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The Church and Education in the Highlands
By The Rev. Donald Masson

6th NOVEMBER, 1889.

This meeting, being the first of Session 1889-90, was largely attended. The Rev. Donald Masson, M.A., M.D., Edinburgh, read a paper, entitled, “The Church and Education in the Highlands.” The following is Dr Masson’s paper :—


In dealing with this subject, it would be unfair to dwell exclusively on the splendid educational work of the Protestant Presbyterian Church—that work, so wisely begun by John Knox, which, for good or evil, was finally closed by the Education Act of 1872. We must remember that from very early times, long before the Reformation, there were favoured spots of our native land where the lamp of knowledge was trimmed and tended with pious care by learned and faithful men, whose teaching and great personal influence shed abroad into the darkness some rays of culture and the light of softened manners. We ought also to remember that education is not always and necessarily a matter of letters, and writings, and books. Already in our own day, when books and book-learning count for so much, we have come to speak not a little of technical education, the education of quickened senses, manual dexterity, and special craft-culture. As an educated nation, we boast of our ocean greyhounds, which are rapidly turning the wide Atlantic into a convenient ferry, to be crossed and recrossed without fear or concern at the frequent call of business or pleasure. But what of the long and perilous voyages of those hardy Norsemen who, ages ago, daring the tempests of the German Ocean in their slim canoes, swept down upon our shores to give us, if through the channel of temporary conquest, that precious tertium quid in our blood, the iron and stiffening of our national character ? They were pagans, and practised human sacrifice. But who shall say that they were uneducated ? In the whole technique of a sailor’s life and work they were already graduates in honours. Among them were splendid workers in gold, silver, and iron. Their precious ornaments of gold and silver, their swords of finest temper, beautifully damascened, take high rank as works of art, and form the choicest treasures of “ ground-find,” enriching the museums of the world. They were merchantmen as well as sea kings. The golden coins of Rome and Carthage were buried with them in the funeral mound, side by side with the shirt of mail, the war-steed, or the ship which was their home. Such men were surely educated, and must have been educators as well. And what of the men of an unknown but evidently a still earlier age, who carved the rude contents of those handsome funeral urns, daily turned out in our day by a horde of promiscuous excavators, irreverent as too often they are wholly incompetent, pottering among the hoary burying grounds of a forgotten race? Ignorant of our three R’s, these primitive men, of unknown age and race, very obviously were; but wholly uneducated we dare not call them. And the carvers of that wonderful series of beautifully sculptured memorial stones, long ago set up along the north east shores of Scotland, what shall we say of them? Were they missionaries of the Asian Mystery? pilgrims from the sacred banks of the Five Rivers, who voyaged all the way to Thule to propagate the mild religion of Buddha? A learned Aberdonian, long resident in India, and a competent student of Comparative Archaeology, has fully convinced himself that they were; and he has written a large and learned book to make good this faith that is in him. Whether, indeed, it be really so ; or whether, as is most likely, these sculptured stones are the work of the earlier Norsemen, their beautiful workmanship bespeak no mean attainment in decorative art; for they are the admiration of the artists, not less than the antiquaries of our day. These men had not our education. But who shall say that they had not an education of their own which, in us, it were at once unfair and unwise to ignore or despise?

So much I frankly grant. In Scotland, as elsewhere, there was some sort of education, lopsided, indeed, and at its best confined mostly to the few, which not only preceded Christianity but was also, to some extent at least, independent of the great Roman Empire.

Still there can be no doubt that, in the wider and modem sense of the word, the real education of Britain came to us through the Christian Church. When, for example, about a.d. 560 Columba visited the pagan court of Brude Mac Maelchon, on the shores of the Ness, he must necessarily have left his converts something more than the abstract truths of our most holy religion. Columba, though brave and strong as the bravest hero of his warlike days, was above all a missionary of the Gospel of Peace. He was deeply versed, moreover, in all the book-learning of his day. His sword was the transcriber’s pen, and his only buckler that leabhran beg bun he loved so well. If he found not at the Pictish Court the arts of reading and writing, he must have left them there ; for the service of the Church could not be carried on without them. In like manner every little centre of Christian activity, in those rude times, became necessarily a Christian school. The Scriptures had to be copied, or at least such portions of the sacred writings as were used in the service of the Church. The Gospels especially were largely transcribed. So were the Acts of the Apostles, the Psalms, the Song of Solomon, and an abstract or condensed commentary of Genesis. Nor did the transcriber confine himself to the contents of the sacred volume. The works of Origen, the “Sentences” of St Bernard, and other devotional writings were much sought after, and copied with pious care.

