Peter Mackenzie.

Old reminiscences of Glasgow and the west of Scotland : containing the trial of Thomas Muir ... (Volume 1) online

. (page 35 of 48)
Online LibraryPeter MackenzieOld reminiscences of Glasgow and the west of Scotland : containing the trial of Thomas Muir ... (Volume 1) → online text (page 35 of 48)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

they did ere the next series of his lectures commenced, on
which their worthy husbands were to be so deeply em-
ployed ; and thus it came to pass that Mr. Douglas was
apprised, by some of his enthusiastic admirers, that he had
better take care of his hand with his sermons now, as
" three spies," in the shape of town-officers, were coming
in order to hear him, by order of the Magistrates, next
Sunday. Unfortunately for the town-officers, in their
excess of zeal to get as near as possible to the pulpit, in
order to catch the true sound of his voice, or the real

F 2


ipsissime verba of his lecture, they squatted themselves
down on the steps of the stairs leading directly to his pul-
pit. On his entrance thereunto, he soon eyed them, but
he commenced the service with perfect serenity. This
first part of it decently over, he began to clear his throat
for the real mettle. He soon looked down from one side
of the pulpit, and then from the other side of it, fiercely
eying the town-officers, clad partly in their red habili-
ments, and he began, literally, to give it them, perhaps
not unlike one of the enraged bulls of Bashan, which we
read of elsewhere. The congregation soon saw that there
was something " brewing in the wind." On he came to
Nebuchadnezzar, with s&me of his usual comparisons,
stamping and thumping in the most tremendous style,
far more violent now in his language than he had ever
been before. And, then, how he did burst forth on the three
town-officers themselves, whom he surveyed underneath
him, scribbling away with their pencils and paper, and now
looking at each other somewhat aghast, as much as to
say this is dread Sunday work certainly. He charged them
as being a parcel of " infernal scamps, or spies, sent, not
by Nebuchadnezzar, but by Beelzebub the Devil, from the
Council Chambers, to entrap him ; " and such was the
vehemence of his personal wrath against them, and the
dagger-like looks manifested by some of the congregation
also towards them, that they became, at this stage, fairly
non-plussed, and were glad to cease writing, and throw
aside their pencils and their paper, and afterwards to
strut with them away in their breeches' pockets ; resolving
to trust to their own unaided memories for the remainder
of his lecture, which, after all, was the spiciest and most
inflammable part of it. That lecture, or call it what you
please, we can have no reason to doubt, made a very deep


impression, indeed, on the three decent town-officers
they could scarcely forget the fire and brimstone which
was also to be heaped on their devoted heads, for coming
with the intent they did to hear him. The like of it
they certainly never heard, nor any person else in the city;
so when they went to the Council Chambers, at the Jail,
on the following morning, they told what had happened,
as distinctly as they remembered, to the sitting Magis-
trates, which petrified their honours not a little in their
own judgment-seat. They commanded the immediate
attendance of Mr. Andrew Simpson, the then young,
active Procurator-Fiscal, who had succeeded old Mr. John
Bennett, and Mr. Simpson presently took from them a
written precognition, or declaration, giving " the awful
words " of the Rev. Neil Douglas, time and place above
mentioned ; which precognition the three town-officers
duly subscribed with their own hands, without the
smallest doubt or hesitation on their parts, at the time.
That precognition, with other papers, was in due course
transmitted to Lord Advocate M'Conochie, in Edinburgh;
and within a very few days afterwards orders came
from the Crown Counsel to seize greatly to his own
consternation the person of the said Eev. Neil Douglas,
as guilty of the crime of High Treason, or Sedition, and
to imprison him in the Jail of Glasgow till liberated in
due course of law.

He was INDICTED to appear before the High Court of
Justiciary, at Edinburgh, on the 26th of May, 1817, on
the modified charge of "Sedition," or of " wicked sedition/'
in his pulpit, as aforesaid.

