by HUGH MILLER
DR. JOHNSON has occupied a whole paper of the "Idler" in
showing that the biographies of authors may be as rich in interest as the
biographies of any class of persons whatever. No lives, he remarks, more abound
in sudden vicissitudes of fortune, and over no class of men do hope and fear,
expectation and disappointment, grief and joy, exercise a larger influence.
Goldsmith, in his Life of Parnell, has recorded an opposite opinion ; but
Goldsmith did not sufficiently attend to his own history, - a history quite as
striking in its details as any piece of fiction, not excepting even his own
exquisite "Vicar of Wakefield." The obscure Surgeon-assistant, whom the faculty
were afraid to employ because his brogue was so strong and his appearance so
uncouth, - the imprudent and ruined surety, who, forsaking his obscure little
shop in a provincial town, fled from his creditors to avoid a jail, - the poor
scholar and itinerant musician, who wandered on foot over France, Belgium, aud
Italy, purchasing a supper and a bed with his tunes from the peasantry, and
disputing on some philosophical question for the same meed and a piece of money
additional, with the learned of Ferrara and Padua, - was the elegant and
accomplished author whose poetry a few years after was to be rated higher than
that of Pope, and his prose superior to that of Addison. Dr Johnson was so much
in the right, that, to establish the point, one has but to appeal from the
opinion of his opponent to his opponents biography. We have already
passed, in our rapid sketch, over that part of the life of Dr MCrie most marked
by vicissitude. The novelist or the poet takes but a portion of individual or
national history for Ins subject;- the curtain falls, or the tale closes, when
the hero of the piece has passed from one extreme of fortune to another ; even
the boy hears no more of Whittington after he has become Lord Mayor of London,
or of Pepin after he has become King of France. On the same principle, what may
be termed the romance of the Doctors life closes when the obscure and
persecuted preacher of Carrubbers Close, known only, beyond the narrow
circle of his friends, when known at all, as a narrow-minded and illiberal
sectarian, takes his undisputed place among the literati of his country as
beyond comparison the first historian of his age, - as a great master of public
opinion, - as successful above all his contemporaries in removing
long-cherished prejudice and misconception, - and as singularly sagacious in
seizing the events of the remote future, in the imperfect and embryo rudiments
of piesent occurrences, or in partially developed modes of feeling and thought.
But in the portion of his history which remains, though little chequered by
incident there is interest of a different kind. It is something to know the
Part taken by such a man in the controversies of the time, - controversies many
of which still survive ; for there were tiny judgments less liable to mistake,
and no honest man ever questioned his integrity.
Dr MCrie was very much of the opinion of Cowley. Good men, says the prince of metaphysical poets, should pray no less frequently for the conversion of literature than for the Jews. No one better knew the importance of literature, or was more earnestly solicitous for its conversion, than the Doctor. He saw every species of power among men, whether for good or evil, founded in opinion ; and recognised in the press an all-potent lever, through which the public mind may he either heightened or depressed. He was aware, too, that it is not always the grave or more elaborate works which produce the deepest impressions. Songs have hastened national revolutions, and a single romance has powerfully affected the character of a country ; and in the first series of the "Tales of My Landlord," with its marvellously unfair representation of the Covenanters, he recognised a work of the most influential character, and influential chiefly for evil. Rarely, says the poet, has Spain had heroes since Cervantes laughed away the chivalry of his country ; and it was a class beyond comparison nobler and hotter than the chivalry of Spain that the novelist had set himself to laugh down.
Dr.MCries review of the Tales" appeared in the Christian Instructor for 1817, and produced a powerful impression. Sir Walter, secure in his strength, had felt for years before that he could well afford being indifferent to criticism. He had a firmer hold of the public mind than any of his reviewers. The occasional critique either re-echoed his praises in tones caught from the general voice, and then sank unheeded, or dared to dispute the justice of the almost universal decision in his favour, and sank all the sooner in consequence. So far was he deeming the strictures of a hostile reviewer worthy of reply, that he had ceased to deem them worthy of perusal. On this occasion, however, he found he had to deal with no ordinary critic; the stream of public opinion had been turned fairly against him; and, after recording his determination not even to read the doctors article, he eventually found it necessary not only to do so, but also to attempt answering it, which he did in the "Quarterly," in the form of a critique on his own work Hogg has informed us how invariably favourable Sir Walter as a critic was to Sir Walter as an author. He of course decided that his "Tales" were very excellent tales, and that the Covenanters were in no degree better than he had described them; referring for proof to a few insulated facts as valuable in proving general propositions, as if it were to be inferred from the history of the Rev. Titus Oates that all the clergy of England were perjured miscreants, or from that of the Rev. Dr Dodd, that they were all malefactors, and deserved to be hung.
His article had its weight with a few High Churchmen, zealously prepared to believe on the side of Claverhouse without the trouble of thought or scrutiny; but in the estimate of the less prejudiced classes, both in England and our own country, victory remained as unequivocally on the side of Dr MCrie and the Covenanters as if the reply had never been written.