Thus beginning at Iona, the blessed work of education and enlightenment spread to other centres of light and leading throughout the land—to Abernethy, St Andrews, and Loch Leven; to Stirling, Perth, Dunkeld, and Aberdeen; and, in due time, to Beauly, Fortrose, and Baile Dhuthaich. Under the shadow of the Church, and springing out of the exigencies of the Christian worship, the School sprang up, a weak and humble sapling at first, ill-fitted in itself to battle with the rude blast of rough and stormy times; but sheltered by the walls of the monastery, and nurtured by the piety of the monks, it grew in strength and stature, spreading out its branches on every side, and lifting them high towards heaven, till at last it overshadowed and helped to crush the mother that gave it birth and sheltered its tender youth.

But I must not anticipate; nor here dare I enter upon debatable ground. Suffice it to say that the seat of every great church or monastery thus naturally became also the seat of a growing school, each with due array of “sooloc,” “master,” and “ferleyn.” The scoloc was not yet a mere “scholar” in the modern school sense. At a date as late as 1265 there is proof that, if still in training for higher service, he was already in some real sense an ecclesiastic, or “clerk.” The late Dr Joseph Robertson traces the “scolocs” back to the previous century, when he finds the Latin “clerici” described in the book of the Miracles of St Cuthbert, as “scolofthes in the Pictish language,” clerici illi, qui in ecclesia ilia commorantar, qui Pictorum Lingua Scolofthes cognominantur. The master, or rector, was an ecclesiastic of high dignity, as may be gathered from the fact that in one of our oldest charters his name stands side by side with the names of Malcolm Canmore’s three sons. It may be added that in 1212 Pope Innocent III. addressed a bull to the archdeacons of Dunkeld and Dunblane, and ‘‘magistro scliolarum de Pert”—to the master of the schools at Perth— appointing them to act as arbiters in a dispute between the clerk of Sanquhar and the monks of Paisley, concerning the ownership of the Church of Prestwick. Dr Joseph Robertson thinks that in the Irish and Scoto-Irish Churches the Ferleyn was the same as the Chancellor in the English and Scoto-English Churches; and he points to the fact that, as late as 1549, in St Andrews, where there was no Chancellor, the archdeacon, “in right of his office of Ferleyn,” enjoyed certain rights, and was still under certain responsibilities, in regard to the grammar school of that city.

Who was this Ferleyn, and what his position, duties, and the origin of his name ? The name is obviously Gaelic, and in Scotland it is found only in the churches which derive from Iona. A learned but somewhat eccentric friend of mine will have it that the Ferleyn is simply “the shirted-man;” and on this simple basis of very simple philology he founds a learned argument for the place in the Celtic Church of “the simple white surplice!” You will, however, agree with me that in all probability the Ferleyn was the “reader” in the simple service of our primitive Celtic worship. That he may also, later on, have had his place and work in the scriptorium, or transcribing room, of the early Christian brotherhoods, I will not deny; but whatever in the way of parallel there may be traced between the scriptorium of the monks and the sanctum of the modem sub-editor, it cannot be conceded that the “reader” of the old Church establishment and the modem press can claim any kinship, whether of origin or vocation.

For many long years there must, however, have lingered on one slender bond of brotherhood between the schools and schoolmen of the ancient Celtic Church on the one hand, and the potential idea of that newspaper on the other, which in our day aspires to show men a better and higher way than the old pagan pathway of vulgar English, and the humdrum commonsense of the common people. The Saturday Review aspires to be “written by gentlemen for gentlemen.” Even so is it with the old schools of which we have been speaking; they were at first taught by ecclesiastics only for ecclesiastics. For the gross ignorance of the common hordes of men around them they do not seem to have taken much concern, and on the thick darkness of that gross ignorance of the common people they certainly made little perceptible impression. •It is not till near the close of the thirteenth century that we find much evidence of any serious attempts to educate laymen—

“Thanks to St Bothan, son of mine,
Save Gawain, ne’er could pen a line.”

So sings the Douglas bold, and if he did not exactly speak the sentiments of his order and his day, he certainly did not belie to any great extent the prevailing practice, and the pievailing opinion of times but a little earlier. The earliest direct evidence •of any provision for the education of a layman in Scotland is found in the chartulary of Kelso, under date of 1260. In that year a •certain devout widow, named Matildis of Molle, made over to the abbot and convent of Kelso certain life-rent interests of hers, on condition that they should “provide victuals ” and training for her son William. In 1383-4 there is found similar evidence of certain payments to the bishop of St Andrews, on account of James Stewart, son of Robert II., then under his Grace’s charge. By the end of the century the education of laymen was more common, and a stray layman now begins to show himself also among the schoolmasters. At this time too there is evidence that laymen as well as churchmen resorted to the great schools of the Continent for that higher education which was not available at home. In 1411 was founded at St Andrews the first of our Scottish Universities. The sister University of Glasgow followed in 1450, and Aberdeen in 1494. They were all the creations, and the gifts to Scotland, of the Church ; being founded by Papal Bull, and their professed object, in the words of the Bull, “the extension of the Catholic faith, the promotion of virtues, and the cultivation of the understanding by the study of theology, canon and civil law, the liberal arts, and every other lawful faculty.” It were too long to tell, even were this the place, how this feather from the Roman Eagle’s wing was used to speed the arrow which, not long after, pierced the breast of Mother Church in Scotland.