The three town-officers already referred to were, of
course, to be the chief, or principal witnesses against the
accused on his trial. In fact, on their united testimony,


as contained in their written and subscribed precognition,
just referred to, the Lord Advocate and his Solicitor-
General and Advocates-Depute, confidently relied for a
sure and speedy conviction against the reverend panel,
who, by this time, had become much alarmed about it
himself. In fact, everybody in Glasgow believed that he
would be transported "beyond seas" to a certainty.
But, as good luck would have it for him, at this impor-
tant juncture of his fate, the town-officers began to dis-
pute among themselves as to the real words, or the true
meaning or import thereof, as they heard him on that
memorable Sunday afternoon. Some official jealousy had
sprung up between them : the one thought his own dignity
was superior to that of the other, las junior in office ; the
junior, on the other hand, thought that his memory was
fresher and clearer, and more to be depended on, than any
of the elder twain. Hence, as the day of trial approached,
the hitherto united trio came to be seriously divided in
opinion on the subject ; and the old proverb is, that
" when a house is divided against itself, it cannot very
well stand/' The longer they now talked, the more they
came to be at variance about the prisoner's exact lecture.
All this, of course, was kept under their own thumbs, and
utterly unknown to the prisoner himself or his agents. In
fact, the latter thought that he had " little or no chance
of escape," under his indictment, from Botany Bay,

These three intelligent, and otherwise perfectly correct
witnesses, singular to say, on the memorable day of trial
in Edinburgh, became perfectly bewildered and bam-
boozled about it more than they had ever been in Glas-
gow. Their memories seemed to have fled from them in
the most essential particulars. They, no doubt, remem-
bered the words, Nebuchadnezzar, and Beelzebub, and the


Devil, perfectly well, and could lay much emphasis there-
upon, but the grand application of the lecture became
like a myth, or the mountain clouds, to them. It was
lost in various ways ; they could not really tell why or
wherefore ! In their perplexity, they requested to have
their memories refreshed by their written precognition to
the Fiscal in Glasgow, by which they said they would
abide, and their precognition was about to be shown to
them, to clear up and strengthen their evidence against
the prisoner. " No, no," said FRANCIS JEFFREY (the elo-
quent Counsel for the accilsed), "these procognitions
shan't be shown ; they cannot bear any faith in judgment ; "
and he started a powerful objection to the competency of
the precognition, contending that it was to the facts then
spoken to on their oaths, and not on the previous precog- *
nitions at all, that the Cour tor the Jury could attend on
that trial. In this view the Court concurred, and the pre-
cognitions became the real safety of the prisoner, almost
as marvellously as did the roll of tobacco, which we
described in the previous striking trial of Andrew

The case, in short, against the reverend prisoner abso-
lutely broke down, through the lapsus of their own chief
witnesses. The Solicitor-General, Wedderburn, abandoned
it, with some degree of mortification on his lips. The
late unhappy, but now surprised and rejoicing prisoner,
was cordially congratulated by his eminent Counsel on
this sudden, unexpected result ; and Mr. Douglas returned
to Glasgow in a frame of mind better, we doubt not, in
every view, than when he left it for Edinburgh ; for he
took the opportunity of stating in most respectful lan-
guage to the Lord Justice-Clerk, ere he left the bar of the
Justiciary Court, that he would never more lecture about


Nebuchadnezzar, nor say any words derogatory of his
gracious Majesty the King, or to the disparagement of
both Houses of Parliament.

We believe he faithfully kept his word. Peace, then,
to his memory !


BUT another venerable clerical event occurred in this city
in bygone years, in the person of a very different, and
more exalted gentleman, viz., Mr. John Mylne, the vener-
able and highly accomplished Professor of Moral Philo-
sophy in the University of Glasgow, which we may as
well describe now.

Almost the whole of the twenty professors of that date
were good, staunch Tories of the Pitt, or olden school,
with the exception, probably, of four, viz., Professor
Mylne, above referred to; old Mr. George Jardine, Pro-
fessor of Logic ; Dr. Richard Miller, Professor of Materia
Medica ; and Mr. Jas. Miller, Professor of Mathematics.
These four gentlemen were of the liberal, or Whig school.
They rather admired the principles of the Eight Honour-
able Charles James Fox ; and they attended the anni-
versary of his birth given regularly by a public dinner,
at one guinea per head, in the Black Bull Ball-room, then
a very celebrated place in Glasgow. In fact, the occasion
of the celebration of Mr. Fox's birth-day in Glasgow was
almost the only occasion afforded at that remote period
of ventilating anything in the shape of Politics, or politi-
cal sentiments of any kind whatever. The Corporation
of the City, as we formerly remarked, was then close,
self-elected, and Toryish almost to a man. No reporter