The "Life of Andrew Melville" appeared about two years after, in 1819. It may be regarded as a continuation of the history of the Scottish Church, so auspiciously begun in the "Life of Knox;" and displays the same power and discrimination exhibited in that work, with even more than the same amazing profundity of research. It was remarked, it is said, by the present Lord Jeffrey, that one would require several years additional reading to qualify ones self for the task of reviewing it. The Doctor had got into a walk of information, the intricacies of which were known to only himself; and critics of the highest class were contebnt to set their craft aside, and, taking the place of ordinary readers under him, were fain, instead of leading others, to be followers themselves. Regarded simply as a piece of narrative, it has been found to possess less interest than the "Life of Knox." The writer has not performed his part less ably; but the subject of his memoir, if not less a hero than his great predecessor the Reformer, had lived a life of less stormy interest, and had found feebler, if not less insidious spirits, with which to contend. But the history of Melville will ever continue, notwithstanding, to be regarded as emphatically the history of the Scottish Church for the stirring and eventful period which it embraces. The High Churchmen of the "British Critic" were less candid and less knowing than the editor of the "Edinburgh Review ;" and, making their own ignorance the measure of their censure, they were of course very severe. Authorities of which they knew nothing might be garbled and misquoted, they said, without their being aware of the fact; and it could not be held therefore that the "bold rebellious fanatics who figured prominently in the early days of the Scottish Reformation" could be in reality the good honest men which the Presbyterian historian had proved them to be. The argument seems unanswerable; and as ignorance in one set of men is quite as good ignorance in any other set, there can be no faith in history long as the Churchmen of the "British Critic," or any other sort of people, remain unacquainted with the data on which the historians have founded.
The Doctor rarely took any part in public meetings. Though an eloquent and impressive speaker, and at once qualified to delight by the manner, and instruct by the matter, of his addresses, his native modesty led him to rate his capabilities for the platform lower than every one else rated them. He felt, too, that he was not neglecting his duty so long as he was engaged in his own peculiar walk, - the walk in which he excelled all his contemporaries, - and so long as he saw every public measure in which he felt an interest furnished with its zealous and appropriate champions. His friend Andrew Thomson was the powerful assailant of the Apocrypha and the slave-trade; and the cause of the Scottish poor might well be entrusted to Dr Chalmers. There were questions and causes, however, for which he could deem it a duty to mount the platform. Many of our readers will remember the apathy with which a large proportion of the British public regarded the long protracted and bloody struggle of the Greeks with their cruel and tyrannical taskmasters. The country had grown too mercantile to be generous; the interests of some of our trading bodies were compromised; it had become imprudent to be sympathetic. The Greeks had grown too base and degraded, it was affirmed, to be either deserving of freedom or capable of enjoying it; and so they were left to fight more than half the battle of liberty, not only without assistance, but without sympathy. But the Doctor indulged in other feelings, and reasoned on other principles. He could sympathize with the oppressed Greeks, not only as a scholar, richly imbued with the spirit of the ancient literature of their country, but also as a Christian, deeply interested in their welfare as men; nor had he learned, in the prosecution of his studies, to deem the struggles of even a semi-barbarous people as of little importance. The accident which befalls an iudividual in his immature childhood frequently influences his destiny for life; and it is so also with countries. The Irish were not a civilized people when conquered by the English under Strongbow, nor yet the Scotch when they baffled and defeated the same enemy under Cressingham and Edward II.; but who can doubt that the present state of Scotland and Ireland depends materially upon the very opposite results of their respective struggles?
At the first meeting held in behalf of the Greeks in the land, - we believe in Britain, - Dr MCrie took the lead, and delivered an address of great eloquence and power, which had much the effect of exciting the public interest, and which united what is not often conjoined, - a manner singularly popular and pleasing, with much profundity of thought, and information drawn from the less accessible sources. At an after period, when the struggle had terminated in the freedom of Greece, the ladies of Edinburgh exerted themselves in raising funds, through which it was proposed to extend the advantages of education to the long-neglected females of that country. The Doctor gave the scheme his warmest support; - he preached in its behalf the sermon so highly eulogized by Andrew Thomson as something beyond the reach of his contemporary ministers of the Establishment, - conducted the correspondence of the Association originated to carry it on, - and at a public meeting appealed to the country in its favour. Some of the ladies, his coadjutors in the scheme, had conceived of the Doctor merely as a person of one talent, - one of the most common conceptions imaginable; they had no idea that the man who excelled all his contemporaries in research could excel most of them in eloquence also. They knew that no one could surpass him in argument or narrative, and therefore for argument and narrative they looked to him; but to delight the meeting with the poetry of the subject, - to recall the old classic associations, - to appeal powerfully to the feelings, - to do all that they supposed the Doctor was not capable of doing, - they secured the services of the late Sir James Mackintosh. One of them even went so far as to tell the Doctor of the arrangement, in which he readily acquiesced. When the meeting came, however, they were all convincingly shown that he could do more than argue and narrate. "His address," says a writer in an English periodical, "distinguished throughout by the most thorough acquaintance with the politics, philosophy, mythology, and poetry of ancient Greece, commingled with the happiest allusions to these so fervid a contrast of her ancient glory with her modern degradation, new and foreign as such topics were thought to be to the habits of the good Doctor; his speech reminded many of his hearers of the finest speeches of Burke."
