The church and the highlands

Download 1.31 Mb.
Size1.31 Mb.
1   ...   28   29   30   31   32   33   34   35   ...   61

'The so-called Eeformation soon "ceased to be reform; it grew to be a Eevolution. . . . The congregation gradually be­came the foous of political disaffection, as well as of religious ani­mosity. They produced authorities from Holy Writ for sedition and rebellion, as well as for murder. Crude democratic theories were in vogue. A theocracy saturated with socialism was the form of government which the leaders of the movement openly approved." — Maitland of Lethington, vol. L, pp. 216-217. For the shameless details of Knox's treason and treachery, the reader is referred to the Cecil-Eandolph correspondence. They are too large to insert here. " The tortuous intrigues ud political duplicities of the Minister of Eighteousness may be forgiven by those who hold that the end justifies the means ; bu' the inhumanity which Knox occasionally manifested, hardly, from any point of view, admits of palliation. . . . No page is more revolting to the modern student of morals than hardy the gross superstition touching this miser­able fanatic, that his crimes and misdemeanours are freely forgiven him, or at all events tacitly ignored.

Knox was a traitor to his Prince and his country : of that there can be no manner of doubt; and the Scots, as a nation, are, fortunately, not tolerant of traitors, of whom, indeed, they would appear to have had rather more than their fair share. Yet in some parts of the country, so endur­ing is prejudice, and so dense is ignorance, that this shabby adventurer is even yet glorified to the skies! Surely in this fact we have a strange and almost unaccountable phenomenon presented to us. Other traitors, almost if not quite as popular in their times, have paid the debt of Nemesis by being found out, and have been unceremoniously ejected from their respective temples of fame.

But this John Knox, one of the most egregious, and unblushing of the Judas kind, continues in almost unimpaired enjoyment of his original honours, in spite of all that historians can do or say to dislodge him! What is the explanation of this singular conundrum ? The Scots, as a nation, are credited with rather more than average intelli­gence. Cannot they see that their idol has not only feet of clay, but has the heart of a scoundrel as well ? We are afraid that whilst many do see, they are afraid to trust the obvious evidence of their senses; whilst the rest have neither inclina­tion nor capacity to think for themselves, being content to deserve that contemptuous appellation which Knox himself bestowed on them—the rascal multitude.

that on which the historian of the Eeformation deliberately, in cold blood, long after the event, registers his indecent triumph." —Maitland of Lethington, vol. i., p. 226.

So strong is prejudice in the Presbyterian camp that we regard it as little short of madness to at­tempt to persuade them. If people will not read, will not be informed or instructed, it is better to leave them alone, since a waste of good breath to cool indifferent porridge cannot be justified, even on the ground of extraordinary expenditure. They have their histories, not the old ones, but the new : why do they not read them ? They have, presumably, their pastors and masters: why do they not listen to them? Perhaps these last, more intent on buttering their bread than imparting instruction, have joined that widespread conspiracy against knowledge, of which religious prejudice is the mainstay. If so, the Presbyterians should look to themselves. Surely they are not children to be bubbled in this ridiculous manner.

There are one or two things, however, which, before closing, we should like to say. They are not intended for the rascal multitude, but are addressed to thinking people—to Highlanders especially, whose ears have not been positively deafened by the screams of the Reformation-at-any-price partisans of John Knox. The first con­sideration we would offer them is this, namely, that all the best modern Protestant writers are now agreed that the abuses in the Church before the so-called Reformation have been "grossly exaggerated".1 The second is this, that the so-called Reformation was a political rather than a religious movement. The third is, that even sup­posing reformation were necessary and justifiable, it was neither the one nor the other to invite foreign
'Skelton, Maitland of Lethington, vol. i., p. 68. See also-Home Brown's Knox, etc assistance—to play the traitor, in other words—in] order to that end. The fourth is, that the so-called] Reformation was not followed by the purely intelì lectual results commonly claimed for it. The fifth' is, that the seeds of Scotland's dependence were] sown when the so-called Reformation was endorsed] by the majority of the English-speaking people ml Scotland. And now for a few observations uporij these several heads.