whatever, from any section of the press, was permitted to
enter its inner chambsrs, or to note down a single syllable
of any of its meetings ; and not so much as the " whisper
of discontent " was heard emanating from its walls. The
Provost, Bailies, and Councillors worshipped cordially un-
der the political banners of the Eight Honourable
William Pitt ; and they also regularly held the anniver-
sary of his birth-day in the Assembly Eooms, or in the
Town Hall at the Cross a splendid old apartment it was
of ancient days the walls whereof were decorated with
trophies, and full length portraits of James the Sixth of
Scotland and First of England, Charles the First, Charles
the Second, James the Second, William the Third, Queen
Mary, Queen Anne, George the First, George the Second,
George the Third, and Archibald, Duke of Argyle, in his
robes as Lord Justice-General of Scotland ; while at the
head of the room stood a full length statue in marble by
Flaxman of Mr. Pitt himself. We have been at many
civic banquets in that place the last on the occasion of
Her Majesty's first gracious visit to Glasgow since which
period the ancient Town Hall has been dismantled, and
these paintings and the statue of Pitt have been removed
to the M'Lellan Galleries some call them the Incorpora-
tion Galleries founded by the late Archibald M'Lellan,
Esq., of whom we may have occasion to speak hereafter.
But seeing that we are near the Cross now, we may go on
to observe that the Music Bells, in the old steeple thereof,
played the following tunes statedly, viz. : On Sun-
day, "Easter Hymn ;" Monday, "Gilderoy;" Tuesday,
" Nancy's to the green wood gane ; " Wednesday, " Tweed-
side ; " Thursday, " The lass o' Patie's Mill ; " Friday,
" The last time I came o'er the Muir ; " Saturday, " Ros-
lin Castle," &c., &c.


Eeverting to our main story, we have to state that the
Pitt Club and the Fox Club were originally great things
of their day in Glasgow, as well as over the three king-
doms. There was a complete line of demarcation between
the principles of each a clear and palpable difference of
political sentiment which led not unfrequently to much
personal feeling, and sometimes to personal annoyance,
even in the highest grades. The first G-lasgow Fox Club
was sometimes graced with the presence of the then Duke
of Hamilton, his brother Lord Archibald Hamilton, and
it rarely missed the father of the late Sir John Maxwell,
Bart, of Police. On the other hand, the Glasgow Pitt
Club relied on the then Duke of Montrose, the then
Earl of Glasgow, and it rarely missed old Archibald
Campbell of Blythswood ; therefore there were men of
rank ranged against each other on both sides.

It was difficult to get any of the city clergymen to
grace the Fox Club they rather preferred the Pitt one
but in order to prevent the Tories from saying, as they
sometimes tauntingly did, that the Whigs, or the Foxites,
were nothing but "a graceless and a godless set," Professor
Mylne pretty regularly officiated at the Fox anniversary,
by asking the blessing " for the good things of this life,"
and he in consequence got the name of the " Whig Chap-

From his eminent position in the College, it was fre-
quently the duty of Professor Mylne to give a lecture or
a sermon to the students on Sunday, in the Common Hall
of the University, and many of them liked to hear him
wonderfully well, for he was a favourite with most of
them. Politics, however, were bitter keen even on a
Sunday at that time. They raged almost like the stoimy


Many yet amongst us may remember that the great
Napoleon Bonaparte, the uncle of the present Emperor of
the French, made his escape from the Island of Elba,
where he had been for some time closely confined as a
prisoner, by the Allied Sovereigns of Europe, in order, as
they declared, to prevent him from disturbing the peace
of the world.

The news of this wonderful escape of Napoleon, which
in a few weeks afterwards led to the famous battle of
Waterloo, where Napoleon was overthrown by the immor-
tal Duke of Wellington, reached Glasgow on Sunday
morning, 26th of March, 1815. It was the especial duty
of Professor Mylne to officiate in the College Hall that
forenoon. On this occasion he commenced the sacred
service by giving out the 107th Psalm. The words are
as follows, and to them we would now crave attention ;

Praise God, for he is good : for still

His mercies lasting be.
Let God's redeem'd say so, whom he

From th' en'my's hand did free ;
And gather'd them out of the lands,

From north, south, east, and west.
They stray'd in desert's pathless way,

No city found to rest.

For thirst and hunger in them faints

Their soul. "When straits them press,
They cry unto the Lord, and he

Them frees from their distress.
Them also in a way to walk

That right is he did guide,
That they might to a city go,

Wherein they might abide.