The year 1827 was what we would have termed a year of triumph to Dr MCrie, had the conscientious stand for what he deemed a great principle, which had subjected him to so much persecution rather more than twenty years before, borne any reference to the opinion or the approval of men. He had stood with his few brethren on the ground occupied by the fathers of the Secession and the first Reformers of the Church, and had seen well nigh the entire body to whom he had been united, but who had cast him off, carried away on a new and untried course of peril and defection, which would terminate, he augured, in the wreck of all those principles for which their fathers had so zealously contended. The body, however, had contained many excellent men who, less sagacious than the Doctor; were yet not less attached to the original principles of the Secession, and who had been led from off the ground occupied by the first Reformers, merely in the hope of reforming a little further. But the experience of twenty years had sufficed to teach them that their liberalism had led them astray. About seven years before, on the uniorr of the Burgher and Antiburgher Synod; a considerable body of this class, thoroughly convinced that the Secession was drifting from its original moorings, had formed themselves into a separate Synod; and now in this yea; finding that they were contending for the same grand truths with the Doctor and his brethren, they again entered, through mutual agreement, into communion with them, and were reunited, as of old, into one body. They virtually confessed that the excommunicated and deposed minority had occupied all along the true position, - a position to which they themselves now deemed it necessary to return. Such are some of the honours reserved for the men who, through good and evil report, steadily adhere to the truth. With a magnanimity, however, natural to his character, Dr MCrie "steadily refused," says his biographer; "either to exact or receive from his former associates any acknowledgment of the illegality or severity of the sentences passed by the General Synod against himself or his brethren. The honour of the truth was all that he cared to vindicate; his own he left in the hands of his Divine Master."
June 17, 1840.
Two of the later literary works of Dr MCrie bear in history such a relation to his two earlier productions, the Lives of Melville and Knox, as, in the drama, tragedy bears to comedy. A cloud of disaster darkened the closing scene of the life of Melville, but the existence of the Scottish Church in the present day shows that he did not dare and suffer in vain. The cloud was a temporary one. The seed which he had sown lay dormant for a while, but it ultimately sprang up and bore fruit abundantly. The biographies of Melville and Knox constitute, therefore, the history of a successful Reformation; his later works, - the Sketches of the Reformation in Spain and Italy, - form the histories of unsuccessful ones. The beacon-light was kindled but to be extinguished; the seed was sown but to die. Both works read an important lesson, and both are proably destined to produce important effects, in the future, in the countries to which they relate. The "History of the Reformation in Italy" has been translated into the Dutch, French, and German languages; and in the fear; doubtless, of its being translated into the Italian also, the Court of Rome has done it the honour of inserting it in the "Index Expurgatorius," as a work peculiarly obnoxious. The "History of the Reformation in Spain" has lately been translated into German. Both works are acquiring a monumental celebrity; and when the time shall come, - and it may not now be very distant, - when, according to Milton, the "blood and ashes" sown over the fields "where still doth sway the triple tyrant," shall begin to bear fruit, the faithful record of the fierce and relentless hatred of the persecutor, and of the sufferings unflinchingly endured and the death's joy fully welcomed for the truths sake by his oppressed victims, may exert no little influence in hastening the fall of the one and leading to an imitation of the other.
The Doctor was employed in pursuing his researches, adding instance to instance of the cruelty and perfidy of Popery, and accumulating proof upon proof that its atrocities have not been restricted to one country or confined to one age, when the bill for admitting Roman Catholics into places of power and trust was introduced by the Government. In the preceding year he had taken an active interest in petitioning for the abolition of the Test and Corporation Acts. He was too shrewd not to recognise the measure as merely a preparatory one, and which could not fail to terminate in Catholic emancipation. But he was not one of the class who can withhold from doing what is right in itself because something not so right may follow. He believed, with Cowper, that these acts involved a gross profanation of things sacred; that they converted the symbols of "redeeming grace" into mere "picklocks," through which the unscrupulous entered into office, but by which the conscientious were excluded; and hence the zeal with which he urged their abolition. He now took as active a part, and on quite the same principle, in opposing the emancipation of the Catholics. He advocated the preliminary measure because he deemed it essentially right, and denounced and opposed the measure to which it had led as radically wrong, - as a measure, too, to be dreaded and deprecated in its effects as one of the most ruinous of modern legislation. He was convinced, he said, that the Ministry of the day would succeed in carrying their object; such seemed to be the intention of Providence in permitting the union of parties hitherto opposed, and in suffering even "our prophets" to be carried away by a spirit of delusion but he felt it necessary to do all he could in the matter, by way of personal exoneration, - he felt opposition, however fruitless, to be his duty. "We have been told," he said, "from a high quarter, to avoid such subjects, unless we wish to rekindle the flames of Smithfield, now long forgotten. Long forgotten! where forgotten? In heaven? No. In Britain? God forbid. They may be forgotten at St Stephens or Westminster Abbey, but they are not forgotten in Britain. And if ever such a day arrives, the hours of Britains prosperity have been numbered."
