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Full text of "The life of William Robertson Smith"

3 1822019626043 




UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA SAN DIEGO 



3 1822019626043 



Social Sciences & Humanities Library 

University of California, San Diego 

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19.96 , 



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CALIFORNIA 
SAN DIEGO 



Uniform with tkis Volume. 
LECTURES AND ESSAYS 

OF 

WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH 

EDITED BY JOHN SUTHERLAND BLACK 
AND GEORGE CHRVSTAL 



AGENTS 

AMERICA . THE MACMILLAN COMPANY 

64 & 66 FIFTH AVENUE, NEW YORK 

AUSTRALASIA THE OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS 

205 FLINDERS LANE, MELBOURNE 

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MACMILLAN BUILDING, BOMBAY 

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in 



* jv 







THE LIFE OF 

WILLIAM 
ROBERTSON SMITH 



BY 

JOHN SUTHERLAND BLACK 

AND 

GEORGE CHRYSTAL 



mrr 



LONDON 
ADAM AND CHARLES BLACK 

MCMX1I 



PREFACE 

THE preparation of the following work was undertaken 
shortly after Professor Smith's lamented death in 1894, 
but had to be postponed to the execution of another 
literary design planned during his lifetime and carried 
on in pursuance of his wishes and as a continuation of his 
life's work. The authors regret that owing to this cir- 
cumstance the appearance of the book has been retarded, 
and that it has been further kept back in its later stages 
owing to defect of health and leisure. 

They hope, however, that the delay will not be alto- 
gether without compensations. The Robertson Smith 
case is now passing into history, and it is more possible 
than it would have been some years ago to write of it in 
the historic spirit. Moreover, now that so many of the 
chief disputants have disappeared, the authors have been 
less embarrassed by the fear of wounding susceptibilities 
justly entitled to respect, and have been able to treat 
every aspect of the great controversy fully and frankly. 
Professor Smith's struggle for the freedom of scholarship 
in the Free Church of Scotland is in their opinion an 
episode in the history of their country of abiding interest 
and importance which must be studied by all who wish to 
understand either the Scotland of 1843 or the Scotland 
of 1912. It has been their object, while giving a life-like 
picture of their friend, to present for the first time a 
complete view of the development and the consequences 
of the Aberdeen heresy in its relation not only to con- 



vi WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH 

temporary religious thought in Scotland, but to the learned 
world at large. 

In addition to the papers kindly placed at their dis- 
posal by Professor Smith's family and by his friends the 
authors have had before them the voluminous litera- 
ture of newspaper articles, official reports, controversial 
pamphlets, and other fugitive pieces to which Smith's 
somewhat stormy career gave rise. They have spared 
neither time nor pains in the study of these documents, 
and they hope that they have neglected nothing of any 
interest or importance. 

To the many friends who have helped them by the 
communication of documents, by criticism and suggestion, 
the authors wish here to make general and cordial 
acknowledgments. They have endeavoured in the 
following pages to indicate more particularly the names 
of those to whom they are under the most conspicuous 
obligations. It only remains for them to express their 
indebtedness to Mr. Stanley A. Cook, Lecturer in Com- 
parative Religion, Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, 
one of Professor Smith's younger pupils, to whose kind 
assistance the index to this volume is due. 

The authors have to thank Sir George Reid, R.S.A., 
for permission to reproduce unpublished sketches of 
Professor Smith, and they are indebted to the Master 
and Fellows of Christ's College, Cambridge, for their 
kindness in facilitating the reproduction of the portrait 
which forms the frontispiece to this volume. They 
have also to thank Mr. F. M. Chrystal and others for 
their help in preparing and providing photographs. 

J. S. B. 
G. W. CH. 

20th April 1912. 



CONTENTS 

CHAP. PAGE 

I. EARLY YEARS (1846-1861) . . . i 

II. AT THE UNIVERSITY (1861-1866) . . 32 

III. THE NEW COLLEGE (1866-1870) 64 

IV. THE HEBREW CHAIR (1870-1875) . . . 123 

V. THE ARTICLE " BIBLE " AND THE COLLEGE COM- 
MITTEE (1875-1877) ... 179 

VI. THE FIRST LIBEL (1877-1878) . . . -235 

VII. THE AMENDED LIBEL (1878-1879) . . . 286 

VIII. THE SHORT LIBEL (1879-1880) . . -325 

IX. THE SECOND CASE (JUNE-OCTOBER 1880) . . 361 

X. THE SECOND CASE, CONTINUED (1880-1881) . . 404 

XI. EDINBURGH AND CAMBRIDGE (1881-1886) . . 452 

XII. THE UNIVERSITY LIBRARY (1886-1889) . . 485 

XIII. LAST YEARS (1889-1894) . . . 511 

XIV. CONCLUSION . . 5^7 
APPENDICES : 

A. Draft Letter by Principal Rainy . -579 

B. Draft Form of Libel .... 582 

C. Amended Libel . . . 600 

D. Short Libel ... . 605 

E. Documents in Second Case . 608 

BIBLIOGRAPHY . . . . . .617 

INDEX .... . 629 
vii 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 

FACING PAGE 

Professor William Robertson Smith (187 7), from a Painting 
by Sir George Reid, R.S.A., at Christ's College, Cam- 
bridge ...... Frontispiece 

New Farm, Keig ....... i 

The Rev. William Pirie Smith, D.D. (1875) 16 

Mrs. Smith, Mother of William Robertson Smith . . 33 

Keig Free Church and Manse ..... 48 

William Robertson Smith in 1870 . . . 113 

Professor William Robertson Smith (about 1874) . . 128 

William Robertson Smith (1876) . . . . 145 

An Impression of Travel (1876) .... 160 

" Paris Missals, Black-letter Bonaventuras, Baskervilles, and 

so forth " . . . . . .176 

Facsimile of a Cancelled Draft of Opening Paragraphs of 

article " Bible " ..... 178-179 

Abdullah Effendi (1880) 336 

Caricature of Professor Smith during the Progress of the Case 433 

Professor Smith's Rooms, Fellows' Buildings, Christ's College, 

Cambridge ....... 448 

Professor Smith in his Rooms ..... 497 
Professor William Robertson Smith (May 1890) . .512 

Professor William Robertson Smith (about 1891) . . 545 

Professor William Robertson Smith (1893) . . . 560 

ix 




NEW FARM, KEIG (page 10). 
From a Photograph by F. M. Chrystal, Esq. 



CHAPTER I 

EARLY YEARS (1846-1861) 

THE political destinies of Scotland were finally settled in 
the middle of the eighteenth century, but her history as 
a nation did not end with the close of the adventure of 
the Young Pretender. Since the Battle of Culloden it 
has been of course, in the main, a history of ideas, but 
it has had its dramatic moments, and it has lost none 
of its interest for the philosopher and, above all, for the 
student of religions. As the. nineteenth century advanced 
the whole intellect and passion of the people became 
concentrated on a somewhat narrow issue of theological 
controversy, which circumstances had made the rallying- 
point of two profoundly opposed psychological and 
political tendencies, and, in the conflict which ensued, 
the great schism which sixty-nine years ago rent the 
National Church asunder, was the climax and the turning- 
point. The life of William Robertson Smith began three 
years later and covered practically the first fifty years of 
the existence of the Free Protesting Church. The story 
of the intellectual generation to which he belongs begins 
logically, and almost chronologically, in 1843. 

The Disruption of the Church of Scotland was, as is 
well known, the outcome of a protracted quarrel with the 
State on points which were apparently of little more than 
local interest, but which collectively raised in an acute 
form the difficult question of the proper limits of the 



2 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1846- 

secular and the religious authority. Abstraction being, 
however, made of the particular incidents which em- 
bittered the last ten years of the undivided Church of 
Scotland, it will be found that the true cause of the 
struggle was the rise and gradual predominance of an 
evangelical system of Theology among the Scottish 
clergy and their congregations. The qualities of 
enthusiasm and unworldliness which are proper to this 
manner of thinking favoured its rapid progress in a 
democratic constituency, and at the same time created a 
formidable antagonism with the spirit of the constituted 
authorities of the period both in Church and State. The 
evangelical movement in Scotland attained its full growth 
before either the civil or the ecclesiastical institutions of 
the country had time to adjust themselves to the rising 
pressure of the spiritual situation. Popular excitement, 
aroused by the inopportune interventions of the secular 
arm, made what might have remained a doctrinal contro- 
versy into a case of conscience of universal interest ; the 
intransigent party seized the opportunity with the 
utmost skill, and the result was, humanly speaking, a 
catastrophe. 

That there are other ways of regarding the Disruption 
is now abundantly clear to any unprejudiced person, 
whatever may be his private opinion of the contending 
principles involved. It was natural and indeed inevitable 
that there should be an evangelical reaction in Scotland 
in the early years of the nineteenth century. The 
national weakness for the Rationalism which reduces 
everything to its lowest terms had been indulged to excess 
by an educated minority. All the intellect of the people, 
which was not devoted to building up the national 
prosperity after the distractions of the Forty-five, follow- 
ing the eclipse caused by such dismal adventures as the 
Darien speculation, was embarked in the cultivation of 
common-sense metaphysics and a morality which for 
simple people seemed to have nothing to do with men of 



i86i] EARLY YEARS 3 

like passions with themselves. Even in her greatest men 
Scotland could find little human consolation. The placid 
grandeur of David Hume's intellect was already the 
wonder of the world, but it was already also regarded with 
suspicion and resentment by those who kept the faith of 
their ancestors. Adam Smith had put all but the finishing 
touches to the " economic man " ; but he, as we know, 
has proved hardly capable of satisfying the soul hunger 
even of a more sophisticated and less passionate 
generation. Influenced by such intellectual traditions, the 
apologetic of a cultured Christianity necessarily became 
temporising and defensive ; Deistic Philosophy leaked 
into the Scottish pulpit, which had attained a genteel 
perfection and a damaging kind of celebrity in the sermons 
of Dr. Blair, and there arose a generation of Scottish 
clergymen who preached coldly florid sermons in the 
metropolitan churches, who at their average were perhaps 
a trifle undistinguished and a trifle unspiritual, and who 
at their best recalled the literary graces of the author 
of Douglas, a Tragedy, or the virile urbanity of Jupiter 
Carlyle. It was one of the most effective taunts of their 
critics that the name of Moderates, by which they were 
afterwards held up to the obloquy of the faithful, was 
chosen and assumed by themselves. Moderation is not a 
word of power in dealing with a situation in which 
material misery intensifies a condition of spiritual unrest ; 
and the Moderate majorities which dominated the General 
Assembly until 1834, discouraging Foreign Missions and 
opposing the movement for Church Extension among the 
poorer classes in the large towns, seem to have fallen into 
that inertia which is the besetting sin of all organisations 
dependent on democratic opinion and yet unprovided 
with a formula sufficiently uncompromising for unsophisti- 
cated minds. 

Intellectually and theologically speaking, the Moderates 
were doubtless in a certain sense the liberal party in the 
Church, representing a sort of official modernism, which 



4 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1846- 

would nowadays be highly effective among those who 
are known as " progressive theologians." " It is now 
known," says one of their more recent critics, with an 
air of silencing any possible defence, " that they would 
have got rid of the Confession of Faith if they had dared " 
words which, in view of the events which this book will 
record, and of the movements agitating almost every 
Christian Church to-day, have a flavour almost of tragic 
irony. But whatever is the theological perspective in 
which the Moderate creed may most justly be viewed, 
there can be little doubt that its exponents fell short of 
what had come to be the ideal of pastoral efficiency 
cherished by most of their congregations. The hungry 
sheep looked up and were not fed. 

The evangelical revival, on the other hand, which took 
so firm a hold on the affections of Scotland, presented 
no doctrinal features of any unfamiliar interest. It was 
professedly a return to the strict Calvinistic orthodoxy of 
the Westminster Confession, and aimed not at abandoning, 
or even modifying, but at more faithfully maintaining 
the traditional standards of the Church. It was on the 
whole free from the hysterical and orgiastic phenomena 
which distinguished the earlier Methodist movement in 
England. Extravagant and ill-balanced as some of its 
utterances might sound in the ears of a philosopher, there 
was in the Disruption oratory very little of the sheer 
histrionic abandonment which attracted to the discourses 
of Whitefield such incongruous hearers as Lord Chester- 
field and David Hume. The great men who led the 
Church out into the wilderness were above all things men 
possessed of practical wisdom and an aptitude for affairs. 
Candlish, Cunningham, Guthrie, Duff, and a host of 
others, all brought some special gift of statesmanship 
to bear on the difficult problems which perplexed the 
beginnings of the Free Church, and in the greatest of 
them all, Dr. Chalmers, the dreamy-eyed financier of the 
Sustentation Fund, Scotland at last found the leader for 



i86i] EARLY YEARS 5 

whom she had been longing, who embodied that combina- 
tion of spiritual intensity with a capacity for the despatch 
of business whereby a great thing might be accomplished. 
When the ten years' conflict was over and the solemn 
transactions accompanying the Act of Disruption had 
been carried through, the resulting situation was faced 
with a courage even more meritorious than that which 
had resented the intrusion at Marnoch or fought the 
battle of the interdicts in Strathbogie. It now fell 
to the combatants to maintain in cold blood, and with 
improvised resources, the defiance which they had hurled 
against their antagonists in the heat of controversy, and 
their conduct in the difficult times which followed was, 
in the vast majority of cases, beyond all praise. When 
Lord Jeffrey was informed of the number and the bearing 
of those who left the General Assembly for the Hall at 
Canonmills, he is said to have exclaimed that he was 
proud of his country. That was an emotion which he 
doubtless shared not only with those who were in general 
sympathy with the views held by the seceders, but with 
all the comparatively small number of persons who were 
able to approach the subject with an unbiased mind. 
At a slightly later date Lord Jeffrey might justly have 
repeated his commendation with even greater emphasis. 
The numbers, not only of the protesting ministers but of 
the congregations who adhered to them, were very greatly 
in excess of every estimate. The endurance of the 
clergymen who left their manses with their families, 
and suffered extreme, and sometimes fatal, privations 
in miserable lodgings, the hardships of the people who 
assembled in the snow to worship in places where no site 
could be obtained for a Free Church, the unprecedented 
generosity of the brethren, who in a few years provided 
the financial basis for an ecclesiastical efficiency hitherto 
undreamed of in Scotland, all this has been chronicled 
elsewhere and by eminent hands. What is more particu- 
larly of interest to the present history is the self-sacrifice 



6 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1846- 

of those who forsook established positions and fair worldly 
prospects in order to dedicate themselves to the service 
of the Church in supplying religious ministrations to her 
suffering flock. At a time when the whole machinery of 
the Establishment was dislocated by the Disruption and 
between four and five hundred parishes were vacant owing 
to the secession, the young licentiates or probationers 
who abode by the old Church, and many of the village 
schoolmasters, who were in the Scottish phrase " stickit 
ministers," might reasonably look for rapid and substantial 
ecclesiastical promotion. It is greatly to their credit 
that, impelled by conscience, or inspired by the example 
of the evangelical leaders, they joined the Free Church in 
a great majority, and indeed almost in a body. The 
panegyrists of the Disruption do not find even in the 
unanimous adherence of the Missionaries a more legitimate 
occasion of satisfaction than in the conduct of these men 
in the critical beginnings of the Free Church. In most 
cases they knew well, from early experience, what material 
hardship means, and they set out to face the world again 
in a spirit of anything but light-hearted adventure. Sir 
William Robertson Nicoll, in his admirable study, has 
described very vividly the almost incredible labour and 
penury of his father's academic days how he attained a 
position as a parish schoolmaster unusually comfortable 
and congenial, and how, when the Church was divided 
against itself, his only fear was that he might not be called 
upon to testify to the opinions which he held without 
fanaticism by resigning all his advantages. 

The case of William Pirie Smith was similar, but it 
was even more striking than that of his co-presbyter, 
the venerable bibliophile of Sir William Nicoll's sketch. 
Born in Aberdeen during the days of the Moderate 
ascendancy, Mr. Pirie Smith pursued learning with an 
ardour which throve despite the almost insurmountable 
obstacles which it encountered, and laid the foundations 
of an accurate and extensive classical scholarship on scraps 



i86i] EARLY YEARS 7 

of Latin picked up from an acquaintance who was a 
Grammar School boy. His next step was to enter the 
University, which he attained by the exercise of his very 
considerable natural ability, and by the aid of the excel- 
lent system of bursaries or small scholarships, awarded 
annually at Aberdeen, as the result of open competition 
among all comers. His career as a student was dis- 
tinguished by a success consistent with so honourable a 
beginning. " My father," said one of his sons in later 
years, with pardonable filial exaggeration, " never took 
a second prize at the University. They were all first 
prizes." Whatever may have been the exact truth about 
his academic distinctions, it is certain that he left the 
University marked out among his contemporaries as of 
high eminence in general scholarship. He did not at 
first seek to enter the Church, though that had been an 
early ambition. His special bent was towards education ; 
he was by nature a scholar, and both the verdict of those 
who knew him and the plain facts of his after life, make it 
clear that he was one of those rare persons who are born 
with the gift for instructing and inspiring others. His 
success as a teacher was rapid, and at the time of the 
Disruption, when he was thirty-two years of age, he was 
the headmaster of a prosperous Aberdeen school, with the 
assured prospect of a competency and the chance of 
higher academic promotion. 

His walk in life seemed fixed, the more so as he had 
married the daughter of his predecessor in the head- 
mastership, an accomplished woman with tastes and 
abilities akin to his own ; and the responsibilities of 
family life and the attractions of his situation combined 
to make a change in his calling both undesirable and 
imprudent. Mr. Smith had, however, embraced with 
whole-hearted enthusiasm the evangelical side in the 
great controversy, and in spite of everything, and 
perhaps in spite of himself, he was swept into the 
conflict. 



8 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1846- 

The situation in Aberdeenshire was, as it happened, 
particularly difficult for those of Mr. Smith's way of 
thinking. Parties were fairly evenly balanced in the 
town, but in the country a kind of apathetic agricultural 
Moderatism tended to prevail. There was a formidable 
leaven of esprits forts who held Free Church principles in 
conjunction with a God-fearing, self-respecting Radicalism, 
after the fashion of Johnny Gibb of Gushetneuk in the 
parish of PyketiUim, that imaginary apostle of Evangelical 
Liberalism. These, however, were in most places quite a 
small minority, whose spiritual welfare depended on a 
supply of devoted workers willing to serve in a toilsome 
corner of the vineyard, even, as it were, in partibus 
infidelium. 

This state of matters, and the characteristic courage 
shown by the Free Church leaders in dealing with it, was 
strikingly exemplified in the district containing the Vale 
of Alford, a triangular depression traversed by the Don, 
and barred at its eastward base by Cairnwilliam and 
Bennachie, two stately granite hills between which the 
river escapes midway in its course from the Cairngorms 
to the sea. Here the parish ministers unanimously stood 
by the Establishment, and among the schoolmasters Mr. 
Nicoll alone came out. To him naturally fell the charge 
of the Free Church flock in his native parish of Auchendoir, 
where he had been teaching since he left the University, 
and where he spent the remainder of his long life, among 
the fabulous accumulations of his books. Only one other 
minister with a fixed cure of souls could at first be 
established in the neighbourhood ; yet with these two men 
as a nucleus, and with a slight backing of elders, the 
Disruption Assembly did not hesitate to erect a Church 
Court in the very stronghold of its opponents, and before 
the end of 1843 an independent Free Presbytery of Alford 
was in working order. 

This microscopic Presbytery, as its minutes show, at 
once turned to the task of organising the supply of 



1861] EARLY YEARS 9 

Free Church ordinances under grave difficulties. There 
was much argument with refractory landed proprietors, 
who in that neighbourhood were almost all hostile to the 
evangelical movement, and refused more or less obdurately 
to grant sites for new churches and manses, pretending, 
with some show of reason from a secular point of view, 
that there were quite enough already. There are records, 
also, of devoted efforts on the part of Mr. Nicoll and his 
colleagues, aided by missionaries and ministers from other 
districts, to cover the huge deficiency in the pastorate, 
and of constant efforts to arrange for the permanent settle- 
ment of new ministers representing the principles of the 
Great Secession. 

There is nothing to show exactly how it came about 
that the Free Church congregation in the united parishes 
of Keig and Tough, in the exercise of the democratic 
privilege of choice vindicated for them by the Disruption, 
called Mr. Pirie Smith to be their minister in July 1845. 
All that appears is that, after some delay due to the 
difficult circumstances of the time, the call was duly 
"moderated," and Mr. Smith was ordained on November 5 
of that year, leaving behind him for ever the educational 
career which had already prospered so well with him in 
Aberdeen. Shortly afterwards he removed to Keig with his 
wife and eldest child, a daughter then a few months old. 

The district in which Mr. Smith was destined to spend 
the thirty-five years of his active career in the ministry 
is an area of about twenty square miles, situated at the 
extreme eastern end of the Vale of Alford and extend- 
ing up the slopes of the hills to which reference has 
already been made. The population, which in those days 
amounted to considerably less than 2000 souls, is scattered 
over the face of the country, less than one half of which 
is under cultivation, and hardly in any place is there any 
concentration of houses sufficient to be called a village. 

Hard work and much discomfort awaited the new 
minister, whose cure of souls extended over an area equal 



io WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1846- 

to two whole parishes of the Established Church. The 
local proprietor was a " site-refuser," and of course there 
was neither church nor manse at the time when Mr. Smith 
was settled. The people of Keig had erected a little 
wooden shed, built in the course of a night to prevent an 
interdict, in which he preached every Sunday morning. 
In the afternoon he had to drive ten miles to conduct 
another service in a barn in Tough. His home during the 
first days of his incumbency was at New Farm, a very 
small house, little more than a cottage, but situated 
pleasantly enough in the midst of a stately group of elm 
trees. It was here that William Robertson Smith was 
born on Sunday, November 8, 1846. The proprietor of 
the parish under Parliamentary pressure had meanwhile 
withdrawn his refusal of a site ; a stone church had been 
built, and it was on the day of its inauguration that the 
baptism of the minister's eldest son took place in accord- 
ance with a revival of the old rule that this sacrament is to 
be administered " in the place of publick worship, and in 
the face of the congregation." Both functions had been 
delayed by a series of severe snowstorms, which for weeks 
had made Keig inaccessible. On January 24 Dr. Spence 
of St. Clement's Free Church in Aberdeen (who many 
years afterwards assisted as Presbytery Clerk at his pro- 
secution) gave him the names of his father and his grand- 
father on the mother's side. " The church was crowded," 
writes his mother, " but very few of those present had 
seen a baptism in church, and could not understand 
what the robe hanging at the side of the pulpit meant." 
The delay in the christening and the reasons for it are 
explained in some detail at the beginning of the interest- 
ing and frank memoranda which were written by Mr. 
and Mrs. Pirie Smith on the earlier years of their dis- 
tinguished son's life. From a conversation which took place 
many years later, and in which Smith with characteristic 
vehemence inveighed against the barbarous practice of 
infanticide paradoxically defended by a friend, it seems 



i86i] EARLY YEARS n 

that during the first hours of his existence it was very 
doubtful whether he would live to be baptized at all. 
But these fears were not realised, and there follows in 
the extant accounts a record of a precocious childhood 
harassed and menaced by much illness. The first crisis 
passed like many subsequent ones, but until his twenty- 
first year his health repeatedly gave cause for anxiety in 
spite of the extraordinary vitality and nervous energy 
which, early as well as late in life, was his most con- 
spicuous physical characteristic. His mother writes with 
affection and pride of the earliest signs he showed of 
intellectual activity ; she notes that he was able at a very 
early age to appreciate what was beautiful, and tells a 
story of his delight in the wide prospect of his native 
valley, on the first occasion on which, when quite a 
baby, he was taken for a drive in the country clear of 
the woods which surrounded the manse. " Book," she 
records with some complacency, " was one of the first 
words he could say, and as an infant he must have a 
book to hold when he saw others with their Bibles at 
worship." 

Anecdotes of the beginnings of a powerful and dis- 
tinguished mind, related long after the event by loving 
witnesses, are almost inevitably coloured more or less 
by a consciousness of subsequent events. The account 
given by Mr. Smith of the early intellectual history of his 
son, interesting and affectionate as it is, is written with 
a reserve which in this respect is as rare as it is 
admirable. 

William's " formal education," we learn, " was not 
begun early. He learned indeed to read his native tongue 
much as an amusement. He also learned the Hebrew 
alphabet so as to read the words of the language before 
the age of six, but after beginning regular work he forgot, 
or at least ceased to concern himself with this, and at a 
much later period had to begin the study all over again. 
At the same time it is quite probable that this early taste 
of the Oriental may have been as a seed dropped into a 



12 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1846- 

kindly soil a seed which was afterwards to spring into 
vigorous growth and bear abundant fruit." 

His frequent serious illnesses, one of which (in his 
tenth year) brought him into imminent danger, doubtless 
accentuated his natural precocity and brought the main 
lines of his character into high relief at an age when a child 
with a normal medical history is quite undeveloped. 
His surroundings, his family history, and the atmosphere 
of keen controversy in which he was born and bred had 
the natural effect of turning his prematurely awakened 
mind to the most serious and speculative subjects. A 
passage from Mr. Pirie Smith's memorandum gives an 
interesting and convincing view of the first phase of his 
son's spiritual life : 

" In the course of these years " (before he was twelve) 
" we had the consolation of learning that a work of grace 
was wrought upon him, and in such a form that he was 
at length delivered from the fear of death and made 
partaker of a hope full of immortality. That the change 
wrought upon him was real, we had many satisfactory 
evidences not the less satisfactory that there was no 
parade of piety, no sanctimoniousness, but a cheerful per- 
formance of daily duty, truthfulness in word and deed, and 
a conscientiousness which we could not help thinking was 
sometimes almost morbid. I never knew a boy with so 
sensitive a nature and so tender a conscience. When still 
very young, and on the occasion of one of his serious 
illnesses, his old nurse came from a distance to see him 
and brought him a paper of sweets. His mother, who 
disapproved of the free use of such dainties, and generally 
kept the distribution of them in her own hands, permitted 
him to keep the whole store himself, and told him to take 
one when he thought it needed. Some days after, she 
was surprised to see him rush into the parlour in his 
nightdress in great and evident distress, and on inquiring 
into the cause, was told that he could not go to sleep until 
he had confessed that he had that day helped himself to 
two of his goodies the second one without any special 
necessity. Such a child required very careful and tender 
handling. I am thankful to be able to say that although 



i86i] EARLY YEARS 13 

in his after years he had to pass through many painful and 
trying experiences nay, through much persecution of a 
kind calculated to shake his faith in divine things he has 
never wavered in his belief or been or done aught to 
induce me to doubt the reality of the change which came 
to him in the days of his early boyhood." 

To the period referred to in the above extract belong 
several other notices of religious meditation on Worldly 
Glory, Self -Examination, Justification as set forth in 
the thirty -third question and answer of the Shorter 
Catechism, 1 and other similar matters. Some of these 
are commonplace enough, but every now and then there 
are signs of a purely intellectual attitude 2 towards 
spiritual things which became more and more character- 
istic of him and had a profound influence on his theological 
career. For instance, on one occasion his father heard 
him speaking to his younger brother as follows : " The 
doctrine of the Trinity is incomprehensible incompre- 
hensible in this sense that man could not have invented 
it. Therefore it must be true." When asked where he 
had learned this piece of Cartesian argumentation he 
replied that he had invented it for himself. More 
probably it was an unconscious reminiscence of his 
reading among his father's books, which, even in his 
earliest days, was surprisingly wide ; the significant 
point is that such an idea, however acquired, should 
have been present at all in clear consciousness in the 
mind of a child brought up under influences so strict 
and, at first sight, so conventional. The full explanation 
of the circumstances which made it possible completes 
the picture of Smith's early years, and is essential to 

1 A highly technical matter. " Justification is an act of God's 
free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as 
righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to 
us, and received by faith alone." 

2 See on p. 64 the extract from a diary written by Smith towards 
the end of his course at the University of Aberdeen. The " purely 
intellectual " character of German Theology impressed him strongly 
and, at first, somewhat unpleasantly (see p. 84). 



14 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1846- 

the understanding of the after history of his character 
and opinions. 

This explanation is simply the account of his education 
and of the rapid expansion of the powers of his under- 
standing up to the time when he left his father's house 
for the University. The religious and moral ideas just 
exemplified were imposed on him partly by heredity 
and tradition, and partly by the striking environment of 
his childhood which has also been described ; they led 
him to dedicate himself to the ministry of the Free Church 
before he reached his sixteenth year, and from them, in 
spite of every vicissitude, he never wholly disengaged 
himself. Their intrinsic value and interest is great, and 
their importance in his history cannot be overestimated ; 
but neither at this nor at any other period of his life do 
they supply material for the complete interpretation 
of his many-sided character. To understand Smith we 
must proceed to a more objective view of an exceedingly 
active existence in which religion, however important, 
was only one among many interests. 

A passage from the ever candid notes of Mr. Pirie 
Smith supplies the transition, for it shows in a very few 
words how in the education of his children strict orthodoxy 
was combined with the practice of complete intellectual 
freedom and honesty. Speaking of a conversation with 
one of his sons regarding his spiritual condition, the 
minister observes that this was the only occasion on 
which he broached this solemn subject, and continues : 

" To say the truth, I do not now and never did approve 
of the practice at one time, and perhaps still, very usual, 
of asking young people, or for that matter old people too, 
such questions as ' Have you been converted ? ' ' Are 
you a child of God ? ' and the like. And I have not in all 
my experience found reason to put much confidence in 
the answers given to such questions, but rather the 
reverse. It seems to me that children so trained are more 
likely than otherwise to learn hypocrisy and I have 



i86i] EARLY YEARS 15 

some reason in my experience for this opinion. So the 
custom was not in use in our family, and we have no cause 
for regret on that account." 

The grave common sense of these words is worthy of a 
man who combined the gifts, so closely allied and so 
rarely united, of the educator and the pastor. Fortunately 
for his children, and for others who came under their 
influence at an impressionable time of life, neither Mr. 
Smith nor his wife left off teaching when they gave up 
their school. One of the main secular occupations of the 
years spent at Keig was the education of their sons and 
daughters, of other children specially committed to their 
charge, and of others still whose promise was greater 
than their resources, and whom they helped with the 
most generous and thoughtful kindness in the struggle 
for learning. 

Like his neighbour of Auchendoir, and more fortunate 
than many of his brethren in the Free Church ministry, 
the minister of Keig and Tough was soon provided with 
a manse, comfortable and commodious according to 
the frugal ideas of those days. The routine of his minis- 
terial duties was soon adjusted, and, under the keen and 
extremely capable guidance of his wife, his domestic 
concerns were most excellently ordered. The number of 
the family rapidly increased, and towards the end of 
the 'fifties quite a large party was assembled in the little 
house with its neat garden, nestling among the fir trees 
close by the church of which it was the parsonage, and 
" looking out smilingly with the dews of its youth still 
fresh upon it on the lumbering cart-road, its only means 
of communication with the outside world." The popula- 
tion of the parish, which consisted of agricultural labourers, 
foresters and saw-millers from Lord Forbes's estate, with 
a sprinkling of blacksmiths and millwrights, was, as has 
already been observed, very much scattered, and there 
was no inhabited house within a quarter of a mile of the 
manse. The great majority of the congregation had long 



16 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1846- 

distances to come to service, and for the convenience of 
those who drove, a special stable was attached to the 
church. This comparative isolation is worth noting, as 
it threw the manse children much on their own 
resources for amusement and companionship, and con- 
centrated their interest to a great extent on each other's 
doings. 

Besides Mary Jane, the eldest of them all, who very 
early in her short life took an active and important part 
in the household, there were William and George who 
were a little younger, and three or four little brothers and 
sisters protectively styled " the children " by their elders. 
As is often the case in large families, the three eldest, 
being more or less of an age, kept a sort of inner circle of 
their own and were on terms of closer intimacy with 
their parents, but the whole group was closely united 
and worked together very harmoniously under the easily 
accepted domination of William and George, whose vast 
superiority was acknowledged by " the children " with a 
kind of thankful pride. " My far back recollections," 
writes one of these admirers, " are all mingled with such 
scenes as were enacted out of doors in summer and in the 
nursery in winter, when there were tremendous harangues, 
chiefly on the superiority of the Lords over the Ladies of 
Creation, with Willie always leading, while we sat round 
and admired." In the summer the party gathered at 
places where there were heaps of stones which seemed 
enormous to little people, and there " Willie mounted the 
pulpit and preached vigorously, while George and I were 
precentors and the rest audience. We were always 
Roman Catholics and used holy water and made the sign 
of the Cross with much fervour. I often wonder why we 
were Roman Catholics, unless we thought there was no 
harm in making a play of such a creed." The casuistical 
flavour of this reminiscence is very probably due to a 
suggestion made by William at the time, and one is 
reminded of other very early accounts of the critical and 




THE REV. WILLIAM PIRIE SMITH, D.D. (1875), 
FATHER OF WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH. 

From a Sketch by Sir George Reid, R.S.A. 



1861] EARLY YEARS 17 

argumentative bent of his mind. A very old friend 
records that on some occasion in their childhood, he and 
Smith were building castles with books in a manse 
parlour. They had been forbidden to use for this purpose 
the numerous Bibles kept in the room, but the question 
whether it would be right to incorporate in the structure 
a copy of Scott's Commentary which also lay ready to 
hand was less clear. William's decision, after some 
thought, was that it should not be used because, " though 
it wasn't exactly the Bible, the Bible was in it." 

" I also remember being at Keig when a young child," 
writes the same narrator, 1 " and from some cause or 
another being seized with a fit of dulness. William took 
a serious view of it and led me away to a heap of stones in 
a quiet part of the wood where he prayed, with a fulness 
of confession which made me wonder, that the dull fit 
(he called it ' melancholia ' I remember a word I 
scarcely knew) might pass away. I was somewhat 
ashamed when I saw the serious view he took of it, and 
was none the worse of the practical suggestion of his 
mother, who was less sympathetic and proposed as a cure 
a long sum on the slate." 

This gift for the fluent and precise expression of ideas, 
in which those who knew him in after-life will so vividly 
recognise their friend, seems to have struck many people 
even at this early period. His command of general 
information was very unusual for his age and the sources 
of much that he then learned remain obscure. Like Mr. 
Gosse, he seems to have nourished a passion for universal 
knowledge on a copious study of the Penny Cyclopedia, 
and we know that an early Christmas present from his 
father, and one by which he greatly profited, was a set of 
celestial maps. Another gift of which record has been 
kept was a copy of the Vulgate which he received on his 
twelfth birthday. What he acquired he rapidly converted 
into materials for conversation and disquisition. Those 
who played with him as children dimly recall being 

1 The late Rev. W. A. Gray of Elgin. 

2 



18 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1846- 

interested and even startled by his notions on such 
things as the function of the imagination, mediaeval and 
occult science, and other equally unusual subjects. A 
good instance of this kind is given by one l who knew 
him at a somewhat later stage in his mental development 
and who writes : 

" One of the things which impressed me in W. R. Smith 
was his power of applying old sayings to modern instances. 
The one that remains with me is the saying of Heraclitus, 
Travra. pel; 'all things are in flux' suited William's scientific 
tastes, and he would talk to us endlessly in illustration 
of it how the clouds came over Bennachie (' Banff 
Bailies ' they were called in Keig), how they filled the 
streams that fed the Don, which flowed to the sea ; how 
the mist rose from the German Ocean and again formed 
the clouds and the cycle went on. Then it would be some 
illustration of the plants capturing air, water, and salts, 
and with the sun's help building themselves up by vital 
alchemy into complex substances, then the farmers' cows 
eating the plants and a new incarnation beginning ; then 
the cows being killed and becoming part of ourselves by 
the Sunday dinner of beef . . . then man dying and 
returning to the earth, and the cycle again beginning as 
the microbes of decay disintegrated the dead, and all 
returned to water and salts and air, to be again taken up 
by the grass and clover. All flesh is grass, Travra pel ; 
nothing is lost ; all things flow on. Willie was most 
impressive in that kind of talk and delighted greatly in it. 
We boys listened in stillness as his quick mind scoured 
over endless fields of illustration of this kind . . . and 
enforced upon our boyish minds the impermanency of 
the Cosmos and the wisdom of the old philosophers of 
Greece for whom he had a great admiration at that time. 
... I dreamt whole nights over Trdvra pel and evolution 
after my return from the Manse of Keig." 

Talk indeed, and talk which perhaps on occasion tended 
to monologue, was the passion of his youth as of his age. 
It is perhaps not too much to say that it was always his 
most certain source of recreation. " Nothing pleased 

1 The Rev. Dr. W. S. Bruce, minister of Banff, to whose re- 
miniscences this account is much indebted, 



i86i] EARLY YEARS 19 

him more," his father writes of the early days, " than 
a lively conversation on any subject of interest . . . 
speaking was to him a real refreshment, and it was a 
medicine to which we often had recourse when he was out 
of sorts or tired with study, and we generally found it 
most efficacious." On the other hand nothing more 
wearied him than when company came and he had to sit 
silent and listen to the talk of others, for in those days 
children were not allowed to take the leading part in 
conversation. It was on one of these occasions when a 
reverend colleague had stayed long and, after having 
prosed mercilessly, had at length departed, that Willie 
is said to have drawn his stool up to his father's knee and 
to have said, looking up with the air of one whose endur- 
ance is at an end, " And now, papa, let us have some 
rational conversation ! " 

" Rational conversation " and other pursuits of a 
literary and intellectual character were much in favour 
at the manse. William is said to have had no great taste 
for fiction in his early days and inclined rather to solid, 
if miscellaneous, general reading. It is pleasant to find, 
however, that he was brought up on the Lays of Ancient 
Rome, and that he found much enjoyment in impersonat- 
ing his favourite characters. The Pilgrim's Progress, as 
might be expected, came in his way very early, and Giant 
Despair (perhaps the most telling figure in this or any 
other allegory) seems to have profoundly stirred his 
childish imagination. Anything like a purely aesthetic 
or sensuous appreciation of beautiful and pleasant things 
was at this time absent from his life ; everything came 
to him through the intellect. Thus he did not share the 
musical aptitudes shown by George and Mary Jane, and 
never throughout his life developed a taste for music in 
the ordinary sense ; but from the first he was determined 
to have exact and accurate information on this subject 
as on all others, and somewhat unreasonably used to be 
angry with people who " were interested in a mild way " 



20 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1846- 

without performing the fundamental brain-work necessary 
for an understanding of harmony and theory. His fine 
taste in the graphic arts came, like his critical appreciation 
of claret and tobacco, with the enlarged opportunities of 
his later life. Even at Keig, however, " he used to copy 
and copy well, in pen and ink, engravings which took 
his fancy, chiefly from an illustrated edition of Shake- 
speare " ; his first patronage of the arts was to com- 
mission a series of sketches on the subject of the contest 
of Ajax and Ulysses for the vacant armour of Achilles, 
to be executed by a friend who boarded for a time in his 
father's house. This interest in poetry and painting must 
not be ascribed to any particular aesthetic impulse 
accidentally curbed by an austere environment ; it was 
merely part of his universal curiosity. " If you left 
Smith for five minutes with a plasterer or a baker or any 
sort of workman, you would find that tradesman explain- 
ing to him something in connection with his trade, and 
often he worked up a subject of investigation and inquiry 
that way." 

Through all this ran a thread of criticism, a sort of 
continuous instinct for argument. An inquiry started 
in his mind had to be provided with an answer, and the 
answer had to be proved correct before he was at rest. 
It is hardly too much to say that the controversies of his 
later life were rehearsed in miniature at Keig. It has 
been already mentioned that his father, like many learned 
country clergymen, supplemented his narrow resources 
(his income as a Free Church minister was less than 
150) by taking private pupils whom he educated with 
his own children. As many as four boarders would 
sometimes be in residence at the manse at the same time, 
and with these, as well as with his own brothers and 
sisters, and indeed also with his parents, William main- 
tained relations in which constant friendship and 
deference where deference was due was tempered by 
a critical examination of any proposition tendered for 



i86i] EARLY YEARS 21 

his acceptance. He was ready in appropriate instances 
to maintain his own view with some vehemence, and it is 
even recorded that on one occasion he went so far as to 
thrash another boy for an obstinate mispronunciation of 
the word Herodotus. This, however, was an exception to 
his habitually peaceful method of pursuing truth. One 
of the favourite indoor amusements was the production of 
small domestic periodicals, which were called by fanciful 
names and existed mainly for the purpose of mutual 
criticism. The tiny file of at least one of these, the 
Dandelion, which possessed a circulation of two copies, is 
extant, and it contains many severe reflections on a con- 
temporary, named the Iris, which had degraded itself by 
the publication of popular fiction. One satirical com- 
position in octosyllabic couplets entitled " The Fate of 
Iris " is signed W. R. S. and, in a juvenile manner, is not 
contemptible. From the same hand in the next issue of 
the Iris appeared a spirited rejoinder to the Dandelion. 
But it was chiefly as a literary critic that Smith made 
his first essays in authorship. The Weekly Review was 
another domestic journal of even earlier date ; it appeared 
in the format of the old Spectator, and at times achieved a 
most diverting parody of the Saturday in its severest days. 
To it he contributed a series of criticisms of works designed 
for evangelical youth, one of which, named Ministering 
Children, a book of some celebrity in those days, he 
dismissed with a devastating epigram to the effect that 
" it was more childish than childhood itself." 

As he grew older, and the embargo on childish inter- 
ventions in general talk was withdrawn, he began to apply 
his gifts for argument to more serious topics. The habit 
of free inquiry was much encouraged by his father. 
One of Mr. Pirie Smith's favourite maxims was levelled 
against the inconsiderate acceptance of partial views on 
important matters, " partialisms " as he was accustomed 
to call them. William, to whom this teaching was most 
congenial, very early gave proof of an almost reckless 



22 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1846- 

intellectual honesty. Dr. Bruce records several curious 
instances. 

" On the occasion of my first visit," he writes, " Dr. 
Smith was lecturing on the Epistle to the Romans, and, 
during the days when he was preparing his lectures, he 
would discuss with his sons the Greek text of St. Paul. 
Even then William he was perhaps fifteen at the time 
showed a wonderful knowledge of Biblical literature, and 
seemed to have the argument of that grand compendium 
of Pauline theology at his fingers' ends. The father we 
regarded as a dictionary of learning, and the ne plus ultra 
of theology, but when Willie began to talk in his fluent 
way on ' the universality of sin and grace,' it gave us 
boys a queer turn. He rather alarmed us by his criticism 
of some of the inspired writings, and we thought him 
somewhat irreverent, as did his mother. Whatever was 
extraordinary or miraculous he was prone to criticise, 
and we often heard from him the Horatian maxim, sage 
enough in its way, nee Deus intersit, nisi dignus vindice 
nodus. 

"On Sunday afternoons the manse dining-room was 
converted into a household Bible class and something 
approaching the old catechising took place. Dr. Smith 
greatly delighted in this, for he was a born teacher. We 
were asked to take notes of his lecture in church and were 
expected to give the heads of it in the Bible class. . . . 
The juniors dreaded the questioning, but the elder brother 
would readily and with the greatest ease give the substance 
of the whole of his father's discourse, and I remember 
him to my great surprise venturing to point out one 
side of truth to which the preacher had not found time 
to refer. This was a quid pro quo, which, remembering 
the paternal counsel on ' partialisms,' we rather enjoyed, 
and of which Willie was rather proud. It shocked us, but 
it evidently pleased Dr. Smith, and the Bible class ended 
in a colloquy in which these two interlocutors had it all 
to themselves." 

This train of memories recalls an aspect of life at Keig 
which might well be overlooked among the pleasing details 
of a picture of intellectual and theological liberalism. It 
must not be forgotten that the Free Church of Keig was a 
stronghold of Evangelical principles, in which the way of 



i86i] EARLY YEARS 23 

life inculcated by the Disruption worthies was rigidly 
put in practice. The official views of the family on all 
matters of conduct, on the minor and the major morals, 
were exceedingly precise. Even the Dandelion pauses 
for a moment from its light-hearted flyting of the Iris 
to deplore the fact that a child in the village of Alford 
had been seen by the editor to purchase, unreproved, a 
halfpenny pack of cards in a druggist's shop. The 
household devotions were of course performed with 
exemplary regularity, the day beginning and ending with 
an extended service of family worship, at which all 
present in order of seniority read a verse of the Holy 
Scriptures and joined in the singing of a Psalm. The 
exercise terminated with a prayer offered by the head of 
the family, or, in his absence, by the mother. Sunday, 
all the witnesses agree, was a heavy day " a very serious 
affair for children." They were not allowed to go outside 
the limits of the manse garden except to church, and 
though a robust intellect like William's might enjoy 
the evolutions of the spiritual palaestra, it was severe 
work for the ordinary child to be taken through the whole 
of the Shorter Catechism every three weeks as was the 
rule at Keig. 

Even in the life of everyday there was, as might be 
expected, a touch of austerity, due partly to the narrow- 
ness of the family resources. We find Mary Jane on one 
occasion gallantly proposing to suppress sugar in the 
family tea (not an uncommon piece of self-denial in the 
Free Church circles of that time) by way of helping to 
meet an unexpected deficiency in the Equal Dividend; 
and the children were kept at their gardening and at 
certain other more or less recreative occupations almost 
as strictly as at their more serious studies. Mrs. Smith, 
a model of concentrated though wholly undemonstrative 
motherly concern, was the dominating influence in all 
the material affairs of the family. She devoted herself 
so entirely to her duties, and ruled so unobtrusively, that 



24 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1846- 

unobservant persons often failed to appreciate the charm 
of her character and intellect. Her only relaxations were 
reading, walks, and conversation with her eldest son and 
her husband, who relied so absolutely on her judgment 
and her care that even her shortest absences caused him 
to be restless and depressed. The great event in her day 
was tea, at which she would lay aside for a little her 
incessant labours for the good of her house and its inmates, 
and would preside with great grace and geniality over a 
full muster of the party in residence. It was then that 
she and Mary Jane would bring out the results of their 
private readings in the poets, and that Willie, in the midst 
of one of his tyrannical monologues, would sometimes find 
himself quietly checked by an intelligence as resolute 
though not so impetuous as his own. 

It is natural to dwell at some length on the intellectual 
habits of a house where learning was so untiringly and 
so successfully pursued, but it would be a misleading 
description indeed which did not include some detail of 
the lighter side of these admirably regulated existences. 
Whatever were the restraints imposed on William and his 
brothers by a severe religious and moral tradition and a 
certain narrowness of material circumstances, there can 
be no doubt that the physical life that they led was 
pleasant, health-giving, and thoroughly enviable. The 
immediate surroundings of the house were charming, 
and the children may almost be said to have grown up 
among the beautiful sights and sounds which were re- 
garded by Plato as the most valuable influences in the 
culture of young souls. The boundary of the garden 
(beyond which lived the London Correspondent of the 
Dandelion) enclosed a place of delight in which grew all 
sorts of things which the children themselves had a hand 
in cultivating. There were snowdrops in early spring, 
followed by crocuses, jonquils, hepaticas, and primulas. 
Later came lilacs and sweet old-fashioned roses, and on 
either side of the front door there was a sweet-brier. 



i86i] EARLY YEARS 25 

There was a shrubbery too, which was full of nests and loud 
with birds in the singing season, and once a family of 
squirrels was reared in a juniper tree. There was a house 
in the wood named " Savage Den " where in summer 
there were great doings of Indians and pirates, 
anticipating in real life some of the most thrilling episodes 
of Peter Pan. In winter there was road-making in 
the snow, half - serious work, for many paths were 
needed after a heavy fall, and the delights of skating 
and of " elaborate and competitive snow men." And in 
all weathers and at all seasons there were long walks and 
ascents of the surrounding hills, conducted chiefly by 
William, who was less fond than the others of the trout- 
fishing which in that golden age was to be had without 
asking in almost any river in Scotland. Cricket there 
was also, though entirely of the " domestic " variety, 
and swimming in a fine pool of the Don near Castle 
Forbes. Longer expeditions were undertaken to the sea- 
coast at the appropriate season, and we hear on one 
occasion of tuition in Geddes's Greek Grammar being 
given at Keig in return for instruction in the art of diving 
at Stonehaven. 

Those who knew Smith only in his later years when 
he was worn with controversies and with illness, and 
when his physical energy expressed itself chiefly in a 
sort of restlessness, will hardly be prepared for so robust 
a picture. Yet we are assured by those who were there 
to see, that in his youth he was the leader in all the most 
active enterprises of his companions. " He ran well, 
jumped well, was a wonderful youth at vaulting over 
gates, and generally was an effective performer, although 
his style was not pretty." 

Meanwhile, amid all these various occupations a serious 
purpose was being steadily pursued. William and 
George were undergoing a strict preparation, directed by 
their father, for their academic career at the University 
of Aberdeen. It appears to have been foreseen how 



26 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1846- 

entirely the work of the University would monopolise 
their time and how severely it would strain their 
energies ; and for this as well as other reasons it was 
decided not to begin scholarly study with William until 
George, who was fifteen or sixteen months his junior, 
should be able to join him. This arrangement was carried 
out, and the association and close alliance of the brothers 
was broken only by the death of the younger. 

" All their education," says the father, " was got at 
home, and mostly by their own exertions. I had my 
ministerial duties to attend to, and was necessarily a 
good deal away from home among my people, and much 
engaged in preparation for Sabbath work. Their lessons 
were regularly prescribed, and then the boys were left to 
their own resources, and they uniformly did their best, 
just as well in my absence as when I was present, 
accomplishing all that could reasonably be expected. I 
am not sure that this method would answer in every case ; 
but certainly in then: case it trained them to habits of 
self-reliance, drew out their latent powers, accustomed 
them to think for themselves, and gave them the pleasure 
that springs from the overcoming of difficulties. Although 
their studies were arranged to suit the requirements of the 
entrance examination at the University of Aberdeen, 
there was no cramming. No cribs were allowed. There 
was no such thing in the house, and so it came to pass that 
a passage from a Latin or Greek author which they had 
never seen had no special terrors for them, and presented 
only difficulties such as they had already encountered 
and often surmounted." 

School hours for the boarders and the family were from 
half-past eight until midday, and work was resumed for a 
shorter period in the afternoon. The pupils were, 
however, very early astir, and worked and played by a 
clock set half an hour in advance of that used by their 
parents. On a winter morning they had a custom of 
conning their lessons (prepared the night before) by the 
smoky light of " rosetty sticks," in the preparation of 
which the boys delighted ; and before their parents came 



i86i] EARLY YEARS 27 

in they would fall to a jumping match in the passages to 
warm their feet, which were chilled by these early studies. 
In summer there were pleasanter doings. The boys in 
the attics would be awakened by the maid as she went out 
to feed the poultry and bring in wood for the fire, and 
soon afterwards they would be up and out in the fir wood 
which stretched up the slopes of Cairnwilliam for miles. 
" The air," writes Dr. Bruce, who participated in these 
excursions, " was full of a delicious resinous smell, and 
with the sough of the wind in the grand Scotch firs in our 
ears we would walk for an hour and a half." 

Much informal work was done on these occasions, 
especially in the way of committing to memory long 
passages of the Greek and Latin poets an excellent 
practice, now unfortunately much disused. When it was 
time to return, William, shrill with excitement in the 
morning air, would pour a characteristic stream of breath- 
less improvisation into his companions' ears, or would 
yield with them to the physical promptings produced 
by early rising and a youthful appetite. " He liked 
a good race, and we would all set out for the manse at 
full speed over the fir needles and soft heather and 
arrive very hungry for breakfast. Or the race would 
be varied by a good pull at the big cross-cut saw upon 
the fine timber which the farmers carted to the manse, 
and which furnished splendid logs for the hearth and 
the kitchen." 

Breakfast and family worship, as above described, 
being concluded, the labours of the day commenced 
forthwith. Dr. Smith superintended the boys in the 
study, and Mrs. Smith the girls in another room. 

Other hands have described from the pupil's point of 
view the routine of these labours, which began with 
arithmetic and mathematics. Dr. Smith presided in his 
large leather arm-chair, in the back of which he kept a 
formidable black tawse a terror to evil-doers, which, we 
are told, was not infrequently used, though specific 



28 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1846- 

instances are not given. Having fortified himself with a 
pinch of snuff, and having told each boy what he had to 
do for the next hour, the Doctor settled down to a 
chapter of Alford's Greek Testament, which completed, 
he, like his pupils, occupied himself with algebraical 
calculations on a slate until the post came in. Mean- 
while the scholars came at intervals to their teacher with 
the results of their work, or consulted him in any difficulty 
they had encountered. Here Dr. Smith gave a specimen 
of his method, for in answer to the puzzled questioner he 
simply said, " Go on," and by a kind of tactful bullying, 
and a dexterous series of almost brutal appeals to the 
amour propre of the student, he literally coerced the 
unbraced intellect into a triumph over apparently hopeless 
obstacles. 

After an hour or more of this drastic struggle with the 
most abstract of the sciences the rest of the morning was 
devoted to the classics, in which the minister was equally 
competent. Prose composition in both the languages 
alternated with the reading of authors, and the most 
advanced pupils, including of course his sons, seem even 
to have made some progress in Latin and Greek verses. 
Both William and George showed some proficiency in this 
accomplishment, which is not much practised in Scotland, 
at an early period in their University career. 

William's vitality asserted itself vigorously under the 
restraints of the schoolroom. He would constantly shift 
his attitude, and after a very few minutes of sitting would 
be found to be up and kneeling on his chair. Gently 
checked for this, he would resume the conventional 
posture, but again his restless movements would recom- 
mence. " He used to say he had an extra joint in his 
back and couldn't sit straight." No doubt, though he 
was an eager scholar, the physical relief was even greater 
for him than for the others when the morning lessons were 
over and the time came for another spell of fresh air and 
an interesting variation in the educative process. 



i86i] EARLY YEARS 29 

At noon Dr. Smith was ready for a walk in which he 
was joined by his pupils. 

"It was quite understood to be a part of the education 
of the manse, but it was more a favour conferred than a 
task allotted. As a rule it would be through the fir wood 
or else up the hill to the heather and the bracing air. . . . 
Often out of the minister's pocket would come a volume 
for our delectation probably Tennyson's In Memoriam, 
just a few months arrived, and purchased at the cost of no 
little self-denial, or it might be the small first edition of 
the Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington from 
which the Doctor, while walking with his fast short step, 
would read us some noble stanzas. At another time it 
would be fragments of the Poet Laureate in the grand 
style, such as Oenone or Ulysses, or the picture gallery of 
the Palace of Art, or some fine lines of Pope or Dryden, or 
choice passages from Shakespeare, which he would often 
compare with some of the far-resounding lines of the Iliad, 
much of which he had by heart." * 

Mr. Pirie Smith seems indeed to have been widely 
read and a true lover of literature, although, like his son, 
of a strongly critical turn. He had, at any rate, the gift 
of inspiring others, and these readings in the open air 
deeply stirred the imaginations of his youthful audience. 

" I remember the very spots on Cairnwilliam," writes 
Dr. Bruce, " where first I heard some of these poetic 
passages, and still seem to see the dear old gentleman's 
glowing face and glistening eye, and then note the quick 
footsteps that followed the extract as Willie and he set 
themselves to further discussion and criticism, and pro- 
bably differed in their estimate. . . . 

" Prose too had its place in these rambles and talks ; 
stories about Gibbon, Emerson, Carlyle, and Dr. Chalmers 
would vary the racy chat of the twelve to one o'clock 
walks. Sometimes, however, to my great delight and 
Willie's too Dr. Smith would stop at a point on the hill 
where the huge rocks abutted on the path, and would give 
us a very graphic description of rock formation, and of the 
chemical action of percolating water on the stone. We 
were shown how the Aberdeen granite was clearly of 

1 Dr. Bruce, as before. 



30 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1846- 

igneous origin, and how big Bennachie across the Don 
had been consolidated in the cooling of the earth's crust 
and then shot upwards into its long camel's back and 
various ' taps ' which had become more sharply defined 
by subsequent denudation. . . . We could scarcely believe 
all that was said, and hardly knew that we were learning 
modern science, so pleasantly and jocularly was much of 
it done. We joked at the tea-table about Bennachie's 
back, and would take liberties with the hard crusts of loaf 
to show the girls how, with a little squeezing, it was the 
easiest possible thing to produce miniature Bennachies 
and camels' backs and thus make room for descending 
Dons and their tributary streams." 

The walk over, the more systematic portion of the day's 
education was finished. Work was resumed for a time 
after the early manse dinner, but was chiefly of the nature 
of revision of past lessons or preparation for future ones. 
Dr. Smith himself was not usually present on these 
occasions, being at such times much occupied about his 
parish, and a great deal of the afternoon was spent by 
the boys in their outdoor pursuits, or, if the weather was 
wet or wintry, in composing articles for the Weekly Review, 
the Iris or the Dandelion, as the case might be, or in some 
other of the occupations already enumerated. Towards 
the end of the day, which closed by the children's clock 
at 9 P.M., came a short period during which the whole 
household, servants excepted, sat round or near the big 
table and read or worked at any quiet occupation 
sewing, knitting, drawing, writing, or making any little 
thing each had a mind to, but on no account speaking. 
This time of silence and reflection, as may well be supposed, 
was felt as a severe restriction by some members of the 
party, but it had its disciplinary value. A second service 
of family worship, with the singing of a Psalm, led by the 
head of the house, immediately preceded the dispersion of 
the company. 

The patriarchal dignity and simplicity of this household 
could not fail to impress all who knew Dr. Smith and his 



i86i] EARLY YEARS 31 

wife ; but some of his friends whom he had left behind 
him in Aberdeen hardly realised the unusual efficiency of 
the educational system pursued at Keig, or the exceptional 
aptitude of the pupils. They represented that the boys 
as students were likely to be placed in competition with 
the products of celebrated schools, and that with their 
home-made acquirements they would not stand a fair 
chance. Dr. Smith was for a moment impressed, and 
almost yielded to the entreaties of his friend the head- 
master of the Old Aberdeen Gymnasium, 1 that William 
and George might be placed under his care for a time to 
complete their preparations for entering college. The 
boys themselves, however, seconded their father's natural 
desire to keep them at home, and in 1860, a year before it 
was intended that they should leave Keig, a preliminary 
trial in the Bursary Competition proved that their con- 
fidence had not been excessive. Twelve months later 
they competed again, and William emerged at the head of 
the list with a bursary of 30 a year, while his brother took 
a high place and obtained a scholarship of 10, afterwards 
increased, in recognition of his eminent attainments. 
The manse had triumphed over the keenest and most 
formidable outside competition in the persons of the two 
brothers who entered the University, the youngest, and 
already not the least distinguished, undergraduates of 
their year. 

1 The Rev. Alexander Anderson, D.D., a teacher of high ability in 
his day. The Council of the Viceroy of India is said to have recently 
contained no less than three of his pupils. 



CHAPTER II 

AT THE UNIVERSITY (l86l-l866) 

THE two brothers, accompanied by their sister Mary Jane, 
took up their residence at 9 Mount Street in Aberdeen 
towards the end of 1861, William being now fifteen years 
of age and George not yet fourteen. Mary Jane, 
the close ally and adviser of her brothers, was their 
elder by a little ; like them, she was entering on a more 
advanced stage of her education, and intended to study 
music and other polite arts, making progress at the same 
time in other subjects with the assistance and supervision 
of the two students. For them the prospect was more 
exciting ; they were for the first time to make a sustained 
trial of the schooling described in the last chapter and to 
have their first continuous experience of the struggle for 
success in life. Only one of the three was destined to 
survive the five strenuous years that followed, but the 
two who disappeared promised at least no less brilliantly 
than he. George's brief and pathetic period of academic 
glory will be related in the course of this chapter. Mary 
Jane, necessarily a more shadowy figure, has left some 
faint traces in the family history, little scraps of writing 
in what used to be called an Italian hand, which express 
a bright, affectionate, and practical temper, eminently 
suited to the position she occupied in the little establish- 
ment of which she constituted herself the mother. 

The correspondence which passed at very frequent 
intervals between the party at Mount Street and the 

32 




MRS. SMITH, MOTHER OF WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH (page 24). 
From a Photograph. 



i86i-i866] AT THE UNIVERSITY 33 

parents at Keig is the basis of the history of this period. 
The notes are very numerous and deal with many details : 
every incident of university or ecclesiastical life of the 
smallest interest or importance was communicated either 
to the father or to the mother by the children with whom 
they lived on terms of such mutual intimacy and compre- 
hension. There are some observations on public affairs, 
and a little decorously satirical gossip about friends and 
neighbours. Mary Jane's postscripts deal chiefly with 
practical domestic concerns and with the already 
fluctuating health of her brothers. 

The first extant letter of this correspondence is written 
by Smith himself. He deals characteristically with 
provisional arrangements for attendance at divine service, 
and there occurs in it a no less characteristic criticism of 
the sermon the same, he believes, that the preacher had 
delivered two years before at Keig. " I did not like him 
very well," is the severe conclusion, " he is too much of a 
composer and too little of a preacher." 

This letter is important in the history of the writer, 
for it is dated as written two days before George 
and he definitely entered upon their university life, the 
scene of which, for the better understanding of his 
intellectual history, it behoves us to set as vividly as 
possible. 

The University of Aberdeen comprises two colleges, 
King's and Marischal, each of which was originally a 
separate foundation, with its own degrees and professors. 
The ancient institution founded by Bishop Elphinstone 
under the pontifical auspices of Alexander Borgia, 
and the college of the Earls Marischal which sheltered 
the learned enfance of Dugald Dalgetty, had been 
united in 1860. By the time that Smith became 
a student the bitterness of the controversy which 
we are told attended the " fusion " had been already 
forgotten in the convenience and economy which were 
its natural result. There is no trace in the Smith 

3 



34 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1861- 

papers of any surviving antagonism, and for under- 
graduates of his standing a far more important event was 
the appointment of Alexander Bain (in the very year of 
the union) to the chair of Rhetoric and Logic in the 
united university. 

Bain's rhetoric class, of which many amusing reminis- 
cences have been written, together with the less advanced 
classes in the two learned languages, was then prescribed 
as the course of the Bajans or freshmen during their first 
year of study. The Semis or second-year men proceeded 
to more advanced classical instruction and began mathe- 
matics and science. In their final two years, as Tertians 
and Magistrands, the undergraduates pursued the exact 
sciences still further, and, while in the third session they 
again followed the instruction of Mr. Bain in the class 
of Logic and Psychology, in the fourth they made ac- 
quaintance for the first time with the Professor of Moral 
Philosophy. 

Both at the beginning and towards the end, therefore, 
of his undergraduate days, Smith was to come into contact 
with this remarkable but antagonistic product of his own 
race, who was the means of perpetuating for another 
generation in Scotland the national tradition in empirical 
metaphysics and anti- mystical utilitarianism. Smith 
was probably the most brilliant pupil Bain ever had ; 
that was indeed the professor's own expressed opinion. 
But it was inevitable that from the outset he should be 
the very reverse of a disciple. The man whom Free 
Presbyteries were still denouncing as an atheist could 
scarcely find easy access to minds which had been formed 
in the orthodox atmosphere of a Free Church manse ; 
and doubtless in the course of their studies at Keig both 
William and George had been specially warned and 
fortified against the potential dangers of his ideas. But 
after all there was nothing in Bain's teaching, penetrating 
and indelible (some would then have said insidious) as it 
was, which was likely to prove dangerous to a religious 



i866] AT THE UNIVERSITY 35 

temperament. He has recorded in his curiously impassive 
autobiography by what gradual and relentless steps he 
forsook the consolations of religion and the comforts of 
enthusiasm. This was not the manner of man to 
possess the art of making the emotional appeal which 
is almost necessary in the teacher who is to stir the 
enthusiasm and command the affection of young men. 
His pupils heard with awe of his fame in the world of 
philosophy and letters ; they realised vaguely the superi- 
ority of his intellect and the impressiveness of that 
determined attachment to the more quantitative aspects 
of truth which was the most distinguished feature of his 
life ; but it was not till long after he had ceased to be 
a teacher that he attained the veneration richly earned 
by a life-time of intellectual honesty. The philosophic 
antagonism of Bain and Smith was always qualified by 
personal regard and mutual respect ; but it may be said 
to have increased rather than diminished with years, and, 
as we shall see in a subsequent chapter, it was destined 
to come to issue in a public debate. 

Bain stands for so much that is characteristic in the 
intellectual life of the rather turbulent republic of letters 
which we are describing, that no apology is needed for 
dwelling at some length on his personality, which was 
in some ways almost a caricature of a racial type. As a 
philosopher his influence was, as we have seen, profound 
though unacknowledged. As the successful architect of 
difficult fortunes, as an almost unique product of honour- 
able self-help and sheer intellectual capacity, he had a 
more immediate claim on the interest and admiration of 
the audience he was addressing. They too were engaged 
in a struggle for existence, in many cases no less severe 
than his had been, and for them also the business of 
getting educated was often a grim prelude to the battle of 
life. Behind all the superficial boisterousness of which 
we shall have to take account the rending of Bajans' 
gowns, the snowballing, the solemnly planned impertin- 



36 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1861- 

ences, the complicated pranks of undergraduates many 
of whom were no older than junior public school boys of 
to-day there is an undertone of serious rivalry almost 
startling, almost unwholesome in such young people, 
something which falls little short of ferocity in the contest 
for academic distinction. 

And these emotions were not confined to the rising 
generation ; their elders joined, at least in spirit, in the 
conflict, cheered on the combatants, and took and retained 
the keenest interest in the fortunes of the fray. In Mr. 
Pirie Smith's memorandum on his son's life, notice is 
taken of a statement that the late Professor Minto, who 
was a member of the class of 1861-62, was, on the whole, 
more pre-eminent than Smith in one particular branch of 
study. A careful statistical abstract is given of prizes 
and class places with a view to bring out the true facts. 
Averages are worked out in the venerable minister's 
own hand ; he is at pains to show that even this faint 
depreciation of his son's academic prowess is unjustified. 
In the letters both from George and William where Minto 
and other contemporaries are mentioned the note of 
rivalry is insistent ; the pretensions of competitors are 
gravely weighed and discounted, and the results of forth- 
coming ordeals anxiously forecasted. 

