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The Long Glen
Chapter XVII - The Parish Vacancy

It was soon after this clerical convocation, and when, therefore, the shadow of the Disruption was condensing into a darkness which could be felt, that the elders of the vacant Glen Church called the heads of the families together to consider what steps, if any, should be taken to obtain an acceptable presentee. The Veto Act was condemned by the Civil Courts, and declared to be null and void. It was upheld, however, by the ruling party in the Church, as if God had given it to favoured Scotland as a precious addition to the canon of Holy Scriptures. There was a feeling in the glen that, if possible, a settlement should be compassed that would steer clear both of the Scylla of ecclesiastical despotism and the Charybdis of Civil Court intervention. The simple plan proposed was to pass between the rival powers by securing congregational unity beforehand, and petitioning for the appointment of a man approved by all.

The patronage vested in the Crown, and the two last ministers had been successively appointed through Inchadin influence, but with full popular approval. The step taken by the elders was according to precedent, as well as particularly suitable under existing circumstances. The meeting was a full one, and it was resolved, with absolute unanimity, to send a petition to the Government, through the member for the county, praying humbly that a certain gentleman should be appointed. The man thus honoured was an earnest probationer of excellent character and fair attainments, who, no doubt, was very evangelical in his leanings, but had not, so far, mixed himself up in the Non-Intrusion business. It was with a grudge, indeed, that the extremists consented to petition for him, and to refrain from proposing the name of a young firebrand to the meeting.

The Glen elders, before calling the meeting, consulted with their former minister, and he advised them—wisely and well—to propose the name of the quiet probationer, who to most of them was a perfect stranger. Those of them who happened to attend church that day had certainly a solitary opportunity of hearing the young man preach, when he officiated for their old minister the Sabbath before the latter was loosened from his charge. Those who then heard him, however, had no idea that he was being brought forward in the character of nominee and successor. But they should have guessed it. The Non-Intrusion minister who in those days happened to get translated usually appointed his successor, either directly by commendation and mandatory advice, or indirectly by working through elders and personal adherents, who determined the choice wherever the sheep were permitted to select their shepherd by grace of the patrons. So in many parishes in which the legal patronage, during the troubled period, fell into a sort of abeyance, the out-going Ncn-Intrusionist minister introduced a Non-Intrusionist successor as naturally as the preceding rhyme in "The House that Jack built" introduces the one coming after.

The gentleman commended for selection to the Glen people was certainly one who was unlikely to set either Kirk or State on fire. Although of the right brand in the opinion of the elders and former minister, the brand did not go deeper than the surface of the skin, and with time and •experience it would be almost sure to rub off. The parishioners, upon the whole, believed that a good choice was made for them, and as there was no time to lose, before it would be necessary for the Lord Advocate to act, unless lie allowed the right of appointment to lapse to the Presbytery, they made all haste to sign and send off their petition-In a fortnight or less an unfavourable answer was received. The advisers of the Crown believed in counter-threats to the Non-Intrusionists, and in a harsh use of the patronial power. It was one of the most surprising things in the history of the closing year of the conflict how the Scotch advisers of the Crown allowed passion to blind them to such an extent that they persuaded themselves and informed the Government there would be no disruption at all, beyond the secession of a few noisy agitators who would be less mischievous on the outer side of the hedge. This utterly erroneous view of the situation hardened into an article of official faith, and helped most prejudicially to increase disruptive forces, by driving halfhearted Non-Intrusionists into the vortex. In consequence of this mistaken notion, the Crown patronage towards the end of the struggle was exercised with defiant disregard of reasonable representations of congregational wishes, except in the rare cases in which influential Tory gentlemen benevolently interfered, and were able to vouch for the Tory proclivities of petitioners and the persons for whom they petitioned. Unfortunately there was no such Tory gentleman at hand to mediate for the Glen folk, although they were politically more Tory than Whig, and the great majority of their £50 rent farmers had, at the late election, voted for the Tory candidate, in the firm belief that a Peel Ministry would steadily defend the Corn Laws—which belief was in a few years later scattered to the winds.

