Penelope's Experiences in Scotland by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Part First--In Town.
Chapter VIII. `What made th' Assembly shine?'
Two or three days ago we noted an unusual though subdued air of excitement at 22 Breadalbane Terrace, where for a week we had been the sole lodgers. Mrs. Menzies, whom we call Mingess, has returned to Kilconquhar, which she calls Kinyuchar; Miss Cockburn-Sinclair has purchased her wedding outfit and gone back to Inverness, where she will be greeted as Coburn-Sinkler; the Hepburn-Sciennes will be leaving to-morrow, just as we have learned to pronounce their names; and the sound of the scrubbing-brush is heard in the land. In corners where all was clean and spotless before, Mrs. M'Collop is digging with the broom, and the maiden Boots is following her with a damp cloth. The stair carpets are hanging on lines in the back garden, and Susanna, with her cap rakishly on one side, is always to be seen polishing the stair-rods. Whenever we traverse the halls we are obliged to leap over pails of suds, and Miss Diggity-Dalgety has given us two dinners which bore a curious resemblance to washing-day repasts in suburban America.
"Is it spring house-cleaning?" I ask Mistress M'Collop.
"Na, na," she replies hurriedly; "it's the meenisters."
On the 19th of May we are a maiden castle no longer. Black coats and hats ring at the bell, and pass in and out of the different apartments. The hall table is sprinkled with letters, visiting- cards, and programmes which seem to have had the alphabet shaken out upon them, for they bear the names of professors, doctors, reverends, and very reverends, and fairly bristle with A.M.'s, M.A.'s, A.B.'s, D.D.'s, and LL.D.'s. The voice of family prayer is lifted up from the dining-room floor, and paraphrases and hymns float down the stairs from above. Their Graces the Lord High Commissioner and the Marchioness of Heatherdale will arrive to-day at Holyrood Palace, there to reside during the sittings of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and to-morrow the Royal Standard will be hoisted at Edinburgh Castle from reveille to retreat. His Grace will hold a levee at eleven. Directly His Grace leaves the palace after the levee, the guard of honour will proceed by the Canongate to receive him on his arrival at St. Giles' Church, and will then proceed to Assembly Hall to receive him on his arrival there. The Sixth Inniskilling Dragoons and the First Battalion Royal Scots will be in attendance, and there will be Unicorns, Carricks, pursuivants, heralds, mace-bearers, ushers, and pages, together with the Purse-bearer, and the Lyon King-of-Arms, and the national anthem, and the royal salute; for the palace has awakened and is `mimicking its past.'
`Should the weather be wet, the troops will be cloaked at the discretion of the commanding officer.' They print this instruction as a matter of form, and of course every man has his macintosh ready. The only hope lies in the fact that this is a national function, and `Queen's weather' is a possibility. The one personage for whom the Scottish climate will occasionally relax is Her Majesty Queen Victoria, who for sixty years has exerted a benign influence on British skies and at least secured sunshine on great parade days. Such women are all too few!
In this wise enters His Grace the Lord High Commissioner to open the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland; and on the same day there arrives by the railway (but travelling first class) the Moderator of the Church of Scotland Free, to convene its separate supreme Courts in Edinburgh. He will have no Union Jacks, Royal Standards, Dragoons, bands, or pipers; he will bear his own purse and stay at an hotel; but when the final procession of all comes, he will probably march beside His Grace the Lord High Commissioner, and they will talk together, not of dead-and-gone kingdoms, but of the one at hand, where there are no more divisions in the ranks, and where all the soldiers are simply `king's men,' marching to victory under the inspiration of a common watchword.
It is a matter of regret to us that the U.P.'s, the third branch of Scottish Presbyterianism, could not be holding an Assembly during this same week, so that we might the more easily decide in which flock we really belong. 22 Breadalbane Terrace now represents all shades of religious opinion within the bounds of Presbyterianism. We have an Elder, a Professor of Biblical Criticism, a Majesty's Chaplain, and even an ex-Moderator under our roof, and they are equally divided between the Free and the Established bodies.