The observer who is familiar with the peculiar physical 
and intellectual charm of life at more southern and more 
opulent seats of learning, or who is an idealist in educa- 
tional matters, may find his interest in these austere 
undergraduate lives qualified by a grain of repulsion. It 
is not perhaps out of place to recall that Smith's student 
days coincided with the dawn of the many-coloured 
liberalism of Oxford, the beginning of the great days of 
Balliol, the revival of Hegel, and the rise of a more spiritual 
philosophy than Bain's. In those days Aberdeen had 
eyes only for Cambridge, where there was an unexampled 
gathering of great men in the world of science, and where 
year by year Aberdonians were winning their way to the 



x866] AT THE UNIVERSITY 37 

highest wranglerships. That the performances of the 
wranglers appear to interest their kinsfolk more than the 
contemporary achievements of Cayley and Clerk Maxwell, 
who himself had only recently left his chair at Marischal 
College, was natural enough. Besides local patriotism, 
there was every excuse for their preoccupation with the 
outward and visible signs of a culture the acquisition of 
which was due to the exercise of heroic virtues. The 
whole atmosphere, moral and intellectual, had a recog- 
nisable national flavour, a distinction and an originality 
of its own ; it possessed, as it still possesses, the merits 
which called forth Carlyle's celebrated eulogy of the 
Keiths and their foundation ; and how thoroughly 
consistent it was with the loftiest ideals of scholarship 
and culture the progress of this history will show. 

The correspondence develops the impressions produced 
on the brothers by the experiences of their Bajan year. 
It was not long before they gave a sample of the quality 
of their classical attainments as they progressed through 
the Cyropaedia and the Epodes under the guidance of 
Sir William Geddes, of Professor Maclure (affectionately 
named "Cockie" by his pupils), and of Mr. Salmond, 
who subsequently became an important figure in Smith's 
ecclesiastical life. Mary Jane, the admiring sister, writes, 
a few weeks after the session began : 

" Dr. Maclure called Dod up after the class to-day and 
asked if he was Will's brother. He said he did not know, 
but guessed it both from the similarity of voice and from 
the distinguished appearance Dod had made in the class 
that day." 

And again a little later : 

"Will was up at Geddes to-day; he was not once 
interrupted, and the class, which had been very quiet 
during his performance, ruffed l at the end." 

In Bain's class we hear that the opening exercises 
were returned marked optime, and there are one or two 

1 Anglice, applauded. 



38 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1861- 

glimpses of the professor's perverse originality in dealing 
with literary subjects of which he had no imaginative 
appreciation. It is disappointing not to find some more 
personal impression of him. Contemporary portraits 
and contemporary observations bring his sharp face and 
keen eyes, the scanty carefully adjusted hair, the dry 
manner very vividly before us. Generations who never 
saw him in the flesh are familiar with the snarl showing 
the long yellow teeth when he scored a point off a meta- 
physical adversary or reproved a stupid or impertinent 
student, and with the twist in his chair and the twitch 
of his gown as he sat lecturing. William's only contribu- 
tion to the historical portrait of Bain is the preservation 
of a characteristic dictum, which no doubt occurs in his 
English Grammar, to the effect that there is some ground 
for thinking that " me " is originally a nominative and 
that therefore it is " more English and more natural " to 
say, " It is me," than to say, " It is I." 

Sir William Geddes, whose celebrity is not forgotten, 
and whose stately presence is so recent a memory in 
Scotland, makes as yet no very frequent appearances in 
the letters. We learn incidentally that he was then 
reading the Iliad with his class at the rate of sixty lines a 
day, and his kindly interest in the Smith family is manifest 
from the beginning. He was one of their earliest visitors 
at Mount Street, and was always punctual in inquiring 
after the health of George and William and their parents. 

It was, however, " Cockie " Maclure, contrasting in 
every respect very sharply with the Olympian air and 
already venerable aspect of Professor Geddes, who, from 
a human point of view, seems to have occupied most of the 
attention of George and William during their first session 
at the University. The less respectful of his pupils 
declared that he was better at declaiming the speeches of 
Lord Brougham or the Lays of Ancient Rome, with which 
he would upon occasion relieve the tedium of a lecture, 
than at unravelling the intricacies of the Pro Cluentio 



i866] AT THE UNIVERSITY 39 

or the Philippics. He was then passing through a series 
of sharp collisions with his class, the history of one of 
which is recounted at length in our correspondence and 
throws some light on the manners and customs of Smith's 
contemporaries. 

The collective high spirits of a company of such 
exceedingly young men, most of whom were in fact 
not men at all, but boys half through their teens, 
frequently issued in physical ebullitions more or less 
rough and more or less silly. One of George's earliest 
letters records that 

" . . . as the students return from college they always 
shut the shutters of the houses (which in many of the 
houses in the old town are on the outside of the windows) , 
ring the bells, and knock with the knockers. But yesterday 
an old woman came out with a pail of water, which she 
threw on any one who ventured to come near and thus 
kept one of the shutters from being closed, and to-day she 
had them taken off. To-day the student who sits beside 
me got his gown torn to pieces in the class without his 
knowledge by the two boys behind him. When I per- 
ceived it I told him, for which I received a kick in the back 
from one of the operators." 

This was the audience whose hostility Dr. Maclure, 
owing to some circumstances the exact nature of which 
remains obscure, had been so unfortunate as to excite. 
The two following letters respectively from George and 
William are characteristic of the eager style of the 
correspondence and give an interesting, though no 
doubt rather prejudiced, account of a stirring passage of 
academic history : 

9 MOUNT STREET, January 31, 1862. 

MY DEAR PAPA Yesterday Maclure read out a number 
of names of persons who were to stay and speak to him. 
These were then called in one by one into the presence 
of all the professors and strictly examined concerning 
Thomson's case. The examination lasted from a quarter 
past one to about a quarter past three, when they at length 
extracted from one of them a confession of Thomson's 
guilt by threatening to take his bursary from him if he 



40 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1861- 

did not tell. When the professors came out the students 
who had been waiting to hear the report set upon Maclure 
and chased him along the King Street Road and up Union 
Street to his house in Rubislaw Terrace, pelting him with 
stones. Maclure was so much frightened that he had a 
policeman watching his house all night. So to-day in 
Maclure's class they kept a constant noise, notwith- 
standing that he cried " Silence ! " and sat down without 
doing anything for a good while. The Semis also have 
come to a resolution about the Adam Johnston case, 
" To give Cockie no rest to his body or peace to his bones 
till he learns to behave himself" ! Maclure himself says 
that there are only two gentlemen in the Semi class, viz. 
David Caul and Geo. Thomson the Dean of Guild's son. 
To-day Bain fined three fellows half a crown each, so that 
this has been a very memorable week. Mary Jane and 
Willie are both writing to Mr. Burn to-night. We are all 
in good health. Grandmother is a good deal better to-day. 
I can now say 692 lines of the Medea. We are going to 
begin Virgil soon, so if you please send in Bryce. We 
have two German Virgils also (in the book press upstairs, 
I think), and if you please send them in too. I 
remain, your afft. son, GEO. MICHIE SMITH. 

9 MOUNT STREET, February 3, 1862. 

MY DEAR PAPA As the greater part of this letter must 
be on college matters, I think I had better begin with them. 

George told you of Thomson's affair so far as it had gone 
at the time he wrote. You will remember that he had 
got no open trial, the examination of the witnesses being 
quite secret. Well, he has got no open trial at all, but on 
Friday was cited before the Senatus at 8 o'clock. Before 
this time Thomson's father came into town (having, I be- 
lieve, been written to by Prof. Geddes) and tried all he could 
do to soften Maclure, who, however, was inflexible, and 
openly avowed an intention, or at least a desire, to have 
Thomson expelled. Thomson himself went to see Geddes, 
who expressed himself very sorry for him, mentioned that 
he had especially noticed Thomson's attention in his class, 
promised to do his best for him, but said that as a 
breach of college discipline the offence would have to 
receive some punishment. In the Senatus Thomson was 
simply asked what he had to say for himself. He confessed 
to throwing the stick, but denies (and, I am sure, truly) 



i866] AT THE UNIVERSITY 41 

any intention of hitting Maclure, apologised, and promised 
better behaviour in future. He was then removed and 
the Senatus, after a violent dispute, as was evident from 
the sounds proceeding from the room, pronounced on him 
the sentence of rustication for the rest of the session, 
with the loss of his bursary for this year ! But this is not 
all, for on Saturday, four of the ringleaders in the pro- 
cession that hooted Maclure were cited and sentenced thus. 
George Geddes, who has always been, though undiscovered, 
at the head of every row, and Mackenzie, were each sen- 
tenced to rustication sine die, which in George Geddes's case 
was, I believe, accompanied with loss of bursary. Stewart 
Buyers and Hugh M'Pherson were each rusticated for this 
session. At the same meeting Thomson's punishment was 
mitigated. He is only to lose half of a year's bursary, 
and if he behaves, which he is sure to do, will be allowed 
to enter the second class next session. In addition to this, 
George Gordon was at Bain's instigation fined a guinea, 
because some door (I cannot tell distinctly about this, as 
it happened, I think, in the lower section) had been broken 
and Gordon was seen giving it a kick. Fuller wished the 
fine to be only 53., but Bain carried his motion. 

In these proceedings the Principal, Martin, Bain, and 
Maclure took the lead. Thomson (Nat. Phil.) took the 
chief part in the mere investigations, but, with Geddes 
and Fuller, was for mild measures. 

There is great indignation among the students, of 
course, and I believe the public at large see that Maclure 
himself is really the cause of all this. The other four 
were really troublesome in the class, but Thomson's case, as 
the more moderate professors saw, is merely the result 
of Maclure's tyrannical oppressions. I believe you were 
told before how Maclure by repeated injustices goaded 
him to desperation. Had it not been for Maclure, we 
would not have had the least disturbance. We were at 
dinner at the Williamson's on Saturday and Mary Jane 
got a Cornhill to take home and read. Granny is almost 
better ; indeed, I may say, quite well. 

* * * 

Basket arrived on Saturday all right. The flowers 
were beautiful. We had a lecture from Geddes on Homer 
to-day. Our first lesson, twelve lines of the fourth book, 
is to be said on Thursday. I am, your affectionate son, 

W. R. SMITH. 



42 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1861- 

The two brothers soon became much occupied with 
many concerns besides the pursuit of pre-eminence in 
learning. It became a question how best to distribute 
their spare time. 

" The principle," writes their father, " upon which 
they were instructed to work, and on which they did work, 
was this : their class lessons were their first care ; what- 
ever they had to do was done in concert and done 
thoroughly. Their work was never in arrear, and the 
acquisitions of the week were made sure by revisal at the 
week's end. Working on this system they secured 
sufficient time for recreation and never had occasion to 
encroach upon the hours necessary for sleep, never sat up 
till midnight, and generally had at least seven and often 
as much as eight hours in bed. Moreover, no part of the 
Sabbath day was ever spent in study. They often had 
an evening to spend with kind friends in town, and 
frequently indulged in long walks and talks with the few 
intimate acquaintances they had made among their 
fellow-students." 

Mr. Pirie Smith as an ex-schoolmaster of eminence 
had many friends and connections in Aberdeen, so that 
in addition to the hospitality of relatives his children 
received many attentions. There is an early description 
of a breakfast party at a reverend Free Church professor's 
house, where the host " was very kind, though he laboured 
under some disadvantage in having to speak to us all in 
turn, and dismissed us about half-past ten with the 
formula, ' I am glad to have seen you.' ' Many names 
are mentioned of givers of dinners and tea-parties, which 
became so numerous that both brothers complain that 
they have not time for such frequent dissipations, and 
George petitions for an " interdict prohibiting us to 
accept any invitations, for we have not had a whole 
Saturday for a long time, and when Bain gives us a very 
long exercise we need almost all our time." 

To this period belong some quaintly severe criticisms 
on sermons, among which George's strictures on an 
Established Church divine's discourse, as " a dry address 



i866] AT THE UNIVERSITY 43 

about God's omnipotence and other theoretical points," 
deserve to be remembered. More important, however, as 
an epoch in the present history is the record of William's 
first essays as an orator. He begins to attend the college 
debating society very early in his career, and mentions a 
debate on the subject, " Is Phrenology a Science? " at 
which " two or three speakers whose voices were strong 
enough to be heard all through the room were listened to 
quietly." It is mentioned that the motion was negatived, 
and that many lamps were smashed by the debaters on 
their way home. It does not appear that Smith spoke 
on this occasion, and it is pretty clear that his first speech 
was made some weeks later when he maintained the 
merits of Republicanism as against the Monarchical 
principle of government. The admiring . George writes 
that " his speech was confessed by almost all to have 
been the best delivered that night. At any rate, in the 
absence of the leader of his party he was chosen to reply 
to his adversary's second speech, and by striking a fatal 
blow at the root of both his speeches put him in such a 
rage that when Willie came down from the platform he 
turned round and said, ' You ought to become a lawyer.' ' 
In these various occupations the session slipped rapidly 
away, but never did two students give more convincing 
proof that their time had been well employed. The work 
of the first session in those days was, as a rule, the key 
to the future distinction of the prominent members of a 
class. George and William shared the honours of the 
year with each other, and with William Minto in Classics 
and English. William was at the head of the ordinary 
Greek class, second in the " provectiores " and second 
also in Latin, besides gaining special prizes for translations 
of portions of Horace and Juvenal into English verse. 
In English he was first prizeman. It was a triumph for 
Keig and its system of education. When in April 1862 the 
party returned from Mount Street bringing their sheaves 
with them, it was the first of a series of victorious home- 



44 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [in- 

comings, when the younger people at the manse heard 
William's voice far off in loud excited talk and were 
impressed with the vast superiority of their brothers over 
all mankind. The summer, of which we have no records, 
was doubtless spent in preparing for the second session, 
in which Smith made his first important steps in the 
knowledge of the exacter sciences which was such an 
important feature in his intellectual life, and which had 
a very profound influence on all his thinking. 

The teachers who conducted the scientific courses in 
the University had not the celebrity of Bain and Geddes, 
but personally they were hardly less remarkable. 
Professor David Thomson, the Natural Philosopher, was 
a man with gifts for teaching and powers of sarcasm 
which alternately edified and cowed his pupils. His 
method was not the somewhat frigid defensiveness of 
Bain, but consisted rather in the free use of a gift for quiet 
but cutting sarcasm. He was so sure of himself that 
he was able to indulge his fondness for the small practical 
jokes which the demonstrations of experimental science 
make possible; and every one laughed uneasily, not 
knowing whether he might not be the next butt. 
Professor Nicol, known as "Jeems" (even as Thomson 
was respectfully alluded to as " Davie "), introduced 
Smith to the sciences of Botany and Zoology, in which, 
as his later letters will show, he took a keen and 
continued interest. Nicol's was a retiring and modest 
personality, and he is now remembered for a controversy 
with Murchison in which, though overwhelmed for the 
moment, posterity has judged him to have been largely 
in the right. Frederick Fuller (more familiarly 
"Freddy"), the professor of Mathematics, presented a 
marked contrast to his two colleagues. He was an 
Englishman, had been tutor of Peterhouse, and, being an 
excellent teacher with a great capacity for neat and lucid 
exposition, he must be given a due share of the credit 
for the numerous Senior Wranglers who were the glory of 



1866] AT THE UNIVERSITY 45 

Aberdeen. Fuller represented English reticence and 
decorum, and seems to have preserved discipline without 
self-assertion, and to have earned the affection of his 
students without condescension or familiarity. Several 
precise and strictly business-like letters preserved among 
Smith's papers testify to the interest he took in his pupil's 
career. He was much disappointed at Smith's determina- 
tion to pursue what he somewhat drily referred to as 
" ecclesiastical preferment," instead of proceeding to 
Cambridge and exploiting his mathematical abilities after 
the ordinary fashion of ambitious youth. 

The young people resumed their sojourn in Aberdeen 
in the late autumn of 1862, and came back to much the 
same activities and pursuits as those with which their 
first year had been filled. The only incidents worthy of 
note were a change of lodging and the addition to the 
party of another sister, whose educational achievements, 
showing the exact place she was taking in her classes, 
formed an additional subject of the almost daily corre- 
spondence with Keig. A letter from George of this date 
preserves first impressions of Fuller and Nicol (who 
afterwards rose in his pupil's estimation), and enriches 
with some new touches the undergraduate caricature of 
Dr. Maclure, who as a matter of fact was most favourably 
disposed towards both George and William, and took an 
anxious interest in their health and well-being. 

ii NORTH BROADFORD, November 7, 1862. 

MY DEAR PAPA Our first hour with Fuller every day 
is spent on Geometry. On Wednesday he gave us only 
an introductory oration and told us to prepare the first 
5 props. On Thursday he went over the first 10 
definitions, and to-day over the rest of the definitions, the 
postulates, the axioms, and the first 2 props. For to- 
morrow we have to the end of the yth. As yet he has 
given us no deductions to do. In the 2nd hour he is 
going over a few things in arithmetic before beginning 
algebra. This is very dry, as it is only the easiest things, 
which we, of course, are perfectly acquainted with, viz. 



46 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1861- 

Numeration and Notation, Addition, Subtraction, Multi- 
plication, Division, Vulgar Fractions. To-day he began 
Decimals. He has given us to bring on Monday 3 sums 
in L.C.M. and 3 or 4 complicated Expressions in Vulgar 
Fractions to reduce. On Wednesday Maclure gave us 
out the speech pro Cluentio instead of the 2nd Philippic, 
which he had ordered Adam to have. So of course none 
of the class but one had a book on Thursday. Accordingly 
Maclure changed the book without allowing that he had 
made any mistake, and to occupy the time read us part 
of a long article on the life of Antony and the occasion of 
the Philippics, all, or nearly all, of which I was glad to find 
I knew from my history. To-day he continued this and 
heard us the first chapter. He has on the whole been 
tolerably agreeable, except the first day, when he told us, 
" Gentlemen, I have much pleasure to see you in these 
fine new class-rooms which have been erected for us. 
The first use we will make of these will be to arrange you 
alphabetically in the benches." This accordingly was 
done, when he commenced: " The reason for arranging 
you thus is that the Senatus may know the place of every 
gentleman, so that if any mischief be done to the benches 
the person beside whose seat it is may be responsible. 
If he cannot find out who did the mischief, the whole seat 
will have to pay the damages. The benches are public 
property and you are guardians. We will read the 
famous oration of Cicero pro Cluentio. Now I have 
nothing more to say to you, so I will dismiss you." This 
was rather bad, I think, the first day. 

Geddes gave us a lecture extolling, of course, Greek 
Literature above every other subject of study. I do not 
remember ever seeing him so nearly in a rage as when 
Gumming told him aTroxra^evos came from dTrwo-aw. He sat 
down on his seat, his face on his hands, and cried, " Dis- 
gusting ! " I thought he would have collapsed altogether. 

Nicol's first lecture was on the importance of the study 
of Natural History. He is a very shabby-looking man in 
a rusty gown ; he reads off his lecture with very little 
regard to punctuation and so awfully fast that it is almost 
impossible to take it down. 

He recommended to us to get Milne Edwards 's Zoology 
and two works of history, a pamphlet on Geology, and a 
catechism of Geology. The latter two, I think, are rather 
cheap. Milne Edwards's is 73. 6d., so that we do not know 



i866] AT THE UNIVERSITY 47 

whether to buy it or not. I do not think a second-hand 
copy is to be got, all having been picked up already. 
I hope you will soon let us know what to do. 

Frank Reid says Milne Edwards is not indispensable, 
but that it is perfectly necessary to have the other two, 
as he reads passages out of them when he is at Geology. 
Nicol is said to be very good-humoured, but tremendous 
when he is really irritated. We are invited to frequent 
the Museum, and if we choose to stay at the end of the 
hour, he will explain to us the specimens on the table. 
Mary Jane sends away to-day her article to Chambers' s 
Journal. I am, your affectionate son, 

G. M. SMITH. 

The second session proceeded much on the same lines 
as the first. There was no decline in the brothers' 
performances, which soon became as conspicuous in 
mathematics as they had before been in Latin and Greek. 
It was not long before Professor Fuller's attention was 
attracted to George, who did a deduction " which had 
passed more than half the class," and there are frequent 
notes of the speed at which the brothers could jointly 
or severally " clear " papers of difficult mathematical 
questions. 

Strict hygienic precautions are taken. 

" We have been very careful in the cold weather," 
writes George, " and are not at all the worse of it, being all 
in very good health. We got our leggings a while ago. 

" We are not doing too much, nor sitting up working 
past ten, which is excessively moderate. We have very 
little to do in Mathematics, and to give up them, however 
much work was needed, would be perfectly ridiculous. 
In Natural History we have * given up all thought of 
any chance of prizes and only work a little at it on nights 
before examinations, and I think nine hours' sleep is enough 
for any person." 

Nor were amusements altogether neglected. Shinty 2 
matches, at least as a matter for interest and excitement, 

1 William, nevertheless, was second, and George fourth, prizeman in 
this class. 

2 Hockey. 



48 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1861- 

alternate with Ferguson Scholarship papers done for 
practice at breakneck speed ; there is some excitement, 
even some not altogether disagreeable alarm, issuing in 
undergraduate verse, on the occasion of the rumours of 
garrotting in the metropolis which reached Aberdeen that 
winter. George adopts a somewhat stern attitude towards 
some of these diversions. 

" Willie, of course, has given in his name to the torch- 
light procession," he writes towards the end of February, 
" a proceeding which I think is very foolish, as most people 
say that it is certain to end in a fight with the cads. Each 
person has to pay a shilling for the torches and the band. 
Besides all this, it is to begin at six, which will be broad 
daylight by that time of the year. Fuller spoke about it 
to-day, and said that as they were not common here, we 
would need to take very great care or we would be sure 
to light ourselves or each other ; that he had often seen 
them in Germany, where they had them often and hence 
knew how to manage them, and that he believed the 
secret of the whole lay in two things : 

"i. In holding the torches not perpendicularly, but in 
an oblique direction that this prevented a person lighting 
himself. 

"2. In marching in perfect order and with each rank at 
a considerable distance from the rank before." 

The following letter, dating from this time (February 
1863), is interesting as marking what may be called the 
first event in William's theological career. It relates to 
a prize open to the competition of Free Church students 
which he won with an essay on " The Lord's Day." His 
unaffected recognition of the patria potestas no less than 
his unselfish proposal to add to his father's library out of 
the prize money are typical of his character and deserve 
to be specially noticed. 

" You asked for more particulars about the essays, 
but of course I can only tell what I heard from those who 
were present. It appears that Willie Gray's essay began 
very far back indeed with the Roman errors about ro e? 
s, and that an exposure of the falsehood of the Papist 




53 M 

*3 "^~ 

<! . 



Q * 

^ 

< Sa 

s : 

g J 

o I 

w |> 

W "S 

^s 

fc 0, 

O 

* I 



i866] AT THE UNIVERSITY 49 

Doctrines and a good deal about Erastianism formed the 
greater part of his essay. All who were present indeed, 
except Bob Urquhart, think that it contained a great deal 
of irrelevant matter. 

" I do not know very well as yet what to do with the 
money, but at all events I should like to get the third 
volume of Alford for you, and the rest I suppose I shall 
keep to help in the next large expense for books or any- 
thing else that may occur. Of course I will not spend any 
of it without your advice and permission. When we 
have finished the second Philippic with Maclure we are to 
read the Adelphi of Terence. We have as yet done very 
little Sophocles with Geddes as we have been a good deal 
taken up with the metre. Fuller is at Quadratics. With 
Nicol we are nearly done of zoology. We finished the 
fishes to-day. This week I began my second notebook 
with him. 

"To-day Isabella is first in Bible and Geography, but 
fourth in English. . . . 

" There is nothing else, I think, to tell." 

It was in the early part of 1864, in the middle of the 
third session of their course, that a darker concern than 
the vicissitudes of academic success first seriously 
threatened the happiness of the family. The constitu- 
tional delicacy of both the brothers, as we have seen, had 
often caused their parents great alarm, and much care 
and watchfulness had always been necessary. It is 
painfully clear how well-founded was the anxiety, how 
indispensable the precautions to which allusion has been 
made above. 

The old-fashioned Scottish curriculum which the 
brothers were pursuing, and which has only quite recently 
been modified, may be said to have been a natural 
development of the Mediaeval system of the seven liberal 
arts. It had hardly kept pace with the rapid strides 
of the advancement of learning and educational method 
since the days of the schoolmen, and the culture it 
supplied was exposed to the criticism of Dr. Johnson, 
who described it as " a mediocrity of knowledge between 
learning and ignorance, not inadequate to the purposes 

4 



50 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1861- 

of common life," though falling short of " the splendours 
of ornamental erudition." A student who in those 
days aspired to proficiency in all the subjects of his 
course was apt to have to choose between adroit 
sciolism and an amount of labour seriously dangerous to 
health. The unusual ability of Smith and his brother 
who, of course, chose the second alternative, and the rare 
efficiency and completeness of their previous tuition 
in a measure lessened the strain and made possible 
the remarkable success which they achieved. Similar 
instances of extensive and at the same time profound 
culture in spite of Dr. Johnson are fortunately not 
uncommon in Scotland ; they were numerous among 
Smith's friends and contemporaries. But the price paid 
by these strenuous young people pursuing the higher 
culture, in such a climate, often only too literally " on a 
little oatmeal," was sometimes heavy. In the earliest 
of his letters from Aberdeen the references to illnesses 
and deaths among the students are sadly frequent. Sore 
throats, swollen glands, gastric fever, even ague, are often 
mentioned, and one of Smith's earliest notes on college 
life is that he has been absent owing to a swollen cheek 
and that no explanation was required of him when he 
returned. 

The health both of William and of George had been 
most carefully watched. As early as January 1862 there 
had been a consultation of doctors on George, and both 
teachers and friends frequently expressed concern and 
anxiety. Professor Bain, writing to the Rev. Hugh 
Martin in 1865, says : "I see a complimentary allusion 
to one of the best pupils that we ever had at the University, 
since the union at least ; but alas, poor fellow, his bodily 
frame is not equal to the indwelling mind. The last 
accounts I had of him and his brother from their father 
were a little more encouraging, but one cannot help feeling 
anxious for both." 

Long before the date of this letter, which shows Bain's 



:866] AT THE UNIVERSITY 51 

kindly appreciation of his pupils in spite of the intellectual 
antagonism which was latent from the first, and even then 
suspected, the mischief which it anticipates had come to a 
head. The winter of 1863-64 was unusually severe even 
for Aberdeen. " The weather here is frightfully cold, but 
fine," writes William to his father in February. "An 
accident of some sort which took place this morning 
prevented Thomson's class-room from being heated, 
which on so frosty a day was rather unfortunate." The 
cold was fatal to delicate lungs. Mention is made of the 
death of Alexander Manson, a fellow-student, from acute 
pneumonia after a week's illness and delirium. George 
was already seriously ill. 

" Alexander Hanson's funeral was to-day at ten 
o'clock," writes William on the i8th. " Fuller's class did 
not meet, and all our class had to go up to the Gymnasium 
(where Manson had been living), where we assembled in 
one of the rooms and the Principal read and prayed. We 
then walked in procession before the coffin to the College 
gate, where we stood till the coffin, which had up to this 
point been carried, was transferred to the hearse. Only 
one carriage proceeded farther. Both Thomson and 
Fuller came to ask for George as we stood at the gate. 
Bain also stopped me to ask for him. He had spoken to 
Dr. Williamson, who agreed with him that George should 
not venture to come to the classes again." 

The letter from which this extract is taken is a short 
note addressed to his mother by William ; on the back of 
the same sheet Mary Jane writes her account of George's 
health, from which it appears that he is too weak to be 
out of bed even for an hour without weariness. He 
rallied sufficiently to take his examination and to share 
with his brother, as before, the chief honours of the 
session. He was then taken back to Keig to recover, and 
was compelled to remain there all summer and all the 
following winter. It was not, therefore, until 1866 that 
his academic career reached what was to be at once its 
climax and its end. 



52 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1861- 

In the home atmosphere George, who was at first so 
ill that he had to be carried into the house, recovered 
for a time the precarious balance of his health ; but a 
new anxiety soon arose. Mary Jane, the devoted sister, 
developed symptoms of fatal disease. She had been 
assiduous in nursing both George and William, who had 
also been ill in the last days of the session at Aberdeen, 
and towards the end of the winter there are several notes 
in her hand written in a tone of cheerful energy which is 
far from suggesting that she was fatally attacked. Her 
illness seems to have begun immediately after her return 
to the country in the early days of April, and by the first 
week of May it had been diagnosed as rapid consumption. 
From this time until her death on the I5th the entries 
in Smith's little diary, which for the most part are bald, 
almost monosyllabic notes of every -day occurrences, 
become full and pathetic descriptions of his sister's 
deathbed. The tragedy of these sad days, which was to 
be repeated only two years later, moved him as no previous 
experience in his life had done. All his deeper emotions 
had hitherto been of a religious kind, and the religious 
aspect of the mournful events passing in their midst was 
naturally predominant in the minds of such a family at 
such a time. This melancholy passage in the earlier 
history of one whose religious position became the subject 
of so much controversy is of great interest and importance 
to the biographer. Smith, in spite of his early pre- 
cocity, was still far from his spiritual maturity; his 
intellect, as was very natural, had developed in advance 
of his character, and this, as we know from a subsequent 
letter, had not escaped the acute observation of Bain, 
who described him some years later as receptive rather 
than productive. The diary, and the few letters which 
Smith wrote at the time to friends, reveal a mood of deep 
distress. Mary Jane's death was the occasion of his 
first experience of the more passionate emotions of human 
life. It was the first and one of the most terrible of his 



i866] AT THE UNIVERSITY 53 

sorrows, but there was no rebellion against the pre- 
scriptions of an inherited and inculcated religious faith ; 
there can hardly even be said to have been a conflict. 
Sharp as was the crisis of his grief, it passed and rapidly 
subsided in a series of consolatory meditations. His 
feelings are summed up in the following letter to his 
lifelong friend Archibald M' Donald : 

FREE MANSE, KEIG, May g, 1864. 

MY DEAR ARCHIE I fear there is no hope of Mary 
Jane's recovery. The fever has been only secondary and 
her disease is rapid consumption. Within the last two 
or three days she is very much wasted and changed in 
appearance. But she is quite calm and composed, and is 
prepared to die. 

Either Papa or Mamma sits with her constantly, and 
she cares for nothing so much as to listen to Papa while he 
repeats verses from the Bible. She takes no interest in 
anything but the Bible. 

She told Mamma that she was glad that she had been 
brought through so severe an illness that it was worth it 
all to gain the happiness that she had gained. It is still 
possible perhaps that she may rally, but we can hardly 
dare to hope so. She is so weak that it seems a question 
of days or even hours how long she may live. Dr. 
Williamson will see her again to-morrow. 

Do not blame me for writing to you thus. 

On Saturday I was hopeful, but now I seem almost in 
the presence of death. But though it is very hard for us 
all, and especially for myself, I feel that it is best for her 
and for us too. Your sincere friend, WM. R. SMITH. 

Do not think that I should not have written so to you. 
You do not know how great a loss it will be to me. And 
I wished to tell you what I have myself seen in her, that 
there is but one thing that can give composure and 
happiness even in death. 

P.S. Mary Jane was very thankful for the oranges 
she finds them very refreshing now when she is unable to 
take a drink. We could not have them here. She cannot 
take the jelly, but Mamma sends her thanks for it. 

WM. R. SMITH. 

When this letter was written it was still possible to 



54 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1861- 

hope against hope, but after another week of physical and 
mental agony spent in pitiless self-examination and 
judgment Mary Jane passed away. On Sunday the I5th 
May 1864, the diary records ZOavev ev ravry rrj WKTI, and 
after a few entries relating to her burial it turns once more 
to details of work and the small incidents of country life. 

The crisis over, the process of acquiring erudition 
is resumed with more energy than ever. The diary again 
becomes strictly a record of studies, and the writer takes 
to keeping an account with himself of the number of hours 
he has managed to work day by day and of the interrup- 
tions for walks and work in the manse garden. At this 
time he was reading Thucydides with Crete's History, 
that most excellent of commentaries on the story of the 
Peloponnesian war. By the time he returned to Aberdeen 
he had gone through much of Aeschylus and some Plato, 
had mastered Persius and made considerable progress 
with Tacitus, reading Merivale concurrently. Besides 
this he had been engaged on Mill's Logic and on the 
works of Professor Bain. Most of his time, however, had 
been occupied with Mathematics and Natural Philosophy- 

The records of the session which followed bring us to 
the end of his formal course of secular education and leave 
him with his degree of Master of Arts. Unhappily, the 
story of the misfortunes which at this time beset him and 
his family is far from concluded. Mary Jane's death 
had been a terrible blow to all the family circle at Keig. 
The grief of the father and the mother may be imagined, 
and it is not surprising that the letters and the diary of this 
period contain frequent and anxious references to illnesses 
at the manse. George was resting there, no doubt 
working a little, and recovering slowly and imperfectly 
from his breakdown. Smith himself was of course in 
Aberdeen, waging the usual battle with the terrible winter 
weather, husbanding his health and strength as he best 
might, but obviously languishing under the unremitting 
pressure of hard work and the unhealed though unspoken 



i866] AT THE UNIVERSITY 55 

sorrow of his recent bereavement. Many of his letters 
of this time are addressed to George. 

It was in this year he began the study of Moral 
Philosophy, so important in the pastoral career, under 
the auspices of Professor Martin, whom in this chapter 
there has hitherto been no opportunity to describe. A 
quondam rival of Bain, who treats him with a kind of 
grim forbearance in his Autobiography, Martin repre- 
sented in all points of doctrine an opposite philosophic 
pole, and, as a contemporary observer has recorded, " he 
took his polarity very seriously." He belonged to an 
obsolete type of moralist whose course of instruction 
proceeded in a pre-established crescendo of rhetoric, 
strongly flavoured with reminiscences of the pulpit. Like 
the more celebrated Professor Wilson, he had well-known 
purple patches in his lectures which when politely pressed 
he would graciously repeat ; nothing could be more 
unlike the modern course in Moral Philosophy, with its 
careful appreciation of Plato and Aristotle, and its exact 
historical survey of the systems built up by Kant and 
later thinkers. 

His students do not appear to have accorded him the 
respect due to his years or to the seriousness and import- 
ance of his subject. 

" They were rarely punctual," writes the observer 
who has been already quoted, " unless some uproarious 
joke or ironically solemn impertinence had been planned 
for a particular day. They used to stand in groups about 
the door of his room singing ' Duncan Gray/ ' The auld 
man's mear's deid,' ' Duncan's on the grey mear, awa' to 
seek the howdie,' and other ribald ditties, with occasional 
songs specially composed on some incident connected 
with the professor." 

Smith seems to some extent to have shared in the 
critical view which the class (most of them with much 
less right than he to criticise) took of their professor. 
Bain was an intellectual antagonist from the first. 



56 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1861- 

Martin was not a foeman worthy of his steel, and, for all 
his orthodoxy, assuredly not an intellectual affinity. Smith 
even seems to have received with some impatience certain 
of Martin's advances and a suggestion, which was not 
by any means ill-founded, that he would have a good 
chance of obtaining a Ferguson Scholarship 1 in Philosophy. 
He remarks on the striking differences between Bain's 
and Martin's treatment of the " Intellectual Powers," 
and thinks that Bain is " the imaginary sensationalist 
Martin is always fulminating at." He speaks of writing 
an essay on " The Connection between Religion and a 
Sense of Demerit," " not that he thinks the subject a 
good one, but because the others presented are worse." 
The essays, in spite of the defects of the subject, were very 
successful. Martin thought very highly of his pupil, was 
fond of publicly examining him on the works of Bishop 
Butler, and renewed more than once his suggestions of a 
candidature for the Philosophical Ferguson Scholarship. 

In the meantime Smith had been making great progress 
in his studies of Natural Philosophy, and constantly speaks 
with high praise and great interest of Professor Thomson's 
lectures on Optics and electrical subjects. His classical 
scholarship too had not been neglected, and we find him 
making Greek verses and reminding George at Keig 
that " a short vowel does sometimes, though rarely, 
remain short before p.v." All was progressing favourably 
towards a brilliant conclusion of his career in his native 
University, but at the last moment, on the very verge 
of the final examinations, his strength gave way. 

The illness from which he suffered had begun towards 
the middle of March and was no doubt aggravated by 
neglect in its early stages. The winter had been bitter 
as usual, and there had been much illness in Aberdeen. 
Dr. Williamson, who had been a devoted friend as well as 

1 This Scholarship is the highest distinction open to alumni of 
the northern Universities, and is annually awarded for Classics, Philo- 
sophy, and Mathematics after keen competition and most searching 
examination. 



i866] AT THE UNIVERSITY 57 

the medical attendant of the family, had succumbed to an 
attack of typhus fever only a month before, after a very 
short illness, and there are the usual references in the 
letters and the diary to ill-health and sickness. In his 
letters home he admits certain symptoms in his own case, 
but he minimises them, and in writing to George and his 
father he continues doggedly to plan the examination 
campaign. Soon, however, it appeared that he was fight- 
ing the inevitable. He in his turn had to retire, deeply 
disappointed, bruised in spirit and feeble in body, to Keig. 
His father, after tracing his successes up to this point 
and working out the comparison with his academic rivals, 
to which there has already been occasion to refer, explains 
very simply that 

"... William was prevented by serious illness from 
attempting any of the examinations for prizes and 
honours, except the examination on Christian Evidences. 
In this examination he gained a prize, although he was so 
ill at the time that he went home to his bed, from which 
he did not rise for many weeks. He felt the disappoint- 
ment keenly, and I have no doubt his disease was greatly 
aggravated thereby. His professors were disappointed 
too, They expected him to take a very high place in 
honours, as well in Mental Sciences as in Classics and 
Mathematics, and now they could not even give him his 
degree of M.A. without examination in his remaining 
subjects. They sent to ask whether he could not make 
his appearance for a short time. They would see to his 
comfort ; they would do everything to prevent injury 
to him. His doctor put an emphatic veto on the proposal. 
It was next suggested that he should be examined, so 
far as was necessary for his degree, in his own room ; 
the doctor consented. The examiners came (the doctor 
being in the house), and after a few viva voce questions 
had been asked and answered they declared themselves 
satisfied and took their leave." 

In the result he got his degree and was unanimously 
recommended for the Town Council Gold Medal, the only 
honour which could be given without competition, 



58 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1861- 

and which is annually conferred upon the best student 
of his class, taking all the curriculum into account. 

It was not till May that he was able to take a pen 
in hand, and even then, though convalescent, he is 
" scarcely beyond the garden." Immediately after this, 
however, he " begins to do a little Mathematics," and, 
almost for the first time in his life, to relax his mind 
with a little general reading. We hear of a course of 
Hallam's Middle Ages, a work that most people would 
find a little ponderous for their hours of ease ; he reads 
a little Horace, some Macaulay, and a good deal of 
Paradise Lost ; it is satisfactory to note that some sensible 
friend lent him a copy of the Nodes Ambrosianae, and 
that he did not neglect to study it. About this time too 
begins the systematic reading of Theology the names of 
Calvin, Hardwicke, and Alford occur almost every Sunday 
in the diary and a little later in the year we find him 
making acquaintance with Augustine de Civitate Dei, a 
work which occupied him a good deal, and from which 
he made numerous extracts which survive among the 
papers of this date. 

As his health improved he was able to take advantage 
of the opportunities of air and exercise which made the 
summer at Keig so salutary a season to both the brothers, 
and it became possible for him to look forward to the next 
step in his career. He now finally decided to compete 
for the Mathematical Ferguson Scholarship, in spite of 
Professor Martin's advice to try his fortune in Philosophy. 

The scientific studies to which, with returning health, 
he again began to apply himself soon developed into a 
formidable course of preparation. After a summer of 
judicious reading conducted under the direction of Pro- 
fessors Fuller and Thomson, who had the liveliest interest 
in his candidature, and whose wise advice about husband- 
ing his resources was more important than any programme 
of study, he went to Glasgow for the examination, accom- 
panied by his mother. 



i866] AT THE UNIVERSITY 59 

The following letter to his father, dated Edinburgh, 
2 ist October, announces his success : 

MY DEAR PAPA Previous to starting for Edinburgh 
to-day I called at the Ferguson Office and learned that I 
had got the scholarship, and that by a considerable number 
of marks. Of course I am not yet formally the successful 
candidate, as the appointment has to be ratified by the 
Trustees. The formal announcement will be sent to 
Keig on Monday, and you, I suppose, will get it on Tuesday. 
Tait wrote in his report that " No. 4 " (my number) " is 
possessed of considerable power, but his papers lack 
polish." This I had some reason to suspect, my papers 
(as generally when I am pressed for time) being rather a 
mess. 

I was advised by the Ferguson Secretary to call on 
Tait, a counsel I think I shall follow. There is a coach 
to Lasswade, through, I am told, a beautiful country. 

Do you know that . . . Russell is to be Premier? 
Your affectionate son, WM. ROBERTSON SMITH. 

His mother also wrote to Keig on the same day with a 
curious suggestion of self-restraint which was probably 
very characteristic : 

" You will be glad to hear of Willie's success. On 
Saturday we had resolved to travel second class Willie 
went away before and we were to meet him at the 
station. When I saw his face he was looking so sober I 
said to Mrs. Stewart, ' I fear he has failed.' But he came 
running in about and said, ' Mamma, you'll go first class, 
for I've got the Scholarship.' I felt very thankful. 
Surely goodness and mercy have followed us." 

The projected visit to Tait was paid ; but the professor 
was unfortunately out, and a personal meeting was 
postponed. Tait's admiration of the successful candi- 
date's "uncouth power" had, however, been con- 
veyed to him, as we have seen, in somewhat modified 
terms ; and soon afterwards we find the two in corre- 
spondence on mathematical subjects. The basis of their 
association as colleagues and of their lifelong friendship 
was already laid. 



60 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1861- 

It had been decided, when he was brought back to Keig 
after his disastrous illness earlier in the year, that he 
should not commence his theological studies in the session 
of 1865-66, and, though he was obviously much recovered, 
there was no reason for departing from this excellent 
resolution. Accordingly, he accompanied George to the 
old lodgings in Aberdeen in November 1865, and all 
was for a time exactly as it had been; there was little 
change to record. 

" At College everything seems to be getting on quite 
smoothly and dully Thomson going on with Musical 
Notes and Martin prosing about consciousness. The only 
thing that has created any excitement is that one of 
Geddes's windows was broken last Friday night. It is 
supposed, but with what truth I do not know, that this 
was done by some members of the Tertian Class, the 
motive being indignation at the large and in fact un- 
precedented number of then: class who were stuck in the 
Classical degree exams." 

The letters to Keig are filled with accounts of George's 
health and progress towards the delayed degree, and his 
own continued work at Mathematics and Natural Science. 
At this time too the most important interest of his life 
begins to make its appearance, for, in spite of the post- 
ponement of his Divinity course, it is from this point in his 
career that his definite preparation for his ecclesiastical 
life begins with the systematic study of German and of 
Hebrew. His father's memorandum tells us that it was 
his intention to spend the next summer session at a German 
university, and he threw himself into his new pursuits 
with characteristic ardour. Speaking of the headaches from 
which he still suffered, he assures his father that they are 
due to being confined to the house owing to bad weather, 
and that he is following the anxious advice daily sent from 
the manse not to work too hard. He is concentrating 
on German and doing very little Hebrew. 

He says nothing of his Natural Science studies and of 



i866] AT THE UNIVERSITY 61 

the miscellaneous scientific reading he undertook with 
the object of helping George. He only mentions his 
preparation for the Fullarton Scholarship 1 to announce 
that it is complete, and when it is awarded to him without 
competition he is " rather ashamed " of the appearance 
he makes in the examination. 

As the session drew to a close his own interests naturally 
centred in his forthcoming visit to Germany ; he gathered 
together as much information as he could about the various 
universities ; his study of the language rapidly advanced ; 
he speaks with eager interest of an introduction to Wundt, 
which would bring him into touch with Helmholz. The 
chief excitement of the moment was, however, George's 
chance (growing every day into a certainty) of gaining 
all the honour of which he had himself been cheated the 
previous year, and of proceeding to an even more brilliant 
future at Cambridge. George's health appeared to be 
holding out well, and already it was clear that his final 
academic performances would more than justify his early 
promise. Speaking of an interview with Professor 
Thomson, William writes : " He then asked George about 
his health and studies, and when George said he did not 
know how he would get on in his (Thomson's) class, told 
him he need not be at all afraid, and said something about 
" abilities " which George did not catch. What does he 
mean that George need not be afraid of ? Surely of not 
being first, for George did not need to be told that he must 
be one of the first." 

The prophets were not put to shame. Parallel with 
the anxious and sagacious consideration and negotiation 
about a suitable college at Cambridge which ended in the 
choice of Pembroke, to which he sent up his name, George's 
preparation went on irresistibly. A slight note of anxiety 
is heard " I think George is getting on very well with his 
working, but he is now so engrossed in it that I shall 
be glad when the session is done." But this is lost in 

1 Open to graduates of the University of Aberdeen. 



62 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1861- 

the thrill of the final struggle. The result surpassed 
expectation. 

" He not only gained the first prize in every subject 
there studied during the fourth session Senior Natural 
Philosophy, Moral Philosophy, and Evidences of Christi- 
anity but he also graduated with first-class honours 
in Classics and Mathematics, was awarded the Hutton 
Prize for General Excellence, and was recommended, as 
his brother had been, for the Gold Medal given yearly 
by the Town Council of Aberdeen. In both subjects, 
Classics and Mathematics, he not only gained first-class 
honours, but stood first in both having made in the latter 
subject more than twice as many marks as the student 
who came next to him. This student, nevertheless, 
went immediately to Cambridge and gained an open 
scholarship, and afterwards obtained a high place as a 
wrangler." 

All unite in praising the brilliancy of the triumph, the 
modesty of the conqueror. It was at once a realisation of 
past hopes and a lively earnest of future glories. The 
reversal of fortune was sudden, terrible, and dramatic. 
On the 6th of April, George left Aberdeen with every 
honour his University could heap upon him. On the 
nth of the same month he was seized with a vomiting of 
blood, and on the 27th he was dead. 

William's account in the diary is much more restrained 
than his story of Mary Jane's death two years earlier. 
There is an advance in maturity, a growth of self-control. 
He records the progress of his brother's illness almost 
coldly, and, as if with a deliberate effort, he makes frequent 
reference to other things. His reading of Bishop Butler 
and Herodotus was not interrupted even during the last 
days. The end was painful, violent fits of delirium alter- 
nating with periods of exhaustion. " During the final 
struggle," says the father's memorandum, " he seemed to 
be entangled in deep water, but just before all was over he 
cried out in rapture, ' Mamma ! Mary Jane ! I am safe 
through now.' ' And your feet on the rock ? ' said his 



i866] AT THE UNIVERSITY 63 

mother. His answer was ' Yes,' and then all was over." 
Of all this scene William's diary simply records e/coip^. 

Germany was abandoned for the time, and after yet 
another summer of mourning and working at Keig a new 
phase of his life began. 



CHAPTER III 

THE NEW COLLEGE (1866-1870) 

" INTELLECTUAL culture, say some, is apt to make a man 
less spiritual. This supposes the spiritual part of the 
mind to be a peculiar faculty. In fact the emotional is 
meant. But a man may as readily err by trusting his 
own emotions as by trusting his own intellect. Spirituality 
is not the development of one part of the mind but the 
development of the whole mind in a special direction." 

These words were written by Smith at the end of one 
of his small diaries, when he was undergoing instruction 
in Moral Philosophy at Aberdeen, and perhaps they 
formed the first sketch for a paragraph of one of the 
essays of which Professor Martin thought so highly. 
Whatever be their source, the accident of their preserva- 
tion is fortunate, for they sum up in a most interesting 
way the position which the writer had reached at the out- 
set of his wider education. In the history of a man's 
development the five years after he is turned twenty are 
usually critical. From this time date the beginnings of 
his most important friendships, the formation and first 
consolidation of his views on great questions, the starting- 
points of his worldly career. This, at any rate, was the 
case with Smith, for by the end of the period which 
began in the autumn of 1866 with his entrance into the 
New College in Edinburgh, and ended in 1870 with his 
return to Aberdeen as Free Church Professor of Hebrew, 
he was not only fully launched on his adventurous course 
as a theologian, but his intellectual growth was almost 

6 4 



1866-1870] THE NEW COLLEGE 65 

complete and all the characteristics which afterwards 
made him loved or feared were well marked. 

The last chapter describes a period of concentration 
and strenuous self - discipline, during which he was 
accumulating intellectual capital and spending hardly 
anything of what he gathered. In the years which are 
now to be described he certainly spared himself as little 
as he had ever done, and his progress in mere learning was 
proportionate. But the leading themes of the history 
of his theological Lehrjahre are the rapid expansion of his 
personality under the stimulus of wider experience and 
the concurrent reactions of his intellect on its inherited 
traditions as they were re-presented to him by his new 
teachers and in his new studies. 

He left his father's house thoroughly grounded in the 
subjects of the current culture and well equipped to 
secure all that was possible in the way of conventional 
academic success. But there had also been cultivated 
in him a habit of free inquiry, a universal curiosity, 
and a turn for criticism formidable even in its be- 
ginnings. In his university days, and so far as his 
academic work was concerned, he seems almost deliber- 
ately to have held these tendencies in abeyance in order 
that he might the more completely absorb all that there 
was to learn. In fact he submitted himself to the intel- 
lectual discipline of the university with a completeness 
that was almost disconcerting to his teachers, reserving 
judgment on the views put before him, but acquiring them 
perfectly for the purposes of examination, and reaching 
the end of his course in speculative matters nullius 
addictus jurare in verba magistri. Bain appears to have 
been somewhat piqued at this armed neutrality, and 
when in 1870 he was asked for a testimonial in Smith's 
favour he emphasised his pupil's capacity for " any effort 
of erudite acquirement," and rather wickedly insinuated 
a reservation as to " whether he would manifest a corre- 
sponding amount of originality." 

5 



66 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1866- 

Viewed from the standpoint of " erudite acquirement," 
Smith's equipment in his twentieth year was at all events 
remarkably extensive and efficient. He had a wide and 
accurate knowledge of the Classics ; his powers of com- 
position in both Latin and Greek were above the average 
of his contemporaries ; he possessed a serviceable ac- 
quaintance with French, and he had set about learning 
German with his customary energy and success. His 
speculative powers had, as we have seen, been appreciated 
only by the less distinguished of his teachers, but he had 
acquitted himself with great brilliancy in the philosophical 
exercises of his university, and his pre-eminence in 
Mathematics and Natural Philosophy was attested by the 
possession of the highest distinction in Scotland open to 
a student of his standing. The exact sciences were at 
this time, and remained for many years, the leading 
profane interest of his mind, and there was more than one 
moment in his subsequent career at which it seemed 
possible that he might end his days as a physicist or a 
mathematician, and might be received into the placid 
paradise of scientific research as the colleague and the 
equal of such men as Klein and Kelvin, who were both his 
friends. 

In the early days of his " pursuit of universal know- 
ledge," as Bain described it with Aberdonian irony, he 
had little time for what desultory persons call general 
culture. But the tastes which he had acquired at Keig 
under the kindly auspices of his father, and especially his 
early fondness for natural history, did not forsake him. 
There is extant a series of letters to his old friend 
Archibald M' Donald recording things seen in the country 
which are among the most charming of his early corre- 
spondence and show a gift for close observation of wild 
creatures and a pretty turn for what he called " zoological 
small talk." One of these letters on the squirrels of the 
Vale of Alford, and another which contains a half 
humorous inquiry into the local superstition of a fabulous 



r8 7 o] THE NEW COLLEGE 67 

monster called the " earth hound," would scarcely dis- 
grace the light and loving hand of Gilbert White himself. 

The extreme rarity of the hours which he devoted to 
aesthetic or recreative literature is a feature of the scheme 
of concentration to which reference has been made. 
From the diaries which he kept while he was at Aberdeen 
it is easy to trace his reading in detail, and the absence of 
anything of the nature of mere belles lettres is almost com- 
plete. He appears to some extent to have shared the Rev. 
Mr. Nicoll's recorded aversion from fiction, and to have 
indulged himself with a novel once a year (in the Christmas 
holidays) as a sort of duty. In this way he read Romola, 
The Small House at Allington, and Elsie Venner, as new 
books. Wilkie Collins's No Name, which he considered a 
stupid tale, but nevertheless read through, is another of 
these sparse imaginative landmarks in the early career of 
an omnivorous reader. The literary culture acquired in 
the open-air readings on Cairnwilliam had been supple- 
mented and to some extent methodised by the rather 
grotesque prelections of Mr. Bain on " Rhetoric." 
There is some evidence that he could distinguish by its 
flavour a passage of verse by Pope or Dryden and refer it 
to its proper poet, but in those days at least there is no 
sign that he habitually read any poetry but the Old 
Testament. It was not until he had completed his work 
for the Ferguson Scholarship that he began to read freely 
even in history, and that we hear of his making the 
acquaintance of Macaulay and Carlyle. His references to 
current literature are almost entirely confined to the 
theological and philosophical articles in the Aihenceum 
and the Saturday Review, which by some arrangement of 
joint subscription were regularly read at the Manse of 
Keig. 

About this date (late in the session of 1866-67) his 
letters to his father make mention of his difficulties in 
mastering the initial intricacies of Hebrew, and passages 
of considerable interest occur which show that he was also 



68 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1866- 

beginning to concern himself quasi-professionally with 
theology and to reflect systematically on the things of 
Faith. 

"Tell Papa," he writes, "that I am gradually getting 
on better with my Hebrew, tho' I have not yet made a 
great deal of progress. I am now pretty far through 
with Mill's book, 1 and tho' there is much to be blamed in 
the spirit of it, and some passages that display prejudice 
rather than thought, I cannot say I think those are right 
that treat the book as contemptible. I propose to send 
Papa my estimate of it as a whole when I have finished it. 
I may add, in the meantime, that as regards Christianity 
the passage that raised such an outcry is not by any 
means the worst in the book. It is so far at least 
defensible, but there is a passage in the same chapter 
that is simply shocking, and displays the bitterest hostility 
to Christianity." 

He consults his father on the distinction of irvcufia. 
and ifsvxn in the Pauline writings; he refers with some 
pride to his success in answering the arguments of a 
Baptist ; and from time to time he makes some rather 
outspoken observations on the value and efficacy of 
tracts. The following extract from a letter written 
shortly before he went to Edinburgh is interesting as 
giving a specimen of the religious atmosphere in which 
he moved, but especially as showing the cautious modera- 
tion with which, notwithstanding his critical instincts, he 
still treated even the more extravagant expressions of the 
creed in which he had been brought up. 

" I found my afternoon last week with the B.'s rather 
pleasant. Mr. B. is really a very nice man, and Mrs. B. 
was not so obtrusive with her peculiarities as on the 
former occasion. Mr. B. evidently is not free from 
peculiarities in his religious views, however. He would 
have the rules for admitting members into the Church 
made much stricter, saying, ' It is better that ten 
Christians should be excluded than that one false Christian 
should be included.' Is not this carrying things too far ? 

1 An Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy, 1865. 



i8 7 o] THE NEW COLLEGE 69 

Generally the tendency on his part and that of Mrs. B. 
seemed to be to deny the very existence of the Visible 
Church as anything more than a name not justified by 
Scripture. I am sure this is wrong, but I should like to 
have somewhat clearer views on the point. I could only 
refer to the evident fact that in the earliest time there was 
a Visible Church distinct from the Church of Christ, 
e.g. to TOVS o-wo/*vous and to Paul's evident statement 
that the Jews as a whole enjoyed certain benefits as 
forming the Visible Church. I would be very glad if you 
could give me any hints on the subject and tell me if I am 
right in believing the chief privilege of the Visible Church 
as a whole to be the charge of the preservation and^trans- 
mission of God's truth. I daresay I shah 1 find something 
on the subject in Augustine as I advance farther in the 
Civitas Dei." 

The good people whose names are withheld appear not 
infrequently in the letters of this period, and the violence of 
their opinions seems occasionally to have moved Smith to 
impatience, and perhaps caused him more uneasiness than 
he fully realised. Such a caricature of the orthodox 
position was by no means edifying to a young and trained 
intelligence which was on the point of making a critical 
examination of the foundation on which that position 
was based, and the most triumphant dialectical refuta- 
tion could with difficulty dispel its evil suggestions of 
want of charity and want of common sense. Some 
reminiscence of vagaries of this kind may have prompted 
the faintly uneasy feeling in the words which are set at 
the head of this chapter. 

But the reinforcements which he derived, whether from 
Augustine or from Keig, were sufficient for the time, and 
the student entered on his formal studies for the ministry 
with a spiritual horizon clear of the slightest cloud. He 
even continued to occupy what would now be considered 
the extreme positions of Presbyterian orthodoxy. In a 
slightly later letter to his father we find him of opinion 
that the effect on church singing of accompaniment by 
an organ " is to strip it of its devotional character," and 



70 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1866- 

in another he severely condemns a sermon by Dr. Hanna, 
the son-in-law and biographer of Dr. Chalmers, of whom 
he hears " very opposite opinions expressed in the New 
College." 

" His sermon was certainly the most elegant I ever 
heard, but contained nothing but aesthetics and a little 
bad logic in favour of relaxed creeds. There was neither 
thought, nor genuine feeling, nor gospel truth in any 
part of the discourse, which was an account, historical 
and aesthetical, of the first Epistle to the Corinthians. 
One Psalm, two Paraphrases, and a short hymn called 
a ' dismission ' were sung. I do not think the broad 
party will be very formidable till it gets an abler leader. 
I suspect that it would quite sink but for the injudicious 
conduct of Begg, Gibson, and The Watchword. 1 I have 
received in common with the other students all the back 
numbers of The Watchword that are in print, and am, I 
believe, to get the rest. The Watchword has a very bad 
effect. Every one ridicules its tone even when adopting 
its conclusions. It is melancholy to see a good cause 2 
injured by such a partisan." 

He approached the scene of his new triumphs no longer 
as the submissive learner anxious to assimilate whatever 
was put before him, but rather as one eager to be enrolled 
among the defenders of a system of knowledge and belief 
in which he had the fullest confidence. 

The New College in Edinburgh was founded in the 
year after the Disruption, and has always been one of the 
most important and prosperous institutions of the Free 
Church. Its establishment was the outcome of the great 
and at that time unprecedented generosity of the wealthier 
brethren, which was imitated in a not altogether uncom- 

1 Dr. Begg was then at the head of the party which opposed the 
Union of the Free and United Presbyterian Churches. Dr. Gibson, 
one of his most vigorous supporters in his Anti-union agitation, was 
Professor of Systematic Theology in the Free Church College of Glasgow. 
The Watchword was a polemical journal conducted by Dr. Begg and his 
friends in the same interest. See below, pp. 130-1 . 

2 Smith's sympathies at this time inclined, it would seem, towards 
Anti-unionism. 



i8 7 oj THE NEW COLLEGE 71 

petitive spirit by the laity of Glasgow and Aberdeen, who, 
scorning to be beaten by the Capital in such a contest, had 
erected colleges of their own which testified to the local 
enthusiasm for Free Church principles. 

The primary object of these seminaries was, of course, 
to supply the rising generation of ministers with the 
theological instruction which their own teachers could no 
longer give in the ancient Universities of Scotland, and so 
to maintain, even in separation from the State, the high 
tradition of good learning which has always distinguished 
the Scottish ministry. In the first years of the Free Church 
instruction was also given in certain subjects nearly akin 
to Theology. A sound theory of Morals and a sound view 
of Knowing and Being were matters in the opinion of 
Dr. Chalmers and his friends in which the interests of 
the immature theologian should be specially safeguarded, 
and one result of their solicitude was that Mr. Macdougall, 
afterwards well known as Professor of Moral Philosophy 
in the University of Edinburgh, was appointed to the 
Chair of Ethics, while the venerable and celebrated 
Professor Campbell Fraser began his career by instructing 
Free Church students in Logic and Metaphysics. Natural 
Science also had claims upon the attention and vigilance 
of the Church ; a lectureship was therefore established, 
the holder of which was expected to treat in a compre- 
hensive but orthodox manner the vast range of im- 
portant topics assigned to him. 

When Smith came to Edinburgh in 1866 religious tests 
for non-theological academic posts had been abolished, 
the Free Church had given up the teaching of philosophy 
on her own account, and both Mr. Macdougall and 
Mr. Campbell Fraser had migrated to the University. 
Wisely or unwisely, however, it had been decided not to 
relinquish the advantages believed to accrue from the 
scientific lectureship, then held by Dr. John Duns. His 
predecessor in this post had been Dr. Fleming, a 
palaeontologist of some distinction ; but Dr. Duns 



72 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1866- 

was not always ideally successful in discharging his 
difficult duties, and he is the subject of frequent and 
satirical comment in Smith's correspondence. The 
College had by this time made rapid advances. The 
Professors had long left the narrow premises in 
George Street, where Dr. Chalmers ended his career 
as a teacher, and were established in the dignified 
building placed on the ancient site of Mary of Guise's 
palace high above the city, and already displaying on 
this lofty eminence the two solemn towers of which Ruskin 
disapproved. The structure was intended and accepted 
as a demonstration of the material resources of its builders, 
but it was the intellectual quality of its teachers and its 
students that lent the greatest weight to the evangelical 
propaganda of which it was the centre. Chalmers 
and Welsh, as well as Cunningham, the founders of the 
institution, were gone, but the level of reputation and 
even of celebrity enjoyed by the staff, was at this time very 
high. At their head stood Dr. Robert Candlish, one of the 
greatest of Dr. Chalmers's lieutenants, who now enjoyed 
in the emancipated communion the academic preferment 
of which he had been so harshly deprived during the last 
days of his connection with the Establishment. Dr. 
Bannerman, an orthodox theologian and a very excellent 
and kindly man whose powers of exposition Smith 
seems to have underrated, occupied the chair of 
Apologetics. Dr. Smeaton and Dr. Buchanan (soon 
afterwards succeeded by Dr. James Macgregor) pre- 
sided respectively over the study of the Exegesis of the 
New Testament, and Systematic Theology. Dr. Rainy 
makes his first appearance in Smith's life, in which he 
played so remarkable a part, as his instructor in Church 
History. Dr. Blaikie, 1 who was a master of the practical 
side of the duties of the ministry, and who had an invalu- 
able gift for appealing to the average mind, instructed 

1 Dr. Blaikie succeeded Dr. Bannerman on the death of the latter 
in 1868. 



i8 7 o] THE NEW COLLEGE 73 

the students of the final year in Pastoral Theology, while 
the impetuous piety of Dr. Duff, now retired from his 
brilliant labours in the Indian mission field, had found 
scope for new activity in a chair of " Evangelistic 
Theology," from which he exhorted the young men to 
greater efforts, and emphasised the lessons of missionary 
enthusiasm to be drawn from the contemplation of the 
Church persecuted yet militant, and unshaken in her 
orthodoxy. 

All these were outstanding figures, but, with the 
exception of Dr. Rainy, they are of secondary importance 
in this history compared with the two remarkable 
persons who then jointly occupied the Chair of Hebrew 
Language and Old Testament Exegesis. The subjects 
which they taught were of crucial importance in Smith's 
life. The schools of Theology to which they belonged 
represent the two sides in the controversy which consumed 
the best years of his life, and apart from these considera- 
tions they must, in any case, by reason of their attainments 
and their character, have profoundly influenced his way 
of thought. 

Dr. John Duncan, the elder of these, was a conspicuous 
instance of a type never very common, and now probably 
quite extinct. His fame among the present generation 
depends rather on the piety of posterity than on any 
tangible surviving performance of his own. His striking 
spiritual vicissitudes, his extensive if somewhat desultory 
erudition, the high flavour of intellectual eccentricity 
which pervaded his life and conversation, delighted, and 
at times overawed, his contemporaries ; and they supply 
material which is worthy of a more skilful and unprejudiced 
biographical treatment than it has received. His early 
experiences bore a curious resemblance to those of Dr. 
Bain. He too, as Dr. Taylor Innes has prettily put it, 
" was compact of the kindly clay of Aberdeen." But 
from the outset he had much more of human weakness and 
human enthusiasm in his composition than that robust 



74 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1866- 

and redoubtable philosopher. His love of learning was 
an affair of the heart, a passion which haunted him to 
the end, and which he indulged with something of the 
zest and persistency which belongs to the enjoyment of 
culpable and illicit things. His was a high-strung tempera- 
ment, very apt for tumultuous spiritual experience, but 
very unfit to endure with equanimity or to vanquish with 
success the most ordinary trials of human fortune. 

Accordingly we find that the success which he attained 
was the more honourable as won in the face of many 
difficulties of his own making. In early life he had 
wandered somewhat aimlessly in a wilderness of 
" moderate " metaphysics, and owed no more to his 
connection with the Established Church than a theistic 
bias for a great deal of very formless speculation ; it is 
even hinted that there were more serious and practical 
objections to his way of life. The evangelical orthodoxy 
in which he finally came to rest was founded on experi- 
ences of conversion of the most approved type. He was, 
in his own words, " a philosophical sceptic who had taken 
refuge in Theology." It would be unbecoming and irrele- 
vant in this place to inquire what was the precise nature 
of the errors in conduct which he forsook ; whether the 
" daily sin " in which he accused himself, and is accused, 
of living was not to a great extent a creation of the hypo- 
chondria which not infrequently besets the intellectual 
and the religious life, or at worst the natural aberration 
of an organism overstrained by low living and uncon- 
genial environment. It is enough to say that in 1866 
" Rabbi Duncan," as he was affectionately styled by his 
friends and pupils, had for many years been one of the 
most venerated figures in the Church. 

As regards his intellectual errors, the unprejudiced 
modern reader will find some difficulty in estimating the 
precise nature of the philosophic scepticism in which 
Dr. Duncan passed his unregenerate days. He has left 
no systematic statement of his early views, and the frag- 



1870] THE NEW COLLEGE 75 

ments of his conversation preserved by Professor Knight 
are oracular utterances in which it would be unreasonable 
to expect to find even the dtbris of a philosophic system. 
The steps by which he reached " the fastness of ortho- 
doxy " are frankly ascribed to an inscrutable act of 
Providence. But, as in the case of the Stoics of old, 
once the point of conversion is passed, there is no turning 
back, and we are left in no doubt about the nature of his 
opinions, the precision of which no longer depends on the 
clearness of his own expression of them. 