A petition to the Legislature against the Catholic claims, which, whatever might be thought of its object, could not be regarded as other than a document of extraordinary ability, was drawn up by Dr M'Crie, and received the signatures of rather more than thirteen thousand persons. We are ill qualified to decide on the part taken on this occasion by the Doctor. There were very excellent and very sagacious men, -maybe moved by the arguments of mere expediency, - who place themselves on the opposite side; nor was it easy to see what other course remained for our legislators, in the peculiar circumstances of the country, than the course which they adopted. The Catholics seemed prepared for a civil war, and at least nine tenths of our Protestants were determined not to fight in such a quarrel We would not have signed Dr MCries petition at the time ; - had an opportunity occurred, we would have readily appended our signature to the list which contained the names of Thomson and of Chalmers. Eleven years, however,have since passed: the government of Ireland is well nigh as great a problem now as it was then; the struggle between Protestantism and Popery still continues, with this difference, that the advantage is now more on the side of the enemy, without his being in any degree less bitter in his enmity; the power of the priest is nothing lessened; the success of the missionary or the triumph of the Bible is nothing increased. We are afraid, in short, that the part taken by the Doctor did not run so counter to his profound sagacity in such matters, as at one time we might possibly have thought; nay, more, - we are somewhat afraid that events are in the course of showing it did not run counter to it at all. As little, however, can we avoid feeling that, should the worst come to the worst, Protestantism on its present ground would have at least a clearer, if not a better quarrel than on its former post of advantage; and that if Popery, unlike an ancient wrestler, could not have contended with most success when beneath its opponent, it would at least have to contend with an opposition less hearty, and encouraged by a sympathy deeper and more general.
Three years after, Dr MCrie again deemed it his duty to tome publicly forward, and record his conscientious disapproval of another political measure, - the Irish Educational scheme, with its carefully culled Scriptural lesson-book. His estimate of the statesmanship of the present day was far from high; but it was not an estimate that any one party would choose to quote with the view of bettering their own character at the expense of that of the party opposed to them. Nor was it much more favourable to the people than to the peoples rulers; for though the Doctor loved, he could not flatter them. "It has been my opinion fixedly for some time," he remarks, in a letter to a friend, "that any Administration to be formed at present, Whig or Tory, would sacrifice religion on the shrine of political expediency; and my people, provided their temporary and worldly views were gratified, would love to have it so. This is my political creed." He held that the scheme which he opposed involved a principle on which the very foundations of Protestantism rested; and that it was taking a view of the subject radically false to regard the book of selected extracts in the same light with collections of passages drawn up for purposes of mere economy; seeing that these extracts were confessedly made to conciliate the prejudices of a class who deny the right of the laity to the use of the whole Bible. We are not unacquainted with the arguments which have been urged on the opposite side, and they are at least plausible. We have little doubt, however, that ultimately it will be found that the Doctor was in the right; and we are inclined to think, besides, that by placing the question, through a slight alteration of the terms, more in a secular lights the soundness of his views would be more generally recognised. Suppose the entire Scriptures consisted of the decalogue alone, - that a sound criticism had proved, as it has proved, the integrity of every one of the ten commandments which compose it, - and that all Protestants were thoroughly convinced of their Divine origin; suppose that Popery treated four of the ten in exactly the way in which it sometimes treats one of the ten, - that it had not only struck out the Divine prohibition of idolatry, but the prohibition also against murder, and adultery ; - would any Government, five-sixths of which were Protestants, so much as dream of forming an educational scheme for both Protestants and Papists, through which, out of respect to the prejudices of the latter, only six of the commandments - the permitted six - would be taught? And yet, either the Bible, as a whole, is no revelation, addressed as it is to the people as a body, not to any particular group of functionaries, or the same rule must apply to it too. Or, again, suppose that Popery, instead of forbidding the perusal of the whole Scriptures, forbade the acquirement of the art of reading altogether, leaving the other branches of education open, - such as arithmetic, drawing, and the mathematics ; - would a liberal Government once think of closing with it on such terms, or exclude reading from its schools, in deference to a prejudice so illiberal? And if a prejudice against secular knowledge is to be overborne and denounced, why respect a prejudice against religious knowledge? But our limits, and the character of our sketch, forbid an examination of the question; and we refer the reader to the powerful and eloquent speech of the Doctor on the subject, appended with his biography. He was no way appalled at finding himself standing in a slender minority; he had been in the minority, he said, all his life long; and the truth has often shared the same fate with Dr MCrie. On an attempt being made to disturb the meeting, of that low and disreputable character so often resorted to on similar occasions, and in which brute noise is brought to bear against argument, - the mere animal against the moral and rational agent, - the Doctor stepped forward, and told the disturbers, with much emphasis, to "recollect that they had to do with men, and with men who were not accustomed to be browbeat.." His spirit rose with opposition, and kindled at every show of oppression and injustice; and though the shouts and bellowings of score or two of Liberals, determined to tolerate only the principles of their own party, might drown his voice, just as the kettle-drums of Dalyell and Claverhouse drowned the voices of the Covenanters in their scaffold addresses, no one could better exert the influence of that moral force before which all such brute violence must ultimately quail.