For the text of his lecture, the Professor chose Acts
llth chapter, 19th verse, and onwards. At the conclu-


sion he gave out the following verses of the 26th Para-
phrase :

Behold he comes ! your leader conies,

With might and honour crown'd ;
A witness who shall spread my name

To earth's remotest bound.
See ! nations hasten to his call

From ev'ry distant shore;
Isles, yet unknown, shall bow to him,

And Isr'el's God adore.

Seek ye the Lord while yet his ear

Is open to your call :
While oflfer'd mercy still is near,

Before his footstool fall.
Let sinners quit their evil ways,

Their evil thoughts forego ;
And God, when they to him return,

Returning grace will show.

"We state this staggering fact, without the fear of con-
tradiction from any quarter, that these very lines we have
above quoted were actually construed against the ven-
erable Professor Mylne, as amounting, at the time, to
SEDITION, if not to HIGH TREASON, on his part ; and an
express was sent off from Glasgow to Edinburgh that
same Sunday afternoon, to apprise the Lord Advocate of
this " damnable conduct" so it was called, of Professor
Mylne ! On Monday morning, the Sheriff-Depute of the
county who had then his permanent residence in Edin-
burgh, as all previous Sheriff-Deputes had was ordered
by the Lord Advocate to proceed forthwith to Glasgow,.
to take a criminal procognition against Professor Mylne !
We may here remark that the Lord Advocate of that day
was the Eight Honourable Archibald Colquhoun of Gars-
cadden and Killermont, father of the present Mr. J. C.
Colquhoun of Killermont. The Lord Advocate Colquhoun,


we may remark, sat in Parliament through the political
influence of the then Duke of Montrose, as Member for
the County of Dumbarton ; in which county, at the last
general election, it will be recollected, the extraordinary
TIE took place between Mr. Stirling (Liberal), and Mr.
Smollett (Conservative), exactly 1555 electors having
voted on each side, so that neither of the candidates could
claim the legal majority when the Sheriff declared the
poll. This, however, showed, at the same time, a strength
of upwards of 3000 registered electors last year in that
county; whereas, when the Lord Advocate Colquhoun
represented it forty years ago, we distinctly remember
for we often counted the whole of them, and knew every
one of them by name and designation there were only
seventy-four voters, or proper freeholders, in it altogether;
and, therefore, we may well smile at this prodigious-
change, which we have thus witnessed, from 75 to 3000
persons ! It is almost fabulous for us, some may think,
to speak about it in this way, but it is the undoubted and
undeniable fact. We rather think this singular TIE in Dum-
bartonshire is unexampled in the Parliamentary annals of
Scotland since the Eevolution of 1688. But the same
thing, on a smaller scale, we remember, occurred at one
of the early Municipal Elections in Glasgow, in the days
of Mr. Reddie, some thirty years ago, when a new elec-
tion was ordered to take place ; and probably a scrutiny
or a new election for Dumbartonshire will be ordered to
take place on the assembling of the new Parliament iti
the approaching year, 1866. Be that as it may, it is now
proper for us to observe, that the Sheriff-Depute of this
County of Lanark, who came out from Edinburgh to
seize Professor Mylne in Glasgow, as above stated, was
Robert Hamilton, Esq., Advocate, afterwards one of the


principal Clerks of Session. There was only one Sheriff-
Substitute at that time in Glasgow, viz., the late Daniel
Hamilton, Esq., of Gilkerscleugh, and he was the Depute's
own brother. There was no Sheriff Small Debt Court
now so prolific at that time in Glasgow. The idea
of a Small Debt Court, swelling now with its thousands
of cases per week, was at that time never once entertained.
There were only four or five clerks altogether in the
Sheriff-Clerk's office and our old friend Mr. Leslie, still
alive at Hamilton, was one of those clerks ; the office was up
a wooden stair at the back of the Lyceum, in Nelson Street;
and the interior of it just contained two small apartments,
furnished with two fir desks covered with leather, and some
half-dozen of chairs and stools. Mr. Hugh Kerr, writer,
Auditor of the Sheriff Court, sometimes acted as Sheriff-
Substitute, in the absence of Mr. Hamilton. Mr. William
Dunn Barclay was the Sheriff's Procurator-Fiscal. He
was brother-in-law o'f Provost Jacob Dixon of Dumbar-
ton, and was at one time highly esteemed, but he lost his
lucrative situation by an act of bribery proven against
him in some combination case, and he went all to the
dogs in consequence. He was succeeded by our old,
intelligent, upright, and faithful friend, the late George
Salmond, Esq., who, it is not too much to say, was
respected to the day of his death by men of all parties.
He is succeeded by his early protegee, Wm. Hart, Esq.,
who has had more experience in Fiscal business, of one
kind or another, than any other man probably alive at
the present moment in Scotland.

