The history of Scotland in the Middle Ages



IN most respects Scotland affords a complete contrast to Spain, but in regard to superstition there is a striking similarity. Both nations have allowed their clergy to exercise immense sway; in both intolerance is a crying evil; and a bigotry is habitually displayed which is still more discreditable to Scotland than to Spain. It is the paradox of Scotch history that the people are liberal in politics and illiberal in religion.

The early history of Scotland is one of perpetual invasions down to the end of the fourteenth century. This had the double effect of strengthening the nobles while it weakened the citizens, and increasing the influence of the clergy while weakening that of the intellectual classes. The crown, overshadowed by the nobility, was forced to alliance with the Church.

The fifteenth century is a record of the struggles of the crown supported by the clergy against the nobility, whose power, however, they failed to break. At last, in the reign of James V, the crown and Church gained the ascendancy. The antagonism of the nobles to the Church was intensified, and consequently the nobles identified themselves with the Reformation.

The struggle continued during the regency which followed the death of James; but within twenty years the nobles had triumphed and the Church was destroyed. There was an immediate rupture between the nobility and the new clergy, who united themselves with the people and became the advocates of democracy. The crown and the nobles were now united in maintaining episcopacy, which became the special object of attack from the new clergy, who, despite the extravagance of their behaviour, became the great instruments in keeping alive and fostering the spirit of liberty.

When James VI became also James I of England, he used his new power to enforce episcopacy. Charles I continued his policy; but the reaction was gathering strength, and became open revolt in 1637. The democratic movement became directly political. When the great civil war followed, the Scots sold the king, who had surrendered to them, to the English, who executed him. They acknowledged his son, Charles II, but not till he had accepted the Covenant on ignominious terms.

AT the restoration Charles II was able to renew the oppressive policy of his father and grandfather. The restored bishops supported the crown; the people and the popular clergy were mercilessly persecuted. Matters became even worse under James II, but the revolution of 1688 ended the oppression. The exiled house found support in the Highlands not out of loyalty, but from the Highland preference for anarchy; and after 1745 the Highlanders themselves were powerless. The trading spirit rose and flourished, and the barbaric hereditary jurisdictions were abolished.

This last measure marked, but did not cause, the decadence of the power of the nobility. This had been brought about primarily by the union with England in 1707. In the legislature of Great Britain the Scotch peers were a negligible and despised factor. The coup de grace was given by the rebellion of 1745. The law referred to expressed an already accomplished fact.

The union also encouraged the development of the mercantile and manufacturing classes, which, in turn, strengthened the democratic movement. Meanwhile, a great literature was also arising, bold and inquiring. Nevertheless, it failed to diminish the national superstition.

THIS illiberality in religion was caused in the first place by the power of the clergy. Religion was the essential feature of the Scotch war against Charles I. Theological interests dominated the secular because the clergy were the champions of the political movement. Hence, in the seventeenth century, the clergy were enabled to extend and consolidate their own authority partly by means of that great engine of tyranny, the kirk sessions, partly through the credulity which accepted their claims to miraculous interpositions in their favour. To increase their own ascendancy, the clergy advanced monstrous doctrines concerning evil spirits and punishments in the next life; painted the Deity as cruel and jealous; discovered sinfulness hateful to God in the most harmless acts; punished the same with savage penalties; and so crushed out of Scotland all mirth and nearly all physical enjoyment.

Scottish literature of the eighteenth century failed to destroy this illiberality owing to the method of the Scotch philosophers. The school which arose was in reaction against the dominant theological spirit; but its method was deductive, not inductive. Now, the inductive method which ascends from experience to theory, is anti-theological. The deductive reasons down from theories whose validity is assumed; it is the method of theology itself. In Scotland the theological spirit had taken such firm hold that the inductive method could not have obtained a hearing; whereas in England and France this method has been generally followed.

The great secular philosophy of Scotland was initiated by Hutchinson. His system of morals was based not on revealed principles, but on laws ascertainable by human intelligence; his positions were in flat contradiction to those of the clergy. But his method assumes both intuitive faculties and intuitive knowledge.

The next and the greatest name is that of Adam Smith, whose works, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, and The Wealth of Nations must be taken in conjunction. In the first he works on the assumption that sympathy is the mainspring of human conduct. In the Wealth of Nations the mainspring is selfishness. The two are not contradictory, but complementary. Of the second book it may be said that it is probably the most important that has ever been written, whether we consider the amount of original thought which it contains or its practical influence.

Beside Adam Smith stands David Hume. An accomplished reasoner and a profound thinker, he lacked the invaluable quality of imagination. This is the underlying defect of his history. Important and novel as are Hume's doctrines his method was also deductive and, like Adam Smith, he rests little on experience. After these two, Reid was the most eminent among the purely speculative thinkers of Scotland, but he stands far below them both. To Hume the spirit of inquiry and scepticism is essential; to Reid it is a danger.

The deductive method was no less prevalent in physical philosophy. Now, induction is more accessible to the average understanding than deduction. The deductive character of this Scottish literature prevented it from having popular effect, and therefore from weakening the national superstition, from which Scotland, even to-day, has been unable to free herself.





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