I must, however, crave your indulgence if for a moment I advert to one special reason assigned by the Pope for erecting the University of Aberdeen. It was because it had been represented to his holiness by “our dearest son in Christ, James, the illustrious King of Scots,” that in the northern or north-eastern part of his kingdom there are certain parts separated from the rest of the kingdom by arms of the sea and very high mountains, in which dwell men rude and ignorant of letters, and almost barbarous— homines rudes et literarum ignari et jere indomiti—nay, are so ignorant of letters that, not only for the preaching of the Word of-God to the people, but also for administering the Sacraments, proper men cannot be found.” On this complaint, by no means a flattering one to the memory and character of our ancestors in these northern parts, the King of dcots appealed to the Pope to erect a University in Old Aberdeen, “where many men, especially of those parts,” above described, “would readily apply themselves, to the study of letters, and acquire the precious pearl of knowledge;” thus “would provision be made for the salvation of souls,, and the rude and ignorant people would be instructed in honest life and manners by others who would apply themselves to such study of letters.”

Such was the picture drawn about a century before the-Reformation, by a not unfriendly hand, of the social, religious, and intellectual condition of our North Celtic forefathers.

Of the history of the Reformation in Scotland, as of the sub sequent bickerings of Prelatist and “Priest writ large,” I have nothing here to say. The truly catholic aims and constitution of your Society very rightly forbid it.

But when the thunderstorm of the Reformation had passed away, and when the subsequent storms-in-a-teapot had subsided— when the public life of Scotland was again settling down, so far as peace and settlement could then be looked for—what provision da we find for the education of the Scottish people?

Of actual provision, at least outside the larger towns and royal burghs, there was in truth very little left. With the rich patrimony of the Church, the nobles and barons had gobbled up-also the little provision of oatmeal, already grievously attenuated by lay impropriation, on which wholesome “victual” the scoloc and ferleyn had formerly contrived to cultivate their modicum of literature. But the General Assembly did not long sit down with folded hands while this work of spoliation was being consummated. For the new clergy the rescue of the tiends, or of what little of them remained, was naturally a matter of first importance. They did not, however, at all neglect to make inquiry about the “school-lands” and other special endowments for education. In 1616 the Privy Council had, no doubt, ordained the erection of a school in every parish in Scotland. But for long years in the Highlands, and largely also in the Lowland*, the Act was a dead letter. For this neglect the Highland proprietors had an excuse which would naturally carry great weight with the Highland people; for to the-Highlanders the Act of the Council was grossly insulting. Its. one great professed object was “that the Ingleshe tong be universally planted, and the Irishe language, which is one of the chieff and principal causes of the continuance of barbaritie and incivilitie among the inhabitants of the Isles and Heylandis, may be abolished and removit.” Among Highland landowners there-were already not a few who really had little regard for their native: tongue. But they jumped eagerly at this excuse, and clung to it with stubborn tenacity, which was so convenient and so serviceable in saving their pockets. In 1638 the Assembly, which that year met in Glasgow, “recommended” the several Presbyteries to see to the settling of schools in every parish, and the providing in such schools of “men able for the charge of teaching the youth, public reading, and precenting of the Psalm, and catechising the young people.” In 1642 the Assembly “appointed,” that is, ordered, that this should be done, and they demanded that “the means formerly devoted to this purpose” should now be applied to their proper use. The Assembly’s Act of 1649 is so significant that I will quote the words of the authorised abridgment—“’Tis recommended to Parliament or the committee for plantation of church ?s, that whatever either in parishes of burgh or landward was formerly given for maintenance of those who were readers, precentors in congregations, and teachers of schools, before the establishment of the Directory of Public Worship, may not, in whole or in part, be alienated or taken away, but be reserved for maintenance of sufficient schoolmasters and precentors, who are to be approvan by the Presbytery; and Presbyteries are required to see that none of that maintenance given to the foresaid uses, or in use to be paid thereunto, before the establishing of the Directory for Worship, be drawn away from the Church.”

Thus did they, whose duty it was to preach the great text, “Ask and ye shall receive,” themselves plead, pray, and remonstrate for the disgorgement of some part of the stolen endowments of church and school. They asked, but in the Highlands, at least, they received nothing. On paper, no doubt, the parish schools had already, as we have seen, been erected by Act of the Privy Council, but all over the Highlands and Isles the Act was almost universally evaded. The Church had therefore no alternative but to turn from the landowners to the people. In 1704 the General Assembly ordered contributions and collections throughout her bounds, in order that, by the funds thus voluntarily raised, the scandal of the Highlands might be removed. Again and again, from 1704 to 1709, was this order of the Assembly renewed and earnestly pressed on all her members and congregations.