The Voluntary controversy, in which he had entered so early, had become what he had predicted, - an all-important conflict, recognised by every one as of the first importance. Men of some religion and men of none had made common cause, though with a different object, - the one against church establishments, the other against Christianity itself; and the Doctor could now look forward to a time when the better materials of the combination wbuld be reduced to well nigh the level of the worst, and the religious degradation of the men from whom he had parted company more than twenty years before would be rendered apparent to all. It was one of his first principles, "that society is a corporate body, and has rights and duties of the same kind as those of the individual;" nor could he believe, therefore, in his thorough conviction of the importance of religion, that religion would hold other than the first place among national concerns. Still his anticipations were gloomy when he thought of the Establishment. Though persuaded, as we have already said, that "the Voluntary principle was not only untenable, but incapable of defence except on grounds inconsistent with a belief in Divine revelation, and directly but infallibly leading to infidelity," no man could see better how much of abuse and corruption had crept into our national Church, and how strenuously every measure of reform would be resisted through the blind and suicidal selfishness of her professed but hollow friends, and the hostility of her clearer-sighted enemies. He often anticipated, therefore, a disastrous result of the controversy, and a season of general suffering an erturbation, in which all classes would be fearfully taught the value of religion through the want of it.
At times, however, his views would brighten; and we find him, in one of his happier moods, thus addressing a correspondent : - "Is it yet time for me to commence a canvass for John Knoxs Church? I have heard that Adam Gib, to a considerably late period in his life, expressed the hope that he would preach in St Giless. You know the practical inference. Yet we do injury to more than our own happiness by dealing harshly with kind hope, repressing her ardour, and chiding her for those lamb-like friskings in which she indulges to please us." And he did bestir himself in the behalf "of John Knoxs Church," but it was not by striking at her enemies, but by striking at one of the main abuses which had entered into her system, - the abuse of patronage. And the blow was dealt by no feeble or unpractised hand. The cause was of importance enough to bring him to the platform. He attended, in the beginning of 1833, a meeting of the Anti-Patronage Society, and delivered a powerful and impressive speech, in which he advocated the total abolition of patronage, as the sole means of saving the Establishment And perhaps on no opcasion was the magnanimity of the man more strikingly shown than in the concluding portion of this address, or brought out in broader contrast with the no doubt widely opposite, but equally selfish feelings of the class who, rather than relinquish their miserable powers of patronage, would stand and see the Church overwhelmed amid the surges of popular anarchy, or the class - anxious to fill their meeting-houses - who, like the wreckers of Cornwall, exert themselves with a view to her destruction, in the hope of profiting by the wreck.
"If you succeed in your object," said the Doctor, "you will do me much harm, - you will thin, much thin, my congregation. For I must say that, though patronage were abolished to-morrow, I could not forthwith enter into the Establishment. But I am not so blind or so ignorant of the dispositions of the people as to suppose they would act in that manner. Your cause will soon come into honour; the restoration of long-lost rights will convert popular apathy into popular favour; and in their enthusiasm the people will forget that there are such things as erroneous teachers and neglect of discipline. Do I therefore dread your success, or stand aloof from you, on the ground mentioned? Assuredly not. The truth is, that I think I may be of more service to you by declining to be in your council I have only to say, therefore, go on and prosper: though your beginnings have been but small, may your latter end greatly increase. You have my best wishes and prayers."
These surely are the sentiments of a man who, to employ the striking figure of Burns, held a patent of nobility direct from Deity himself, and who had trained and cultivated his heart as sedulously and successfully as his head. He published, in the May of the same year, his now well known, but at the time neglected pamphlet "What ought the General Assembly to do at the present Crisis?" It had one great defect, - it wanted the authors name; and told, in consequence, with less power on the body for whose benefit it was chiefly intended. But in none of all the Doctors writings is his wonderful sagacity more clearly and unequivocally shown, and there are none of them on which subsequent events have read a more striking comment. His advice to the Assembly forms an emphatic reply to the query in the title : - " WITHOUT DELAY PETITION THE LEGISLATURE FOR THE ABOLITION OF PATRONAGE."
