John Skinner.

Annals of Scottish episcopacy, from the year 1788 to the year 1816, inclusive; online

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Online LibraryJohn SkinnerAnnals of Scottish episcopacy, from the year 1788 to the year 1816, inclusive; → online text (page 1 of 36)
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Piibhsiuid l»y BlacTne t Son. Glas^oi


The late Senior Bishop and Primus of tlie Scotch
Episcopal Church, was the second son of the
Rev. John Skinner, Episcopal clergyman, for 61^
years and upv/ards, in the parish of Longside, in
the district of Buchan and county of Aberdeen.
His mother was the eldest daughter of the Rev.
Mr Hunter, the only Episcopal clergyman in the
remote islands of Shetland, and the last of the
Episcopal persuasion whose services were sought
for, in that detached part of the British empire.
That Bishop Skinner was eminently blessed in
both his parents, he himself has not failed to make
known, having, in the year 1809, published an

A 2


interesting biographical memoir of his father, pre-
fixed to the learned theological works of that
distinguished divine ; in which memoir, he gives
the following amiable character of his beloved
mother : — that " to her husband she was the first
of all earthly blessings, a sweetly soothing, af-
fectionate wife, his dear companion, who minis-
tered tenderly to all his wants for the uncommon
space of 58 years."

The subject of the present Memoir was born on
the 17th of May 1744', and educated, with an el-
der brother, at the parochial school of Longside.
When in his ninth year, it happened that his fa-
ther was very unexpectedly apprehended, and,
by a warrant of the Sheriff- substitute of Aber-
deenshire, committed to the common jail of the
county, being charged with a breach of the act
of Parliament, which deprived the Episcopal cler-
gy in Scotland of the right of officiating to more
than four persons, besides their own families.
Mr Skinner '' unwilling," says his biographer,
" to give the court any trouble in calling evidence
to prove his having been guilty of this oifence,
emitted before the Sheriff a voluntary confession,
acknowledging that, in the discharge of his pro-
fessional duty, he had been in the practice of offi-
ciating to more than the statuted number j in


consequence of which confession he was senten-
ced to six months imprisonment, which, commen-
cing on the 26th of May 1753, ended on the same
day in November following."

It may naturally be supposed that a clergyman
so respected through life as Mr Skinner was, be-
ing carried to prison like a common felon, would
excite, in no small degree, the indignation of his
hearers, and of the whole surrounding country.
The boys at school regarded the event with unu-
sual emotions of consternation and alarm ; and,
deeming imprisonment a prelude to execution,
they so wrought on the tender and affectionate
hearts of Mr Skinner's sons, that they actually
believed they never should be permitted to see
their beloved father again.

From that moment, John became the most
miserable little creature alive. He loathed his
food, his sleep forsook him, and he would have
pined to death, had not his father been permitted
to receive him as his companion and bed-fellow
in prison, where, it was remarked, the boy had
not been a week immured, when he became as
well and as lively as ever.

Previous to his going to College, John, to-
gether with his elder brother, James Skinner,
(who died upwards of twenty years ago in North



America,) was committed to the charge of his
grandfather, parochial schoohnaster of Echt, in
the county of Aberdeen ; a man, " whose dili-
gence was such in the line of his profession, that
he fitted out more young men for the university
than most country schoolmasters of his day*."
And when the reader is informed, that Mr Skin-
ner of Longside had himself no other instructor
in, the Latin language, yet was pronounced " to
have written the best Latin of any Scotchman
since Buchanan,'* the above eulogium, from the
pen of his pupil and grandson, cannot be deemed
merely complimental.

Although competently skilled in the learned
languages, whether it was that the son found
himself no match for his father in classical at-
tainments, or that, though a fond admirer of
Latin verse, his genius took a different bent,
Bishop Skinner never attempted Latin composi-
tion in any form. Nor does he seem, as was his
father's case, to have attracted notice, while a
student at Marischal College in the University of
Aberdeen, beyond that which a youth, whose
talents are respectable and morals correct, does
at all times attract.

