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Good Words 1860
Edited by Norman MacLeod


NOTE BY THE EDITOR

I cannot allow Good Words to close the first year of its existence without addressing a few Editorial words to its numerous Readers.

When I accepted the Editorship of this Magazine, my principal motive was the desire to provide a Periodical for all the week, whose articles should be wholly original, and which should not only be written in a Christian spirit, or merely blend "the religious" with "the secular," but should also yoke them together without compromise. As I have said in a former Number, it was my earnest wish that our pages should, as far as possible, reflect the every-day life of a good man, with its times of religious thought and devotional feeling, naturally passing into others of healthy recreation, busy work, intellectual study, poetic joy, or even sunny laughter! The tens of thousands who buy the Magazine confirm me in the opinion, that I have not misinterpreted the wishes or the wants of the great mass of our Christian community. There are now, I hope, few who will sympathize with the old Scotchwoman who remarked to her son whom she found reading a "religious" book on a week-day, "O Sandy, Sandy! are ye no' frichtened to read sic a guid buik as that, and this no' the Sabbath-day?"

It is my resolution to carry out my original purpose more energetically than ever. The faithful exhibition of Evangelical truth shall go hand-in-hand with every department of a healthy literature.

I am glad to be able to add, that the prospects of the Magazine are as bright as could be wished. In addition to our old and much valued staff of contributors, to whom our success is greatly owing, and to whom I return hearty thanks, we have been able to add others, whose names will be familiar to all our Readers.

From the 1875 edition edited by the Rev. Donald MacLeod

Other volumes of Good Words can be read on the Internet Archive

Farewell to Fuinary

IT may not be uninteresting to those readers of Good Words who remember the “Reminiscences of a Highland Parish,” by Norman Macleod, whether as they first appeared in these pages or in their subsequent form, to hear something more of the old home, although in this case it is the closing chapter in the history of the family of the Manse.

My chief difficulty in writing on such a subject arises from the natural delicacy experienced in speaking of near relatives. But this is in a measure overruled by knowing that the interest springs not wholly from what was personal to them, and that it may not be without use for us who walk in the conventionalisms of modem life to have our thoughts for a while directed to other times and simpler ways.

It is now an open secret that the Highland parish of the Reminiscences was Morven, in Argyllshire. For the long period of one hundred and eight years this parish was under the pastoral care of two men, father and son, respectively named Norman Macleod and John Macleod. Norman Macleod, the grandfather of him who wrote the Reminiscences, was minister there for nearly fifty years. Sixteen children were born to him and to his calm, courageous wife, Jean Morison, in the Manse of Fuinary. Of these only two sons survived manhood. The eldest, named after his father, became distinguished elsewhere and the youngest, John, succeeded him, when the old man — having become so blind with age that he had to be placed in the pulpit with his face to the people when he addressed them—retired from active duty. This son, the late Dr. John Macleod, of Morven, continued to minister in the same place for fifty-eight years, till he entered into his rest last May.

Running parallel to the story of the Manse was that of the little cottage by the shore, where “Ruari Beag”—best of boatmen and most faithful “minister’s man”—and his son Alastair lived. A hundred and eight years ago Ruari (Anglicl, Roderick, or “Rory”) I do not dwell here on the career and character of our revered father, Norman Macleod, D.D., of St. Columba, Glasgow, as I have bad an opportunity of doing so, however briefly, in the Memoir of my brother, Norman Macleod, D.D. had come with the minister from Skye to be his servant, and, by a species of apostolic succession, not without its own sanctities, Ruari’s son Alastair succeeded his father in the cottage, with its relative duties, just as the son at the Manse succeeded the old minister. Now, as Alastair predeceased his master by little more than a twelvemonth, we have the rare picture of a service faithfully and continuously rendered for more than a century.

Dr. John Macleod, better known in the Highlands by the sobriquet of “the High Priest of Morven,” was in many respects a remarkable man, and his life, from its nobility and simplicity, is instructive as it was picturesque. He was a giant in stature—measuring six feet nine inches—and of an iron frame. No one could meet him, however cursorily, without experiencing a certain wonder at the vision of this notable figure, with its grand head of snow-white hair, towering above the crowd. Many of the freshest pictures of that open-air training of the boys of the Manse, which give a charm to the “Reminiscences of the Highland Parish,” are borrowed as much from the life of John Macleod as from that of his elder brother.