It is in the midst of all this concern and urgent solicitude of the Church for the deplorable ignorance of the Highlands that tlic Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge first emerges on our view. In response to the repeated appeals of the •General Assembly, and more especially in reply to its pointed injunction in 1709, that in every parish in Scotland the minister and elders should perambulate the parish to solicit the contributions of the people, a sum not largely exceeding £1000 was provided. The money was handed over to the Society, which now, on this modest nest-egg in name of capital, began its blessed and beneficent work. The Society was not what we would now call a scheme of the Church. Church schemes and Church committees were, in truth, the outcome of the Church’s wider experience and later emergencies. But the Society was, from its origin, most intimately associated with the Church. Its members and directors were leading Churchmen ; it began its work with the Church’s free contributions, which were renewed from year to year for half-a-century, and at frequent intervals thereafter, down to recent times; and by its charter, its whole work, more especially its whole work in the Highlands and in Highland schools, was placed expressly under the supervision of the Church Courts, and made primarily subservient to strictly religious purposes. I need not tell you how splendidly did grow and prosper the work and the wealth of this the oldest of all our Scottish patriotic and charitable Christian Societies. In 1711 it had already “settled” a school in the lone islet of St Kilda, and it resolved to erect eleven “itinerating schools” in the places following:—Abertarff, Strathdon, Braes of Mar (2 schools), some one of several competing localities in Caithness, the same in Sutherland, the same in Skye, Glencoe, the South Isles of Orkney, the North Isles of Orkney, and in Zetland. In 1712 five of these schools w^ere “settled;” in 1713 there were 12 schools; in 1715, 25; in 1718, 34. Tlie capital of the Society grew in equal step with the advancing number of its schools. Thus, in 1719, there were 48 schools and a capital of £8168, and by 1733 there were 111 schools, with a capital of £14,694.

In 1717 the Society reported to the General Assembly a fact which was eminently discreditable to the Highland landowners. In many parishes in which its schools were settled there was still no parish school, as by law provided; so that the heritors were using the charity of the Society to relieve them of a legal burden. For this reason the Society withdrew several of their schools, removing them to other localities, and the General Assembly renewed its injunctions to Presbyteries and Synods to see that every parish was provided with a parish school at the expense of the heritors, as by law required.

The Act George I. cap. 8, set aside for education in the Highlands, a capital sum of £20,000 out of the forfeited estates; but not a shilling of that money ever reached the coffers of the Society, or was in any way applied to educational uses. It seems never to have got farther than the itching palms of parasites and Court favourites. The old minutes of the Society are justly indignant on this shameful grievance. Need we wonder if again the innocent paid for the sins of high-born evil doers. The Society withdrew every one of their schools on, or near, these forfeited estates! In 1753 the Society’s capital had risen to £24,308, and its schools numbered 152. In 1758 it is reported to the General Assembly that no fewer than 175 parishes are still without the parish schools by law required of the heritors. No wonder that the Assembly does well to be angry, and peremptorily instructs the Procurator and Agent of the Church to bring the offending heritors into Court.

Of the missionary schoolmasters employed in the beneficent work of the Society, I shall name but two—Alex. Macdonald, Mac Mhaighstir Alasdair, the foremost of our native Gaelic poets, and Dugald Buchanan of Rannoch, the prince of Gaelic hymnists. Than these two men, though in widely differing ways, and with widely different effects, there are few of. our countrymen, in high or low estate, who ever exercised a larger influence over the Highland people. Macdonald’s poems, the first original Gaelic work ever printed in Scotland, if not the inspiration of the people, have furnished an excellent model for the Gaelic poets who came after him. To him we owe the first attempt at the production of a Gaelic dictionary. To Buchanan and other pious men of like gifts and graces we owe, mainly through the funds and influence of the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge, almost everything-that we possess in the way of Gaelic devotional literature. Nor should it be forgotten that Buchanan had also some share in the Society’s greatest work—completed subsequently by the revered Stewarts of Killin and Luss, father and son—our Gaelic version of the Holy Scriptures. Thus, in various spheres of pious and patriotic labour, and. through the agency of able and godly men, from generation to generation wisely chosen for its service, did the work and wealth of this venerable Society go on and prosper till, in 1872, the abstract of its scheme stood thus :—268 schools, male and female, costing annually £416; 55 superannuated teachers and catechists, £456; 11 mission churches, £700. Its. vested capital now touched £200,000.

Before leaving the purely historical aspects of my subject, I must be allowed to pay a tribute of warm admiration to the labours and research, in this connection, of your honorary secretary, Mr William Mackay. His unwearied zeal and fine historic instinct have turned to most fruitful account the many opportunities for such inquiry which his widespread and influential professional relations have opened up to him from time to time ; and his papers in the Celtic Magazine will serve, not only as a rich granary of local historic lore, already winnowed and sifted, but they may very profitably be used as an index for yet farther research into your many sources of as yet unwritten history.

