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The Scottish Nation

SKINNER, REV. JOHN, a popular song-writer and ecclesiastical historian, was born at Balfour, in the parish of Birse, Aberdeenshire, October 3. 1721. He was the son of the schoolmaster of that parish, his mother being the widow of Donald Farquharson, Esq. of Balfour. At thirteen years of age he was sent to the Marischal college, Aberdeen, where he obtained a bursary. On leaving the university he became assistant to the parish schoolmaster of Kemnay, and in 1739 removed to Monymusk, where he held the same situation. Through the kindness of Lady Grant he was allowed the use of the extensive library at Monymusk House. About this time he quitted the Presbyterian church, in which he had been educated, for the Scottish Episcopal communion, and thereafter directed his studies for the ministry. In 1740, he went to Shetland, as tutor to the only son of Mr. Sinclair of Scalloway, and while there he married the daughter of Mr. Hunter, the only Episcopalian clergyman in that remote part of the country. Having returned to Aberdeenshire, he was ordained by Bishop Dunbar at Peterhead, and in Nov. 1742, was appointed to the charge of the Episcopal congregation at Longside, near that town. Here he officiated for the long period of 65 years, residing all the time in a small thatched cottage at Linshart. With his brethren, who were in general Jacobites, he suffered in the troublous period of 1745-6. More than once imprisoned, he had often to leave his house, and resort to stratagems to avoid falling into the hands of the soldiery. On one occasion he disguised himself as a miller, and on another, on his return home, he found his house in possession of a military party, and was robbed of every thing, even the linen intended for Mrs. Skinner, then confined with her 5th child. Soon afterwards his little chapel, with all its furniture, was burned. He continued quietly and faithfully to discharge the duties of his office, often addressing his people from the door or window of his lowly cottage, until he was apprehended in May 1753, on a warrant from the sheriff, and committed to prison for six months, for preaching to more than four persons, contrary to the then rigorous law.

He took a leading part in the polemical discussions of his time, and several pamphlets of a controversial nature issued from his pen. In all these he evinced considerable acuteness, with a remarkable power of ridicule. In 1746 he published a small pamphlet, entitled ‘A Preservative against Presbytery;’ and, in 1757, he brought out at London a ‘Dissertation on Job’s Prophecy,’ which obtained the approbation of Bishop Sherlock. In 1767 he issued another pamphlet in vindication of the Scottish Episcopal church. He assisted Dr. Gleig of Stirling, in preparing some of the articles for an edition of the ‘Encyclopedia Britannica.’ He tried farming, too, having about 1758 entered upon Mains of Ludquharn in the vicinity of Longside, but this speculation proved a failure. He is popularly known to his countrymen by his excellent songs of ‘Tullochgorum,’ styled by Burns “the best Scotch song Scotland ever saw;” ‘John of Badenyou;’ ‘The Ewie wi’ the Crooked Horn;’ ‘O! why should Old Age so much wound us, L! &c.’ Most of them were written ere the appearance of Burns, who was a warm admirer of Skinner. Natural, tender, and genial, they have taken hold of the feelings and lived in the memories of his countrymen, and are among the best in the Scottish language. In 1788 he published, at London, in 2 vols. 8vo, his ‘Ecclesiastical History of Scotland, from the first appearance of Christianity in the Kingdom,’ with a dedication in elegant Latin to his son, Bishop Skinner of Aberdeen. In a letter to Burns, dated Nov. 14, 1787, he states that he had attempted a Latin translation of ‘Christ’s Kirk on the Green,’ which he had by heart ere he was twelve years of age. He also wrote a Latin version of Ramsay’s tale of ‘The Monk and Miller’s Wife.’ IN 1799 he lost his wife, and, in the spring of 1807, he went to reside with his son at Aberdeen. Twelve days after his arrival there, he was taken ill during dinner, and died almost immediately, June 16, 1807. He was buried in the churchyard of Longside, where his congregation erected a monument to his memory. In 1809 his miscellaneous works were published in 3 volumes 8vo, with a biographical memoir by his son, the Bishop. In 1859 an edition of his ‘Songs and Poems’ appeared at Peterhead, with a Biographical Sketch by H.G.Reid. This volume contains several pieces previously unpublished, and adds some fresh facts in his life.

His son, Dr. John, Skinner, bishop of Aberdeen, who died July 13, 1816, was the author of,

Primitive Truth and Order Vindicated from Modern Misrepresentation; with a Defence of Episcopacy. Lond. 1803, 8vo. Also of a more popular publication, entitled, ‘A Layman’s Account of his Faith and Practice as a Member of the Episcopal Church in Scotland.
The Duty of Holding Fast the Doctrine of the Gospel; a Sermon. 1804, 8vo.

The youngest son of Bishop John Skinner, William Skinner, D.D., succeeded him as bishop of Aberdeen and Primus, and died in 1857.

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