* See Vol. I. of Theological Works of Mr Skinner of Long-
side, p. 4.


Having, in the year I761, finished his mathe-
matical and philosophical studies, Mr John Skin-
ner, as is common with candidates for holy orders
in Scotland, was employed as a private tutor ; in
which capacity he lived for two years, in the
family of Sir Hugh Paterson of Bannockburn,
near Stirling. That, at this period, the father
and son occasionally corresponded in Latin is
not improbable, since, in December I76I, the
former addressed to the latter an Ode in Latin
Sapphic verse, which the Bishop has published
in the memoir of his father's life ; and which, as
the following letter will shew, has been admired
for the charming domestic picture which it ex-



Edinburgh, November 28. 1809.
" I had the pleasure of receiving a few days
ago, from Mr Moir the printer, the two copies
of your father's posthumous works ; one of them
very elegantly bound, as I understand, according
to your directions. This favour was not necessary,
in addition to the honour you did me in dedi-


eating the volume of poetry to me, in terms (1
fear) of unmerited encomium ; an honour, how-
ever, of which I am justly proud, as not only
affording me a valued testimony of your regard,
but as associating my name with a character so
highly respectable, both for his virtues and liter-
ary talents, as your venerable father.

" With his exemplary worth and abilities, as
it was not my good fortune to be acquainted
from personal knowledge, farther than the inter-
change of a letter or two in the very end of his
days, I have now obtained a very competent ac-
quaintance from the ample and excellent memoir
which you have drawn up of his life. This bio-
graphical account, I think, you have executed
with great judgment, blending the detail of facts
with the progressive history of the writings and
literary correspondence, so as to form, on the
whole, a very interesting and instructive nar-
rative. The concluding part I particularly ad-
mire, and indeed could not read it without emo-

" It was well judged to make the volume of
poetry a separate publication. But I trust that
when a new edition of this volume is called for,
you will render it complete, by the insertion of all
those poetical pieces which are printed in the


Other volumes. Of these there are some which
possess very high merit, — as the beautiful verses
on the death of your mother, — the address to
yourself prefixed to the Ecclesiastical History, —
and the Sapphic ode, ' Ad filinm suum apud
* Bannockburn,' — which contains a charming
domestic picture.

" I cannot help regretting that these make no
part of the poetical volume, as they would have
shone conspicuously among the productions of
the author's muse. If this hint should be.adopt-
ed in any subsequent edition of the poems, I
would recommend likewise the recovery, if pos-
sible, of all the little pieces which are mentioned
as a-missing ; — lost indeed they cannot be, for
their merit must have imprinted them on the me-
mory of many yet alive, although no written co-
pies may be found. Dr Doig's excellent verses,
entitled * Fortuna Mediocris,' which were meant
to be descriptive of your father's life, and which
he justly therefore says, * Mihi fortunaeque meae
* totam vendico,' should certainly find a place in
the poetical volume. Perhaps I ought to ask your
pardon for the liberty I take in thus offering my
advice ; but the interest you have given me in
that volume will, I trust, be sufficient apology.
Of your father's theological writings, and of his


opinions on sacred subjects, it would be great
presumption in me to offer any judgment. A large
portion of the former is connected -with a branch
of learning of which I have no knowledge. Of
the latter I can only say, that, so far as I am fit
to judge of them, they are congenial to my own.
Nor can I form a better wish on those matters of
most serious import than, —

* Sit anima nostra cum sua.' "

In the year I763, such was the want of labour-
ers in the humble vineyard of the Scotch Epis-
copal Church, that, although but recently entered
into his 20th year, Mr John Skinner was, by his
ever zealous father, thus urgently required, in a
letter addressed to him at Bannockburn, to quit
his comfortable situation in that family, and re-
pair to Aberdeen for admission into holy orders.



