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Scotland and the Scots, 1707-2007

Christian Auer

VIII. Religion

47. A Service in a Highland Church, 1812

Texte intégral

1The following passage describes a service Elizabeth Grant attended in the church of the estate of Rothiemurchus around 1812 (see introduction to text 39, for information on Elizabeth Grant).

2Elizabeth Grant of Rothiemurchus, Memoirs of a Highland Lady (1898), London: John Murray, 1960, p. 138-141.

The unadorned but neat small kirk is very different now, when hardly any one sits in it, from what it was then, when filled to overflowing. It was much out of repair; neither doors nor windows fitted, the plaster fallen from the roof lay in heaps about the seats, the walls were rough, the graveyard overgrown with nettles, even the path from the gate was choked with weeds in many places. Far from there being any ceremony about this Highland style of worship, there was hardly even decency, so rude were all the adjuncts of our “sermon Sunday.” Mr. Stalker was dead—the good man who drank so many cups of tea […]

  • 4 The House of Hanover (the Hanoverians) is the royal dynasty which ruled the Kingdom of Great Brita (...)

The new minister was a perfect contrast to his predecessor; he was fat, thickset, florid, with a large cauliflower wig on his large head. Within the head was more learning than maybe half a dozen professors could boast of among them, but it was not in the divinity line; his turn was acutely satirical; he had been both a poet and an essayist, what he was now it would be hard to say; he seemed to have no particular employment; his wife managed the glebe, the parishes managed themselves, and he certainly gave himself little trouble about his sermons. What he did in Gaelic I cannot say; in English he had but two, although he altered the texts to give them an air of variety; the text did not always suit the discourse, but that was no matter. The sermons were by no means bad, though from constant repetition they grew tiresome; it was lucky we had six weeks to forget each of them in. One was against an undue regard for the vanities of life, and always contained a sentence on the lilies of the valley, and Solomon’s glory; the other was on charity. A violent Tory, detesting the House of Hanover4, yet compelled to pray for the reigning family, he cut the business as short as possible—“God bless the King, and all the Royal Family; as Thou hast made them great make them GOOD,” with great emphasis, and then he hurried on to more agreeable petitions. The kirk was very near our house, on a height in the field below the Drum, prettily sheltered by planting, and commanding from the gate a fine view of the valley of the Spey. The bell tolled from time to time, and as the hour for the service approached the crowd began to pour in from either side, the white caps and the red plaids gleaming through the birch woods on the bank between the kirk field and the Drum, through which the path lay. Our farm people moved up from the low grounds to join them, and such of the house servants as understood the Gaelic; the rest followed us an hour or more later to the English portion of the ceremony. […]

We sat in a long pew facing the pulpit, with two seats, one in front for the laird, and one behind for the servants. There was a wooden canopy over it with a carved frieze all round and supporting pillars flat but fluted, and with Ionic capitals like moderate ram’s horns. Macalpine’s seat was at the end, nothing to mark it but his scutcheon on a shield; the Captain, his surviving son, sat there. There were one hundred and sixty years between the birth of that father and the death of that son, more than five generations.

The stir consequent on our entrance was soon hushed, and the minister gave out the psalm; he put a very small dirty volume up to one eye, for he was near-sighted, and read as many lines of the old version of the rhythmical paraphrase (we may call it) of the Psalms of David as he thought fit, drawling them out in a sort of sing-song. He stooped over the pulpit to hand his little book to the precentor, who then rose and calling out aloud the tune—“St. George’s tune,” “Auld Aberdeen,” “Hondred an’ fifteen,” etc.—began himself a recitative of the first line on the keynote, then taken up and repeated by the congregation; line by line he continued in the same fashion, thus doubling the length of the exercise, for really to some it was no play—serious severe screaming quite beyond the natural pitch of the voice, a wandering search after the air by many who never caught it, a flourish of difficult execution and plenty of the tremolo lately come into fashion. The dogs seized this occasion to bark (for they always came to the kirk with the family), and the babies to cry. When the minister could bear the din no longer he popped up again, again leaned over, touched the precentor’s head, and instantly all sound ceased. The long prayer began, everybody stood up while the minister asked for us such blessings as he thought best: with closed eyes it should have been, that being part of the “rubric”; our oddity of a parson closed but one, the one with which he had squinted at the psalm-book, some affection of the other eyelid rendering it unmanageable. The prayer over, the sermon began; that was my time for making observations, “Charity” and “Solomon’s Lilies” soon requiring no further attention. Few save our own people sat around; old grey-haired rough-visaged men that had known my grandfather and great-grandfather, black, red, and fair hair, belonging to such as were in the prime of life, younger men, lads, boys—all in the tartan.


4 The House of Hanover (the Hanoverians) is the royal dynasty which ruled the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland. It succeeded the House of Stuart in 1714 with George I and held that office until the death of Victoria in 1901.

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