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Fraser's Scottish Annual
A Gaelic Service in Edinburgh


AMONG many of the pleasant experiences on my visit to Great Britain last summer, there is none that I recall with greater pleasure than my visit to a Presbyterian church in Edinburgh, where the service was conducted in Gaelic and according to the primitive simplicity of such services with which I was familiar in my early days.

It was my lot in boyhood to be brought in close contact with the Highland element of the County of Middlesex, where Gaelic was treasured as a language in which the piety and devotion of the fathers of the North of Scotland were embalmed. Apart from the fact that it was the native tongue of many, if not the majority of the people among whom I spent my youth, the language itself had a special charm to them, because it recalled the ministry of such men as Dr. McDonald of Ferintosh, Dr. Cameron of Eddrton, and Mr. Sage of Resolis, and the language of these saints, as they were deemed, contained a spiritual force which could not be obtained in any other way. The old Bibles and Gaelic psalm books, which had directed their thoughts and nurtured their devotion among the glens of Scotland, were then in use. I have one now in my possession dated 1795, from which I heard many a lesson in the log cabin where I first saw the light.

But to my story. A delightful Sabbath morning in August, found me in Edinburgh. I had arrived the previous afternoon to take part in the reception to the Colonials (as we were called), attending His Majesty's Coronation, to whom the Town Council of Edinburgh was giving an official welcome. And a right royal welcome it was, brimful of that generous hospitality so characteristic of the Scottish race; but what was better, there was a cordiality and warmth about the whole proceedings which made one feel as if he were present at a family gathering, where every member of the household rejoiced with him in his successes, his prospects and his good estate. Burns has said that all he could wish for if ever he entered heaven was a Highland welcome. Well, we got it from Provost, Councilmen and citizens generally.

But now it is Sunday morning and the bells are ringing for religious service, and Princess street is filling up rapidly with thoughtful looking people of all ages and conditions moving along deliberately and yet quickly as if they knew whither they were going. Some were crossing the King's Bridge, as if towards St. Giles, or Dr. Guthrie's old church beyond the Gardens— others had their faces directed towards Dr. Whyte's church in the East end. But now where should I go. I had been at St. Giles' church before. I had heard Dr. Whyte on a previous visit in 1886. Dr. Guthrie is gone, but not the memory of his glowing periods as I read them forty years ago in his "Gospel in Ezekiel," or the "City— its Sins and Sorrows." But somewhere I must go—a Sabbath day and not go to church! Impossible.

"Is there a Gaelic church near here?" I asked a porter of the Balmoral Hotel, where I lodged for the time being. "A Gaelic church," he asked; "I don't know I am sure, but Mr. Wilson, the chief porter, can tell you." And so I interrogated Mr. Wilson. "Oh, aye," he said, "there is one just ayont the Castle in College street, where they preach Gaelic, I think, twice every day."

"Well," was my reply, "that is just what I want—at least for the morning. We will decide about the evening later," and so calling a carriage—think of that on the Sabbath day and in Edinburgh—I started for the Church. Up Princess street, round the station of the Caledonia Railway, through a narrow street under the brow of the castle and there was my Gaelic church as plain and unpretentious as the services of the people to whom it belonged.

Did I say under the Castle walls? So it was, And what an association? Above us three hundred feet or more frowned that mighty rock, the scene of so many struggles in Scottish history. Defended by claymore and pike, it has stood many a siege. Cromwell found it all but impregnable. The Stuarts relied upon it for security. Its dungeons kept many a stubborn chieftain under control, and from its gates issued many a martyr to the stake or the gallows. But my thought was—strong though the Castle may be and noted as its record was in Scottish history, it fell more than once before the invader. It may, too, have borne a noble part in preserving the liberty of Scotland from the oppression of an Edward or a Charles, but the forces bred and nurtured in the little church which I was about to enter, did more to preserve for Scotland her supremacy as a nation and to indoctrinate the world with her own irrepressible love of liberty than all the bastions of the Castle or the munitions of war with which it was stored.

Well, it is just five minutes to eleven o'clock and the worshippers are coming down and up the streets leading to the church. And as the church, so the people. But they are not Edinburgh folk, so far as I can see. If they had assembled forty years ago in the Presbyterian church which I first attended, they could not be more plainly dressed, or if they had all come down from Inverness or Argyleshire they could not be more typically Highland. Well, in with them I went, dropping my collection on the plate as I entered, and found a pew about the centre of the church.

I said the congregation was typically highland. What does that mean? First, there were the strong angular features of the ancient Celt, with deep lines in forehead and face as if some hard task had been committed to them and they had toiled to perform it many years. There were also the square shoulders that appeared to have borne life's burdens with firmness, but still with signs of their weight, and there was that solemnity which I well remember as the characteristic of the men who took a leading part in the services of the Church of long ago. I could almost name the people as I looked around, so much did they appear to resemble the Campbells, and Camerons, and Macphersons, and Munroes, who filled the pews of the old log church in East Williams. And the women too. Was I dreaming? There was Mrs.---an old neighbour who visited at my father's house and told in Gaelic great stories of the Scottish wakes when I was a boy. But surely I am mistaken, for Mrs. ---is dead these forty-five years and there has been no resurrection since that time. And yet it was only a delusion as to the individual. There was no delusion as to form, or dress, or attitude. It was the same plain black bonnet, with its simple black silk ribbons, covering a white cap or mutch, and enclosing the same kind of a sober, earnest face, from out of which peered two black eyes, piercing and keen as a blast of the north wind. And there, too, was the shawl of Paisley pattern, tightly drawn around the shoulders and pinned over the chest as if to prevent the outside world from looking too inquisitively into that secret, serious Scottish heart. Even the young people of both sexes had the look of the boys and girls of forty years ago. And as for the elders and precentor! No change except in name. I could identify them as they walked up the aisle, and when they took their places in front of the pulpit, it almost seemed as if I had risen from the sleep of the early fifties (I do not mean a sleep in church) and found myself with the Rev. Lachlan Macpherson and his elders on a summer morning in June.