Linshart, June 5. 1763.
" I hope this will be the last letter I shall need
to write to you, till we meet. Your time is out


the end of June, and there is great need of your
making all the dispatch you can. I had your last
the other day, and was doubly glad to find you
in good health, and so busy in preparing for your
new state of life. You will soon begin to see
what a laborious employment ours is, and how
much they must be disappointed who foolishly
enter into it for ease. I know this is not your
case, but 1 make the observation to assist you to
contemn all who either act or think after that piti-
ful way ! I have seen none of the Ellon folks, the
Dudwick family excepted, since T wrote last, but
have frequent occasions of hearing concerning ^

them, and how keen they continue for your set-
tlement among them. A great many of the
worldly wise are, indeed, surprised at your incli-
nation and my consent 5 but * the wisdom of this
world,* — you know what it is, — * coram Deo stul-
titia ;' — and if there should be what these folks
would call loss by it, you serve a good Master,
who can make you up, and upon him, I trust, it
is that you depend. I had intimated to the Bi-
shop your consent to his plans, immediately on
receipt of yours to that purpose ; but it seems my
letter had, somehow or other, miscarried; so that,
after waiting some little time, I wrote him again,
which found the honest man so much distressed


with the gout that he could not handle the pen,
but earnestly begged that I would make a stretch
to see him, and converse with him on the subject.
I went accordingly, and found him intent on
your ordination, as, in this pressing exigency, he
thought himself at liberty to dispense with the
canonical years, and paid you the compliment to
say, * he neither feared your capacity nor your
* behaviour/ On my return I'was a night at
Dudwick, where the family were all pleased with
the Bishop's determination, and fond of having
you among them. The living, they fear, will not
be great, but, from what they tell me, it will be
no way inferior to my own j and you know that
you do not labour under the disadvantages I did,
on my entering into the world. While I flatter
myself the prospect of doing God and religion
service, and that, too, so near to me, will induce
you to put up with little, and there is no fear of
starving ! Were I to chalk out a route for you, I
would have you come north by Brechin, to Mr
Lunan's at Northwater-bridge, where you may
attend prayers on a Sunday, and be at Bauchory
to tea on Monday afternoon, at which place I
shall meet you. This is my scheme for the begin-
ning of a week, because I don't choose to be from
home of a Sunday j and, if you can order yotur


matters accordingly, let this be the first Monday
of July, — July 4th. I do not, however, propose
to fix you, as I do not know your mind on the
subject. You will therefore fully resolve before
you write, and let me know, that I may concert
according to your motions. In any shape choose
the way most convenient for yourself, as I can
defer visiting my father till afterwards ; only let
your journey take place as soon as possible, as
the people and Bishop are much importuning me
on that score. With respect to your apparent
change, we can talk more properly of that at meet-
ing ; which I wish God may make and continue
happy to us both. Only, I repeat, you are not
to expect ease or affluence ; but with an inten-
tion to do God and religion service, you are to do
your best, and leave events to him,"

Having acquiesced in this summons, Mr John
Skinner was ordained by Bishop Gerard of Aber-
deen, on his arrival there, and settled in the
charge of two congregations, at that time widely
separated, but which, under his own auspices,
as their Bishop, he lived to see so far happily
united, that a chapel in the village of Ellon, six-
teen miles northward of Aberdeen, was actually
to have been opened for their joint accommoda-



tion, by himself, on the 25th July, St James' Day,
1816, for which occasion a sermon was found
in his writing-desk ready for delivery. The Bi-
shop, alas! was buried on the 19th day of that
month ; but the clergyman now serving the
cure, having had this posthumous discourse of
his diocesan consigned to him, did, after an ap-
propriate prefatory address, deliver it from the
pulpit the day on which the chapel was opened,
when the impression made by it on the good
people was such as will not speedily be] obliter-
ated. In this extended charge young Mr Skinner
laboured most assiduously and usefully for the
space of eleven years j having, for the first two or
three years of his incumbency, to officiate dur-
ing the summer season twice every Sunday, and
to travel no less a distance than 15 or 16 miles
to and from the different chapels where his peo-
ple assembled : — the emoluments of the charge,
from written documents under his own hand,
varying from L.25 to L.30 per annum.