Like the statutory work of the parish schools in the Highlands, as ordered by Act of the Privy Council, the teaching in the Society schools had at first one blot and serious blemish—it ignored, and ignored of set deliberate purpose, the native tongue of the people. Gaelic was regarded as the fertile source of Highland Jacobitism and so-called Highland indolence. It was, therefore, to be rooted out at all cost. The whole work of the school was gone through in speech which, to most of the pupils, must have been less intelligible than dumb show. It is true that ere long this absurd and barbarous cure for so-called Highland barbarism was, to a great extent, abandoned or mitigated. But with the more pedantic and baser sort of Highland dominie the practice was much in vogue down to the time of my own school days. I well remember the first bit of high English which was regularly taught to new comers at my first school. It was an iron rule that, under certain stress of nature, we should thus address the Supreme head of the school—“Please, Master, shall I get out?” If asked in Gaelic, come what might, no notice was taken of the agonised request. It must be spoken in English. You can fancy what happened, and happened often. The poor shy, self-conscious boy would long defer the awkward attempt to utter the sounds he could neither remember nor co-ordinate in proper sequence. But nature in such cases has a strong pull on a young fellow; and so the attempt must be made. Very slowly, and painfully embarrassed in more ways than one, wee kiltie edges his way up to the master’s desk, pulls his forelock, and makes his doubly painful bow, “Pleasche, Meash—pleasch-h-h, Mheaschter-r Mo-v-v-v-MH—N. (Tableaux 1) Another curse of this absurd practice, in the hands of an ignorant, pedantic teacher, was the utter hopelessness, on the part of really thoughtful boys, of the most earnest attempts at learning. I well remember one nice, bright boy, who was thus sat upon with crushing effect. He was kept for more than a year at the alphabet. All that time he was made the sport of the school. His shy attempts at English were mimicked and grossly caricatured. Hours were spent in making game of him, for minutes given to any honest attempt to teach him. To crown all, he was almost daily made to wear the fool’s cap—a huge erection of goatskin, with the hair outwards, and the tail hanging down behind. I liked the boy, and greatly pitied him. To this day my blood boils when I recall the cruel and grossly absurd “ teaching” of which he was the helpless victim.

Sooner or later such sickly absurdities will work their own cure, or bring their antidote. Thus the lingering leaven of English teaching in Gaelic-speaking communities brought the cure and antidote of Gaelic schools. The origin of this valuable addition to the educative machinery of the Highlands dates from 1811. It was preceded, as long before in the case of the old Society, by a careful and far-reaching inquiry into the then existing educational destitution of the large Highland parishes. In Lochbroom parish, out of a population of 4000, “hardly 700 had the barest smattering of book-learning;” and even they could read only in English. Less than 20 “could read in Gaelic a chapter or a psalm.” From Lochalsh the Rev. Mr Downie reports as follows:—There is a Society school, in which the practice is to first teach some elementary book in English, and after thus learning the sounds of the alphabet, or after making still greater progress in English, then to teach the reading of Gaelic—it is, of course, very rare to find any person who can r< ad Gaelic without having first learned some English. This also is generally true of the whole Synod of Glenelg. Of those under 35, one in twenty on the mainland, and one in forty in the islands, can read the Gaelic Scriptures.—From North Uist, the Rev. Mr Macqueen reports a population of 4000; of them 200 could read the English Scriptures, and most of them also (the 200) the Gaelic Bible. “I never knew any who could read Gaelic alone, as the education of youth always, as far as I have seen, begins in English.”

The Gaelic School Society never reached the large proportions, whether for work or for wealth, of its wealthy and much honoured predecessor. But it did good work in its day, and, school boards notwithstanding, it still finds some work to do. Its management, since 1843, has been almost exclusively in the hands of leading members of the Free Church, .but it seeks diligently, if not very successfully, to gather its funds beside all waters.

The Education Scheme of the Church of Scotland will long be remembered as, perhaps, the largest and most successful of all the voluntary agencies which have been employed for the spread of knowledge and enlightenment among the Highland people. It dates no farther back than 1824, when the General Assembly ordered a return of the existing educational necessities of the six Highland Synods. The result showed that no fewer than 258 new schools were urgently called for. The next step was to order church collections and gather subscriptions. Then was put in hand the preparation of a new series of school books, under the care of Dr Andrew Thomson of St George’s. They were at once translated into Gaelic by Mr John Macdonald, the proof-reader of the Gaelic Bible of 1826, and afterwards minister of Comrie. For this series of books Dr Norman Macleod of St Columba’s prepared also a Gaelic Collection, which was highly prized, and is now rarely met with. In 1826 a sum of £5488 was collected, and 40 stations for schools were fixed upon. In 1827 as many as 35 schools were already in operation; and 35 stations, subject to the erection of suitable buildings, were selected. The Convener of the Committee was the very Rev. Principal Baird, whose melting style of pulpit eloquence led to the joke among his friends, when he preached before the King, of “George Baird to George Rex, greeting.” Dr Norman Macleod was also a very active member of the Committee, which thus reports (1826)—“Within the short period of two years they have collected a fund of £7639; they have carefully investigated the necessities of almost every Highland district, in respect of education and religious instruction; they have secured, by a correspondence with heritors, the provision of liberal and permanent accommodation for schools at 120 different stations; and already they have established 35 schools, and placed them under competent teachers.”