Mrs. M'Collop herself is a pillar of the Free Kirk, but she has no prejudice in lodgers, and says so long as she `mak's her rent she doesna care aboot their releegious principles.' Miss Diggity- Dalgety is the sole representative of United Presbyterianism in the household, and she is somewhat gloomy in Assembly time. To belong to a dissenting body, and yet to cook early and late for the purpose of fattening one's religious rivals, is doubtless trying to the temper; and then she asserts that `meenisters are aye tume [empty].'
"You must put away your Scottish ballads and histories now, Salemina, and keep your Concordance and your umbrella constantly at hand."
This I said as we stood on George IV. Bridge and saw the ministers glooming down from the Mound in a dense Assembly fog. As the presence of any considerable number of priests on an ocean steamer is supposed to bring rough weather, so the addition of a few hundred parsons to the population of Edinburgh is believed to induce rain,-- or perhaps I should say, more rain.
Of course, when one is in perfect bodily health one can more readily resist the infection of disease. Similarly if Scottish skies were not ready and longing to pour out rain, were not ignobly weak in holding it back, they would not be so susceptible to the depressing influences of visiting ministers. This is Francesca's theory as stated to the Reverend Ronald, who was holding an umbrella over her ungrateful head at the time; and she went on to boast of a convention she once attended in California, where twenty-six thousand Christian Endeavourers were unable to dim the American sunshine, though they stayed ten days.
"Our first duty, both to ourselves and to the community," I continued to Salemina, "is to learn how there can be three distinct kinds of proper Presbyterianism. Perhaps it would be a graceful act on our part if we should each espouse a different kind; then there would be no feeling among our Edinburgh friends. And again what is this `union' of which we hear murmurs? Is it religious or political? Is it an echo of the 1707 Union you explained to us last week, or is it a new one? What is Disestablishment? What is Disruption? Are they the same thing? What is the Sustentation Fund? What was the Non-Intrusion party? What was the Dundas Despotism? What is the argument at present going on about taking the Shorter Catechism out of the schools? What is the Shorter Catechism, any way,--or at least what have they left out of the Longer Catechism to make it shorter,--and is the length of the Catechism one of the points of difference? then when we have looked up Chalmers and Candlish, we can ask the ex-Moderator and the Professor of Biblical Criticism to tea; separately, of course, lest there should be ecclesiastical quarrels."
Salemina and Francesca both incline to the Established church, I lean instinctively toward the Free; but that does not mean that we have any knowledge of the differences that separate them. Salemina is a conservative in all things; she loves law, order, historic associations, old customs; and so when there is a regularly established national church,--or, for that matter, a regularly established anything, she gravitates to it by the law of her being. Francesca's religious convictions, when she is away from her own minister and native land, are inclined to be flexible. The church that enters Edinburgh with a marquis and a marchioness representing the Crown, the church that opens its Assembly with splendid processions and dignified pageants, the church that dispenses generous hospitality from Holyrood Palace,--above all, the church that escorts its Lord High Commissioner from place to place with bands and pipers,--that is the church to which she pledges her constant presence and enthusiastic support.
As for me, I believe I am a born protestant, or `come-outer,' as they used to call dissenters in the early days of New England. I have not yet had time to study the question, but as I lack all knowledge of the other two branches of Presbyterianism, I am enabled to say unhesitatingly that I belong to the Free Kirk. To begin with, the very word `free' has a fascination for the citizen of a republic; and then my theological training was begun this morning by a gifted young minister of Edinburgh whom we call the Friar, because the first time we saw him in his gown and bands (the little spot of sheer whiteness beneath the chin, that lends such added spirituality to a spiritual face) we fancied that he looked like some pale brother of the Church in the olden time. His pallor, in a land of rosy redness and milky whiteness; his smooth, fair hair, which in the light from the stained-glass window above the pulpit looked reddish gold; the Southern heat of passionate conviction that coloured his slow Northern speech; the remoteness of his personality; the weariness of his deep-set eyes, that bespoke such fastings and vigils as he probably never practised,--all this led to our choice of the name.
As we walked toward St. Andrew's Church and Tanfield Hall, where he insisted on taking me to get the `proper historical background,' he told me about the great Disruption movement. He was extremely eloquent,--so eloquent that the image of Willie Beresford tottered continually on its throne, and I found not the slightest difficulty in giving an unswerving allegiance to the principles presented by such an orator.
We went first to St. Andrew's, where the General Assembly met in 1843, and where the famous exodus of the Free Protesting Church took place,--one of the most important events in the modern history of the United Kingdom.
