Land Grants

There was one other expression of Dr. Chalmers' opinion delivered so publicly and so close upon his death, that a peculiar weight attaches to it. At the Disruption a large body of the landed aristocracy of Scotland had refused upon any terms to grant sites on which churches or manses might be built. Such stable fabrics would give permanence to a movement which they intensely disliked, and might prevent that reunion with the Establishment which, when the flush of the first excitement was over, they hoped to see accomplished. When these anticipations were falsified, and it became evident that the Free Church was to rank among the permanent institutions of the country, many of these hostile proprietors gave way, but a goodly number still stood out. Having waited patiently, but in vain, for two years, in the hope that this spirit of intolerance would spontaneously subside, and having exhausted all means of private influence and remonstrance, the General Assembly of 1845 petitioned Parliament and the Legislature, stating the grievance, and praying for legislative redress. The Government having shown no disposition to move in the matter, Mr. Maule, in June 1846, introduced a bill into the House of Commons, the object of which was to oblige the proprietors to concede. The leading members of the House concurred in condemning the conduct complained of, but as its conclusion was thought to be too stringent, and the hope was cherished that their own good sense and good feeling would induce the proprietors to yield without the necessity of legislative interference, the Bill was thrown out. No symptoms of concession appearing, Mr. Bouverie, in March 1847, moved and carried the appointment of a Committee of the House "to inquire whether, and in what parts of Scotland, and under what circumstances, large numbers of Her Majesty s subjects have been deprived of the means of religious worship by the refusal of certain proprietors to grant them sites for the erection of churches." It soon became evident that the examination of witnesses before the Committee was to take a wide and important range, and that an attempt was to be made by representing the grounds of the Disruption as so untenable, and the opposition offered to the Establishment so violent, as to palliate if not excuse even the strong step of refusing sites for churches. In these circumstances, it was deemed desirable that Dr. Chalmers should appear as a witness before the Committee. He had lately retired very much from public life, and was in a situation to take a wider and calmer survey of the principles and position of the Free Church, than was possible at the period of the Disruption, or easy even now, for those still mixed up with her affairs. His withdrawal from the public business of the Church had even created in some quarters the impression, that disappointed in his first expectations, the strength of Dr. Chalrners's attachment to the Free Church had been of late somewhat shaken, so that no small amount of curiosity was awakened as to what kind of evidence he would give. On Sabbath the 2nd of May, he assisted at the Communion in the Free Church of Ratho, and preached the evening sermon, his last in Scotland. On the Thursday following, accompanied by his son-in-law, Mr. Mackenzie, he set out for London, where he arrived on the evening of Friday the 7th, when he found that his examination was not to take place till the following Wednesday. On the intervening Sabbath he officiated in Marylebone Presbyterian Church. From his own journal-letters we offer the following extracts

"Sunday, May 9.-Preached with greater comfort than I had ever done before in London. The church was thin when we first entered it, but became full, with a good many in the passages, before I began. Preached less than an hour; made an early retreat from the vestry to Mr. Carmichael's house close by. Was afterwards told that Lord John Russell, Lady Carlisle, Lord Morpeth's mother, and Lord Morpeth himself, had come to the vestry to shake hands with me, but I had gone. Delighted with a call after dinner from Dr. Bunting, with whom I and Mr. Mackenzie were left alone for an hour at least. Most exquisite interview with one of the best and wisest of men. Mr. M. and I both love him to the uttermost.

"Monday, lOth.-Went a second time to the Atheneum. On my way met a gentleman coming out of it, who looked hard at me, and continued looking after we passed; and when I parted from Mr. Hamilton came back to see it was Dr. Whewell, Master of Trinity College, Cambridge. As we stood and talked at the door, there came to it two members, to whom he introduced me-the Bishop of Gloucester, and Mr. Lyell the geologist. Dr. Whewell and I sat together at our little table in the Atheneum, where we talked and took our respective soda waters. The treasurer and secretary are both most attentive to me, and I have a good mind to propose the North British Review for being taken in, which I fear it is not yet; at least I have not met it, though I have gone through a great number of their papers and periodicals. Went back to my lodgings, where I siesta-ed, thence at five to the National Gallery, where we spent half-an-hour among the pictures of the great masters: Wilkie is conspicuous by a statue of him at the entrance and a large portrait up~stairs. The pictures are few and select, but of first-rate value, and I should like to revisit them ;-the Gallery is but a step from our lodgings. Thence took a cab for Mr. Maule's, where we dined -a small eightsome party, reminding me of Lord Lansdowne's select - parties round a small circular table. Besides Mr. and Mrs. Maule, Miss Abercrombie, a nephew, and ourselves, there were but two more-Mr. Rutherford, Lord Advocate, and last, though not least, Lord Morpeth. We had a deal of easy familiar talk about the Government Scheme of Education, Health of Towns (Lord Morpeth's department), Territorial System, &c. &c. After coffee I had a sofa talk with Lord Morpeth on the subject of West Port improvements, nuisances, public health, &c. &c. I like him very much - intelligent, philanthropic, with all the grace and culture of high aristocracy without its hauteur; he took a most friendly adieu of me when he and the other Parliamenters went off to attend the House of Commons: we sat half-an-hour after them with the ladies. Ordered a cab a little after nine; off to Warwick Street, and flung myself into bed at ten.