The Committee’s report for 1829 is now before me. It tells a tale of widespread, earnest, fruitful work. In this, the fourth year only after its appointment, the Committee has already 85 schools with 7000 scholars. Of these some 3000 are learning to read Gaelic by the use of Gaelic schoolbooks, 6000 are learning to read English, over 3000 writing and arithmetic, 70 book-keeping, 120 Latin, 57 geography, and 76 mathematics.

There was at first a serious effort to induce aged people to attend the schools so as to learn to read the Scriptures in Gaelic; ;and in some districts the idea was taken up with enthusiasm. The movement was sometimes productive of unexpected results. I well remember an aged dairymaid who thus sought the instructions of the General Assembly schoolmasters. The school was fully two miles away, and the good woman had her work at home. For a time she visited the schoolmaster in the evening ; and sometimes she came to me, then a very small boy, to help her with the .arduous work of her little Gaelic school book. By and by the teacher found the way to the “big house,” where an interesting class of smart young serving-women received his instructions. He was vastly popular with his class. Though a cripple, he was & bachelor, and a clever insinuating fellow to boot. He was als the precentor of the Parish Church, and could play the fiddle. The dairymaid, as pioneer and first-foot of the class, looked for the special attention of her teacher. She was of mature age and experience, and in her own opinion was well-fitted to be the helpmate of one whose calling implied a certain sobriety and gravity of deportment. She had, moreover, saved a trifle of money. No wonder the gossips wagged their heads. To her the schoolmaster was always considerate and respectful; but in vain was her ribboned cap set at him with nearer and warmer interest. He had his pick of the lot, and the sly rogue chose the prettiest, the youngest, and the pertest. She was my lady’s-maid, and having passed a week or two on one memorable occasion in London, her effort to discipline her dainty tongue and pouting rosy lips to the rude vulgarities of “that horrid Gaelic,” was supremely amusing. All the same she made the cripple schoolmaster a good, ambitious wife. She taught him the ways of the gentry, and made him throw away his stilts to limp springingly along to church, in time iambic, with a fashionable walking stick. Finally, she brought up, healthily and wisely, a family of well-doing lads, who are an honour to their home and to the Highlands. Some of you may have heard of Dr Norman Macleod’s examination of one of these schools, in which he found son, father, and grandfather, in the same Gaelic Bible class. At a certain stage in the work of examining the class, the little boy was visibly moved, and unable to contain himself any longer, at last burst out into a wail and bitter cry. “What’s the matter with you, my boy?" asked the kindly doctor. “Please, sir, I hae trappit my grandfather, and he winna let me up! ”

The most interesting feature, perhaps, in the work of these* General Assembly schools, was their experience of what we now call “the religious difficulty.” From the report of 1829, I see that in the Assembly’s school at Glenlivat 26 of the pupils were Catholics; at Dalibrog, in Uist, all the pupils but five were Catholics; and of the school at Balivanich, also in Uist, the teacher thus naively writes to the Convener:—“The greater part of the Roman Catholics have sent their children to this school, but they never allow their children to learn either Shorter or Mother’s Catechism. For my part I have never insisted on their learning anything that might be the means of making a division, as has been the case before. What surprises me veiy much is, to find that their children are allowed to learn portions of the Psalms like other children; but not a single question (of the Catechism) will they loam. I only remonstrated with two or three of them, and they told me that their mothers would not allow them to learn any Protestant Catechism, as they had a Catechism of their own.”

On this significant letter I make two remarks; the schoolmaster of Balivauich must truly have been a Nathanael in whom was no guile, not to have seen the ecclesiastical differences between the Catechism and the Psalms, closely associated although they were in the work of our Highland schools; and in Uist, as elsewhere in the Catholic Church, the devout mothers were the best guardians of the Faith. But it should be noted that the priest, under this arrangement, did not discountenance these General Assembly schools. Along with the minister, the laird, and the factor, he was usually found assisting at the great annual function of the school examination by the local Presbytery.