But he neither did anticipate, nor could have anticipated, the present position of the Church; for to have done so would have required not simply human sagacity, but a superhuman prescience. "No meaning," says Pope, "puzzles more than wit :" "it is almost impossible," says Robertson, ".to form a satisfactory conjecture concerning the motives which influence capricious and irregular minds." No one could have presaged more justly than Dr MCrie the manner in which the Court of Session would have decided any ecclesiastical case according to law; but it was not in the nature of things that he could have presaged the manner in which the Court was to decide ecclesiastical cases contrary to law. There was no clue to surmise, - no guide to conjecture. One of the first principles laid down in his profound and masterly pamphlet, - a principle from which he deduces the necessity of a popular check in the appointment of ministers, - must have as effectually prevented him from premising the possibility of such interdicta as have been granted to the suspended functionaries of Strathbogie or the rejected licentiate of Lethendy, as it ought to have stood in the way of the Court itself in rendering them possible.
"According to law," says the Doctor, "there lies no appeal from the decisions of a Church court to any civil tribunal, not to the Parliament itself; in any case properly ecclesiastical. Everything of this kind is finally settled by the decision of the General Assembly, which, in addition to its judicial and executive power, olaims a legislative authority, or at least a power of making authoritative acts, and, with the concurrence of a majority of Presbyteries, of enacting standing laws which are binding on all the members of the Church, laity as well as clergy."
The decision of the historian of Knox and Melville in a question of this kind bears a very different sort of value from that of the Dean of Faculty or the Earl of Aberdeen. Mark, too, the shrewdness of his conclusion regarding the more thoroughgoing Voluntaries: -
"You will not find one of them taking part in a society for promoting Church reform; you will not see one of their names at a petition for abolishing patronage. They affect to laugh at such attempts to reform minor abuses, although, in fact they dread them more than the most able and elaborate vindication of ecclesiastical establishments.".
June 24, 1840.
WE passed a Sabbath in Edinburgh early in 1835, - the first after a lapse of nearly ten years, - and sought out the well-known chapel of our favourite preacher. There was no change there ; - the same people seemed to occupy the same pews: but so marked was the change in the appearance of the Doctor, that at first we scarce recognised him. " Can it be thought," says a living writer, "that the human soul, so nobly impressed by the hand of Deity, is but the creature of a passing day, when a brick of Thebes or of Luxor retains undefaced its original stamp for thousands and thousands of years?" The intervening decade had borne heavily on the Doctor. He had lost his elasticity of tread, and his erect and semi-military bearing; and the complexion, darker and less pale than formerly, bore, after slight exertion, an apoplectic flush, that indicated some perilous derangement in the springs of life. But the too apparent decay affected only the earthy and material frame: the mind retained all its original vigour. We have never listened to the Doctor with deeper interest, or a more thorough admiration of his sound and powerful judgment, than on that Sabbath; and we fancied, but it might not be so, that his manner was more impressively earnest even than usual, - impressive and earnest as it always was, - and that he was "labouring with all his might," in the belief that the long night was fast closing over him, in which "he could no longer work." We stood beside the chapel-door as the congregation slowly dismissed, and took our last look of the Doctor, believing it to be such, as he entered a hackney coach, assisted by a friend. The assistance did not seem necessary, but it was sedulously rendered.
His death took place in the following autumn. Melancthon, in his latter days, evinced a weariness of the world: the folly and villany of mankind, the littleness of their aims, and the base and ungenerous spirit in which they so often pursued them,, sickened and disgusted him, and he longed earnestly to be "away from them, and at rest." Cowpers wish was of a similar character. The ever-swelling rumour of outrage and wrong, of oppression, cruelty, and deceit, disturbed and pained his gentle spirit, and he longed for a "lodge in some vast wilderness," where he might never hear it more. There were seasons towards the close of his life in which Dr MCrie experienced a weariness such as that of Melancthon, - a feeling such as that of Clowper. "His heart," says his biographer, "was greatly alienated from the world, and tired of the troubled scenes of its politics, civil and. ecclesiastical." There was an impression, too, borne in upon his mind that he was soon to be called away, and that his death, like that of his friend Andrew Thomson, was to be sudden. He felt his little remaining strength fast sinking, and the remarkable dream to which we adverted in an early article mingled its warning with his waking presentiments, like the morning dreams described by Michael Bruce in his Elegy. He had seen the hand beckoning him away, which, nearly half a century before, had so solemnly devoted him to the service of God.