It has been said that the so-called Reformation was a measure of spiritual and intellectual emanctì pation, drafted by Providence in favour of the] northern nations. Let us hear what Skelton ha| to say on that subject. " When we are told," saysa he,1 " that Knox's Reformation was the cause of alll that is ' best and greatest' in the Scottish character! we are tempted to ask whether in point of fact the] Scot since Knox's time has risen to any high moral or spiritual level ? It is probable that under anl| form of religion or government the national caution] and the natural shrewdness would have led to] material success and worldly prosperity. But is it just to assert that the severe and gloomy Puritanism] of the preachers has impressed upon the national] conscience a finer ideal of duty or a higher standard of purity ? If this could be truly asserted, then,] indeed, the narrowness, the fierceness, the bigotry! might be forgiven. That the life led by 'the] Scottish commons' since the Reformation has beenl as a rule, simple, frugal and devout, I would gladly! believe; but that it has been in many respects al maimed and stunted life, wanting in beauty and] attractiveness and the instinctive refinement of] more favoured nations, as well as hard, narrow!
1 Vol. vii., p. 70.

and merciless in conduct and judgment, cannot, I am afraid, be denied. Nor do sobriety, purity and cleanliness quite consist with certain unpleasant returns which have been taken to show (rather unfairly I believe) that among the nations of Europe the countrymen and countrywomen of Knox are the most intemperate and the most unchaste."

It has been said, on what evidence does not ap­pear, that the so-called Reformation was followed by a great outburst of intellectual activity in those countries in which, under "the most favoured nation treatment" we presume—to borrow a modern ex­pression—this religious holocaust occurred. For our own parts, however, we can discover no evidence of extraordinary activity in either England, Germany, (Switzerland, Scandinavia, or the Lowlands of Scot­land—no rich harvest of genius, that is to say, that can legitimately be ascribed to the prophets of the Eeformation, and their works. If the Church before the so-called Reformation was master of all, in the sense of being tyrant of all, as is frequently asserted, how came it to pass that the fifteenth and the sixteenth centuries were distinguished by so extraordinary an intellectual activity, which began to languish the moment the Protestant heresy arose V If, on the other hand, the Church was too

1 It is perhaps inevitable that Protestants should think that before their heresy " arrived," society, from an intellectual point of view, was a blank. But however much credit so whimsical a notion may do to their simple hearts, it does not say much for their intelligence. It has been well said that, had it not been for (he Catholic Church, their very Bible (touching which they have no agreement, save to differ) would not have been preserved for them! A similar tendency to date the origin of all things from the commencement of events important and interesting only to themselves is observable among savages.

indolent, too deeply steeped in vice and sloth, too much busied about her own trifling affairs, to exer­cise her influence for the suppression of genius (as others contend), how came it to pass that, intel­lectually considered, the period of the so-called Reformation is as barren as a sand dune ? It will be seen at once that the two statements cannot be reconciled. They amount to a contradiction in terms ; and for that reason are to be regarded with the utmost suspicion by every well-regulated mind. Either the Church was capable of playing the in­famous role so often ascribed to her by ignorant Protestants of seeking to discourage and to sup­press learning and knowledge " in the interests of superstition"—in which case the famous names connected with the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries would not have come down to us ; or she was in­capable of doing anything of the kind—in which latter case what is to become of all the frothy language that has been indulged in touching the *' tyranny " of the Church and the state of slavish bondage in which for her own selfish and un­justifiable ends she is supposed to have held the minds of all men, seeing that if she were too idle or indifferent to exercise her influence, men of genius were necessarily free to come and to go, as it were, just as they pleased ?1 " The influence of the Knoxian Reformation . . . upon the intellectual life was distinctly disastrous," says Mr. Skelton, in the interesting work we have already quoted from. " Their first business in Scotland was to construct an exhaustive form of excommunication

1 In point of fact, the license allowed by many of the clergy before the period of the so-called Eeformation was a contributory »cause to the Church's undoing on that occasion, as a reference io the scandalous literature of the time will conclusively prove.

directly thereafter they succeeded in obtaining an Act from the Estates which punished witchcraft with death. It need not be added that the higher literature (English) of Scotland, the literature which has given Scotland a place among the nations, owes nothing to its Puritanism. Hume, Burns, Scott, each in his own fashion, led the revolt against the Knoxian tradition."