The refusal of the Government to grant the reasonable and seasonable boon of peace and compromise which they had humbly and unanimously prayed for, made the Glen folk sullenly angry and downcast. It created among them for the first time a determined Disruption party. Till then the highest-pacing Glen evangelicals thought the Edinburgh clerical convocation had gone quite in the wrong direction, and believed the proper way to rectify Kirk affairs was not to secede or peril all on the Veto Act scheme, but to defeat every Parliamentary candidate for a Scotch seat who did not pledge himself unreservedly to strive to modify patronage effectually, or to abolish it root and branch, giving compensation to the patrons, if no other means would avail for restoring concord between Kirk and State. Immediately after the rejection of the petition a denouncing spirit was let loose among those who deemed themselves the spiritual guides of their less gifted brethren and sisters. They began to h'nt that the Kirk was poisoned and corrupted> soul and body, beyond the healing power of human medicine ; and to doubt whether God would care to save such a barren, half-withered tree by recreative miracle. Odious comparisons were instituted between the policy of Sir Robert Peel's Government and the traditionally anathematised policy of Charles the First, Laud, and Strafford. Thanks chiefly to an aggressive speech by the Whig Lord Brougham, the House of Lords got to be described as consisting of a pack of false Saxon loons, who were traitorously stealing their ancient rights and liberties from the Scotch people. The hollow but grandly sounding phrases of the Ultramontane agitators were now accepted as a new Solemn League and Covenant. Driving the Gideonites to the mountains, and smiting the Amalekites hip and thigh, became popular comparisons. At prayer meetings long political harangues were addressed to the Almighty. " Effectual Calling" yielded place to effective partisanship. The former anxiety about securing the salvation of souls by the help of the Holy Ghost, and the converting power of the Word, now transformed itself into a more ardent desire to resist, baffle, and conquer by any means the supposed enemies of Christ's Crown and Covenant rights—among whom, of course, was Mr Gladstone, then the rising star of reactionary Tories and High Churchmen. and perhaps the only member of Sir Robert Peel's Government who thoroughly studied, but in no spirit of sympathy, the demands of the Non-Intrusionists, and pronounced them inadmissible.

It was perhaps only natural and inevitable that English Statesmen should fail to understand the intelligence, the persistence, and the pride of the Scotch people ; but they did not fail to bring all these into full play during the closing year .of the struggle by their policy of "firmness" in general, and the use of the patronial rights of the Crown in particular. The agitators, who, with the vanity of injured Popes, and the vindictiveness of pampered demagogues, were diligently working to bring about the collapse of Scotland's last and greatest national institution, felt glorified. The enemy played into their hands, and they took care to give the enemy scope, by stirring congregations to send up petitions on behalf of presentees acceptable to themselves, which they knew would be refused. Every refusal was a gain, for was it not a fresh grievance, and a thing to be fiercely denounced from pulpit, platform, and tent over the whole land ? The ministers and elders, who were now committed irretrievably, and so rendered incapable of taking a wide, generous, patriotic view of the situation, worked assiduously, and with only too much success—• thanks to Governmental stupidity and the self-blinding passion of the Scotch advisers of the Crown—to get the people similarly committed to the renunciation of their birth-rights.

Although nobody said it out clearly, it was perfectly well understood that the presentee appointed by the Crown must be vetoed, whatever his gifts, and however good his character. Even on Conversation Bench the refusal to give effect to the petition was unanimously condemned.

Duncan Han struck his stick into Alastair's cinder heap, and declared it a burning shame that Saxon Lords should be allowed to trample, by their unjust and insulting decisions, on the small fragment of Scotland's independence, which had survived the Union and the brutalities of the Butcher of Culloden.

Iain Og expressed deep contrition for voting with the Tories in the late election, and the Seanairean expressed their adoption of his sentiment by a chorus of three groans.

Diarmad thought the impolitic use the Government made of the Crown Patronage everywhere the certain precursor of the Kirk's ruin ; and his language of condemnation assumed a dark prophetic tinge.

Upon the whole, in December, 1842, the skein had become so tangled that the impatient people thought cutting it the only thing feasible. But even then—aye, down to the very eve of the Disruption—an offer by the Government to abolish patronage would have satisfied the rural population, and enabled the ministers, who were entrapped at the clerical convocation, to retain their churches and manses without loss of character or self-respect, and with the approbation of their congregations.

It was not to be. The wire-pullers were triumphant, and determined to pull down the grand National Church, whose sworn servants they were. To figure as martyrs for Protestant Ultramontanism was the height of their poor ambition. Their preparatory work was cleverly accomplished. Chalmers, the greatest man of whom the Church could boast, was caught in a net, and the country ministers were shut up in a trap, from which nothing short of the abolition of patronage could set them free.

But, misled by blind Scotch advisers, and influenced by Anglican ignorance and misconceptions, the Peel Ministry never thought of handsomely pricking the fast-swelling Disruption balloon by the sharp blade of a Patronage Abolition Bill. Sir Robert Peel and his able colleagues— including Mr Gladstone—never realised before the explosion, the force, and volume of the force, which their policy of" firmness" had done so much to generate and condense. But, for six months before the Disruption, the shadow of the coming catastrophe was daily darkening upon the sight of the Highland shepherd tending his flock on the hills of heath, and upon the sight of the Lowland ploughman following his horses in the clayey furrow of the fertile carse.

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