Not the less, however, did he continue to urge his labours, - to walk his round of professional duty, - to ply his literary occupations - for he had now engaged in a life of Calvin, - aud to meet the unceasing demands made upon him for counsel and assistance. He was too little sedulous, perhaps, to "keep lifes flame from wasting by repose ;" an accumulation of toil was suffered to press on his health and spirits; but in the benignity of his disposition he could not find heart to refuse an application, and so he toiled on. "Some people," he said, with reference to a task to which he had just submitted, and which was to engage him for a whole week, "some people seem born to be beasts of burden." Nor did the presentiment of his approaching dissolution lessen his interest in the fortunes of the Church of Scotland. Nothing so delighted him as any indication among her ministers of a "disposition to return to the good old way of their fathers." The Assembly of May 1835 appointed a day of general fasting, - "an assertion," says the Doctors biographer, "of the intrinsic power of the Church which he did not anticipate, and which, reminding him of her better days, appeared a token for good." "Will they venture," he said, unacquainted with what the Assembly had intended, "to appoint a fast on their own authority?" and he received the intelligence with hardly less surprise than pleasure, that what he had been scarce sanguine enough to anticipate from them they had actually done. The Doctor had never held public worship on a Kings fast, but readily and willingly on this occasion did he join with the Church. His resentments, however, were all over; and he anticipated, more. in sorrow than in anger, and anticipated justly, that the Dissenters, as a body, "would keep their shops open and their churches shut" "They did not use to do that," he said, "on days of Royal appointment."
But if no man could evince a deeper interest in the welfare of the Church of Scotland, there was no man, on the other hand, who could feel, more painfully for what he deemed the imprudence of her ministers, or for any general act on the part of her friends, which compromised, an he believed, either her safety or her usefulness. The following remark in a letter to a friend, - a remark full of shrewd meaning, and on which recent events have been reading a comment of tremendous emphasis, - belongs to the closing year of his life, and craves careful study : - " What fools Church folks are, to identify their cause with Toryism at the present day, - to alienate the Whigs, and oblige them to league with Radicals, - to give them an excuse for deserting the defence of the Church whenever they shall find it safe or politically wise to do so Dont you think that our times bear a. great resemblance to those of 1640 in England, with the difference (great indeed), that there is not the same religious spirit in Parliament and in the public which existed at that period? How a collision between the aristocracy and the commons (not to speak of the monarchy) is to he avoided, I do not see. The public mind is much more extensively enlightened as to politics than it was in 1793; and it has got a power - a lever - which it did not then possess. I have no doubt I have got a great portion of the incredulity of my namesake, and would wish to say with respect to public prospects, "Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief" He had held, as we have said, the Assemblys fast; and never, it was remarked, had he addressed his people with more solemn effect than on that occasion. On the Sabbath after, he preached twice from the striking text in Matthew, "Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." At the close of the service he seated himself at the door of the vestry, contrary to his usual practice, "and watched the people while they were retiring, until they had all gone out."
On the afternoon of the Tuesday following, after spending the early part of the day in visiting some of his congregation, he was seized, immediately on his return home, with a severe pain in the bowels; and, after experiencing an interval of partial relief, fell into a slumber, out of which he never awoke. He continued to breathe until the middle of the next day; and then, surrounded by his friends, and by many of his beloved flock, who had collected to witness his last moments, he passed to his reward without a groan or a struggle. He had entered the sixty-third year of his age, and the fortieth of his ministry.
His funeral was attended by nearly fifteen hundred persons, including the magistracy of Edinburgh, its ministers of all persuasions, the preachers and students attending the halls of the Establishment and the United Secession, and by a deputation from the Assemblys Commission, headed by the Clerk and the Moderator. Nor could his remains have found a more appropriate resting-place than the ancient cemetery to which they were conveyed, - the burial-ground of the Greyfriars. It contains the dust of Alexander Henderson, the great leader of the Church during the troubles of the First Charles; it contains also, in its malefactors corner, the remains and the monument of the martyrs who, in the cause of Christ and of Presbytery, laid down their lives in Edinburgh during the dissolute and bloody reign of Charles the Second; and for an entire twelvemonth its open area was the prison in which the captive Covenanters of Bothwell Bridge were exposed to every inclemency of the seasons, and to the mockeries and revilings of their fierce and cruel jailors. Nor is there any lack of the kindred dust once animated by genius. There occur on the surrounding tombs the names of Colin MLaren, of Allan Ramsay, of Hugh Blair, and of William Robertson. But the talents which the TaskMaster entrusts to his servants, - whether the sum total consist of one or of ten, - are of but little value, compared with the use to which they have been devoted, and the effects which the possessors have accomplished through their means. We have stood beside the Doctors grave, and felts amid the deep silence of the place where knowledge and device faileth, and where there is no work and no wisdom, how well and honestly he had "occupied" his. His important labours are over ; - the work set him to do has faithfully performed. Though during his life he too apart from the Church which he loved, it was only as a watchman on some outer tower, or like a sentinel of the times of the persecution, stationed on some eminence of the waste, to warn the assembled congregation. of coming danger; and the imperishable monuments which he has reared stand forth to shed on the present the light of the past, and as beacons which, however times may darken, will continue to mark out the course which churches and nations will ultimately find it their interest as well as their duty to pursue. A massy and tasteful monument of white stone, erected ty his sorrowing flocir, as a memorial of "his worth and of their gratitude," marks out his final resting-place, and bears an inscription whose rare merit it is to be at once highly eulogistic and strictly true.