It has been stated that from the first the General Assembly’s Committee resolved that in Gaelic-speaking districts the teaching should be bilingual. But it must be confessed that in many cases their intention was never fairly and fully carried out. For one thing, the parents in many cases, even those of them who themselves knew little or no English, were dead against the teaching of Gaelic; they wished their children to learn English, that they might get on in the world. But there was another serious drawback. There was not then, and there is not now, a reasonably suitable set of Gaelic school-books. The Committee’s Gaelic school-books were prepared by an eminent Gaelic scholar and an experienced teacher. But the books proceed on a vicious principle —they are strict translations of Dr Andrew Thomson’s school-books. Even as English class-books these last are exceedingly faulty. They consist largely of heavy printed blocks or paragraphs of detached words, without rhyme or reason, which to learn is the dreariest and driest work I ever experienced. And the Gaelic books, being translations, bred new and almost unspeakable difficulties of their own. With a class of young children beginning to read, you must make up your little sentences of the shortest and simplest words you can weave together into sense, or something like sense. In Dr Andrew Thomson’s First Book the words are anything but simple, and even if they were, their translation into Gaelic would not necessarily be simple or short. The translator did his best, but his best is really so bad as to be well-nigh impracticable. Perhaps the simplest set of English school-books for beginners is Nelsons’. But in an evil hour, the Nelsons were induced to translate their first book into Gaelic, for the use of Highland schools, as it had previously been translated into French for the public schools in Quebec. What was the result ? I venture to say that most of you who are not well practised Gaelic readers, would find, in this Primer for infants, a bit of remarkably tough work. Take, for example, the following little sentence :—go up to him. In English, nothing could be simpler, but turn it into Gaelic, and lo ! the mouse has bred a mountain in very deed:—Falbh suos d’a ionnsuidhsa. Just think of that on the first page of a child’s primer!

The truth is, that the preparation of a practicable Gaelic first lesson-book, is a most difficult thing. And, if ever it is done successfully, there must be no thought of translation. The shortest, simplest words of the language must be chosen, and deftly woven into the web of short intelligible sentences, passing as soon as possible into interesting stories. This will assuredly be no child’s play. I almost fear that the present spelling of Gaelic puts it entirely out of the running as an instrument of elementary instruction, otherwise than orally. The spelling of Gaelic, in Scotland as in Ireland, has, indeed, been its death—has done more to kill our noble tongue than the assaults and machinations of all its foes. If the great writers of the Elizabethan age were as frightened of each other, on the one hand, or as testily imperious on the other, about the proper spelling of English, as we are about the spelling of Gaelic, where to-day would be the great masterpieces of our English literature? No language under heaven is so unpretentious in its spelling as English: what tongue enshrines a nobler literature? Therefore would I say to all my countrymen who love our mother tongue—Be content to write Gaelic, as Shakespeare, Milton, or Walter Scott wrote English. Make light of the mysteries and complex machinery of oracular experts in Gaelic spelling—not too severely caricatured as “Gaelic medicine men, and prophets of pretentious etymological hocus-pocus.” Some men would make you believe that the hardest literary work in this world is to write anything in Gaelic—in fact, that they alone are writers of Gaelic, and that the art will die with them. The strange thing is that these only writers of Gaelic never write it. Is it because they have nothing to write ? Is it that they have so exhausted their wits in empty elaboration of the letter that of the spirit—of the thought—there is nothing in them? Or is it that they fear being weighed in their own balance?

What connexion has all this with my subject? Much every way : for if our Gaelic had been more simply spelled, the General Assembly’s efforts to teach it would have been more successful, the sap of native literary aspiration would not have been frozen in the bud, our Gaelic literature would have been much the richer, and the blot of illiteracy, all our schools notwithstanding, would long ago have been wiped from the brow of our people.

As I am not writing the history of the General Assembly’s noble scheme for spreading the blessings of education among the Highland people, there is no call for farther following the details of its growth and great prosperity. Unchecked by the internal troubles and controversies of the Church, it triumphantly advanced from strength to strength till, in 1872, when the whole educational work of Scotland was taken over by the Government, the statistics of the Committee, as stated in their report to the General Assembly, were as follows: Annual income, exclusive of Government grants, £6831; number of schools 307, with 25,000 day pupils; sewing schools, 130; superannuated teachers, 11. In that year the Committee also reports six building grants for new or enlarged school premises. It also reports a few Gaelic bursaries for Highland students in training at Normal Schools, for the supply of schools in Gaelic-speaking districts.

This was something of which the Highlands and the Church might well be proud. But to the Church the retrospect in 1872 was more gratifying than the prospect was re-assuring. Up till now, with the sister enterprise since 1843 of the kindred committee of the Free Church, the Church of Scotland may be said to have charged herself with the education of the whole Scottish people. The Highland h had always been her peculiar care. And the work may well be said to have prospered in her hand. In 1871 the Committee “ recall to the attention of the Church that their funds are in so satisfactory a state that they were in a position not merely to grant urgent applications, but to invite them. They are satisfied that they are able to supply all, and more than all, the educational destitution existing in Scotland. Since issuing the invitation to ministers and others to bring all necessitous cases before them, they have had an opportunity afforded them of improving the position of many existing schools, but they have not yet been able to meet with more than half-a-dozen localities where there is actual want of the means of education, and these in remote and thinly-peopled Highland glens.” By the promoters of the Education Act, passed in 1872, it was expected that a rate of 3d per £1 would amply meet the wants of the School Boards. But the Church knew better. She argued that, in the Highlands at least, such a rate would be wholly inadequate. Thus speaks the report of the Committee to the Assembly of 1872:—“Moreover the rate will fail. A national rate will supply the necessary funds; but parochial rating will fail to do so, without an intolerable pressure, in those very districts which most stand in need of better school buildings and more efficient teachers.” The calculations on which this warning is based need not here be repeated. The event, however, has shewn but too emphatically that churchmen can still be true prophets.