The doctrine of " the plenary inspiration of the 
Scriptures " played an important part in the formation 
of these. Although the dogmatic exposition set forth 
in the Confession of Faith does not explicitly depend 
on this doctrine, the argumentative plan is such as 
to give it great, if perhaps undue, prominence. For 
Dr. Duncan, at all events, the Bible was " not a 
congeries of books, but a unit, with organic and vital 
units ; not a lump, but an organism inspired by the 
Spirit of truth and Spirit of life : ' lively oracles.' ' 
" The works of the Holy Ghost," as he delighted to call 
the Old and New Testament Scriptures, were, in fact, 
the major premises of the dogmatic syllogisms contained 
in the Confession of Faith, "'and we are told by one 
of his biographers 1 that he excelled all his contempor- 
aries in believing and loving every word of God with- 
out preferring one above another, and " excelled Calvin 
himself " in the difficult feat of interpreting a text without 
bias in favour of other texts. Thus, although he had 
been known to take the freedom to speak of " the genius 
of St. Paul " or of " the long stretches of Isaiah," he 
taught his students that they must not look beyond the 
language of Holy Scripture. " God," he said, " employs 
human speech ; but He Himself selects the words that are 
to express His thoughts. He leaves not man to put 
words on them ; the words are as much the Spirit's as the 

1 Dr. Moody Stuart. 



76 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1866- 

ideas, and the Apostle Paul studiously avoids other 
words." In this, observes the biographer already quoted, 
" he presented a fine contrast to the flippancy of many 
modern theologians who seat themselves in the throne of 
God and constitute themselves judges of what in His Book 
is right and what is wrong, according to their own 
capricious and perverted tastes." 

This striking system acquired much of its value from 
the rapt and intense manner of the teacher, and derived 
a quasi-oecumenical flavour from the romantic history of 
his mission to the Hungarian Jews. In the course of that 
mission he had secured for his Church a group of converts 
distinguished more by their intelligence than by their 
number, had become the confidant of an Archduchess, and 
had perfected himself in more than one of the languages 
with which it was said that he could " speak his way to 
the Wall of China." But Dr. Duncan, though an im- 
pressive lecturer, was the sport of his own discursive 
methods, and it was soon said of him that he taught his 
pupils everything but Hebrew. The Church, therefore, 
in her wisdom gave him a coadjutor and successor whose 
teaching brought the first light into the dark age hi 
Biblical Criticism and Biblical Theology in Scotland. 

Dr. A. B. Davidson, destined to be celebrated as a 
Hebrew scholar, and to be revered by many generations 
of grateful pupils as a most stimulating and efficient 
teacher, was yet another example of a native of Aberdeen 
who, with few initial advantages, carved out for himself 
a most honourable and distinguished career. Unlike his 
colleague, however, though like his pupil Smith, he had in a 
great degree the capacity for incisive criticism and severe 
analysis. In the opinion of some he did not possess the 
same wide range of miscellaneous acquirements as Dr. 
Duncan, but his equipment as a teacher was certainly far 
more practical and systematic. It is most important to 
note that, notwithstanding a certain reticence and a curious 
turn for qualification which sometimes asserted themselves 



i8 7 o] THE NEW COLLEGE 77 

rather inopportunely, his outlook on his subject was that 
of the present day. In 1862, when he published the first 
and only instalment of his Commentary Critical and Exe- 
getical on the Book of Job, he was explicitly attempting a 
" short grammatical treatment of a portion of the Hebrew 
Scriptures," a thing at that time " as yet unattempted 
in our language." 

" We in this country," he observed, " have been not 
unaccustomed to begin at the other end, creating exegesis 
and grammar by deduction from Dogmatic, instead of 
discovering Dogmatic by deduction from Grammar." 
"The books of Scripture," he went on to declare, 
" so far as interpretation and general formal criticism 
are concerned, must be handled very much l as other 
books are handled. We do not speak here of the feeling 
of reverence and solemnity with which we handle the 
books, knowing them to be the Word of God, and bow 
under their meaning so soon as it is ascertained, but 
of the intellectual treatment and examination of them 
during the process of ascertaining their meaning. That 
treatment must be mainly l the same as the treatment 
we give to other books." 

This passage deserves the most careful attention as 
being a statement of the fundamental position of what 
came to be described in the struggle that was to follow as 
" believing criticism." The argument which it contains, 
carefully poised, as the reader will observe, on its 
qualifying adverbs, was in this particular instance designed 
to justify Davidson's views of the later chapters of the 
Book of Job which had come to be regarded by modern 
criticism as interpolations. It nevertheless seemed 
necessary for the believing critic to save the doctrine of 
plenary inspiration. This Davidson contrived by a half- 
avowed theory of Divine Afterthoughts, which, so far as 
the text was concerned, admitted of additions and 
developments, themselves under providential guidance, 
and made it possible for the orthodox scholar in the 

1 The italics are not in the original. 



78 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1866- 

nineteenth century to say, with a side glance at dogma, 
that " Scripture having now in our days attained its full 
growth, it is with this full growth mainly 1 that we have 
to do." 

There is nothing novel or eccentric in this position 
which in the course of history has, in innumerable 
instances, been adopted alike by cautious innovators on 
their probation and enlightened conservatives on their 
defence. It strikingly resembles the more advanced 
Catholic position with regard to the Authorised Version 
of the Scriptures according to St. Jerome, but in a church 
which seeks its dogmatic standards exclusively in the 
Bible it could obviously be neither permanent nor even 
of long continuance. The Higher Criticism was still in 
leading strings and hedged about with forms and fears, 
but at least it existed, and through the teaching of 
Davidson it at once passed, such as it was, into the mind 
of Smith. The resulting ferment was not long in 
beginning, and developments of great consequence in 
Church History ensued. 

It may be conveniently said at this point that Smith 
secured with comparative ease the more important of the 
honours awarded at the New College. He was first both 
in the entrance and exit examinations, thus gaining both 
the Hamilton Scholarships, which are given at the 
beginning of the first and of the third session, and the 
first of the Cunningham fellowships, which are dependent 
on the result of the exit examination. The early letters 
from Edinburgh show the same sharp-set spirit of com- 
petition as marks the Aberdeen correspondence. A 
running account of his struggle with a fellow-student for 
the first place in Professor Davidson's class is rather 
quaintly mingled with disquisitions on the Messianic 
character of certain Psalms and on the authorship of the 
Pentateuch, a subject which seems to have been touched 
upon in some of the very first lectures that he heard. Once, 

1 See preceding note. 



i8 7 o] THE NEW COLLEGE 79 

at least, he pauses to ask himself whether his anxiety 
about the issue of certain examinations is quite in keeping 
with the religious character of his new surroundings. At 
any rate there was much less danger than formerly of 
over-study. 

" Such work as we get to do here," he writes to a friend 
early in 1867, " and the whole does not come to a great 
deal is very much in the form of writing. In the 
University as well as in our College essay-writing is the 
main thing required, and the Edinburgh men have a 
fluency in this line that we at Aberdeen cannot at all 
equal. It does not follow, however, that because they 
write faster, Edinburgh men write better than we do ; 
indeed, I do not think that is the case." 

This passage perhaps glances at the somewhat popular 
style of certain of his contemporaries which was chastened 
by a not infrequent sarcasm from Professor Davidson. 
It also indicates for the first time an attitude towards the 
intellectual atmosphere of the official orthodoxy which it 
is important to understand clearly, and which is fully 
illustrated in the following very frank extracts from 
Mr. Pirie Smith's Memorandum. 

" During his first Theological Session he had three classes 
to attend Apologetics, Dr. Bannerman ; Natural History, 
Dr. Duns ; and Hebrew, Dr. A. B. Davidson. The class 
of Hebrew was the one that he most enjoyed and from 
which he derived the most benefit not merely, nor even 
chiefly, because of the subject, but because the Lecturer 
was a man of great ability, which could hardly be said 
of the other two. Having in Aberdeen already taken a 
session in Natural History, he and others similarly placed 
were naturally somewhat indignant at being compelled to 
begin the study of the subject over again. This feeling 
may, in a large measure, account for the distaste with 
which the lectures were attended and the far from cordial 
relations between the lecturer and his students. ... A 
few specimens of his pr selections will suffice to justify the 
distaste which he managed to create in some of his hearers. 
The first day William thought he seemed a pleasant man 



8o WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1866- 

and that his class might after all turn out to be interesting. 
His next notice is somewhat more unfavourable. ' I 
think/ he says, ' Duns is not a very able thinker, and he 
does not lecture well. On Fridays he has an examination. 
It is of a conversational kind, when oral, as it was 
yesterday. I got into a regular argument as to the 
difference between animals and vegetables, not exactly 
with Duns but with his assistant in the Museum who 
was seated among the students and, I think, enunciated 
Duns's own views. At least Duns set him to answer my 
objections and gave no answer himself. The class as a 
whole, I think, were inclined to side with me and thought 
Duns really did not know what to say. Certainly he 
broke up the class abruptly without giving a definite 
statement. . . .' 

" To the work of Dr. Bannerman's class William gave 
himself with zest and enthusiasm. His first impression of 
the Professor was rather unfavourable. ' As yet we have 
had only introductory matter, couched in very diffuse 
language showing, I think, very little logical power.' 
But whatever he may have thought of the lecturer he 
respected and honoured the man as a gentleman and a 
Christian, and Dr. Bannerman on his side respected and 
did justice to his pupil. ' Bannerman has given out a 
long list of subjects for our homily. 1 All of course are 
connected with Apologetics, some with Natural Theology, 
others with different aspects of Christian evidences. . . . 
I think I shall choose a subject from Natural Theology 
the development theory I meant to give some time to 
this subject at all events, having got Herbert Spencer's 
book.' ' 

Later he writes : 

" I am working at the development theory for my 
homily. ... In Spencer's book the fallacies are very 
obvious. The manner in which he contrives really to 
assume the materiality of the soul in particular (which 
of course is the foundation of the whole doctrine) is very 
ingenious, but contains an egregious petitio principii. 
Of course the doctrine of the correlation of physical forces 
forms a great feature in the argument. I think, however, 

1 An exercise prescribed for students in the first year of their 
Theological course, which was in form a dissertation, academic in 
character, on some Apologetic proposition set by the Professor. 



i8 7 o] THE NEW COLLEGE 81 

that I can show that the doctrine is not understood by 
the development school, and that the doctrine of the 
dissipation of energy directly disproves the theory of 
evolution. From this point of view I think I might bring 
into my homily something different from the common 
arguments. ..." 

The homily was read in due course, and elicited con- 
siderable praise from Dr. Bannerman, who said " it was 
to be viewed as quite beyond a mere college exercise ; 
that though there were some points on which he could not 
agree with the writer, he (the writer) had worked out 
principles of great value in philosophy and apologetics, 
and though the subject was difficult, the writer had 
mastered it, and not it him. He also praised the clear- 
ness of the statement both of the writer's own views 
and of the opposite views, etc., etc., in fact was quite 
flattering." 

Apart from his work, the circumstances of Smith's daily 
life in the early Edinburgh days differed very slightly 
from those of his undergraduate career at Aberdeen. He 
established himself at first in Castle Street with his sister 
Nellie, who had been sent to school in Edinburgh, and 
there was the same constant interchange of communica- 
tions with the Manse of Keig. The climate of Edinburgh, 
though accounted severe, seems to have suited him better 
from the beginning than the unmitigated rigours of the 
Aberdeen winters, and apart from an occasional return of 
chest weakness, combated with cod-liver oil and respirators 
and other favourite devices of the mid- Victorian physician, 
his medical history begins at this time to enter on a 
happily uneventful phase. He produced, indeed, one 
contemporary observes, the impression of physical 
delicacy ; they looked " with a measure of awe on the 
short, round-shouldered, youthful - looking student" 
whose reputation had preceded him from the North. 
But with the attainment of his twentieth year he entered 
on a period of moderately settled health and sustained 

6 



82 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1866- 

vigour which was destined to last without serious interrup- 
tion until the premature close of his life. 

The sister who lived with him gives a vivid little 
sketch of her brother as he was at this time : 

" It used to be his boast," she writes, " that he had me 
so admirably trained that I never disturbed him by 
talking or anything of that kind. . . . We never talked 
except at meals ; then I got leave to chatter as much as I 
liked, though sometimes his mind ran so on his work that 
I used to think he was hearing nothing. However, that 
was not the case; as I got an answer after a time, but 
sometimes so long after that I had nearly forgotten what 
I had said. He never nagged. If I did anything that did 
not please him he told me so in a few plain words and 
then was done with it. If he saw me looking puzzled over 
my lessons he would suddenly say, ' Stuck ? ' or, ' Want 
a hand ? ' and then ran rapidly over the different points, 
making notes here and there on the margin of the book. 
One had to be very quick to take it all in, and sometimes 
I used to wish with an inward groan, as I used to wish at 
home when father was working out a sum, that he wasn't 
quite so clever. . . . On Sundays we always went to 
Church together in the morning, racing along at a terrible 
pace, and at night we had as regularly a practice of 
Psalm tunes, ' French ' being a great favourite. . . . 
Sometimes young men came to be coached, and it was a 
standing joke that he always kept their pencils." 

Warned by his recent experience of illness, and ad- 
monished by the affectionate anxiety of his family, he 
was at first extremely cautious in the expenditure of his 
surplus energies, and for a time he avoided many activities 
which attracted him, but which involved his being out 
at night. He joined the Philosophical Institution, 1 as 
he said, in order to procure himself some light reading, 
for " it is impossible to subsist upon heavy books alone," 
and he saw something of a few friends who belonged chiefly 
to the Aberdeen connection. But for the most part he 

1 An organisation of some standing, whose main purpose is to 
provide popular lectures by eminent persons ; it possesses a fairly large 
general library, with a reading-room attached. 



i8 7 o] THE NEW COLLEGE 83 

spent his evenings in theological study or in coaching 
Free Church students (often in the most disinterested 
way) in Mathematics and Natural Science. The develop- 
ment of his social relations, which a little later made such 
rapid progress, advanced at first somewhat slowly ; but 
one friendship which specially distinguishes this period 
deserves particular mention. 

It was very near the beginning of his first New College 
session that Smith made the acquaintance of Mr. Lindsay, 
now Principal of the Glasgow Free Church College, who 
then lived in rooms in the same house. The friendship 
advanced rapidly, as appears from the following passage 
from a letter to Keig, which is interesting, both on 
personal grounds, and as throwing light on the point 
reached by the heresiarch who was then engaged in writ- 
ing a homily to show that the theory of evolution is 
" metaphysically absurd and physically incorrect " : 

" Since Ellen went away I have been writing my homily 
and amusing myself by strolling about the town. I 
daresay I should be rather dull but for the company of 
Lindsay, whom I like very much. He has some opinions 
that I do not at all assent to, but on the whole our views 
both in theology and philosophy correspond. Lindsay 
is generally said to be rather broad. I think, however, 
that this is a mistake. I think he is really a good fellow." 

The struggle in the Hebrew class ended in his standing 
equal at the head of it with his chief competitor. 1 This 
honourable issue of the contest secured Smith's academic 
position, and he ceases henceforth to be much preoccupied 
with the juvenile business of class distinctions. At the end 
of the session he carried out the plan of travel which the 
year before had been frustrated by his brother's death, and 
spent several months in Germany in the study of theology, 
perfecting himself in the language and amusing his leisure 
with the study of mathematics and of the world at large. 

His early impressions of travel are characteristic and 

1 The Rev. J. P. Lilley, D.D., Knox's United Free Church, Arbroath. 



84 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1866- 

interesting because so sharply and clearly recorded ; but 
they would be disappointing reading to any one who 
expected a sentimental journey or a picturesque tour. 
His first experiences of Germany date from the last days of 
the old particularism, and he lived entirely among the 
intellectual and academic class whose interest does not 
then appear to have been very powerfully awakened in 
the great work of Bismarck which was soon to enter on 
its final phase. Smith's letters are full of interesting and 
minute information about the manners and customs of 
students, the aspect and dimensions of public buildings, 
and even the details of the Catholic ritual, with which he 
became acquainted in its most splendid form at Cologne. 
But there is nothing to show that he entered into the 
spirit of the national aspirations of Prussia, which was 
even then celebrating the first anniversary of Sadowa. 
The possibility and even the imminence of war with 
France is indeed present to his mind, but the letters contain 
several curious disparagements of the German army, 
and, like many people of greater experience than he then 
possessed, he was far from forming the slightest estimate 
of the power which in less than three years was to change 
the face of Europe. 

These were matters on which he was little qualified to 
form a sound opinion, but the influence of his first travels 
on his attitude to the questions with which he was chiefly 
concerned was deep and lasting. He found himself for 
the first time in a religious atmosphere totally different 
from that in which he was born and bred, in a country in 
which there were more Catholics than Protestants, where 
among the Protestants themselves religious indifference 
and wide divergences on all important points were common, 
where even religious controversy was conducted with a 
kind of apathy, and where in the manner of the learned 
who taught Theology there was nothing (as he said) to 
suggest that they regarded it " as anything but an abstract 
science." In his pursuit of this science it is not difficult 



i8 7 o] THE NEW COLLEGE 85 

to trace the growth of a certain independence and 
detachment. 

His original intention had been to go to Tubingen, at 
that time a very usual place of resort for young English 
scholars and theologians, and additionally attractive at 
the moment because Dr. Davidson had some idea of 
spending the summer there. Dr. Davidson, however, 
decided to go to Italy, and various advisers, including, it 
seems, the Minister of Keig, recommended Heidelberg, 
where Rothe was proving himself " at present the most 
notable man on the Rational side." The young theologian, 
however, felt "some hesitation in exposing himself to the 
most rationalistic teaching in Germany," and he ended 
by settling down at Bonn in the household of Dr. Schaar- 
schmidt, Professor of Philosophy in the University, 
induced thereto by the circumstance " that, after Heidel- 
berg Bonn seemed to be the best place that was esteemed 
very healthy." 

The letters of this time are much occupied with the 
collection of the necessary books for his Hebrew studies, 
arrangements for German lessons, and the beginnings of 
acquaintances with German students, some of which 
ripened into interesting and important friendships which 
will require notice hereafter. Many passages show how 
fast he held to the traditions in which he had been 
brought up. 

"Your last letter," he writes to his father on Monday 2gth 
April, "was delivered to me yesterday morning, one among 
many strange and displeasing features of a continental 
Sunday. Before considering the questions in Mamma's 
letter I may say how I spent yesterday. In the house here, 
Sunday (Mrs. Schaarschmidtsays) is just like any other day. 
Mrs. S. spins or works as usual, but in deference to my 
feelings abstained from doing so yesterday in my presence. 
The first service in the Lutheran Church was at half-past 
seven, which was too early. The second was at half-past 
nine, and to it Dr. S. accompanied me. He does not 
usually go to church now because Mrs. S. is unable to go. 



86 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1866- 

I did not understand the service very fully, and made out 
only part of the sermon, which was on the Beatitudes. 
The German hymns I found very fine, and the singing was 
better than ours, every word being clearly pronounced. 
There is no later Lutheran service, and no Scottish service 
until seven o'clock. In the interval I read and walked in 
the garden. Dinner was distinguished by the use of 
claret instead of beer. A little before seven a German 
student called and asked me to walk with him. I walked 
down to the Scottish Church with him, and had some talk 
about our way of keeping the Sabbath, which he admitted 
had advantages. I am not quite sure how I ought to do 
in such cases. In this instance my course was clear, as I 
had to go to church at any rate ; but ought I in other cases 
to refuse to walk on Sabbath afternoon, or rather to walk 
and try to use such conversation as is suitable for Sabbath ? 
I incline to the latter view, but would rather have your 
opinion. When I first called on Dr. G. on Saturday, a 
week ago, he invited me to come to his house on Sabbath 
evening, and I of course declined, but I am not sure that 
a quiet walk with a fellow-student is quite the same thing. 
I would also prefer that you should not send letters so as 
to reach me on Sabbath as the last did." 

His opinion of the performance of a compatriot whose 
service he attended, and whose preaching he thought 
indifferent, is concentrated in the scathing comment, 
" He sings hymns with a harmonium." 

Of his studies he remarks a little later (May 8) : 

" I cannot even now speak very certainly about 
Kamphausen. His pronunciation is very indistinct and 
I am not yet fully accustomed to it, and miss so much of 
his lectures that I am not able to speak yet about them. 
On Monday night, however, I walked with him in the cool 
of the evening (to walk in the middle of the day is im- 
possible, with the thermometer at 80 in the shade and not 
a cloud in the whole sky, as has been the state of weather 
this week). However, to return to Kamphausen, I 
found him rationalistic, as we should say, that is, he holds 
for example that a passage of S.S. can contain no more 
for us than for the author, and that its full meaning is to 
be obtained by placing ourselves at the author's stand- 
point. At the same time, though this view leads him to 



1870] THE NEW COLLEGE 87 

admit that there may be historical errors in the Bible, and 
to refer Daniel to the period of the Maccabees, etc., he is not 
a rationalist according to the Germans, who reserve that 
name for those who deny supernatural inspiration and 
prophecy altogether. The middle position of K. I do not 
fully understand and may not have done justice to. 
Certainly the language in which he spoke of the Messianic 
Psalms to-day seemed very much orthodox. I must 
repeat, however, that I do not follow his lectures well 
enough to speak with certainty. 

" Lange's lectures are only thrice a week and are very 
interesting. I understand L. better, as he speaks slowly 
and distinctly. He is in German phraseology geistreich, 
while Kamphausen is, I believe, only a thorough scholar. 
Once a week I hear Kohler on Nahum and Habakkuk. 
This is a public class, i.e. no fee is charged. I have heard 
the first lecture only. Kohler speaks distinctly and I 
think his lectures will be interesting. He is orthodox, 
but is counted inferior as a scholar to Kamphausen." 

And again a little later he writes (May 20) : 

" To begin with the Theological Seminary. This is 
an institution more akin to our way of conducting Univer- 
sity Classes, but somewhat more elaborate. Thus this 
summer the Book of Judges, or rather a few chapters of 
the book, are read. The students translate into Latin, 
and then have themselves to furnish an exegesis of the 
passage. The Professor who presides conducts this 
exercise, corrects any error, and at least this holds good 
in the case of Kohler, who is a very genial man leads, so 
to speak, in a general conversation when there is any 
difficulty suggested. The whole is very friendly and 
pleasant. The Old Testament Seminary meets once a 
week only. There is also a New Testament Seminary, 
and another the name of which I forget, but I attend 
only the Old Testament. The second meeting is to-night, 
so at present I speak only from my experience of the 
first at which I ' hospitirte,' that is, was present without 
being enrolled. I enrolled only to-day, and had some 
conversation with Kohler on Jacob's dream. I do not, 
however, view the dream quite in the same way as he 
does. I have from the library a very curious essay of 
Philo's on this dream. It is not of much use, as it takes 
a purely allegorical view of the whole history. It is, 



88 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1866- 

however, very interesting, and may give me some hints 
at least. . . . 

" Lange continues to be interesting, but is very dis- 
cursive. He is constantly flying off at a tangent. He is 
at present involved in a quarrel with Schenkel of Heidel- 
berg, who started as a member of the Vermittlungs School 
to which Lange belongs, but has now taken up a very 
rationalistic position, while Lange, on the contrary, is 
among the most orthodox of the Middle School. Lange 
edits a Bibelwerk or commentary for practical purposes, 
giving, in addition to exegesis, the main homiletical lines 
of thought. One volume of this was written by Schenkel, 
but proved so heterodox that another author has been 
called on to provide a second volume on the same Epistle. 
Schenkel, indignant at this, has attacked Lange in general, 
and the Bibelwerk in particular, with great acrimony in 
a periodical he edits. A controversy between the two 
theologians is now raging somewhat bitterly. 

" Schenkel is a popular rationalist and a very influential 
writer. He is not, however, regarded as one of the most 
powerful men of his School. The leader of the strict 
Lutheran School on the other hand seems to be Delitzsch. 
Hengstenberg's influence is very much declined, as he is 
very haughty and overbearing and very High Church." 

The slight movement of controversy in the next extract 
(July 10) marks a further step in the same process : 

" I went a long walk with Professor Kamphausen and 
had a great deal of interesting conversation with him, 
especially on Inspiration, a subject on which he is very far 
from orthodox. At the same time he is a very sincere 
and I believe pious man; in fact, it is quite absurd to 
regard the heterodox Germans as infidels. Of course I 
do not mean that such men as Strauss are not infidels. 
But Kamphausen, though in regard to some points very 
heterodox (e.g. he goes about as far as Colenso in the 
Pentateuch question), is on other points, I may say, strictly 
orthodox. So far as I can see, he holds quite orthodox 
views on the person, miracles, etc., of Christ, and lays 
special weight on the testimonium Spiritus Sancti." 

Theology did not monopolise Smith's energies. About 
the end of May he writes of a resumption of mathematical 
studies : 



i8 7 o] THE NEW COLLEGE 89 

" In the end of last week I went to hear Plucker, the 
celebrated mathematician. He lectures not on mathe- 
matics but experimental optics. He had capital apparatus 
and a very good lecture to a very small number of students. 
He conducts a mathematical seminary, which I must go 
to see. Professor Schaarschmidt has promised to give 
me an introduction to him. He is an oldish man, at 
least sixty I should think, and speaks very distinctly. 
I think I made out every word he said." 

A few days later he carried out his intention of making 
Professor Pliicker's better acquaintance, and called upon 
him with a letter of introduction from Schaarschmidt. 
Plucker was lecturing on a new geometrical method, and 
also on subjects connected with plane geometry. One 
of the latter lectures struck Smith as so interesting that 
he sends an abstract of it for his father's benefit. 

" Pliicker's new geometry of space," he observes, 
" must, I suppose, have some relation to Quaternions, a 
subject he is not acquainted with. I find the mathe- 
maticians, who are few in number, very affable. One of 
them, 1 who is a kind of assistant to Plucker in his experi- 
ments, has just lent me a paper of Pliicker's on his method, 
which I have not yet had time to look at." 

This extract shows that Smith was already laying the 
foundations of his acquaintance with German scientific 
men and methods which in later years became a con- 
spicuous feature hi his life. Other letters show that he 
interested himself a good deal in the general work of 
the University. He gives long and lucid descriptions 
of the German academic system, favourably contrasting 
its specialised activities with the somewhat discursive 
character of the Scottish curriculum. He writes in- 
terestingly about the relations of Protestants and 
Catholics in the Rhenish Province, the influence and 
merits of the Catholic Theological Faculty, the prestige 
of the Jesuits, the dissensions of the Protestants among 
themselves, and other topics of current Church history. 

1 The beginning of Smith's acquaintance with Professor Klein. 



go WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1866- 

Another scheme of study began to occupy his attention 
about the middle of June, when he decided to become a 
candidate for the Shaw Fellowship, an academic prize 
for philosophical attainments, which is periodically open 
to competition among graduates of the four universities 
of Scotland. Replying, no doubt, to a suggestion from 
Keig, he observes : 

" I have already seen in The Times the conditions of the 
Shaw. I suspect I may almost have to go in for it, as I 
conceive there is no other possible Aberdeen candidate. 
In many respects I should like to do so very well ; but 
in an Edinburgh examination, especially in pure logic, 
I know I should have no chance against Lindsay, who 
knows everything, except psychology and Mill's style of 
logic, far better than I do. ... I do not know if I have 
mentioned that I have finished the rough copy of my 
exegesis and done something in preparation for my essay 
on Genesis. I am also reading Kant, but the accounts 
I send to you of matters not studious must prove to you 
that I am not studying hard. It strikes me that to 
compete for the Shaw might be useful in this way, that 
if I were the only Aberdeen competitor and a good 
second, I would run a fair chance of the next examinership 
at Aberdeen." 

The vivacity with which he describes the incidents of his 
daily life, and the modest amusements in which he from 
time to time indulged, must have shown his family that 
he was at any rate thoroughly enjoying himself. He 
made several expeditions on the frequent academic 
holidays to the Ahrthal and the Siebengebirge, and often 
visited Cologne, where he witnessed the great procession of 
Corpus Domini, and where, as he was fond of recalling in 
later years, he gathered roses from a tree which then grew 
on the top of one of the unfinished towers of the Cathedral. 

He had by this time acquired considerable powers of 
expressing himself in German, though not the complete 
proficiency of his later life, and it had not taken him long 
to acquire a taste for German manners and customs 
always excepting the laxity in observing Sunday, " about 



i8 7 o] THE NEW COLLEGE 91 

which," as he still complains, " I feel it quite an anomaly 
to use the word Sabbath." He was still enough of a new- 
comer to record with qualified approbation his first 
experience of Sauerkraut, and even of salad, which was 
then not much used in Scotland, and to chronicle as an 
event likely to amuse " the children " the appearance of 
sorrel soup at Frau Schaarschmidt's table. These dishes 
he seems to have regarded with some distrust, but in 
other respects the German cuisine rather took his fancy. 
At any rate he was careful to procure and transmit to his 
mother various recipes for German dishes, in return for 
which an approved formula for marmalade was sent 
from Scotland, and is said to have been welcomed with 
enthusiasm in the Schaarschmidt household. 

A literary reminiscence of this period is not without 
interest. Smith had been disappointed of an excursion 
by a rainy afternoon, and writes : 

" I consoled myself for this by reading one of Goethe's 
novels, but I cannot say that I found the novel in all 
respects satisfactory. I do not think it was so interesting 
as good English novels, and certainly the moral tone was 
much lower. By the Germans, however, the book, 
Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, is viewed with perfect en- 
thusiasm." 

Another passage from the same letter contains a 
reference to current events. Bonn, and more especially 
Cologne, are on the main route between France and 
Germany. At Paris the splendours of the Second Empire 
were reaching their culmination in the great Exhibition 
of 1867, and an almost unprecedented number of crowned 
heads and other personages of exalted rank had been the 
guests of Napoleon III. The anecdote which Smith 
preserves is characteristic of the instability of the inter- 
national situation, and has some historical interest. 

" The following story is reported from Coin. As the 
King of Prussia and suite passed through Coin and were 
received by the officials on their way from Paris, the 



92 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1866- 

King said there would be no more war in his lifetime, 
Bismarck that he hoped the Emperor would be able to 
keep peace, and Moltke that there would be war next 
spring. Certainly the Prussians are prepared for war if 
necessary. Forty thousand men were reviewed in 
Potsdam this week, and of course only a small part of 
the army can be at Potsdam at once. 

"The Luxemburg evacuation showed itself here a week 
or two ago in the shape of footsore artillerymen going 
about with billets. One such soldier was billeted on 
Schaarschmidt, so the peace cost the Professor half a 
dollar, which is the price one pays if he does not wish to 
have a soldier in his house." 

Some weeks later, in the course of July, Smith assisted 
at the passage of the Sultan Abdul Aziz, who was also on 
his way from Paris, and speculates in a rather boyish 
manner as to whether he had indeed managed to dis- 
tinguish the Commander of the Faithful among the 
numerous personages of the Imperial suite. 

Another visitor to Bonn in whom Smith had a more 
personal interest was Professor Flint, 1 who had some 
acquaintance with the Schaarschmidts, and whose per- 
sonality and preaching attracted him greatly. Professor 
Flint arrived towards the close of the semester, and 
the time was approaching for Smith's departure from 
Bonn. It was his intention to spend a few weeks in 
travelling about Germany before returning home, and 
some time before he had succeeded in persuading his 
father to join him in this expedition. Mr. Pirie Smith 
had no experience of foreign travel, and the under- 
taking was then more serious for a man of his age 
and fortune than it would now be considered. He had 
indeed hesitated to embark on the journey without 

1 The late Rev. Robert Flint, D.D., LL.D., Correspondent of the 
Institute of France, Professor of Moral Philosophy and Political 
Economy at St. Andrews (1864-76), Professor of Divinity at Edinburgh 
(1876-1903), author of The Philosophy of History in Europe, Historical 
Philosophy in France, Theism, Socialism, Agnosticism, and many other 
works. 



i8 7 o] THE NEW COLLEGE 93 

a travelling companion, and the plan, in which Smith 
displayed an eager interest, was very nearly abandoned. 
William's arguments and remonstrances prevailed, how- 
ever, and the journey was decided upon. The home 
letters are thenceforth filled with elaborate instructions 
for the assistance of the old gentleman in dealing with 
the complicated coinage, the countless frontiers, and 
the many petty troubles which beset the continental 
traveller in those days, and in the result he arrived 
without mishap at Bonn, where he spent several days 
at the Schaarschmidts' house with his son. The tour 
which they undertook together began in the first days 
of August-, and consisted in a journey by easy stages 
up the Rhine to Heidelberg, where they spent a week. 
The minister, who conscientiously worked very hard at 
his sight-seeing under Smith's energetic guidance, seems 
occasionally to have been somewhat exhausted by his 
labours and by the heat, which was intense ; but on the 
whole he enjoyed his travels very much. At Heidelberg 
the tourists were rejoined for a time by Professor Flint, 
and Smith attended a theological lecture delivered by 
an unspecified Professor which he found " fearfully 
heterodox, but very clever in style and delivery." He 
also records that he visited Professors Holtzmann and 
Zeller, and that he heard the University preacher Nippold, 
whom he thought " unorthodox but evangelical." In 
spite of his fatigue, which was no doubt due to the sun 
and the unusual excitement of foreign travel, Mr. Pirie 
Smith was able to compose several lectures on the subject 
of his experiences, which were no doubt afterwards 
delivered to appreciative audiences at Keig. William 
was at any rate able to record when on the point of 
turning homewards that both were much the better for 
the trip. 

They returned by way of Brussels and Antwerp to 
London, where the indefatigable sight-seers spent another 
heavy day, ending at the Crystal Palace ; they then took 



94 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1866- 

ship for Aberdeen, and by the beginning of September 
Smith was once more at the Manse, where he spent an 
uneventful autumn in preparation for his winter's work. 
The winter of 1867-68 found him settled with his sister 
in new lodgings, this time in Buccleuch Place, in that newer 
part of the Old Town of Edinburgh which was being 
built about the flourishing time of the senior characters in 
Redgauntlet. It is pleasing to note the growing physical 
vigour and the unabated zest of study which carries him 
through even the more tedious passages of the theological 
course. In a letter to a friend (February 13, 1868) he 
enumerates with a diverting affectation of languor the 
pieces of work on which he has been engaged, culminating 
in a struggle with a Hebrew root, and continues : 

" As besides all this I have done a lot of other work in 
theology and have been reading Plato, Aristotle, Spinoza, 
Descartes and Kant, you may judge that I have been pretty 
busy. 

" To get to more interesting matter, you will no doubt 
applaud the conduct of Dr. Candlish in setting up a 
gymnasium in the New College. I attend with a good 
deal of regularity, especially in wet weather, and succeed 
pretty well where a light weight is an advantage as in 
the various kinds of vaulting. A popular exercise is the 
spring vault, in which a bar of very imposing height may 
be cleared without much effort when one has got the 
knack. Perhaps you know this by the name of double 
vaulting which it sometimes receives in our gymnasium. 
My weakest point is the trapeze, on which I am quite help- 
less and unable to get up steam. Occasionally pro- 
bationers come up and assist, and it is rather comical to 
see a man in a white neckcloth knotted round a bar, 
with his head projecting between his legs." 

Apart from his studies of double vaulting, his spare 
moments were occupied with mathematical tuition and, 
more seriously, with the metaphysical reading referred to 
above which he had undertaken with a view to competing 
for the Shaw Fellowship. 

His main preoccupation during this session was> 



i8 7 o] THE NEW COLLEGE 95 

however, the development of his theological views of 
which we have seen the beginnings in the letters from Bonn, 
and which was soon to find expression in considered 
utterances. Besides the advanced instruction in Hebrew 
which he was receiving from Professor Davidson, he was 
following the classes of Professor Smeaton, and was a 
somewhat impatient hearer of the lectures on Systematic 
Theology of Dr. Buchanan, who was then long past his 
best as a teacher, and, as Smith complained, was not 
above an occasional false quantity, besides displaying a 
tendency to confuse the question of the Divine authority 
of the Pentateuch with that of its Mosaic authorship. 

The Latin discourse, a controversial exercise, now no 
longer exacted in the decent obscurity of a learned 
language, was in Smith's time the main piece of written 
work required of students during their second year at the 
New College. The subject he chose was "An Jesus 
Christus sit Messias Patribus promissus," and, by reason 
both of its ability and of its masterly handling of the 
subject, the discourse received high praise from Dr. Rainy, 
whose " good but somewhat spun-out " lectures on Church 
History were part of the course of instruction during that 
year. 

" Rainy began by stating my distinction between the 
two methods of investigating the subject, and thought 
(as I supposed he would) that I had put the distinction 
between the two too strongly, and that the way I followed 
was rather an extension of the ordinary treatment, so as 
to go deeper into the matter, than a different way. I 
think he is wrong here, but I feared he would have said 
more against my treatment of Turretin, etc. Then, as 
to my own way, he said I had worked it out in a very 
interesting manner ; in fact, he had not had a more 
interesting discourse for a long time. In reading it one 
was carried on with great interest ; for, firstly, the Latin 
was Latin, which was a great comfort, and then the 
thoughts, etc., etc. 

" He thought, however, that in one or two points I 
was disposed to find too little of the New Testament in 



96 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1866- 

the Old Testament. It was well for argument not to 
press the meaning of the Old Testament too far, but in 
one or two places he thought I should not have denied 
that there might be more in the Old Testament. He 
thought this was partly owing to the influence of Hof- 
mann, whom I had quoted. Hofmann was a very 
powerful thinker, and so apt to carry intelligent students 
too far with him. Altogether the criticism was elaborate, 
and to me satisfactory, as I knew he would not find me 
quite orthodox." 

Two papers he submitted for the judgment of Professor 
Davidson are even more important in the history of 
Smith's mind at this critical period. The first of these, 
on " The Day of the Lord," showed " a considerable grasp 
of the principles of historical criticism," and won for him 
a prize of books, which he chose for himself, and among 
which it is interesting to note that he acquired a copy of 
Rothe's Zur Dogmatik. Of the second, " On Prophecy 
and History," written in the last weeks of 1867, he himself 
gives an interesting summary in a letter to Keig (January 
3, 1868) : 

" I have not been doing much this week since I got 
Davidson's Essay fairly finished. I may perhaps modify 
the latter part a little still. The subject needs very nice 
treatment, and it requires very exact handling to bring 
out that the Prophet's mind, acting according to its natural 
laws, was yet the organ of a supernatural Revelation. 
My leading idea is a parallelism between Prophecy and 
the Christian life. Man's agency forms the connecting 
power by which God's Creation is moulded into con- 
formity with His Spirit : man and the world at large 
were made by God supernaturally and fitted for His 
Divine Purpose, but that Purpose is only reached through 
the Free Activity of Christian men guided by the Spirit of 
God as a formative principle. So in Prophecy there was 
provided a certain supernatural matter of thought in 
vision, etc., probably by supernatural action on the nervous 
system. This fitted into the natural matter present to 
the Prophet's mind, and the two thus combined were 
moulded into a thought by the action of the Prophet's 
mental powers guided by the formative influence of 



i8 7 o] THE NEW COLLEGE 97 

the Divine Spirit. The double divine action below and 
above the Prophet's own activity sufficed perfectly to 
control the result without interfering in a magical manner 
with the laws of human thought. 

" I do not know if this is intelligible, but I think the 
thought has some apologetic and scientific value." * 

Dr. Davidson's view of the paper fully realised the 
hopes of the young author. He praised the " reverent 
spirit " in which the inquiry had been conducted, 
and, having by this testimonial established the legitimacy 
of the speculation, he went so far as to say that 
the psychological part of the essay was the most funda- 
mental examination of the subject he had ever seen. The 
argument was progressively conducted and " always took 
a firm position on the facts of human nature, not going 
off into the clouds in treating what was supernatural as 
if the supernatural were unnatural." The appreciation 
ended with the prediction that Smith would on this 
human side of the science do good service to Theology. 

Enough has been said to show how unanimously a 
great future in the service of the Church was already 
predicted for Smith by those of his seniors who were best 
qualified to speak. It is now time to indicate the position 
he acquired among those of his own standing. He had by 
this time begun to take part in the work of the Missionary 
Society and the Theological Society, the activities of 
which were justly regarded as forming an important part 
of the education of the rising generation of ministers. 

Beyond some early expressions of diffidence in the 
conduct of public religious exercises in connection with 
the Home Mission work in the Canongate, and one or two 
references to Dr. Duff, his connection with the Missionary 

1 The Essay was, as stated below, read and discussed at the New 
College Theological Society on January 25, 1868 ; and, somewhat 
recast, it was sent in the following April to the editors of the Contem- 
porary Review (Dean Alford and Archdeacon Plumptre). A brief note 
from the latter (April 20) announced that it was not thought " suitable 
for our pages." Only a fragment of the paper now survives ; it will be 
found under thetitle " Prophecy and Personality" inLectures and Essays. 

7 



98 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1866- 

Society, of which he was Corresponding Secretary in 
1868-69, does not supply much interesting material. The 
quasi-social side of the Society's work, with its musical 
evenings dignified by the occasional presence of an 
evangelical peer, seems to have attracted him very 
little ; but in the more serious concerns of the Society he 
took an active part. The following passage, from a letter 
written early in 1869, keeps in due prominence a certain 
phase of the Free Church consciousness, the importance 
of which the intellectual party of those days were apt to 
underrate. It is not uninteresting to note the attitude 
of reasoned liberalism adopted by the Corresponding 
Secretary, and the influence which he is able to exert in 
favour of moderation and common sense. 

" Our other great event is the application of the 
University Missionary Association to send delegates to our 
Missionary Society as they do to the U.P.'s. 1 Black 2 had 
given notice of a motion simply to agree ; but as some 
men felt a little difficulty as to whether in doing so we 
might seem to be giving up F.C. principles, I framed an 
amendment to which Black gave way, instructing the 
Secretary to explain that we felt that we could cordially 
agree to the proposed intercourse without at all entering 
into the historical questions which had so long separated 
the Societies, and which we were still far from indifferent 
to, as we should meet simply on the ground of common 
love as two Evangelical Missionary Societies representing 
the University and New College respectively, and having 
at heart alike God's Glory and the promotion of Christ's 
Kingdom on earth. This motion gave general satis- 
faction, but a small lot of 4 or 5 men, headed by Ross, our 
Missionary, got up and assailed us in the most passionate 
manner, calling the Established Church almost infidel, 
and their Association little better; at length we were 
forced to adjourn the meeting. There is no doubt that 
my motion must be carried by a large majority, but the 
row is serious in intensity if only one or two men are really 
involved in it." 

1 United Presbyterians. 
8 Dr. Sutherland Black, one of the present writers. 



i8 7 oj THE NEW COLLEGE 99 

It is perhaps just worth while to record that the 
motion was carried as the mover anticipated, and that the 
New College authorities fully approved of the decision. 

Smith's work in the Theological Society, of which he 
was in turn Secretary (1868-69) an d President (1869-70), 
is in the nature of things of much greater importance. 
The Society met every Friday evening, either to hear a 
paper by one of its members followed by a written criticism 
delivered by an appointed critic, or to hold a set debate 
on a theological question selected beforehand. He reports 
to his father of his early appearances in the proceedings of 
this body : 

" I do not think I can ever be a popular speaker, for I 
find my views very generally misapprehended. I find 
that a successful debating society speech must be com- 
posed of a number of detached pieces. I never rise except 
to expound one idea, and am, therefore, too theoretical to 
be very well received, i.e. to make hits. But I think I am 
listened to with attention, though really it is very hard to 
say, and certainly those that follow me have repeatedly 
accused me of heresies quite opposite to the real sense of 
what I said." 

Various slight notices of these discussions appear in his 
letters, and a few scraps of notes for speeches and criticisms 
survive among his papers. The first event of real im- 
portance, however, in his connection with the Society 
was the occasion (January 25, 1868) on which he read 
before it the Essay on Prophecy, originally written for 
Professor Davidson, to which reference has already been 
made. It was delivered to a thin audience, much below 
the average in numbers, partly owing to the counter- 
attractions of a party at Dr. Rainy 's, and partly to one of 
those almost legendary tempests which at times arise in 
Edinburgh, in the course of which the streets are strewn 
with the fragments of chimney-pots, and four-wheeled 
cabs are blown over on their sides. In spite of these 
disadvantages the essayist had no cause to complain. 



ioo WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1866- 

" My essay was very favourably received," he 
writes home, " tho' I think that no one except 
Lindsay fully understood it. Lindsay gave a very 
favourable criticism, declaring that the psychological 
part was perfect so far as our psychology went, but 
doubting whether psychology was far enough developed 
to base a theory on. 

" Black, the regular critic, praised me highly, but quite 
missed some important points, and did not profess fully to 
understand me. Kippen said he thought it was the best 
essay he ever heard, and began to pitch into its main 
thesis as contrary to the doctrine of Predestination by 
a complete miscomprehension of a term I had used. 
Bell gave a very kind laudatory criticism, praising the 
conscientiousness with which the thoughts were worked 
out, and also praising the style as being genuinely effective 
without any straining at effect, or a single word put in 
with that aim. 

" The general agreement was that the essay was some- 
what German and obscure, that the obscurity, however, 
was due to the subject rather than to the treatment, which 
was clear as far as possible in so abstract a subject, that 
there was no padding in it, that it was very ingenious, that 
the thoughts were very beautiful, and all wrong, etc. 

" I think I may say on the whole that my essay could 
not have been received with more respect. No one 
ventured to attack it strongly, because no one quite 
followed the course of thought." 

He spent much of the spring and summer of 1868 in 
Bute, where he was engaged in some not very congenial 
tutorial work, " not trying to the body, but aggravating 
to the mind." In the intervals of coaching his back- 
ward pupils he settled himself to the preparation of 
his Popular Discourse 1 on Jeremiah's prophetic work, 
" strictly based on passages," and to an extended 
study of Rothe. Much of his leisure was devoted to 
expeditions in the company of a retired naval officer 
who lived near, and who taught him how to sail a 

1 The New College exercise for the third year of the Theological 
course, which took the form of a lecture on some Biblical subject such 
as might be addressed to a congregation from the pulpit. 



i8 7 o] THE NEW COLLEGE 101 

boat; and his solitude was enlivened by a flying visit 
from his mother, and by a correspondence with his 
friend Lindsay, in the course of which an important 
suggestion was made by the latter and at once referred 
to Keig for observations and advice. 

" Lindsay tells me," he writes, " that Tait's assistant 
not bound to grind air-pump is probably about to 
leave, that A., who has not graduated, is not eligible, and 
that there is no other Edinburgh man, and that I, he 
thinks, would have a good chance. The work would be 
light and suit nicely with my Edinburgh session. 
(Besides that, to be assistant at Edinburgh gives a certain 
status.) Really, I think it would be worth looking after. 
Examining papers is the main thing." 

Some slight difficulties about the manner in which 
Smith should offer himself as a candidate were quickly 
overcome, and the subsequent negotiations ended in the 
following letter: 

17 DRUMMOND PLACE, EDINBURGH, 
September 26, 1868. 

MY DEAR SIR I have only now got your note, having 
staid longer in Ireland than I intended when I gave you 
the above address. I am too tired and sleepy to write 
much, perhaps even to write sense. 

I don't think the New College will in any way interfere 
with me. Your chief work will be looking over examina- 
tion papers once a fortnight (and that can be done at 
any hour) and showing the students where and how 
they have blundered. 

As to the Physical Laboratory which I hope to open, I 
take it that you will consider attendance there rather as a 
means of making yourself known by original investigation 
than as daily toil. 

But I have no doubt we shall arrange matters easily, 
especially as you seek the post from a genuine love of the 
subject. 

Let me know when you are coming to Edinburgh, for 
we can settle more in half an hour's talk than in fifty 
letters. My mechanical assistants won't be here till the 
last ten days of October, so there is no hurry whatever. 



102 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1866- 

I shall propose you to the University Court at their 
early meeting next month. Yours truly, 

P. G. TAIT. 

In October, accordingly, he returned to Edinburgh, 
and established himself in comfortable quarters in Duke 
Street. In the New College session which followed he 
contrived to keep his theological reading in advance, 
on the whole, of his teachers. " Rainy's class," l he 
observes, " is slow. There are some very good lectures, 
but no push " ; and he seems to have held his own to some 
purpose in some very vigorous passages with Professor 
Macgregor, the eccentric but accomplished divine who had 
succeeded Dr. Buchanan in the chair of Systematic Theo- 
logy. He secured the Hamilton Scholarship at the begin- 
ning of the session, beating the best men of his year, rather 
contrary to his expectation, and, though he obviously 
felt the severe strain on his energies, he was also able to 
continue his philosophical reading, and take part in the 
Shaw Fellowship examination with at least a chance of 
success. Complete success was, however, in this case 
beyond even his heroic energy and universal aptitude. 
The Fellowship, which carries with it the obligation 
to deliver a course of lectures on some philosophical 
subject, was awarded to Mr. Lindsay as every one, 
Smith included, had expected. Owing to the extreme 
pressure of his other work, he did not even succeed in 
realising his ambition to stand second ; but he made a 
very distinguished appearance in the examination, and 
Professor Campbell Fraser, who adjudicated, is reported to 
have said that " his papers were the most interesting of 
the lot." 

His contributions to the Transactions of the Theological 
Society, of which he was now secretary, included an essay, 
delivered on January 8, 1869, which dealt with an even 
more important topic than the psychological implications 

1 The Senior Class of Church History. 



1870] THE NEW COLLEGE 103 

of prophecy, and was the product of his most recent 
theological reading. 

" I delivered my essay at the Theological on Friday. 
It was really a success much better received than I had 
expected. I have lent it just now to a man who wished 
to read it. Indeed, I have had several such applications. 
I must, however, send it to you when I get it back. The 
subject is Christianity and the Supernatural very much 
a rendering of Rothe's ideas from an English starting- 
point and in English forms of thought. I was especially 
glad that one man told me that he felt the vein of thought 
to be not only speculative but edifying." 1 

This opinion of Smith's version of Rothe was not quite 
unanimous in the Society, and about this time the con- 
servative opposition, though small in numbers and 
consideration, provoked an incident which gave rise to 
some passing bitterness, but which, in its due historical 
perspective, is somewhat amusing. The account which 
follows is from the contemporary correspondence : 

" We had a row on Friday night [February 5] in the 
Theological. A motion was brought forward by a very 
ignorant man named * * * really levelled against Lind- 
say, Black, and myself, whom he accused of habitual 
contempt of Scripture. He did not mention our names, 
but told Lindsay that his motion (which was to tie down 
all members of the Society to absolute acceptance of the 
statements of S.S.) was against us. With some difficulty 
* * * got a Highlander to second, but found no one else 
to vote for his motion. 

1 The essay will be found in Lectures and Essays. Here it will be 
enough to say that Professor Rothe of Heidelberg (1799-1867), whose 
leading ideas Smith successfully sought to set forth to himself and the 
Theological Society in this paper, is the same Rothe whom we have 
seen characterised above (p. 85) as "at present the most notable man 
on the Rational side." It is interesting to remember that Ritschl 
also, towards the close of his career as a theological undergraduate, 
spent a summer (1845) at Heidelberg under Rothe. Both the older 
and the younger disciple show the powerful influence of this master of 
historical and speculative theology, alike in their confident affirmation 
of the fact of a supernatural Divine revelation, and in their refusal to 
assign a special supernatural character to the records in which the fact 
of that revelation is conveyed. 



104 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1866- 

" I came down on him pretty heavily, plainly telling him 
that he could never have supposed that there had been 
anti-scriptural teaching in the Society unless he had been 
utterly ignorant of Theology." 

In the event the Society, though some members were 
inclined to think Smith's retort a trifle too severe, 
supported the impugned office-bearers and, in spite of the 
protests of the accuser, left in its minutes the uncontro- 
verted assertion of his theological incompetence, and 
even threatened him with expulsion unless he retracted. 
It is not quite clear whether this threat was actually 
carried out, or whether the offender was allowed a more 
dignified exit by voluntary resignation. In any case he 
disappears from the story, and Smith's first theological 
controversy ended in a complete victory. 

His University work, and the new associations and en- 
gagements which it brought him, were indeed quite 
sufficient to occupy all the time he could spare from 
his theological studies ; and it is difficult to see how he 
could have contrived, had he been elected Shaw Fellow* 
to prepare and deliver the course of lectures which 
would have been required. So far as can be judged 
from the history both of his earlier years and of his 
subsequent life, he found a greater happiness, and one 
more suited to his nature, in the society of Tait and his 
circle and in the pursuit of science, than he could have 
done in the cultivation of the Metaphysics of which that 
circle were the professed and somewhat obstreperous 
opponents. For the next two years he occupied a 
recognised position as a teacher of Physics. The import- 
ance of the work he was able to do in that capacity 
and as an original investigator was considerable, as we 
shall see; but of at least equal consequence were the 
relations which he now began to form in the literary 
and scientific society of Edinburgh, outside the theo- 
logical circles to which his acquaintance had hitherto 
been almost entirely confined. His friendship with his 



i8>/o] THE NEW COLLEGE 105 

new chief grew quickly, and it was one of the most 
congenial in his whole life. Professor Tait was at this 
time at the height of his reputation as a teacher and as 
a man of science, and was working in close association 
with his illustrious Glasgow colleague, Sir William 
Thomson, afterwards Lord Kelvin, in various undertak- 
ings, including the production of a celebrated text-book 
familiarly known from the circumstance of the collabora- 
tion as T & T'. Apart from his distinction as a natural 
philosopher Tait was personally a remarkable figure, even 
in a generation which maintained at a very high level the 
traditional glories of the Modern Athenians. He was a 
man considerably above the average stature, with a rugged 
head that Rodin would have liked to copy. The outlines 
of his face were bold and stern, but with this the intense 
kindliness of his eyes and the benign expression of his mouth 
made a contrast which was almost startling. His person- 
ality acted like a charm on those who had the privilege 
of his intimacy. This was probably due in great measure 
to the strain of buoyant, almost boyish, enthusiasm which 
permeated his character to the end of his days. When 
he was not engaged in a strenuous course of golf at St. 
Andrews or a long walk near Edinburgh, his kingdom 
was a barely furnished little room in his house, 32 George 
Square, lined to the ceiling with books, and littered with 
piles of pamphlets and dusty manuscript, mostly covered 
with a neatly written maze of quaternionic or other 
mathematical symbols, pervaded with the odour of 
tobacco, and, in his earlier days, usually graced with a 
hospitable beer-jug which stood on the mantelpiece. 
Here he would work hour after hour, standing at a high 
ink-stained desk. But, however busy, he was always 
ready to welcome a friend, with whom he would discuss 
and argue with a tolerance and good humour which would 
have greatly surprised those who knew him only as a keen 
gladiator in the scientific arena. 

Such a friend necessarily opened endless possibilities of 



106 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1866- 

new experience to his junior colleague, whose parents seem 
at first to have been a little startled at the accounts which 
they received of the hearty though strictly moderate 
convivialities of the Professor and his new assistant. He 
hastens, in the following passage from a pleasant letter, to 
correct a wrong impression of frivolity which he appears 
to have created : 

" I am sorry to have given you a bad impression of 
Tait by mentioning the whisky and water, which certainly 
was not in quantity to do more than make up for our not 
sitting over wine at dinner." 

And again : 

" I don't know if in my last I found time to tell you 
that I dined with Tait on Christmas Day, and had a very 
pleasant evening in a quiet way. It is a great comfort 
that one has not to dress for Tait, and there is nothing stiff 
about Mrs. Tait or himself. Mrs. Tait asked me if I would 
object to come down always and dine with them on Sunday. 
This of course I declined, but it was kind in them to ask 
me. I am very glad to know that Tait is not a positivist. 
In fact there is a speculative Society, of which Sir W. 
Thomson is President, to which Tait refuses to go because 
most of the members are Unitarians. It is a comfort 
to know that our leading men of science are not all 
unbelievers." 

The new assistant had a great many minor examina- 
tion papers to correct, and, as the standard of excellence 
was in his opinion uniformly pretty low, he complains that 
the task of arriving at an order of merit was no light one. 
The most laborious and responsible part of his University 
work was, however, the supervision of the laboratory which 
Tait, almost first in this country, had established for the 
practical instruction of his more advanced pupils. 

" I have so often written about the laboratory," he 
writes to Keig, " that I not unnaturally never thought 
that you had got very little definite information about 
it ; I will try to supply the want now. 

" The laboratory is open daily from ten to three I 



i8 7 o] THE NEW COLLEGE 107 

go up at ten and stay till eleven, and return always at two 
at the latest. But when I think I can venture to leave 
my classes I go back sooner ; in fact, I am never to go 
to Smeaton's on Mondays and Wednesdays, making my 
attendance next year if necessary. As yet, too, I have 
had to be very irregular with Macgregor, but that is mainly 
because Tait is busy with his ladies' class, which he has 
some trouble in getting arranged. The men come in 
whenever they please, i.e. the eight or nine who have 
joined the laboratory. Each is set to do something, two 
generally working together, and of course when they have 
gained some facility, and have a pretty long piece of work 
to do, they require very little attention. Tait comes up 
daily for a longer or shorter time. 

" I have an experiment of my own. I am taking a 
series of observations on the intensity of thermo-electric 
currents in junctions of copper and iron dipped in baths 
of different temperatures. . . ." 

Among the eight or nine pupils who were placed more 
or less under his charge were several who have since become 
celebrated. Sir John Murray, one of the naturalists, after- 
wards the chronicler, of the Challenger expedition, and now 
recognised both in Europe and America as the leader of 
oceanographic research, was a constant attendant at the 
laboratory, and remained Smith's life-long friend. Sir John 
Jackson and the late Mr. Meik, builders of the world's ports 
and bridges, also received their initiation into practical 
scientific work at this time under the auspices of Robertson 
Smith. Others whose names are honoured as engineers 
and men of science passed under his hands ; and the little 
group included another member destined to distinction, 
though then perhaps a somewhat idle pupil, the future 
author of Kidnapped and Treasure Island, the creator of 
Lord Hermiston and the Master of Ballantrae. Robert 
Louis Stevenson was at that time making his first unwilling 
and wholly unsuccessful efforts at a professional career, and 
was a student in Tait's laboratory. Little is remembered 
of him by the surviving witnesses, but it is said that when, 
as frequently happened, his interest in the legitimate 
business of the moment flagged, he showed the utmost 



io8 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1866- 

adroitness in drawing the lecturer into an argument on 
some theological point, rehearsing no doubt the contro- 
versies which about this time existed between himself and 
his father. 

Early in 1869 Smith writes of other branches of his 
scientific work which was now absorbing a great part of 
his time : 

" My first lecture on Herschel came off to-day. I got 
on too slowly and was not altogether satisfied with 
myself. But as regards my audience I got on well 
enough. I am to lecture on Mondays and Wednesdays, 
and, if needful, on Fridays for a fortnight or three weeks. 

" I send you a Scotsman for to-day because I have a letter 
in it on ' Electro - magnetism and Magneto - electricity.' 
The letter has been rather spoiled by bad pointing, prob- 
ably because I only handed it in at 8 last night. The 
history of the thing is this. Tait wrote an obituary 
article on Forbes, in which he incidentally mentioned 
Faraday's great discovery of Magneto-electricity. Seg- 
mann, a Danish merchant in Leith, wrote to claim the 
discovery for the Dane Oersted. Tait replied by saying 
that what Oersted discovered was Electro-magnetism. 
Segmann, however, will not give in, and has written two 
more letters, to the first of which Tait replied. But 
Segmann's second letter, which appeared yesterday, con- 
tained a quotation from an article of Brewster's in the 
Encyclopedia Britannica, which speaks of ' the Science 
of Electro -magnetism or Magneto -electricity as founded 
by Oersted.' Tait did not like to have to accuse his late 
Principal of ignorance of Natural Philosophy, and so asked 
me to continue the fight. I accordingly wrote the letter 
I send, which pleases Tait highly. Tait says he almost 
danced with delight at it ; he is in fact a most excitable 
controversialist. ..." 

The controversial alliance, of which the above-quoted 
passage gives the first notice, was unbroken to the end of 
Smith's life. One early and conspicuous result of it was 
Smith's paper on Mill's views of the nature of geometrical 
axioms, 1 which Professor Tait about this time communi- 
cated to the Royal Society of Edinburgh. 

1 See Lectures and Essays. 



i8 7 o] THE NEW COLLEGE 109 

" My great piece of news about myself," writes the 
author, " is of course my Royal Society paper which Tait 
read last night. He read it all and had the figure of the 
Pons on the board and gave it off in great style, pointing 
out the steps of the proof with the pointer. In short, he 
did the very best that could be done for it, and then finished 
off with some supplementary remarks of his own in the 
way of demolishing metaphysicians at large and Hegel in 
particular. He thought the Society should congratulate 
itself on having got a man of so much force as me (!) to 
do this sort of work, which he said was very necessary ; 
and he hoped I would take up other similar subjects, as 
Hegel's treatment of Newton." 

This incident was remembered for some time in 
Edinburgh academic circles. A characteristic sally of 
Tait's, in the course of which he likened metaphysicians 
to ogres, led to the epithet of Jack the Giant-Killer, 
modestly declined by Tait himself, being passed on to 
Smith, who presently found himself engaged in a corre- 
spondence with Mill and Bain (the latter had been rather 
ruffled by the tone of the Royal Society paper, and wrote 
remonstrating at some length). 

" As to Bain," he writes, " his letter is to my mind 
intended to be a crusher. It is as severe as he could 
make it without incivility, but he has wholly mistaken 
my position, and I can answer every sentence he has written 
if need be. ... It is clear to me that Bain regards my 
paper as a deliberate insult to his school. I don't agree 
with you that there is some truth in his conclusion, 
stand wholly on mathematical ground, which is, of course, 
unassailable, and shall be happy to fight the question out 
against all the empirical logicians in England." 

In spite of the pugnacity of the combatants, the 
question was not at this time fought to a finish. The 
argument was interrupted by Smith's departure for 
Germany, where he spent the summer of 1869, taking up 
the thread of his theological studies, which had been a 
good deal interrupted by the recent additions to his 
activities in Edinburgh. 



no WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1866- 

Some time before he left he wrote to his father : 

" ... On Friday evening the office-bearers of the 
Theological Society for next year were chosen. The 
Presidents are Kippen, Bell, and myself, and I have been 
chosen to give the Introductory Address next winter. 
This is nearly all my news, except one important piece 
which I have kept to the end. I was told to say nothing 
about it to anybody, but you are an exception, I presume. 
A letter was awaiting me at the University this morning 
from Fuller, 1 telling me that a Professorship of Mathe- 
matics at Agra, worth 600 per annum, with 150 for 
outfit, is vacant, and asking ' if such a situation would 
meet my views, or if I was still bent on obtaining ecclesi- 
astical preferment.' Of course I answer (immediate 
answer is asked), saying I am still bent on going into the 
Church, and therefore cannot entertain the idea. Never- 
theless it is very kind of Fuller, and I feel gratified, as I 
suppose you will also. 

" For the rest, I am doing something at Newton and 
Hegel, and Sir W. Thomson has sent me a copy of a book 
of Lagrange's necessary for the purpose, which was not 
to be got here. So I must make something of it now." 

In spite of the broadening effect of his new scientific 
associations and his attachment to the writings of 
Rothe, he still fought shy of the professedly rationalistic 
School of Heidelberg, and, though he could not but 
accept a suggestion of Tait's that he should pay 
Helmholz and Kirchoff a flying visit, in order to pick 
up any suggestions that the organisation of their 
laboratories might afford, he decided for his own theo- 
logical purposes on the University of Gottingen. His 
old acquaintance, Croom Robertson, had strongly recom- 
mended the town as a pleasant place to live in, and the 
metaphysical lectures of Lotze as well worth attending. 
Professor Schaarschmidt wrote to offer an introduction to 
Ritschl, whom he described as " einer der scharfsinnigsten 
Dogmatiker in Deutschland," and Sir William Thomson 
was called upon to provide a letter to Weber, the 

1 Dated " University of Aberdeen, March 22, 1869." 



1870] THE NEW COLLEGE in 

illustrious physicist, then in his declining days, but still 
the glory of the Gottingen scientific school. 

For Gottingen, accordingly, Smith set out in the last 
days of April 1869, accompanied by Mr. Black, and 
equipped with works on Mathematics and on Hebrew 
grammar and with Rothe's Zur Dogmatik. The journey 
by Hamburg and Hanover proved very pleasant. He 
speaks in a more mature style of the rising splendours of 
Prussian cities, and he seems at this time to have revised 
to some extent his early unfavourable judgments on the 
Prussian character and the Prussian military system. 
The students found comfortable quarters in Gottingen, 
and made frequent excursions, one of which, in spite of 
a sprained ankle which awakened anxiety at Keig, was 
extended into a fairly long walking tour on the classic 
ground of the Harz mountains. 

Their academic experiences were equally satisfactory. 
The letters of introduction were cordially honoured, and 
in one of the first of his letters home, Smith was able to 
announce that " the trains at least seem to be laid for 
a very satisfactory acquaintance in Gottingen." It was 
soon clear that Ritschl had not been overpraised. His 
lectures were indeed the most important experience of 
the summer, and the beginning of the friendship to which 
they led is a landmark in the history of Smith's theo- 
logical views even more important than the first impres- 
sions of the German school which he had received at Bonn 
in 1867. The leading characteristic of RitschTs teaching 
was a sort of shrewd eclecticism which leaned decidedly 
to Calvinistic orthodoxy. He had forsaken the Tubingen 
School in which he had commenced, and this had been 
followed in the German manner by a personal estrange- 
ment from his master Baur. In 1869 he was " taking a 
very independent course, freely criticising the established 
positions, but cherishing much greater respect for the 
Reformers than for the present dogmatic." Smith found 
him lecturing on Conversion, Good Works, and the Assur- 



H2 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1866- 

ance of Grace, on the last of which topics he gravely 
criticised the extravagances of Pietism and Methodism, 
which pretended " to assign a distinct point as the point 
of conversion." Fresh as he was from the spectacle of 
similar errors among highly accredited personages in his 
own Church, Smith was greatly attracted by the acuteness 
and ingenuity with which Ritschl was able to reprove the 
superfluities of evangelical enthusiasm without attacking 
what he regarded as its inherent validity. " I have never 
heard anything," he remarks, " so interesting on a theo- 
logical subject as Ritschl's lectures. He has evidently 
such thorough clearness in his own views, and such com- 
plete acquaintance with the views of others, as to make 
his lectures exceedingly instructive." 

