First Speech

It was in the General Assembly 1839 that Mr. Candlish made his first public speech. It waa towards the close of a long and keen debate and when he rose in one of the back benches of the Tron Churoh, where the Assembly was then held, there were unmistakeable indications of an indisposition to hear him. He was,then, a very young minister, having been ordained less than five years previously, and, except in Edinburgh, entirely unknown in the Church, and it was naturally thought that it would be better to leave the debate in the hands of the seniors. Some of us who knew the gifts that were in him shouted to give him a hearing, and he walked along the passage towards the Moderator's chair,passing his hands through his hair, as was his wont when he became excited, began a speech which at once gained him a foremost place among Assembly debaters.

Many years later, in the Assembly 1861, Dr. Robert Buchanan, in proposiing that Dr. Candlish should be appointed to succeed him in the Moderator's chair, adverted to this first appearance of his friend, and to what followed upon it, in the following terms;

"I remember, as if it had been yesterday, though it is nearly a quarter of a century ago, writing an urgent letter to the then comparatively youthful minister of St. George s, entreating him to be prepared to take part in the proceedings of the Assembly of 1839, which it was known was to be an Assembly of vital importance to our cause. Up till that time no fitting opportunity had occurred of bringing into the arena of ecclesiastical discussion those extraordinary powers he subsequently exhibited, and the fact of his possessing which, from the very first, no one doubted but himself. His answer assured me that he was no speaker, and that he could be of no use in a debate, and concluded with these words Novas home et inexpertus, non loquor. The Assembly met, and it really seemed as if he had been determined to keep his word. At length the grand question of the day came on-;the decision of the House of Lords in the Auchterarder case, and the consequent duty of the Church. One motion had been made, openly betraying the independence of the Church in matters spiritual of the Courts of the Church, and which had been met by the noble counter-motion of Dr. Chalmers. Thereafter a third motion had been made, affecting to uphold that independence, but entirely surrendering both it and the rights of the Christian people along with it. It was that hollow middle motion that first opened the mouth of Dr. Candlish; and the masterly speech in which he tore the mask from it, and scattered to the winds the arguments of its supporters, placed him at once in the first rank of our public men in the great controversy of our Church. If that noble speech has ceased to be as memorable as once it was, it is just as the first speech of a Thomson or a Chalmers, of a Moncreiff or a Jeffrey, of a Canning or a Brougham may have become less memorable amid the blaze of that wonderful and prolific oratory which these great masters of debate subsequently poured forth upon the world. What great question since that period has been agitated in our Church what great interest of humanity or religion has been under discussion in the community around us, on the settlement of which, by his ready and powerful eloquence, his singular tact and wisdom, and his extraordinary aptitude for business, Dr. Candlish has not brought to bear a commanding influence? For the business-like order and method with which the affairs of the Church, since the eventful year of her disestablishment, have been conducted ; for the intelligence and the energy with which our Church s various schemes of Christian usefulness have been prosecuted; in a word, for the high and honourable and, well-established position which this Church now holds as one of the great religious institutions of this country, there is no living man to whom we are so much indebted as to Dr.Candlish. Serus in coelum redat for,till it loses him, the Church will never know much she owes to his unselfish, unwearied, invaluable services in her cause" -

Home | Biography | Literature | Letters | Links | Photo-Wallet