And so the curtain falls! The Church and education, so honourably and so faithfully associated for many centuries, now part company. At least they have parted company, so far as what once we knew as the Protestant Reformed Faith is concerned. With other Churches the work of education is now much more firmly and jealously bound up than ever it was before. Will these new Church schools be as tolerant, as tenderly regardful of a neighbour’s conscience, as the schools whose spirit and work I have endeavoured to describe? Shall I say—need I say—time will tell? Short as the time is, has it not told already?

Be that as it may, the schools of the National Presbyterian Church have for ever passed away: and with them have passed away, whether we like it or not, the hold and influence of Presbyterianism, established and disestablished, on the life and work of the schools of the nation. Compared with the zealous, wholehearted religious propaganda of the Catholic and Episcopal schools, our so-called religious use and the National Schools, is but a mere caput mortunm—a compromise of incompatibles, which, necessarily, writes itself down incompetent—such a compromise of religion as represents the combined conscience, if such a thing can be, of a Board on which Catholic and Protestant, Jew and Infidel, have each an equal voice—such a compromise as practically cancels out the element of religion on both sides of the equation of our whole national school teaching—a compromise whose only possible symbol is lukewarm latitudinarianism—a latitudinananism which, so far from being as of old, a graceful concession to those who differ from us, is only the bitter fruit of narrow, suicidal jealousies among ourselves. And all this, be it remembered, at a cost to the nation which is simply appalling, comes in the room of a system which cost the nation next to nothing.

But the past is past. Our duty is to make the best we can of things as they are. While, therefore, with the General Assembly of 1873, expressing our “ deep regret that these admirable schools are now blotted out,” let us, also with the Assembly, “cherish the hope,” if we can, “ that the new system may be productive of the same benefit to the country.”


At the close of my address Mr George J. Campbell complained of the brevity and inadequacy of my notice of the Free Church schools. I frankly confess that his complaint is not without foundation. But my omission was not accidental, or a mere oversight. The educational attitude of the Free Church, if dealt with at all, would require copious and most delicate handling. The programme of 1843 was, indeed, grandly ambitious. All over the length and breadth of Scotland it aimed at a Non-Intrusion church and school, set down at the door of every church and school of the Establishment. Now, nothing is more likely than that, when viewed in the short perspective of less than fifty years, the motive of this ambitious programme may be seriously misunderstood. I knew something of the men who made the Free Church in the North, and I feel bound to credit them with nobler motives than unmingled ambition, or mingled ambition and resentment. What was their raison d'etre for the Free Church? It was their belief, so loudly proclaimed at the time, that the Spirit of God had left the old Church, from which, therefore, “conscience compelled them to come out and be separate.” In this they may have been terribly mistaken. But undoubtedly it was their honest belief; and, from that point of view, we arc bound to concede that a real concern for the godly upbringing of the young was the most potent factor in their attitude to the schools of the National Church. These schools, whether belonging to the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge, or to the General Assembly’s Education Committee, as well as the old Parochial Schools, they denounced not less uncompromisingly than the churches. “The leprosy was in their walls, and their teaching graduated for hell.” Now, these men may, as I have said, have been utterly and entirely mistaken; but no man has a right to say that they did not honestly believe every word of what thus, with such dreadful earnestness, they continually asserted. With the men who in 1843 made the Free Church in the North, this magnificent programme of Free Church schools became thus a logical, as well as a religious, necessity. And was it not a splendid testimony to the rightful place of the Christian religion in the schools of a Christian land? But where is that testimony to-day? The schools of Scotland are secularised; and it is the hand of the Free Church that has done it. If only the needful funds had been forthcoming, her splendid testimony of 1843 might still perhaps hold up its banner bravely. But when the funds were not forthcoming this splendid testimony of the Free Church schools was stopped. And, with her own, she must needs also haul down the banner of her more fortunate neighbour. To the old Church of Scotland her schools had never been a burden, but a great delight. Over and over again she proclaimed her willingness to charge herself with the whole school education of Scotland. But it must not be: she must abdicate the position which her neighbour cannot afford to share with her. Now, if in my address I had at all taken up the history of the Free Church schools, these things could not possibly be passed over; nor could I avoid the consideration of more recent and even more significant developments, strangely incompatible with the high position of exclusive spirituality on which, in 1843, began that splendid ecclesiastical drama, now fast ripening into tragedy. From all such ground of controversy I naturally wished to keep aloof, and I only regret that I should, however unwillingly, have been compelled thus briefly to touch upon it. For an impartial history of the Free Church of Scotland the time is not yet, nor will a meeting of the Gaelic Society—where Protestant and Catholic, Churchman and Dissenter, meet and work only as brother Highlanders—ever be the proper place for its discussion.

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