Smith, as we have seen in an earlier part of this chapter, 
held somewhat high doctrine on the position and privileges 
of the Visible Church. He was accordingly delighted 
with Ritschl's condemnation of sects, the conception of 
which he distinguished sharply from the conception of 
dissenting churches. A sect, he held, treats the Church 
as merely the sum of saved individuals, and demands of 
each member an empirical certainty of his saved state, 
which he can establish by pointing to a definite moment- 
ary experience of conversion. The Church, on the other 
hand, without denying the possibility of such experience, 
recognises " that the Church is before the individual, that 
it is in the Church that God's grace works, and that the 
development of the individual Christian takes place in 
the Church, and is conditioned by the Church." Thus 
" a child may in the Church, under a Christian education, 
grow up a child of God without being able to point to a 
definite conversion at a given time," and in such a case 
we may feel a confidence that God will begin a work of 
grace in his heart even before his personal consciousness 
begins. From this position at once followed a reasoned 
justification of infant Baptism, and a condemnation of 
that tampering with the immature religious consciousness 




WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH IN 1870. 



i8 7 o] THE NEW COLLEGE 113 

of which Mr. Gosse has recently painted so vivid and so 
sinister a picture. Ritschl's views on this subject were 
in striking agreement with the good sense of the principles 
on which the children of the Manse of Keig had been 
brought up, and in communicating them to his father, 
Smith expresses his satisfaction at having been enabled 
to bring to clear consciousness ideas which had always 
been familiar to him, but which " we often rather feel than 
are able to express with sharpness." 

For all this insistence, however, on the necessity of 
orthodoxy and of principles of authority and churchman- 
ship, Smith did not at all waver in his own firmly 
established views of what the exact nature of that 
orthodoxy should be. 

" On Sabbath," he writes about this time, " we went 
for the first time to the Reformed, i.e. Calvinistic Church. 
I can't say that I enjoyed the service, for it was moderate 
to a degree. Even the hymn-book was a compilation of 
last century, which ought, according to the preface, to 
exclude all expression of feeling, etc., and merely to give 
in a plain form the teaching of Reason and the New 
Testament. Of course there was much more of the 
Rationalistic than the Biblical in it when it took this 
line." 

The same feeling appears in an interesting note on 
certain mild experiences of pastoral work which arose 
from the presence of a Scotch family in Gottingen, at 
whose house he and Mr. Black alternately conducted a 
service on Sundays : 

" I again took the meeting on Sabbath evening, and 
rather enjoyed it. But both times Black has suggested 
that my train of thought needs rather too close attention. 
I must try to be simpler. One feels that there is great 
need of skill and faithfulness in speaking before a family 
of which several members are clearly very moderate in 
their views." 

The scientific results of the journey were also satis- 



H4 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1866- 

factory. Weber was cordial and helpful, though he was 
no longer in actual command of the Gottingen laboratory, 
which was then under the direction of Dr. Kohlrausch, 
a scientific correspondent of Professor Tait's. The 
demands of his theological classes made it impossible for 
Smith to do much laboratory work, and, on consideration, 
it did not appear that Edinburgh had much to learn in 
the way of apparatus and arrangements. A more im- 
portant event was the beginning of his intimacy with the 
celebrated mathematician, Dr. Klein, 1 whose acquaintance 
he had first made in Pliicker's class-room at Bonn, and 
who now introduced him to the Mathematisches Verein, a 
highly exclusive scientific body which met once a week 
for discussion of the higher Mathematics, tempered by 
beer. The visit to Heidelberg on which Tait had insisted 
was paid about this time, and the following record of it 
shows the extensive and important academic connection 
procured for him by Klein's friendship, and the close 
relations which at this time he began to form with the 
most brilliant among the rising generation of young 
German men of science. 

" I came to Heidelberg on Monday, and have been 
kindly received by Helmholz and Kirchoff, who showed 
me their collections. I also had some intercourse with 
several Privat-docenten and junior professors to whom 
Nother 2 introduced me. Nother is one of the young 
mathematical doctors in Gottingen. With him, Klein 
(editor of Pliicker's posthumous works), and another, 
Hierholzer, I drank Bruderschaft last week, so of course 
Nother gladly gave me an introduction to a friend, 
Hartmann, who again brought me into his circle of young 
professors." 

He returned to Scotland towards the middle of August, 
laden with thermometers of some special German pattern 

1 Professor of Mathematics at Erlangen (1872-75), Munich (1875-80), 
Leipzig (1880-86), and Gottingen (1886), where he is now Director of 
Physical and Mathematical Studies, and enjoys the dignity of Privy 
Councillor. 

2 Professor of Mathematics at Erlangen since 1875. 



i8 7 o] THE NEW COLLEGE 115 

for Tait's laboratory, and with many additions to his library 
of Theology and Mathematics. He took with him, also, 
the feeling that he had carried the development of his 
theological position a step further, and he remarks of 
Ritschl's lectures that they were " far the best course he 
ever heard." 

After a few weeks at Keig he returned to Edinburgh, 
where he found himself almost immediately face to face 
with events of ^ critical importance. Professor Sachs, 
the holder of the Chair of Hebrew and Old Testament 
exegesis in the Free Church College of Aberdeen, had died 
in the autumn (September 29), and the brilliancy of 
Smith's performances suggested to more than one of his 
friends that, in spite of his youth, he would be a very 
suitable successor. It need hardly be said that the 
suggestion of his candidature did not come from himself ; 
but it was warmly pressed upon him, and after some 
natural hesitation he consented to allow his name to be 
brought forward. The idea commended itself from the 
first to Dr. Davidson, who showed no indecision and a 
great deal of tact in the manner in which he quietly pro- 
moted the interests of his favourite pupil. He secured 
that Smith should have an opportunity of displaying his 
power as a teacher of Hebrew by giving up to him the 
conduct of the preparatory Hebrew class, adding in the 
letter in which he made this proposal, " that it might be 
useful to have taught such a class well, as he had no doubt 
Smith would do if he undertook it." 

With these new duties and his ordinary work at the 
University and the New College Smith's hands were full 
enough ; and the candidature in its earlier stages seems 
to have occupied him very little. 

"... I don't believe I have the ghost of a chance," he 
wrote, " nor shall I trouble myself about the matter, 
for I can very well afford to wait and have every prospect 
in my excellent relations to Tait of having the means 
of studying steadily for a year or two still ; so that I 



n6 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1866- 

may possibly have a better chance another time, and be 
better fitted to use it." 

In the course of this winter he made several important 
acquaintances among his contemporaries in Edinburgh, 
and began to acquire what may be called a recognised 
position in general society. The following passage from 
a letter to his father (October 29) records an interesting 
event : 

" I dined with Tait yesterday, with Crum Brown and 
M'Lennan, an advocate. There is a new talking club 
to be set up, of which Tait and these two are to be 
members, as likewise Sir A. Grant, Campbell Shairp, and 
Tulloch of St. Andrews, and a whole circle of literary and 
scientific men in or near Edinburgh, the object being to 
have one man at least well up in every conceivable subject. 
The selection is to be somewhat strict, so I was surprised 
when it was proposed last night to table my name. It 
might be very useful to belong to such a thing: the 
attendance being not compulsory, and the meeting twice a 
week, the thing could not be burdensome, while the circle 
of acquaintance opened up would be the very best." 

" The Edinburgh Evening Club " was accordingly 
founded shortly afterwards, and we shall have occasion, 
in the next chapter, to describe it more fully. Both 
Smith and Mr. M'Lennan, 1 whose important articles on 
" The Worship of Animals and Plants," were then appear- 
ing in The Fortnightly Review (October to February), 
became original members ; the acquaintance between 
them soon developed into a close friendship, which was of 
great importance in the history of Smith's life and work. 

The controversy with Mill and Bain seems to have 
been tacitly abandoned by both sides, having ended in a 
promise by the former to consider Smith's objections in 
a new edition of the Logic. Smith, however, had by this 

1 John Ferguson M'Lennan (1827-1881), a member of the Scottish 
bar. He contributed the article " Law " to the eighth edition of the 
Encyclopedia Britannica, and afterwards developed certain speculations 
first propounded there in his Inquiry into the Origin of Capture in 
Marriage Ceremonies, better known as Primitive Marriage (1865), and 
Studies in Ancient History (1876). 



i8 7 o] THE NEW COLLEGE 117 

time carried out Tait's suggestion and had written another 
paper for the Royal Society entitled " Hegel and the 
Metaphysics of the Fluxional Calculus," l in which the 
Hegelian criticisms of Newton were severely handled. 
This led to a sharp argument with Dr. Hutchison Stirling, 
the eminent Hegelian, conducted mainly by correspond- 
ence published in the columns of the Courant in December 
and January. The opinion of competent and impartial 
persons was that Smith had distinctly the best of the 
encounter. He was already acquiring a reputation as 
a philosophical controversialist, and at this time also 
appeared a French translation of the paper on Mill " with 
all the hits sharpened up to absolute ferocity." About 
the same time was published a third Royal Society paper 
on the purely scientific subject of " stream-lines." 1 This 
paper was the result of important experimental work 
carried out in Professor Tait's laboratory, and it is not 
too much to say that it places its author in the ranks 
of scientific discoverers. As a contribution to Physical 
Science it is regarded by eminent authorities as a 
classical exposition of its subject. 

The reader, who has heard so much of Smith's activity 
of mind and powers of work, will perhaps not be surprised 
to learn that in the midst of all these varied interests and 
concerns he found time to elaborate his first considered 
utterance on theological matters since he had come 
under the personal influence of Ritschl. He was now 
one of the Presidents of the Theological Society, and, on 
November 8, some little time after he had decided to 
become a candidate for the Aberdeen chair, he delivered 
an inaugural address on the Work of a Theological 
Society. 1 The intrinsic value of this paper is considerable ; 
its interest and importance as the pronouncement of one 
who aspired to the position of an accredited teacher in 
the Church can hardly be overrated. We are told that 
the attendance of members of the society was small, 

1 See Lectures and Essays. 



n8 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1866- 

owing to the inclemency of the weather ; perhaps, 
therefore, the audience which Smith addressed was 
chiefly composed of theologians as enthusiastic and 
progressive as himself. The nature of the occasion 
forbade debate, and there was little more than a hint of 
opposition in the customary speeches on the vote of 
thanks. And yet, in all the circumstances, it is perhaps 
surprising that Smith's plea for a progressive theology 
did not startle and alarm at least some of his hearers. 
What he had to say was, in some of its aspects, revolu- 
tionary. All theology, he insisted, must advance, and 
develop according to the new experiences of the new 
generation; but the progress he advocated was "impossible 
as long as the absolute truth of the existing confessional 
dogmatic is maintained." Meanwhile his candidature was 
being more and more energetically promoted. 

In the Free Church of Scotland the function of choosing 
the teachers charged with the instruction of her theo- 
logical students is properly reserved to the General 
Assembly. It is customary, however, for the Supreme 
Church Court to take into consideration all recommenda- 
tions which may be transmitted to it from Presbyteries 
and Synods. It is therefore considered to be much in 
favour of a candidate for a chair if his name is sent up to 
the Assembly as a proper person to be elected by as many 
Presbyteries as possible, and the good offices of his friends 
are invoked to secure that this shall be done. 

His father from Keig, and Mr. Lindsay in Edinburgh, 
organised the campaign on Smith's behalf, and soon a 
very striking body of testimonials was collected. He made 
personal application only to those of his teachers with 
whom he had friendly relations of a special kind ; but 
even so, his backing was very strong. Tait, with many 
loud protestations that he hoped his indispensable 
assistant would fail in his candidature, wrote very strongly 
in his favour, and procured a letter of warm commenda- 
tion from Sir William Thomson. His Aberdeen pro- 



1870] THE NEW COLLEGE 119 

fessors were less enthusiastic ; Sir William Geddes was 
committed to another candidate, and Bain, as we have 
already seen, could give only the grudging commendation 
of a not too generous philosophical opponent. The 
Germans compensated the candidate for these short- 
comings. Schaarschmidt and Kamphausen wrote with 
the affectionate cordiality of old friends and advisers; 
Ritschl gave a testimonial of grave commendation, 
impressing on the electors the intense scientific zeal, the 
many-sided knowledge, and the ausserordentliche Gewandt- 
heit des Geistes of his pupil, while Lotze, in the course of 
a very strongly worded letter, regretted that Germany 
might not have the chance of claiming him entirely for 
her own. The Edinburgh theologians, led by Dr. David- 
son and Professor Macgregor, were equally emphatic. 
Davidson had the most claim to speak, and what he said 
must have been almost decisive. 

" Mr. Smith," he wrote, "is by far the most distin- 
guished student I have ever had in my department. By 
this I mean not only that his acquirements are greater, 
but that they are of a different kind. Mr. Smith not 
only knows Hebrew well, but he knows well that 
which constitutes Hebrew, or any other of that class of 
languages. He knows more perfectly than any young 
man I ever came across the principles both of the 
Grammar and of the Idiom of the Semitic languages. 
This knowledge he has arrived at, partly by his own 
very great talent, and partly by the study of such 
scientific Grammars as that of Ewald, with which he 
has a great familiarity. But his acquirements in Old 
Testament scholarship are not confined to the knowledge 
of the language. Having had opportunities of being 
several summers on the Continent, and hearing some of 
the most distinguished lecturers there, he has made 
great advancement in Sacred Criticism. He has written 
for me several essays, particularly one very extensive one 
on the Divine Names in Genesis, and another on Prophecy, 
which displayed not only learning, but ability of a very 
high kind. For what is surprising in so young a man is 
the maturity as well as the striking independence of his 
mind. From all I have been able to see, I consider that 



120 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1866- 

the department of Old Testament learning is the one 
most congenial to Mr. Smith, and in which he is most 
likely to do good work ; and if he were placed in a position 
favourable, there is almost no result too high for the 
Church to expect from him." 

Rainy, then commencing his long and eventful leader- 
ship of the Assembly and the Church, also bore witness 
to " his great ability and high promise," showed himself 
favourable to Smith personally, and sought occasions for 
making his better acquaintance. 

Equally impressive were two testimonials which he 
received from the youth of the Church. One of these 
was from the entire body of students attending the New 
College, and was most honourable to the signatories, both 
for its generosity and its discrimination. They testify to 
the intellectual eminence, the special aptitude, and the 
winning Christian character of their friend and fellow- 
student, and the sentences in which his rivals in the 
Theological Society and in his own class impress upon the 
Assembly his fitness for preferment, must have made a 
deep impression on all who read them. The other testi- 
monial came from the members of the Hebrew tutorial 
class, which he had been conducting during the winter, 
and was accompanied by a present of books. The 
students refer to the clear and scientific way in which the 
Hebrew tutor had " laid open to them the leading principles 
and structure of the Hebrew language ; thereby imparting 
to what might otherwise have been dry and difficult detail 
an interest and ease which could not fail to enlist our 
attention and awaken our energies," and they conclude 
with words of affectionate good wishes, and thanks for the 
helpful courtesy of his personal relations with them. 

His first public contribution to the theology of the 
Old Testament, " The Question of Prophecy in the Critical 
Schools of the Continent," l was intended to commend 
its author to the favourable notice of the electors, and 

1 See Lectures and Essays. 



i8 7 o] THE NEW COLLEGE 121 

appeared in the British Quarterly Review for April. Its 
acceptance by the editor seems to have been due, in part 
at least, to the good offices of Smith's new friend, 
M'Lennan ; on its appearance it received the warmly ex- 
pressed approbation of Dean Stanley, who had not yet 
awakened the resentment of Scottish patriots, and was 
then enjoying that sort of undenominational celebrity 
which often belongs to those who are not regarded as 
wholly orthodox by their own church. 

More than once in the early stages of the affair Smith 
had contemplated withdrawing in favour of two older and 
more experienced candidates who were also in the field. 
The more prominent of these was Mr. Salmond, who had 
been his teacher at Aberdeen, and who was destined to 
be a staunch friend and supporter in after-life. Mr. 
Salmond, who was a generous opponent, was also a formid- 
able one, and his testimonials in the opinion of many were 
superior to those in favour of Smith as showing wider 
pastoral and educational experience. The candidature, 
however, was no longer in Smith's own hands, and his 
name had already been adopted by Presbyteries all over 
the country. His father's efforts in circulating his testi- 
monials, and bespeaking support from fathers and brethren 
whenever possible, met on the whole with a most cordial 
and gratifying response. Here and there a Presbytery 
threw out his name. Now and then among the letters 
which came to Keig from other manses, and which are 
still preserved, occurs one declining support on the ground 
of youth and inexperience, or hinting that the prizes of 
the Church should be reserved for those who had borne 
the burden of her pastoral service. But even in the letters 
in this correspondence (and there are several) in which the 
weakness rather than the strength of human nature is 
displayed, there are continual protestations that, whether 
on this occasion or another, the election of " Mr. William " 
to a chair was a certainty. In the end the strength 
of the testimonials was found irresistible. The Church, 



122 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1866-1870 

to her honour, was profoundly impressed by the remark- 
able evidence which they contained of almost universal 
learning, and (as one of Mr. Pirie Smith's correspondents 
put it) of " continental experiences which unquestionably 
give a breadth to a man's culture, and need not, with the 
grace of God, impair his orthodoxy." 

The turmoil and anxiety of these days, and the strain 
of his doubled and trebled activities, told on Smith severely. 
Several times he had to take some days of complete rest, 
and he often complains of lassitude and weariness. In 
a letter to a close friend, early in 1870, he expresses 
a longing for some consistently theological work, not as 
a matter of ambition, but of personal edification, and 
complains of the distractions of his divided allegiance to 
the University and the New College. In spite of these 
very natural symptoms, however, his constitution on the 
whole stood the strain well, and a brilliant deliverance was 
at hand. Early in May he was licensed as a probationer 
of the Free Church of Scotland, and on Tuesday, May 25, 
the final vote of the Assembly elected him to the Aberdeen 
Chair by a majority of 139 over Mr. Salmond, his strongest 
and most deserving competitor. In the letter of pride 
and thankfulness which the minister of Keig wrote to 
his wife from Edinburgh, he says, " It is marvellous how 
much satisfaction Willie's election has given to the whole 
Church." 



CHAPTER IV 

THE HEBREW CHAIR (1870-1875) 

AFTER his election to the Chair, Smith had several months 
in which to prepare for his new duties, and to take a 
holiday, which he much needed after the excessive labours 
of the previous months. His engagements, festive and 
official, were inevitably very numerous in the days 
immediately after the Assembly made him a Professor, 
but he was soon able to escape from Edinburgh and begin 
the process of rest and recuperation at Keig. A plan to 
visit Mr. Black, who at this time was settled at Seville, 
unfortunately came to nothing, chiefly owing to the out- 
break of the Franco -Prussian war and the rapid series 
of German victories, which threw all the arrangements 
of European travel out of gear, and made it impossible 
for any one with important professional engagements 
to venture far afield. The projected holiday shrank to a 
few weeks in the Highlands, and Smith spent at Braemar 
the memorable fortnight during which the news of Sedan 
arrived. The excitement of contemporary events, the 
exhilaration of healthy exercise in the stimulating climate 
of Deeside, and the pleasures of congenial society soon 
effaced the traces of overfatigue. He spent a great deal 
of time in the open air, and saw much of a group of old 
acquaintances and future colleagues who happened to be 
visiting Braemar at the same time, particularly Mr. (now 
Principal) Whyte, who was already a trusted friend. 
The only opponents of Smith's candidature who had 

123 



124 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1870- 

had any show of reason on their side were those who, 
as we saw in the last chapter, founded their objections 
on his youth and inexperience of the practical work of 
the ministry. It must be admitted that his bent was from 
the first almost entirely academic, but we have indicated 
how strong, and indeed how irresistible, was his vocation 
to the service of the church. He had not at first taken 
altogether kindly to preaching or, indeed, to the conduct 
of public worship in any form, owing to the difficulty he 
experienced in early days in expressing himself in a 
popular manner. This difficulty he appears about this 
time to have definitely overcome, and in the interval 
between his appointment and the commencement of the 
active duties of his chair he kept many preaching engage- 
ments in spite of his fatigue, and proved that he was 
likely to show no want of energy in this department of 
the active service of the Church. He speaks in letters 
to Keig of the increase of " comfort and acceptance " 
with which he delivers sermons to the critical congrega- 
tions of Edinburgh, and we need not doubt that he was 
equally successful in the numerous country pulpits 
which he filled about this time. 

Of the discourses which he delivered on these occasions 
some score survive. They were prepared with the care 
which Smith gave to every piece of work he undertook, but 
it cannot be said that they form a distinguished contribu- 
tion to homiletical literature. Their most remarkable 
characteristic, in fact, is their conventionality. They might 
have been delivered by any orthodox country minister to 
any Scottish congregation. Smith had learned from his 
father not only how to think, but also how to preach, and 
in after days, when his critical opinions were the subject of 
so much bitter controversy, the curious crowds who flocked 
to hear him were almost disappointed with the old- 
fashioned evangelicalism of his sermons. His friends and 
supporters pointed with triumph to these manifestations 
of dogmatic orthodoxy, and with reason, for they were the 



i8 7s ] THE HEBREW CHAIR 125 

serious expression of a devout piety which he maintained 
through many apparent contradictions to the last day of 
his life. They do not call for further comment here. The 
following record 1 of the impressions of two intelligent 
hearers seems to the present writers to afford the elements 
of a just appreciation of Smith's characteristics as a 
preacher. 

" I have heard Smith preach three times now. Bonar 
was with me once, and did not quite like it ; the references 
to Christ seemed too expressly orthodox, he thought, to 
be the genuine expression of his belief. But of course 
B. knows nothing of theology, and presumes that Smith 
must diverge from the orthodox throughout, because he 
is so enlightened a critic of the Book. I suppose he is 
quite orthodox on the Person and Work of Christ. I have 
thought his preaching interesting and full of wise, and often 
delicately suggestive, practical teaching, and I have been 
struck with what seemed a tender reverence of tone in his 
whole service, spite of the natural irreverence of his voice." 

Ecclesiastically speaking, Smith had at the time of 
his election merely the standing of any student of theology 
who, without cure of souls, has " taken licence," and 
has been admitted to preach the Gospel. He had still 
to acquire the full status of a minister of the Free 
Church, which is considered necessary for a professor, 
and he was accordingly ordained on November 2, 
1870, the day before he met his classes for the first time. 
The ceremony of ordination, which is one of the most 
impressive known to the Presbyterian Churches, takes 
place at an appointed diet of public worship conducted 
by the Moderator of the Presbytery within whose bounds 
lies the sphere of the candidate's future labours. The 
ordinand is called upon to answer a series of questions, 
and finally to subscribe a formula embodying explicit 
declarations of his belief that the Old and New Testament 
Scriptures are " the word of God and the only rule of 
faith and manners," of his repudiation of all " divisive 

1 By the late Rev. J. C. Barry, Dumbarton. 



126 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1870- 

courses," and of his submission to all duly constituted 
ecclesiastical authority. This being done, the Moderator 
descends from the pulpit and ordains him to his office 
with solemn prayer and laying on of hands. The other 
ministers present gather round, and it is the custom for 
them to lay their hands also on his head. The Moderator 
then formally receives and admits him in the name of the 
Presbytery and by authority of the Divine Head of the 
Church, and offers him the right hand of fellowship. 
Thus Smith's career as a theological teacher began not 
merely with the triumph of an election, but also with a 
sense of consecration to a solemn task implying grave 
pastoral responsibilities. Enough has already been said 
to show how sincerely he believed that he could con- 
scientiously carry out all the obligations of his position 
as a minister and as a professor. The welcome extended 
to him by his new colleagues was cordial. Ritschl wrote 
a charming letter of congratulation from Germany, and 
Dr. Davidson, in a letter regretting his inability to be 
present at the ordination, looked forward with interest to 
the printing and publishing of the inaugural lecture. 

This discourse, which was subsequently printed as 
Professor Davidson desired, 1 was the most mature and 
effective of Smith's writings up to that time, and merits 
the closest attention both for its own sake and in view 
of subsequent events. In form it was, as befitted the 
occasion, a carefully prepared and finished piece of 
academic prose. The balance of the composition, the 
clear and dignified conduct of the argument, the occasional 
touches of restrained eloquence, all showed how much 
he had profited by his Edinburgh experiences of writing 
essays and addressing audiences. In substance it showed 
a corresponding advance in speculative power. As an 
exposition, or perhaps rather as an interpretation, of 
the results reached by those who were in touch with 
the recent progress of German Protestant Theology the 
1 See Lectures and Essays. 



i8 75 ] THE HEBREW CHAIR 127 

lecture could not have been better. The lecturer faced 
the problem of the relations between theology and 
historical criticism, not indeed with a complete conscious- 
ness of the gravity of all the issues likely to be raised, but 
with a characteristic and contagious confidence that he 
had found the only possible solution. He pronounced the 
first official vindication of a historical understanding of 
the Old Testament not in the tone of one recommending 
a method disapproved of by an important body of opinion 
in his own Church, but rather as a eulogist of the freedom 
and courage imposed upon that Church by her own best 
traditions as opposed to the ineffectiveness and mis- 
leading timidity of the mediaeval hermeneutic. The 
Catholic Church, he told his hearers, had almost from 
the first deserted the Apostolic tradition in setting up a 
conception of Christianity as a mere system of o-wn?/>ia 
Soy/xara, 3. series of formulae containing abstract and 
immutable principles, intellectual assent to which was 
sufficient to mould the lives of men who had no experi- 
ence of a personal relation with Christ. This funda- 
mental error, with the attendant evil of superstitious 
accretions to the sacred narrative which had acquired 
almost co-ordinate authority with the Canon itself, had 
led to a complete obscuration of the true efficacy of the 
word of God. 

" Can anything," he asked, referring to the traditional 
method of interpretation, " be more fatal to a true 
appreciation of Scripture than this artificial confinement 
of every thought it contains within the narrow compass 
of a crude Theological system, a truly Procrustean bed, 
of which not even the earliest thoughts of the Old Testa- 
ment must fall short, and which the ideal completeness 
of the New Testament must not transcend ? " 

The Catholic doctors, he argued, too much ignored 
the continuous exercise of Divine Power implied in the 
historical work of Redemption, and this produced the 
further error, which was even more serious from the 



i 2 8 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1870- 

evangelical point of view, of ignoring or forgetting the 
indispensable personal relation of the individual Christian 
to the Redeemer. Holy Scripture, Verbum Dei, omnium 
perfectissima et antiquissima philosophia, contains, no 
doubt, in itself the only perfect rule of faith and manners. 
But it is not, as the Catholics tended to claim, " a divine 
phenomenon magically endowed in every letter with 
saving treasures of faith and knowledge." Rather it is 
the vast and animated record, perpetuated under the 
supreme sanction of the Divine Will, of the mighty 
redeeming purpose ever present to the holy and in- 
scrutable mind of God. Regarded in any other way the 
historical connection of the Old and the New Testaments 
is lost or misunderstood. Difficulties of interpretation, 
difficulties of faith and morals are multiplied, and the 
only refuge for the believer is on the one hand an inad- 
missible allegorical exegesis borrowed from the Hellenistic 
Jews, and, on the other, a recourse to the mystical and 
magical sacramentalism which had once for all been 
abandoned at the Reformation. He appealed to the 
authority of " the comprehensive genius of Calvin " as 
" an ever precious example of believing courage in 
dealing with the Scriptures," and proceeded in a memor- 
able passage to draw the conclusion of the whole matter : 

"It is impossible to pass from this topic without in 
one word pointing out that a necessary consequence 
of this way of treating the Bible is the honest practice 
of a higher criticism. The higher criticism does not 
mean negative criticism. It means the fair and honest 
looking at the Bible as a historical record, and the effort 
everywhere to reach the real meaning and historical 
setting, not of individual passages of the Scripture, but 
of the Scripture records as a whole ; and to do this we 
must apply the same principle that the Reformation 
applied to detail exegesis. We must let the Bible speak 
for itself. Our notions of the origin, the purpose, the 
character of the Scripture books must be drawn, not 
from vain traditions, but from a historical study of the 
books themselves. This process can be dangerous to 




Wilson Brothers. 

PROFESSOR WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH (ABOUT 1874). 
From a Photograph. 



i8;s] THE HEBREW CHAIR 129 

faith only when it is begun without faith when we forget 
that the Bible history is no profane history, but the story 
of God's saving self-manifestation." 

The revolutionary character of this pronouncement 
was masked by the fervour and the transparent honesty 
with which it was made, and by the unconscious ingenuity 
of the method of presentation. Smith's teaching in 
substance was at this time probably in essence little 
more advanced than that which his master Davidson 
had been carrying on for years ; but he was far more out- 
spoken in giving his programme to the world, and at the 
very outset of his career he had carried the claims, though 
perhaps not the practice, of the " believing critic " a 
step further than the last generation had ventured to do. 
On the other hand, his lecture adroitly identified the 
interests of free inquiry into the historicity of the Scriptures 
with the interests of religious truth as conceived by a 
dogmatically orthodox and evangelical Protestant. The 
tradition of Scriptural interpretation which he favoured 
was, he claimed, the tradition of Luther and of Calvin, 
and those who opposed him laid themselves open to the 
reproach of espousing the cause of mediaeval darkness, 
and of dealing with the Bible according to the celebrated 
Lutheran similitude of the sow with the bag of oats. 

The little party of enlightenment in the Free Church 
of Scotland was delighted, and Smith received the unani- 
mous congratulations of his friends. They were firmly 
entrenched, as they thought, in a position which reconciled 
the passionate piety of Dr. Duncan with the somewhat 
timid scholarship of Professor Davidson. They did 
not reckon with the party of ignorance, whose strength 
in any theological community it is dangerous to 
underestimate, and they forgot the taunts of " habitual 
contempt of scripture " which had been hurled at their 
leader by the more obscure of his college contemporaries. 
The time, however, was not ripe for controversy, and 
the pamphlet, " What History teaches us to seek in the 

9 



130 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1870- 

Bible," did not awaken the Church from her dogmatic 
slumbers. 

There were at least two very good reasons for this. In 
the first place the party of ignorance were as yet far from 
realising the gravity of the situation. Biblical scholar- 
ship was still rare in Scotland. Davidson's Job, as we 
have already seen, was almost the first example in English 
of Hebrew erudition of the " dangerous " variety. The 
subject on the whole excited little interest in the ecclesi- 
astical world at large, and a keen scent for this kind of 
heresy had not yet been cultivated among the Highland 
Host. Secondly, the energies of the reactionaries were 
fully occupied with a controversy in which they became for 
the first time an organised body conscious of their cor- 
porate strength, and which was of critical importance in 
the temporal fortunes of the Church. Union with the 
bodies which had forsaken the Church of Scotland before 
the Disruption, and which were now themselves associated 
in the important and respected denomination known as 
United Presbyterians, had for some time been a cherished 
aim of the more enlightened and statesmanlike of the 
leaders of the Free Church. The great obstacle to the 
realisation of this aim, and the source of many bitter 
troubles both then and long afterwards, was of course the 
principle of State Establishment which the leaders of the 
Disruption had carried with them into the wilderness. 

When Dr. Chalmers and his friends left the Disruption 
Assembly they dreamed of creating l " an Establishment 
to which others might return." They conceived it to be 
the duty of " the Civil Magistrate " to endow and cherish 
the Church while leaving her full spiritual independence. 
The only question was which Church should receive this 
disinterested patronage. There appears to be no doubt 
that this was the view personally held by the Disruption 
Fathers, though it is a matter for endless argument 
how far they introduced the principle into the formal 

1 Carnegie Simpson, Life of Principal Rainy, vol. i. chap. vii. 



i8 75 ] THE HEBREW CHAIR 131 

documents embodying their claims. Shortly after the 
Disruption, Dr. Chalmers, at any rate, resented keenly 
any reflections on the establishment principle, and in 
certain memorable letters took occasion to administer a 
severe snub to certain English and Welsh admirers who 
were rash enough to congratulate him on having become 
a dissenter. The ecclesiastical position of the United 
Presbyterians, on the other hand, was totally different. 
Their views on this question were based on what they 
themselves not inappropriately styled " New Light " 
principles. They altogether repudiated the theory of 
state establishments, and held that it was the duty of 
the Church to provide both for her own temporal and 
for her own spiritual needs. The simplicity and reason- 
ableness of this " voluntary " position, as it was called, 
and the obvious advantages it possesses for a Church 
freed from the entanglements of state support and state 
control, became evident many years later, and would 
now probably be recognised by the great majority of a 
Church which has been educated by affliction. In the 
years 1863-73, which saw the first phase of the Union 
controversy, it had many irreconcilable opponents in 
" the Church of Scotland free," but it was hoped that 
moderate counsels might prevail in the Church courts, 
and that some honourable compromise might be found. 
The attitude of the United Presbyterians was correct and 
affectionate, and it seemed for a time that by judiciously 
emphasising, on the one hand, the Voluntaries' admission 
of civil authority, and, on the other, the Free Church 
assertions of spiritual independence, the foundations of 
union might be well and truly laid. The negotiations 
prospered for a time, but little real progress was made, 
and in the year 1866 serious difficulties had already 
arisen. The party of reaction had found its leader in 
the celebrated Dr. Begg, who began by obstructing, and 
ended by destroying for a season, the hopes of the 
Unionists, after bringing the Free Church to the very 



132 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1870- 

verge of a second Disruption. The official leader of the 
Assembly and of the party of Union was still the venerable 
Dr. Candlish, who was now in his last decade and visibly 
dispirited by the perverse temper of his Church, so great 
a part of which, as a recent writer 1 has said, was in " the 
time of ebb which succeeded the mighty surge of the 
Disruption." Much of the practical work of leadership 
devolved in these circumstances on his lieutenant, Dr. 
Rainy, who some years previously had been transferred 
from the pulpit of the Free High Church to the Chair of 
Church History at the New College. 

This remarkable man, who was destined to guide the 
fortunes of the Church during nearly forty of the most 
troubled years of her history, was then commencing that 
career of ecclesiastical statesmanship with which his name 
will always be associated. Rainy will not be remembered 
either as a great preacher or as a great Doctor of the Church. 
His lectures as Professor, as we have seen, were satisfactory 
rather than distinguished, and it may well be doubted 
whether the learning he was able to amass in the quieter 
years of his full and busy life entitled him to take a 
leading part in any controversy of purely scholarly 
import. But with all these deductions, and others which 
we shall have to make hereafter, it is right to say that 
he was an outstanding figure, and in his own way a great 
man. His physical presence was dignified and impressive ; 
you could not meet him among other men without 
recognising in him the conscious superiority and the 
instinctive adroitness in managing other people which are 
the foundation of senatorial capacity. In his presence 
the differences of those about him seemed to become 
focussed on some intelligible point of his selection. The 
ground which he had chosen was usually the ground on 
which an issue was debated ; and if circumstances proved 
too strong for him, no one could retreat more skilfully 
than he. It was in the depressing years of the first Union 

1 Carnegie Simpson, op. cit. 



i8 7 s] THE HEBREW CHAIR 133 

struggle that the Church first learned to appreciate his 
aptitude for affairs, and when, after ten years of fre- 
quently bitter and sometimes unedifying conflict, the hopes 
of union and the life of Dr. Candlish almost simultaneously 
ended, Rainy's claim to leadership was uncontested. 

In these days of trial and disappointment no one had 
leisure for the Higher Criticism but the Higher Critics, and 
they seem to have devoted themselves almost entirely 
to the studies which were to provide a new and even 
more serious source of distraction for the Assembly and 
the Church at large. The Union Controversy has in 
fact only an incidental interest in Smith's history. We 
have seen that his views on the authority justly to be 
attributed to the Church in any civilised community were 
very decisive, and it is probable that he began with 
theoretical leanings in the anti- unionist direction. If, 
however, he ever had such leanings, he soon became a 
convert to the more practical and progressive view, and 
in the earlier letters from Edinburgh there are several 
curious references to the conversion of his friend Lindsay, 
which was slower, but in the end equally complete. In 
the early days of his professorship there is no doubt that 
he had for some time been a strong supporter of Dr. 
Candlish and Dr. Rainy in the struggle in which they 
were opposed with so much ability and so much bitterness 
by Dr. Begg. He frequently takes occasion to condemn 
the violence and want of scruple shown by the Anti- 
unionists, but it does not appear that he took any pro- 
minent official part either in this particular controversy, 
or, at this time, in Church politics generally. 

His life was crowded with other interests and concerns. 
Amongst these his academic duties naturally took the 
first place. The junior students had to be taught the 
elements of Hebrew, and here, no doubt, the experience 
he had acquired in conducting the tutorial class in the 
New College, mentioned in the last chapter, proved 
invaluable. But abundant evidence is still extant of the 



134 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1870- 

unremitting care with which he never ceased to prepare 
for his pupils, with whom he systematically read a rich and 
varied selection of passages from all parts of the Old 
Testament. A still more important part of his duties 
was the delivery of lectures to senior students on Old 
Testament exegesis, and the theology resulting therefrom. 
It has been found convenient, in the Bibliography 
appended to this volume, to catalogue in their chrono- 
logical order with some fulness the manuscripts of these 
lectures so far as they still survive ; and in the companion 
volume a selection of extracts from them has also been 
given, in the belief that they will be found to be not only 
of great biographical interest, but also of some intrinsic 
value. For either purpose it is essential that they be 
taken in the order of time. Immediately after his 
appointment he turned his mind to the inaugural lecture, 
of which some account has been given ; the next topic 
to which he directed his attention was, as it happened, 
" the Nazarites," which he treated with special reference 
to the broad distinction between prophets and other 
persons of sacred profession in Amos's time. Smith's 
later views on these matters are accessible elsewhere, 
and his earlier tentative researches need not detain us 
now. But one brief extract has seemed worth preserving, 
and is reprinted as showing that he had even then 
begun to formulate, with regard to the composition of 
the Pentateuch, views which already could hardly be 
called orthodox in the traditional sense, though they 
were still far removed from those which he ultimately 
adopted. In all the lectures it is worth noticing with 
what scrupulous care they take account of all the most 
recent literature on the subjects with which they deal ; 
and it must also be remarked that almost all of them 
were afterwards rewritten so as still to represent the 
most recent extensions of knowledge. 1 

1 Thus the lectures on Prophecy originally written from August 
1870 onwards were afterwards reconstructed in 1876-77, and some 



i87s] THE HEBREW CHAIR 135 

The new professor's anxious care for the progress of 
his pupils is reflected in some letters which survive 
from this period. "As to my classes," he writes at a 
date about midway through his first session, " I have two 
very good . . . and two very poor. ... Of these, how- 
ever, one contains at least some improvable elements." 
Then, after a reference to one particular pupil, whose 
errors were " captiousness and self-conceit," he proceeds : 

" The others are at least, I think, possessed of sufficient 
faith in me to profit by my teaching. I believe I am well 
enough liked, and my lectures, I understand, are rather 
appreciated. With my colleagues all goes most smoothly. 
Dr. Brown was predisposed in my favour, and Lumsden 
is a thoroughly kind-hearted man if he isn't crossed. 
Now, as I don't meddle with general matters, and don't 
mean to do so till I know my ground, I am safe, I hope, 
to see only his good side. 

" There is in the Aberdeen Hall a thing I never saw in 
Edinburgh a sense that when a lesson is given it must 
be got. Hence the men know their Hebrew grammar 
and prepare their reading. Even the very worst don't 
come unprepared. I suspect this is due in the main to 
Sachs's influence, but I do hope it may last. I fancy that 
Lumsden, too, takes real work out of the men. About 
Dr. Brown I am less certain. . . . 

" I have joined Candlish's l congregation, and find 
him an instructive and in a measure stimulating preacher. 
He has a ' sense ' for scientific theology, but I don't 
think that he is quite free from the faults of our present 
Scotch theology. Of course the great Aberdonian is 
Fr. Edmond. With him I think I shall get on smoothly 
enough, as we have some points in common, especially 
a taste for curious books anything I believe even of that 
kind is often a useful Ankniipfungspunkt." 

specimens of these in their later form are reprinted inLectures andEssays. 
In like manner the lectures on Hebrew Poetry dating from 1871 were 
subsequently recast, and formed the substance of the article in the 
British Quarterly Review, also reprinted ; of rewritten lectures on 
" certain select Psalms," that on Ps. xvi. appeared in The Expositor 
for 1878, and a series on Heb. i. and ii. was published, also in The 
Expositor, as late as 1881-82. 

1 Dr. James Candlish, son of the more celebrated Dr. Robert Candlish. 



I 3 6 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1870- 

Mr. Edmond was an advocate, in the Aberdonian 
sense of the term, 1 whose taste in matters ecclesiastical 
was accounted fastidious and conservative to an unusual 
degree. Smith, to the surprise of many people, made a 
complete conquest of him in a very short time, and the 
alliance between them remained unbroken during the 
troubled time that followed. His successes in less 
difficult regions of Aberdeen society were equally im- 
mediate. The Principal, who is spoken of in such guarded 
terms in the letter above quoted, became a firm friend, 
and soon came to rely much on his new colleague's judg- 
ment and assistance in the conduct of the affairs of the 
Hall. Indeed it is not long before we find Dr. Lumsden 
resigning the office of Secretary of Senatus, which he held 
along with the Principalship, and moving that Smith 
should succeed him. Smith's official and semi-official 
relationships as professor and minister seem everywhere 
to have been cordial. His active share in the business of 
the Aberdeen Presbytery was at first small, and it was 
some little time before, practically under compulsion, 
he allowed himself to be made an elder in the East Free 
Church, of which Dr. James Candlish was minister ; 
but he preached from time to time as is expected of a 
professor, addressed the Free Church students at the 
University on the advantages of a University culture and 
other improving topics, and, generally speaking, dis- 
charged to every one's satisfaction the miscellaneous 
duties which fall on those who occupy prominent academic 
positions. 

He had again set up house in lodgings as in the old 
days, an establishment of his own being still, as he said, 
" too great an undertaking." With him was his younger 
brother Charles, 2 who was beginning his academic career 
at the University, and had the same tutorial advantages 

1 Aberdeen solicitors, by Royal Charter of Charles I. (1633), bear 
the style of advocate. 

' 2 Charles Michie Smith, Esq., lately Director of the Kodaikdnal and 
Madras Observatories. 



i8 7 5] THE HEBREW CHAIR 137 

as his sisters in past years. The omens were all 
favourable. His health and energy had returned in full 
measure, and his landlady rejoiced to hear him, when 
he came into the house, rushing upstairs two steps at a 
time, audibly practising his Arabic gutturals. 

As regards his social relations, he admitted in a letter 
written about this time that he did not find, and could 
not expect to find, in Aberdeen the same advantages 
which he had had in Edinburgh, where the greater number 
of his literary and scientific friends were then collected. 
There were, however, special compensations for his exile 
from the Royal Society and the Evening Club. Aberdeen 
was not lacking in intellectual, and especially in artistic 
society, and he soon came to know a group of distinguished 
and interesting people in whose company he formed new 
tastes and more than one lifelong friendship. Aberdeen 
was then producing perhaps more than her share of the 
most eminent artists of Scotland, and possessed at least 
two of the leading Scottish connoisseurs of that day. 
The first of these, Mr. John Forbes White, will be long 
remembered as a genial and public-spirited citizen. He 
was a man of considerable literary culture and exquisite 
aesthetic taste, a humanist who wrote and spoke Latin 
with the old-world facility, and in his social relations 
the very embodiment of friendliness and hospitality. 
His family was connected with that of Smith's old teacher, 
Sir William Geddes, then still in occupation of the Greek 
chair, and it was no doubt at Geddes's instigation that 
Mr. and Mrs. White called on the new Professor of Hebrew 
very soon after he took up his residence at Aberdeen. 
This visit is recorded in a letter to Keig, and subsequent 
correspondence shows that the acquaintance soon de- 
veloped into an intimate friendship. Smith found in 
Mr. White an entirely congenial spirit, and derived much 
benefit, both physical and mental, from his society. Mr. 
White induced him to take walks, and even, upon occasion, 
to play golf, and, as was equally important, he introduced 



138 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1870- 

him to the circle of cultivated people which he had the 
gift of collecting about him. Mr. White at that time 
lived in Union street, the Piccadilly of Aberdeen, in a 
large house, the decoration of which was one of the earlier 
and happier achievements of the school of William 
Morris; but he also possessed another abode, at some 
distance from the town, with which perhaps the most 
affectionate memories of his friends will be associated. 
Seton Cottage is situated in a deep cleft by the 
edge of the Don, which flows for some miles between 
high and well -wooded banks before it reaches the sea. 
The house is surrounded and secluded by trees, and the 
view across the water to the two venerable stone spires 
of St. Machar which overtop the dark green of the woods 
on the farther bank, is unequalled in the neighbourhood. 
Mr. Wliite and his family spent much of their time at this 
charming place, and in Smith's letters there are frequent 
references to his visits there. 

It was no doubt in Mr. White's company that he first 
made the acquaintance of the other great local patron 
of the Arts. Mr. Alexander Macdonald of Keppleston was 
the possessor of an ample fortune and a fine collection of 
pictures and objects of art, part of which has now become 
the property of the city of Aberdeen. Though physically 
infirm and compelled constantly to use a bath-chair, 
he was a man of great intellectual vigour ; the decision of 
his character was reflected in his countenance, in which it 
pleased him and his friends to detect a resemblance to 
the great Napoleon. He was a great friend to all Scottish, 
and especially to all Aberdonian artists, but he had 
a great acquaintance among contemporary painters 
generally, and he used frequently to be visited at his 
house of Keppleston in the near neighbourhood of 
Aberdeen by Millais, Keene, Sambourne, du Maurier, 
Sam Bough, and many others. Keppleston was the 
scene of much delightful hospitality, and Smith soon 
became a frequent and a welcome guest. From this 



i8 7 s] THE HEBREW CHAIR 139 

period also dates his friendship with Sir George Reid, the 
distinguished ex-President of the Scottish Academy, and 
with his brother, the late Mr. A. D. Reid, an accomplished 
artist and a delightful companion. 

With these and other new friends his leisure was very 
fully and pleasantly occupied. He began to interest 
himself in artistic matters and to collect about him the 
pictures and other beautiful things which those who 
knew him later in his life will remember. His evenings 
were taken up, as he says, with " much trotting out to 
dinner," and the informal gatherings at Keppleston or 
Seton Cottage, alternated with more solemn festivities 
at the houses of his colleagues or of prominent members 
of the Free Church laity, where large companies assembled 
to eat the fruits of the earth out of season, and every- 
thing was done in the most elaborate style. Particulars 
of these banquets were duly sent to Keig for the edification 
and amusement of his father and mother. More than once 
he complains of the inroads which society made upon 
his studies, and announces his intention of declining 
further invitations. 

Meanwhile he was by no means forgotten by his friends 
in Edinburgh, who continued to follow his doings with 
interest and attention. The introductory lecture seems 
to have been a good deal discussecl at the Evening Club, 
and to have somewhat puzzled some of his scientific 
associates. The company which he had left, and which 
delighted to welcome him back on the occasions of his 
comparatively frequent visits, deserves at least a passing 
notice. 

The Evening Club, the foundation of which was de- 
scribed in the last chapter, reached the height of its pros- 
perity in the early seventies. On its list of membership 
all that was most distinguished in a memorable genera- 
tion of Edinburgh people was amply represented. The 
Lord President and the Lord Justice Clerk of the day 
appear, together with Lord Neaves, whose wit and 



140 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1870- 

culture maintained the literary tradition of Kames and 
Monboddo, and Lord Gifford, whose memory is pre- 
served by a celebrated endowment of Natural Theo- 
logy. The then Lord Advocate, better known in later 
days as Lord Young, was also a member, and upon 
occasion terrified and delighted the company with the 
mordant wit which there were few who did not fear 
and none who did not admire. Sir Daniel Macnee, 
President of the Scottish Academy, famous for his 
inimitable anecdotes ; Dr. John Carlyle, the translator of 
Dante and the brother of the Sage; Professor Blackie, 
with his showy eccentricities ; the more serious but equally 
genial figure of Professor Masson all these distinguished 
persons frequented the gatherings held in the old club 
rooms at goA George Street. Tait, too, though he 
disliked general society, would often come in after the 
evening meetings of the Royal Society, and the survivors 
of the habitues of those days will recall a memorable 
encounter between him and his old friend Thomas 
Stevenson, the father of the novelist, in which the merits 
of the theology of the Shorter Catechism were the issue 
of the battle. The antagonists sat, one on each side 
of the fireplace, smoking long clay pipes, Tait, alert, 
aggressive, and Episcopalian ; Stevenson grim, resistive, 
and Presbyterian, hurling taunts and logic at each other 
till they parted, amicable but irreconcilable, in the small 
hours of the morning. 

But if the company was distinguished, it was interesting 
also as the last embodiment of the corporate intellect of 
Edinburgh, the last phase of a society which was at its best 
when Dr. Johnson stayed with Boswell at James's Court, 
and had hardly declined in the days when Lockhart wrote 
Peter's Letters to his Kinsfolk. The members of the Evening 
Club still for the most part inhabited the grey streets of 
the older part of the New Town. Most of them had to 
make their way up one or other of the toilsome ascents 
from the north side of the city in order to reach the 



1875] THE HEBREW CHAIR 141 

place of meeting, and among the younger members there 
lingered traces of the old-fashioned and now almost 
obsolete Scotch conviviality, of which Robert Louis 
Stevenson (himself a junior member of the company) has 
given some curious glimpses. 

Smith, with his friends, Dr. Davidson and Mr. 
Lindsay, represented the Free Church ; but his inter- 
ests in the Club were not mainly theological. In the 
earliest days of his membership he formed the acquaint- 
ance of two of the most prominent of the younger 
set, and with them he lived on terms of affectionate 
and lifelong intimacy. One of these was Mr. Alexander 
Gibson, an advocate, who reached no higher eminence 
than the Secretaryship of a Royal Commission, though, 
in the opinion of his friends, he might have done great 
things had his Life not been prematurely cut short. 
The other was Sheriff Nicolson, one of the most popular 
figures of his day, a typically warm-hearted and un- 
business-like Celt, a great teller of stories and singer 
of songs, and on occasion a versifier with a true vein of 
sentimental humour. Neither of these two men can 
be said to have ever done justice to the gifts which they 
possessed, but both were men of varied culture and 
learning, and as companions they were unrivalled. 
Mr. M'Lennan, who has already been mentioned, and 
of whom there will be more to say, and Mr. Aeneas 
Mackay, Sheriff of Fife and Kinross, and afterwards 
Professor of Constitutional History in the University 
of Edinburgh, also belonged to this group. They all 
met frequently at a house, the hospitalities of which 
must not go without commemoration in this book. Mr. 
James Irvine Smith, who died only a few years ago, 
was the host and friend of nearly every one of note 
in Edinburgh. He was a man whose taste for every 
kind of artistic excellence amounted almost to genius, 
and his dinners were celebrated. For many years 
he occupied the position of Reporter to the Court of 



142 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1870- 

Session, and he was intimate with all the Bench and 
most of the Bar and with scores of literary, artistic, and 
scientific celebrities besides. Judges, artists, men of 
letters, professors, and eminent counsel came to taste 
his claret, in which he had the fine old orthodox Scotch 
taste, and to admire his Turner drawings, which were 
almost unrivalled in any private collection. In the earlier 
days of his career as a host and a connoisseur the festivities 
which used to take place at his house retained a little of 
the full-blooded style of the Nodes, and it is recorded 
that his guests in Northumberland Street have been 
heard to sing Auld Lang Syne to the accompaniment 
of Steinberg Cabinet at a very advanced hour in the 
morning. To this convivial group Nicolson and Gibson, 
above mentioned, belonged, but by the time that Smith 
became a familiar guest at Northumberland Street, as 
he did in the course of the first years of his Aberdeen 
Professorship, the parties, though not less amusing, had 
become less uproarious and more tinged with a middle- 
aged decorum. To the end of his life his intercourse 
with Mr. Irvine Smith was one of his greatest pleasures. 

As the years went on, the Edinburgh gatherings came 
to have their counterpart on a smaller scale in Aberdeen. 
Sheriff Nicolson and Mr. Gibson frequently came north 
to visit their friend ; and in Mr. White's house in Union 
Street, and equally memorably at the Manse of Old Deer, 
there met almost at regular intervals a body of high 
intellectual and convivial pretensions, who adopted with 
acclamation the title of " the Aberdeen Academy." 
Besides Mr. White and the Rev. Mr. Peter of Old Deer, the 
customary hosts, the Academicians included Mr. George 
Reid and his brother Archie, Mr. G. Paul Chalmers, 
Mr. (now Sir David) Gill, who was then Lord Crawford's 
astronomer at Dun Echt, and Dr. Kerr, who has recorded 
his experiences in that company. 1 

1 See Memories, Grave and Gay, by John Kerr, LL.D. (Edinburgh : 
T. Nelson & Sons). 



i8 75 ] THE HEBREW CHAIR 143 

Apart from these gaieties, his life in Aberdeen was simple 
and strenuous. The foundation of the Horatian happiness 
and contentment which he at this time enjoyed was the 
enthusiasm with which he threw himself into the congenial 
work of conducting his classes. Both during the session 
itself and during the months of enviable leisure which are 
at the disposal of the occupant of a Scottish theological 
chair, he was engaged in the constant preparation for his 
work and the endless study of his subject, which we have 
already described. As a Hebraist he made rapid progress, 
but as his erudition grew, he seemed to sacrifice nothing 
of the interest in universal knowledge which is the most 
remarkable feature of his career. Thus, in the first years 
of his professorship we find him engaged in revising the 
proofs of Dr. Davidson's Hebrew Grammar, in a copious 
and intimate correspondence with Ritschl on theological 
topics, and in a controversy which he conducted with 
much vigour and acuteness on the question whether the 
theological students in Free Church Divinity Halls should 
any longer be compelled to write Latin discourses. 
In 1871 he collaborated with his friend Lindsay in a 
paper on " The Earlier Atomists," which was read 
before the British Association on the occasion of its 
Edinburgh meeting in that year ; and his papers show 
that he had made, by correspondence, the acquaintance 
of Mr. George Henry Lewes and was coaching him, 
also by correspondence, on mathematical points that 
arose in his philosophical writings. Most interesting of 
all he found time to write at least one important letter 
to his friend Mr. M'Lennan on Totem Warfare in Coptos 
and Tentyra, and on sorcery in the Old Testament. On 
the latter subject his views were already remarkably 
mature, and the following extract will serve to emphasise 
the continuity of the studies which occupied him in 1871 
with those which in his latest years culminated in The 
Religion of the Semites, and which placed him among the 
founders of the modern Science of Comparative Religion. 



144 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1870- 

" As to sorcery and the Old Testament, of course the 
Israelites, being by nature like other people at the time, 
had a great love for sorcery which creatures like the 
witch of Endor gratified ; but the trade was forbidden, 
and sorcery stood in direct antithesis to prophecy. The 
bitter water was probably a relic of an old ordeal not 
abolished but put under restrictions. The Urim and 
Thummim may also have been grounded on a similar old 
usage, especially if Kuenen is right in connecting them 
with Teraphim. But they were put into such relations 
to the spiritual Mosaism, and so entirely confined to 
great crises of state affairs, where moreover they were 
used in connection with prayer to the spiritual God, 
that they gained a somewhat different complexion. 
But at least the rise of prophecy extinguished them, for 
they are never mentioned after David's accession. The 
important point is not that the Israelites once used such 
things, but that Mosaism killed them and knew itself to 
be opposed to them. That comes out clearly in Deut. 
xviii. 9-22 (where prophet and sorcerer stand opposed), 
i Sam. xv. 23, and especially in Num. xxiii. 23, which 
translate thus : ' There is no enchantment in Jacob : no 
sorcery in Israel. In due time it is told to Jacob and 
Israel (viz. by prophecy) what God doeth,' i.e. the personal 
moral revelation of a spiritual God dispenses with nature 
religion and sorcery. I could add many passages. Take 
only Isa. viii. 19. Before Moses' time the use of divination 
seems quite naive, e.g. Joseph's cup, Gen. xliv. 5, and 
Gen. xxxiii. 27, where for ' experience ' read ' augury.' 
Does a nation in the course of nature pass through a 
revulsion of feeling like this, and that at once so far 
as the principle goes, tho' not without stages in the 
application of the principle ? That is the problem of 
the Old Testament for students of the philosophy of 
religion. I should like to see your solution. Kuenen's 
is quite a failure, and I don't expect to see a solution 
that will hold water without an acknowledgment of the 
specific difference between the religious history of Israel 
and of other nations. 1 Remember I don't deny that 
traces of nature religion are to be found in the Old 
Testament ; only the Old Testament religion did not, I 

1 The feeling against witchcraft with us is a necessary development 
of the freer side of the Reformation movement, which was not indeed 
the church side. 




From a Lithograph by Sir George Reid, R.S.A. (1876). 



i8;s] THE HEBREW CHAIR 145 

hold, grow out of, but confronted and destroyed, these. 
That is a question for scientific inquiry which we may 
attack from our opposite points of view without cursing 
each other." 

His advance in years and in worldly consideration 
naturally increased his domestic cares. He had as yet 
no establishment of his own, but it is easy to imagine 
how great his importance had become in the counsels of 
his family. More than ever he was the idol and patron 
of " the children," the providence which could be trusted 
to send " a rabbit or a guinea-pig," or " a stamp begged 
from the Principal," for their diversion a pattern of 
big brothers. But he was now more than this more 
even than the dutiful son who provided the latest con- 
trivance in lamps for the manse parlour, and sent a 
dozen of port on the least rumour of an illness at home. 
He was a link with the outside world in which he was 
already something of a figure, a man who could judge 
soundly of an investment, and advise and assist his 
brothers in making a start in life. His relations with his 
father were, if possible, even closer than they had ever 
been. He was now a trusted colleague in the ministry 
as well as a son, and their consultations on ecclesiastical 
affairs were frequent and mutually helpful. " I am not 
ashamed to confess," wrote the minister of Keig on one 
occasion, " that my son has often given me advice, and 
that I have generally found it good to follow the advice 
so given." In the troubled time which was at hand 
Smith had no more cordial or more steadfast counsellor. 
These ideal family relations are reflected in the annual 
birthday letters which, with an exact and affectionate 
observance of anniversaries, were punctually exchanged 
between Keig and Aberdeen. 

Extensive and cordial as was his correspondence with 
British and foreign scholars and men of science, Smith did 
not neglect any opportunity of maintaining by personal 
intercourse the many useful and interesting friendships 

10 



146 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1870- 

he had formed, and of adding to their number as occasion 
offered. He had become very fond of travelling in his 
student days, and from the date of his appointment to 
the Aberdeen Chair till the end of his life there was hardly 
a single year without a foreign journey. In the early 
autumn of 1871 he made a tour of the battlefields of 
the Franco-Prussian war with Dr. A. B. Davidson and 
Mr. Gibson, and the party was joined for a time by his 
distinguished German friends, Dr. Klein and Dr. Nother, 
who were then at the outset of their professorial careers. 
This journey, however, though interesting, was of much 
less importance in his history than the visit which he 
paid to Gottingen in the following year. 

That visit was undertaken in the pursuit of new and 
extended studies by which he hoped to increase his 
fitness for his academic work. A certain type of Hebrew 
scholar is content if he knows the received text of the 
Hebrew Scriptures and the received interpretations. In 
1872 Smith was already long past this stage, and he had 
realised (as indeed is shown by the letter to Mr. M'Lennan 
above quoted) that if any real progress in his subject 
was to be made, it was necessary to get behind the current 
traditions and study the ancient Semitic civilisation as 
a whole. He had already begun to interest himself in 
the Arabic language, literature, and civilisation, and it 
was not unnatural that he looked to Germany for instruc- 
tion and assistance. Here there was considerable latitude 
of choice. Amongst pure Arabists perhaps the first 
place belonged to Fleischer at Leipsic. There were 
several reasons, however, why Smith should decide to go to 
Gottingen, with which he already had so many pleasant 
associations, and where his friend Klein was settled. 

At Gottingen the veteran Ewald was still one of the 
most illustrious academic figures, though no longer in 
active work, and Paul de Lagarde in 1869 had succeeded 
him as Professor Ordinarius of Oriental Languages. In 
this remarkable man, who carried on the tradition of his 



i8 75 ] THE HEBREW CHAIR 147 

predecessor's idealistic political liberalism, Smith found 
an intellectual affinity. Like Smith, Lagarde was a man 
of wide and very various erudition, and like him he 
combined great synthetic power with a high ideal of 
minute and painstaking scholarship. A glance at the 
list of his writings, which includes works on politics and 
education, and even some poetry, " shows the range and 
variety of his studies : closer examination reveals every- 
where in things great and small the same embarrassing 
affluence of learning, the same .incredible painstaking, 
the same grasp of principles, the same discoverer's gift 
of combination." l Like Smith, too, he had the most 
enthusiastic faith in the value of critical and philological 
inquiry as an accessory, or rather as a necessary foundation, 
of religious faith. 2 His linguistic attainments were in fact 
acquired merely as a necessary condition of a true under- 
standing of Theology as he conceived it, " the Queen of 
all the Sciences," whose task it is to find a way to the 
religion of the future. Thus, though he occupied the 
chair of Ewald, in which he was destined to be succeeded 
by Wellhausen, he by no means regarded himself as 
merely one of a great dynasty of Orientalists. He valued 
learning for mere learning's sake so little that, great as 
was the reputation of his teaching as a professor, the most 
ardent of his disciples prefer to extol the religious or, as some 
preferred to call it, the prophetic side of his character. 3 
In spite of his essential magnanimity, Lagarde seems to 
have displayed in his relations with colleagues and con- 
temporaries certain angularities and asperities which we 
shall see reflected in his many letters to Smith in after 

1 Prof. G. F. Moore. 

2 Compare Rothe's characteristic saying (he is speaking of theology 
and Schleiermacher's " dialectic ") : " Ich kenne nur zwei wissen- 
schaftliche Fuhlhorner : strenge, grundliche Philologie und Geschichte." 

3 In 1889, two years before his death, he wrote : " Ich unterscheide 
mich von meinen Zeitgenossen am wesentlichsten dadurch, dass ich 
mich als Priester fiihle, als Seelsorger ; als Lehrer ich steige in der 
Scala abwarts. Der Dienst als Priester ist es, der mich gliicklich und 
gelegentlich aufdringlich macht." 



148 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1870- 

years, and which interfered with his social success and 
probably limited the sphere of his personal influence. 
He had had a long struggle with adversity before he was 
promoted to the chair at Gottingen, and in spite of 
certain ultimate similarities of view he seems always to 
have been out of sympathy with his eminent colleague 
Ritschl, whose influence was predominant in University 
circles and whose philosophy of life was of a more genial 
cast than the stern if lofty idealism of Lagarde. 

Lagarde, as was natural, had few intimates ; it was 
not very easy to gain his affections ; yet Smith, attached 
Ritschlian as he always was, seems from the first to have 
won his esteem and approval, and the intercourse between 
the two scholars in 1872 was the beginning of a lifelong 
friendship. There could be no more striking testimony 
to the position which Smith already held in European 
scholarship than his cordial and intimate relations with 
two savants so eminent and so antagonistic. 

In 1872, when Smith paid his second visit to Gottingen, 
Lagarde was devoting his attention almost entirely to 
Arabic, and was particularly engaged in the study of the 
ancient Arabian poetry to which Smith was himself destined 
to give much attention in subsequent years. He followed 
Lagarde's instructions with much assiduity during the 
whole of the summer semester (April- July), and became 
deeply absorbed in his work. Few details are recorded, 
but it appears that his diligence was so great as to re- 
awaken the old apprehensions of his parents lest he 
might be doing more than was good for his health ; and 
Lagarde himself, who was a most indefatigable worker, 
formed such an idea of Smith's devotion to study that 
most of the many letters to his disciple in after years 
conclude with earnest and affectionate cautions against 
overtaxing his strength. An attack of neuralgia, 
which soon passed off, was the most serious conse- 
quence of Smith's industry at this time, and though 
Arabic absorbed so much of his energies as to encroach 



i87s] THE HEBREW CHAIR 149 

even on his correspondence with Keig, there is enough 
to show that he thoroughly enjoyed his semester. He 
describes himself as " living the life of a Privat-docent 
with great exactness," and at the end of the summer 
observes that, while he has " not learned as much Arabic 
as he expected, he has at any rate got some." It will 
sufficiently appear hereafter that this was a modest 
understatement of his achievement. 

In the intervals of his studies he was not unmindful 
of other claims on his attention. Soon after his arrival 
he writes home : " We are going to get up not exactly 
a service, but a Sunday evening class among the young 
English-speaking population here ; or, rather, the meeting 
will be one for talking over a passage. There are here 
several Baptists and Independents. The thing will be 
ticklish, but it seems one's duty to seize the oppor- 
tunity. Perhaps one may be able to exercise some 
influence." 

The class was held in the Aula Academica and, in spite 
of one collision with an ecclesiastical compatriot whose 
controversial inclinations proved a discordant element, 
it seems to have been a great success, and there was 
some talk of the Free Church making an endeavour to 
arrange for similar ministrations in future years. 

About this time he learned from Scotland with 
much satisfaction of Mr. Lindsay's appointment to the 
chair of Church History in the Free Church College 
at Glasgow. That appointment had been the occasion 
of some sharp divisions of opinion in the Church, and 
Smith's comment on the manner in which the affair had 
been conducted is curiously interesting in view of the 
events in his own history which took place a few years 
later. He writes to his father : " His (Lindsay's) victory 
is most encouraging. He writes that all the leaders 
except Rainy made a dead set against him. . . . Rainy 
is the only one of these leaders who is really worthy to 
lead men. The others may do to conduct diplomatic 



150 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1870- 

business, which is a thing of which there is far too much 
in the Church." 

His recreations were inevitably somewhat academic 
in character. He of course maintained his personal 
relations with Ritschl, who enjoyed above all things the 
society of a brilliant disciple, and among the Orientalists, 
apart from Lagarde, who, for the reasons above given, was 
not much in society, he saw most of Professor Benfey, 
the eminent Sanscrit scholar, with whose family he was 
on terms of some intimacy. His chief friendships were, 
however, among the younger generation of teachers, 
and particularly among the mathematicians and men of 
science. His intimacy with Klein was already of some 
standing, and his growing absorption in Oriental studies 
had by no means diminished his interest in his earlier 
pursuits. Klein was the means of introducing him to 
many new and interesting acquaintances, and in his 
correspondence with Professor Tait, who wrote him 
several long and characteristic letters in the course of 
this summer, there are frequent references to eminent 
foreign contemporaries whom Smith was constantly 
meeting, and to whom Tait sent numerous messages, 
not all intended for literal delivery. Among the cele- 
brated persons with whom he became friendly was the 
illustrious Clebsch, who was venerated by all the mathe- 
matical schools of Europe. 

On June 26 he writes to his sister : 

" I suppose I needn't write about Arabic. So there 
remains nothing that I can remember except to tell you 
that I drank Schmollis yesterday with Dr. Stumpf, which 
means that hereafter I am to call him thou and not they. 
If you don't know what that means Papa will explain it. 
I am anxious to arrange to go with him in August to 
the Bavarian Alps so as to get a thorough run in the 
mountain air before I come back. I also think that as 
soon as Lagarde leaves I shall go for a week to Leipsic 
and Dresden. But that I cannot settle yet." 