He had been trained in seamanship by Ruari Beag, taught by him to hold the helm when the weather was fair, or to obey orders when the little boat was steered in the teeth of the gale by the old boatman, with the one eye that glittered in the hour of danger with wakeful anxiety as it took in the force of the coming squall or the “set” of the tide. Trained in such a school he himself became an accomplished steersman, and was possessed of a thorough knowledge of every rock and tide-way for many a league round the stormy Western Isles. He had a passion for the sea, and gave vent to his love in more than one fine boat-song — in Gaelic as well as English — breathing the very spirit of the waves and of the sceneiy of the lochs and breezy headlands. In his youth he had been a keen sportsman, and not a few of the best stories he related in his old age were taken from his hunting adventures after wild cats on the hill, or from the feats of favourite terriers dragging out huge
otters from their haunts at the Clachorain (Otter-rock) on the lonely shore.

At a very early age he was ordained successor to his father, and the cure of such a parish entailed such toils as are little dreamt of in the rural districts of the Lowlands of Scotland or in the rich English counties. The Highlands had not then undergone the transition which has depopulated the glens and effaced so many of its best traditions. Morven was then—and is even yet in its desolation — intensely Highland. The stream of tourists passes its shores, but few ever care to land there, and the consequence is that, to the present day, little. English is heard among the people, while not a few of the older inhabitants scarcely understand it. The parish is enormous, containing 130 square miles, and having something approaching 100 miles of seaboard. At the commencement of his ministry there were in it 2,000 inhabitants (now there are about 600) scattered in hamlets and in lonely cottages. There are two parish churches, nine miles apart, where services have to be maintained. Yet, for many a day, every person in this wide region was regularly examined once a year; a book was kept in which the state of the religious knowledge of each individual was carefully entered, and the subjects noted which had been recorded for preparation before the next “visitation.” The labour which these duties implied, in addition to those of visiting the sick, marrying and baptizing, and holding prayer meetings in distant parts, was very great. Often had the young minister, like his father before him, to be away for days and nights in his open boat, sometimes, when benighted or storm-stayed, being compelled to take shelter behind a wall or rock till the day dawned or the weather moderated. Olten had he to stride across mountain and moor to visit some dying parishioner, not completing his thirty or forty miles’ march till “late in the gloaming” when followed by the terriers, his unfailing companions, he returned to Fuinary.

Once a brother minister from the Lowlands was on a visit at the Manse and insisted on accompanying him on one of these long ministerial walks. This Lowlander was a big, soft man, not a little conceited nor indisposed to sneer at the “imaginary” difficulties of a Highland parish. Nothing would now dissuade him from braving the hills and seeing “the worst of it.” A cottage here and a hamlet there were visited in passing, and at last the far-off sickbed having been reached, and the chief object of the day being accomplished, a different and shorter route was taken for home. Hitherto the Lowland brother had greatly enjoyed his outing, for the scenery had been wild and romantic. But as evening began to fall his increasing silence betrayed increasing fatigue. At last a point was reached where there was in front a broad tarn and beyond it a dark mountain wall. The terriers plunged into the water and swam straight off. “Where is the road?” anxiously inquired the Southerner. “That which the dogs have taken,” was the reply. “What, through that loch?” “There is none other,” said Macleod. This was too much for the critical visitor, who then and there declined to budge a foot. There was no help for it, so stooping down and getting the weary Presbyter on his back, the giant minister strode through the loch and deposited his burden on the farther shore. Nor were his adventures then over, for as night fell on the long slope leading down to Fuinary, the strength of the good Lowlander fairly deserted him, and the Manse had to be reached by the parish minister undertaking once more the burden with which he had crossed the tarn. The life indeed of the minister of this Highland parish was more like that of such missionary bishops as Selwyn or Pattison, making a large demand on physical energy as well as on pastoral zeal.

A fine feature in his life was his love of the old home and of his parishioners. The living—never valuable—was long a miserably poor one. Yet although frequently offered promotion to some of the best parishes and offices to which a clergyman of the Church of Scotland could aspire, he never could summon courage to bid farewell to the familiar scenes of his youth or to the flock, every member of which he reckoned a personal friend. There was something of the grotesque in the manner in which, after being at first tempted for the sake of his family to entertain these proposals, he inevitably experienced the rebound of feeling which as inevitably ended in the sudden declinature. Once when he went to see an eligible parish the presentation to which had been put within his power, he overtook an old woman on the moorland road leading to it. “They tell me,” said she, seeing he was a clergyman, “that we canna be forced noo to tak’ ony minister a patron may present.” “That is true—but there is also another law.” “And what may that be?” inquired the old body, peering curiously up to the countenance that towered above her. “Only this, that neither can any minister be forced to take a parish!”

