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had renounced the establishment-principle might be disposed to make, in their general estimate of Hugh Miller's acceptability as the editor of an ecclesiastical journal, arose out of tendencies and opinions which qualified him only all the more completely for the task he had assumed. A brief glance at the nature of that task, and at the circumstances in which it was entered upon, will enable us to form something like an adequate conception at once of the very critical position Hugh Miller was called to occupy, and the very great services he rendered to a cause with which his name must henceforth forever remain so indissolubly associated. The first difficulty the Witness had to contend with, was the fact that, originated by a clerical concluve, it might not unnaturally be assumed to be a merely clerical organ. Scotchmen have ever cherished a jealous dread of ecclesiastical influence upon journalism. Nor have those portions of the press that have fallen under its control been at all calculated to dissipate that dislike, or lay their vigilance asleep. Abhorred for its truculence and mendacity, or pitied for its inanity and senility, the religious newspaper has been by turns detested or despised; but respected-never. We believe we shall not be contradicted in asserting, that the Witness is the only journal, avowedly originated to represent an ecclesiastical party, that has courageously kept itself aloof from the sin that so easily besets all ecclesiastical organs. It is no secret, that the maintenance of this independent position cost its original editor much sacrifice of feeling. He had undertaken the duties and the responsibility which his onerous position imposed, from deeply conscientious motives. He was ready to do battle with all comers in behalf of those principles upon which he believed the historic and national Church of the country based, and the herculean efforts made in their defence in the earlier
years of the existence of the Witness, prove, beyond all controversy, his devotion to the principles of the Free Church. But when the battle was hottest, Hugh Miller was a loyal combatant, not a free lance; and no man could more promptly resent dictation and interference, even when that dictation and that interference came from those he otherwise honoured. When a certain eminent ecclesiastic proposed to secure uniformity in the utterances of Free Church journalism, by appointing something like a censorship over the editorial columns of the newspapers supposed to be in its interest; careless how others might think, feel, or act in the matter; with the spirit of a man zealous to uphold the independence of the profession he had chosen, Mr. Miller resented the attempted dictation, although in resenting he forfeited for a time the good opinion of those hitherto most highly esteemed. It was, no doubt, painful to break with some who had first pointed him out as fit to fill the editorial chair ; but with a conscientious man all things cease to be painful, when supported by the consciousness that he has discharged his duty.
Such, then, were the powers, the tastes, and the temper of the man the non-intrusion leaders selected to popularise their movement among the people of Scotland. Hitherto, despite their utmost efforts to dislodge from the popular mind all suspicion of sinister aims, they continued to be everywhere looked upon with the greatest distrust. Their zeal for the people's rights, it was feared, only veiled the intrigues of priestly ambition. Never before had a nation been so disposed to accept as accurate Milton's aphorism,—"New presbyter is old priest writ large.” What the state of feeling among the community generally was, even after seven years' agitation, down to almost the very hour the Witness took the field, may be gathered from the following passage in a private note, addressed by Hugh Miller to Mr. Paul, Edinburgh, in 1839, when forwarding to him from Cromarty the manuscript of his letter to Lord Brougham :-"The question which at present agitates the country is a vital one, and unless the people can be roused to take part in it (and they seem wofully indifferent as yet) the worst nust inevi.
tably prevail.” That was a modest, and, as the sequel has shown, a not ill-grounded hope, to which in the same letter the writer ventured to give expression in these words—“The people may perhaps listen to one of their own body who combines the principles of the old with the opinions of the modern Whig; and who, though he feels strongly upon the question, has no secular interest involved in it.” Mainly to the establishment of the Witness may be attributed the rapid awakening of the people of Scotland to the real import of the non-intrusion controversy, by which the years 1840 and 1841 were
were so peculiarly distinguished. Even so late as 1839, Dr. George Cook could state, without fear of contradiction, that he could scarce enter an inn or a stage-coach, without finding respectable men inveighing against the utter folly of the non-intrusionists, and the worse than madness of the Church courts.
Nor are the concurrent testimonies of a sanguine non-intrusionist and a veteran moderate the only sources from which we are left to form our opinion of the true state of public sentiment at this critical juncture. The Veto act was passed in 1834. The decision of the House of Lords in the Auchterarder case was given in 1839. During all the intervening years, petitions in favour of the independence of the Church had been presented to Parliament; but the paucity of the signatures obtained had been most marked. Even in the metropolis of Scotland, the chosen home of the nonintrusion leaders, the scene of the labours of Chalmers
and Welsh, Gordon and Cunningham, Candlish and Begg, not more than from 4000 to 5000 was the average number of signatures these petitions received. The appeals of an eloquence such as had not been heard in the assemblies of the Scottish Church since the days of Knox and Henderson, so far from setting the soul of the nation on fire, had proved but as water spilt upon the ground. To their dubious antecedents did these orators owe the scepticism with which their efforts on behalf of spiritual independence were almost everywhere received. People had a difficulty in believing men the sincere friends of sacred liberty, who so very recently were such indifferent friends to civil freedom. It was peculiarly fortunate for this party, that the editor of the Witness was above suspicion ; no souvenirs of a sinister career were associated with his name, or beclouded his character. His antecedents were hostages for his perfect independence. The result of his labours in dispelling the distrust with which nonintrusion principles had been hitherto viewed, was apparent in the fact, that in 1840, the first year of the existence of the Witness, the petition sent from Edinburgh to Parliament, in their behalf, contained some 13,000 signatures, being more than double the number a kindred petition had obtained in the previous year. Already had the Witness disabused a large section of the public of the fatal suspicion that it was for clerical power, not popular rights, the non-intrusion leaders so earnestly contended.