In the vear 1764, when Mr Skinner had little
more than completed his '■20th. year, he was most
respectably and happily married to a parishioner
of his beloved father's, and the only daughter of
a deceased brother- clergyman, the late Rev. Wil-
liam Robertson of Dundee.


This gentleman being the younger son of Tho-
mas Robertson, Esq. of Downiehills in Aberdeen-
shire, and having married Jane, daughter of Sir
John Guthrie, formerly of King-Edward, at that
time of Ludquharn, Baronet, was originally pas-
tor of the Episcopal congregation in Longside,
where the estate of Ludquharn is situated, — and
therefore Mr Skinner senior's immediate prede-
cessor in that numerous and respectable charge.
On the melancholy event of Mr Robertson's
death, which happened when his daughter was
in her 9th year, his widow and family returned
to their relatives in the north country. Hence
it happened, that from their childhood Mr Skin-
ner and Miss Robertson were intimately ac-
quainted, — which acquaintance ripened into mu-
tual attachment and regard, — so that no sooner
was Mr Skinner settled in a little farm belonging
to Mr Fullarton of Dudwick, whose son was the
husband of Miss Robertson's aunt, than they
were happily united on the 27th day of August
1764, and continued to live together in the full
enjoyment of conjugal and domestic bliss for the
space of 43 years. To add to Mr Skinner's
comfort and respectability in his married state,
no sooner was Mrs Robertson freed from her at-
tendance on an aged mother, than she became


an inmate of his family ; where she continued to
live " a Christian in deed and in truth," until she
had completed her 90th year !

In the year 177<5, when Mr Skinner had be-
come tlie happy parent of three daughters and
two sons, (the youngest of whom died in in-
fancy,) a wider field of usefulness opened upon
him. By the death of the Rev. William Smith,
one of the Episcopal clergy in the city of Aber-
deen, a vacancy took place, which the subject of
this Memoir was v^'cll qualified to fill ; and to fill
it he was, by the Bishop and people, unanimously
invited. Mutually, however, attached to each
other, as he and his flock in the country were,
it was with no small reluctance that Mr Skinner
acceded to the proposal. Nor would he have
acceded, had it not been that the education of a
rising family rendered the proposed change of
situation almost a matter of necessity. At the
period when he entered on his new charge, it
did not consist of 300 people ; yet such was Mr
Skinner's zeal in his holy calling, that he had not
served the cure above twelve months when ad-
ditional accommodation was required. But, in
1776, even the idea of erecting an ostensible
churchlike place of worship dared not be che-
rished by Scotch Episcopalians. Hence was Mr





'Mmtst of abeitjcen.


As you were pleased to honour, with your
warm and unanimous approbation, an attempt,
on my part, to embalm the memory of your late
revered Diocesan ; and as, from your long and
intimate knowledge of Bishop Skinner, his sen-
timents and administration, you can better appre-
ciate the fidelity of the present performance, or
detect its errors, than any other body of Clergy,
or individual Clergyman of the Scottish Episco-
pal Communion ; to you do I most respectftdly
inscribe the Annals of your departed Ordinary's
eventful Episcopacy. And, be the fate oi the


Work, in other respects, what it may, I shall
have my reward, if, on perusal of its pages, they
shall have the effect of imprinting more and more
indelibly, on your and on your people's minds,
the sound Churcli principles, and unceasing pro-
fessional exertions of one, to whose thoughts
both you and yours were ever present, and who,
" labouring, ' as he did, " among you, and being
over you in the Lord, and admonishing you, was
ever, by you, esteemed very highly in love, for
his work's sake."

In this hope, I do persuade myself, I shall
not be disappoiiited ; and therefoj e, with fervent
prayers for your happiness, both temporal and
eternal, I have the honour to subscribe myself,

Reverend and Dear Sirs,

Your affectionate Brother in Christ,

And obliged humble Servant^


Inchgartk, April 1. 1818.


