninviting peculiarity the minister may display, by some it is readily condoned with the observation, "Och, but he's a good quate man, and a very good man for all that!" A crofter's daughter in Stratheden, a sensible-looking young woman, rather amused us one day last winter by relating an incident illustrative of the sort of reverence alluded to. She was working with some others in the harvest-field on a certain day, and Angus M`Intosh, a lay preacher, and considered a good man, happened to be passing. Angus was prepared to address people on religious subjects on all occasions, and sometimes did so, it is said, unseasonably. On the occasion specified he expressed a wish to address these harvest workers, of which our informant was one. In the course of his address rain began to fall, and fell heavily; but this apparently sensible and intelligent young woman, in all seriousness, told us that, while the audience were nearly drenched with rain, not a drop fell on the lecturer's uncovered and equally unsheltered head ! and she gravely added, "Indeed, it's likely the Lord put the rain past him!" While we cannot help, to some extent, appreciating the capacity for reverence this sort of feeling indicates, it cannot be supposed unpromising to find that such faith in the privileges of even "good" men is now exceeding rare. In the average Highland parish of to-day, the bulk of the people of both denominations, in consequence of the progress of general enlightenment, are more inclined for, and capable of, reasonable and independent criticism of men and opinions. While we are glad to believe that the feeling of reverence for what is sacred will continue to find as congenial a soil in Highland parishes as anywhere else, no wise friend of the Highland people will regret that such unthinking reverence as is illustrated by the incident just related, is being rapidly relegated to the region of exploded fancies.

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