Sir,—The death of some, and the sad defection of others, have left me almost the last survivor of those who took a prominent part in the Anglo-Catholic movement at Edinburgh, thirty years ago, who has remained true to his opinions, so that I read the Bishop of Argyll’s remarks on this subject almost as a personal attack upon myself. But I am much more concerned for the reputation of those who have departed; and I trust that you will therefore allow me to explain the facts of the case, which the Bishop so strangely travesties.
I assert, therefore, fearlessly, that the Anglo-Catholic party of the Scottish Church have always felt the deepest sympathy for the Highland congregations. Scarcely had the penal laws been repealed, when my grandfather, Sir William Forbes, bore the whole expense of translating and printing the first edition of the Gaelic Prayer Book; and when he found that the Scotch Communion Office was not contained in the volume, as he had intended it should be, he had it also translated and printed separately. Those who value the Prayer Book as a devotional manual will have no difficulty in seeing what a boon it must have been to the Gaelic congregations to have this help in their worship of God.
I shall pass over the grants from the Episcopal Fund, of which my father was the leading manager for nearly half a century, during a period when sympathy with these poor people was much less fashionable than it is now, and which was then the instrument of the Anglo-Catholic or moderate and old-fashioned High Church party, and supported by them. These grants were given, both to increase the small stipends of the clergy, and also to support schools; an evidence of which may be seen in the reports of our present Church Society, which, under the agreement which the trustees of the Episcopal Fund made with it, has had to give larger sums to the Gaelic schools than to those elsewhere. There was, besides, the Gaelic Episcopal Society, the precursor of the present Canonical Society, which also was of great use during that time of general torpor.
When the wave of the Oxford movement reached Scotland, I myself was beginning to take part in Church matters, and one of the first objects to which my attention was directed was the state of the Gaelic Episcopalians. Amongst other plans, I may mention the Gaelic Tract Society, which I organized, with a committee embracing almost all the leading Episcopalians connected with the Highlands, as well as several of the more active supporters of the Church movement at Edinburgh, by whom (as residing on the spot) its management was practically carried on, as to choice of matter for translation. In spite of great difficulties, owing, no doubt, in part to my own unfitness for the office of secretary, but in part also, I must add, to the apathy and unmanageableness of some of my clerical correspondents in the north, we for several years printed and circulated every month a little tract in Gaelic. Nothing was printed without episcopal sanction, and the publications were such as no sound Churchman could object to—sermons by the good Bishop Wilson of Sodor and Man, tracts by Mr. Gresley, tales by Mr. Monro of Harroweald, etc. In fact, it was very [236/237] similar to the plan which I afterwards carried out at Burntisland, for six years, in the Gospel Messenger. But after a while I was obliged to give it up; and I must plainly assert that one main reason was Bishop Ewing’s own indifference and opposition. His sentiments about the Gaelic congregations then were very different from those he now expresses; and I fear that, possibly, other motives connected with the opposition of some to the manner of his election to the bishopric, rendered him unwilling to allow his people to be aided through our hands. At least, it is difficult otherwise to account for the fact, that he who now complains of our not having helped our Highland brethren, then used the authority of his office to prevent us from doing so when we were both ready and willing, and, without alleging a single error or objectionable passage in any of our publications, formally prohibited me from sending any of them into his diocese; so that I had to go before the Episcopal Synod to request their mediation in the matter, and their help to disabuse the Bishop of the fears he expressed; and although this was kindly and promptly granted, I had shortly after to wind up the Society’s affairs.
But our efforts were not confined to endeavouring to supply the Highlanders with sound and healthy religious reading, important though that was. During the potato famine, considerable help was sent through private hands, to be distributed by the clergy among the members of our own communion, who, it was feared, might occasionally fare rather badly if left to the exclusive charge of the general committees, who would mainly consist of Presbyterians. At the same time a plan was started for supplying relief to the people by giving work, which it was thought would be better than mere alms-giving. It was proposed to build at once several chapels or chapel schools in different parts of the Highlands—much the same plan, in short, which Lady Alice Ewing is now carrying out after the lapse of nearly thirty years. The plan fell to the ground through the apathy of some of the Gaelic clergy at the time; almost the only result of it being, that such help was given as enabled the chapel at Duror to be built. But the great want of the Gaelic districts of our Church was that of labourers. My father was always so unwilling to refer to his own works of charity that I can give no details as to what he did himself, or induced others to do, before I was able to take part in the correspondence. But at the period I am speaking of, one of our clergy, at his request, looked out two young men to be prepared for holy orders, for one of whom he got a grant from the Rosse Fund, while he himself paid all the expenses of the education of the other. About the same time, he paid for the training of three young women to be schoolmistresses; and though it ultimately turned out that they were not qualified for working in the Highlands, it does not detract from the merit of his good work that he was duped about it.
And now I come to a still more painful part of my vindication. I need not say that in Scotland the principles of AngloCatholicism, as held by men like the Bowdlers, Sir James Park, Mr. Stevens, Dr. Hook, and Mr. Keble in his earlier days, show themselves in a deep veneration for the Scotch Communion Office. Now, to this, Bishop Ewing (like his predecessor, Bishop Low) entertained a strong dislike, and he used his whole influence, and all the authority connected with his office, to suppress it and keep it away, however willing or even anxious the congregation might be to use it. In the case already referred to,—that at Duror,—the money we had given was returned to us. In another case, which I will not name, advantage was taken of over-confidence in the honour of the recipients, and the money was retained, although it was known by all that it had been given on a distinctly different understanding. Under these circumstances, it was of course impossible for us to continue to offer pecuniary aid.
I will not enter into the question whether a man has a right to accept the office of bishop in a Church when he means to identify himself with one party in it so exclusively. But I do protest against the injustice of first preventing a body of men from carrying out their most solemn convictions, and then taunting them for not having acted.
I am sorry to have had to re-awaken old stories, which had much better have been forgotten, but it is necessary that the Church should know the truth as to this matter. I can only express my astonishment at the shortness of the Bishop’s memory. I do not say that Anglo-Catholics in Scotland did all that they should or might have done, but from the facts I have given, it will be seen that they did not limit their efforts or sympathies as the Bishop states. Something was done in every department; and I believe it was mainly owing to these efforts that the Gaelic congregations continued to exist through the episcopate of Bishop Low, whose appointment I must not scruple to call a most unfortunate one. The respect with which my father was regarded in the Highlands was by no means confined to Episcopalians; but if some of the elder generation had still been alive, such as Archdeacon Mackenzie or Mrs. Fyvie, I suspect they would have given an account of the past history of our Church in the north very different from that of the Bishop of Argyll, who seems to wish to be regarded as its first benefactor. So far from this being the case, I will say that, had he, when first consecrated, taken up his present line about the Gaelic Episcopalians, these congregations might have been preserved, and even multiplied. But now I fear that cannot be, owing to hiB long neglect of them, before he discovered that they could form the subject of picturesque speeches at London House. And to this must be added his real want of sympathy with the national characteristics of the Celtic race, which is the greatest possible barrier to exercising a beneficial influence over a people.
I now leave it to your readers to form their own opinion as to the Bishop’s unprovoked attack after the lapse of so many years, and after the success of his efforts to suppress and destroy the canonical authority of the Scotch Communion Office has led to the growth among us of that ritualism which he must surely dislike quite as much. I trust there may before long be a turn in the tide, and that men may come back from all three extremes—Geneva, Borne, and Germany—to the old paths of primitive truth.
G. H. Forbes,
Incumbent of S. Serf’s.
Burntisland, October 1872.
From The Scottish Guardian, November 8, 1872, pp. 236-237.