Before the Reader proceed to pass judgment on the follow-
ino- pages, the Author respectfully claims permission to obviate
such objections as either have already been started, or such as,
by presentiment, he is aware will be started, to his humble

It has been truly said, that no Son is competent to the task
of giving to the Public, a fair, just, and acceptable account of
a Father's life, character, and official conduct. And so con-
vinced of the truth of this objection was the Writer of the fol-
lowing Biographical Memoir, and Compiler of the Annals of
the late Bishop Skinner's official administration, that although
the undertaking was not without a precedent in the family to
which he belongs, he only complied with the solicitations of
some of the most respectable and respected friends of Scottish
Episcopacy, when assured by them that his incompetency, on
the score of consanguinity, would be atoned for, by his steadily
confining himself to such written documents as his venerable
Father's repositories were known to afford, and by his aiming,
in the character of Biographer as well as of Historian, at no
higher distinction than that which rightfully belongs to a faith-
ful Compiler and AnnaHst.



Yet, ill this humble walk of literature to which the Author
has strictly confined himself, he cannot but admit, that, to a
satisfactory arrangement of materials, or interesting compila-
tion, talents and powers of discrimination are necessary, far be-
yond those which have fallen to his lot. Hence, being ready
to confess that he has come short of giving satisfaction to him-
self, it will naturally be asked, — How he can expect to give sa-
tisfaction to others, whether friends to Bishop Skinner or friends
to the Church, in which, for upwards of half a centurjr, the
Bishop faithfully served ? Above all, how can he give satisfac-
tion to a fastidious Public ? The answer is ready : — In no other
way, assuredly, but by an undeviating regard to truth, and by
never admitting an expression, or even a thought of his own,
when he could find a written document prepared to his hand.

While, therefore, it may be the opinion of one class of Read-
ers, that Bishop Skinner's Son ought to have devolved the
whole, or the greater part of the Work now before the Public,
on some more experienced and more competent writer than he
has proved himself to be; — while it is the opinion of another class,
thatjwavuigthevalidity of this objection, themethodand arrange-
ment of the Work are unskilful, and display a want of taste equal
to its Conductor's want of talent; — and, while it is the opinion
of a third class, that much irrelevant matter is introduced, by
which means the Annals are not merely devoid of neatness, but
of interest : — the Biographer and Annalist has this supreme
personal consolation, that having considered himself in duty
bound to undertake and conduct the work in the very form in
which it now appears, the form of a text-book to the future
Ecclesiastical Historian of Scotland, — no man, let his other
objections be what they will, shall have it in his power to say,
that Mr Skinner has used an expression which truth did noj


warrant him to uzo, — that he has introcluced a document which
had not, for its ultimate object, the elucidating of some plan on
his beloved Father's part, for the future prosperity and respec-
tability of the Episcopal Church in Scotland, or asserted a fact
which he has not established by ample evidence.

The truth is, that in no Society professing itself Christian,
does there, or can there exist less desire, less temptation to in-
novate, than in a regularly constituted Episcopal Church, such
as confessedly is the Episcopal Church in Scotland. Like the
Great High Priest of the Christian profession, the Shepherd
and Bishop of souls himself, true religion is " the same yester-
day, to-day, and for ever." Hence, although a sectarian spi-
rit be daily at work " in telling," or in hearing " some new
thing ;" in '< wresting the Scriptures to the destruction" of
thousands, and in putting glosses and interpretations on the
word of God, which render it literally " of none effect ;" the
" quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus," in other
words, the faith and practice which have " antiquity, univer-
sahty, and consent" to support them ; these form the pole-star
of the sober-minded Episcopalian, by which, in peace, in confi-
dence, and in joy, he steers his course through the quick-
sands of modern " confusion, and every evil work," " to the
haven where he would be," the land of everlasting rest. So
that " when they shall say," (as is the cry of modern fanati-
cism,) '" seek unto them that have familiar spirits," (in other
words, " experiences, assurances," and what not) " and unto
wizards that peep and that mutter, should not a people seek
unto their God ?" — " To the Law and to the Testimony," is
the meek reply of the Churchman. " If they speak not ac-

Online LibraryJohn SkinnerAnnals of Scottish episcopacy, from the year 1788 to the year 1816, inclusive; → online text (page 1 of 36)