This is not the place, nor is it my object, to speak of his personal or ministerial gifts, nor of the good work he did for his Church and for the Highlands. His power as a preacher, great as it was, was not equal to his gifts as a debater and pleader. “I am thankful that that big uncle of yours was not a barrister,” an eminent counsel said to me after an ecclesiastical “case” in which the minister of Morven had gained his point over a strong opposing bar, “for few of us would have had a chance with him.” The Church he served bestowed upon him the highest honour in her gift, and the Queen showed her appreciation of his useful and consistent life by conferring on him the offices of Dean of the Thistle, and Dean of the Chapel Royal.

His later years were spent in pathetic loneliness. He had seen his parish almost emptied of its people. Glen after glen had been turned into sheep-walks, and the cottages in which generations of gallant Highlanders had lived and died were unroofed, their torn walls and gables left standing like mourners beside the grave, and the little plots of garden or of cultivated enclosure allowed to merge into the moorland pasture. He had seen every property in the parish change hands, and though, on the whole, kindly and pleasant proprietors came in the place of the old families, yet they were strangers to the people, neither understanding their language nor their ways. The consequence was that they perhaps scarcely realised the havoc produced by the changes they inaugurated. "At one stroke of a pen,” he said to me, with a look of sadness and indignation, “two hundred of the people were ordered off --. There was not one of these whom I did not know and their fathers before them; and finer men and women never left the Highlands.” He thus found himself the sole remaining link between the past and present —the one man above the rank of a peasant who remembered the old days and the traditions of the people. The sense of change was intensely saddened as he went through his parish and passed ruined houses here, there, and everywhere. “There is not a smoke there now,” he used to say with pathos of the glens which he had known tenanted by a manly and loyal peasantry, among whom lived song and story and the elevating influences of brave traditions. His domestic solitude for twenty years was even more touching. Bereaved of wife and daughters, and with his sons gone from him into life, he was left alone in the old home which had once been so full of happy voices. But those who visited him will not easily forget the patriarchal dignity of his bearing and the courtly manners of this Highlander of the old school, nor those quiet strolls by Fingal’s Hill or down to the favourite seat overlooking the Sound of Mull —Rory’s cottage nestling on the shore beneath, the white-winged sea-birds screaming over the tide-way, and the grand mountains of Mull beyond flooded with the splendour of the western sky. It was then that the old man delighted to pour forth his stores of anecdote and legend. Sometimes he would point out the blackened ruins of a distant homestead, and recount the annals of the family who had dwelt there. Sometimes he would tell of phases of Highland life and character long passed away—of the old woman, for example, who lived in a far-off glen, and who seemed to be filled more with half-heathen legends than Christian ideas. “Often have I gone to see her, determined to press religion home on her heart, but no sooner had I talked a little than she would break out — 'Very true, minister, and what you say puts me in mind of the Black Knight and the Waterfall, and how he was freed from his doom,’ and then would she give in graphic Gaelic some legend so remarkable in its mythic teaching that my interest became absorbed, and, to my great discontent, I found when I came away that I had been more of a listener than an instructor. Once to our astonishment the poor body appeared at the Manse. How she came so far I know not, but nothing could exceed her weird look as she addressed the house—‘Oh, Fuinary, Fuinary! you are smiling to-day, but well do I remember when you and many another house in Morven was smoking to heaven,’ alluding to the suppression of the rebellion in I745-” .

The solitude and silence of the place in those later times were quite “eerie,” and yet for twenty years he abode there alone without a murmur, doing good work for his Church and country. In his loneliness he made friends with the birds, and it was something to see this gigantic man as he paced down the gravel walk followed by the robins and chaffinches he had tamed, or to notice how they would perch upon his feet or flutter on his shoulder as he sat at the door. The cawing rookery in the trees was a continual study. There was not a crow there whose character he did not know. “There goes that old scoundrel again,” he would say with a ripple of appreciative mirth; “his one object in life is to avoid labour and to steal the sticks the others have carried. Look at the rogue!”

