14 NOVEMBER 1846, Page 17


THE Buchanites were a small and obscure sect of fanatics who made some stir in Ayrshire for about ten or a dozen years towards the close of the last century. They derived their name from Mrs. Buchan ; a woman who, after a course of prostitution, is said to have trepanned a working potter into marriage; but the marriage is questionable, and she appears to have indiscriminately used her maiden name of Simpson or her alleged hus- band's. With the exception of the Relief minister of Irvine, an enthu- siastic person of the name of White, and one or two respectable Scotch burghers, her followers were of the lowest class. But, poor and igno- rant as most of them were, she must have had some imposing qualities ; and, so far as we can make out, they were fluency, flattery, and an un- shaken confidence, to which might perhaps be added a touch of madness. She professed to be the mysterious woman clothed with the Sun, et cetera, mentioned in the twelfth chapter of Revelations. She also claimed to be the third person of the Trinity ; looked upon Christ as her "elder brother" ; and proceeded to such a pitch of absurdity as to call one of her daughters an incarnation of Christ, the other of the Holy Ghost. She predicted her own bodily translation into heaven, and promised her followers the same boon after a fast of forty days. The Magistrates interfered as regarded the children; some of the grown-up people took their departure when carnal hunger became too pressing; but the majority prac- tised a very rigid abstinence, and had their disappointed translation ascribed by the prophetess to their want of faith. The ethics of Mrs. Buchan were on a par with her doctrines. She inculcated community of goods and of women : popular report attributed to the sect the crime of infanticide, and some later discoveries of small bones in their haunts appear to corroborate the charge. The failure of the translation into heaven drove away many of her followers : on her death, in 1791, the society was fur- ther broken up, by White (who latterly seemed more of the cheat than the fanatic) carrying off the majority to America : but a remnant still held on in a sort of New Lanark on a small scale, which they had established at Auchengibbert ; nor did the few survivors bate heart or hope when the "Friend Mother " failed to appear after the lapse of fifty years from her death, to carry the faithful to heaven bodily. It was only in January last that Andrew Innes, the sole survivor of the Buchanites, died, in ex- treme old age, and with steadfast belief in the prophetess. The sect attained sufficient distinction to be mentioned in various topo- graphical and religious publications ; and their views might be gathered from White's exposition, printed in 1785, and called the Divine Dic- tionary; but Mr. Train's chief authority in the work before us is the aforesaid Andrew Innes, who took delight, it would seem, in pouring out his reminiscences upon paper. For industry in collecting the materials, and tact in arranging and presenting them with a dry humour and a sen- sible shrewdness, The Buchanites from First to Last is entitled to praise. But the attraction of the subject is not equal to the pains be- stowed upon it. It wants interest for the scale on which it is presented. The actors were low ; they had little of that spiritual force and unction which impart character to enthusiastic wildness ; and their tenets were so shocking, and at the same time so absurd, that they produced no impression upon mankind beyond a few crackbrained euthusiasts. A dread of the delicacy of our times, too, would seem to have militated against the effect of the book ; for some of the practices of Mrs. Buchan are described as having been too indecent to be mentioned. Most religious enthusiasts have been indebted for their success to their own earnestness of belief, and to the dulness or corruption of the times, which drove men of imaginative seriousness into dissatisfaction with the state of religion, and made them ready for any change. These things could not have been the operating cause with the Buchanites ; for religion was vigorous enough in Scotland, and their founder could not have brought the earnestness of faith to operate upon her flock. She seems, however, to have possessed in perfection the qualities of the courtesan mind—an utter indifference to truth, a great facility in adapting herself to the occasion, a quickness in perceiving the weak points of character in men, and skill in flattering them. Her first letter to White is a singular docu- ment, well worth quoting. To most persons it would have been con- clusive : but Elspath Simpson, alias Buchan, had taken the measure of

the " popular preacher."

"Mr. Hugh White, minister of the Relief congregation of Irvine, in Ayrshire, was at this time the most popular preacher of his sect in the West of Scotland. Mrs. Buchan having heardhis piety much spoken of, wished very much to hear him preach, and an opportunity soon occurred of gratifying her curiosity in that respect. Mr. White being- called to assist at a sacrament in the neighbourhood of Glasgow, in December 1782, she attended on that occasion; and, being captivated with his oratory, she communicated the flattering account by letter, of his being the first minister who had spoken effectually to her heart. Glasgow, 17th January 1783. " Reverend and dear Sir—Whom I love in our sweet Cord Jesus Christ--I write you as a friend, not after the flesh, nor according to the flesh, but as a child of another family, that has lain in the womb of the everlasting decree from all eternity, a promised seed actually born from above. . . . . . I have met with many disappointments from ministers, who were neither strangers nor pil- grims on earth; and I can say, by sad experience, that I have been more stum- bled and grieved by ministers than by all the men in the world or by all the devils in hell: but I have rejoiced many times, by the eye of faith, to see you, before I saw you with the eyes of my body. On Saturday night, when your dis- course was ended, an acquaintance says to me, " What do you think of Mr. White ?"—I answered, "What do you think of Jesus Christ? for I have lost sight of the minister, and of myself." . . . . " When I think on those words which Christ said—" I am the door !" 0! blessed door, which Sin nor his elder brother Satan cannot shut, for it will still be open to the heirs of glory ! and methinks I have often rapped at the door with my little hand of faith, and was heard and answered. I will not say I got the very thing I asked, for bairns know not always what is best for them; but the Lord never sent me away without alms; and he is never weary of me, although I am

ever fashing him

" ' Though I have been a gazing-stock to the world and an eye-sore to the Devil these five years, I have lost nothing; for my Lord has been at much pain, to learn me to put no confidence in the world. . . . .

"From your friend and sister in Christ,

(Signed) "EtarATit SIMPSON. "'The Reverend Hugh White, Irvine"'

When Mrs. Buchan and her flock were driven from Dumfriesshire, by

the authorities calling upon them for security that they should not become chargeable as paupers, and banishing them in default, they set out on a journey "to heaven. ' This gave rise to a laird's witticism, which is thus reported by Mr. William Ayton, the agricultural writer, in a letter con-.

veying information for this work.

All that I know about it [the cavalcade] is, that I saw them when in transits near Kilmarnock. They went by Logan House on their way heavenward; and Mr. Logan, having a few days before offended some of his neighbours about some parochial matters, he, on seeing a crowd approaching his house, imagining a mob had been raised against him, concealed himself in a plantation of firs, and sent st, servant to meet the crowd and learn what they wanted. The servant soon re- turned, and told his master that the people said they had come from Irvine, and were going to heaven, and wanted nothing with any one. This relieved the laird of his fears about a mob; and he remarked to his servant, that he was happy to find that Logan House stood on the road to that happy country,—a thing be had never known before."