Our sketch has been miserably imperfect indeed if the reader has not been enabled to form from it some estimate, correct though not adequate, of the character of Dr MCrie. His whole life was a powerful illustration of how much a superior mind can be improved and ennobled by Christian principle. It shows also how necessary integrity is to the development of a high order of intellect. Had the Doctor been less honest, he would have been less sagacious also. His mind, like a fine instrument took the measure and tendencies of passing events; and there were no disturbing influences of selfishness to throw their mixture of uncertainty and error into the process. His wisdom, in part at least was a consequence of his magnanimity. It may seem a mere fancy to couple such men as Dr MCrie and the Duke of Wellington, - the statesman and general with the historian and divine; but resembling minds may be placed in very opposite circumstances; and for sobriety of feeling, far-seeing sagacity, great firmness of purpose, an impregnable native honesty, uninfluenced by the small motives of party,- in short, for all that constitutes the safe and great leader, - the standing of both men, each in his own sphere, refers to a level to which very few attain. Plutarch has parallelisms that lie less parallel. We shall just refer, ere we close, to one or two detached points in the intellectual and literary character of Dr MCrie.
It was well remarked by Lord Jeffrey, in his admirable review, that the Life of Knox "exhibited a rare union of the patient research and sober judgment which characterize the more laborious class of historians, with the boldness of thinking and force of imagination which are sometimes substituted in their place." The remark strikingly illustrates a peculiar excellence of the Doctors intellect. He could not rest on the surface of a subject, even if he had wished it. It was his nature to search to the very bottom, at whatever cost of labour - to pursue some obscure fact through a hundred different authorities, until he had at length fixed it down befire him as one of the unimpeachable certainties of history. The privileged friends whom he at times received in his study used to be utterly appalled by the huge masses of books and manuscripts which always lay piled up before him for constant reference; and so severely and conscientiously was his judgment exercised in every instance, that on not so much as one of his statements have even his abler antagonists succeeded in casting a shadow of doubt. Robertson was much his inferior in research. Hume, whose defects in patient investigation are now pretty generally known, was immeasurably so. In tracing the history of opinion and doctrine, where of necessity the evidence must be more shadowy and intangible than in whatever relates to conduct or action, the degree of certainty at which he invariably succeeded in arriving was truly wonderful The whole bearing of bygone controversies, - their after effects on doctrine and belief - the degree in which they had led the parties they had divided to modify, retract, restate, - the influence on society of particular minds and peculiar modes of thought,- all seemed to open before him as he advanced, alone and unassisted, on his solitary and laborious course.
His style and manner fitted him no less for his task than his unwearied perseverance. To employ one of Johnsons figures, the heat of his genius sublimed his learning. It is related by Gibbon, that after he had formedhis determination of devoting himself to literature, he perused the then recently published histories of Robertson and Hume. The measured and stately periods of Robertson delighted him; and yet he could hope, that with much pains and great study he might at length succeed in writing such a style. But he read Hume and despaired. Art might enable him to rival the exquisite art of the one, but art could not enable him to equal the still more exquisite nature of the other. Hume is one of the most readable of historians: he is invariably unaffected, invariably clear. Robertson palls: we admire his pages, but his volumes tire. Now, Dr MCrie in this respect resembles Hume. His pages are not so elegant as those of Robertson, but they are more attractive, and the reader turns over more of them at a sitting. We merely peruse the history of Scotland ; - we devour the biography of Knox. The number of editions which have appeared within the last few months, since the copyright has expired, evinces the degree of popularity which the latter work is destined to enjoy in the future. The last we saw formed a two-shilling volume; its price and appearance showed that it was intended for the common people; and we paid our respects to it, at once recognising in it a formidable opponent of the Earl of Dalhousies arguments, the Court of Sessions encroachments, and the Earl of Aberdeens bill
We refer, ere we close our remarks, to but one other trait in the literary character of Dr MCrie. There is an occasional quaintness in some of his finer passages, that, to men deeply read in the theology of the Churchs better days, constitutes an additional charm. His eloquence is that of the divines of the Commonwealth, rendered classical through native taste and the study of the better models. We submit, as an example, the following exquisite passage : - " Who would be a slave! is the exclamation of those who are themselves free, and sometimes of those who, provided they enjoy freedom themselves, care not though the whole world were in bondage. But there is a sentiment still more noble than that. Who would be a slave-dealer, a patron, an advocate for slavery? To be a slave has been the hard, but not dishonourable, lot of many a good man and noble spirit. But to be a tyrant, - that is disgrace! To trample on the rights of his fellow-creature, - to treat him, whether it be with cruelty or kindness, as a dog, - to hold him, in chains, when he has perpetrated or threatens no violence, - to carry him with a rope about his neck, not to the scaffold, but to the market, - to sell him whom God made after his own image, and whom Christ redeemed, not with corruptible things, as silver and gold, and, by the act of transference, to tear him from his own bowels, - that is disgraceful! I protest before you, that I would a thousand times rather have my brow branded with the name of Slave, than have written on the palm of my hand or the sole of my foot the initial letter of the word Tyrant!"
June 27, 1840.
Back to Menu
Home | Links | Hall |