The rest of his life was in sweet keeping with its previous course. He was able, almost to the last hour, to go out and gaze on the scenes he loved so well; but an accidental fall so hurried the close that his sons, who had been constant in their attentions, were unable to reach home before the end came. As he had lived, so he died. Calling his household round his bed, he offered up, with a strong calm voice, prayer in Gaelic for them and all he loved—and soon afterwards, and without speaking another word, he fell asleep in Christ.

His funeral was most impressive. I went with the others to Morven in a day of glory, and there are few grander scenes in Europe than that which meets the eye between Oban and Loch Aline: Linnhe Loch with the massive ranges of Glen Coe and Ben Nevis; Loch Etive with its guardian “Shepherds” and the giant Cruachan; the coast of Lome and its frontier of scattered islands reaching into the shimmering haze of the Atlantic; and then Mull with Duart; and on to the precipices of Morven, by lonely Unnimore and the grey Ardtomish, till Loch Aline (Loch of Beauty) is reached. The drive to Fuinary was through a portion of the Highland Parish which had become, like so many other districts of the Highlands, sadly depopulated. Even a stranger must be struck by the marks of change; but to those who knew something of “what once had been,” all appeared intensely melancholy. A tree and some grassy mounds marked thespotwhere stoodthehouse of the good Samuel Cameron, the schoolmaster described in the Highland Parish and with whom Norman Macleod lived as aboy and gained most of the little Gaelic he had and an insight into much healthy Highland life. And then came some roofless walls marking the home of the old tacksman of Auchenaha, where the first minister found the best of wives, the good mother of the sixteen children ; and then the mill of Savary, where had lived “Donald of the Mill,” of whose blood came David Livingstone. Donald had been out with the Prince in “ the forty-five,” and had secured at Culloden the colours of his chief by running off with them wrapped round his body. Many a story had our father told us of the old Cateran—of how he used to gather secretly his brother Jacobites once a year to drink “a health to Charlie,” and after quaffing the whisky, how he would crush the pewter stoup in his hand and fling it away, lest any other name than that of the Prince should be associated with it. When he was old, “Donald of the Mill” was crossing Savary when the stream was in flood. Donald, in his kilt, had got astride between two stepping stones, and, stiff from age, found that he could not lift either foot without falling into the torrent that raged between, and so there and then our father, who was then a boy, found the old savage in a towering passion and pouring out curses in Gaelic on the evils of old age! All are gone, and the place that once knew them knows them no more! The hillside, which had once borne a happy people, and echoed the voices of joyous children, is now a silent sheep-walk. The supposed necessities of Political Economy have effected the exchange, but the day may come when the country may feel the loss of the loyal and brave race which has been driven away, and find a new meaning perhaps in the old question, “Is not a man better than a sheep?” They who “would have shed their blood like water” for Queen and country, are in other lands, Highland still, but expatriated for ever—

“From the dim abieling.on the misty island,
Mountains divide us and a world of seas,
But still our hearts are true, our hearts are Highland,
And in our dreams we behold the Hebrides.
Tall are these mountains and these woods are grand,
But we are exiled from our fathers’ land.”

The funeral was next day, and nearly the whole male population of the parish, rich and poor, were there, with others from a distance, and the Roman Catholic priest of the district among them. Old men were there with wrinkled faces and weather-bleached hair, and home-spun garments redolent of peatreek, and young fisher-lads and strong shepherds with their plaids and cromachs. In Highland fashion the huge coffin was carried all the way for five miles to the grave, now shoulder high and again upon stretchers, and borne along by eighteen stalwart men at a time, almost every parishioner taking his turn. As the dark procession left the empty house and wound down the familiar path to the shore, there seemed to be more than the living present there. The forms of the dead and gone, and the happy voices of old times seemed the nearer because of the very solitude of the land through which we moved. The tones of my father’s song, written more than seventy years ago, and which every West Highlander knows so well, were ringing in my heart:—

“Eirich agus tingain, O,
Eirich agus tingain, O,
Eirich agus tingain, O,
Farewell, farewell to Fuinary.
A thousand, thousand tender ties
Awake this day my plaintive sighs;
My heart within me almost dies
At thought of leaving Fuinary."

And so amid the sunshine and shower which mingled their light and shadow as in sympathy with thoughts at once bright and sorrowful, was the good minister of Morven carried to the church-yard of Kiel, past the green hill crowned with the ancient Iona Cross —standing in relief against the distant landscape of sea and mountain—and there by the reverent hands of those who loved him, his ashes were laid among those of his own dear ones.


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