Shortly afterwards Lagarde's vacation put an end for 



i8 7 s] THE HEBREW CHAIR 151 

the time to Arabic studies, and Smith set out on a tour 
which was not devoid of professional interest. He was 
now at leisure to resume his old practice of writing 
journal letters, so we have very full records of the re- 
markably numerous visits to well-known theologians and 
seats of learning which he contrived to compress into a few 
days' hard travelling. 

The first stage was Halle, which he reached on July n. 

" I landed in Halle before eight o'clock, had a stroll 
through the town, which is not interesting, except at one 
or two points, and found Riehm at nine o'clock expounding 
32 to a moderate audience of students who did not 
occupy more than the fourth part of a very large lecture- 
room. I believe, however, that he has about 200 names 
on his roll, and that the small attendance was simply 
one of the many signs of the indifference of most German 
students to theological study of an exact kind. I went 
after lecture to Riehm and had about an hour's talk with 
him." 

The same day he reached Leipsic, which he found to 
be " on the whole a very handsome town." 

" I first sought out a certain Dr. Wickes, an Englishman, 
and friend of Hermann's, who has been studying Orientalia 
for some time with the view of writing something on the 
Pentateuch against Colenso. . . . Wickes was very kind 
to me, and made my residence in Leipsic most pleasant. . . . 
My business in Leipsic was of several kinds. In the 
first place, I have secured some books at a very moderate 
rate. Then I have made inquiries that wifi be most 
useful when we come to fill up our library with Thomson's 
money. Then I called on Fleischer and became member 
of the Deutsche Morgenlandische Gesellschaft. Further, 
I visited Delitzsch and had a long and interesting chat 
with him. He knew me by name because Salmond had 
told him about our contest, and in general he seemed in- 
terested in and fond of Scotland and Scotsmen. Among 
other matters transacted in Leipsic I paid a visit to Dr 
Biesenthal, a noted Rabbinist who is anxious to sell his 
collection of Hebrew books. If we could get hold of them 
for Aberdeen we should have one of the finest Rabbinical 



152 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1870- 

collections in Great Britain. ... I stayed in Leipsic 
till this morning (Monday, July 15), and went yesterday 
to the University Chapel. The service was peculiar, 
consisting almost entirely of hymn-singing and sermon. 
There was no reading, except the very short passage 
which formed the subject of lecture, and very little prayer. 
The preacher was Kahnis. He is much more effective 
in style than most Lutherans had less mannerism, and 
seemed to know better what he wished to say. A curious 
feature was that he read a long extract from Luther in 
the middle of his sermon as to the nature of faith. From 
some remarks he made, it is plain that he looks forward 
to a separation of Church and State as inevitable. 
Delitzsch spoke to me in the same sense, and apparently 
does not regret the prospect. Ritschl, on the contrary, 
is strong for the keeping up of a State Church. The 
difference in standpoint is probably due in part to the 
general difference in relation to the Prussian state between 
strict Lutherans and ' Unirte ' 1 theologians." 

After attending one of Fleischer's lectures (on Beidhawi, 
as it happened), he hurried off to Dresden, where he 
devoted several days entirely to the pictures. Two long 
letters home are full of the impressions of this remarkable 
collection, among which may be noted his preference 
of Holbein's Madonna before Raphael's. The latter, 
though "in every sense most wonderful," was, to 
his thinking, "rather heathenish than Christian in con- 
ception," and Holbein's creation impressed him more 
as a piece of religious art, though not so fine a picture. 

" I went also," he wrote, " to the collection of engravings, 
which I understand much better than pictures. One 
can ask for the works of any master one pleases. I gave 
my attention to Salvator Rosa, Marc Antonio Raimondi, 
and Rembrandt. One very fine etching of Rembrandt 
I had never seen before, even in a copy. The subject is 
the Raising of Lazarus, and the whole treatment is super- 
latively fine and powerful. The figure of Christ in the 
centre has a rare majesty, and the variety of impressions 
produced on the spectators is admirably brought out." 

1 Reformed. 



i8 7 s] THE HEBREW CHAIR 153 

Even at Dresden he contrived to devote some time 
to purely professional purposes. He records an interest- 
ing visit to the Royal Library, where he continued 
his bibliographical inquiries with the aid of Dr. von 
Carolsfeld, the librarian, to whom he had an introduction. 
His next halting-place was Jena, where he settled at 
Luther's old hostelry, the Bar, and made some interesting 
acquaintances. 

" I called on Diestel," he writes, " and missed him, 
but presently he followed me to the inn and carried 
me off to his house, where a small party of professors 
was assembling for coffee. I found Diestel very pleasant, 
and indeed the whole circle was most friendly, though 
some of the elements would probably not have appeared 
so satisfactory on longer acquaintance. I allude particu- 
larly to Lipsius, who, I believe, is a very vain man. " I 
stayed till Saturday morning and saw something of 
several professors, including old Hase, who was much 
interested in the Free Church. The theology of Jena is 
too negative for my taste ; but Diestel at least has a 
higher position, and so for that matter has Hase." 

He returned to Gottingen for a day or two in order to 
pack up his books and settle his sister for the winter ; 
and on Tuesday, August 6, he set out with his friend 
Klein on a tour in Bavaria and the Tyrol. The travellers 
went by Eisenach and Nuremberg to Munich, and there- 
after spent a pleasant three weeks on a walking tour, 
during which Smith had his first experiences of Alpine 
mountaineering, a pursuit for which he showed con- 
siderable aptitude, the most memorable feat being the 
ascent of the Similaun, to which he often looked back with 
pleasure. 

On his return to Aberdeen he threw himself with great 
energy into the work of his chair, and into the many 
activities of his academic and social life. His voluminous 
correspondence with Lagarde began very soon after he 
left Gottingen, and he got very valuable help from his 
correspondent when he came to carry out the plan he had 



154 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1870- 

formed at Leipsic of acquiring Dr. Biesenthal's Rabbinical 
collection for the College Library. The interchange of 
friendly and scientific letters with his other German and 
English friends was of course continued. He was kept 
fully informed of the doings and writings of his old 
associates, Klein and Nother, as well as of those of his 
less distant allies of the Evening Club. In his third 
session as Professor (1872-73) he was much occupied in 
writing a fresh series of lectures on the Antiquities of the 
Hebrews under such headings as " Sacred Worship and 
Liturgy," " In what Sense was the Old Testament Religion 
not Spiritual ? " " Holiness," " Priesthood and the Office 
of Christ," " Holy Places," " Holiness of the Ark," " The 
Ordinances of the great Day of Atonement," " Repentance 
and Remission of Sins in the Old Testament." 

It was about this time that his literary work, apart 
from the large mass of mere lecture-writing imposed upon 
him by his professorial duties and his occasional dis- 
courses and sermons, began to be considerable. The 
bibliography attached to this book will show the remark- 
able variety and volume of Smith's labours both hi 
assisting other people in the preparation of their works 
and in writing notes for periodicals on learned topics of 
current interest. In July 1871 he undertook to contribute 
to the British and Foreign Evangelical Review 1 a quarterly 
digest and criticism of the principal contents of the 
German and Dutch theological periodicals as they 
appeared. In addition to this laborious task he con- 
tributed frequent short notices of more important foreign 
theological works to the same journal. To the Edinburgh 
Daily Review, a newspaper largely owned and conducted 
by Free Churchmen, he contributed many longer notices 
of books, such as Crawford's Atonement, Miller's Proverbs, 
Strauss's Ulrich von Htitten, Williams's Life and Letters, 
Christlieb's Modern Doubt and Christian Belief. His 

1 Then edited by Principal Dykes, and subsequently by Professor 
James Candlish. 



i8 75 ] THE HEBREW CHAIR 155 

earliest contribution to the Academy, a review of vols. i. 
and ii. of Ewald's Biblical Theology, belongs to the autumn 
of 1873, and it is interesting to note that his connection 
with this journal was the occasion of his first acquaint- 
ance with Professor Cheyne, with whom he afterwards 
established most friendly and intimate relations. 

A letter from Mr. G. H. Lewes, who had again sought 
Smith's assistance in connection with scientific points 
arising in his book then passing through the Press, 1 refers 
to the impending renewal of the controversy with 
Hutchison Stirling on the subject of Hegel's criticisms of 
Newton's mathematical discoveries, which had been one 
of the features of Smith's Edinburgh period. Stirling, 
who had not had the best of his adversary in the news- 
paper controversy of that time, returned to the charge 
in his Lectures on the Philosophy of Law, which 
appeared early in 1873. The third and closing section 
was headed " Hegel and W. R. Smith ; or, the Vindica- 
tion of the Former on the Mathematical Reference," in 
which Smith was accused of "radical misconception," 
and of having treated the subject " in a lamentable 
spirit of gratuitous abuse." " One finds ample 
revenge for Hegel, however," concluded Mr. Hutchison 
Stirling, " when one thinks of all the rabid nonsense, 
not only in English, but even in French, our mathe- 
maticians have written against him ; above all, when 
one thinks of the twenty-two pages from p. 491 to 
p. 511 in the twenty-fifth volume of the Transactions 
of the Royal Society of Edinburgh." 2 These utterances 
attracted a certain amount of notice ; so much indeed 
that the London correspondent of the Daily Review, 
clearly a Hegelian, thought it necessary to call special 
attention to the manner in which " the intellectual giant 
in the world of Metaphysics " laid about him, and to 
point out that such a vindication of Hegel " could not go 

1 Problems of Life and Mind : First Series The Foundations of a 
Creed. 2 On Hegel, etc.," see Lectures and Essays. 



156 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1870- 

unanswered." Smith had no intention that it should. 
In a letter to Keig dated January 1873, he wrote: " The 
next great news is that I to-day received by post Stirling's 
new book ' from the author.' The attack on me is very 
fierce and in some parts shabby. But I think I shall be 
able to give a good account of it either in Nature or in the 
Fortnightly." The projected reply appeared in the April 
number of the Fortnightly Review, 1 and was in Smith's 
best controversial style. After recalling the inconclusive 
result of the newspaper controversy, to which reference 
is made in the last chapter, Smith proceeded to restate 
his position, and succeeded to the satisfaction of his 
scientific friends and allies in demonstrating once more 
what he held to be Hegel's absolute incompetence in 
mathematics, an incompetence which was most clearly 
proved by " the fact that he never learned to understand 
such fundamental notions as Limit, Variable, and Continu- 
ous Quantity " Incidentally he referred to a " Hegelian 
Calculus " as contrasted with the Newtonian Calculus, 
and went on to say that " when Dr. Stirling, disclaiming 
for himself ' all pretensions to the position even of a 
student ' in mathematics, takes it upon himself to 
separate the dross from the pure gold of a Newton, the 
incongruity between the humility of the disclaimer and 
the arrogance of the enterprise is manifest to every 
reader." The editor of the Review (Mr. John Morley) had 
permitted Mr. Stirling to see Smith's paper before publica- 
tion, and Stirling's rejoinder appeared in the same number. 
Its tendency may perhaps be made sufficiently clear for 
the present purpose from the public correspondence with 
which the controversy closed. Smith wrote to Nature 
(April 10), " the single word which still seemed necessary 
between Dr. Stirling and himself." 

" Dr. Stirling now holds that the real question between 
him and me is whether or not Hegel ' attempted ' to 
produce a ' Hegelian Calculus.' And so it seems to him 

1 See Lectures and Essays. 



i8 75 ] THE HEBREW CHAIR 157 

a virtual concession of the entire case when I say that 
the phrase 'Hegelian Calculus' is used by me in irony. 
Dr. Stirling, I fear, misunderstands me. What Hegel 
has given us on the subject of the Calculus, is, strictly 
speaking, nonsense. But, as I have shown, this nonsense 
is not mere metaphysic, but involves mathematical 
absurdity. It is, of course, only in irony that one can 
dignify the paradoxes of mathematical ignorance with 
the title of a Calculus ; and if this admission satisfies 
Dr. Stirling, then our controversy is at an end." 

Stirling replied briefly and somewhat darkly (Nature, 
May 8) that he could not, with any respect for himself, 
enter into further relations with Mr. Smith. " Further 
proceedings must, so far as I am concerned, be arranged 
by a friend on the one part and a friend on the other. 
Longer to trouble the public with these altercations can 
only seem to it impertinent." Thus, somewhat unsatis- 
factorily for the Hegelian party, the controversy ended. 

In the course of the summer of 1873 Smith paid a short 
visit to Germany, partly on family affairs ; he crossed 
from Leith to Hamburg in the company of Mr. Gill, and 
in the course of his travels was able to spend a few 
days with his friends at Gottingen. In the autumn he 
had the great pleasure of acting as guide to his friend 
Klein, by this time appointed Professor of Mathematics 
at Erlangen, in a tour through the Scottish Highlands. 
Klein had come to England in order to be present at the 
Bradford meeting of the British Association, and for the 
particular purpose of becoming personally acquainted with 
Professor Cayley and Sir William Thomson. It is on 
record that he thoroughly enjoyed his expedition, and 
not least the journey in Smith's company from Inverness 
to Oban and thence by Dunoon and Glasgow to Loch 
Lomond, the Trossachs, and Edinburgh. 

Smith's reputation in theological and scientific circles, 
and the rapid extension of his practice as a writer, was 
now to lead to an extremely important development of 
his work. By the spring of 1874 Professor Baynes, 



I 5 8 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1870- 

editor of the projected ninth edition of the Encyclopedia 
Britannica, had made considerable progress with his 
arrangements for the organisation of that great work ; 
but in the list of prospective contributors in the theological 
department he still had room for one who, while possess- 
ing a recognised ecclesiastical position, should combine the 
most efficient and progressive modern scholarship with a 
sufficient measure of orthodoxy and a gift for the tactful 
handling of delicate questions. 

" The higher problems of philosophy and religion," 
wrote Dr. Baynes in his preface, "... are being investi- 
gated afresh from opposite sides in a thoroughly earnest 
spirit, as well as with a directness and intellectual power 
which is certainly one of the most striking signs of the 
times. This fresh outbreak of the inevitable contest 
between the old and the new is a fruitful source of 
exaggerated hopes and fears, and of excited denunciation 
and appeal. In this conflict a work like the Encyclopedia 
is not called upon to take any direct part. It has to do 
with knowledge rather than opinion, and to deal with all 
subjects from a critical and historical rather than a 
dogmatic point of view. It cannot be the organ of any 
sect or party in science, religion, or philosophy. Its main 
duty is to give an accurate account of the facts and an 
impartial summary of results in every department of 
inquiry and research. This duty will, I hope, be faith- 
fully performed." 

The suggestion that Smith was the nearest possible 
approximation to this ideal contributor appears to have 
been first made by Mr. Gibson, and to have been readily 
accepted as a solution of a difficult problem. Negotia- 
tions were opened forthwith, and a series of five articles, 
" Angel," " Apostle," " Aramaic Languages," " Ark of 
the Covenant," " Assidaeans," x was commissioned for 
the forthcoming second volume of the Encyclopedia, The 
first of the series was fated to acquire considerable cele- 
brity in the course of the next few years, but none of them 
was destined to be of such importance in the history of 

1 This short article is unsigned, but its authorship is known. 



1875] THE HEBREW CHAIR 159 

Smith himself and of his Church as the article " Bible," 
which, with the article " Baal," was probably also arranged 
for at this time, but which appeared in the succeeding 
third volume. 

The months that followed were, on the whole, unevent- 
ful ; much of his leisure from other duties was devoted to 
the preparation of his Encyclopedia articles, and in the 
notes to Keig there are occasional records of his progress. 
For him this was a new form of literature, and he thought 
out and wrote his contributions with great care and with 
a sense of serious responsibility. Before the publication 
of the earlier ones, such as " Angel," " Ark," and " Baal," 
he took occasion to consult his friends, especially Mr. 
Lindsay and Mr. Black, as to whether in their opinion 
what he had written fulfilled the above -quoted pre- 
scription of Professor Baynes. The question for con- 
sideration was not merely whether the articles were 
sufficiently accurate and sufficiently full, but also whether 
they were such as might suitably appear above the name 
of one whom the Church had placed in a position of 
acknowledged responsibility. The conclusion arrived at 
was that, if the articles were to be written at all, they 
could not well be written otherwise. They no doubt 
departed from the method of treatment which had 
hitherto been usual, but they were scientific and objective 
in spirit, and, in the opinion of Smith's counsellors, could 
easily be defended against any charge of unorthodoxy if 
it occurred to any one to make such a charge. 

It appears from references in extant letters and from 
the contemporary press that Smith about this time was 
taking a rather more prominent part than usual in 
ecclesiastical affairs, and his intervention in a disestablish- 
ment debate in the Free Church Synod of Aberdeen, which 
took place early in April 1874, is worth noting. It was 
the occasion of his publishing some characteristic views, 
which betrayed the influence both of Ritschl and of 
Lagarde, on the subject of the proper aims and position 



160 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1870- 

of the Visible Church. There had been some newspaper 
criticism of a speech which he made in the Synod in 
support of a motion deprecating or disapproving of the 
agitation of the disestablishment question in Church 
courts, and he thought it necessary to write to the Aberdeen 
Free Press vindicating the consistency of his action in 
the Synod with a belief in the political righteousness of 
disestablishing the Church. He held, he explained, 

"... the general principle that in every Church act 
the ultimate aim must be the right discharge of Christian 
worship. This is the only end for which Church officers are 
ordained, the only end for the discharge of which they 
possess special authority and qualification. Thus, all 
legitimate .cts of Church courts fall under two heads, corre- 
sponding to the two ways in which the worshipping Church 
can praise and thank God for His grace in Christ. The 
Church presents itself before God as a worshipping Church, 
partly in the ordinances of public worship, partly by 
active efforts to bring to Christ those who know Him 
not. . . . When it is proved to me that by moving the 
government to disestablishment, we are either removing 
a burden on our own consciences which prevents us as 
Free Churchmen from worshipping God aright, or else 
are doing missionary work while we express eucharistically 
our thanks for Gospel privileges; I shall support such 
action. But so long as this is not the case, I shall care- 
fully distinguish between my duty as a Christian citizen 
to protest by the usual civil channels against civil in- 
justice, and my duty as a Church officer appointed to 
minister in spiritual things." 

This exposition of his theory of the place of the Church 
in the Christian polity was appropriately supplemented 
by a discourse on the place of theology in the work and 
growth of the Church the subject of the closing address 
which it fell to him in due course to deliver to the 
students of the Free Church College at the end of the 
session of I873-74. 1 

1 This address appeared in the British and Foreign Evangelical 
Review in the following July, and is reprinted in Lectures and Essays. 




AN IMPRESSION OF TRAVEL (1876). 
Front a Lithograph by Sir George Reid, R.S.A. 



i8 75 ] THE HEBREW CHAIR 161 

On his return from an expedition to the Tyrol in the 
summer of 1874 a new controversy awaited him. He 
was persuaded by the pressing invitations of friends 
to pay a visit to Belfast, where the British Associa- 
tion was to hold the meeting that was made memor- 
able by Professor Tyndall's presidential address. 
Tyndall, whose gift for the popular exposition of 
science is still so widely appreciated, on this occasion 
ventured somewhat boldly out of the departments of 
learning in which he was an acknowledged master, and 
attempted an historical survey of the progress of philo- 
sophy and science throughout the world's history with a 
view to establishing the pre-eminence of his own somewhat 
materialistic school of thought. His discourse gave great 
offence to the orthodox, and was the occasion of much 
fierce criticism of varying cogency and of several diverting 
parodies ; Professor Clerk Maxwell's verses, printed in 
his Biography, are less widely known than Mr. Mallock's 
New Paul and Virginia, but are equally worthy of attention. 
Smith, who, as he proved in his encounter with Hutchison 
Stirling, could on occasion smite " the metaphysicians " 
hip and thigh, was a no less dangerous enemy of the 
materialistic man of science. As we have seen, he had 
himself contributed to the proceedings of an earlier 
meeting of the Association some considerations on the 
value of early physical speculations, and his very 
various studies had made him familiar with the topics 
somewhat superficially handled in the address. Tyndall 
had made some rather serious slips, and Smith found 
several good openings for attacking the materialist on 
his own ground. He accordingly wrote a letter to the 
Northern Whig in which he overturned the Professor's 
views of primitive religion, mercilessly ridiculed his 
history, which, as the address itself rather naively showed, 
was derived from one or two compendious but rather 
one-sided text-books, gravely rebuked the " almost 
indecent " language applied to Aristotle, and concluded 

1 1 



162 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1870- 

with an amusing denunciation of TyndalTs sciolistic 
account of the Middle Ages. 

" In his estimate of mediaeval thought Professor 
Tyndall is at least a century behind the present state 
of historical research, and it is pitiful to hear the 
president of a great scientific association imparting to 
his audience in two lines the nature of the scholastic 
philosophy ' according to Lange.' The tune for such 
off-hand judgments on great periods of history is long 
past, and the Professor may rest assured that something 
more than ' entire confidence in Dr. Draper ' and Dr. 
Lange is requisite for the understanding of the peculiar 
intellectual developments of the Middle Ages. How 
guilelessly Dr. Tyndall in this part of his address accepts 
all assimilable matter that is put before him appears in a 
very comic light in the assertion that ' the under garment 
of ladies retains to this hour its Arab name.' No doubt, 
if this were true the intellectual superiority of the Moors 
over the Christians would be clearly made out, but the 
word camisia is older than Jerome." 

Tyndall replied to some of his critics in his Apology 
for the Belfast Address, but Smith's letter, so far as the 
present writers are aware, has remained unanswered. 
His friends were delighted. Dr. John Brown forwarded 
an approving comment from Ruskin, and Professor Tait, 
who highly disapproved of Tyndall and all his works, 
wrote characteristically from St. Andrews as follows : 

Smith ! Thou hast indeed smitten Dagon in his 
temple but, rash youth, hast considered that this will 
be laid to my charge sending a " bravo " to despatch 
an enemy one was afraid to meet personally ? Neverthe- 
less I have sent the cutting to L. 1 Yours, 

P. G. T. 

TyndalTs address created a sensation both in the 
theological and in the scientific world which was quite 
out of proportion to its importance as a serious attack 
on the orthodox position. It gave special offence to a 

1 Probably Sir Norman Lockyer, at that time editor of Nature. 



i8 75 ] THE HEBREW CHAIR 163 

distinguished group of scientific men who, like Lord 
Kelvin and Clerk Maxwell and their great predecessor, 
Faraday, were staunch upholders of the truths of revealed 
religion. This feeling of irritation was probably the 
immediate occasion of The Unseen Universe, a work of 
some celebrity in its day, which may be regarded as 
an elaborate counterblast to Dr. TyndalTs provocative 
manifesto. The book on its appearance in April 1875 
was anonymous, 1 but it was fairly well known even then 
that its authors were Professor Tait and Professor Balfour 
Stewart. Smith at the outset of his acquaintance with 
Tait had been impressed and attracted by his strict 
attachment to the principles of Trinitarian Christianity ; 
Professor Stewart was in this respect at least equally 
qualified to defend the orthodox position. He was an 
eminent physicist and meteorologist, a Fellow of the 
Royal Society, Director of Kew Observatory, and Professor 
of Natural Philosophy in Owens College, Manchester. 
A devoted and fervent Churchman, who in later years 
was a member of a committee appointed by a Lambeth 
Conference to promote interchange of views between 
scientific men of orthodox opinions in religious matters, 
he maintained throughout his career a deep interest in 
the more mysterious problems of existence, and became 
one of the founders of the Society for Psychical Research, 
over which he presided from the year 1885 until his 
death. 

The book, which was the joint production of these 
two eminent persons, attracted much notice; it was 
interesting both by reason of the high enthusiasm with 
which it was inspired, and the vigour and vivacity of 
the style in which it was written. No one who studies 
the history of ideas in England during the later nineteenth 
century can afford to neglect The Unseen Universe. 
The authors started on the one hand from the received 

1 The Unseen Universe ; or, Physical Speculations on a Future State, 
London, 1875. 



164 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1870- 

postulates of religious teaching, and, on the other, from 
the current hypotheses of contemporary science, and 
sought to show that these, so far from being irreconcilable, 
really point to the same conclusions the existence of a 
transcendental universe, and the immortality of the 
soul. Smith, who combined the characters of a theologian 
and a man of science, was naturally on the side of the 
collaborators, who developed their thesis at length with a 
by no means contemptible display of learning in the 
history of religious opinion and scientific thought. In 
his light-armed attack on Professor Tyndall he had 
merely sought to emphasise some of the most manifest 
shortcomings of the materialistic school. The under- 
taking in which Professor Tait was concerned must have 
appealed to him as a more positive service to the cause of 
reasoned Christianity, and the help which he undoubtedly 
gave in the composition of the book was no doubt willingly 
and even enthusiastically afforded. While the first 
edition was still in the press Professor Tait wrote : 

" I have told Constable to send you final proofs (to-night) 
of the first and last proof sheets (the head and tail of our 
offending) which I wish you would very carefully read. 
Some matters are now introduced that are not held by 
the very orthodox, though they are probably nearer 
the truth than the Shorter Catechism doctrine. I don't 
wish you to say what is the probability for or against 
them ; but to say whether you think they are in place, 
and whether they fit the places they are in, which you 
will own to be a different matter. This of the tail. As to 
the head, look at back of Preface and give opinion. . . . 
Stewart wanted me to ask you to re-read the whole of 
the proofs, but I said you had been so microscopic before 
that you would be iconoclastic this time, and expunge 
whole chapters in prophetic frenzy." 

The book was an immediate success, and a second 
edition was called for in a few weeks. On the eve of its 
publication Tait wrote again, and his letter places in a 
still clearer light the nature of his and Professor Stewart's 
obligations both to Smith's erudition and to his criticisms. 



i8 7 s] THE HEBREW CHAIR 165 

35 GEORGE SQUARE, EDINBURGH, May 5, 1875. 

MY DEAR SMITH Macmillan gives me private informa- 
tion that in a few weeks a second edition of the U.U. 
will be wanted. He deprecated any material change, 
partly on its own merits, mainly on the inevitable delay 
it would involve. 

Now, while I still most strongly hold to your kind 
promise to (some day soon) rewrite the first chapter l 
for us, I think Mac. is right that there should be little 
material change in the second edition especially as but 
few of the great critics have yet spoken out, and we must 
not at once abandon our first essay as if afraid of what 
may ultimately be said of it. We must be at first a 
Lucretian Atom, not a vortex-ring, strong in solid single- 
ness, not wriggling meanly away from the knife ! Will 
you, therefore, by little instalments as it suits you, give 
me soon all the more vital improvements which occur to 
you as possible without much altering the pages, etc. 
(the types having been kept up so as to save expense) ? 

You have, of course, seen Clifford's painful essay in 
the Fortnightly. "II a jete" son bonnet par-dessus les 
moulins," as the French say of a neophyte in the demi- 
monde. But a little while ago a most advanced ritualist, 
who put the sign of the cross on every page of his answers 
in the Senate House, he is now, discontinuously, an 
absolute pagan. Next year he will be an evangelical, 
perhaps. 

An advanced ritualist, MacColl, has cracked us up in a 
letter to the Guardian last week. This week the other 
ritualist paper, the Church Herald, says our book is 
infidel. Last week the Spiritualist said that with a few 
slight changes the book would be an excellent text-book 
for its clients. The (Edinburgh) Daily Review says we 
are subtle and dangerous materialists. Hanna (late of 
Free St. John's here) says the work is the most important 
defence of religion that has appeared for a very long 
time ! Which of these is nearest the truth ? 

I want to put in (on p. 206 or 207) part of Dante's 
inscription on the gate of the Inferno not the hackneyed 
line about " voi che entrate," but the preceding ones, 
" Giustizia mosse il mio alto fattore," etc., down to 

1 An " introductory sketch " dealing with the beliefs of ancient 
peoples and of the early Christians concerning the soul. 



166 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1870- 

" io eterno duro " as a specimen of the horrible blasphemy 
introduced by the medievalists, improving on Augustine. 
What do you say ? Write soon at all events and give 
hints, promptly and in order of pages. Yours truly, 

P. G. TAIT. 

P.S. The Church Herald is down on us for your 
suggestion about "for a little time lower than the angels." l 

Smith, who amongst his other heavy literary labours 
was now deep in the article " Bible," did not find time to 
undertake the more extensive alterations referred to in 
Professor Tait's letter. But the authors attached great 
importance to the services which he continued to render 
as the numerous successive editions of the book appeared ; 
and, in the following year, when they had resolved to 
raise the veil, they proposed to acknowledge the assistance 
he had given in the most handsome terms. 

Tait wrote on April 4, 1876 : 

" Stewart is greatly exercised in his mind about the 
additions to the last sheet of U 2 . Do you approve ? If 
so, he will be content. But he has had a serious con- 
gestion attack, and is only now allowed to sit up, and 
this may account for his nervous apprehension. 

" Another thing is As the authors are about to name 
themselves, they wish to know whether aiders and 
abettors also seek, or desire, or don't object to, naming. 
We have a glorious, hot-new preface, with a perfect halo 
of gold and spangles into which to put you. Say, shall 
it be revealed ? " 

Smith must have declined the proffered halo, for his 
name is not mentioned in the Preface to the fourth edition. 
Unfortunately no record survives of the reasons he may 
have given. 

The year 1875 was distinguished by several events 
of considerable importance in his history. We find 
from his correspondence that he had managed to resume 
his Arabic studies, and that he had actually arranged 

1 For Smith's latest published views on Heb. ii. 7, see The Expositor, 
2nd series, i. 138-147. 



i8 7 s] THE HEBREW CHAIR 167 

to conduct a small evening class for the benefit of a few 
of the more advanced of his students. Towards the end 
of January he writes : " I am just going up to my Arabic 
evening class, so I must close here, merely adding that 
I am at present house-hunting, having quite built myself 
out with books. A serious job ! " 

The house hunt ended in the investment of some 
borrowed capital in a small house in Crown Street, to 
which were presently transported the books and other 
belongings which he had gathered about him. In the 
problems of decoration and furnishing he was helped by 
the advice of experts, especially that of Mr. George Reid, 
and by the middle of the year he was comfortably estab- 
lished with room to house his library and his pictures, 
and to return the hospitalities of his many friends. 

Early in the year he was invited to join the Old Testa- 
ment Company of the Committee for the Revision of the 
Authorised Version of the Bible. 1 This Committee had 
originated in a resolution passed by both Houses of the 
Convocation of the Province of Canterbury in February 
1870 ; " Principles and Rules " were laid down by a 
Committee of Convocation in the following May ; two 
Companies were formed to deal respectively with the Old 
and New Testament Scriptures, and the Old Testament 
Company began work on June 30, 1870. Both Companies 
originally consisted entirely of Churchmen, but it was 
soon resolved that scholars and divines representative 
of other denominations should be invited to participate 
in the work. Among these were Principal Fairbairn of 
the Free Church College, Glasgow, and Professor A. B. 
Davidson, Smith's old teacher. In the course of time, 
as deaths and resignations occurred, new members were 
added, but none after October 1875. Smith, who joined 
the Old Testament Company on the death of Principal 
Fairbairn, was the final addition to its ranks, and was 

1 The revision, begun in 1870, was completed on June 20, 1884, after 
85 sessions occupying 792 days. 



i68 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1870- 

the junior member both in years and in standing. The 
work of the Company was carried on in sessions of about 
ten days each, and on each day the Company generally 
sat for six hours. The sessions were held in the Jerusalem 
Chamber at Westminster. Smith did his work very con- 
scientiously ; there is abundant evidence that he prepared 
for the meetings with great diligence, and when he could 
not attend he sent notes, as the Revisers were requested 
to do. His periodical visits to the Jerusalem Chamber 
were undoubtedly of much importance ; the labour, 
though great, was profitable even from the point of view 
of his own studies, and his frequent journeys to London 
brought him many new and valuable acquaintances, both 
lay and clerical. Besides Professor Davidson, the Old 
Testament Company included Principal Douglas (Principal 
Fairbairn's successor in Glasgow) as representing the 
Free Church of Scotland, and, among English scholars, 
Smith now first met Mr. R. L. Bensly, 1 Mr. Chenery, 2 Dr. 
Field, 3 Canon Perowne, 4 and Mr. William Aldis Wright, 
the secretary to the Company. 

Joint conferences and occasional correspondence also 
brought him into touch with the New Testament Revisers, 
among whom were Dr. Scott, Dean of Rochester, Jowett's 
predecessor at Balliol; Dr. Hort, Professor Kennedy, 
Dr. Lightfoot, Dr. Westcott, and Dean Stanley. In his 
own Company he found himself in natural alliance with 
the progressive party, which included Professor Davidson, 
Professor Driver, Professor Cheyne of Oxford, Professor 
William Wright of Cambridge, who was destined to be his 
colleague and one of his most valued friends, and Professor 
Sayce, who afterwards drifted apart from his early 
associates. They were often in a minority, especially as 

1 Afterwards Lord Almoner's Professor of Arabic at Cambridge 
(1887-93). 

2 Lord Almoner's Professor of Arabic at Oxford (1868-77), and from 
1877 till his death in 1884 editor of The Times. 

3 Editor of Origen's Hexapla. 

4 Dean of Peterborough 1878-90 ; subsequently Bishop of Worcester. 



i875_l THE HEBREW CHAIR 169 

in all important cases the rules required a clear majority 
of two -thirds of the Revisers, and the sense of the 
Company was often in favour of the cautious views of 
the conservative section, who were led by Archdeacon 
Harrison and Canon Kay. 

Smith soon began to find himself quite at home in 
London. Mr. Gibson had introduced him to Mr. James 
Bryce, the eminent historian, now British Ambassador at 
Washington, who was then Professor of Civil Law at 
Oxford, and had not yet entered on his political career. 
It was, no doubt, through Mr. Bryce and his old friend 
M'Lennan, now settled in London, that he was at this 
time elected to the Savile Club, of which he was a lifelong 
and enthusiastic member, and which was then frequented 
by many of his friends. The first of his letters home 
from London gives an interesting view of his activities, 
scholarly and social. 

" We have had a very contentious week," he writes, 
" and have made very little progress with Isaiah. . . . 
On the other hand, we have had some very good fun 
among ourselves i.e. Davidson, Sayce, and Cheyne. I 
have also had some very enj oyable evenings. On Thursday 
I dined with Bryce, who had a pleasant party. On the 
other days I have been at the Savile, where one always 
meets pleasant people." 

During the same session he reports his first visit to 
Cambridge : 

" I have accepted an invitation to go down to Cambridge 
for a day or two with Mr. Lumby. 1 I shall probably 
stay over Tuesday, when there is a feast at Trinity to 
which I am invited by Canon Perowne. I have not much 
time now for such a visit, but May is the best time, and 
I am unwilling to lose such a chance. 

" We are getting on better this week, and on the whole 
I am enjoying this session very much. I dined last night 
with M'Lennan, when I met Shadworth Hodgson, the 

1 Fellow of St. Catharine's. He succeeded Dr. Hort as Lady 
Margaret Professor of Divinity (1892-95). 



170 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1870- 

metaphysician. M'Lennan himself is looking very well 
and is in great spirits. On Monday I was at John 
Stevenson's, where Davidson also was. We had a very 
pleasant evening. 

" Yesterday there was a conference of the two Companies 
about some communications wehave had from the American 
revisers. They wish to vote along with us, which seems 
impossible. There was also a discussion, without result, 
as to whether any part of the work shall be printed." 

Meanwhile the Encyclopaedia work was progressing. 
A letter to Keig early in June announces the completion 
of " Baal," and he was " getting on with ' Bible ' *' in his 
still only half -furnished library at Crown Street.' In 
1875, for the first time for several years, he did not go 
abroad. This was due partly to the pressure of his 
literary work, partly to his new engagements with the 
Revision Committee, and partly to the natural reaction 
in the direction of economy after so formidable an outlay 
as the purchase of a house. Moreover, his wandering 
instincts were fairly satisfied by his now very frequent 
visits to London, another of which took place towards 
the end of June. 

" We have a pretty full meeting this time," he writes, 
" but have not yet got into full working trim. I dined 
last night with a man Dicey, a friend of Bryce's, and met 
a rather notable man, Mark Pattison, a great Broad 
Church leader in Oxford. I did not care very much for 
him, however. 

" To-day I breakfasted with J. F. White, who is in 
town at present. I go out to the country over to-night 
with Ginsburg x who has generally two or three of us 
with him. I believe he has a pretty place in Berkshire." 

After the session of the Company was over, he went 
on a walking tour with Mr. Gibson and Mr. Mackay. Of 
this expedition Smith afterwards wrote : 

" We had a very nice tour in Wales, and both Gibson and 
Mackay were much better for it. So was your humble 

1 Dr. C. D. Ginsburg, a member of the Old Testament Company. 



i8 7s ] THE HEBREW CHAIR 171 

servant. We fell in at Pen-y-gwryd with two nice 
fellows, a Swiss, Baron de WatteviUe, and an Englishman, 
Taylor, from the Board of Trade, with whom we effected 
a junction, to the great strengthening of our party. De 
W. was Swiss Alpine Club and engineered our excursions 
in an interesting way. You should have seen us in the 
first days when Mackay was flabby and breathless, 
dragging him up precipices ! " 

After some further travels in the Highlands and 
another session of the Revision Committee in London, 
he returned to Aberdeen in the first week of October 
for his winter's work. Before the session was well begun, 
Principal Lumsden, the Head of the College, died after 
a short illness. In the courts of the Church, where he 
had usually acted and voted with his contemporary and 
lifelong friend, Dr. William Wilson of Dundee, Dr. 
Lumsden had long enjoyed a position of considerable 
influence, and his death was regretted as removing 
one of the Church's most faithful counsellors, who, had 
he lived, would no doubt have been called to the 
Moderator's chair. In Aberdeen he had for more than 
thirty years been a respected figure in both civic and 
ecclesiastical affairs, and it was generally felt there that 
his ^removal was a very serious blow to the institution 
over which he presided. He left no literary remains, 
but memories still survive of his dignified and kindly 
personality. Dr. Lumsden never married, but a notable 
feature of his social relations was the friendly and sym- 
pathetic interest he showed in much younger men. He 
seldom dined alone, and at his hospitable table, where 
Smith was a frequent guest, there were nearly always 
to be met a selection of undergraduates and divinity 
students, and, as a rule, one or other of his young foreign, 
and especially his young Swedish, friends. He was much 
attached to Sweden, where he spent most of his vacations, 
and he was a member of one of the Swedish orders of 
knighthood. 

When in 1870 the vacancy of the Hebrew chair had 



172 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1870- 

occurred, Smith had not been Dr. Lumsden's candidate, 
but the Principal at once loyally accepted the choice of 
the Assembly, and the two men, as we have seen, almost 
immediately became fast friends and allies. Lumsden 
watched with great delight the growth of his young 
colleague's reputation. Though he belonged to the old 
school, he was far from being inaccessible to new ideas, 
especially when presented by so capable and attractive 
an exponent as Smith. There is no reason to suppose 
that he ever saw the article " Bible " in any form, though 
by the time of his death it was completed, and indeed 
already in type. But if he had seen it, he would have 
considered it with candour as well as with indulgence, 
and there is some ground for believing that, had he lived 
to take part in the first discussions on that article, which 
will form the subject of the next chapter, his moderating 
influence might have prevented many, if not all, of the 
untoward developments of the " Robertson Smith case." 
Dr. Lumsden's death may indeed be regarded as the 
beginning of Smith's ecclesiastical misfortunes. The situa- 
tion which immediately resulted was one of great delicacy 
and difficulty. The Principal had discharged the duties 
of Professor of Systematic Theology, and besides Smith 
the only other member of the Senatus Academicus of the 
Free Church College at that time was Dr. David Brown, 
Professor of New Testament Exegesis, although arrange- 
ments had already been made for the establishment and 
endowment of a fourth chair, that of Church History. 
To the latter of these chairs Dr. Binnie, who had formerly 
been Professor of Theology in the Reformed Presbyterian 
Church, 1 and of whom as yet Smith had no personal 
experience, was on the point of being inducted ; the 
former had, since 1857, been occupied by Dr. Brown, 
who was then in the seventy-fourth year of his age. As 
a professor he was distinguished rather by evangelical 
fervour than by academic thoroughness, and though he 

1 United with the Free Church in 1874. 



i87s] THE HEBREW CHAIR 173 

possessed abundant vitality he was destined to survive 
Smith himself by several years he was certainly past 
his intellectual prime. Moreover, though little is said 
of him during Dr. Lumsden's lifetime, there is enough to 
show that Smith did not regard him as the more helpful 
of his colleagues. Mr. Pirie Smith, who had been a great 
friend and admirer of the late Principal, took a gloomy 
view of the position of affairs, and when he received the 
news of the Principal's death, he wrote to his son in a 
tone prescient of future trouble : 

" We feel very deeply how crushing the removal of so 
true a friend must be to you. Yet the same God who 
put it into his heart to receive you into his confidence, 
and act towards you a fatherly part, can and assuredly 
will care for your interest and welfare in the future as 
in the past. Just trust Him who never changes. Do 
not distress yourself with useless surmises. Go straight 
forward in the way of duty commit your way to God, 
and He will direct your paths. In the meantime a great 
responsibility lies upon you, and you will need all your 
manliness, all your resolution, all your faith, ah 1 your 
self-possession, to go through with credit the ordeal that 
must be gone through in order to keep matters straight 
at the College with the little aid perhaps the opposition 
you may have from your colleague. Be firm while 
courteous. Perhaps little or nothing may have to be 
done until Dr. Binnie is inducted, but something may be 
attempted, and you must just stand for the right. We 
will hold up your hands by prayer and there are surely 
two or three tried friends who will not fail to advise and 
encourage you. 

" Above all things, do nothing to injure your health. 
Be very careful not to expose yourself or overtax your 
strength either by running about or other work. The 
fresher you are, the better your bodily health, the more 
ably and confidently you will manage any business that 
lies to your hand." 

Smith, with an optimism on which we shall have 
frequent occasion to remark in future chapters, minimised 
while he admitted the difficulties which his colleague was 



174 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1870- 

likely to create, and observed : "It will be a serious 
business to keep up the Hall in an efficient state through 
the winter. But there is no doubt that the students are 
much solemnised, and I hope that in many ways our 
loss may be blessed to us." In the weeks immediately 
succeeding Dr. Lumsden's death this view of the situation 
appeared to be justified by events. Suitable arrangements 
were made for the instruction of the classes which were 
left without a teacher ; Dr. Binnie arrived, and was found 
to give satisfaction, and Smith himself, though full of 
activities connected with the welfare of the College, 
seems to have been able to continue his own work much 
as usual. 

" I last night began my lectures to Sabbath School 
teachers," he writes on November 15. " There was 
an excellent meeting the body of the West Church 
almost full, the galleries alone unoccupied. This, no 
doubt, was greatly due to the favourable weather, and 
I do not expect so large an attendance to continue. I 
spoke instead of using a "written lecture, and I believe 
that this was wise. The audience at least listened well. 
In all other respects things have gone smoothly. ..." 

His chief preoccupation at this time was of course the 
question of the Principal's successor. The reversion of the 
office seemed to belong to Dr. Brown by right of seniority, 
but for many reasons his appointment was unacceptable, 
not only to Smith, but to other eminent ministers and 
professors. Many proposals were made with a view to 
finding a more suitable candidate, but ultimately a sugges- 
tion which was made by Dr. Wilson, the late Principal's 
friend and ally, found favour, and Smith, perhaps a trifle 
indiscreetly, expended all his energies to secure the 
adoption of a scheme whereby Dr. Brown should be 
passed over in favour of Dr. Binnie. 

In the midst of these delicate negotiations the third 
volume of the Encyclopedia, containing " Baal " and 
" Bible," was published on December 7, 1875, and Smith 



i87s] THE HEBREW CHAIR 175 

went to Edinburgh to spend Christmas and New Year 
with his friends there with the agreeable feeling of 
having completed an important piece of work. While 
in Edinburgh he made arrangements for " some more 
articles " with Professor Baynes, and he had what he con- 
sidered to be a satisfactory interview with Dr. Rainy 
on the subject of the Principalship. His arguments 
in favour of Dr. Binnie seem to have been regarded 
as sound by the leaders of the Church. Dr. Brown's 
advanced age was in itself a good reason for not entrust- 
ing him with new duties. But the Presbyteries were 
beginning to send his name up to the Assembly ; there 
was something like a popular movement in his favour, and 
in the end it was found impossible to resist his appoint- 
ment. Dr. Brown's elevation to the Principalship did 
not formally take effect until his appointment by the 
General Assembly in the following May, but Smith was 
soon made to feel how much he had lost by Dr. Lumsden's 
death. The clouds were already gathering for the storm. 
The article " Bible " had at first been read only by 
a few of his friends, some of whom wrote to thank him 
for a contribution to biblical scholarship which, they 
believed, would prove to be a welcome relief to many 
consciences and a valuable service to a living and growing 
theology. On January 21 we find him writing to his 
mother : "I had a very appreciative and kind note from 
Whyte about my article ' Bible,' enclosing a note about it 
(also very favourable) which he had from Dods." Its 
effect on a different but very influential type of mind came 
later, and will be fully described in the next chapter ; but 
even before the end of February 1876, some murmurs had 
begun to make themselves heard, and Professor Macgregor, 
writing on March 3, sounded the first note of warning : 

" Until you mentioned it, I was not aware that you had 
got ill-will on account of your article on ' Bible.' A very 
able and accomplished layman has spoken to me to-day 
in terms of strong deprecation of the article. I foresee 



176 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1870- 

that you may have some trial to your Christian wisdom 
and fortitude in connection with it. And I now therefore 
regard it as my foremost duty to repeat in writing what 
I said to you when I last saw you, that I am thankful 
you have spoken out what must be soon said by some 
one, and what ought to be said first by our qualified 
experts in Old Testament study." 

It would appear from this letter that Smith was already 
aware that his writings were exciting criticism ; but no 
mention of the subject occurs in the few letters which 
survive from this month, and it is to be conjectured that 
he entirely underrated the importance of these mani- 
festations. He was looking forward to a holiday, and 
spent the interval in quiet work. 

He had arranged a tour with Mr. George Reid, who 
had become a close friend, and had lately made the 
sketch of Dr. Pirie Smith which is reproduced in 
this book. The alliance was a complete success, and 
was commemorated in a journal jointly written in a 
large sketch-book and illustrated with charming pen-and- 
ink drawings in the style with which Sir George Reid's 
many admirers are so familiar. This journal was repro- 
duced in facsimile by lithography, and was privately 
circulated ; it is now much sought after, chiefly for the 
sake of the illustrations, and, bibliographically speaking, 
is something of a rarity. 

The travellers spent some days between Bruges, 
Antwerp, and Ghent, where they saw the usual sights. 
At Ghent they were weather-bound and, in spite of the 
great van Eyck in St. Bavon, a trifle bored. Sir George 
Reid in his portion of the journal records that one reason 
among others for the day appearing slow was that 
" W. R. S. lighted upon a second-hand book-shop. Those 
who know him know what that means. Fortunately on the 
present occasion half an hour or little more was enough." 
This comment was accompanied by the sketch which is 
given opposite, and shows Smith consoling himself for the 




Paris Missals, Black-letter Bonaventuras, Baskervilles, and so forth. 
From a Lithograph by Sir George Reid, R.S.A. 



i8 7 s] THE HEBREW CHAIR 177 

disappointments of the day among the " Paris Missals, 
Black Letter Bonaventuras, Baskervilles, and so forth." 
The next stage of the journey was Cologne, whence they 
went by water to Riidesheim under a somewhat grey sky ; 
the low hills towards Bonn were all white with cherry 
blossom, and the journal observed : " Take away the haze 
which the old painters ' abhorred,' as Ruskin says, and 
one sees at once where Memling and the other old Flemings 
got their backgrounds. Towards Godesberg the slopes 
were almost as white as if they had been powdered with 
snow, or, rather, with ground sugar, which is nearer the 
feeling of the scene." 

They left the Rhine at Riidesheim and reached Frank- 
fort on April 25, where Smith had undertaken to see to 
the settlement of two of his sisters for a prolonged stay. 
At Wiirzburg Mr. Reid was left to nurse a cold while 
Smith retraced his steps to Aschaffenburg in order to 
visit his philosophical friend, Dr. Stumpf. " While G. R. 
lay in the Schwan with a SenfUatt on his throat > 
Stumpf and W. R. S. were discussing optimism and 
pessimism in the Spessart. There was much beer and 
Schnapps after so much dry metaphysic. Solvitur bibendo." 
The two companions next proceeded by Augsburg to 
Munich, where Dr. Klein met them with a hearty welcome, 
and carried them off to his house opposite the Poly- 
technicum, where he was now professor. 

" We were the first bachelors who had been quartered 
with him, and our arrival caused considerable excite- 
ment at the windows of an Amtswohnung across the 
street. We were in Munich till Monday afternoon, 
and W. R. S. did a tremendous spell of talking with 
Klein, while G. R. stuck pretty close to the pictures, 
and found that to be rather hard work. . . . We had 
great luck in our visit to the Hof-brau, for the first of 
May ushers in the frohliche Bockzeit. The court of the 
old brewery was all adorned with spruce trees, and it 
was hardly possible to press through the good-natured 
crowd which stood about, every man with his glass of 

12 



178 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1870-1875] 

Bock in his hand. Bock is twice as strong as any other 
beer, in fact a good deal like the old Edinburgh ale, and 
it is notorious that Munich is never in such spirits as 
during the Bock tide. So it was not amiss in the old 
Duke to send Luther a tankard of Bock beer at the Diet 
of Worms. . . ." 

Professor Nother joined the party at Nuremberg, 
where they spent several days, and at Dresden Smith 
much enjoyed revisiting the pictures in the company of 
an expert. Thence by way of Erfurt they went to Got- 
tingen, where, owing to an accident of travel, they had 
less time than had been intended. Smith, however, con- 
trived to pay flying visits to Ritschl and Lagarde, and 
on the following day set out on his homeward journey. 
He and Mr. Reid spent a few days in Holland, the chief 
feature of which was a visit to Herr Josef Israels, the 
celebrated painter at the Hague. There they amused 
themselves with the humours of a boisterous Kirmess 
" into which they were presently swept " in the painter's 
company. 

" It was Jan Steen over again. . . . We ate apple fritters 
and waffeln, shot at tobacco pipes and lighted candles, and 
went with the children to a circus, where all the old tricks 
proved as amusing as ever. In the intervals of these 
necessary pursuits we dined, smoked, and looked over 
the old clothes and half -finished pictures in the atelier." 

Israels was delighted to see them, and not only pre- 
sented Smith with an engraving of one of his pictures, but 
added to the journal a charming sketch of his daughter 
Mathilde, which fills the last page. 

Early in May Smith was in London, where he had 
to attend a meeting of the Revision Committee, and 
where he was soon to hear of a grave development of the 
agitation against his recent writings. 



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CHAPTER V 

THE ARTICLE "BIBLE" AND THE COLLEGE COMMITTEE 
(1875-1877) 

IN the article " Bible," as Smith originally drafted it, 1 the 
second paragraph runs thus : 

" The Bible may be viewed either from a purely theo- 
logical standpoint (as is done in the dogmatic system), or 
from the standpoint of literary and historical criticism. 
The two views are not mutually exclusive, though theo- 
logy has sometimes formulated the divine authority of 
Scripture in a way that excludes all human spontaneity 
on the part of the writers, and forbids the application to 
the Bible of any of the ordinary laws of criticism and 
exegesis. This one-sided view, though not quite obsolete 
even among Protestants, is tenable only on the mediaeval 
conception of the word of God as a supernatural com- 
munication of intellectual (noetic] truths too high for 
unaided reason, and was virtually condemned as soon as 
the Reformers began to seek in the Bible a personal 
revelation of the heart and will of God to man, calling 
forth in those to whom it came the answer of a personal 
faith. This new and living conception of the word of 
God led at once to the well-known Protestant principle 
that the Bible is to be interpreted by the same methods 
as other books, a principle which implies that the authors 
of Scripture wrote under the usual psychological conditions 
on which the laws of hermeneutics are calculated. Again, 
in the seventeenth century, it began to become clear that 
the text of the Bible (especially of the New Testament) 
has experienced the same fortunes, and must be corrected 
by the same kind of criticism as any other ancient text. 

1 See accompanying facsimile. 
179 



i8o WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1875- 

And finally, when in the last century the so-called higher 
criticism began to take shape, and traditional views of 
the origin and composition of the literary remains of 
profane antiquity were rejected or modified on internal 
grounds, it became plain that the same principles which 
compel us to give up the traditional exegesis for a method 
which allows the Bible to declare its own meaning by the 
aid of a rational hermeneutic, demand also that tradi- 
tional views as to the origin and composition of the Biblical 
books be tested by the evidence which the books them- 
selves offer to the judicious critic." 

The author then goes on to say that the acceptance of 
this position has been retarded, partly by the frequent 
failures of the premature attempts on the part of in- 
dividual critics to solve at a stroke critical problems 
which can only yield to patient labour and a more perfect 
method, partly by the fact that, as it happened, critical 
methods first became current in an age of prevalent 
rationalism, and by this accidental circumstance came to 
be associated with rationalistic principles. But these are 
accidents not affecting the fundamental soundness of the 
critical position, which is in brief that every method of 
literary investigation which is useful in forming a just 
notion of the origin, transmission, and meaning of ancient 
records in general, ought to be applied to the study of the 
Bible, and that theological authority belongs only to the 
Bible thus elucidated, and not to any traditional con- 
ceptions of its meaning. 

The fragment concludes with the following declaration 

" While, therefore, the plan of the present work pre- 
scribes a critical sketch, not a theological discussion, as 
the proper business of this article, our account of the 
origin, collection, and transmission of the Biblical writings 
will proceed throughout on a recognition of the unique 
religious value of the Bible as the record of a specific and 
supernatural Revelation, and we shall only briefly in- 
dicate the divergent views that arise when miracle is 
taken (as by the Tubingen school) to be a criterion of 
unhistorical narrative." 



1877] THE ARTICLE " BIBLE " 181 

As the event proved, it would have been (to say the 
least) convenient had the article as ultimately published 
contained the explicit declarations of this paragraph. 
Why they were omitted can only be conjectured. There 
may have been the consideration of space, and the know- 
ledge that there were to be many other articles which 
would deal with the theological aspects of the subject, 
including one on Inspiration, which was eventually 
written by Professor Lindsay, and is well worth con- 
sulting. One thing is certain. They were not omitted 
because Smith was at that time holding them in 
any hesitating or half-hearted manner. This had been 
abundantly shown in many previously published utter- 
ances, particularly in his inaugural lecture, and he had 
frequent occasion in the course of the subsequent prosecu- 
tion to reiterate them in many forms. 

The article, as published on December 7, 1875, occupies 
fifteen pages of the Encyclopedia, and, as we now have 
it, opens with the following sentence, which is not without 
significance in the work of a young divine writing fifteen 
years after the publication of the Origin of Species : 

"The word Bible, which in English, as in Mediaeval 
Latin, is treated as a singular noun, is in its original 
Greek form a plural TO. fti/3\ta, the (sacred) books, 
correctly expressing the fact that the sacred writings 
of Christendom are made up of a number of independent 
records, which set before us the gradual development of 
the religion of revelation." 

Before the end of the page is reached we have become 
aware that the Bible is indeed a record of " development," 
" struggle," and " progress." We are bidden to expect 
"a general account of the historical and literary con- 
ditions under which the unique literature of the Old and 
New Testaments sprang up, and of the way in which the 
Biblical books were brought together in a canonical 
collection and handed down from age to age. " The 
Biblical development," we are reminded, is divided into 



182 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1875- 

two great periods by the " manifestation and historical 
work of Christ," and it is further noted (a point on which 
we shall have to remark hereafter) that the pre-Christian 
age falls into a period of religious productivity, and a 
subsequent period of stagnation and mainly conservative 
traditions. Clearly, it will be the first of these which 
will chiefly occupy the student. This period was also 
a period of contest, during which the spiritual principles 
of the religion of revelation were involved in continual 
struggle with polytheistic nature - worship on the one 
hand, and, on the other hand, with an unspiritual concep- 
tion of Jehovah as a God whose interest in Israel and care 
for His sanctuary were independent of moral conditions. 

" In this long struggle, which began with the foundation 
of the theocracy in the work of Moses, and did not issue 
in conclusive victory until the time of Ezra, the spiritual 
faith was compelled to show constant powers of new 
development, working out into ever clearer form the 
latent contrasts between true and false religion, proving 
itself fitter than any other belief to supply all the religious 
needs of the people, and, above all, finding its evidence in 
the long providential history in which, from the great 
deliverance of the Exodus down to the Captivity and 
the Restoration, the reality of Jehovah's kingship over 
Israel, of His redeeming love, and of His moral govern- 
ment, were vindicated by the most indisputable proofs." 

Thus, it will be noted, the period of " evolution " as 
we might now call it, during which the spiritual principles 
of the religion of revelation were undergoing develop- 
ment was comparatively short. It was not thought 
remarkable at the time, though it has a quaint old-world 
sound to the reader now, that the process of growth 
was said to have closed in Ezra's time, after which 
commenced the period of stagnation. Neither does it 
seem to have been remarked, though the point might well 
have been seized by adverse critics, how completely the 
antediluvian and patriarchal periods, which had, until 



i8 77 ] THE ARTICLE " BIBLE " 183 

the time of writing, bulked so largely in the theological 
text-books, had disappeared from view. There is no 
reference to anything earlier than what is described as 
" the foundation of the theocracy in the work of Moses " ; 
" it was only the deliverance from Egypt and the theo- 
cratic covenant of Sinai that bound the Hebrew tribes 
into natural unity." Of the monotheistic worship of 
Jehovah the chief centre was the sanctuary and priest- 
hood of the Ark ; but the still undeveloped spiritual 
religion " seemed constantly ready to be lost in local 
superstitions, till the advent of Samuel, who may be 
called the first of the prophets, the leader of a splendid 
succession of uniquely gifted men who through the 
following centuries were steadily working out the spiritual 
problems of the national faith with ever - increasing 
clearness." In a word, it is not to the work of Moses, 
compressed within a single lifetime, or to that of any of 
the patriarchs, or all of them, but to that of the prophets, 
extending through many generations, that we must look 
if we wish to know how the unique religion of revelation 
in its Old Testament form came to be what it is. The 
idea was a new one, and might well have been regarded 
as revolutionary. 1 

The author was aware that it must not be put forward 
without explanation or defence ; and accordingly, under 
the heading " False views of Prophecy " we find the 
following sentences : 

" A just insight into the work of the prophetic party in 
Israel was long rendered difficult by traditional pre- 
judices. On the one hand, the predictive element in 
prophecy received undue prominence, and withdrew 
attention from the influence of the prophets on the 
religious life of their own time ; while, on the other 
hand, it was assumed, in accordance with Jewish notions, 
that all the ordinances, and almost, if not quite, all the 
doctrines of the Jewish Church in the post -canonical 

1 Compare British Quarterly Review, April 1870, an article which is 
reprinted in Lectures and Essays. 



184 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1875- 

period, existed from the earliest days of the theocracy. 
The prophets, therefore, were conceived partly as inspired 
preachers of old truths, partly as predicting future events, 
but not as leaders of a great development, in which the 
religious ordinances as well as the religious beliefs of the 
Old Covenant advanced from a relatively crude and 
imperfect to a relatively mature and adequate form." 

It is the latter view, nevertheless, and not the tradi- 
tional one, that is alone true to history. It is to the 
prophets chiefly that the growth of true religion in 
Israel, most of its characteristic ordinances and most of 
its doctrines, are to be traced. Their predictive work 
is quite a secondary matter. 

What, then, are we to understand by a prophet ? An 
adequate description, if not definition, will be found 
embedded in an early sentence. 

" While it was the business of the priest faithfully to 
preserve religious traditions already acknowledged as 
true and venerable, the characteristic of the prophet is 
a faculty of spiritual intuition, not gained by human 
reason, but coming to him as a word from God Himself, 
wherein he apprehends religious truth in a new light, 
as bearing in a way not manifest to other men on the 
practical necessities, the burning questions of the present." 

The article then goes on to show in detail how it came 
about that the prophets men who never formed, like the 
priests, a regular guild, but on whom in each case the 
gift of prophecy was bestowed by the inward and im- 
mediate call of Jehovah in the course of their long 
activity continually remodelled the religious ordinances 
of their nation, formed and re-formed its doctrines, and 
wrote and re-wrote its history. To this exposition the 
first half of the article is devoted ; the remaining pages, 
dealing with such subjects as " Text and Versions," " The 
Christian Canon," " The Transmission and Diffusion of 
the Bible in the Christian Church before the Invention 
of Printing," " The Printed Text," " Literature," need 
not detain us now. 



i8 7 7] THE ARTICLE " BIBLE " 185 

With sixty-one others, the article had a place in the 
advertisement list of " Principal Contents " that accom- 
panied the issue of the third volume. At first it attracted 
no special public attention. Nor was it intended to do 
so ; the author, aware of his responsibility in undertak- 
ing to set forth a view that was somewhat novel and 
unfamiliar, had been at great pains v to choose such 
expressions as seemed to combine a minimum of offensive- 
ness and a maximum of defensibility. 

During Smith's absence on the continent in April, 1876, 
the feelings of those who regarded the article " Bible " as 
a challenge and a menace had begun to find public ex- 
pression. Smith, however, continued to attach much 
more importance to the cordial approval and support of 
his friends, and especially of Mr. Whyte, Mr. Dods, and 
Professor Macgregor. All three men were personally 
very sympathetic and helpful to Smith throughout 
the controversy which soon arose. But it may be 
remarked that none of the three was either then or 
afterwards a thorough-going supporter in the particular 
questions which came into prominence. A word may 
be useful as to the position of each. As regards Mr. (now 
Principal) Whyte, whose courageous almost heroic 
public interventions in the Smith case will be chronicled 
hereafter, it must not be forgotten that he has never 
publicly committed himself to any of the views of the 
critical school, and that, so far as is known to the present 
writers, he has never adopted them. Vastly different was 
the case of Mr. (afterwards Principal) Marcus Dods, 
who himself more than once came near to being prose- 
cuted for heresy. His first adventure of this sort was in 
this very year. In 1876 he preached, and afterwards 
by request published, a sermon on " Revelation and In- 
spiration," in which he enforced with great clearness the 
Rothian doctrine concerning the Scriptures, and did not 

1 This appears from a very early extant draft of the article, written 
in pencil, with many substitutions and deletions. 



186 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1875- 

hesitate to say not only that there might be but that there 
were errors in the Bible. Taken to task in his Presbytery, 
he, after some fight, succeeded in purchasing a rather 
inglorious peace by consenting to withdraw the offend- 
ing publication not, however, on the ground that 
the opinion he had expressed was wrong, but that its 
publication was uncalled-for and inopportune. Professor 
Macgregor, as Professor of Dogmatic Theology, was 
perhaps entitled, and even bound, to have an opinion 
on the questions raised by Smith's article ; nor did he 
shrink from expressing it at the proper time, though in 
doing so he thought fit to disguise himself under the 
transparent pseudonym of " Presbyter." His view was 
that these questions of criticism related to literature, 
not to dogma. " They refer, properly, not to matters 
of Christian faith, but to matters of Biblical antiquity. 
They do not directly affect any matter of Christian 
faith as confessed by our Churches. They may be honestly 
maintained by men who seriously accept the Bible as the 
divine record of the divine revelation." So he wrote in 
July 1876, adding : " It is perhaps a good thing that 
these positions have been maintained among us by a 
Christian teacher so earnest and pronounced in his 
evangelism as Professor Smith. In doing so, he takes 
away so much wind from the sails of popular infidelity." 

So far Smith's friends. Meanwhile the Press had been in 
no hurry to pronounce judgment. The task of producing 
an adequate literary notice of a volume of an Encyclo- 
paedia can never be a light one, and it is not surprising 
to find that the Athenceum's review of that containing 
the article " Bible " did not appear until March n, 
1876, while the Academy's estimate of the second and 
third volumes was delayed for another nine weeks. 

The writer in the Athenceum was of opinion that 
the volume contained many excellent contributions, 
but as a whole hardly came up to the standard set 
by the two previous volumes ; he suggested that the 



i8 7 r] THE ARTICLE " BIBLE " 187 

editor would have acted wisely had he oftener sought 
for aid in England and Ireland, and trusted less to 
writers nearer home. ..." The article ' Bible,' which 
is good on the whole, is too long. The writer should 
have limited himself to treating the external history of 
the text in its two divisions of printed and unprinted, the 
causes of various readings, the sources whence a text 
is derived, the punctuation, and divisions longer and 
shorter, made in the text." " The last paragraph is 
out of place and should have been omitted." The 
reviewer then proceeded to accuse Smith of certain 
minute inaccuracies in scholarship, and there ensued 
a short if somewhat sharp controversy on points of 
learned detail such as the true birth -year of Ephrem 
Syrus the merits of which need not detain us. 
Smith was characteristically tenacious, and seems, so far 
as the present writers can judge, to have been right ; but 
his adversary was equally obstinate, and, as is usual in 
the case of reviewers, he had the last word. 1 

Other critics, if less searching, were more indulgent. 
In the Academy of May 20, 1876, for example, Professor 
Mahaffy wrote discursively and charmingly on many 
themes suggested by the volumes before him. The head- 
ing " Angling " comes at an early stage in his causerie, and 
he lingers to point out that the writer " in cautioning the 
angler not to strike a salmon too fast, does not mention 
what is really the greatest of all safe-guards I mean the 
practice of playing the fly well under the water, so that 
the fish does not break the surface till he has actually taken 
the fly." With this and other attractive topics under 
the same head the best part of a column is occupied, and 

1 We have no record of the emotions with which Smith decided to 
submit to the judgment of the court that if only he had given A.D. 378 
(the wrong date) instead of A.D. 373 (the right date) for the death of 
Ephrem Syrus, and had not imprudently deleted a reference to 
Chrysostom that had stood in all the drafts of his article but the last 
(see facsimile), the Athenaum would almost have given him full marks, 
though with an admonition to cultivate a juster sense of proportion. 



i88 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1875- 

when at last we come to the higher branches of learning 
we find to our regret that " there is no space in this 
review to speak of the important theological articles, especi- 
ally the very able and advanced paper on ' The Bible.' ' 

If the London journals had treated his article in a 
spirit of learned (or not too learned) trifling, Smith could 
not complain of any absence of high seriousness in a con- 
tribution to the Edinburgh Courant of April 16, which was 
entitled " The new Encyclopaedia Britannica on Theology." 