To what depths of prejudice and follya Protestant critic who is at a loss for an argument will descend may be gathered from the following observation which was recently passed on a paper in this Review. "Protestantism has encouraged the Gael to think, and compelled him to learn to read, and he is not likely to regard it as an enemy." To borrow this writer's own language, " comment is needless " !— or rather would be so were it not that we have some charitable hopes of snatching even this brand from the burning — of instilling some reason, honesty and common-sense even into this most unpromising exemplar of the rascal multitude.

We have said it before, and we repeat it, that "in the long life of the Gael, Protestantism, and all that it implies in a civil as well as in a religious way, has been but an unprofitable and melancholy experiment. The best of his traditions antedate Protestantism. His literature, his art, and his music have come down from Catholic times." We of the Celtic race have not a single author to boast of whose works can justly be styled Protestant.1 And we were certainly familiar with letters long

'With the doubtful exception of Buchanan, the hymn-writer, whose gloomy adumbrations suggest a natural com­parison between his own productions and the exhalations of a somewhat similar Puritan "mystic"—the English Bunyan, to wit.

before the advent of the co-religionists of Joha Knox. To assert that " Protestantism has encour­aged the Gael to think and compelled him to learn to read," as a writer in one of the best-known news­papers in Scotland gravely declares, is, to be candid,] a lie, as well as a foolish impertinence; and we make no doubt that Protestant Highlanders will be vastly obliged by this handsome tribute to their own and their forebears' intelligence. Indeed, it is scarcely worth while to refute so transparent a slander—1 even for the satisfaction of reading this ignorant critic a much-needed lesson. Its extravagant terms supply its own refutation. If- Celtic literature began with the so-called Reformation, instead of dating its fall from the political consequences which followed it, there might be something to say for the observation. There cannot possibly be otherwise.

We have touched already on the political conse­quences of the so-called Reformation in so far as they relate to the Highlanders. We have seen that the religious revolution inaugurated by Knox: remained stationary for some time, and that it was long before it ventured to set foot in the Highlands. But when it did come at last, after much halting and delay, it is interesting to observe in what light the disciples of Knox—and Celtic and kindred societies whose object is " the preservation of the] language and literature of the Gael" should make a joyful note of the circumstance—regarded our literature. Carswell, who was sent in order to teach us how to read and to think—he appears to have been the first "body" "frae Glesga'" or else­where charged with so charitable a mission—! though a Gael, was thoroughly imbued with the spirit of John Knox and his illiberal disciples. "Is mortsaothair sin (ars esan) re sgriobhadh do laimh, ag fechain an neithe buailtear sa chlò arai-brisge agas ar aithghiorra bhios gach èn ni dhà mhed da chriochnughadh leis. Agas is mor an doille agas andorchadas peacaidh agas aineolais agasindtleachda do lucht deachtaidh agas sgriobhtha agas chumdaigh na Gaoidheilge, gurab is mò is mian leo agas gurab mò ghnathuidheas siad eachtradha dimhaoineacha buaidheartha bregacha saoghalta do cumadh ar Thuathaibhdè Dhanondagas ar mhacaibh mileadh agas arna curadhaibh agas Fhind mhac Cumhail gona fhianaibh agas ar mhòran eile nach airbhim."The note thus struck by the first " reformers " in their dealings with the Gael of Scotland have set the tune, it is no exaggeration to say, to their suc­cessors in the ministerial function of the Presby­terian Church. With few exceptions, indeed, the ministers of that Church are opposed to the cultivation of the language and literature of the Gael, which they appear to regard as an impediment to that worldly prosperity and success which, in view of their doctrinal weakness, and the melan­choly state of confusion into which their persuasion has fallen, they no doubt feel themselves presently compelled to preach, in the vain endeavour to justify their existence. The Free Church of Scot­land has been, and is, a notorious offender in this


1 That ia to say, being interpreted—" And great is the blind­ness and sinful darkness and ignorance and evil design of such as teach and write and cultivate the Gaelic language, that with the view of obtaining for themselves the vain rewards of this world, they are more desirous, and more accustomed, to compose rain, tempting, lying, worldly histories, concerning the Tuath de Dannan and concerning warriors and champions and Fingal the son of Camhal, with his heroes, and concerning many others which I will not at present enumerate".—Carswel's Gaelio translation of the Confession of Faith, etc. Extract from the Epistle Dedicatory, printed in the year 1567.

Download 1.31 Mb.

Share with your friends:
1   ...   28   29   30   31   32   33   34   35   ...   61

The database is protected by copyright © 2020
send message

    Main page