Tuesday, llth.-Crossed at Westminster Bridge, where I saw for the first time the magnificent Houses of Parliament, and was powerfully impressed by them. Landed at *Mrs. Chalmers's before three - a feeling and affectionate reception. I proposed to pray with her, to which she readily assented; she was much affected ;- altogether it was a serious interview, and my brother's faithful and vivid picture has haunted me ever since.. .. After my siesta went off to the Atheneum, where I had my reviews and newspapers. I am now in the library with other quiet philosophic looking savans at our respective tables, and am writing you on Atheneum paper with Atheneum ink, and by an Atheneum metallic pen. In the large room where I had my solitary tea, there were twenty or thirty at their separate dinners. The impression of my brother's picture still adheres to me; it is an affecting memento, and may well loosen our attachments to time. May we be wise for eternity"

"Wednesday, l2th.-Here I sit, in anxious expectancy.... At length the call came, and I took leave of my gossips in the lobby, for my inquisitors in the Committee-room. Sir James was there, and when I entered rose from his seat, came down to the floor, and shook hands with me, with smiles and blandnesses of expression, that made him as unlike a worricow as possible. Mr. Bouverie was in the chair; but Mr. Maule conducted the examination, which he did ably and satisfactorily. Sir James rose in the middle of it, and went out, and I thought he was really to keep his promise. But he did not, for he returned; and had a number of documents along with him - my printed speeches, concluding Moderator's Address to the Free Church Assembly, the very Montrose paper where was my letter anent Gladstone, &c. &c. Thus armed, he fell upon me for an hour or so, to the great surprise of Mr. Maule, who told me afterwards that he had said in public he should not put one question - he could not, in the face of old friendly recollections, &c. &c. My only regret is, that his questioning process of an hour, was the last hour, when, a good deal exhausted, I was scarcely able either mentally to frame, or orally to articulate a reply. However, I kept my ground; and I saw many a friendly, smile elicited by my replies. There was an awkwardness that occurred when he asked me about the women's voting, and I said, I ever looked upon that as a most paltry question, on which he reddened, supposing that I meant the question as coming from him, instead of the question or topic in itself. However, he was mild and gentlemanly throughout, and shed many a benignant smile from the tribunal where he sat, on the panel at the bar. On one occasion when he asked me about the wisdom of legislating on some one point or other - some very ambiguous matter, and on which he thought to press me hard-.I said that I did not feel it was for me to instruct legislators in their duties. There was a general smile, and he got off by the reply, that from me he should ever be happy to receive instruction upon all subjects. However, in his hands, the examination did at length degenerate into twaddle, and the best answer from me would have been that it was twaddle. But as I could not just say this, and behoved to give him some sort of answer, I was obliged ‘to answer a fool according to his folly ‘-so that as you have heard of trash upon trash, you may perhaps yet read of twaddle upon twaddle! We kept our ground, however, and I was at perfect ease throughout. His main topics were, female voting, the possibility of a re-union with the Establishment, my London lectures on which he told me that he heard with great satisfaction my advocacy of the Erastian Church of England - my former intimacy with the Duke of Buccleuch, my views of patronage, spiritual independence, &c. &c. I told him that I did not advocate the Church of England; that I felt more hopeful of it then than now, when like to be overrun by Puseyism; that even then I denounced its figment of an apostolical succession, and, without directly attacking its Erastianism, spoke of our own independence, and in terms which provoked the jealousy of English churchmen, &c. &c. He also spoke of intercommnnion with the Establishment, and tried to embarrass me on points of previous examination under Mr. Maule; and so we concluded in a state of great exhaustion, yet with an erect demeanour and visage unabashed. Lord Morpeth and Mr. Maule took me to the House of Lords - the finest room I ever saw, and by which we now outpeer both Versailles and Fontainebleau. There is a profusion of gilding which would have too gaudy an effect were not this counteracted by the massiveness and magnificence of the whole. The general effect both out and in disarms all criticism anent the details.. Mr. Carmichael was by this time with us, and he accompanied me to the Treasury, where I called on Mr. Trevelyan to thank him for his blue books - a most interesting person, with all the thoughtfulness and ezhaustion of an overworked student pictured in his countenance, he told me that he had read my article with the deepest interest, but offered only one criticism - that I had underrated the difficulties of the Government. He spoke with the highest admiration of the Highlanders, for that not a sheep had disappeared from the hills, not a baker's shop had been broken into -"in total contrast with Ireland". I left him with much cordial regard: he and Lord Morpeth are the most interesting people I have met in London. Walked thence through the Park to the Atheneum, at the gate of which I parted with Mr. Carmichael, well prepared for my dinner at five. Being a teetotaller, I determined to repair my exhaustion with good meat instead of drink; and so, on inspecting the bill of fare, ordered a dinner as analogous as I could make it to kale and beef; so for the kale I had a plateful of mock-turtle soup, and calf's-foot for the beef. After this, siesta-ed - and where?- still in the Atheneum, on one of the sofas of their quiet library, while the silent readers to the number of four or five were lounging upon -their sofas or arm-chairs in other parts of the capacious and handsome room. Arose refreshed between six and seven; expatiated among the newspapers; got home before nine. -

* WiIkie told Dr. Chalmers that be once met in the Strand a group, consisting of a man and two children, and that his eye was arrested by an object which convinced him that they were the whole family - it was the great door-key which one of them was carrying. Dr. Chalmers observed that Wilkie had availed himself of this circumstance in his picture of the Rent Day - substituting, however, a widow for a widower. Back to journal?

* The widow of his brother James.

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