The contributor turned to Smith's work with suspicions 
aroused by the article " Adam," in which Dr. Samuel 
Davidson had declared the meaning of the narrative of 
the Fall of Man to be " that man's salvation is practicable 
through the victory of reason over instinct, of faith over 
sense." From a young Free Church Professor he had 
expected " something more in accordance with the 
ordinary opinions of men in this country probably some- 
thing orthodox, certainly something vigorous." Far from 
this, he found himself to be reading a reproduction of the 
well-known theories of Kuenen, the most advanced theo- 
logian in Holland. The article, he proceeded, had the 
air of having been revised and curtailed by a friendly 
hand, and this accounted for its not having as yet attracted 
much public attention. To those, however, who were 
familiar with the subject, the article suggested much 
more than it openly said, and the suggestions were 
startling and disquieting indeed. " Does the writer of 
the article," asked the Courant, " believe that prophets 
could predict ? Those who are acquainted with the sub- 
ject will easily understand the position of a man who says 
of the prophets, ' There is no reason to think that a 
prophet even l received a revelation which was not spoken 
directly and pointedly of 2 his own time.' ' 

The orthodoxy of the article the Courant declines to 

1 A misreading of " ever." 

2 The correct reading is of course " to his own time." The present 
writers regard this as a misreading or as a misprint ; but the resulting 
distortion of Smith's meaning was serious, and not without consequences. 



1877] THE ARTICLE " BIBLE " 189 

criticise, but its inaccuracy must not escape without con- 
demnation, and the final verdict of the writer is as follows : 

"... This article which we are discussing is objection- 
able in itself; but our chief objection to it is that it should 
be sent far and wide over English-speaking countries 
as an impartial account of the present state of our know- 
ledge of the Bible. We regret that a publication which 
will be admitted without suspicion into many a religious 
household, and many a carefully guarded public library, 
should, upon so all-important a matter as the records of 
our faith, take a stand a decided stand on the wrong 
side. We hope the publisher and the editor will look 
after the contributors or after each other and cease to 
pass off rationalistic speculations as ascertained facts." 

All this at once arrested attention, and the writer in 
the Courant, as weeks and months and years passed, 
could pride himself at least on this, that the famous 
Robertson Smith case had followed exactly the lines 
that his strategic sagacity had from the beginning laid 
down for it. The issue might have been broadened by 
making it turn on the fact that so little prominence had 
been given to any of the primitive revelations, or might 
have been complicated by including many points that 
were afterwards unsuccessfully attacked by less skilful 
generals. The critic was more astute. " Moses in danger " 
and (with the help of a convenient misprint) " Predictive 
prophecy denied " were after all the right cries to go to 
the courts with. 

The writer was universally believed to be Dr. A. H. 
Charteris, the Professor of Biblical Criticism in the 
University of Edinburgh. To the sufficient learning 
which had gained for him that chair, he added the influence 
which belongs to a popular preacher and religious writer, 
and the authority enjoyed in Scotland by any one who 
can be called, however vaguely, a " leader " in one of the 
Assemblies. In Free Church circles Dr. Charteris enjoyed 
at that time more confidence and respect than almost 
any other of the clergy of the Established Church as it 



WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1875- 

then was. He was recognised as a sincere and fervent 
Evangelical, and his Life of Robertson of Ellon had 
touched many hearts. 

Such an appeal from such a man was irresistible. 
In many minds it awakened a sincere concern for the 
best interests of the faith. In many more it wounded 
susceptibilities, always sensitive to the taunts of another 
and a rival communion. The Free Church was repre- 
sented as permitting one of her responsible teachers under 
the guise of advanced scholarship to retail a bundle of 
familiar and exploded speculations borrowed, if not 
stolen, from the continent, and thereby imperilling the 
fundamental doctrines of Christianity and bringing dis- 
credit on the theological professoriate of Scotland. 

The Courant article 1 appeared, as we have seen, on 
April 15, and a month later the Robertson Smith case had 
begun. Dr. Begg, whose intervention in any controversy 
was ominous of misfortunes for the Church, appeared 
as the stormy petrel of a new tempest ; and about the 
middle of May Smith learned that he had given notice 
to the College Committee of his intention to bring 
the article " Bible " to the notice of the Assembly. 
This news came through Principal Douglas, Smith's 
colleague on the Revision Committee, who in turn had 
it from Dr. Rainy himself. It is perhaps not surprising 
that at first most of those who became leading persons of 
the forthcoming drama had but little idea of the parts 
they would be called upon to play. The protagonist 

1 It is hardly necessary to explain that the Courant did not express by 
any means the unanimous view of the theologians of the Established 
Church. The Reverend Principal Tulloch, in an article of which we 
shall hear more by and by, spoke of the article " Bible" as " a careful 
paper marked by eminent literary ability." No one, he continued, 
whose opinion was of any value could doubt that it was one eminently 
creditable to the talents of the writer, and that upon the whole it was 
admirably fitted to convey to the general mind a clear and well-informed 
outline of the attitude of the modern critical school. This was really 
what was wanted in an Encyclopaedia ; no one would look there for 
a mere repetition of old views no longer held by any critical school. 



i8 77 3 THE ARTICLE " BIBLE " 191 

himself was far from suspecting how isolated he was 
among his ecclesiastical brethren, and how serious was the 
opposition he had to encounter. "It is very mean to 
have given me no warning," he writes to his father, 
" but I will not make myself uneasy. Douglas is to 
defend the rights of criticism. Have you any advice 
to give?" And again: "Rainy, Douglas, etc., will 
defend me, I understand." 

Unfortunately perhaps for the best interests of all 
parties, it was not in the circumstances possible to bring 
the matter to a direct and immediate issue. Dr. Begg 
thought it best for the moment to negotiate with the 
College Committee and to postpone his proposed action 
in the highest Court of the Church on the understanding 
that the Committee would deal with the matter accord- 
ing to the powers with which it was invested by Act of 
Assembly. These powers, which relate to the supervision 
and administration of the three theological colleges in 
Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Aberdeen, include the right 
" to originate and prosecute before the Church Courts 
processes against any of the professors for heresy or 
immorality, reserving the rights competent to ah 1 parties 
according to the present laws of the Church." 

On May 17, 1876, " there was some conversation " l 
in the Committee about the feelings which had been 
awakened by the article " Bible," and it was thought fit, 
" in the first instance, to take informal and private means 
to call the attention of Professor Smith, and also of the 
various members of the Committee itself, to the impres- 
sions which existed, and to the prospect of its becoming 
necessary more formally to examine into the grounds 
of them." The communication received by Smith was 
in the hand of his friend Dr. James Candlish, but it was 
obviously semi-official in character. It was studiously 
courteous and considerate in tone, but it hinted not 

1 See Special Report of College Committee on Article " Bible," 
P- 3- 



192 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1875- 

obscurely at the desirability of explanation, if not defence. 
Its most important result was a meeting, which took place 
in Edinburgh about the end of the month, between Smith 
on the one hand, and Drs. Candlish and Rainy representing 
the Committee. Of this important interview, at which 
the two great antagonists may be said for the first time 
to have crossed swords, Smith gives the following very 
interesting account in a letter to his father, dated May 29 : 

" I had rather a difficult task yesterday. Rainy 
evidently thinks that I have been rash and therefore 
culpable, and after a great deal of beating about the bush 
suggested that I might write a letter to the College 
Committee affirming my soundness in the faith and my 
regret at having given so much uneasiness, etc., etc. 
He thought I might go so far as to say that under the 
circumstances I was ready to reconsider my position both 
as to matter and manner. I, of course, declined to do 
any such thing both because I did not recognise any 
adequate ground for a reconsideration which should be 
more than a form of words, and because I thought that 
it would be a very bad precedent to begin explaining and 
apologising before my opponents had in any definite way 
brought forward their objections. Rainy was not pleased, 
and appealed to Candlish, who, much to his mortification, 
thought it should simply be reported to the College 
Committee that there was no ground for suspicion or 
inquiry. This practically ended the matter. I closed 
by saying to Rainy that it seemed to me to be the duty 
of the College Committee to demand a definite accusation 
from accusers, and not at once to act on any vague 
complaint. To this he could say nothing. Of course 
there was a great deal more, but that is what is essential. 
Candlish behaved admirably, and was quite clear that I 
could not do what Rainy asked. They are to report a 
belief that I have written in the persuasion that my 
teaching is confessional, that I decline to make any 
defence, complaining of the manner in which my accusers 
have acted, and finally my one concession that I 
profess myself anxious with all Christian prudence to 
consider in my literary work the respect due to feelings 
of people in the Church who may be shocked. But I said 
distinctly that this last consideration had to be weighed 



i8 7 7] THE ARTICLE " BIBLE " 193 

against reasons for speaking out, and that I could not 
say how far (so weighed) it might influence practice. Nor 
did I admit that I have been rash or wrong." 

Throughout the tedious and troubled years which 
followed Smith never departed from the position which 
he took up at this interview. The passage above quoted 
contains, in fact, the fundamental principles of his defence, 
and it is now clear that the antagonism with the leader of 
the Church in which he now found himself was already 
irreconcilable. Dr. Rainy made a further attempt to 
persuade Smith to make at least a show of recantation, 
and in a letter written early in June observes that he 
thought Smith owed it to himself " to remedy mis- 
constructions of which the occasions were so palpable." 
Smith remained unmoved. The truth of his views, and 
(as yet) even their compatibility with the doctrines of the 
Confession of Faith, had not been explicitly called in 
question by any one in his own Church. All that so far 
existed was a vague and indeterminate uneasiness as to 
the general tendency and possible effects of an article 
which few of his colleagues had so far even seen. The 
task of inquiry and consideration had been remitted to 
the College Committee, and Smith had refused to express 
penitence before it was established that an offence had 
been committed. 

Such was the comparatively simple situation with 
which the Committee had to deal. It was very soon 
complicated by a series of incidents which imported a 
new element of bitterness into the controversy. While 
the Committee was deliberating, and in fact almost 
before it could begin, others who felt a responsibility for 
maintaining the Church's orthodoxy had taken the field. 
On June 12 there came into Smith's hands an anony- 
mous pamphlet entitled, " Infidelity in the Aberdeen 
Free Church College," which was the work of a certain 
Robert Young, LL.D., though Smith at the time ascribed 
it to another pen. Dr. Young, who achieved an accidental 

13 



194 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1875- 

notoriety from having become at an opportune moment 
the exponent of the reactionary view of Smith's writings, 
gave in three sentences what he conceived to be the 
drift of the article " Bible " : "It is no longer the 
contents of Scripture that are upon their trial ; it is the 
depository, the entire record of revelation. Its authenti- 
city, its veracity, its morality, its integrity, its authority, 
are all questioned. It is uncertain, contradictory, 
scandalous, mean, and fictitious from Genesis to Revela- 
tion." Smith's critical positions, according to Dr. Young, 
might be summed up under ten heads : 

(i) The Pentateuch was only finished 800 years 
after Moses ; (2) Prophecy never extends beyond the 
prophet's own time ; (3) Job, Jonah, and Esther have 
poetical inventions in them ; (4) Isaiah and Zechariah 
are mixed with other unknown authors ; (5) The text of 
the Psalms has been systematically altered ; (6) Canticles 
is a political satire against Solomon ; (7) Ecclesiastes is 
very long after the exile ; (8) Daniel has no place in the 
prophetic writings ; (9) The three synoptical gospels are 
non-apostolic digests of tradition ; (10) The strength of 
the negative critics lies in the internal evidence against the 
authenticity and genuineness of the New Testament Books. 

Smith was stung to the quick. He bitterly resented 
as a personal insult the imputations, not only of un- 
orthodoxy, but of bad faith contained in the pamphlet. 
He also saw an opportunity, which was far from unwelcome 
to one of his controversial temperament, of striking a 
blow at his assailants and at the same time justifying his 
own position. He therefore composed a letter which he 
intended for the newspapers, and proceeded to consult 
his friends and colleagues about the advisability of its 
immediate publication. He believed that by taking this 
course he could secure all the advantages of a public 
profession of orthodoxy, so much desired by Dr. Rainy, 
without compromising his case by going out to meet an 
accusation which had not as yet been formulated by any 
responsible person. Dr. Rainy saw clearly that Smith's 



i8 77 ] THE ARTICLE " BIBLE " 195 

proposed action would have a much less sedative effect 
on the controversy than a private, and more or less sub- 
missive, communication to the College Committee; and 
he did not conceal his dislike and disapproval of the more 
aggressive course. It cannot be thought surprising in the 
circumstances that Smith decided to persist, or that he 
should have considered that a complete vindication of his 
sincerity as a religious teacher, and a public repudiation 
of imputations of infidelity, should be satisfactory to the 
leaders of his church. He telegraphed to Mr. Whyte, 
to whose charge he had committed the proof of the letter, 
that it was forthwith to be published in the Daily Review, 
and immediately afterwards he wrote : 

" I have already telegraphed that I wish my letter to 
appear, and that at once. I wrote Rainy some days ago 
that I thought he might be satisfied with it. 

" If the Committee inquire into my teaching on any 
point, I will try to satisfy them, but I refused, with 
Candlish's consent, at the interview you know of, to go 
further and make any general acknowledgment that I 
have perhaps gone too far and am ready to reconsider my 
position. I am much surprised that Rainy should now 
return to the charge. He does not, so far as I can see, 
allow any weight to a conscientious persuasion that 
certain views are true." 

Both the substance and the manner of the letter, 
which appeared on June 21, are noteworthy. Smith 
began by striking at his assailant's obvious insignific- 
ance as a scholar which was ill redeemed by " a double 
portion of theological acrimony," and proceeded to 
repel with indignation the suggestion made by Mr. Young 
that he had been unfaithful to his ordination vows. 
" I accept the view," he asserts, " that the Bible is the 
one sufficient and authoritative record of Divine revela- 
tion as heartily as any man can do." His critical views 
in no degree affected the sincerity of his adherence to 
the Evangelical doctrine of the Free Church, and were 
the fruit of studies carried out under the guidance of her 



196 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1875- 

own teachers in the New College. These studies had 
been conducted on the Reformation principle of letting 
the Word of God speak for itself, and while this might 
lead to divergence from the traditional way of construing 
the historical manner and progress of revelation, it could 
not lead to " infidelity " so long as it was honestly held 
that " the knowledge of God and His will necessary unto 
salvation " is to be found laid down in an authoritative 
manner in the Scripture record. 

He meets the ten particulars with his characteristic 
appeal to scholarship which used to cause unbearable 
irritation to his ecclesiastical opponents. His statements 
that the Book of Isaiah is composite and the date of 
Ecclesiastes late can, he thinks, arouse no suspicion in 
the mind of " any competent person." " An anonymous 
prophet is as truly an inspired writer as Isaiah himself ; 
and no one will propose to make an article of faith of the 
authorship of Ecclesiastes." To the same class of " per- 
fectly unobjectionable" statements, he is disposed to 
add the first that relating to the Pentateuch. The 
date when the Pentateuch was finished has never been 
a matter of faith. Presuming the real matter of offence 
to be that parts of the legislation are spoken of as later 
than Moses, he calls attention to the express statement 
in the article that "the development of Old Testament 
legislation took place under the guidance of prophets 
and prophetic ideas, that is, under the guidance of inspira- 
tion." On this view the one and only point which may 
possibly give offence to weak faith is the way in which 
he regards the whole legislation as now interwoven with the 
history of the Mosaic age. 

" I explain this in the case of Deuteronomy by observ- 
ing that the dramatic form of putting a new statement of 
theocratic law into the mouth of Moses just before his 
death serves to express in a concrete and tangible shape 
the fact that the author's object is not to give out a 
new law, but to expound and develop Mosaic principles 
in relation to new needs and with the same divine authority 



i8 77 ] THE ARTICLE " BIBLE " 197 

as belonged to Moses' own words. It seems to me plain 
that the author of Deuteronomy was at liberty to choose 
such a way of setting forth his inspired admonitions. 
The use of literary forms is not fraudulent when the 
nature and object of the form are as transparent as they 
must have been to the first readers in the case before 
us. ... It may indeed be objected that the use of 
a didactic form which in the course of ages came to be 
misunderstood is contrary to the principle of the per- 
spicuity of Scripture. But that principle implies only 
that Scripture is always plain enough for practical guid- 
ance to God's people ; and when the whole Pentateuch 
came to be viewed as Mosaic, this mistake did not affect 
the practical use of the law." 

The other heads he takes up in order. The second is 
that, according to Professor Smith, "Prophecy never 
extends beyond the prophet's own time." 

" To ascribe this view to me is sheer untruth. I say 
that the prophets always spoke directly and pointedly 
to their own time that is, to the needs and difficulties 
of their own time, and with a direct view to the immediate 
edification of the Church. But that one means of such 
edification was prediction of Messianic times is expressly 
asserted in my article. The statement of the pamphleteer 
is therefore no blunder, but deliberate falsehood. And 
here I may observe as a singular coincidence, that the 
very same falsehood appeared some time ago in a review 
in the Edinburgh Evening Courant (April 1876) which I 
did not at the time think worthy of notice. The writer 
in that paper (whose malevolence was probably dictated 
by ecclesiastical jealousy of the Free Church, and who 
expressed himself with so little knowledge and so great 
an air of authority that one seemed to hear the voice of 
a raw preacher thrust for party ends into a professor's 
chair) did not hesitate to make out his point by falsifying 
my words within marks of quotation. Where I have said 
that 'there is no reason to think that a prophet ever 
received a revelation which was not spoken directly 
and pointedly to his own time,' my honest reviewer 
writes, ' of his own time,' and concludes that I deny 
prophetic prediction. 

" (3) I certainly hold that there is poetical invention 
of incidents in Job, and have yet to learn that such a 



198 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1875- 

view impairs the value of that grand book. As to Jonah 
and Esther I only reported opinions . . . and the opinion 
that Jonah is not to be taken as literal history is certainly 
not confined to those who deny the supernatural. 

" (4) I certainly express the opinion that the Psalter 
does not always present the Psalms just as they came 
from the hands of their authors. I cannot understand 
how any one can hold a different view. 

" (6) My view of the Song of Solomon will appear at 
length on an early opportunity. 1 But I hold its chief 
motive to be ethical. 

" (8) While I say that the Book of Daniel is separated 
from the proper prophetical writings by its apocalyptic 
form, I also say that in its intrinsic qualities it is akin to 
them. Does my critic know that in the Hebrew Canon 
Daniel is not placed among the prophetical books, but 
among the Hagiographa ? 

" (9) When my critic speaks against the possibility 
of the synoptical gospels being non-apostolic digests of 
tradition, he is at issue not with me alone but with the 
preface to the Gospel of Luke. 

" (10) Perhaps the most serious and malignant of all 
the charges brought against me lies in this proposition 
and in the remarks by which it is supported. Any one 
' except the pamphleteer and his unscrupulous colleague 
in the C our ant would see at once that, while I endeavour 
i to maintain a perfectly impartial attitude, and give fair 
play to the negative critics, as was proper in a purely 
literary article whose business was to state the case on 
both sides, the whole weight of my remarks on the 
Tubingen school goes against their ingenious but un- 
substantial theory. I point out that the external evidence 
for the New Testament books is as strong as can reason- 
ably be expected. I observe accordingly that the argu- 
ments of negative critics ' do not for the most part rely 
much on external evidence.' And then I say that ' the 
strength of the negative critics lies in internal evidence.' 
But I by no means imply that this strength is strong 
enough to maintain their position. On the contrary, 
while admitting, as every candid mind must admit, that 
they have raised difficulties which still await explanation, 
I suggest a series of questions on which the controversy 

1 " Canticles," in vol. v. of the Encyclopedia Britannica, was pub- 
lished in 1876. 



i8 77 ] THE ARTICLE " BIBLE " 199 

seems to turn, and which I believe cannot be answered 
in a sense favourable to the views of the Tubingen school." 

The effect of the letter was for the time all that Smith 
could have desired. The College Committee met on 
June 20, and " seemed satisfied " that Smith had done 
all that need be expected in the meantime, and decided, 
pending further consideration, to postpone the matter 
to another meeting. Professor Davidson, Dr. Marcus 
Dods, Professor Lindsay, and other friends, wrote ex- 
pressing high approval; but it was soon clear that the 
demon of unrest had not been exorcised. On the eve of 
a journey to London and the Continent, Smith, writing 
to his father, expresses regret that the quarrel is being 
taken up by the Scotsman, and adds, a little ruefully : 
" It was perhaps a fault to point so clearly to Charteris." 
This may now be freely admitted by Smith's most ardent 
admirers, some of whom felt at the time that the reference 
to the professor's pulpit eloquence was hardly just and 
certainly irrelevant. 

Dr. Young's intervention was not Smith's only trial. 
Professor Macgregor who, as we have seen, had originally 
been one of the first to cheer Smith on, now emphasised 
more strongly than he had previously thought necessary 
a depressing warning that Smith must expect a " trial 
to his wisdom and fortitude." Even Dr. Davidson 
feared that " something positive " would have to be done 
with regard to the article " Bible." 

" In addition to what you expressed," he wrote, " I 
tacitly understood a great deal of what I knew personally, 
and what your position as a professor implied. ... I 
imagined that what you meant to give, and what was 
most probably desired, was an account of the historical 
rise of the Biblical Books so far as the Hebrew authors 
were concerned. It did not occur to me that if this alone 
was given, it could ever be supposed that there was 
nothing more to give. I daresay you wrote yourself under 
an impression somewhat similar. 

" Now if that is the case, I believe that all that is 



200 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1875- 

needful to allay the uneasiness that prevails is that you 
should in some suitable way say so much. It would be 
a great gain to be able to devote ourselves to our quiet 
pursuits of study, without fearing the rising of a tempest 
which might rage for a lifetime." 

Professor Smeaton also wrote from the New College 
a letter in which he almost hysterically implored his old 
pupil to shun the broad road leading to destruction. 
" Using the liberty of a man twice Smith's age," he re- 
monstrated with him in the most solemn manner. 

" I would beseech you to pause, to take counsel with 
your father and your seniors," he said, " before committing 
yourself to positions from which you will find it every day 
more difficult to recede. Who has not been drawn if 
he has thought at all into speculations and opinions on 
which he now looks back with contempt and grief ? 
The peril is in a public committal to crude notions. I 
wish I could do something to rescue a gifted young mind 
and save it for the future usefulness which we all fondly 
anticipated." 

Professor Smeaton appealed to a fatiguing experience 
of more than forty years' reading of the higher criticism, 
and expressed his surprise that Smith's mathematical 
mind should find any attraction in that barren field. 

" Are not the theories without any basis of solid 
historical fact ? and what is the worth of such theories 
where the basis is mere conjecture or petty internal criti- 
cism leaping to arbitrary conclusions ? I hope your mind 
will soon revolt from this castle-building in the clouds. 

" But in the meantime the matter is serious. I fear 
that many a Christian's mind has been shocked by your 
inconsiderate attack on what is regarded as sacred, and 
it will not mend the matter to reflect on ' a weak faith ' 
either on the part of the simple Christian mind, or of the 
practical ministerial mind. We, as professors, are not 
appointed by the Church to teach what tends to shake 
the faith of any, or to advocate a criticism which is not 
legitimate." 

Smith's article, according to his old teacher, was the 
first instance of an attack from within any Scottish 



i8 77 ] THE ARTICLE " BIBLE " 201 

Church on the genuineness of the Bible. He had imitated 
the " chartered audacity " of Germany and Holland, and, 
though perhaps he did not himself practise the worst 
excesses of the Tubingen school, there was the gravest 
danger in naturalising such views in Scotland. 

" I cannot suppose," he continued, " that the sad and 
bitter harvest produced by that criticism hi such men as 
Baur, Schwegler, Hilgenfeld, Schenkel, Keim, Scholten, 
Kuenen, and others still more extreme, can find much 
approval in your own mind. But where will it stop if it 
is legitimated ? There will arise others much more 
extreme than you, as a Strauss arose out of the school of 
Baur, and how could we suppress it, if we make all 
criticism legitimate ? Nay, how could we check it in the 
pulpit when the pupils go further than their teacher ? 
Would you like to hear your own pupils saying from the 
pulpit that Matthew was ' non-apostolic ' and conse- 
quently of no authority because not an eye-witness ? " 

All this pointed to the fact that in spite of Smith's 
disclaimers there was growing agitation, if not already 
panic, in high places, and, as is not uncommon in such 
a case, the more talkative of the rank and file seized 
the opportunity of putting themselves forward. The 
most prominent of these was the Rev. George Macaulay 
of the Roxburgh Free Church, Edinburgh, who was 
destined to play somewhat conspicuously the part 
of jackal to the heresy hunters. Mr. Macaulay was 
a typical Celt who combined great earnestness of con- 
viction with very considerable powers of expression, 
and a deep sense of having a vocation. He enjoyed 
some reputation as a " popular preacher," had long 
been in the habit of contributing to the press, was 
the sole inventor of an original theory of Shakespeare's 
sonnets, and seems to have been on more or less friendly 
terms with the editor of the Scotsman. His publications 
were for the most part ephemeral pieces, and even the 
curious will find them difficult to trace. What does survive 
is entertaining enough, though candour compels the present 



202 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1875- 

writers to add that it is easy to understand how con- 
temporary critics came sometimes to apply to him such 
adjectives as " bumptious " and " blatant," with appro- 
priate nouns. Be that as it may, Mr. Macaulay's defects, 
no less than his qualities, fitted him for the activities of 
an ecclesiastical agitator, and the leading theological 
event of July 1876 was his course of three lectures on the 
question of the hour. The title of the first of these was, 
" Have we a Bible ? " They were all more or less fully 
reported in the Edinburgh newspapers, and their general 
effect was that the doctrine of the Free Church is found 
in the Westminster Confession of Faith, and that, if the 
Courts of the Church declare that Professor Smith's 
" critical views " are compatible with adhesion to the 
public confession of the Church, they will inaugurate a 
new era which will be marked and branded as the era of 
doctrinal corruption. 

These alarums served to keep public interest alive, but 
the case may be said not to have commenced officially 
until August 9, when the first word was spoken about the 
article " Bible " in any Church Court. On that day, in 
the Commission l of the General Assembly, Dr. Begg put 
a question, of which he had given private notice, as to 
what the College Committee were doing or proposing to 
do in the matter of Professor Smith's article. The Con- 
vener of the Committee (Mr. Laughton) replied at length, 
but his speech may be briefly summarised. The question 
was an anxious one, both for the Church at large and for 
the Committee. No statement could yet be made regard- 
ing the conclusion at which the Committee would arrive. 
Communication must first be entered into with the pro- 
fessor himself. The greatest respect was due to Professor 
Smith's high character, rare gifts, and great attainments 
in Biblical learning, and they must avoid the danger of 
misinterpreting his views. There was, however, the other 

1 A body to which each Assembly at its rising delegates ad interim 
certain of its powers. 



i8 77 ] THE ARTICLE " BIBLE " 203 

danger that the young men under the professor's instruc- 
tion might be " unsettled " "by dealing in certain 
speculations," however sound their preceptor's own con- 
victions might be. Thus hemmed in by anxieties the 
Committee could for the moment do nothing but reiterate 
their promise to use the utmost care and discretion in the 
matter, and the subject dropped for the time. 

It is now time that we should return to the doings 
of the body from which so much was being expected 
and promised. The College Committee at this time 
consisted of twenty members, eleven of them having 
the status of ministers and nine that of elders. 1 To 
most of these Smith was personally known, and with 
some of them his relations had been, and were, very 
close. Dr. James Candlish, as we have seen, before he 
removed to Glasgow, had been minister of the import- 
ant congregation in Aberdeen of which Smith was a 
member and an elder. He had also been editor of the 
British and Foreign Evangelical Review since 1875, and 
many of Smith's papers had passed through his hands. 
The relations of esteem and affection which subsisted 
between these two scholars are made very clear even in 
the mere fragments of their correspondence which are 
all that can be given in these pages. We have already 
had occasion to note Smith's friendship with Mr. Whyte, 
who, while still an Arts student in Aberdeen, had 
been an occasional visitor at the manse of Keig. He 
had passed through the classes of the New College only 
four years before Smith, with whom he had become 
specially intimate after his settlement in Edinburgh in 
1870. Drs. Rainy and Smeaton had been among the 
heretic's teachers ; Principal Douglas of Glasgow was a 

1 Drs. Rainy, Douglas, Brown, Smeaton, Candlish ; Sir Henry 
MoncreiflE, Drs. Wilson, Goold, and Purves, and Messrs. Laughton and 
Whyte Ministers ; Messrs. David Maclagan, N. C. Campbell (Sheriff of 
Ayrshire), William Henderson, Robert Lumsden, William Ferguson, 
John Cowan, John Pringle (M.D.), Hugh Miller (M.D.), and W. G. 
Blackie, publisher, Glasgow, (Ph.D.) Elders. 



204 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1875- 

fellow-professor, and an associate at the board- of the 
Old Testament Revision Committee. As for the aged 
Dr. Brown, Smith's Principal and colleague, it must 
be supposed that he occupied a position of peculiar 
influence in the Committee. No member of that body 
had enjoyed the same opportunities as he of know- 
ing and judging the nature and tendency of Smith's 
work and influence in Aberdeen, and in particular how 
these affected the students under their common care. 
Not to speak of numerous other occasions, he had heard 
Smith's opening lecture in 1870, and his closing addresses 
in 1874 and 1876, and all these lay in print before him. 
In these, and in other articles, as, for example, that on 
" The Critical Schools of the Continent " in the British 
Quarterly Review, he had representative specimens of his 
colleague's teaching, and for further elucidations, had 
he desired them, he had only to turn to that singularly 
accessible mind. It would not have been surprising had 
some feeling of esprit de corps led him to seek to throw 
a shield over his colleague, or at least to refrain from 
taking a foremost place in the ranks of his accusers. 
It can only have been under a strong sense of duty that 
he found it necessary to complain, as he afterwards did, 
that the censure proposed by the College Committee 
was too weak ; and, this being so, one can appreciate 
the motives of delicacy which restrained him from calling 
the Committee's attention to the further matter for 
blame contained in other writings of Smith, the nature 
of which he had special facilities for appreciating. 

These men and their colleagues were prominent in the 
counsels of the Church, but among them was one who 
enjoyed exceptional influence and who played a very 
important part in the subsequent proceedings. Sir Henry 
Moncreiff, the tenth of a line of Nova Scotia Baronets, in 
which there has been a remarkable alternation of forensic 
and clerical eminence, was one of the brightest social 
ornaments of the Free Church. His family has always 



i8 7 7] THE ARTICLE " BIBLE " 205 

been widely esteemed in Scotland ; his personal character 
displayed most of the aristocratic virtues, and his intellect 
had been cultivated at New College in Oxford where, as 
a youth, he is said to have enjoyed the friendship of Mr. 
Gladstone. On his return to Scotland he had entered 
the ministry of the National Church, and at the time of 
the Disruption was a member of the more moderate 
wing of the Evangelical party. Sir Henry took time to 
consider his position in 1843, and he did not arrive at his 
final decision to join the Free Church in time to be one of 
those who took part in the historic scene of May 18. 
He was perhaps not technically entitled, therefore, to claim 
the style of Disruption Father, though he was always 
one whom the Church delighted to honour. He seems 
to have shared the legal and judicial temperament of his 
family, for we find that, as a minister, and especially as 
the manager of a heresy case, he was more distinguished 
for his grasp of Church law and ecclesiastical procedure 
than as a master of theological learning or a Hebrew 
scholar. 

Up till the Commission of August 9, 1876, there had 
been some hopes that the tempest might blow over. Dr. 
Rainy's attitude was condemned by the more progressive 
theologians, and Smith appears to have believed that the 
pressure which they were exercising on the Principal 
would " bring him to his senses." Unluckily, however, 
there was always some one ready to fan the flames, and 
Dr. Begg, who had the whip-hand of the official leaders, 
had made it clear that inaction on the part of the 
Committee would not be tolerated. Accordingly, after 
a good deal of " informal and private " conference, a 
sub - committee of seven (Principal Rainy, Principal 
Douglas, Sir Henry Moncreiff, Professor Smeaton, Dr. 
Goold, Professor Candlish, and Mr. Laughton), was 
appointed on September 19 to consider the article 
" Bible " and the article " Angel," which, it now appeared, 
had also been " objected to." Smith was kept apprised, 



206 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1875- 

by the Convener of the Committee, of these proceedings, 
and early in November was on the point of responding to 
an invitation to send a statement of his views to the 
Committee, when a disagreeable and disquieting incident 
occurred. Dr. Begg and his friends had become dis- 
satisfied with their prospects of obtaining justice, as they 
conceived it, in the ordinary course of church discipline, 
and sent out a printed circular to a selected body of 
adherents, summoning them to a meeting to discuss the 
situation. The circular was signed by Dr. Moody Stuart 
and Dr. Duff, as well as by Dr. Begg himself, and those 
attending the meeting were requested to produce it at 
the door. Such a gathering of his avowed opponents, at 
a time when his case was under judicial consideration, 
naturally produced a most painful impression upon 
Smith's mind. He sent strong remonstrances both to 
the Convener of the Committee and to Principal Rainy, 
and for a moment he threatened to discontinue all com- 
munication with the Committee. The present writers 
must observe that this was in their view a natural 
and proper course, though this opinion does not seem 
to be shared by Dr. Rainy's biographer. 1 Be this as 
it may, the difficulty was overcome, and Smith, after 
seeing a draft of the sub-committee's Report, sent a 
statement of his views, which, while defending the Con- 
fessional character of these and the legitimacy of the 
exercise of the higher criticism, could not be regarded as 
otherwise than conciliatory and, on the whole, reassuring. 
Dr. Rainy, however, was not satisfied, though he admitted 
that " the temper was good, and there were statements 
of positive belief which would be welcomed." He 
thought that Smith should go a good deal further, and he 
took the extraordinary step of sending to Dr. Whyte the 
draft of a letter written by himself in the character of 
Smith to Professor Candlish, which embodied everything 
that the Principal considered proper to be said by the 

1 The Life of Principal Rainy, i. 322-323. 



i8 7 7] THE ARTICLE " BIBLE " 207 

author of the article " Bible," with a view to putting 
himself right with the Church. 1 The Principal's object, 
it would appear from Dr. Simpson's account, was to 
teach Smith by example (precept having failed) how to 
humour his fellow-Christians' susceptibilities and fears in 
a manner " which involved no sacrifice of intellectual in- 
tegrity." There is no record of Smith's opinion of the 
lesson, and the present writers do not feel called on to 
express one on his behalf. In any case it had no effect 
on the progress of events. Smith neither altered nor 
added to his statement, which was laid before the Com- 
mittee on November 14. By the end of the year the 
Committee's Draft Report was ready ; on January 16, 
1877, it was finally adjusted ; and on January 17 it was 
made public. 

As regards the proceedings of the Committee Sir 
Henry Moncreiff has recorded, in his History of the Case 
(1879), that there were " discussions and conversations 
relative to views of prophecy, of the Synoptic Gospels, 
and of angelic agency, expressed by Professor Smith. 
It was earnestly contended by Professor Smeaton that 
these views called for judicial action, and for a decided 
indication to that effect in the Report." The opinion 
which prevailed, however, was that, while the suggestions 
regarding prophecy and the Synoptic Gospels furnished 
ground for remonstrance respecting the manner in which 
the subjects had been treated, 2 yet the explanations and 
admissions of the professor in his " Remarks " were 
sufficient to exclude more serious censure. Most of the 

1 This curious piece, already printed in The Life of Principal Rainy 
(i. 325-327), is considered by the present writers of sufficient interest 
and importance to be preserved here also for convenience of reference, 
and it is accordingly given in an Appendix to this volume. 

2 Sir Henry himself, for example, thought, he tells us, that the 
phrase " non-apostolic digests," ought to have run " non-apostolic 
though inspired digests," and that " a different mode of expression 
should have been used than is involved in the words ' Many essays.' 
These last words convey to the ordinary reader the idea of the existing 
Gospels being the result of human effort improving on the past." 



208 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1875- 

members had a similar conception as to several other 
features of the article (in fact, it would seem, as to almost 
all the other points specified in Dr. Young's pamphlet), 
but agreed that any decisive procedure regarding them 
was beyond the functions of the Committee. The chief 
discussion, says Sir Henry, was about the theory of 
Deuteronomy ; much of it arose out of the denial 
by Professor Candlish, Dr. Purvis, and Mr. Whyte that 
there was any ground for grave concern regarding that 
theory. 

The gist of the Report is contained in the following 
extracts : 

" On a survey of the whole case, the Committee do 
not find sufficient ground to support a process for heresy. 
The article defends some positions l as to the history 
of the Biblical books, which in point of fact have frequently 
been associated with the denial of inspiration, having 
formed part of theories which explain the history of the 
Bible on the footing of excluding Divine influence. 
Whether these positions are well grounded is indeed a 
serious question, and the Committee . . . cannot profess 
to be surprised that the article, from what it contained and 
what it omitted, awakened anxiety or created suspicion 
with reference to Professor Smith's views on the inspiration 
of Scripture. But . . . they are glad to be assured by 
Professor Smith that his faith in Deuteronomy, as part 
of the inspired record of revelation, rests on grounds 
apart from his critical conclusions, viz. ' on the witness 
of our Lord and the testimonium Spiritus Sancti.' 

" The question remains, no doubt, whether Professor 
Smith has maintained critical opinions which, in their 
own nature, subvert the doctrine he professes. It is in 
this connection that those views of Professor Smith come 
into consideration, of which his theory of Deuteronomy 
is the leading instance. The Committee have freely 
stated their view of that theory, that it appears liable 
to objection, and is fitted to create apprehension. The 
objection to it is, that it ascribes to the author of the 
book the use of a device, or as Professor Smith prefers 
to term it, a literary form, which to many thoughtful 

1 Cp. Dr. Young's ten points. 



i8 7 7] THE ARTICLE " BIBLE " 209 

minds, familiar with the subject in all its aspects, appears 
unworthy and inadmissible in connection with the Divine 
Inspiration and Divine Authority of such a book as 
Deuteronomy. The apprehension felt in connection with 
it is, that the theory of an inspired and non-deceptive 
personation will not generally command assent ; and then 
the admission that the statements of the book regarding 
Moses are not true in the obvious sense, will operate, it 
may be feared, in the way of unsettling belief. Not- 
withstanding, the Committee are not prepared to say 
that Professor Smith's views infer a denial on his part, 
either directly or constructively, of the doctrine that, in 
the books of the Old and New Testaments, the revelation 
of God and the declaration of His will are committed 
' wholly unto writing/ and that ' they are all given 
by inspiration of God to be the only rule of faith and 
life.' The Committee lay stress on this, because the 
doctrine now referred to is not only the technical ground 
in the Confession which must regulate ecclesiastical 
procedure, but is really the essential and fundamental 
truth which it is vital to maintain. 

" The Committee gladly recognise Professor Smith's 
high character, and express their cordial sense of his great 
learning. All the more they lament that an article written 
by him should have given rise to anxiety and suspicion. 
They cannot withhold the expression of their opinion 
that the article, in opposition to Professor Smith's avowed 
intention, is of a dangerous and unsettling tendency. 
But as regards the grounds on which his critical judgments 
are based, and the general line of his thinking, those are 
points on which the Committee have touched only so far 
as seemed necessary in order to explain the views under 
which they have decided the question before them." 

In a word, the Committee, while not considering that a 
prima facie case of heresy had been made out, advised the 
Assembly that Smith's critical opinions as expressed in 
the article " Bible " were hardly compatible with his 
position as a teacher of candidates for the ministry of the 
Church. This, however, was by no means a unanimous 
finding. Some prominent members of the Committee 
entered and recorded their dissent from the Report, the 
printed form of which already showed that there were 

14 



210 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1875- 

two parties, one of which protested against any censure 
whatever, while the other clamoured for a drastic applica- 
tion of ecclesiastical discipline in its severest form. 

It is not necessary to make extensive quotations from 
Professor Smeaton's dissent. It may, however, be well 
to record that he thought the conclusion of the Report 
quite inadequate to the gravity of the offence. Also, in 
his opinion, the Committee should have reported on 
the article " Angel," as well as on the article " Bible." 
He thought Professor Smith's explanation of his views 
on Prophecy was even more unsatisfactory than his 
original statement, as showing an attitude of absolute 
indifference to the commentary of an inspired Apostle. 

" I hold," observed Professor Smeaton, " that the 
doctrine of Inspiration and Professor Smith's views are 
irreconcilable." "An attack on the genuineness and 
authority of the Scripture, whether dignified by the title 
of the higher criticism or prompted by the lower scepti- 
cism, ought never to be permitted within the Church on 
the part of any office-bearer. We can keep criticism 
within its proper limits, and this occasion may have been 
permitted to occur that we may show to other churches 
how we can act in the exercise of our independent juris- 
diction." 

Dr. Brown's dissent was to the effect that it was the 
duty of the Committee to call attention to the article 
" Angel " inasmuch as that article did not also discuss 
the existence of the Devil. 

The leaders of the party of toleration in the Com- 
mittee both dissented from the Report. Dr. Candlish 
objected to the main proposition which affirmed, in a 
phrase which became classical, the " dangerous and 
unsettling tendency " of the impugned writings as fitted 
to create apprehension and disturb belief. " There is 
no sufficient ground for grave concern about Professor 
Smith's view of certain parts of the Pentateuch, and 
therefore it is unnecessary and inexpedient for the Com- 
mittee to express an opinion as to the force of the evidence 



i8 7 7] THE ARTICLE " BIBLE " 211 

which is supposed to establish the non-Mosaic authorship 
of some Deuteronomic Laws." 

Mr. Whyte's dissent does the greatest credit to his 
courage no less than to his common sense. He thought 
that the Committee should have kept to their instructions 
and simply reported that they had found no ground to 
support a process for heresy. If anything was to be 
said " beyond an exact report on the legality of Professor 
Smith's teaching, the opportunity should have been taken 
of relieving their brother of the odium which had unfairly 
fallen upon him," and of characterising in proper terms 
the published criticisms on his article which were the 
real source of it. Questions such as those treated in the 
article were for specially equipped scholars, and the 
Committee might well have suggested that the Assembly 
should impress on both ministers and professors the 
desirability of their acquiring such equipment "as a 
sure means of warding off all unreasonable panic on the 
one hand and of escaping intellectual stagnation on the 
other." The timid phrases of the Report were unworthy of 
the Committee, who should have made hearty acknowledg- 
ment of the Divine goodness to the Free Church in raising 
up among them a succession of eminent theologians and 
teachers which might well excite the envy of other 
Churches. It might perhaps be regretted that Professor 
Smith had not sufficiently considered the fact that he 
was not addressing an audience of experts, but the Com- 
mittee should have insisted that " those who cannot be 
familiar with critical and scientific questions are not to 
be allowed to trammel the hands and brand the names 
of men who are doing some of the Church's selectest and 
most delicate work." 

Meanwhile Smith went on quietly with his work in 
Aberdeen, rewriting his lectures on Prophecy, reviewing 
Kuenen, and generally going through the ordinary 
literary and lecturing routine. We have seen how 
deeply he felt and how keenly he resented the attacks 



212 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1875- 

which were being made upon him, and it is easy to 
imagine the anxiety with which even at this early stage 
he observed the ever - increasing encroachments made 
upon his time and energy by barren controversy with 
prejudiced and ignorant opponents. In these troubles he 
had the support of a body of distinguished and devoted 
friends. In particular, most of the intelligent laity 
were on his side. Some of these, like his allies in the 
Church, wrote expressing approval of the incriminated 
writings. Dr. John Brown, for example, sent a kind 
message about the article " Bible," saying that he regarded 
it as " the very pith of common sense, and as tight a bit 
of work in word and thought as has been done in these 
times." But for the most part there was no parade of 
sympathy, and he never for a moment allowed his ecclesi- 
astical difficulties to disturb his private life. It would 
indeed be possible to compile a large selection from the 
extant letters of this period, giving a full account of his 
doings from day to day, in which no mention whatever 
of the case occurs. He was at this time sitting to Mr. 
George Reid for the portrait which now hangs in the 
combination room at Christ's College, and both the 
letters and the little pocket diary (which he still rather 
unsystematically kept) are full of dinner engagements 
and interesting glimpses of Aberdeen Society. 
Thus he writes to his sister Lucy : 

" For a week back everything has been very quiet with 
me : but before that I had great doings. Gibson was 
with me, and at the same time also Sheriff Nicolson, whose 
performance of ' the Phairshon ' would have delighted 
Alice. Then at the same time there was in town, with 
J. F. White and Reid, a famous French etcher called 
Raj on, and all of us had sundry dinners and lunches and 
excursions together. For one thing we were at Dunottar 
Castle, where we had a grand day. In the evening we 
came home in a railway carriage without lamps ; so we 
burned vestas and newspaper torches and sang songs at 
the top of our voices all the way in under Nicolson's 
guidance. It was a great day ! Then the whole party 



i8 77 J THE ARTICLE " BIBLE " 213 

came up to me and were regaled on chops and potatoes, 
including Mrs. J. F. White, who enjoyed herself extremely, 
and was smoked to an extent which even a German lady 
might have disliked. 

"Another day Gibson and I and Rae . . . went up 
Bennachie from the Oyne side, which is quite different 
from the Keig side. We got a great deal of rain, but it 
was a capital excursion notwithstanding, and we also saw 
the Maidenstone, an old Scotch sculptured stone which 
I had long wished to visit. 

" Finally, at the end of last week, Millais, the greatest 
English painter, came to visit Mr. Macdonald of Kepple- 
stone, and I met him at Mr. White's. After all this 
excitement I am glad to be quiet again. ..." 

The College Committee had deliberated, like legislative 
assemblies in time of Revolution, with the roar of an 
impatient mob at its doors. The newspapers, which 
foresaw a pretty quarrel, and hardly concealed their glee 
at the prospect of a pitched battle of theologians, published 
innumerable letters, most of them now wholly negligible, 
though they had their influence on public feeling at the 
time. The bitterness which seems to be inseparable 
from any religious controversy was on this occasion 
intensified by an inevitable appeal to the old jealousy of 
the Established Church. " The interminable, yet scarcely 
commenced heresy case against Professor Smith of 
Aberdeen was virtually set agoing," as the Scotsman 
openly remarked, " by one of the most vigilant professors 
of the orthodox establishment." That Establishment, 
the mass of the Free Church rightly or wrongly be- 
lieved, had stolen a march on them by obtaining the 
Church Patronage Act 1 from Mr. Disraeli's Government 
in 1874. It was therefore intensely galling to them to 
find that the Erastians were not only invading their 
monopoly of Disruption principles, but also questioning 

1 This act put an end to lay patronage in the Church of Scotland, and 
many Free Churchmen feared that this " rehabilitation " of the Estab- 
lishment would induce many of their members to revert to the State 
Church. 



214 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1875- 

their orthodoxy. The Courant reviewed the College 
Committee's report on January 18, 1877, pointing 
out the evidence it contained of the working of the 
" curious mind of Principal Rainy, worming like a cork- 
screw through material soft enough to be perforated by 
a chisel thrust." Its sympathies were with Professor 
Smeaton. Whyte is " querulous and weak." As for Smith 
himself, " his touching faith in himself " is such that there 
is little hope of his speaking " with reasonable respect for 
those who differ from him," or of showing " that genuine 
tenderness of feeling needed by those who would estimate 
the claims of Holy Scripture." 

In the later months of 1876 Mr. Macaulay had been 
pursuing his studies of the Dutch divine whom in his July 
publication he had consistently called " Quenen," and 
towards the end of the year he began a second course of 
lecturing and pamphleteering. 1 He was taken up by the 
Glasgow News, which had assumed a share in the responsi- 
bility for Christian orthodoxy currently discharged by the 
Courant, and on January u, 1877, in an article on Professor 
Smith's " plagiarism," spoke of his " pleasantly para- 
phrasing the latest results of Dutch negative criticism " 
as "a literary immorality which should not have been 
altogether left out of the ken of the College Committee." 
It was not left to Smith to repel this base accusation. 
The article and Mr. Macaulay's charges were promptly 
brought to Kuenen's notice, and he at once repudiated 
in a long letter the idea that Smith was under any 
particular " obligation " to him. Smith and he no doubt 
agreed on several points of Old Testament criticism, but 
how could it be otherwise ? On other not less important 
points Smith adopted opinions at variance with his own. 
Mr. Macaulay appeared to have deliberately suppressed 
this fact, and the points of agreement which he cites are 
common to de Wette, Ewald, and Hupfeld as well as 
Kuenen. Mr. Macaulay's whole pamphlet is one continued 

J On Professor Smith's Obligations to Dr. Kuenen, Edinburgh, 1876. 



i8 7 7] THE ARTICLE " BIBLE " 215 

proof that he knows nothing of recent criticism except 
from the English translation of Kuenen's Religion of Israel. 
" In the name of common sense and honesty " Kuenen 
protested against the unscrupulous imputation which had 
been made. 

" I do not enter on the relations of Professor Smith 
to the Free Church authorities," he concludes, " but let 
not my name be abused to transfer the question to a 
different field, and avoid the decision of the point really 
at issue the right of the Protestant theologian to com- 
municate with impartiality the results of other men's 
investigations about the Holy Scriptures and to bring 
forward openly the fruits of his own studies." 

At a much later stage of the deplorable conflict which 
was to follow, we shall find that Mr. Macaulay sank to 
even deeper depths of disreputable controversy, and we 
shall have occasion to reiterate the natural reflection that 
it would have been better for the credit of the party who 
ultimately triumphed, if they had associated themselves 
with Dr. Kuenen's manly rebuke and openly disavowed 
Mr. Macaulay and all his works. 

Another and more honourable, if equally mistaken, 
critic was silenced by the intervention of a new and 
formidable combatant. Mr. Kennedy (now Dr. Kennedy, 
librarian to the New College) published about this time 
Observations on Professor W. R. Smith's Article "Bible" 
in the " Encyclopedia Britannica." In the previous 
year he had put forth, under the initials "M. N.," a 
brochure entitled Remarks on Professor W. R. Smith's Article 
" Bible," which, perhaps, may now appear to him to have 
hardly done justice to Smith's arguments, but which was 
undoubtedly an honest remonstrance in the interests of 
"true spiritual life" on the one hand, and, on the other, 
a protest against the " blind and servile faith fostered 
by the Church of Rome." The Observations now 
offered to the public were more elaborate, but need only 
be noticed here as having provoked an important letter 
to the Press from Professor A. B. Davidson, who censured 



216 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1875- 

Mr. Kennedy somewhat severely for want of fairness 
and accuracy in his exposition of Smith's views on the 
date of Deuteronomy, a point which had assumed great 
importance from the outset of the case, and which 
in the subsequent proceedings became crucial. It was 
important to point out very clearly that Smith did not 
believe Deuteronomy to be as late as the time of Jeremiah, 
and that the insinuation made by Mr. Kennedy that he 
considered the finding of the book in the Temple not to 
have been a bonafide discovery was quite without founda- 
tion. This Professor Davidson did, and took occasion 
also to protest in general terms against the nature and 
methods of the attacks on the article and its author. 

" It is one of the misfortunes connected with this case," 
he observes, " that those who, without official call, have 
taken in hand to meddle with it, have shown themselves 
so slenderly equipped for the undertaking. . . . 

" I cannot help thinking of doubtful fairness, not to use 
a more serious word, this practice adopted by Mr. Kennedy 
of writing pamphlets under two different designations. 
Of course he meant no harm by it. But there can be no 
doubt that it tends to increase the agitation in the minds 
of those to whom the pamphlets are sent when they see 
what they suppose to be one writer after another thinking 
it necessary to appeal to them and warn them. Or, to 
take a less serious view of the matter, it is really cruel to 
alarm Professor Smith and fill his mind with the idea 
that his foes are increased, and that he is being assailed 
by ' two rogues in buckram/ when all the time what 
frightens him is only Mr. Kennedy with a ' false face.' ' 

These episodes, with many others of less interest and 
importance, led up to the regular meeting of the Com- 
mission of Assembly which took place on March 7, 1877, 
when the Report of the College Committee was presented. 
The outcome of the deliberations of the Commission was a 
unanimous agreement to refer the matter to the Presbytery 
of Aberdeen, which had jurisdiction over Professor Smith. 
The Presbytery was to meet on March 13, and, after 
seeing the articles and all the documents relating to the 



i8 77 ] THE ARTICLE " BIBLE " 217 

case, was to take such action " as they may deem com- 
petent and necessary, and as may, by the blessing of God, 
issue in securing the object so devoutly desired, viz. 
that the Church does not suffer or sustain any prejudice." 
In the course of the debate, which is not otherwise 
interesting, Principal Rainy made a speech which con- 
tained some memorable passages. Having referred to the 
painful impression which Smith's articles had made upon 
himself, and his still more painful anticipations of their 
probable effect on others, he declined for the time to 
formulate any expression of his views on the theological 
questions involved, though he allowed it to appear that 
these were on the whole conservative. He was more 
explicit on the question of what he believed to be the 
powers and duties of the Church in presence of the 
Committee's Report. 

" I hold," he observed, " that the Church is quite 
entitled to look into the question whether a man against 
whom she is not prepared to lay a libel for heresy is, 
as regards the general character of his teaching, teaching 
so that the Church should be called upon to continue 
and extend her confidence to him in that office. . . . 
I thoroughly admit the view that I might be holding 
opinions in regard to the Confession of Faith which would 
not enable you to lay a libel for heresy against me, and 
yet I might be teaching in such a way, by sheer folly or 
some other form of intellectual perversity, that you might 
be entitled to say, ' We will not have you as Principal or 
Professor in the New College.' ' 

After a reference to the duty providentially cast upon 
the Church of remaining calm and firm in the presence 
of the serious difficulties with which she was faced, the 
Principal administered a slight check to the incautious 
impetuosity of Dr. Begg and his friends. 

" I do not vary much from the ordinary opinions gener- 
ally accepted amongst us as to the wise line to take in regard 
to the judgment to be formed in regard to the evidence 
as a whole on that point [the Mosaic authorship of the 
Pentateuch]. I do not regard that as a matter of faith 



2i8 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1875- 

at all. I do not believe that Jesus and His Apostles ever 
said anything on that subject. There are materials in 
the Pentateuch in regard to which I hold no man in his 
senses will ever dream of asserting decisively that they 
are of Mosaic authorship." 

He then commended the course of ordering a thorough 
investigation of the whole case, and especially of any 
question about Deuteronomy, by the Presbytery. " Behind 
that question," he significantly added, " you have the question 
what is the safe and right and reasonable course to pursue." 

Carefully guarded as this utterance was, and even 
qualified by a remarkable admission that the Pentateuch 
might be at least composite in character, there was in it 
the germ of a policy which was not developed or avowed 
till much later, but which in the end supplied the means 
whereby Dr. Rainy forcibly imposed peace on the Church. 
The speech which he delivered in March 1877 was the 
first in which he publicly expressed his opinion on the 
subject of the Robertson Smith case : the persevering 
reader will be struck by its remarkable anticipation of 
the attitude which he finally adopted. 1 

Next day Professor Smith wrote to the Aberdeen Free 
Press a letter, in which he made reply to certain arguments 
that had been used by Drs. Beith and Moody Stuart 
in the Commission. Some sentences may be quoted ; 
" judicious " would hardly be the adjective to apply to 
them, yet it is worth remembering that Dr. Beith's con- 
version to a different view of the Smith case from that 
which he had hitherto been holding came about not long 
afterwards. 

" I regret," he says, " that so respected a father of the 
Church as Dr. Moody Stuart should allow himself to speak 
so hastily on difficult matters. I do not feel it necessary 
to say a word on his astounding argument about the 
destruction of the Canaanites, for I am not aware that 
any critic of repute has taught that the author of 
Deuteronomy wished to preach a new crusade against 

1 See Chapter X., page 414. 



i8 7 7] THE ARTICLE " BIBLE " 219 

the remnant of the Canaanites. Nor is it wise for so 
ill-equipped a critic to charge Dr. Kuenen with a ' baseless 
assertion ' when he says that in the seventh century the 
Canaanite tribes had no longer an independent existence. 
(Dr. Kuenen does not say a substantive existence, but 
geen zelfstandig bestaari). Dr. Stuart himself appears to 
recognise as probable what those who read the Bible in 
Hebrew know to be certain, viz. that, according to the 
narrative of Chronicles, the remnant of the Canaanites 
had acquired as early as the time of Solomon the position 
of gerim or privileged strangers, a class to which the Book 
of Deuteronomy extends special protection. The ger, I 
need hardly say, is a man who has lost his former 
nationality. On Ezra ix. I, Dr. Stuart may consult 
Bertheau's Commentary. I am not without hope that 
Dr. Stuart will still regret his rashness in this matter. 
I have in my hands a full and frank apology for an attack 
upon my article which he made by letter to me last 
summer, 1 and withdrew in the most candid manner when 
I showed him his unintentional injustice. I had hoped 
that this example would have taught him caution, and I 
abstained, as no important issue was raised, from pointing 
out how wholly his pamphlet on the 5ist Psalm had 
failed to apprehend the argument of those who assign 
it to the period when the destruction of the Temple 
suspended all sacrifice not merely the sacrifice of one 
man, till Jerusalem should be rebuilt. But I have not 
been able to pass over this new attack, which, made 
publicly, calls for public answer." 

With the reference to the Presbytery the case entered 
on a new phase in which compromise and moderation 
became more difficult for either party. Even after the 
lapse of a generation, those who read much more those 

1 Dr. Moody Stuart in July 1876 had written to Smith accusing him 
of asserting " that the law of high places was not acknowledged till the 
time of Josiah," and had somewhat impertinently presumed to lecture 
the author of the article " Bible " on a rashness and ignorance un- 
becoming in any writer and deplorable in a son of the manse. Smith 
was able to show that the accusation was unfounded, and administered 
a grave rebuke, which elicited from Dr. Stuart the apology referred to ; 
" I ask your forgiveness," he wrote, " for the hasty and unjust imputa- 
tion, and am sincerely sorry for the pain I have given you. Since 
writing to you I have been reading Kuenen, which if I had read before 
I should not have so misapprehended your position." 



220 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1875- 

who write of such a conflict as was now inevitable 
will find it difficult to avoid taking a side as partisans in 
the turmoil of debate. The issue in truth lay deeper 
than the most intelligent of the combatants could have 
been expected to realise. It is fortunate for any system, 
whether of philosophy or of religion, when the general 
principles to which it appeals progress pari passu with 
the knowledge of facts out of which such principles must 
inevitably be constructed. When science outgrows philo- 
sophy, and facts are assimilated faster than existing 
theories can assimilate them, the occurrence of one synoptic 
mind is enough to produce the most serious disturbances 
even in the " Metaphysics of true belief." With the 
best intentions in the world, with the most profound and 
sincerely expressed loyalty to existing standards, such a 
mind is apt to find itself at the head of a revolution. 

In 1876 the Evangelical Protestantism of Scotland 
had arrived at one of these critical moments. The 
Confession of Faith, founded on the Biblical theology 
universally current in the seventeenth century, betrayed 
a dangerous lack of elasticity when it was called upon to 
find room for the advances in Biblical scholarship which 
had been achieved between 1843 and 1875. The mere 
statement of these advances by one who explicitly and 
repeatedly avowed his adherence to the strictest evangelical 
orthodoxy was sufficient to strike terror into the devout, 
and to make it impossible thenceforth for even the faithful 
to believe quite in the same way. 

Smith was far from understanding how rapidly he was 
drifting into this position, but the fury of his more extreme 
opponents, and the grave concern which Dr. Rainy felt 
from the outset, show that there were some who realised 
not explicitly, perhaps, but clearly enough for practical 
purposes the real implications of the views he had put 
forward. Others, not involved in the domestic quarrel, and 
by no means ill-disposed to Smith, had seen it too. Shortly 
before the special meeting of the Aberdeen Presbytery, 



i8 7 7] THE ARTICLE " BIBLE " 221 

Principal Tulloch, the eminent Established Church divine, 
who was a leader of liberal opinion in that communion, con- 
tributed an article to the Contemporary Review, entitled 
" Progress of Religious Thought in Scotland." 

Towards the end of that article Tulloch pointed out 
" the obvious bearing of Professor Smith's views upon 
the whole basis of dogmatic Protestantism a bearing 
which appears to us irresistible, however repudiated by 
Professor Smith himself," and referred to the prospect of 
their leading to an entire and fundamental change in the 
attitude of the Scottish mind towards the Bible, not- 
withstanding the " hard winking " of the College Com- 
mittee, or any avowal of Professor Smith that he continues 
to hold the Protestant " doctrine of the Word of God." 

" All dogmatic authority has in Scotland, as in Puritan- 
ism generally, been supposed to rest on the Bible, ' its 
corporeal perfection ' (so to speak in the words of a well- 
known living statesman 1 ), and its absolute Divine char- 
acter. That the old ' rigid conceptions,' of which the 
Free Church itself, in its constitution, is a result, can 
survive such free handling, is simply impossible. Changes 
of all kinds must come with a changed view of Scripture . . . 
[the view that regards it] as an uncertain and progressive 
Literature rather than a literal code or transcript of the 
Divine mind. The beginning of theological reconstruction 
within the Christian Church lies in the new idea of Revela- 
tion which connects itself immediately with this advanced 
view of the Bible a reconstruction which need by no 
means be negative, although it must be largely agnostic 
leaving alone many questions which the Church has 
hitherto sought to settle. If Mr. Smith has prepared 
the way for a higher conception of Revelation and a more 
comprehensive interpretation of the progressive thought 
as it unwinds itself through the prophetic ages, his country 
will have reason to be thankful to him ; but he will 
certainly find that there have been larger consequences 
in his criticism than he himself now imagines. As yet 
his tone is too coldly analytical. As both his historic 
and spiritual sense grows deeper, and the relation betwixt 

1 Mr. Gladstone. 



222 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1875- 

Dogma and Revelation becomes more intelligible to him, 
he will learn to state his conclusions with less confidence ; 
and to see that freedom of thought is the vital atmosphere 
of all theological labour and not merely of Bible criticism." 

These were plain words, and at this distance of time the 
candid student will hardly deny that they were wise, 
weighty, and prophetic. This, however, was by no 
means the view taken of them by Smith. An occasion 
arose which gave him an opportunity of publicly speaking 
his mind about Tulloch's article, and the orthodoxy of his 
comments was so edifying that some of the more sanguine 
of his supporters believed that the case was at an end. 

Smith had now had to do with no less than seven 
academic generations in the Theological College. He 
had therefore had opportunities of influencing the rising 
ministry such as might well justify the apprehensions of the 
more orthodox that he might give them a bias in the direc- 
tion of theological liberalism. It will appear at a later stage 
that his students were not all of them submissive dis- 
ciples, but he always had many admirers among his hearers, 
and at this time his classes were apparently almost unani- 
mously on his side. They decided, at any rate, to mark 
their sympathy with their professor ; and, on the eve of 
the meeting of Presbytery which was convened for the 
purpose of taking disciplinary action about the article 
" Bible," they met together to present him with an 
illuminated address and the gift of a handsome clock. 
" Without venturing to express an opinion on the merits of 
the present controversy," the junior pupils felt constrained 
to record their appreciation of " his moral earnestness, his 
high Christian character, and his deep spiritual sympathy 
with evangelical religion." The senior students expressed 
their obligation to him for the valuable help he had 
given them towards the understanding of the Old Testa- 
ment Scriptures, and towards the defence of their faith 
against negative and rationalistic thought, " not by de- 
nunciation, but by showing us its origin and foundations, 



i8 7 7] THE ARTICLE " BIBLE " 223 

by tracing its course, and by direct criticism of its 
results." 

Smith replied to these addresses in two short speeches 
which, although he little knew it, were destined to be the 
last words he ever spoke from a theological chair. He did 
not need to assure them that he did not feel the views 
he had adopted to be at variance with the principles of 
the Church. The Church must ultimately decide whether 
they were views which she was willing to allow him to 
hold. It was particularly pleasing to him to know that 
his students at least did not think that he had lost hold 
of the realities of faith. Addressing himself to the elder 
students, he expressed his gratification that they had 
realised so clearly the principle which he had always 
sought to inculcate, that the authority of Scripture is the 
" one and all-sufficient source of our knowledge of God's 
way of salvation," and he proceeded to repudiate with 
some heat the principles of dogmatic evolution which 
Dr. Tulloch as " a leader of liberal theology in Scotland " 
had put forward in the Contemporary Review. He re- 
jected the Principal's statement " that any attempt to get 
beyond the old traditions as to the received composition 
of the Old Testament and other books necessarily involved 
a change of the doctrine of the authority of the Scripture." 
He begged his hearers not to be misled " by so-called 
liberal progressive theologians," and declared that the 
question was one in which Principal Tulloch had against 
him " the whole scriptural consciousness of the Church." 
" The Bible," he declared, " is the supreme authority. It 
is an authority in this sense, that all that the Christian 
can wish to have for salvation is in it, and also that he 
will not find anything in it contrary to truth. He will 
find that the sense is not ambiguous or uncertain, and 
yet that the whole sense is not exhausted at once, and 
that we require not only additional exegesis, but also 
historical and critical studies in order to get to the whole 
sense. That seems to me a reasonable plan of progress. ..." 



224 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1875- 

How reasonable the plan was, and in truth how far 
it would on analysis be found to differ from Tulloch's 
proposed evolution of Biblical theology, are problems 
which must not detain us here. Smith's solution did not 
satisfy his opponents; they were charmed "that he had 
so decidedly protested against the Broad Church views 
entertained in the Established Church," but they set 
their teeth in his theory of Deuteronomy, which they did 
not cease to regard as not only untenable but dangerous. 
For the time Smith himself was well satisfied with the 
effect of his pronouncement. 

" The students have done nobly," he writes to his 
brother Charles, who was by this time in India. " The 
clock and the address are both very pretty and tasteful, 
but of course that is nothing in comparison with the value 
of their kind feelings. ... It is felt that what I said 
about Tulloch has cleared the atmosphere. I have this 
opinion not only from men in town but from Whyte, 
Dr. W. Smith, and Dr. John Brown (Rab). 1 ... I have 
received this morning a capital sermon on ' Revelation 
and the Historical Books of the Bible/ 2 just printed by 
Marcus Dods. It will do good. Altogether I think 
the tide is turned." 

In this confident spirit, with the watchwords of pro- 
gressive scientific investigation and living faith in the 
Living God, he went to meet the Presbytery, which, as 
had been anticipated, found great initial difficulties in 
deciding on the precise steps to be taken. Smith began 
by formally admitting the authorship of the incriminated 
writings, but he maintained his original position that he 
was not disposed to make any general statement of his 
views except in reply to a regularly arranged statement 
of whatever charges there might be against him, and 
there was a somewhat angry extra-judicial discussion of 
the means which in the first instance had been taken to 
bring the case to the notice of the Church. 

