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But events have since transpired England was more capable of comprehending than ought connected with Scottish ecclesiastical controversy, that have left an impression respecting the general character of these statesmen, not materially different from the opinion Hugh Miller has expressed in his trenchant criticism. In the attitude of Aberdeen, on the eve of the Russian war, men discovered the same nervous gentleman of the “Ten Years' Conflict,” with coat-tails tucked up, and seemingly ready to take the desperate plunge; but somehow much to the chagrin of the spectators, just at the moment they expected the thing done, and the ditch cleared, the earl's courage, like the courage of Bob Acres, “oozed out at the finger-ends."
A second-rate diplomatist inveterately wedded to the tactics of his profession, but destitute of the intellectual sagacity that enables diplomatists of the first order almost intuitively to discover when their craft can no longer avail; in a season of calm weather, such a state pilot may not be very unsafe, though even then likely to be perpetually overreached in countless small matters; but the utter feebleness of such a guide only comes fully out in a period of internal or external tempest. This want of perspicacity it was, that in both the critical and stormy epochs alluded to, wrecked Aberdeen's reputation as a statesman. Sir Robert Peel had, perhaps, as little native capacity for comprehending the operative power of an abstract principle. But the hour struck when the abstract principle must, for the safety of the state, assume a concrete form, and be incorporated with the British constitution : no statesman was so ready to bow to the inexorable necessity. It was unfortunate for the Church of Scotland that when Sir Robert Peel was premier of England, the laird of Haddo House held a chief seat in the cabinet. Had the son of the Lanca. shire cotton-spinner bent his eminently practical understanding to the comprehension of the ecclesiastical polity of the evangelical party in Scotland, he might not indeed have fully mastered the principles it maintained, but he would have better appreciated the exigencies of its position than the Scottish lord. Eminent statesmen have, we know, sketched the character of Aberdeen in more flattering colours than it has been painted in the columns of the Witness. Guizot has described him as a man of “unfettered, yet judicious mind, as just as delicate, always ready to understand and admit the changes of time, the motives and merits of men.” But it must be remembered as some abatement of this very favourable portrait, that in Tahiti, in Morocco, and in Spain, Lord Aberdeen had quietly acquiesced in the dominance of French over English policy. It would, therefore, have been in the last degree ungraceful had the great doctrinaire failed to pay a fitting tribute to that readiness "to understand, and admit the motives and merits of men,” which so often and so signally served his interests when first minister of the Citizer: King.
In point of fact, remembering the antecedents of Byron's "travelled thane, Athenian Aberdeen," had Hugh Miller sat down to write a historical sketch rather than to pen a stinging article, he could scarcely have drawn the portrait in other colours. George Hamilton Gordon belongs to that tribe of mediocrities, who, on the death of Pitt, parted the mantle of the heaven-born minister” amongst themselves, and down to the period of the Reform Bill misgoverned England. For the genuine power of that great, if erring, statesman, his pseudosuccessors had substituted the basest prejudices and passions of the times. Their policy was a pandering to popular ignorance ; exclusion was the principle of their political constitution, and restriction the genius of their commercial system.
Reasons of state induced them to cast their blandishments upon the Scottish Church, especially upon the evangelical section of that Church; and in an evil hour did the evangelicals give to it their political allegiance, flattered by being esteemed a bulwark of British institutions. When the manly heart of Chalmers at length discovered that it was a tool, not an ally, the State sought in the Church, we can easily understand the utter revulsion of soul with which he recoiled from contact with so much gartered and coroneted meanness, found where he had expected to find only the soul of chivalry. The Earl of Aberdeen did, indeed, affect to have been made the victim of misrepresentation by Dr. Chalmers, and most solemnly asserted he had acted throughout in the most perfect good faith. But Chalmers and his coadjutors were in no mood to accept fair words as an atonement for foul acts. They knew what he had done; what his intentions might originally have been they could not so well compute; and to all assurances of purity of aim and rectitude of purpose, were disposed to reply much after the manner Mary Stewart once addressed a time-serving friend. Lords Ruthven and Lindsay, in conjunction with Lord Melville, had borne to the queen a somewhat unwelcome message. Melville turned, as they retired, to assure her Majesty that his loyalty and truth were still unchanged. “Tush! Melville, tush !” said Mary, “what signifies the truth that walks hand in hand with mine enemy-falsehood ?
THE “Ten Years' Conflict” had now brought the leaders of the evangelical party in the Scottish Church face to face with the Disruption. The first five years had been years of effort; the latter, years of negotiation. All had been done human ingenuity could do, short of dereliction of highest duty, to turn aside the blow about to be dealt to the religious interests of Scotland. In vain had Chalmers elaborately demonstrated to the great ones of the earth, that the principles he had given his imprimatur had really nothing in common with the vulgar radicalism of the day. With a few honourable exceptions, the aristocracy of Scotland continued impervious to every appeal on behalf of the independence of the Scottish Church, and the foe, though vanquished in the field of reason, took refuge in the strong tower of self-interest, whence he looked forth in laughter at the shaking of the spear.
"By their fruits ye shall know them,” is the test the highest authority has left us for the trial of men and of