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during the great political struggles through which the nation had then but recently passed, been found ranged on the side of toryism. Suspected of sinister aims by their political antagonists, they naturally enough expected some assistance from their political friends; but, despite the utmost finesse and management by certain ecclesiastics noted for their diplomatic adroitness, political toryism recoiled from even seeming to support a cause which it deemed the cause of spiritual republicanism.
The non-intrusion leaders were thus left to seek their allies
among those devout men, of all shades of political opinions, in whom religious earnestness rose superior to all political considerations. It is not wonderful that the anomalous position in which they found themselves towards both sections of the great parties in the state, induced them to consider the propriety of establishing a journal devoted to the advocacy of those principles the evangelical party in the Scottish Church were known to represent. To start a party organ was a comparatively easy matter. The peculiar difficulty was to find an editor, able to make such an organ respected. Hugh Miller's pamphlets at once proved his passport to the office. No sooner had Dr. Candlish read the first of those rare tractates, than with characteristic promptitude and acuteness he exclaimed, “Here is an editor for our Witness."
A letter was despatched to Cromarty inviting the bank clerk to meet the leading non-intrusionists in Edinburgh. In obedience to the invitation, Hugh Miller repaired to the Scottish capital, met the men so soon to be the heroes of the Disruption, in the manse of Liberton, (the Rev. Dr. Begg's,) accepted the editorship of their projected organ, arranged to enter upon his duties, and, returning to Cromarty, terminated his engagement with the Commercial Bank.
on the 15th January, 1840, that the first number of the Witness newspaper appeared. At the call of duty, not the mere whim of either taste or temperament, its editor flung himself into the stormy ecclesiastical controversy then raging in Scotland. It had been his ambition to leave the world a something it would not willingly let die. He knew well how much of newspaper-writing must necessarily be of comparatively temporary interest, and above all, he knew how ephemeral and short-lived papers on ecclesiastical controversy, however well written, invariably prove. Such work was felt by Hugh Miller, as John Milton felt the controversies of the evil times on which he had fallen, to be a kind of writing to which he brought, as the poet expresses it, “at best only his left hand.” And yet such had been his peculiar training, and his peculiar reading, that it may be questioned, even laying the matter of genius out of consideration, and looking at Hugh Miller merely as an accomplished litterateur, if another man could have been found in all Scotland so well fitted for the task for which he had now girt himself.
The moderate section of the Scottish Church had somehow, up to a very recent period, embraced within its pale all—at least almost all—the literary talent of the Church. The representatives of evangelical truth, though unspeakably more powerful as preachers than any men the moderate party could show, were utterly unable to cope in the field of general literature with the Robertsons, the Blairs, the Homes, and the Logans on the Erastian side of the Scottish Establishment. Not until Thomson and Chalmers rose, did that reputation for comparative illiteracy, which had become inseparably associated with the idea of an evangelical Scottish minister, begin to break up and pass away. As the mists of morning are lost in the rays of the rising sun, so this unfortunate misconception, to which accident had given a colouring of probability, disappeared in the blaze of the blended literary and scientific glory which the Astronomical Discourses of Chalmers shed over evangelical truth. Henceforth it was felt that not alone the genuine piety, but the genuine ability and genius of the Church, would gravitate rather to the doctrines of the modern “Marrow-men” than to the clay-clad creed of men who had transformed the Scottish Church from a genuine Christian institute into a mere State machine. Still, notwithstanding this conviction, shared by all the earnest men of the Establishment—a conviction which the events of the Disruption proved to be well-grounded--the representatives of that old party mustered strong in the Church; some of them possessing genuine ability, of a peculiar order it is true, but yet not to be despised or under-estimated. The literary man on the evangelical side, who should combat this party successfully, must needs be a man who understood it thoroughly, possessing an intimate acquaintance with its history, its traditions, and its literature. In all these respects Hugh Miller was amply endowed for the work he was called to perform. Perfectly acquainted with not the acts alone, but also the aims of the founders of the Scottish Church-having a most accurate conception of the ground-plan, so to speak, of the Scottish Reformation-able to put his finger at once upon all those points which indicated how widely the moderates had deflected from the ecclesiastical polity of Knox and Melville--at home in their favourite literature-knowing its excellencies no less than its defects-he entered upon his duties, a workman needing not to be ashamed, and descended into the arena of ecclesiastical conflict, armed at all points, so far as the discussion of principles was concerned.
Without being justly chargeable with any undue proneness to moralizing, we cannot contemplate Hugh Miller in the position he was now called to occupy, without feeling how peculiar are the leadings of Providence. He who in early life felt no call to become a ininister of the church, in the maturity of his powers voluntarily assumes the onerous position of defender of that church's most sacred spiritual privileges. And, though certain histories of the Ten Years' Conflict are