1 Dr. John Brown simply sends his card with the words : " Most 
excellent homily and effectual Medulla Leonum." 

~ Or, rather, "On Revelation and Inspiration." See above, p. 185. 



i8 77 ] THE ARTICLE " BIBLE " 225 

It soon became clear that the two parties which had 
manifested themselves in the Church at large were each 
strongly represented in the Presbytery. The leader of 
the party of reaction was Dr. David Brown, whose share 
in these proceedings did not enhance his reputation as 
a controversialist. Smith's leading supporter was Pro- 
fessor, afterwards Principal, Salmond, who henceforth 
became a prominent champion on the liberal side. Smith's 
well-known learning, and the recent experiences certain 
fathers and brethren had had of his pugnacity, seem for a 
time to have deterred individual opponents from coming 
forward as his accusers. There was a general disposition 
among the reactionaries to screen their personal objections 
behind the decorous procedure of a committee. One of 
Dr. Brown's party rather simply observed that it would 
be " very painful for people to give in objections in their 
own names." Smith's friends, however, stood firm, and 
it was decided merely to invite members of the Presbytery 
to send in questions and criticisms relating to his in- 
criminated publications. 

On these lines the proceedings were conducted, and 
they continued at intervals through March and April, 
ending inconclusively on May 10. The fight was long and 
arduous, but Smith as usual was on the whole in buoyant 
spirits, and did not neglect the society of his friends. 
There survives from these days at least one record of a 
sitting of the " Aberdeen Academy." 

" I was at a wonderful dinner at Old Deer after the 
Presbytery with George and Archie Reid, J. F. White, 
and one or two others. George Reid sang an original 
song of considerable humour, and sat up till three in 
the morning which is a novelty for him. We had a 
very nice evening, and I had just two hours in bed 
having to rise next morning at six, at which hour I ate a 
capital breakfast. It was a capital distraction just after 
the ecclesiastical row." 

This, however, was early in the proceedings, and a 
month later in a somewhat different key he writes from 

15 



226 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1875- 

Keig to his sister. " I have had two dreadful days of 
bother in the Presbytery, and am beginning to be quite 
tired of being called a heretic. So I have come out here 
for a couple of days' rest before the thing begins again 
on Thursday." 

The questions submitted by members of the Presbytery 
were sorted into three categories. The first included 
those which the Presbytery agreed to put judicially to the 
professor; the second those which, while not officially 
adopted, were " transmitted " to him and left to his 
courtesy to answer. The third contained such interrog- 
atories as the Presbytery disapproved of altogether. The 
battle raged chiefly about the last category. Thus the 
Presbytery rejected the question, " Wherein does Inspira- 
tion, according to Professor Smith's view of it, differ 
from Spiritual illumination ? " by a majority of twenty- 
two votes to eight. A similar fate met an inquiry about 
Smith's view of the allegorical interpretation of the 
Song of Songs, and a general request for a statement 
fitted to remove the painful impression that the authority 
of all the books of Scripture was prejudicially affected by 
his insufficient recognition of their Divine Authorship, 
by his " pervading disregard of the views which are 
entertained respecting Christ, and by a tendency to 
obliterate the distinction between the Scriptures and 
mere human writings." Dr. Brown's chief anxiety was, 
as already mentioned, about the Devil, and he wished to 
ask Professor Smith why he had not at least inserted an 
allusion to the subject, were it only " See article Satan," 
in the article on " Angels." This question was rejected 
by a somewhat smaller majority than in the case of the 
others, and the finding of the Presbytery was in fact re- 
versed at a later date by the Assembly ; but by that time 
further and more important proceedings had deprived the 
matter of any significance. 

To the questions finally put and to those which the 
Presbytery "transmitted" to him, Smith made a reply, 



1877] THE ARTICLE " BIBLE " 227 

which he reserved the right to consider provisional. The 
paper containing his answers on such points as the pre- 
dictive element in prophesy, the historical character of 
the books of Jonah and Esther, and, above all, on the 
Deuteronomy question, is full of ability, but he had 
already covered much the same ground in his dealings 
with the College Committee, and he was destined to thresh 
out the question even more thoroughly in the next stage 
of the case. It will not therefore be necessary to analyse 
his statement to the Presbytery here. In view of the 
imminence of the meeting of Assembly, the Presbytery 
decided merely to report progress to their ecclesiastical 
superiors, leaving it to them to take the next step. 

Meanwhile it is clear that the heretic and his friends 
were looking forward with some little anxiety to the 
conflict on the floor of the General Assembly. Principal 
Rainy's speech at the March Commission had, as we have 
seen, contained some remarkable admissions, and a pro- 
minent supporter of Smith had written, 1 " I derive great 
consolation from the fact that Rainy has at last spoken 
out in a way he has never done in public before. He 
cannot afford to divorce himself from the young intellect 
of the Church, and his other companions cannot do 
without him." The Presbytery proceedings had, how- 
ever, revealed the extent of the opposition to any change 
in the traditional view, and Smith at a very early 
stage of the case had also discovered that, though he 
could usually carry his own Presbytery against the re- 
actionaries, he had formidable and irreconcilable enemies 
in Edinburgh and elsewhere in the South. 

The spirit displayed and the tactics used were certainly 
deplorable. Dr. Pirie Smith, after one of the hottest 
encounters, wrote to his son : 

" I read the Free Press report, and after that I read one 
or two passages from the Gospels and the Epistles. The 
conclusion I came to was that the spirit displayed by 

1 Professor Lindsay. 



228 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1875- 

your enemies was far more difficult to reconcile with the 
teaching of our Lord and His Apostles than your teaching 
with the Divine Authority and Inspiration of Scripture. 
I could not help thinking of Sanballat and Tobiah the 
Ammonite." 

All the more gratifying was the receipt of a friendly 
letter from Rainy himself, inquiring as to a passage in 
Smith's speech on Tulloch which the Principal wished to 
quote in a projected contribution to the Contemporary 
Review? and concluding in almost affectionate terms, 
" My mind often turns to you and to the difficulties and 
trials of your position. I trust in God to guide you 
and each of us, in the way that will prove to have been 
right for us to take when all these misunderstandings and 
collisions have passed away." Smith's comment on this 
was, " His note is this time genuinely kindly and marks 
a distinct advance towards sympathy with me." There 
were rumours of an appeal to what a German contemporary 
observer with unconscious prescience termed " ecclesi- 
astical lynch law." It was thought that Dr. Begg, an- 
ticipating the course of history, meant to move a suspen- 
sion of the Professor without further hearing of the case, 
and Rainy's undoubted, though, as it afterwards appeared, 
merely temporary, leaning towards progressive theology, 
raised Smith's spirits considerably. On the evidence 
before them the present writers must observe that he 
seems even then to have overestimated the probability 
of his cause having any effective support from the leader 
of the Assembly. 

" Candlish and Bruce," he writes to his brother 
Charles, " are members of Assembly expressly, as I under- 
stand, in order to give me fair play. Rainy is understood 
to be contemplating pretty decided action in my favour. 
He said to Bruce, ' I have almost made up my mind to 
cast in my lot with you fellows,' but he seemed to antici- 
pate that such a step would cost him his leadership." 

1 It does not appear to have been published. 



i8 7 7] THE ARTICLE " BIBLE " 229 

These were so far benign symptoms, and in addition 
there was a pleasant conversation with Rainy in London, 
in the course of which the latter reiterated his conclusion 
that he now considered it impossible to lay any weight 
on the New Testament references to the Pentateuch as 
determining authorship. " This," Smith was rash enough 
to conclude, "is so important in view of the weight 
which has been laid on the point by men like Moody 
Stuart that I believe it is practically equivalent to an 
assurance that Rainy is now identified with me." Never- 
theless he looked forward to the Assembly in the full 
expectation of " a serious row," and in this at any rate 
he was not mistaken. 

The General Assembly of 1877 met on Thursday, 
May 24, and rose on Tuesday, June 5. Two days were 
devoted to the Robertson Smith case Saturday, the 
26th, when the various appeals from Aberdeen Presbytery 
were heard, and Tuesday, the 29th, when the Report of 
the College Committee fell to be discussed. It seems 
hardly necessary to discuss the fate of the appeals (which 
have already been alluded to in the account of the pro- 
ceedings in the Presbytery), as the subsequent course of 
events deprived them of importance. But the debate 
of Tuesday, which formally arose out of the Report of 
the College Committee, deserves, and indeed requires, to 
be followed with attention. It was opened by the first 
of Smith's remarkable series of Assembly speeches, in the 
course of which he announced his intention to take a step 
decisive of the future conduct of the case. 

Notices of motion had been given by Dr. Wilson of 
Dundee, Junior Clerk of Assembly, and Professor Candlish, 
which clearly brought out the attitudes of the various 
parties in the House. Dr. Wilson proposed that in view 
of the College Committee's finding that the article " Bible " 
contains " statements of a dangerous and unsettling tend- 
ency," the Assembly should suspend the professor from 
his duties until the proceedings in the Aberdeen Presby- 



230 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1875- 

tery had been terminated. Professor Candlish's motion 
was to the effect that the proceedings in the Presbytery 
should be allowed to take their course, and declared 
that the Assembly deemed it inexpedient to pronounce 
any opinion for the present on the College Commit- 
tee's Report, or on any point connected with the 
case. 

Dr. Rainy, in the absence of Dr. Laughton, opened 
the proceedings by formally submitting the Special 
Report of the College Committee, without a speech, and 
the principal clerk then intimated that now was the 
time if Professor Smith wished to make any statement. 
He then, " amid breathless silence " and " with becoming 
modesty and perfect firmness," as contemporary reporters 
have it, spoke from written notes as follows : 

"Before the House proceeds to the discussion of 
motions on this subject, I think it due to the Assembly to 
make a statement which may possibly facilitate matters. 
I do so in entire confidence in the justice of the Assembly, 
and because I do not believe that any member of the 
House can desire to censure me without full judicial 
investigation. I am persuaded that the course which I 
propose to take will be seen to secure all the ends which 
the Church naturally seeks to attain, and I trust to the 
justice of the Assembly to accept and act upon it. I 
feel as strongly as any member of our Church can do that 
every legitimate step should be taken to preclude even 
the temporary suspicion that the teaching in our Halls is 
subversive of sound doctrine. And from what has 
already emerged in the case it also appears to me that my 
teaching cannot be purged of suspicion except by a 
regular judicial process. Under these feelings, and with 
a view to prevent the possibility that next session may 
come on before the matter has taken definite shape, 
and that so I may be called upon to meet my classes 
without being re-established in the confidence of the 
Church, I have come to a resolution which I think it 
due to the Assembly to intimate at this stage. At next 
meeting of the Aberdeen Presbytery I will ask that all 
the charges against me be reduced to the form of a libel, 
and that according to the ordinary operation of the 



i8 7 7] THE ARTICLE " BIBLE " 231 

rules of procedure, and without prejudice to any interest 
concerned, my functions as a teacher may be suspended 
until the case is exhausted, and the Church has given her 
judicial decision on the points involved." 

A judicial decision of all the issues was now inevitable, 
but Smith's statement did not satisfy those who were 
pressing for immediate action, and Dr. Wilson proceeded 
with his motion in a speech marked by great clearness, 
conciseness, and (granted the premises) cogency. While 
a Professor was under suspicion of holding views of a 
dangerous and unsettling tendency, the Assembly was 
bound in the interests of truth and of duty to the students 
to save them from possible injury. The suspension 
proposed was not intended as a censure, but simply as a 
precaution. The difficulties of the case would not be 
met by the course proposed by Professor Smith. Under 
a process of libel a professor could not be suspended until 
the libel had been declared relevant, and the College 
Session would probably be at an end before the Presby- 
tery could possibly arrive at that point. Before sitting 
down Dr. Wilson, who discharged his ungracious task 
with considerable tact and dexterity, took occasion to 
declare that his motion was " framed in the most friendly 
spirit towards Professor Smith, for whom he entertained 
sentiments of most affectionate regard. It is the earnest 
wish of my heart," he observed, " that this whole business 
may be concluded in a way not only in harmony with 
Divine truth but in vindication of Professor Smith's 
position, so as to preserve to the Church at large, and 
to us, his valuable services." 

Dr. Moody Stuart, still smarting from his last en- 
counter with Smith, seconded the proposal, and, after 
some discussion, was allowed to read a speech dealing 
with the whole question of the admissibility of the views 
stated or implied in the article " Bible." He was under- 
stood to say that for him these views stripped certain 
books of the Bible of all authority, robbed them of all 



232 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1875- 

their value, and criminally set at nought the testimony 
of the Apostles and of Christ Himself. 

The counter proposal, that the Assembly should for the 
time do nothing, was moved by Professor Candlish and 
seconded by Mr. Ferguson of Kinmundy, one of the lay 
members of the College Committee, in speeches which 
can hardly be said to have stirred the House. Proper 
emphasis was laid on the Professor's well-known and 
frequently declared Evangelical orthodoxy, on the 
effectiveness of his defence of the Church's faith on more 
than one public occasion, and on the credit reflected on 
the Church by his eminence in Biblical scholarship. 
With equal propriety the Assembly was warned of the 
danger of hurrying into a theological position which 
might afterwards prove to be untenable, and of the 
injustice of ordering a suspension in the case of Professor 
Smith which was not customary in ordinary cases of 
procedure by libel. These contentions so far succeeded 
as to make a few members of the House uneasy about 
the justice of first suspending and then trying a man, 
and an attempt was made to find some middle way. 
No sufficient body of support for this was, however, found, 
and the debate proceeded on the lines at first laid down. 

Professor Bruce pleaded earnestly for caution and delay. 
The result of further consideration might be to show 
that Professor Smith was not so far wrong as was being 
at the moment supposed, the simple truth being that his 
views had come rather unexpectedly upon a community 
ill-prepared to receive them and to understand clearly 
their bearings. Time would probably show that views 
now considered dangerous were really harmless and 
capable of being treated as open questions. The numer- 
ous pamphlets which had appeared were of no value and 
entitled to no weight, though by their misrepresentations 
they had sent up to the Assembly a large number of 
prepossessed judges. Dr. Bruce did not conceal that there 
was great perplexity in his own mind in respect of many 



i8 7 7] THE ARTICLE " BIBLE " 233 

of Professor Smith's statements a perplexity shared, 
it would seem, by the College Committee. This was 
not matter of reproach, but was emphatically a reason 
for acting cautiously. 

Dr. Begg delivered a characteristic speech, appealing 
with truculent sophistry to the ignorance and prejudice 
of his hearers. He was clearly of opinion that Professor 
Smith's theory about Deuteronomy could not be allowed 
in the Free Church. Professor Candlish had objected to its 
being called a theory of personation, but it was. On 
this Dr. Candlish rose to protest that it was not the case 
that Professor Smith believed it to be personation, and 
with the aplomb of the hustings Dr. Begg replied that 
he did not know what Professor Smith believed, but 
whoever used the word had, he thought, made a very 
good selection, and so forth. 

Dr. Rainy handled the situation with all his parlia- 
mentary skill, contrived, with his customary reserve, 
to keep his engagements with the Liberals without 
prejudicing the other side upon the theological issues, 
showed enough and no more than enough sympathy 
with the defendant and his friends, and paid a proper 
tribute to their abilities and character. He rebuked 
Dr. Begg more gently than he deserved, but sufficiently 
to maintain the credit of the tribunal, by declining 
to take seriously the suggestion that Professor Smith 
regarded the book of Deuteronomy as a product of 
fraud and personation. He viewed some matters in 
Professor Smith's writings with deep concern, but some 
of the questions therein raised were such as the Church 
must face. There were some questions as to the history 
or composition of certain books regarding which he had 
no doubt, but on which he would not seek to bind the 
beliefs of others. He himself, for instance, had come to 
the conclusion that the book of Isaiah was by a single 
author, but he handsomely allowed that Professor Bruce 
might be equally orthodox in thinking otherwise. " There 



234 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1875-1877] 

were, in fact, some questions of criticism upon which they 
had hitherto held a common belief which he was pre- 
pared to admit as open questions. . . . But, on the 
other hand, there was much in Professor Smith's modes 
of stating things calculated to give great concern, and 
which had given great concern ; and, more particularly, 
there appeared to be danger attaching to his method in 
so far as it was calculated to give young and ardent 
men an example of confidence in conjectural opinions 
which might be more unfit for them than for himself." 
After some earnest words upon the dangers of unreasoning 
panic, Principal Rainy, turning to the question of pro- 
cedure, cast his influence unreservedly on the side of Dr. 
Wilson. Like him, he disclaimed the association of any 
idea of censure with the temporary suspension of Professor 
Smith, and indicated that if any such suspicion should 
arise, it would be owing in a large measure to those who 
needlessly imported it into the motion. 

The Assembly consisted of 710 members ; of these 
604 took part in the vote between the two motions, 
when it was found that Dr. Wilson's motion had been 
carried by the overwhelming majority of 378 (491 to 113). 

On Monday, June 4, this decision was followed by 
another, giving unusually extended powers to the Com- 
mission as a court of final appeal. This does not, however, 
greatly concern us here. 



CHAPTER VI 

THE FIRST LIBEL (1877-1878) 

SMITH being suspended from his academic duties was 
free to devote the whole of his time and energy to his 
defence. He felt his suspension very deeply, and in 
the intervals of the controversy we already begin to 
find him facing the possibility of the termination of his 
official connection with the Church, though he still 
regarded this as remote, and though his courage and 
cheerfulness in the actual struggle never seemed to flag. 
He returned to Aberdeen immediately after the Assembly 
proceedings, and in a letter to Keig observed : 

" I now feel very much tired out, but otherwise I am 
quite well, with good spirits and attitude. . . . The 
last proposal made to me was one from Balliol College 
that I should sign the thirty-nine articles and take the 
next vacant Balliol living ! l 

" I have good hopes that all will still come right in 
the Free Church." 

Two days later he wrote to the Presbytery, formally 
requesting that the charges against him might be reduced 
to the form of a libel, and then left Aberdeen for a 
few weeks' much-needed holiday. On his return, he set 
out for London to resume his labours on the Revision 

1 Some months later he wrote to his brother : " I preached twice for 
Dr. Allon, Editor of the British Quarterly Review. The English Inde- 
pendents seem generally to take my side, and I got a plain hint from 
Allon, who is one of their leading men, that, if I was turned out, they 
would be glad to make room for me in one of their colleges." 

2 35 



236 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1877- 

Committee. He writes to his brother in India from the 
Jerusalem Chamber in the intervals of a discussion on 
the book of Hosea : 

" Since Assembly time I have had a very pleasant 
holiday. I came back to Aberdeen thoroughly tired 
out, and went south to visit Mr. Campbell of Tullichewan. 
He is, as perhaps you know, one of the great Glasgow 
merchants, and his place, Tullichewan Castle, at the foot 
of Loch Lomond, is charming, with a magnificent view 
of Ben Lomond ; and the Campbells are excellent hosts. 
Mrs. C. is a great Liberal in thought and very much 
inclined to be friendly with heretics. Her husband is a 
very liberal man in giving and a very kindly good man, 
but it was not generally expected that he would show 
the kind interest in this case which he has displayed. I 
stayed at Tullichewan for a fortnight, doing almost 
nothing but enjoying idleness and a little lawn-tennis. 
Then I went on to Oban by the beautiful route through 
Glenfalloch and on by Dalmally. There I joined Mr. J. 
Stevenson of Nile Street, Glasgow, and spent a week in 
his large yacht the Blue Bell, We had light and contrary 
winds which hindered us somewhat from doing all we 
proposed. However, we got to Tobermory the first 
night, then to Loch Coruisk, Canna, Rum, Staffa, etc. 
So I have seen a good deal of the most beautiful part of 
the Hebrides. Our main disappointment was that we 
were prevented by the wind and weather from getting to 
lona. 

" We had Dr. Walter Smith and his wife on the yacht. 
Dr. Smith is excellent company, and so is Mr. Stevenson, 
who, by the bye, is a cousin of my friend John Stevenson 
here, with whom I am living as usual." 

Meanwhile the Presbytery had in his absence held 
two meetings to consider his demand for a libel. They 
showed the greatest perplexity, and ultimately decided 
to do nothing until August, after the holiday season. 
Following the formal tenor of the decision of the Assembly, 
they considered it necessary to put the questions about 
which Dr. Brown had appealed, and Smith was once 
more summoned to state his views on the noth 
Psalm and on the real existence of fallen angels 



i8 7 8] THE FIRST LIBEL 237 

and the agency of Satan. To this requisition he replied 
that he considered himself precluded for the present 
from answering, in view of his request that he might be 
put on his trial, a request which he again respectfully 
pressed upon the Court. To this there could be but one 
reply, and in August a committee was appointed to frame 
a libel against him. 

The task imposed on these gentlemen was not easy. 
Apart from the substantial difficulties inherent in almost 
any prosecution, and particularly in a prosecution for 
false doctrine, the forms which had to be observed by the 
promoters of a process for heresy were in those days very 
intricate. If a similar case arose (or could be imagined 
as arising) at the present time, the defender would be 
presented with a simple and business-like document 
setting forth the names of his accusers and stating at 
length the false doctrine with which he was charged, with 
explicit references to the passages in the standards of the 
Church on the one hand, and on the other hand to the 
writings in which the heresy had been published. The 
procedure in the Robertson Smith case followed the 
stately fashion of our ancestors. 

It will have become apparent, even to those unac- 
quainted with the terminology of the Scots Law, that in 
ecclesiastical proceedings a " libel " corresponds almost 
precisely with the indictment in a criminal process in 
the secular courts. In Smith's time indictments and libels 
alike were drawn in the old ratiocinative form, bristling 
with "words of style" and verbosities of all kinds, and 
intolerably cumbrous in the exposition of a complicated 
matter. The Procedure Act 1887 has reformed indict- 
ments in the Criminal Courts of Scotland, and the improved 
practice of the Assemblies has simplified libels, to the great 
advantage of the administration of justice. In 1877 the 
old Form of Process was obligatory. Then the major 
or leading proposition, according to the prescription of 
the learned Baron Hume, still stated " the appellation of 



238 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1877- 

the crime meant to be charged " or, if it had no proper 
name, described it at large, and characterised it as a 
crime that is severely punishable. The minor proposition 
averred the panel's guilt of the crime, and supported the 
averment with a narrative of the fact complained of. 
The conclusion inferred that, on conviction by the verdict 
of an assize, he ought to be punished with the pains by 
law attached to his transgression. 

Assistance was of course not wanting to the Com- 
mittee in finding a correct technical model for the ex- 
pression of their charges, but as the weeks passed it was 
rumoured that more serious difficulties had arisen as to 
what precisely these charges should be. These difficulties, 
of course, came to Smith's ears, and not unnaturally 
caused him some satisfaction. 

" I have got some news this morning about the libel," 
he writes to his father on August 27. " First, I saw 
Selkirk, who had asked Selbie 1 what the major was to be, 
and had gathered that they had got no major from the 
Confession. But I have more news from Hendry. . . . 
It is, at all events, Selbie who is understood to have 
said . . . that they were in very low spirits in the Com- 
mittee. For, firstly, they had not got nearly so much 
material as they expected, then the material they had 
found was very hard to put into shape, and, finally, they 
found that I had been very guarded. Altogether I 
gather they are making little of it." 

After a month's deliberation the document so far 
took shape that it was laid in draft form on the table 
of the Presbytery, though it was found necessary to allow 
another month for private consideration before advanc- 
ing it a further stage. Its progress was delayed by 
the necessity of invoking the help of counsel for the 
settlement of details, and by the death of Mr. T. Gardiner, 
the most prominent of Dr. Brown's lieutenants. Of this 
event Smith wrote : " What a sad thing Gardiner's 
death is. It is painful to have met a man for the last 

1 A hostile member of the libel committee. 



i8 7 8] THE FIRST LIBEL 239 

time in contest, and to remember that he was irritated. 
Still, I don't think I overstepped what was necessary. 
But it is a lesson to be on one's guard. I suppose Dr. 
Brown must now step into the gap. I hope there will be 
no new delay." 

The libel from the first reflected the uncertainty and 
perplexity of its framers,which became more marked as the 
document approached its final form. The Presbytery 
took over and adopted the allegations of " tendency " 
which had formed the substance of the observations of 
the College Committee, but which when expressed in the 
legal phraseology of the Form of Process lost much of 
their original cogency. Smith was very active in " look- 
ing up old cases and precedents, and in general settling 
a good line of action." He consulted many friends, both " 
ecclesiastical and legal, among whom are prominently 
mentioned Mr. Gibson, Mr. Taylor Innes, Dr. Whyte, 
and above all Professor Candlish of Glasgow, who became 
day by day a more firm and affectionate ally. The 
result of these consultations is shown in a letter from 
Glasgow written about the middle of October : 

" After looking up as much information as possible in 
Edinburgh, I came here yesterday forenoon. 

" I found by looking through the old heresy cases, with 
the aid of Taylor Innes, Gibson, etc., that it will be 
unwise to plead any formal objections to the libel at this 
stage. Other libels, notably that against Wright of 
Borthwick, which is Moncreiff's specimen libel in his 
book, were extremely unsatisfactory in form and yet 
were allowed to stand. 

" So I have resolved to make no objections in limine, 
and I have advised Salmond, while trying to get some of 
the most glaring faults corrected, if possible by consent, 
not to risk an appeal at this stage to the Commission." 

This decision not to raise technical objections and to 
hasten the inevitable encounter on the merits of the case 
was no doubt a wise one, and shows, contrary to what 
was and is frequently said of him by his opponents, 



240 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1877- 

how little disposed Smith was to take advantage of the 
law's delay. What did annoy and alarm him was the 
disposition to shirk the main issue of the heretical or 
non-heretical character of his writings, which had already 
been manifested in the " tendency " charge, and which 
about this time began to manifest itself in a new and 
even more insidious form. In all times of critical debate 
there is apt to emerge a body of weak and veering opinion 
which advocates a compromise unacceptable to either 
party to the real quarrel. Such compromises rarely fail 
to complicate and confuse the issues, and the good in- 
tentions of their proposers do not redeem the dangers 
which result from their interference. Something of the 
sort happened in the Aberdeen Presbytery, where some 
of Smith's least courageous supporters became alarmed 
at the show made by the enemy, and thought it necessary 
to conciliate public opinion by getting into the libel a 
charge of less gravity than the others, on which, if the 
worst came to the worst, Smith might, as they thought, 
be nominally condemned without any very serious 
consequences. Following this plan, which Smith rightly 
regarded as highly dangerous, they procured the insertion 
of a third general charge, which was really the "tendency" 
charge in an attenuated form, to the effect that " the 
neutrality " of Smith's " attitude " to the Holy Scriptures 
and " the rashness of his critical construction," " tended 
to disparage the Divine authority and inspired character 
of certain books." " Even a condemnation on such a 
charge," observed the defendant, " will give Begg, if he 
has a majority in the Assembly, a pretext for some 
violent action." The mischief was done, however, and 
the charge of " neutrality," to use a convenient short 
title, remained part of the libel. 

The last months of the year were laborious and trying 
for Smith, in spite of his enforced relief from College work. 
He had at least one journey to London for the Revision 
Committee, and several others had to be undertaken for 



1878] THE FIRST LIBEL 241 

the purpose of consulting his friends in the south. The 
case of Dr. Dods, who had been prosecuted in the Presby- 
tery of Glasgow for the sermon on " Revelation and In- 
spiration" mentioned above, and the somewhat unsatis- 
factory and inconclusive course which it was taking, 
was another cause of anxiety to him at this time. He 
was already engaged in drawing up a formal answer to 
the libel, and the Presbytery proceedings at Aberdeen, 
where his brethren were wrangling over the verbal 
alterations in the libel suggested by the legal adviser 
to the Free Church, required constant watching. All 
this, as might have been expected, at times placed an 
excessive strain on Smith's health, and produced symptoms 
which Sir Lauder Brunton, whom he consulted while in 
London, traced directly to overwork in connection with 
the defence, to which Candlish and others of the pro- 
gressive party, depressed by the Dods case, were looking 
forward with hope not unmixed with anxiety. 

The preliminary stages were now, however, nearly 
over. The alterations proposed by counsel were, in at 
least one point, favourable to Smith's interests. In the 
major proposition, " contradiction " of the doctrine of 
immediate inspiration was substituted for " subversion," 
which had stood in the original draft. This after a 
struggle was accepted by the Presbytery, to the annoyance 
of Principal Brown and his party, who loudly complained 
that " it destroyed their libel and that they could not 
prove contradiction." The libel was corrected in this 
and other respects, and was duly transmitted to Smith 
on February 12, 1878. 

It is now time to take a comprehensive survey of this 
remarkable and elaborate document. The major pro- 
position, as it emerged from the long preliminary dis- 
cussion, was unusually complicated. Its foundation was 
" the doctrine of the immediate inspiration, infallible 
truth and Divine authority of the Holy Scriptures, as 

16 



242 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1877- 

set forth in the Holy Scriptures themselves and in the 
Confession of Faith." It laid down as self-evident that 
(a) to deny this doctrine, (b) to tend to deny it, and 
(c) to adopt a neutral or not sufficiently cordial attitude 
regarding it, " are severally offences, especially in a 
Professor of Divinity, which call for such censure or other 
judicial sentence as may be found adequate." 

These three alleged offences, which came to be called 
the first, second, and third general charges, formed the 
true substance of the major, but it was necessary for 
the prosecution to particularise more carefully. Accord- 
ingly they specified eight heretical opinions, 1 each of 
which might be considered under the three general 
aspects of denying, tending to deny, or not sufficiently 
asserting the Divine inspiration of the Bible, and which 
were to be found in Smith's incriminated writings. 
The authentic text of the libel has been printed in an 
Appendix to this volume, where it may be consulted by 
the curious ; but in giving a clear enumeration of these 
opinions, which is necessary for the understanding of the 
subsequent course of the case, it will be profitless and 
confusing to preserve the interminable involutions of the 
ecclesiastical syllogism. The following summary omits 
nothing, it is hoped, but the verbiage of the original : 

Primo. The laws and ordinances of the Levitical 
system were in great part not instituted in the time of 
Moses. 

Secundo. Deuteronomy does not possess the character 
of a historical record which it claims, but was made to 
assume it by a writer of a much later age. 

Tertio. The sacred writers took freedoms and com- 
mitted errors like other authors. They gave explanations 
that were unnecessary and incorrect ; they put fictitious 
speeches into the mouths of their historical characters ; 

1 As was to be expected, these opinions played a great part in 
the case, and became very familiar to every one concerned. They 
were currently and almost affectionately referred to as " Primo," 
" Secundo," etc., and we shall find it natural and convenient to follow 
this practice. 



i8 7 8] THE FIRST LIBEL 243 

they gave inferences of their own for facts ; they de- 
scribed arrangements as existing at a certain time which 
did not come into existence till long afterwards ; they 
wrote under the influence of party spirit and for party 
purposes. 

Quarto. Certain books of Scripture are of the nature 
of fiction, and in literary merit they are not all on the 
same level. 

Quinto. The book of Canticles is devoid of any 
spiritual significance, and only presents a high example of 
virtue in a betrothed maiden. 

Sexto. The New Testament citations of Old Testament 
books by the titles then current cannot be regarded as 
conclusive testimony as to their actual authorship. 

Septimo. The predictions of the Prophets were due 
merely to so-called spiritual insight, and were not pre- 
dictions in the sense of being direct supernatural revela- 
tions of events long posterior to the date at which they 
were uttered. 

Octavo. The reality of Angels is in the Bible a matter 
of assumption rather than of direct teaching, as also 
is their endowment with special goodness and insight 
analogous to human qualities. 

The minor proposition followed with the complaint 
that " true it was and of verity that he, the said Mr. 
William Robertson Smith," had, in certain passages of 
certain writings acknowledged by him, expressed such 
opinions, and the conclusion inferred that he ought to 
suffer the appropriate pains and penalties. As Smith 
admitted the authorship of the articles complained of, 
the sole duty of the prosecution was to establish the 
" relevancy " of any or all of the charges. That is to 
say, they had to show that the eight opinions alleged to 
be heretical were in fact expressed in the passages of his 
writings to which reference was made in the minor, and 
that, so expressed, each or any of them contradicted, 
tended to contradict, or did not sufficiently assert, the 
fundamental doctrines set forth in the major proposition. 
As in most heresy cases, the contest began and ended 
with the question of relevancy. " Probation," that is, 



244 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1877- 

the proof that the alleged acts had in fact been com- 
mitted by the " panel," l which is naturally the most 
important part of a criminal case, was necessarily an 
entirely formal and subordinate part of the proceedings. 
While the libel was receiving its finishing touches, 
Smith was assiduously engaged in preparing his written 
answer. 

"The defence is a very ticklish bit of work," he writes 
to his brother on the last day of January, " as one must 
make the faults of the libel very plain, and yet not irritate 
the people needlessly or embarrass one's own friends, or 
give a handle to misrepresentation. However, thanks 
to Gibson, Bryce, and Mackay, I think I have set the 
tendency charge in such a light that they will be afraid 
to persist in it. ... Begg is in very ill odour since his 
approach to the Lord Advocate, 2 which will help my 
friends. But matters look very uncertain. Rainy is 
said to be studying the question of Scripture. Should 
he not have done so before ? " 

A week later he was able to announce to his father, 
" I have only now to put a sting in the tail of my answer 
in one or two sentences. ... I feel much relieved ! 
And I am not really so fagged as I was some days ago 
indeed am remarkably well and vigorous." Shortly after 
this the " Answer to the Draft Form of Libel " was 
published in the form of a pamphlet of sixty-four pages. 
It is a spirited performance in the best and most dignified 
controversial style and in every way worthy of its author. 
The ability and good temper with which the accusations 
were answered will sufficiently appear from the summary 
and extracts which it is necessary to give here for the 
purpose of the narrative. 

Smith began by waiving the points of form which he 
might have argued, having " no wish to embarrass a case 
already overloaded with technical difficulties." He pro- 
ceeded to admit the general relevancy of the first general 

1 A term of the Scots Law signifying the accused party. 
2 With overtures towards a reunion with the Established Church. 



i8 7 8] THE FIRST LIBEL 245 

charge of promulgating opinions contradictory of the 
Confession of Faith, and further that such contradiction 
need not be verbal. " I admit," he said, " that it is 
quite enough to infer Church censure that my statements 
should be proved to be logically inconsistent with what 
is taught in the Standards, by a chain of strict reasoning 
in which every link is complete." 

As regards the two alternative charges of " tendency " 
and " neutrality " he stood in a different position. As 
regards " tendency " the exact meaning of the accusation 
was difficult to discover, but might be conjectured to be 
that the habit of thought fostered by the opinion com- 
plained of was likely to encourage the adoption of views 
not easily harmonised with the Standards, or with views 
popularly associated with the Standards, or " with views 
which have been sometimes used to support or illustrate 
the doctrines of the Standards. In short, the opinions 
libelled under this alternative are held to increase the 
difficulty of believing, and on that account it is proposed 
to suppress them by an act of judicial censure without 
inquiring whether they are true or false." He proceeded 
to prove from the explicit language of the Form of Process 
that it was illegitimate to call Church censures into 
action " by the simple will of a majority in order to put 
down opinions from which they apprehend some con- 
tingent danger to Faith." 

" But if the charge is inconsistent with the constitution 
of the Church, it is also utterly opposed to the ordinary 
principles of justice. It is a charge which no reasonable 
and equitable Church court could recognise, because it 
is too vague and indeterminate to be brought to a clear 
issue. It is a charge which can hardly be repelled, because 
different men will attach different meanings to it. It 
falls under the dangerous and invidious class of con- 
structive offences which have been banished from the 
law of constitutional countries as necessarily involving 
grave injustice to the accused, and placing the definition 
of what forms matter for charge not in any clear and 
ascertained constitution, but in what may happen to be 



246 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1877- 

the opinion or feeling of those who are called at the time 
to be administrators of the law. Such a charge is danger- 
ous to justice in any court, but it is doubly dangerous 
in a court of popular constitution. 

" To admit before a popular court a charge which cannot 
be referred to fixed principles, which cannot be defined 
with precision, or made to mean the same thing to every 
one concerned, and which, therefore, must be ultimately 
measured by the feeling of the judges, is to obliterate the 
distinction between justice and the will of the majority, 
between unpopular opinions and offences. To allow 
such a charge to be brought before the Courts of the 
Church would offer direct encouragement to popular 
agitation as a means of controlling the course of justice, 
and place in the hands of any one who can gain the 
popular ear a ready instrument for repressing discussion, 
giving scope to injurious imputations, and practically 
working grave injustice. No Church which does not 
pretend to infallibility could venture to embarrass the 
administration of its judicial functions by admitting a 
charge which in principle nullifies every legal precaution 
against the miscarriage of justice, and makes it possible 
for a majority to inflict judicial censure on any fresh 
movement of Christian life in the Church." 

The rest of the argument is devoted to the considera- 
tion in detail of the eight specific charges of heresy. 
Smith's line of defence on these will be made clear in the 
ensuing narrative. 

The Answer was widely circulated and met with much 
approval from Smith's friends. Mr. Gibson wrote : 

" The impression produced by your defence outside 
seems to me excellent, and what must seem the best to 
you is the keen interest awakened in it in people who 
don't generally care for such questions; . . . from all 
neutral quarters you may rest assured that there is only 
one opinion as to the ability and good taste of your 
defence, and that is enough to rest on ; for whatever 
comes of it you have done more to advance the light by 
this process than fifty years' lecturing would have accom- 
plished, so you needn't grudge the time." 

His old teacher Lagarde sent his good wishes from 



i878] THE FIRST LIBEL 247 

Gottingen, but the most remarkable communication he 
received was from Professor Ritschl. In the Robertson 
Smith case Ritschl saw Ritschlianism on its trial, and 
his letter is a striking and rather diverting illustration of 
the advantages of the onlooker who is not directly con- 
cerned in the game : 

"... Your Answer is first rate, and I have greatly 
enjoyed the manner in which you light up the question 
of the danger to faith that may be involved in doctrines 
not themselves erroneous. I am glad too to learn that 
the Westminster divines give to the doctrine of inspiration 
a meaning so broad that we can be content with it. 
If it were compulsory to interpret the clauses of the 
Confession in accordance with the theological usage of 
the framers, the case would perhaps be otherwise. I 
wish you all success in your defence, but am not without 
anxiety on account of the Trvev^a /carai/u^ews l with which 
the majority of your Assembly last summer showed 
itself to be filled. My hope is that the leaders of your 
Church a Church which, like every other, is open to 
secular influences possess a proper respect for the 
public opinion of your country, which I am glad to see 
takes you under its protection. 

" If you were right last year in calling me the ' only 
begetter' 2 of the Aberdeen heresy, I wonder if it will 
be any consolation to you to know that a follower of 
my theology who belongs to the Moravian brotherhood 
has just been dismissed from his school. Against him 
also the allegation was made that the Bible cannot be 
God's word, if it merely contains the early records of 
Christianity (as if the two branches of the disjunctive 
had any relation to each other !) and that his theology 
says nothing about the pre-existence of Christ, the Virgin 
birth, and so forth (as if one were bound to say everything 
that can be said however irrelevantly about any 
subject that comes up for treatment at all)." 

The " adversary," as Smith began about this time 
half-humorously to call the prosecution, could not be 
expected to take such a favourable view. Smith had 
renounced his opportunity of raising technical points. 

1 " Spirit of stupor," Rom. xi. 8. 2 Urvater. 



248 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1877- 

His opponents seized the first opportunity of being litigious, 
and, at the very first meeting of Presbytery at which the 
libel came up in its finished form an attempt l was made 
to exclude the Answer, on the ground that it could not 
be admitted before the libel as a whole had been found 
relevant. This objection was not sustained, and the 
Answer was accepted by the Presbytery as a document 
in the case. The next manoeuvre attempted by the 
prosecution was very severely criticised by Smith's 
friends, and cannot, on the most lenient estimate, be 
described as dictated by zeal for the discovery of the 
truth of the matters before the Court. Dr. Brown's 
policy, it appeared at the next meeting of Presbytery, 
was to take the case in bulk, to approach the libel, so 
to speak, in the impressionist spirit, and proceed to 
pronounce all the charges relevant without more ado, 
steadily and strenuously refusing to be committed to 
any of the details. 

The first general engagement in the campaign was 
fought on this issue, and lasted until far into the night. 
Principal Brown was gradually driven back, and finally 
agreed to discuss particulars under each general charge. 
The discussion which preceded this very important 
decision need not detain us. Smith had a substantial 
majority with him in his claim that " the contention that 
it was only necessary to prove generally that he had 
been teaching against the Confession, without proving 
the particular and individual things which he had done 
contrary to the Confession, was one that, if adopted, 
would do him the gravest injustice, and make the whole 
course of legal process absolutely ridiculous," and no 
one will now be disposed to deny that, in deciding as they 
did, the majority acted like sensible and honourable 
men. 

1 This was due to the ingenuity of Mr. D. Mitchell, an Aberdeen 
advocate (solicitor), a lay member of the Presbytery, who had stepped 
into the position of chief assistant to Dr. Brown, which had recently 
been vacated by the death of the Rev. Mr. Gardiner (see above, p. 238). 



1878] THE FIRST LIBEL 249 

The Presbytery next devoted a series of five sittings 
to the eight particulars under the first charge of contra- 
dicting the Confession of Faith, and in these debates the 
Defence, as Dr. Brown had been inclined to fear, proved 
victorious all along the line. 

The discussion on Primo, which alleged unorthodox 
opinions on the subject of the Aaronic priesthood, very 
nearly went by default in Smith's favour. In his written 
Answer he had in substance stated that he had never 
doubted that Aaron was Priest before the Ark in the 
wilderness, or that in the wilderness the tribe of Levi 
had been consecrated to its special vocation. In view 
of this explanation, the discrepancy between what Smith 
had written and the charge which had been based upon 
it was so obvious that after Primo had been read by the 
clerk there was a long and awkward pause. As no one 
seemed ready to move the relevancy of the charge, Smith 
claimed that it dropped of itself. Dr. Brown in response 
to such a challenge proved equal to the occasion, and 
formally moved that it be held relevant. The brief 
discussion that followed gave Smith the opportunity of 
reiterating what he had said in the Answer, and of adding 
that he had always taught that the institution of the 
Levitical priesthood was under the direction of God 
Himself. A party division followed, in which the prose- 
cution mustered their full strength, and the result was 
that the charge was declared irrelevant by eighteen to 
fourteen. On no subsequent occasion did the numbers 
voting in the majority fall below twenty-four, and only 
once again did the minority number so many as fourteen. 

Secundo, the charge on which in the event the case 
was destined to turn, formed the burden of discussion 
at the next meeting. Smith's views of Deuteronomy 
had always been regarded as the head and front of his 
offending, and we have already seen how prominent a 
place they occupied in the writings and in the imagination 



250 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1877- 

of " the adversary." The Answer had pointed out that 
the libel had, no doubt unintentionally, misrepresented 
his meaning. The article " Bible " by no means affirmed 
that Deuteronomy was a book of a professedly historical 
character, which did not in fact possess that character ; 
on the contrary, it showed that the book, or rather part 
of the book (the legislative section of Deuteronomy), 
which at first sight might seem to be strictly historical, 
appeared on a closer consideration not to be so, and not 
to have been so intended by the author. Smith utterly 
repudiated the charge that he held the author guilty of 
making his book assume a character which it did not 
possess, and of doing so in the name of God. ' The 
supposition," he had written, " that Deuteronomy contains 
a fraud put forth in the name of God is as abhorrent to 
me as it can possibly be to the authors of the libel." The 
whole character of the book excludes such a hypothesis. 

" But, on the other hand, there are facts connected 
with the laws it contains which to me and many others 
seem to exclude the idea that it is simply the report of a 
speech by Moses containing no ordinance that he did 
not give to the Israelites. We cannot give up the 
Pentateuch as a book which from its very origin was a 
hopeless riddle, and therefore we must call in critical 
inquiry to help us to understand why one law-book 
contains precepts which not only appear inconsistent to 
us, but which in many cases must have been equally 
puzzling to the Hebrews themselves. Now the critical 
solution starts from the hint afforded by the peculiarity 
that Israel's statute-book is also a history. Suppose the 
case that, after the original laws had long been current 
in historical form, it became necessary to introduce, 
under adequate prophetic authority, some new ordinance 
to meet the changing conditions of political, social, and 
religious life. It cannot be said that this is an impossible 
case, or that legislation by prophets later than Moses is 
inconsistent with the spirit of the Old Testament dis- 
pensation. But how could such a law be added to a 
statute-book which had the peculiar shape of a history of 
Israel in the wilderness ? Apparently, says criticism, the 
only way to make the new law an integral part of the 



i8 7 8] THE FIRST LIBEL 251 

old legislation was to throw it into such a form as if it 
had been spoken by Moses, and so incorporate it with 
the other laws. Of course, if this plan was adopted the 
statute-book ceased to be pure literal history. The 
ascription of a law to Moses could no longer be taken 
literally, but could only indicate that the law was as much 
to be observed as if it came from Moses, and that it was 
a legitimate addition to his legislation. Such a method 
of publishing laws would not be free from inconvenience ; 
but the actual unquestioned inconveniences of the 
Pentateuch, when measured by our ideas of a law-book, 
are so great that this cannot prove the thing impossible. 
On the other hand, there is no deceit implied in the use 
of an artificial literary form proceeding on a principle 
well understood, and so it is a pure question of literary 
and historical evidence whether the Hebrews did at one 
time recognise and use such a principle. There is one 
piece of direct historical evidence which seems to show 
that they did, for in Ezra ix. n, a law is quoted from 
Deuteronomy vii., expressed in words that throw it back 
into the Wilderness period, and yet the origin of this 
law is ascribed not to Moses but to the Prophets." 

To the argument which, in view of its importance, has 
been here given at some length Principal Brown and his 
friends vouchsafed no articulate reply, but contented 
themselves with a formal motion of relevancy. The 
victory of the Defence was secured by a party, the members 
of which took up the legitimate but comfortable position 
that they disagreed with the views complained of but did 
not believe them to be contrary to the Confession. No 
one could be found bold enough to sustain the position, 
which had been defended by Dr. Begg and repudiated 
by Dr. Rainy in the last Assembly, that Smith had 
deliberately represented Deuteronomy as a product of 
fraud and personation, and the majority for toleration 
rose to six. Dr. Brown, however, still felt that the 
Divine Authority of Deuteronomy had been compromised 
by the article " Bible," and he recorded that opinion in 
a dissent which practically repeated the words of the 
rejected charge. 



252 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1877- 

On Tertio, the evidence for which was drawn entirely 
from the article " Chronicles," the allegations of lowering 
the character of inspired writings by imputing human 
inaccuracies and unveracities to their authors, utterly 
broke down. Dr. Brown admitted that he did not in 
his conscience believe that contradiction of the Confession 
of Faith was clearly proved under this head, and as a 
solution of the casuistical difficulty in which he found 
himself he proposed not to vote at all. Smith pointed 
out that in the circumstances the Principal was bound 
to vote for the rejection of Tertio as irrelevant, to which 
Dr. Brown, according to the shorthand note, made the 
rather curious reply, " I beg to say that I shall claim 
my liberty to act as I please . . . my mind is in a state 
in which I do not choose to go into the distinction that 
has been drawn by Professor Smith. And allow me, 
when you are insisting on this line, to remark that you 
shall not have my vote." 

The results of these controversial days, and the progress 
which the views represented by the article " Bible " and 
the " Answer to the Draft Form of Libel " were making 
out of doors, were very satisfactoiy to Smith and his 
friends. 

" We have had a very good day," he observes, in a letter 
to his mother written after some hard-fought sederunt, 
and perhaps immediately after the ignominious collapse 
of Dr. Brown which has just been described. "... The 
Free Press will give you details. I am tired but well. . . . 
I continue to get very nice letters, etc. My Answer is 
in the second edition first edition 500 copies exhausted 
same day. We have much to be thankful for, even to 
the bitterness of Brown and Mitchell, which is helpful in 
every way. Papa comes out at midday to-morrow. 
Good night ! Keep cheery, and come in with Papa on 
Tuesday." 

The success he had already had in convincing the 
Presbytery of the confessional soundness of the Higher 
Criticism made it easier for Smith to take a conciliatory 



i8 7 8] THE FIRST LIBEL 253 

tone, and in the debate on Tertio he took the Court so 
far into his confidence as to tell them of the cancelled 
paragraph (see facsimile, p. 180) which he had at first in- 
tended to prefix to the article " Bible," and in which 
he had stated his distinct dogmatic views on the point 
now raised. He pointed out that in that paragraph 
he had assumed the Bible to be a record of Revelation, 
and had stated the ground of that assumption, formally 
opposing the contention of the Tubingen school, whose 
hypothesis is that everything which is supernatural is 
untrue, and explaining that, while he acknowledged the 
Divine characteristics of Holy Scripture, he would in the 
course of the article treat solely of its literary aspects. 

The prosecutors were of course quite entitled not to 
allow this important declaration to influence their judg- 
ment, and, in spite of the growing hopelessness of their 
case before the Presbytery, they went on manfully to 
further defeats on Quarto and Quinto, for which one 
meeting was found sufficient. On the former charge 
Smith had no difficulty in showing that it was no matter 
of faith that the book of Job was throughout a record 
of literal fact, and no disparagement to the canonical 
standing of books of Scripture to say that writers and 
copyists used freedom in modifying and rearranging 
texts. Was it denied, for instance, that some one com- 
posed Psalm cviii. out of Psalms Ivii. and Ix. ? These 
things did not interfere with the perfect adequacy of 
the Bible as a rule of faith and life, and they had no more 
right to stumble at them than at the errors of grammar, 
inconsecutive sentences, and other human imperfections 
which Scripture, with all its Divine perfection, con- 
tained. If he had separated the Book of Daniel from the 
prophetic writings he had done no more than is done in 
the Hebrew Canon itself, where the book is placed, not 
among the Prophets but in the Hagiographa. 

There was a certain languor, and perhaps also a certain 
delicacy, in the discussion of Quinto, the burden of which 



254 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1877- 

was the precise construction which should be placed 
upon the Song of Solomon. The majority declined to 
associate themselves with the mover of the relevancy of 
the charge (Dr. Longmuir) in being " shocked " at the 
" account " which Professor Smith had given of Canticles, 
and Quinto was summarily dismissed. 

Sexto failed because, while it charged Smith with 
opinions which contradicted or ignored testimony given 
in the Old Testament, and also that of our Lord and 
His Apostles in the New Testament, on the subject of 
the authorship of the Old Testament Scriptures, the 
prosecution were unable, on being challenged, to quote 
any passages containing such testimony, nor did the ex- 
tracts from Smith's writings contain any such opinions as 
were alleged. 

Septimo, which dealt with alleged disparagement of 
prophecy by " representing its predictions as arising 
merely from so-called spiritual insight," and by excluding 
prediction altogether in the sense of revelation of future 
events, was a charge of considerable importance. The 
Answer, after setting forth the three passages of the 
Confession of Faith which relate to the subject, had 
briefly summarised what had been Smith's own uniform 
teaching, and had appealed to the Presbytery to " judge 
whether these statements could have been penned by 
one who was not in full accord with the doctrine of the 
Confession." When the libel spoke of representing the 
predictions as arising merely from so-called spiritual 
insight, based on the certainty of God's righteous purpose, 
these were not his expressions. He did not say that the 
predictions were based on the certainty of God's purpose, 
but that the encouragements and threatenings in con- 
nection wherewith prophecy took a predictive shape 
were so based. Again, he did not speak of " spiritual 
insight," much less of " merely so-called spiritual insight." 
But he did speak of " spiritual intuition " ; and that for 
two reasons, because in the Old Testament the prophetic 



1878] THE FIRST LIBEL 255 

word is called Chazdn (pin) a " seeing " or intuition, 
and because this intuition, as its object is supernatural, 
is necessarily spiritual. " As for the charge of excluding 
prediction in the sense of direct supernatural revelation 
of events long posterior to the prophet's own time, it is 
irrelevant ; for the Confession makes no distinction 
between direct and indirect prediction, and does not 
speak of any predictions save those foresignifying Christ, 
which I have amply acknowledged." 

In moving the relevancy of this charge Dr. Brown 
once more revealed the impotence of the prosecution by 
an attempt to evade the issue as defined by the legal 
adviser to the Church and accepted by the Court. He 
explained in the course of his speech that he was now 
allowing himself a certain judicial latitude in his inter- 
pretation of the word " contradict," as he thought that 
" subvert " would have far better expressed what he 
believed to be the real nature of the offence. His seconder, 
Mr. Bannatyne, 1 improved on this and explicitly declared 
that he maintained that every vote under the first general 
charge was given under covert of and in accordance with 
the complaint of the minority against the changing of 
the word " subvert " into the words " contradict or are 
opposed to." For this statement Mr. Bannatyne was 
very properly ruled out of order by the Moderator, and 
the usual majority for the Defence was recorded. 

The last particular, Octavo, related to Smith's offence 
against the received doctrine of Angels. It will be re- 
membered that, dear as this charge was to Dr. Brown and 
his friends, very little could be made of it by the College 
Committee. The Presbytery proceedings were destined 
to dispose of it finally. In the Answer Smith had pointed 
out that the libel ought rather to have accused him of 
holding that the Old Testament rather takes the reality of 
angels for granted than makes it matter of direct teaching. 
Nay, more, the authors of the libel might have observed 

1 Now Professor Bannatyne of the Free Church of Scotland. 



256 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1877- 

that in the Confession itself the creation and reality of 
angels are taken for granted, and do not form matter 
of direct teaching. Again, when he is blamed for saying 
that the ascription of certain endowments to angels 
appears (viz. in the Old Testament) as a popular assump- 
tion, not as a doctrine of revelation, he is merely making 
a statement of fact. The allusions to an analogy between 
the goodness and wisdom of men, and these qualities as 
displayed in a special way by angels, occur in speeches of 
Achish the Philistine, the woman of Tekoah, and Mephi- 
bosheth, not one of whom, surely, was a mouthpiece of 
revelation. The relevancy of Octavo was rejected by 
twenty-five to five, the finding of the Court being that 
Octavo was irrelevant under the first of the major, inas- 
much as the contents of that particular and of the corre- 
sponding extracts in the minor, when properly under- 
stood, are in entire consonance with the Scripture and the 
Confession of Faith. 

Thus the Presbytery in open court, discussing the 
libel in detail, arrived on every point at the conclusion 
that Professor Smith's writings contained no heresy 
the same result as had been reached by the College Com- 
mittee sitting in camera on Dr. Young's ten accusations. 

However satisfactory this result might be to the 
victorious party, they had always before them the un- 
pleasant prospect that all the charges would be tried 
again by the Synod of Aberdeen, and ultimately in all 
probability by the General Assembly, sitting as courts 
of review, with the exception of Octavo, on which Dr. 
Brown and his party did not feel themselves in a position 
to appeal. Besides this there remained for the con- 
sideration of the Presbytery the second and third general 
charges of "tendency" and "neutrality," under each of 
which if the endurance of the brethren held out it would 
be competent to discuss all over again each of the eight 
particulars. The extracts from the Answer, given earlier 
in this chapter, will have enabled the reader to take the 



i8 7 8] THE FIRST LIBEL 257 

measure of the fairness and propriety of these charges. 
Smith, as we have also seen, flattered himself that he 
had put the " tendency " charge in such a light as to make 
it impossible to persist in it, while the accusation of 
"neutrality " seemed hardly fit to be taken seriously either 
by the judges or by the Defence. "Tendency," however, 
was now the best hope of the adversary, and even 
" neutrality " was still thought good enough to keep in 
reserve. 

After the rejection of Octavo the Presbytery adjourned 
till March 12, and Dr. Brown spent the interval in making 
technical appeals to the Commission of Assembly on 
points of procedure which gave him an opportunity of 
ventilating his grievance about the substitution of " con- 
tradict " for " subvert," and other matters. The result 
of these proceedings was, however, quite inconclusive, 
and, as they had no effect whatever on the progress of the 
case, the reader will no doubt be content to pass them by. 
When the Presbytery met on March 12, the conflict 
was renewed with great vigour on the general issue of 
" tendency." The first point which came up, viz. whether 
the libel was " alternative " or " cumulative," was 
settled in Smith's favour after a somewhat sharp passage 
between him and Mr. David Mitchell, in which the latter 
had the worse, and it was decided that the Defendant, in 
the least favourable event, could be convicted only on 
one of the three general charges. The meeting then 
passed to the main issue of debate. 

As regards the handling of the charge of " publishing 
and promulgating opinions of a dangerous and unsettling 
tendency " the Court occupied quite a new position. The 
Defendant, as he himself had said, could not but admit 
the general relevancy of the first charge against him of 
teaching contrary to the standards of the Church. He 
had been acquitted by the Presbytery, on the ground that 
it had not been brought home to him that his teaching 
was of that character. As we have explained, he had 

17 



258 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1877- 

taken up quite a different attitude towards the charge 
of " tendency," and had denied that it was a charge which 
could properly be brought against him at all. The 
discussion, therefore, which followed was on the question 
whether the second alternative in the major could stand, 
and the proceedings have a different and more concen- 
trated interest than those which we have been obliged to 
follow at length in the preceding pages. 

Relevancy was moved in a motion in support of which 
it was argued with some plausibility, not only that a high 
authority Sir Henry Moncreiff had declared it com- 
petent for the Church to frame a libel against a minister 
or a professor for anything which it thinks deserves to be 
interfered with ("his teaching may be dangerous to the 
Church, injurious to its doctrines, compromising or mis- 
representing "), but further, that Professor Smith himself 
had asked that all the complaints against him should be 
reduced to the form of a libel. The counter-motion was 
brought forward by the Rev. Mr. Yule. In its original 
form it was perhaps of somewhat evil omen : for it ran, 
" that the Presbytery find the second charge irrelevant 
because ' tendency ' is not a matter that can be dis- 
posed of under the libel, and while it is their opinion that 
a dangerous and unsettling tendency does exist in some 
of Professor Smith's writings . . . they consider that 
until the libel is disposed of it is not competent for them 
to proceed by way of admonition with regard to this 
' tendency.' ' But after a brief conversation the mover 
agreed to limit himself to the negative part of his motion 
to the effect that " tendency " was not a proper subject 
for a libel. At this point the debate was adjourned. In 
the interval Smith writes to his father : 

" I am glad we got an adjournment, for we could not 
have done justice to the matter to-day. I shall be much 
better of a day's rest and hope to give a good account 
of the adversary. But the thing is gradually becoming 
sickening in its tediousness. 



i8 7 8] THE FIRST LIBEL 259 

" I hope you got well home and are now feeling more 
at ease. Don't be uneasy about me. Whatever the Pres- 
bytery may decide, the debate will do much to open men's 
minds, and perhaps it may in the long run be better to 
have the discussion kept open as will be the case if 
Yule's motion is defeated. ..." 

At the adjourned debate Smith delivered an elaborate 
argument showing that this was a new kind of charge, 
and that, if it was to be allowed as a precedent, they 
would never again see a charge of heresy without this 
alternative. The difficulties thus raised would be enor- 
mous, for, as a man was never charged with heresy unless 
there was some peculiarity in his opinions, every one who 
was offended by these peculiarities would be enabled to 
vote against him on the alternative charge, a state of 
things which no Church could possibly contemplate. 
The official reply was that the charge was perfectly 
definite and fair. It was obvious at once, for example, 
how the new theory of Deuteronomy was dangerous to 
the doctrine of Inspiration by suggesting the idea of 
fraud. The result showed how half-hearted had been the 
support of some who had voted him innocent of heresy, 
for, on a division, Smith found himself defeated by one 
vote. On this occasion, and on this occasion only in the 
course of the proceedings, he took part in the division 
himself, and he did so, as he made clear, in order that he 
might be entitled to dissent and complain to the Synod 
of Aberdeen against the finding of the Presbytery. This 
he did in due form, and he also took another step with 
a view to future events. The Presbytery, having held 
that " tendency " was in itself a proper charge, had now 
to consider whether on any or all of the eight particulars 
this charge could be brought home to the accused. Smith, 
therefore, requested an adjournment for a fortnight in order 
that he might have time to prepare a statement with refer- 
ence to the eight points embraced under the " tendency " 
charge. Despite some demur on the part of Dr. Brown 
and others it was agreed to adjourn further consideration 



260 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1877- 

of the libel till after the meeting of Synod, and to allow 
Professor Smith to lay the statement to which he had 
referred before the Court. 

Smith was by no means dismayed at this first reverse. 

" I suspect," he wrote in a hasty note to Keig immedi- 
ately after the sitting, " that, after all, the result of 
yesterday's work will be for the best. So narrow a 
majority is not enough ... in an important constitu- 
tional question. There will be strong popular feeling 
in my favour, and now the Presbytery is bound to go 
into the whole scientific evidence before condemning me, 
and I have a month to prepare a new pamphlet on these 
lines. 

" I feel very well to-day and wonderfully fresh, while 
I get daily proofs of growing public sympathy in various 
quarters. ... I propose to take a box of books next 
week and go to Tullichewan." 

Meanwhile the tenor of his life was practically un- 
broken. He preached frequently, and carried on his 
literary work much as usual. It was in these very days 
that he completed and sent to press his article " Eve " 
for the Encyclopaedia, though he was obliged to abandon 
the article " Ezra," which he had promised to write, in 
view of the new defence of his critical views which had 
to be prepared at such short notice. Among the " daily 
proofs of growing public sympathy " was a letter from 
Dean Stanley thanking him for a copy of the Answer. 
In the course of this letter Dr. Stanley observed : 

" I quite concur in your general contention that all 
questions of literary criticism are wholly outside the 
Confession of Faith not because the authors shared the 
enlightened views of Luther and Calvin on the authorship 
of the sacred books, but because these questions did not 
enter into their consideration. I do not feel the same 
assurance about Angelology and Prophecy partly be- 
cause I do not gather exactly what your own views are, 
and partly because the legal question can always be 
raised, whether these topics are in the Confession treated 
as primary or as incidental. 

" The most obvious danger, it seems to me, in your 



i8 7 8] THE FIRST LIBEL 261 

path is the sentence you quote from the Form of Process. 
That looks to me almost like a legal recognition of the 
claim which the ' orthodox ' or ' popular ' theologians of 
all churches are always trying (and happily in vain) to 
establish viz. the pretension to insist on their own 
interpretation of the Bible, and their own acts or usages, 
as overriding the authorised liberties of the Church." 

The Dean ended by expressing his good wishes for an 
issue which would tend to the larger freedom " by which 
alone the reasonable faith of the next generation can 
be secured." Similar hopes were expressed by Smith's 
distinguished acquaintance, Sir William Huggins, 1 one of 
whose many interests had led him to make some study 
of Hebrew literature in the original tongue. 

" I am sorry to find," wrote Sir William, " there was a 
small majority against you as to tendency that is, if 
certain things are proved. Painful in the extreme as 
this persecution must be to you, I think that you may 
have the satisfaction of feeling that the attempt to 
smother truth and a spirit [of research will do more pro- 
bably to advance your views than even your own writings. 
... I think David must have been before a presbytery, 
for I do not think any circumstances so well as those in 
which on several occasions you have been placed could have 
suggested his lament : errs "hs ^B ^nn:? ;qn rpatf " 2 



The Free Synod of Aberdeen met on April 9 and 10, 
and after all parties had agreed to refer to the Assembly 
the appeals on the charges which had been decided in 
Smith's favour by the Presbytery, the House proceeded 
to discuss the question of the general relevancy of the 
" tendency " charge. The principal contribution to the 
debate was Smith's own speech. He repeated the main 
points already urged upon the Presbytery against a 
charge which placed the Church in the curious position 
of condemning opinions she had not refuted. If the 

1 Sir William Huggins, O.M., K.C.B., the illustrious astronomer, 
President of the Royal Society from 1900 to 1905. 

1 Psalm xxii. 12, 13 (E.V.) : " Strong bulls of Bashan have beset 
me round ; they gaped upon me with their mouths." 



262 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1877- 

existing standards of the Church did not exclude such 
opinions, steps should be taken by means of the legis- 
lative powers possessed by the Church to supply the 
defect. " Why," he asked, " is that not sufficient ? I 
can imagine a practical reason. I can imagine that it is 
thought possible that the Church may be willing to 
condemn one man for an opinion, but that it will not be 
willing to add to its Confession clauses which may drive 
hundreds of its office-bearers and thousands of its members 
out of the Church." This was received with great 
enthusiasm by his supporters, and it appears that the 
members of the public attending the sitting were so 
demonstrative in their expressions of approval that the 
Moderator had to address a reproof to the galleries. 

" Surely," Smith concluded, " it has always been the 
principle of Protestantism that every man is bound to 
judge for himself of the Word of God. No doubt, if by 
judgment for myself of the Word of God, I come to 
something which is at plain issue with the constitution of 
this Church, then there are before me two courses one 
is to lay my divergence before the Church and endeavour 
to prove that I am right and the previous confession 
wrong, and if I fail to do so it will be my duty to seek 
for myself another Communion. Here is a very different 
thing from a process which would enable the Church at 
any moment, without any principle to refer to, to stop 
the exercise of the inalienable right of every believer, 
the right to search the Scriptures." 

Dr. Brown, who had a very mixed reception from the 
meeting, and others representing the prosecution, again 
developed their case, and the discussion ended with a 
brilliant debating speech in reply by the Defendant, who 
sought to show that the precedents relied on by his 
opponents were inapplicable to the circumstances of his 
case. He so far succeeded that the finding of the Court 
below was exactly reversed, the Synod sustaining his 
appeal by a majority of one. Notice was thereupon given 
of the inevitable protest and appeal to the Assembly. 

The immediate result of this finding was for the time 



i8 7 8] THE FIRST LIBEL 263 

being to spare the Presbytery the discussion of the eight 
particulars under the " tendency " charge. 

The situation at this moment is well summed up in a 
letter to his brother Charles in India, in the course of 
which Smith writes : 

"... For the last three weeks or so I have been 
very busy with a new defence of the truth of my views 
in answer to the charge of ' tendency ' as opinions are 
clearly not dangerous in tendency in a censurable sense 
unless they are false. However, as you will see from the 
papers, that is now of no use : for the Synod has re- 
versed the Presbytery's finding and found ' tendency ' an 
inherently irrelevant charge. This is a great advantage ; 
for everything now comes up to the Assembly as having 
been given in the first instance in my favour. Every- 
thing, at least, except Laidlaw's absurd charge (of 
' neutrality ') which I hope will be easily thrown out. 
Now I don't think the Assembly will venture to find 
direct heresy in my views. Then at worst they can only 
find ' tendency ' relevant in the abstract and send the 
details back to us, when we may succeed in throwing 
them out. But from some lectures of Rainy 's in London 
I suspect (taking other indications with me) that he will 
oppose the 'tendency' charge. If anything is done against 
me I think it will be in a more indirect way, viz. by 
forbidding me to teach certain views, on grounds of 
expediency, without settling any doctrinal principle. 
Moncreiff , on the other hand, is keen for the ' tendency ' 
charge. . . . 