On the Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of the
memorable week above spoken to, the Sheriff-Depute and
the Sheriff-Clerk, the Fiscal and his clerk, were constantly
engaged in examining witnesses against Professor Mylne,


not only in the College, but in other places of the city ;
and, as may easily be supposed, the circumstance that the
Sheriff-Depute had come out expressly from Edinburgh,
by orders from the Lord Advocate, to institute a criminal
prosecution against the amiable Professor for his Sunday
lecture, or discourse, about Bonaparte, created a vast
amount of sensation amongst all ranks and classes in the
city. The students were perfectly bewildered with ex-
citement. They met in knots and clubs, discussing the
matter ; and when the Professor went to re-open his
classes on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, the College
Courts resounded with rapturous plaudits in his favour.
The students could not possibly conceive how it was that
such a man could be guilty of Sedition, much less of
High Treason, and that too, in the Common Hall of the
University, on the previous Sabbath.

Professor Mylne's personal friends in the city rushed to
his aid. James Dennistoun, the banker ; Chas. Tennant,
of St. Eollox ; Eobert Graham, of Whitehill ; William
Stirling, of Cordale ; John Douglas, of Barloch ; William
Kippen, of Busby ; Sir John Maxwell, of Polloc (father
of the late respected Baronet), and others, offered to be
sureties for his appearance in any trial to any amount.

On Friday afternoon the Professor was again judicially
examined and interrogated, in his own house, by the
Sheriff, and the following is a true copy of his written
Declaration, which we have preserved amongst many
other old papers. It abundantly speaks for itself :


AT Glasgow, the 31st day of March, 1815 years, in the presence of
Robert Hamilton, Esq., Advocate, Sheriff-Depute of the County
of Lanark

Appeared Mr. James Mylne, Professor of Moral Philosophy in tho


University of Glasgow, who being examined, declares, That he is
Chaplain of the said University : That he preached on Sunday the
2Gth March current, in said chapel : That he heard that morning, and
with very deep concern and grief, the unfortunate news of the day
from France : That the Psalm given out that day, and with which
service began, was the 107th, several verses at the beginning; being
the psalm to which he had regularly come in the course of his official
duty in the chapel : That in the concluding prayer, when speaking of
public matters, the declarant expressed deep regret at the dark and
gloomy prospects now presented to the nations of Europe, and rever-
ence for that Being who can guide the furious passions of wicked men ;
<n render them subservient to the gracious purposes of His govern-
ment ; and can overcome and restrain the excesses of such passions :
That he prayed that the Governments of Europe, by the wisdom and
justice of their administration, might everywhere engage the attach-
ment and fidelity of their subjects; and that subjects everywhere
might distinguish themselves by the corresponding virtues of loyalty
and patriotism : That we in particular in this country might be fully
sensible of the value of our precious civil and political privileges, and
that they might be handed down inviolate to the latest posterity:
That the service of that forenoon was concluded by singing a part of
the 26th Scripture Translation : That he read the 5th, 6th, 7th
and 8th verses, of which he thinks the three last were sung by the
congregation : That he chose these verses as peculiarly appropriate to
the subject on which he had just lectured, which was the 1 1th chapter
of the Acts, from the beginning to the 19th verse, the passage to
which he had come in the course of his regular lecture through that
book : That it was not without feelings of the deepest indignation,
mingled with no small degree of contempt, that the declarant heard
on Monday, from Mr. Andrew Alexander, that his choice of that
passage on that occasion had been, so perversely and absurdly misre-
presented, as to be regarded as an application to Bonaparte of language
referring to the blessed Saviour of the world ; a man whom he had long
regarded with sentiments of the deepest abhorrence and detestation,
not only as the disturber of the peace and happiness of nations, but as
the greatest enemy to the civil and political liberties of mankind :
That the declarant considers the very suspicion of his being capable of
such an abominable and blasphemous perversion of the solemn
language of Scripture, as an injury of a very deep nature ; an injury
committed not only against himself as a minister of the gospel, but

Online LibraryPeter MackenzieOld reminiscences of Glasgow and the west of Scotland : containing the trial of Thomas Muir ... (Volume 1) → online text (page 35 of 48)