The movement was promoted by the great Dr. Chalmers and his party, mainly to abolish the patronage of livings, then in the hands of certain heritors or patrons, who might appoint any minister they wished, without consulting the congregation. Needless to say, as a free-born American citizen, and never having had a heritor in the family, my blood easily boiled at the recital of such tyranny. In 1834 the Church had passed a law of its own, it seems, ordaining that no presentee to a parish should be admitted, if opposed by the majority of the male communicants. That would have been well enough could the State have been made to agree, though I should have gone further, personally, and allowed the female communicants to have some voice in the matter.
The Friar took me into a particularly chilly historic corner, and, leaning against a damp stone pillar, painted the scene in St. Andrew's when the Assembly met in the presence of a great body of spectators, while a vast throng gathered without, breathlessly awaiting the result. No one believed that any large number of ministers would relinquish livings and stipends and cast their bread upon the waters for what many thought a `fantastic principle.' Yet when the Moderator left his place, after reading a formal protest signed by one hundred and twenty ministers and seventy-two elders, he was followed first by Dr. Chalmers, and then by four hundred and seventy men, who marched in a body to Tanfield Hall, where they formed themselves into the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland. When Lord Jeffrey was told of it an hour later, he exclaimed, `Thank God for Scotland! there is not another country on earth where such a deed could be done!' And the Friar reminded me proudly of Macaulay's saying that the Scots had made sacrifices for the sake of religious opinion for which there was no parallel in the annals of England. On the next Sunday after these remarkable scenes in Edinburgh there were heart-breaking farewells, so the Friar said, in many village parishes, when the minister, in dismissing his congregation, told them that he had ceased to belong to the Established Church and would neither preach nor pray in that pulpit again; that he had joined the Free Protesting Church of Scotland, and, God willing, would speak the next Sabbath morning at the manse door to as many as cared to follow him. "What affecting leave- takings there must have been!" the Friar exclaimed. "When my grandfather left his church that May morning, only fifteen members remained behind, and he could hear the more courageous say to the timid ones, `Tak' your Bible and come awa', mon!' Was not all this a splendid testimony to the power of principle and the sacred demands of conscience?" I said "Yea" most heartily, for the spirit of Jenny Geddes stirred within me that morning, and under the spell of the Friar's kindling eye and eloquent voice I positively gloried in the valiant achievements of the Free Church. It would always be easier for a woman to say, "Yea" than "Nay" to the Friar. When he left me in Breadalbane Terrace I was at heart a member of his congregation in good (and irregular) standing, ready to teach in his Sunday-school, sing in his choir, visit his aged and sick poor, and especially to stand between him and a too admiring feminine constituency.
When I entered the drawing-room, I found that Salemina had just enjoyed an hour's conversation with the ex-Moderator of the opposite church wing.
"Oh, my dear," she sighed, "you have missed such a treat! You have no conception of these Scottish ministers of the Establishment,-- such culture, such courtliness of manner, such scholarship, such spirituality, such wise benignity of opinion! I asked the doctor to explain the Disruption movement to me, and he was most interesting and lucid, and most affecting, too, when he described the misunderstandings and misconceptions that the Church suffered in those terrible days of 1843, when its very life-blood, as well as its integrity and unity, were threatened by the foes in its own household; when breaches of faith and trust occurred on all sides, and dissents and disloyalties shook it to its very foundation! You see, Penelope, I have never fully understood the disagreements about heritors and livings and state control before, but here is the whole matter in a nut-sh--"
"My dear Salemina," I interposed, with dignity, "you will pardon me, I am sure, when I tell you that any discussion on this point would be intensely painful to me, as I now belong to the Free Kirk."
"Where have you been this morning?" she asked, with a piercing glance.
"To St. Andrew's and Tanfield Hall."
"With the Friar."
"I see! Happy the missionary to whom you incline your ear, first!"- -which I thought rather inconsistent of Salemina, as she had been converted by precisely the same methods and in precisely the same length of time as had I, the only difference being in the ages of our respective missionaries, one being about five-and-thirty, and other five-and-sixty. Even this is to my credit after all, for if one can be persuaded so quickly and fully by a young and comparatively inexperienced man, it shows that one must be extremely susceptible to spiritual influences or--something.