Well, the hour has struck. The congregation has assembled, not many in number but most devout in appearance. The precentor takes his place as a signal that his duties are soon to begin. The beadle carries up the big Gaelic Bible and Psalm book and puts them in their place, and through a side door there enters a young man of Scottish type, full whiskered and somewhat pale and nervous looking, and with quiet easy step ascends the pulpit. He is not the regular minister. He is a student—the minister of the parish is on a visit to the Highlands —and his nervous manner indicated that he has not yet acquired the easy manners of the fathers. He sat down for a moment and before I had taken his measure (how apt we are to judge by appearance) he was on his feet, and in a clear voice with something of the ring of battle in it, he said, "Toisichimid aoradh an Tighearria le bhi seinu chum a chliu,'s antrieamh saim tharan fhichead." The announcement almost startled me, as if it were a voice from the dead. "An trieamh saim thar an fhichead." The twenty-third psalm, I said to myself, translating mentally. Did I understand it in Gaelic? I thought to myself. Yes, it is the twenty-third psalm, and taking up a Gaelic psalm book from the pew desk in front, I turned it up with the haste of one that looked for some expected treasure, for it was a psalm I had once committed to memory in Gaelic, and my eye had scarcely rested on the first line when the minister in his loud clarion voice rang out the words which had not fallen on my ear for many a long year:

"Is e Dia fein a's buachaill dhomh, Cha bhi mi ann an dith.
Bheir e fa'near gu'n luidhinn, sios Air cluainibh glas' le sith."

Thoughts too deep for tears, was the very apt description of my feelings. Was it a voice from the spirit world? Was it a passage suggested by the unseen as for me? "Is e Dia fein a's buachaill dhomh" --the Lord is my Shepherd. I have come thousands of miles by land and sea to this spot without hurt or harm, in health and comfort, and was it because I had a good Shepherd under whose care no harm can come to me? Well, I cannot say whether it was this the uppermost thought, or whether it was the memories recalled—the echoes wakened by the voice and tone of the preacher. But at all events my thoughts, quicker than wireless telegraphy, were far away —far away, but the Shepherd was with me still—on the sea—in Scotland—everywhere. And so my thoughts ran. But the psalm is read over and the minister calls upon the congregation to sing the whole psalm. And up rises the precentor, taking up two lines read by the minister to the tune of Coleshill. How familiar! And then he chants the third line;

"Bheir e fa'near gu'n luidhinn sios."

And the congregation take up the refrain. It was weird, but glorious. Oh those notes, how simple, but how they stir up the deeper depths of history as well as of the soul. The bloody Claverhouse heard them at Drumclog, but they only fired him to greater cruelty. The saints and martyrs heard them too, as the faggots crackled around them, and angels took up the retrain as their spirits floated beyond the jailor's walls. But here there was no Claverhouse. Martyrdom got its crown and left to us the liberty which that crown purchased. No Marsellaise ever stirred to greater fortitude and valor for right and conscience than the simple songs of the Covenanters who dared to die as well as sing.

And so the service went on. A psalm, a Bible lesson, a prayer, another psalm, the sermon, prayer, the parting psalm, the benediction. No change during my life—such is the constancy of the Scottish character.

I need not speak of the sermon. It was a solemn exposition—highly Calvinistic—of the doctrine of the Atonement. The human heart was very hard. Eternal death was the very least punishment that would be equal to the offence. No escape except through the atonement of the Saviour. Although the minister was not an orator, he gave a methodical and logical exposition of the truth.

Gaelic orators we have heard in Canada, and we have a few Gaelic orators still—notably Dr. Carmichael. But who that has heard and understood the language will ever forget the fiery oratory of John Ross of Brucefield, "The Man with the Book," as he has been called. No preacher that I have heard in English, unless it be Henry Ward Beecher, or W. Morley Punshon, could rise to the same lofty heights of molten burning eloquence as he attained in Gaelic. He seemed inspired when at his best and no doubt was.

But the service is over now, yet the benediction is still 'ringing in my ears:

"A nis, gu robh gras Dhe an athair, gradh Dhe am Mac, agus co-chomunn solasach an Spioraid Naoimh, maille ribh is ri uile Isreil Do, bho so a'mach 'a gu siorruidh. Amen."

I am home again-I still hear the words:

"Is e Dia fein a's buachaill dhomh."

And so it is—still the Shepherd, the buachaill, and who would want any other—for Scotland or Canada —for himself or for his dearest friend.

A CANNY SCOT.—A Scotsman in London noticed a bald-headed chemist standing at his shop door, and inquired if he had any hair restorer.

"Yes, sir," said the chemist. "Step inside, please. There's an article I can recommend. Testimonials from great men who have used it. It makes the hair grow in twenty-four hours."

"Aweel," said the Scot, "ye can gie the top o' yer heid a bit rub wi' it, and I'll look back the morn and see if yer tellin' the truth."

The chemist returned the bottle to the shelf and kicked the errand boy for laughing.

NOT JUST WHAT WAS WANTED.—In the far north of Scotland a gentleman called on an old lady on behalf of the South African Refugees' Fund.

"You will recollect," began the visitor, cheerfully, "that you asked me to come back in a week's time that I might have your subscription."

"That you will, my good man. Sic misery I never heard o'." And the kindly old soul tripped back to the kitchen, and returned with a big bundle.

"Noo, sir, dirina bother tae thank me, but see the Boers dinna get it, There's scones, an' tatties, an'-".

But the gentleman had fled.

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