" I must now consider what to do with my second 
defence, which is partly printed. I think I'll probably 
go on with it for the information of the Church." 

This plan was carried out; the Additional Answer 1 
was published in the beginning of May, and occupies an 
important place in the remarkable series of published 
vindications of the Higher Criticism which Smith issued 
in the course of the case. The finding of the Synod 
had for the time rendered it unnecessary for him to 

1 The full title is: Additional Answer to the Libel with some account 
of the evidence that parts of the Pentateuchal Law are later than the time 
of Moses. 



264 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1877- 

reply in detail to the " tendency " charge, but the 
Presbytery could not withhold its consent to the pub- 
lication of the new Defence which, from every point 
of view, tended to clear the issues, and to simplify the 
difficult task of deciding what was to be the Church's 
final attitude towards the Higher Criticism. 

No arguments which were at variance with his previous 
acquittal on the charge of contradicting the standards of 
the Church could, Smith contended, be admitted under 
the general charge of tendency. The impugned opinions 
classified under the familiar eight heads from Primo to 
Octavo must be refuted on their merits, or at least on 
grounds other than their alleged inconsistency with the 
Confession of Faith. Careful attention must therefore 
be given to all arguments favourable to the critical 
opinions in question, nor will it be enough to say, after 
examining them, that these arguments do not appear on 
all points to be quite conclusive. 

" It cannot be proposed to stifle historical inquiry 
because it has not yet reached its ultimate goal." It is 
the duty of the court to condemn no opinion as dangerous 
until it has been demonstrated to be false, and to master 
the whole scientific evidence for each opinion before 
venturing to assert that it is untrue, and in its untruth 
dangerous to faith. In almost every case, he proceeds, 
it will be found that the offence which has been given by 
his writings, and the dangerous tendency which is thought 
to appear in them, are not due to anything in his positive 
critical construction, but merely to the fact that he 
rejects old views as inadequate. He has said, for 
example, that in his opinion there are insuperable 
difficulties in the old view that all the Pentateuchal 
laws are of Mosaic date. He proposes, therefore, to 
show the court that the traditional views which he has 
surrendered as inadequate are themselves really en- 
cumbered with difficulties so grave that it cannot be 
safe nay, it is highly dangerous for the Church to pin 



i8 7 8] THE FIRST LIBEL 265 

her faith to their accuracy, or to forbid her members to 
aim, with such scientific helps as they can command, 
at the construction of some more consistent account of the 
Biblical facts. The remainder of the Additional Answer 
accordingly (some seven-eighths of the whole pamphlet) 
is devoted to the defence of this thesis ; considerations 
of space lead him to confine his discussion to Primo and 
Secundo ; but it is added that the other six particulars 
may be discussed later if the course of the case makes 
this necessary. 

Many scholars expressed themselves in terms of warm 
admiration of the clearness and force with which these 
arguments were set forth. Professor Diestel of Tubingen, 
for example, by no means an unbelieving critic, sent his 
best wishes for the complete victory of the righteous cause. 
He had read the Additional Answer, or rather devoured 
it at once, with the intensest interest. 

" You marshal your evidence," he observes, " with 
a clearness and keenness that must produce a deep 
impression. Some of it is new to me, at least in the 
form in which it is presented. I cannot remember, for 
example, to have met anywhere before your remarks 
(with which I entirely agree) on the bodyguard of the 
Temple according to Ezekiel, or the conception of ger, or 
the ma'alot of the altar. And what you say on the law 
of tithes is new and most apposite, especially in this 
illuminating combination." 

Smith had not been mistaken in his estimate of the 
effect likely to be produced on the Presbytery by Dr. 
Laidlaw's charge of " neutrality." It came up for dis- 
cussion on April 16, and after a short debate was dis- 
missed by a majority of 27 to 9, and finally disappeared 
from the case. Smith wrote laconically to Keig that 
the case was finished and the " adversary very dis- 
heartened." It was by no means finished, as soon appeared, 
but the party in the Presbytery which had been responsible 
for the "neutrality" charge thought the moment oppor- 
tune for an attempt to take a short way with the whole 



266 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1877- 

question of Professor Smith and his heresies. It was 
proposed during his absence in London, where the 
Revision Committee were " having a very dull time with 
the unintelligible minor prophets," in the first place that 
the Presbytery should drop the appeals against the 
Synod's finding on the general charge of " tendency," but 
that they should express the opinion that there are many 
statements in Professor Smith's writings which in their 
mode of expression and in their bearing on opinions 
generally accepted in the Church have given deep offence 
and caused wide uneasiness, and which afford sufficient 
ground for conference with Professor Smith and ad- 
monition by the Presbytery or other competent judicatory 
of the Church. 

This proposal, which is interesting as the first of several 
similar endeavours to get out of the increasing difficulties 
of the case, was discussed at some length and with some 
acrimony. The substantial result was that both parties 
agreed that the time was not yet come for such a summary 
solution, and the matter was left to the Assembly which 
was now imminent. 

We have already seen that a rumour had been current 
to the effect that Dr. Rainy had been studying the subject ; 
and we have it on good authority that he had expressed 
himself to a relative as feeling that he was " bound to 
give any help he could to people's thoughts about it." 
His efforts resulted in four lectures, delivered at the 
theological college of the English Presbyterian Church 
in London, "to an audience of young men, belong- 
ing to various professions and walks of Life," and after- 
wards published in a small volume entitled The Bible 
and Criticism (London, 1878). We are at the outset 
warned, with much frankness, not to expect too much. 
" Some readers may naturally think that the subject 
invites a historical sketch of what criticism has been " 
(one might add, some account of what it now is). But 
any such hopes are doomed to disappointment. For, 



i8 7 8] THE FIRST LIBEL 267 

it is explained, the story " could not be told without 
constantly expressing, or implying, a judgment on the 
merits of critical opinions . . . while it would have 
been impossible within the limits to convey an intelligent 
apprehension of the grounds of the judgment." More- 
over, a modest doubt is becomingly enough expressed as 
to the competency of the tribunal. 

" Criticism is not my department. . . . [Its] questions 
interest us all. I, like others, have attended to them as 
much as I could. But on many of them my judgment 
must be provisional. I have not had time to master the 
accomplishments, or form the habits of mind, which justify 
a man to speak as an expert, conversant at first hand with 
all the kinds of evidence adduced in connection with these 
questions." 

Very characteristic is the stipulation that the lecturer 
is not to be understood as deciding questions which are at 
present pending in the courts of his church. When in 
the course of his exposition he dissents from an opinion, 
he does not thereby decide whether it ought to be a 
forbidden opinion ; when he recognises an opinion as in 
general compatible with faith, he does not thereby decide 
whether it should be free to men to teach it in his own 
church. 

It does not appear from the lectures themselves what 
at the time of their delivery were Principal Rainy's 
views as to the various counts of the libel from Primo to 
Octavo ; we know, however, from other sources that he 
was averse from any binding pronouncement on the 
subject, and, as we have just read, Smith seems to have 
gathered that he was not likely to press the " tendency " 
charge. As his biographer remarks, he " leaves the 
argument in a balance." At one time he seems to be 
with all his heart accepting the teaching of Rothe, Ritschl, 
and Smith himself, to the effect that what criticism 
teaches us to look for in the Bible is simply the history 
of redemption, the story being thrown into any form that 



268 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1877- 

"... makes sincere history for the object in view ; not 
perhaps into forms that would be counted sincere or exact 
history for some totally different object. For the one 
thing the Bible has to say of a man may give us a very 
different impression about him from that which we should 
have if we had before us twenty other facts which might 
have been told. The Bible, whether or not free from 
minor inaccuracies, at least does not undertake to 
guarantee us against false impressions about them." 

Much of this could hardly have been better or more 
strongly said by the heretic himself. On the other 
hand, Dr. Begg had to be consoled, and his consolation 
consisted in such exhortations as these : " Let a man 
stand by what he knows, especially what he knows in 
his inward experience. . . . Let us never under- 
value the instinct of the believing mind which rises 
up against anything that threatens to rob it of its 
treasure." " Some of the things which criticism says, 
or at least which are said in its name, create in various 
degrees discomfort ; " and solicitude is naturally awakened 
when " views claim acceptance of which it is feared that 
they make dangerous concessions or approximations to 
the enemy, that they virtually give up the Christian 
position or some essential part of it." However, in the 
end, those who are tempted to be impatient when criticism 
comes forward with assertions based on microscopic 
points that have no apparent connection with edification, 
and " takes liberties with things that the Christian heart 
delights to reverence," are frankly reminded that " though 
questions will arise, and processes of proving will take 
place, which the devout mind would feel it more comfort- 
able to avoid," yet nevertheless it is "part of (their) 
duty to knowledge to investigate whatever can be 
investigated." 

Before giving an account of the Assembly proceedings 
it is once more necessary to take a brief survey of the 
precise situation of the doctrinal quarrel. The per- 
spicacious reader will by this time have realised that under 



i8 7 8] THE FIRST LIBEL 269 

the first general charge of contradicting the standards of 
the Church, the most vital particular, and the one on 
which the most dangerous misconceptions were current, 
was Secundo, under which Smith was accused of repre- 
senting Deuteronomy as a professed record of contem- 
porary history which did not really possess that character, 
but was deliberately made to assume it at a date long 
subsequent to that of its ostensible composition. At the 
risk of being tedious we again venture to restate briefly 
the truth about this. 

There are three possible views of Deuteronomy, of 
which the first is that it was all written by Moses. The 
second is that Moses wrote none of it, and that the book 
is a literary forgery perpetrated for more or less pious 
purposes, probably by Hilkiah the High Priest towards 
the close of the seventh century before Christ. According 
to this view Hilkiah, anticipating the ingenuity of the 
authors of the forged Decretals, put off his handiwork 
on his young master King Josiah as the genuine production 
of Moses, and supported his story by a pretended dis- 
covery of this treasure of antiquity in the Temple where, 
according to his account, it had lain hid during the political 
troubles of previous reigns. Smith opposed both these 
theories. He maintained that the author of Deuteronomy 
was neither Moses nor Hilkiah. He believed ex animo, 
and frequently stated his belief, in a system of Mosaic 
legislation directly given by God. He believed further 
that the development of this legislation, though it began 
with Moses, did not end with him, but was continually 
being revealed to a divinely appointed and divinely 
inspired order of prophets who from time to time, under 
the guidance of the Holy Spirit, adapted the Mosaic system 
to contemporary needs, following out a genuine evolution 
of Mosaic ideas. In so doing they used a convention, 
legitimate and recognised in all ancient literatures, but 
more particularly in the literatures of the East, and 
incorporated their new and necessary ordinances with 



270 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1877- 

the history of the first institution of the law of Moses, 
presenting them as part and parcel of that law. 

The uncritical piety of this period of which Dr. Begg 
was the most prominent, and Sir Henry Moncreiff the 
most respectable representative held, or professed to 
hold, the first of the views which we have just stated. 
Even by this school of thought, however, difficulties had 
been felt in maintaining throughout the Mosaic view, and 
various orthodox expedients such as the recognition of 
a recension of the Pentateuch by Ezra had already been 
resorted to for the purpose of solving such problems 
as those raised by the account which is given of the 
death of Moses himself in Deuteronomy, ch. xxxiv. This 
compromising temper was, however, emphatically dis- 
owned by those who were responsible for the agitation 
which had been conducted since the publication of the 
article " Bible." Their position as accusers did not 
perhaps require them to make explicit and reasoned 
statements of their own opinions, but it did place them 
under a very strict obligation to understand and do 
justice to the views held by the accused. It cannot be 
denied by any candid inquirer that they signally failed 
to discharge this obligation. In spite of Smith's frequent 
and lucid explanations of his own position, and of his 
vehement and reiterated repudiations of that held by 
Kuenen and others, they persisted in representing his 
view of Deuteronomy as the view which presented that 
book as a product of fraud and personation. The standard 
of intelligence necessary to avoid this error is not exor- 
bitantly high, and, as persistence in it became the main 
support of the prosecution, it can only be described as 
due to an intellectual dishonesty which was only half 
unconscious. Whatever its origin, we deliberately say 
here that the identification of Smith's position with the 
position of those who held and hold that Deuteronomy 
was fabricated by Hilkiah was neither more nor less than 
a gross perversion of the truth. 



r8 7 8] THE FIRST LIBEL 271 

Such perversions are not by any means uncommon 
in history, and the orthodox will no doubt philosophically 
regard them as divinely permitted for the confusion of 
heretics. Smith unfortunately failed, like most heretics, 
to realise how great was the respect for this peculiar con- 
ception of sincerity which the Free Church demanded 
of her servants. The point is admirably put by Dr. 
Carnegie Simpson in his Life of Principal Rainy. 

" If the Church," he observes (i. 314), " was taken 
by surprise by Professor Smith's views because they 
seemed to shake her faith in the Bible, not less was 
Professor Smith taken by surprise by the way they were 
received, because it seemed to shake his faith in the 
Church as a body ready to consider any new light on 
truth. . . . This feature of Professor Smith's mind has 
not been sufficiently appreciated beyond his own circle 
of friends. That undoubted inconsiderateness of temper 
to which I alluded . . . prevented many people from 
doing justice to it. It was one of the purest and most 
interesting qualities of his mental character. ..." 

Smith's surprise that the Church should condemn 
views which were at least so far true that she could not 
prove them either to be erroneous or in contradiction 
with her creed, was a new and disconcerting feature. We 
shall see that it became so displeasing even to those who 
substantially admitted he was right, that they combined 
with the ignorant multitude in declaring him to be 
" impossible " and fit only to be driven into the wilderness. 

These, however, in their completeness were later 
developments. On the eve of the Assembly of 1878 
Smith with his habitual overconfidence seems to have 
regarded the charge of contradiction as being finally 
disproved, and his anxieties centred in the charge of 
" tendency," the vagueness of which gave the utmost 
scope to his accusers. 

He knew by this time that Sir Henry Moncreiff and 
also Dr. Wilson, Sir Henry's colleague as Clerk of Assembly, 
held to the opinion " that tendency would serve in lack 



272 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1877- 

of a better charge," and that " this might infer deprivation 
though not deposition." But he " hoped that the two 
old gentlemen might not persuade the Church," " and 
at any rate," as he observed in a letter to his brother, 
" unless the Assembly lynch me, we gain a year, which 
ensures victory." On the other hand, Dr. Rainy 's lectures 
did not forbid the hope that his powerful influence would 
be cast on Smith's side. How far this expectation was 
realised will now appear. 

In 1878 the General Assembly of the Free Church 
met at Glasgow on Thursday May 23, and sat until Tuesday 
June 4; it devoted the whole of Monday (May 27), the 
whole of Tuesday (May 28), and a long sitting on 
Friday (May 31) to the Smith case, which also came 
before it in certain matters of detail on Saturday June i 
and Monday June 3. The first business was, of course, 
to take up the appeals from the inferior courts. It was 
decided almost at once that it would not be advisable 
at the stage which had now been reached to alter the 
wording of the libel. Dr. Brown therefore failed in his 
endeavour to have " subversion " of the standards substi- 
tuted for " contradiction " in the first general charge. He 
was no more fortunate in his attempt, which he renewed 
with remarkable pertinacity, to have the libel taken in 
bulk, and the appeals were therefore considered seriatim. 

The House then proceeded to hear the appeal on Primo, 
and Smith had another opportunity of repudiating the 
charge that he had ever denied the divine institution of 
the Aaronic priesthood. The Assembly, before coming to 
judgment on this particular, resolved to hear the pleadings 
on Secundo also ; these extended over the whole of Monday 
evening, and Smith once more expounded with great 
fulness his view on the authorship of Deuteronomy. It 
was not an opinion which he expected would that night, 
or next day, or even for a long time, be commonly adopted. 
It was one which always would to some extent be the 
peculiar property of scholars, and which, therefore, any 



i8 7 8] THE FIRST LIBEL 273 

Professor would feel it his duty to put in a very subordinate 
place. He would never feel it to be part of his work for 
the Church to give such critical work an important place 
in his teaching, which was mainly directed to prepare the 
students for their pulpit work. In conclusion, he said 
that the present controversy would be an easy one if the 
Church would say that there was to be no criticism 
whatsoever. If it was the Church's opinion that they 
should accept traditional views without inquiry that 
they were not in anywise to go against tradition as to 
authorship then, of course, the question was a very 
short and easy one. But he was quite sure that was not 
the opinion of the Church. It was now admitted by all 
that a plurality of documents in the Pentateuch might 
safely be admitted, and the same arguments which led 
to this conclusion seemed to the vast majority of European 
scholars to lead, in the very same way, and without any 
rationalistic assumptions, to the conclusion that different 
parts of the legislation had different authors and different 
dates. It would be a serious matter for the Church to 
say that one kind of criticism was to be allowed and 
another forbidden, and in laying down such hard and fast 
lines it would be necessary for the Church to be cautious, 
lest haply, in fencing the boundaries of truth, she might 
be found to have excluded some portions of truth ; and 
all truth was precious, whether reached by revelation or 
by the exercise of faculties which God Himself had given 
for our use. 

The House then proceeded to judgment on the first 
particular, and on the motion of Sir Henry Moncreiff the 
appeal was dismissed without a division, the mover 
remarking that " that part of the libel had, to say the 
least, not been well drawn " ; in fact, it had represented 
Smith as having said what he had not said. The hour 
was now late, and before the House rose, Sir Henry 
Moncreiff gave notice that on the morrow he would on 
Secundo move as follows : 

18 



274 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1877- 

" The General Assembly sustain the dissent and com- 
plaint against the judgment of the Presbytery in relation 
to the second particular as applying to the first charge, 
and reverse the judgment of the Presbytery so far as to 
find that part of the libel relevant, to the effect that the 
statements quoted in the minor proposition as those of 
Professor Smith regarding the book of Deuteronomy 
amount to what is expressed in the said part, and are 
opposed in their legitimate results to the supposition of 
the book being a thoroughly inspired historical record 
according to the teaching of the Westminster Confession, 
while his declarations on the subject of inspiration are 
the reverse of satisfactory, and do not indicate his accept- 
ance of the book in that character." 

This motion, it should be observed, was not proposed 
until after Smith had exhausted his reply on Secundo. 
The obscurity with which it was expressed was severely 
criticised in next day's debate, and it was further 
complained, with equal justice, that it contained an 
important variation of the charge and introduced new 
matter on which the Defendant had had no oppor- 
tunity of pleading, and which was likely to perplex 
still further the complicated issues presented for the 
decision of the Church. It is probable that the motion 
was the unaided product of Sir Henry's powers of in- 
vention, for it soon appeared that he had not taken 
counsel with the Leader of the Assembly at any rate, 
and was not to receive his countenance. Dr. Rainy, 
explicitly affirming the consistency of his action with his 
former concurrence in the Report of the College Committee, 
gave notice that he would move that the Presbytery's 
judgment should be sustained. 

The student who has leisure, curiosity, and patience 
enough to carry him through the speech delivered by 
Sir Henry in support of his motion will continually 
be tempted to remark that the TrveG/ia /caTavuews which 
Ritschl thought he could detect in the Assembly of 1877 
had by no means wholly passed away. The somewhat 
discontinuous narrative and argument, which seems to 



i8 7 8] THE FIRST LIBEL 275 

have occupied more than an hour in delivery, is by no 
means easy to follow, but its drift may perhaps be com- 
pressed into a sentence or two. Sir Henry began with 
an expression of his anxious desire alike that the Church's 
orthodox testimony should be unimpaired and that 
Professor Smith, to whose ability, zeal, and earnestness 
he paid a cordial tribute, should suffer no injustice. He 
ended with a declaration that, fully realising as he did 
the importance of both these objects, he was no longer 
content to be regarded as acquiescing in the Report of 
the College Committee so far as the Deuteronomy question 
was concerned. At the time of the framing of the Report 
he had indeed thought Professor Smith's statements 
very dangerous, but at the same time the Professor's 
statements about inspiration had appeared to him to be 
such as rendered a charge of heresy impossible. However 
difficult their reconciliation, he had been willing to regard 
the one group of statements as counterbalancing the 
other. He now saw the matter in a different light, 
the light exhibited in the motion now before the House. 
The reader may here be reminded that the College Com- 
mittee's Report had contained this sentence: "They 
are glad to be assured by Professor Smith that his faith 
in Deuteronomy as part of the inspired record of revelation 
rests on grounds apart from his critical conclusions, 1 viz. 
on the witness of our Lord and the testimonium Spiritus 
Sancti." This sentence Sir Henry apparently took as 
meaning that Professor Smith, on the authority of Christ 
and the testimony of the Holy Spirit, accepted as inspired 
and therefore infallible history, a work which otherwise 
on the precarious grounds which criticism supplies he 
might have been disposed to regard as something other 
than history. It is needless to show here at any 
length that this was an entire misapprehension on Sir 
Henry's part. In the course of his speech Sir Henry 

1 An earlier draft of the report had said " apart from the precarious 
conclusions of criticism." 



276 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1877- 

repeatedly referred to " alleged arguments " in favour 
of the post-Mosaic authorship of Deuteronomy ; but 
condescended only upon two (the attitude of the book 
towards the kingship and towards a central sanctuary), 
merely for the purpose of asserting that there was " no 
force " in them. As for Professor Smith's complaint that 
injustice had been done him in so framing the accusation 
against him, as if he had said, " I am of opinion that 
Deuteronomy though professing to be historical, is not 
really so," and " I am of opinion that the writer of 
Deuteronomy made his book to assume an historical 
character which it did not really possess, and that he did 
this in the name of God," Sir Henry was astonished 
that Professor Smith or any one else should regard these 
as misrepresentations ; to his mind they were fair and 
clear expressions of what Professor Smith had said. 

Dr. Rainy 's speech in moving that the judgment of the 
Presbytery be sustained was on a very different plane. 
The reader will be sorry to learn that it did not convince 
the audience to which it was addressed ; 1 it is still more 
to be regretted that, as events proved, Dr. Rainy's 
admirable speech failed permanently to convince even 
himself. He assured the Assembly that evening that he 
was clear in his own mind never clearer as to his own 
course, and clear, too, as to what should be the policy 
of the Church. Premising that the views expressed by 
Professor Smith fraught as they were with elements 
fitted to give rise to disquiet and apprehension compelled 
the attention of the Assembly because of his position 
as an accredited teacher of the Church, he reminded 
his hearers that if they adopted Sir Henry's motion, 
their decision would not be an administrative remedy 
merely, but would be a judicial pronouncement on the 
faith of the Church. He then marshalled the con- 
siderations in the case favourable to Professor Smith. 

1 Dr. Rainy afterwards wrote to Professor Salmond (Life, i. 349), " In 
this business, most emphatically I am not the 'leader of the Free 
Church.' Sir Henry occupies that position." 



1878] THE FIRST LIBEL 277 

His position in the chair which he held made it his 
duty to apply his mind to the questions which he had 
raised, and which had been pressed upon the Church by 
the current of modern thought and criticism. In writing 
on such questions he had to keep in view the results or 
supposed results of such thought and criticism, in order 
that he might meet and answer them. He honoured Pro- 
fessor Smith for the honest and able manner in which he 
had grappled with the difficulties of such an undertaking, 
and the frank, touching, and almost amusing simplicity 
with which he had presented his conclusions. Dr. Rainy 
unintentionally diverted the House by a confession that 
if he himself had adopted the same views as Professor 
Smith he might have presented them in such a manner 
that it would have been impossible to call him to account. 
But he proceeded to justify this manner of educating his 
party as approved by innocence as well as wisdom. 
He held it to be his duty, in cases where opinion was 
divided and was not definite, to take care that new views 
should not be presented in such manner as to cause 
harm or even offence. Proceeding to the merits, Dr. 
Rainy traversed the arguments of Sir Henry Moncreiff. 
He especially repudiated the argument founded on the 
New Testament references as wholly unsatisfactory 
because it laid a stress upon allusive phrases or the use 
of current designations which it could never be proved was 
meant to be laid upon them. His own view of Deuteronomy 
was that it was an historical record, and was so presented. 
He did not think that a view which could be shaken. But 
he did not hold it impossible that another view might be 
correct. Still less did he consider it permissible to say, 
that another view could not be held without collision 
with the standards of the Church. He challenged Sir 
Henry Moncreiff's assertion that the Confession of Faith 
declared the book of Deuteronomy to be a thoroughly 
inspired historical record. The Confession of Faith 
made no such declaration, and it showed the weakness 



278 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1877- 

of the resolution that it had been necessary to import 
into it this unfounded statement. Again he challenged 
the deliverance proposed by Sir Henry on the ground 
that it pronounced upon views on inspiration alleged to 
be held by Professor Smith which were not in the case 
and not before the House for judgment ; and pronounced 
in the manner which was unwarranted by anything in 
Professor Smith's writings and pleadings. 

In the course of the debate which followed, Dr. Begg 
again argued that the issue was very simple. Professor 
Smith's theory of Deuteronomy seemed to him quite 
inconsistent with any just idea of the nature of God as 
a God of truth, or of Christ as the faithful and true 
witness. If they were to affirm either that Christ did 
not know the true facts about Deuteronomy, or that in 
speaking as He did He was merely conforming Himself 
to the current ideas of the day, they would find themselves 
inevitably landed in Socinianism. He knew that the 
hearts of the best people in Scotland were trembling for 
the Ark of God in connection with their present meeting, 
and that many of them were solemnly asking themselves 
the question : "If the foundations are destroyed, what 
can the righteous do ? " 

Noteworthy among the other speakers was the well- 
known Dr. Horatius Bonar, who holds so distinguished a 
place among the hymn-writers of the nineteenth century. 
Dr. Bonar declared that it was impossible to look upon 
the new theory of Deuteronomy in any other way than 
as directly or indirectly subversive of any view of inspira- 
tion, even the loosest and lowest that had ever been 
devised. He denied that there was any necessity to 
reconstruct the Pentateuch, and took occasion to con- 
demn the new-fangled zeal for the discovery of errors in 
the Bible which from a study of the Scriptures in the 
original he could assure the House were trivial and easily 
surmountable. In the course of an interesting autobio- 
graphical reminiscence he appealed to the Moderator 



i8 7 8] THE FIRST LIBEL 279 

(his brother Dr. Andrew Bonar), to the clerks and 
others of the " old gentlemen " who, Smith had hoped, 
" would not persuade the Church," and asked them 
whether all these questions had not been raised, and 
discussed, and satisfactorily disposed of fifty years ago 
in a society of their college days which met at half-past 
six o'clock every Saturday morning for the very purpose. 
The chronicler records that the speech of the venerable 
hymnologist was long as well as strong, and that signs 
of impatience began to manifest themselves. Little time 
indeed was left for the reply which had been entrusted to 
Dr. Adam, Dr. Rainy's lieutenant, who accordingly con- 
tented himself with reminding the Assembly that the 
question of the abstract validity or even propriety of 
Smith's views on Deuteronomy did not arise, the issue 
being simply whether they contradicted the Confession 
of Faith. When the House was about to be cleared for a 
division Dr. Rainy protested in writing against judgment 
being taken on Sir Henry MoncreifFs motion on the 
ground that it implied charges on which the accused had 
not been heard. He was, however, induced to reserve 
this remonstrance with a view to dissenting at a later 
stage should the motion be carried. The result of the 
division, which was taken amid great excitement, was close, 
but adverse to Smith. Sir Henry had 301 votes in his 
favour and Dr. Rainy 278, Smith's alleged view of Deuter- 
onomy thus being declared heretical by a majority of 23. 
Dr. Rainy dissented from this judgment on the ground 
that it was unjust to the Defendant in that it condemned 
him for opinions which in fact he did not hold and which 
he had had no opportunity of disavowing. l This dissent was 

1 The full text of Principal Rainy's reasons of dissent is as 
follows : 

i. Because the judgment is incompetent as a judicial sentence in 
respect that it proceeds on the sense ascribed to a declaration of 
Professor Smith, in his defence, on which he had no notice to plead, 
either from the bar or the House, on which he did not plead, and on 
which it does not appear that he has been dealt with, for explanation 
or otherwise, in any court ; and in respect that the judgment was argued 



28o WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1877- 

supported by many prominent members of the Assembly, 
and among others by the legal adviser of the Church 
who, as we have seen, had had an important share in the 
framing of the libel. Sir Henry was so far moved by the 
respectability of the dissentients that he vouchsafed them 
an answer to their reasons of dissent, the sum and substance 
of which might be thus summarised : Professor Smith 
states that Moses did not write Deuteronomy. This is 
equivalent to saying that it is a fraud and a fabrication. 
It is useless to argue that any other construction can be 
put upon his theories. 

If, as we have said, subsequent events show that Dr. 
Rainy had hardly been convinced by his own speech, 
they also showed that in like manner Sir Henry did not 
remain permanently satisfied with the validity of his 

for from the same materials, and that Professor Smith was not heard 
thereon. 

2. Because Professor Smith, in the extracts charged under this 
particular of charge first, does not deny the inspiration and authority 
of the Holy Scriptures, and in particular, of the book of Deuteronomy, 
but maintains the same. 

3. Because the theory that Deuteronomy presents in a peculiar 
literary form, but under the guidance of inspiration, the legislation of 
an age later than that of Moses, whatever objections may apply to it 
and whatever dangers may be apprehended in connection with it, 
does not in itself conflict directly with any views of inspiration, even the 
most strict. 

4. Because in order to establish consequences as arising from the 
said theory tending to show that it is opposed to the Confession in its 
results, it is necessary to make assumptions, which are not borne out by 
the Confession on the one hand, or which are repudiated by Professor 
Smith on the other ; and both modes of procedure are illegitimate. 

5. Because the statement of Professor Smith already referred to in 
the first reason, whatever the effect of it may be, could, in any view, 
communicate to his theory of Deuteronomy no new responsibility in 
reference to the Church's doctrine of the Bible, and ought to have been 
dealt with on its own merits. 

6. Because it is of great moment to the successful maintenance and 
defence of the truth, that when opinions are published which are appre- 
hended to have in them any elements of danger, the mode of dealing 
with them should be such as does not strain the discipline of the Church 
nor abridge the liberty of its office-bearers. 

7. Because the present state of critical studies, especially with 
reference to the Pentateuch, renders it necessary that a large discretion 



i8 7 8] THE FIRST LIBEL 281 

reasons. In the result, as we shall see, he became con- 
vinced that it was not so plain as he had imagined to 
every normal understanding that Professor Smith had 
contradicted the Confession of Faith, while Dr. Rainy 
on the other hand finally embraced the opinion that 
Professor Smith had gone wholly beyond the limits of 
the largest discretion that could possibly be conceded. 

At the evening sitting of Tuesday the Assembly took 
up Tertio, and the expectation that Smith would have 
something to say in reply to the decision on Deuteronomy 
which had been obtained from the Assembly by the 
tactics of Sir Henry Moncreiff was not disappointed. 

In opening the case for the appellants, Mr. (now 
Professor) Bannatyne, following Sir Henry MoncreifTs 
lead, had been allowed to devote the greater part of his 



should be allowed to the office-bearers of the Church in any honest 
efforts to do justice to indications of criticism, so long as faith in the 
peculiar origin, office, and authority of Scripture is maintained. 
Sir Henry's answers to these reasons were : 

(1) It is quite obvious and palpable to ordinary and unbiased 
understandings that the judgment does not proceed on any sense ascribed 
to a declaration by Professor Smith on the subject of inspiration. . . . 
It is also manifest that no argument for the judgment was founded upon 
any other basis except what is furnished by the extracts in the libel. 

(2) The fact that Professor Smith does not deny, but maintains, the 
inspiration of the book of Deuteronomy cannot overthrow the force 
of legitimate inferences drawn by the Assembly from his view of that 
book. 

(3) The fact that Professor Smith's theory regarding Deuteronomy 
does not conflict with any view of inspiration is quite consistent with 
the conclusion that the logical result of it is to make the inspiration of 
that book indefensible. 

(4) The judgment makes no assumption which is not borne out by 
the Confession. On the other hand, it assumes nothing which he has 
repudiated. 

(5) This reason for dissent exhibits an inadequate perception of 
what the judgment and arguments for it were. 

(6) It is denied that the judgment involves any straining of discipline. 
The Assembly regard it as demanded by the necessity of the case. 
Professor Smith demanded a libel . . . and this libel has been brought 
before the Assembly. 

(7) The Assembly regard this as quite irrelevant. The judgment does 
not interfere with the large discretion referred to. 



282 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1877- 

speech less to the particular question in hand, namely, 
whether Professor Smith's statements as to " Chronicles " 
did, or did not, bear out what had been put in the major 
of the libel, but to a criticism of Smith's defences at large. 
When Smith rose, he claimed the same latitude. In view 
of the fact that the House had that morning ruled by a 
majority that, as regarded Deuteronomy at least, his case 
might be decided with reference to a matter which was not 
in the libel at all, on which he was never heard at the bar, 
and on which he had never had an opportunity of speak- 
ing, it seemed only too probable that such a precedent 
might be regarded by the Assembly as capable of applica- 
tion in the appeal on Tertio also. He therefore devoted 
the greater part of his speech to an exposition of his own 
views of inspiration in detailed reply to what had been 
said by Sir Henry Moncreiff in the morning. At the close, 
in summing up, he once more stated, with great clearness, 
the doctrine of revelation and inspiration with which the 
reader has by this time become so familiar, that God had 
showed Himself to His people, not only by the inspired 
Word, but also in a long miraculous history culminating 
in the incarnation and historical work of Christ, that the 
record of revelation was so framed as to include everything 
necessary to enable us to understand the declaration of 
God's will in its historical context and its historical 
manifestation, and that the perfect adaptation of the 
Bible for this purpose was unaffected by such questions 
as whether, for example, the chronicler had made a slip 
about ships of Tarshish. If Sir Henry refused to accept 
this view, he (the speaker) was prepared to prove that the 
principle on which Sir Henry proposed to condemn him 
was mediaevalism and not Reformation theology. The 
principle for maintaining which he was now being assailed 
was the very principle which made the Bible, as Dr. Begg 
had put it, a Bible for the ploughboy and the shepherd. 
Dr. Begg had told them that he trembled for the Ark of 
God. There was another expression more appropriate, 



i8 7 8] THE FIRST LIBEL 283 

and that was trembling at the words of God. He trusted 
he trembled he trusted he should never cease to tremble, 
though rejoicing with confidence and love at every 
word of God, which he took as the absolute rule of his 
faith and life. But he was not one of those who trembled 
for the Ark of God. He knew but of one character in the 
Bible history given for our instruction who trembled for 
the Ark of God, and that was Eli not the most admirable 
character in the Old Testament a worldly ecclesiastic. 
Eli trembled for the Ark of God, and why did he tremble ? 
Because for him the Ark had ceased to be a shrine of the 
living revealing word of God in the commandments, and 
had become a fetish an idol carried out to battle as if 
by its power it could assist the Church in its war against 
the Philistines. He trembled for the Ark of God, and as 
he trembled he fell and perished. But there was no need 
to tremble for the Ark, because the Ark was safe, not in 
virtue of those outside things he had looked at, but 
because it was the Ark of God's revelation. No man need 
tremble for that ; God's revelation was safe. 

Dr. Carnegie Simpson (i. 338) has not exaggerated the 
effect produced by this powerful speech from the bar. 
What the Glasgow Herald said in the following morning 
seems worth recording. It was to the effect that more 
than one elder could be met in the lobby afterwards who 
rather uncomfortably admitted that if in the morning 
they had been allowed to hear Smith's views on inspiration 
before voting in place of after, they " would have been 
obliged to vote with Principal Rainy instead of going, as 
they had done, to the side of Sir Henry," and indeed, that 
" the decision of the Assembly would certainly have 
been the other way." Be this as it may, the motion of 
Dr. Thomas Smith that the appeal on Tertio be sustained 
was overwhelmingly defeated by that of Mr. Isdale, 1 

1 The Rev. John Isdale, Glasgow. Mr. Isdale's seconder was the 
Rev. R. S. Macaulay of Irvine, son-in-law of Dr. Beith and brother of 
the Rev. George Macaulay. 



284 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1877- 

that the judgment of the Presbytery be affirmed. The 
figures were 283 to 140, a striking reaction from the judg- 
ment of the morning, attributable almost wholly to the 
force of Smith's eloquence. One of its immediate effects 
was that all the remaining appeals under the first general 
charge were forthwith dropped. 

The Assembly had other business to occupy its time 
besides the Smith case, and it was not until Friday May 31, 
that the appeal against the decision of the Synod that the 
second general charge of " tendency " was irrelevant, came 
up for judgment. The debate on this appeal has little 
historical interest, for it resolved itself into a discussion 
on what was hardly more than a question of procedure. 
The House had scant time at its disposal, and was perhaps 
more than a little exhausted by the excited controversy 
of the preceding days. By consent, therefore, the case 
was left to be finally fought out on another occasion, 
and the fathers and brethren unanimously agreed on 
a motion made by Dr. Rainy to the effect that the 
Assembly decline to find this part of the libel relevant in 
its present form, 

"... but find further that this part of the libel ought 
to be amended. Therefore the Assembly find that the 
second branch of the abstract major shall run in these 
terms, namely : As also the publishing and promulgating 
of writings concerning the books of Scripture, which, by 
their ill-considered and unguarded setting forth of specula- 
tions of a critical kind, tend to awaken doubt, especially 
in the case of students, of the divine truth, inspiration, 
and authority of any of the books of Scripture, or of the 
doctrines of angels and prophecy, as set forth in the 
Scriptures themselves and in the Confession of Faith 
and the Assembly find this amended form of the libel 
relevant." 

The Assembly by this decision advanced the " tend- 
ency " charge considerably ; for they judicially affirmed 
its abstract relevancy in a new form, the implications 
of which we shall consider hereafter. It was left to the 



i8 7 8] THE FIRST LIBEL 285 

lower courts to decide whether it could be brought home 
to the accused on any or all of the eight particulars. A 
Committee on which Smith's supporters were represented 
was appointed to adjust the libel, which had suffered 
very seriously in the course of the struggle, so as to bring 
it into harmony with the finding of the Supreme Court. 
This was soon done, and the Committee were able to 
report before the Assembly rose. But before they had 
finished their work another development had taken place. 
The appellants on the third general charge had been 
cited and had failed to appear, so that Smith's acquittal 
by the Presbytery on the charge of " neutrality " became 
the finding of the Church. 

Thus in the amended libel, the history of which will 
form the subject of the next chapter, all the eight particu- 
lars under the first general charge except Secundo had 
disappeared, while Secundo itself survived in a highly 
questionable shape. The third general charge had 
disappeared altogether, and the second general charge 
was now officially warranted as in itself competent and 
proper, though it had undergone important changes, 
while the familiar eight particulars, in themselves unaltered, 
were placed in a somewhat different light and now fell 
to be discussed again in detail under a new major. 

Smith himself was, on the whole, satisfied with this 
result. 

" Theoretically, no doubt," he wrote to his sister from 
Glasgow, " we have still another year's fighting before us, 
but practically everything is set right except the un- 
fortunate vote on Tuesday. ... It is felt that practically 
I have pulled through. I am a little tired myself, but 
very well on the whole. Every one here is very kind, 
and opinion has developed this week in a most extra- 
ordinary way." 



CHAPTER VII 

THE AMENDED LIBEL (1878-1879) 

THE case as it dragged on continued to attract consider- 
able attention in theological circles both at home and 
abroad, and the dramatic interest of the proceedings of 
Assembly during May 1878 was such as to call for special 
comment. In the great and prolonged trial of his patience 
to which it was Smith's ill fortune to be subjected, he 
was constantly sustained and comforted by expressions 
of sympathy from distinguished colleagues, both British 
and foreign. The finding of Assembly which so soon 
followed the printing and distribution of the Additional 
Answer led about this time to several interesting 
testimonia. Dr. Perowne, then Smith's colleague on the 
Revision Committee, and afterwards Bishop of Worcester, 
wrote from Cambridge expressing his extreme regret 
that the decision of the Assembly had been adverse. 

" I have been reading the second part of your Defence 
that you kindly gave me, and am quite at a loss to under- 
stand how your opinions can be branded as heretical. 
You accept heartily the Divine authority of the Scriptures, 
and deal only with the critical questions affecting the 
composition of certain parts. This is a field which 
ought to be left entirely open to scholars, and I have no 
doubt that this will be acknowledged eventually ; and, 
however bitterly you may be made to suffer now, you will 
have the satisfaction of seeing more rational views prevail, 
and justice will I hope be done you, though, alas ! it may 
be very tardily." 

286 



[1878-1879] THE AMENDED LIBEL 287 

Professor Nestle, whose name is now so well known 
in New Testament scholarship, wrote expressing the 
sympathy of the theologians of Tubingen, saying : 

" With a singular, almost sad feeling I have noticed the 
fact, that it was about the same time of the year, pretty 
nearly the same day (May 21), two hundred years ago, 
that Richard Simon was expelled from his Order and his 
Histoire critique du Vieux Testament burnt with fire, 
and why ? Because : ' Moi'se ne peut tre 1'auteur de 
tous les livres qui lui sont attribues. . . .' Do we make 
progress in the course of centuries or not ? Let us hope 
so, despite the sad experience which you have had. Let 
us go on working quietly and faithfully in the cause of 
science ; it is at the same time the cause of true religion." 

Smith was by this time looking forward to a lull in 
the contest, and seems to have already made up his mind 
to take advantage if possible of his enforced leisure from 
teaching work to advance his studies of Oriental languages 
by a journey to the East. He had not intermitted his 
correspondence with Lagarde, and had no doubt con- 
sulted him about plans of travel. In reply to some 
communication about this and about the progress of 
the case Lagarde wrote : 

"... I am glad you have good hope for yourself. 
You are a splendid debater, and never passed the limits 
of honest and earnest exposition : I read your papers 
with the greatest interest, and trust your case will be 
a benefit to your country. 

" If you shall be able to go to the East, do not go in 
the great time of visitors unless you have an interest 
to have been at Jerusalem, etc. Damascus would be the 
best place to see real Eastern life. But if you want to 
do good to science, go to Tunis and Cairwan. I am sure 
you will find at Cairwan a great many Hebrew manu- 
scripts if you look at the Geniza ; l you know it once 
was a famous place for Jewish learning. And there you 

1 "The store-room or depository in a synagogue; a cemetery in 
which worn-out and heretical or disgraced Hebrew books or papers are 
placed." It was in an Egyptian Geniza that Schechter discovered his 
first fragment of the original Hebrew of Ecclesiasticus in 1896. 



288 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1878- 

will be out of the way of the sight-seers. Northern Africa 
is worth seeing, and manuscripts, coins, and antiquities 
may perhaps repay your outlay and turn out profitable 
to science ; you will find really nothing of this kind in 
Syria. . . . Take care of your health." 

Smith carried out the suggestion that he should visit 
North Africa, but not until a later and happier period of 
his life. Meanwhile other activities claimed his attention 
for a season. 

The Presbytery of Aberdeen, which had been directed 
to retry Secundo under the first general charge, and to 
investigate all the eight particulars under the second 
general charge of " tendency " as amended by the 
Assembly, held a meeting on June 13, 1878, at which it 
was ordered that certain necessary printing should be 
done, the proceedings being forthwith adjourned until 
September 3. In the interval Smith was not inactive. 
He made one of his frequent journeys to London, the 
most interesting event of which was a meeting with Mr. 
Gladstone at a dinner given by Mr. Bryce. Smith was 
impressed not so much by " anything Gladstone said, 
as by his simplicity of manner and the frankness with 
which he spoke out his mind about Beaconsfield, and 
indeed on all subjects. . . ." l 

From London, where the Revisers had now reached 
Zechariah and Malachi, he proceeded to Corsock near 
Dalbeattie, in the country of Old Mortality, Here he 
spent a week with his friend Professor Lindsay, who was 
at that time composing an account z of the critical move- 
ment in the Free Church of Scotland, which was intended 
to show that it was possible to be equally loyal to 
criticism and to dogma, and containing another appeal 
to the tradition of Calvin and Melanchthon in justification 
of the methods of the higher criticism. Smith was then 

1 Mr. Gladstone greatly appreciated Smith's abilities, and placed 
his appreciation on record in a letter, in which he expressed the view 
that Smith's removal would be a great loss to the Church. 

a See Contemporary Review, August 1878. 



1879] THE AMENDED LIBEL 289 

himself considering a proposal made to him by Messrs. 
Macmillan that he should edit a commentary on the Old 
Testament for English readers, in which he would have 
had an opportunity of setting out his critical views in a 
detailed but popular form. This scheme was not carried 
out ; but there was much hopeful activity among the 
critics, and Smith was able to announce to his father 
that in Edinburgh " every one is in good spirits about 
things. Whyte and Dods are perfectly happy." The 
" traditionalists," however, were not idle, and we find 
slightly less exuberant expressions of confidence in letters 
to Mr. Charles Smith in India written at this time. The 
following extract gives an interesting glimpse of Church 
politics as viewed by Smith and his allies. 

" Father seems rather excited about Sir H. Moncreiff, 
who is trying to justify his action at the Assembly in a 
series of articles in that miserable paper, The London 
Weekly Review. I don't think they will do any harm, 
or that any notice should be taken of them. Indeed, I 
believe the current opinion will be that they show Sir H. 
to be doting a little. At the same time it is clear that the 
opposition has not realised its own collapse, and we will 
require to be careful for some time yet. Fortunately 
Sir Henry is especially wroth at Rainy, and this will 
confirm Rainy in sticking to us. The Presbytery takes 
up the matter on September 3, and I think our role will 
be to let the adversary move, and then resist any motion 
on the ground that the major has not been found relevant." 

It soon appeared that the opposition was indeed 
incapable of " realising its own collapse," and at the end 
of his visit to Professor Lindsay, Smith, who was setting 
out on a tour in the Highlands, wrote to his father : "... 
I am feeling much fresher of my week at Corsock, and 
I expect to be exceedingly strong for further contests 
before September. It is indeed clear that we shall have 
more fighting. Moncreiff is still very determined, and I 
suppose he has a backing. ..." 

After a month of glorious weather in Skye and the 

19 



2QO WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1878- 

West Highlands in the company of various friends, Smith 
returned to Aberdeen for the adjourned Presbytery 
proceedings. The meeting of September 3 " did not get 
beyond formal matters," but the proceedings were never- 
theless of a highly controversial and even acrimonious 
character. The discussion arose out of the confused and 
in parts inaccurate wording of the Minutes of Assembly, 
which were the official instruments in the case. A some- 
what protracted wrangle ensued, in the course of which 
there were noisy and rather indecorous interventions by 
members of the public who had come to hear the debate. 
It is difficult to gather the exact import of the scene from 
the contemporary newspaper report, but to Smith and 
his friends at any rate it appeared that the course taken 
by certain members of the Presbytery concealed a 
manoeuvre directed against his interests. This appears 
in the following vigorously worded letter to his father : 

" The row to-day was ineffable and, I will add, wholly 
inexplicable. I could not give you any idea of it, nor, 
I am sure, can the papers do so. The main point seems 
to be this : Mitchell, Brown, and company wish to get the 
libel as amended dealt with in slump, and therefore pro- 
posed that we should conduct our case on the basis of an 
informal unofficial document printed by authority of the 
Commission. This we reject, and resolve to be guided 
wholly by the Minutes. Then the enemy, who really 
had not read the papers, got up a cock-and-bull story 
that Spence l had not printed the Minutes correctly. 
There was a royal squabble, practically no progress, but 
the clearest proof that all the other side are as hot as 
ever. I feel much vexed at this, as I had hoped to see 
some improvement in temper and some increase in 
moderation." 

Whatever were the intentions or desires of the 
managers of the prosecution, they were no more 
successful than formerly in imposing their policy on 
the House, and a motion made by Professor Salmond 
that the Presbytery, passing for the time from the 

1 The Rev. Alexander Spence, the clerk of Presbytery. 



i8 79 ] THE AMENDED LIBEL 291 

Deuteronomy question, should take up the eight par- 
ticulars under the second general charge was passed 
unanimously. At this point the Defendant took the 
opportunity to enter a formal protest in writing against 
the action of the Assembly in adding a substantially 
new general charge to the libel without affording 
him any proper opportunity of protesting against this 
proceeding. This, Smith contended, was ultra vires, and, 
while he proposed to plead to the charge as brought 
before the Presbytery, he expressly reserved his right to 
" challenge and reduce " the finding arrived at by the 
Assembly. A few of the more extreme of Dr. Brown's 
followers demurred to the protest being placed on record, 
but on the question being pressed to a division they 
found themselves in a very small minority. 

At the following sitting Smith developed this argument 
in certain objections which he obtained leave to state 
against the relevancy of the libel as a whole, except in so 
far as it had already been expressly found relevant by 
the superior court. He pointed out that the charge of 
awakening doubt, especially in the minds of students, by 
rash critical speculations was one which could and should 
be tested by evidence of facts, and not decided a priori. 
In an impressive passage of his speech he expressed his 
confidence in a favourable issue of the trial, if it were 
conducted in this way, and he also defined very clearly 
his attitude towards the Christian sensibilities which he 
was accused of wounding. 

" I hope I shall never be indifferent to the serious re- 
sponsibility that lies upon a man in the position of a 
professor for any act which can shake the faith of students; 
but my chief support during the many painful scenes in 
this case has been this, that I have reason to believe 
that, in the minds of students and in the minds of other 
men exposed to the many doubts and difficulties that 
students feel and encounter, the tendency of my writings 
has not been to shake faith, but in some cases at least 
I speak with all humility to confirm it, and I should 



292 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1878- 

have been glad to meet the case on that issue. I have 
said once and again, and I repeat it now, that I by no 
means feel myself able to take up the position of one free 
of all blame in this matter. I have said before, and I 
repeat it now, that had I been aware of the misunder- 
standing that was to be raised, and the extent to which 
persons whose faith I respect were by these articles 
brought into a very painful position, doubting whether 
a fellow-member of the Church, and one of their office- 
bearers, was not undermining the faith, I should have 
been also very anxious to clear my position, and to put 
all I have said in a more distinct and perfect manner. . . . 
I did not recognise how much the feelings of that class 
of men might be hurt by my articles, because for various 
reasons I was more accustomed to ... write for another 
class of people whose faith might be shaken, and I with 
confidence lay this issue before that class of people that 
my writings have been found not to have a dangerous 
effect." 

The intention of Dr. Rainy and the Assembly, he con- 
tended, was to bring a charge which could be proved or 
disproved by evidence, but the amended libel as sent 
down to the Presbytery presented the charge as one to 
be established by proving that certain writings contain 
certain opinions, and he submitted that the Presbytery 
should throw it out on grounds of law, reserving if 
necessary the right to frame an entirely new libel which 
would set the accusation on a proper basis. 

The liberal party in the Presbytery were, as usual, 
unprepared for a drastic solution, and temporised 
proposing to record Smith's general objection and to 
consider it later, but in the meantime to proceed with 
the eight particulars. This accordingly was done, and the 
via dolorosa from Primo to Octavo was again traversed. 

On Primo the prosecution distinguished themselves 
even less than on the two previous occasions (see above, 
p. 249 and p. 273). Smith's views on the Aaronic priest- 
hood were by this time well known, and all that Dr. 
Brown could now find to say was that the statement of 
them which Professor Smith laid before the Church courts 



i8 7 9] THE AMENDED LIBEL 293 

did not tally with that which was to be found in the 
article " Bible," and the lecture delivered to the students 
at the close of the session I875-76. 1 After a dignified 
but vigorous protest from Smith against the imputation 
of dishonesty which Principal Brown would neither 
substantiate nor withdraw, a division was taken, and 
the Presbytery found for the Defendant. 

As for Secimdo, the " tendency " of Smith's views on 
Deuteronomy naturally attracted little interest, the 
Presbytery by a majority of 20 resolving to pass from the 
subject at its present stage, and reserving its energies for 
a future discussion of the matter under the old general 
charge of contradicting the standards of the Church. 

Tertio and Quarto which, as will be remembered, 
respectively alleged the ignoring the Divine authority 
and disparaging the authenticity of the Scriptures, were 
then disposed of, after a brief discussion, and their irre- 
levancy declared by substantial majorities. 

The consideration of Quinto was undertaken at some- 
what greater length, and it was found necessary to 
devote to it the whole of the sitting of September 24. 
The discussion, which was exceptionally interesting 
and sometimes breezy, was hampered by the previous 
finding of the Presbytery, confirmed on appeal by 
the Assembly, that Professor Smith's view of Canticles 
could not be stigmatised as inconsistent with the 
standards of the Church. But as much as possible 
was made by the prosecution of the contention that, 
if not allegorical, Canticles was " devoid of spiritual 
significance." 

" The spiritual theory," said Mr. David Mitchell in an 
eloquent peroration, " added unction to many a sermon, 
and sweetness to many a Communion table, and its 
passages were frequently employed for impersonating 
the holy breathings which were to be found in the letters 
of the sainted Rutherford and in the sermons of the 

^"On the Progress of Old Testament Studies"; see Lectures and 

Essays. 



294 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1878- 

godly M'Cheyne, which were read and valued throughout 
Christendom." 

This florid passage is important as preserving in 
conveniently small compass the evangelical view of the 
Song of Solomon, which in its day has been turned to 
curious homiletical uses. It had a considerable influence 
on the House, as the fall in the majority for the defence 
subsequently showed, but the prosecution found it 
necessary to conduct their general argument on prin- 
ciples more ostensibly scientific. Professor Smith, it was 
stated, had not given sufficient prominence to the argu- 
ments in favour of the allegorical view, and he ought to 
have known from Lane's Modern Egyptians that such 
songs were quite common in the East and were under- 
stood in a spiritual sense. In his reply Smith was able 
not only to point out that in his articles he had quoted 
Lane's views (and others of at least equal importance), 
but also to make the damaging retort that there is no true 
analogy between the Old Testament and the pantheistic 
mysticism of Islam. 

"... These songs of the dervishes," he continued, 
" taken in a figurative sense, as they are taken by philo- 
sophers, all belong to a school of purely pantheistic 
mysticism of Persian origin, grafted on the doctrines of 
Mohammedanism. I put it to the Presbytery whether, 
if it comes to be a question as to the way of expressing 
your opinions, it is a very safe thing to say that the 
Song of Solomon is probably an allegory because the 
pantheism of the East is accustomed to use similar 
allegories ? " 

His reply to the argument from the value of the 
allegorical reading as edifying to the faithful was equally 
effective. 

" The only point really, in Mr. David Mitchell's 
argument," he observed, " was the point on which he 
spoke from personal experience. He told us how useful 
the allegorical character of Canticles had been to his 
personal edification. That no doubt is psychologically 



i8 7 9] THE AMENDED LIBEL 295 

interesting, as showing that a rich and very peculiar type 
of Christian character may be nourished on this exegesis. 
But then it must be remembered that all bodies in the 
Christian Church have always produced excellent Christian 
characters : that very noble Christian characters were 
produced in the Roman Catholic Church, and nourished 
on the false interpretations and the distortions of doctrines 
within that Church ; and why ? because a man, provided 
he gets pure and true Christian sustenance to his soul, 
will be benefited even although his exegesis may not be 
correct. Now Mr. David Mitchell, and those who coincide 
with his views, found a form of language in which they 
see Christian truth because they knew Christian truth 
before they went there ; but the question is Would a 
man having Canticles put into his hand without per- 
mission to put something into it out of the New Testament, 
come to the conclusion that it was an allegory, or that it 
was to be interpreted literally ? " 

In the end the relevancy of Quinto was dismissed by 
25 to 22. 

The end of the Presbytery proceedings under the new 
" tendency " charge was reached on September 26, when 
Sexto, Septimo, and Octavo were discussed at a special 
sitting. The reader of the debate on -the first of these 
charges, which imputed " the contradicting or ignoring 
the testimony given in the Old Testament, and also that 
of our Lord and His apostles in the New Testament, 
to the authorship of the Old Testament Scriptures," 
cannot fail to be impressed by the high quality of the 
pleading, the effect of which must have been educative 
for all but the slowest apprehensions. The most startling 
and effective part of this charge was that which turned 
on the New Testament " proofs " of the traditional views 
of the Pentateuch and other parts of the Old Testament, 
and which, in the pointed words of Dr. Brown, represented 
Smith as having said that Christ " was probably right " 
in ascribing the noth Psalm to David. We have seen 
at a much earlier stage of this narrative that Principal 
Rainy had from the first seen the danger of this line of 
argument, and had repudiated it in an important speech 



296 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1878- 

in the Assembly. It was left for Professor Salmond to 
carry the war into the enemy's country. After criticising 
the defective form of the particular charge, and especially 
the unwarrantable vagueness of the word " ignore," 
Professor Salmond retorted Dr. Brown's point by ob- 
serving that Smith accepted as conclusive and final every 
testimony on the subject taken from Christ and the 
apostles, provided it was made clear that Christ and the 
apostles really meant to attest that authorship. 

" When it was remembered that in his articles Professor 
Smith was dealing with the literary evidence as distinct 
from the theological, there was nothing whatever in 
Professor Smith's exposition to prevent his readers from 
assigning to it a Davidic authorship. But if there was 
anything ill-considered and unguarded in the use made 
of New Testament testimony in the present discussion, 
it was not on Professor Smith's side but on the side of 
those who would rashly commit our Lord and His apostles 
to affirmations to which it was not clear that they intended 
to commit themselves." 

In the course of the subsequent discussion there 
occurred an incident which an eye-witness has recorded 
in words sufficiently graphic to deserve quotation. The 
Rev. John Stephen, an aged and much respected member 
of the court, had stated that if he could be satisfied as to 
Smith's views of the 5ist Psalm and the latter portion 
of the prophecies of Isaiah he " would give him the 
benefit of the doubt." 

" What took place when the Professor rose to speak," 
continues the narrator, 1 " can never be forgotten by some 
of us. 

" In responding to the evidently honest appeal which 
had been made he, in the kindest and most artless manner 
possible, walked right along to where Mr. Stephen was 
sitting, and as the young Professor stood by the old 
man's knee he proceeded to explain to him, as if in con- 
fidence, and with manifest delight, the various reasons 
and circumstances which had led him to hold the view 

1 The Rev. James Johnstone, then Free Church minister of Belhelvie. 



i8 79 ] THE AMENDED LIBEL 297 

about the authorship of the 5ist Psalm, etc., to which 
his aged friend had referred. 

" He seemed to realise it as a sacred and very pleasant 
duty to do his best to meet the difficulties felt by Mr. 
Stephen. The explanation or exposition was a mar- 
vellous success. As the Professor, without hesitation 
and with the greatest ease and alacrity, proceeded to 
give the desired explanation, one did not know which to 
admire most, the rapid flow of thought fitly expressed, 
the earnestness of purpose, the intellectual resource, the 
firm grasp of the subject and the spiritual perception in 
dealing with the Word of God, or the fine tone and kindly 
manner in which the whole was addressed to the venerable 
minister. We remember how stirring and impressive 
the exposition became when he went on to say, ' For my 
own part I think that the psalm can be better understood 
as the prayer of a prophet labouring under a sense of sin 
and shortcoming in the discharge of his prophetic work. 
Under this aspect I have always regarded the 5ist Psalm 
as one peculiarly edifying, and considered it as being 
specially a ministers' psalm, a psalm which they could 
not read without looking back on their work and feeling 
a stronger sense of the momentous importance of their 
duty.' 

" The exposition was in every way a masterpiece. 
Robertson Smith was at his best, . . . and, indeed, it 
was a rare privilege to have heard it, and to have witnessed 
in full exercise the blending of so many of the character- 
istics of our great scholar." 

The majority of the court shared this view of the 
matter, and acquitted Smith on Sexto by 25 to 17. The 
discussion of Septimo, which alleged the denial of the 
predictive element in prophecy, and of Octavo, the already 
discredited count dealing with angels, was diversified 
only by the unseemly interruptions of the public, with 
whom the managers of the prosecution were never popular, 
and the majorities against the relevancy of these charges 
were respectively twenty and eighteen. 

The Presbytery had now dismissed all the eight 
particulars under the new second general charge exactly 
as they had dismissed them under the first general charge 



298 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1878- 

in the preceding February and March. In other respects 
the historical parallel was curiously complete. Against 
each of the decisions of the Presbytery dissents and com- 
plaints were as before taken to the Synod, and once again 
the liberals approached the Court with proposals to 
proceed by way of " brotherly conference " with the 
Defendant. 

The first stage of the appeals was soon over. The 
Synod met on October 8, and, after a very brief discussion, 
decided to refer the whole of the second general charge 
to the ensuing Assembly. On the day following the 
meeting Smith wrote to his brother : 

" The Synod passed over yesterday very quietly. The 
parties were agreed that it was useless to attempt a re- 
discussion of the eight points appealed. Dr. Brown, 
indeed, seems to have had an opposite opinion, which, 
however, was overruled by his friends. I have no doubt 
that they saw the temper of the Synod and foresaw a 
defeat. Of course, as we now think that we have a 
majority in the Synod, and as the thing now lies in our 
favour, we had no object in a fresh discussion which 
would only have kept the Synod from voting in next 
Assembly." 

The proposals for a Conference, a significant but 
ineffective interlude, were discussed on October 17. 
They were now introduced by Professor Salmond, and 
were more tentative in form than those which were 
previously brought before the Presbytery. It cannot be 
doubted that Professor Salmond and his friends still 
hoped in the end to persuade their brethren to accept 
conference, perhaps tempered by reproof, as a suitable 
way out of the imbroglio ; and indeed the idea of some 
such settlement was constantly hinted in the course of 
the debates on the eight particulars. Dr. Salmond himself 
introduced the motion which recited that the Presbytery, 
subject to dissents and complaints, had now pronounced 
judgment of acquittal on the points to which the text of 
the libel limited them, but provided that the Court should 



i8 79 ] THE AMENDED LIBEL 299 

" reserve, for separate consideration, other matters re- 
lating to the strain, tendency, and general character of 
these writings, which cannot be dealt with under the 
form and to the effect of a libel, but to which nevertheless 
exception may be taken." His speech, which was couched 
in studiously conciliatory terms, set forth the uneasiness 
which he had at first experienced on reading the article 
" Bible," an uneasiness, however, which had disappeared 
after he had considered at leisure the true significance 
of that article. Others, however, he continued, might 
still be uneasy, 

". . . and it may turn out to be the fact I don't prejudge 
the question that, apart from this whole question of the 
relation of these writings to the Confession, this Court may 
come to be of opinion that a practical mistake has been 
committed in giving these writings so severely scientific 
a form (for I will use no stronger term at present on the 
subject), a form making so many presuppositions of 
intelligence on these very questions in the minds of 
readers, as naturally to awaken misunderstanding with 
respect to the general strain and tendency and character 
of those writings." 

Against the alarmist statements which had been made 
about the effect of Smith's writings should be set his 
own explanations, which were of such importance that 
it was " highly desirable to get them all together put 
upon the record of our conduct of the case." With this 
chief object in view he put the matter before the Court 
" simply in the form of a resolution at present." 

The prosecution received this tactfully worded eirenicon 
with suspicion and hostility. They saw, and did not 
scruple to say, that it was an attempt to palm off an 
exchange of views on the theological question as a satisfac- 
tory substitute for Dr. Rainy 's version of the " tendency " 
charge on which they still hoped to triumph in the 
Assembly, and they put up Mr. Mitchell to move that the 
proposal was incompetent and inexpedient. The pro- 
ceedings as usual were accompanied by disorderly scenes 



300 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1878- 

in which a section of the audience, represented largely 
by students, made demonstrations in Smith's favour, 
and, as might have been expected, they led to no satis- 
factory result. Smith himself received the motion coldly ; 
" he had no interest whatever in Professor Salmond's 
motion," but it appeared to be " an innocent resolution 
in so far as it records that it is in the power of the Presby- 
tery, when it has been found that something cannot be 
dealt with by libel, to say, ' Nevertheless we have all the 
power we ever had to deal with it, and otherwise than 
by libel." The motion was carried; but, dissent and 
appeal being taken, the matter dropped and made no 
further appearance at that or any subsequent point in 
the case. 

The Court now came to the thorny question of the 
Assembly's finding on Deuteronomy, which, it may be 
repeated, was to the effect that " the statements quoted 
in the minor proposition as those of Professor Smith 
regarding the book of Deuteronomy amount to what is 
expressed in the said particular, and are opposed in their 
legitimate results to the supposition of the book being 
a thoroughly inspired historical record according to the 
teaching of the Westminster Confession." It is not 
surprising that the discussion of this perplexed deliverance 
led to the utmost confusion, and that, of all the debates 
in the Presbytery, that in which the House tried to arrive 
at a clear idea of the effect of the Assembly's directions 
on the Deuteronomy charge was one of the most pro- 
tracted and most acrimonious. The sitting took place 
on October 22, and two hours were spent at the outset in 
a technical wrangle on the question whether any motion 
could be entertained which implied that the relevancy 
of Secundo was still an open question. The consequences 
of the clumsy drafting of Sir Henry's version of the 
charge were now painfully apparent. The prosecution 
held that the Assembly's finding declared the relevancy 
of the charge and the heretical character of the opinion, 



1879] THE AMENDED LIBEL 301 

and that nothing remained but to proceed to "probation," 
and thereafter to sentence and punishment of the offender. 
The Defence maintained in effect that the finding was 
unintelligible, but that, however construed, it was not a 
judgment of relevancy; and they proposed to refer the 
question back to the supreme court. It was declared 
by a majority of the Presbytery that this proposal was 
competent, whereupon most of the minority protested 
against what they considered to be a contumacious 
finding, and left the House. The discussion which followed 
ended in a decision to refer the charge simpliciter to the 
Assembly, after a long and important speech from 
Smith, in the course of which he observed that if the 
decision had been that his view of Deuteronomy was 
heresy, the case so far as he was concerned was at an end. 
On this point he was not inclined to submit to any Church 
censure, however severe or however lenient. If his views 
were at variance with the Church Standards, his connection 
with the Church was at an end. He did not believe 
that they were so, and he severely animadverted on the 
course pursued by Sir Henry Moncreiff, which he did 
not hesitate to characterise as a course of monstrous 
injustice towards one in the position in which he was 
placed. 

The discussion thus ended for the time in keeping the 
question open for several months, as the first meeting of 
the Synod, at which appeals could be heard, could not 
take place until April 1879. Much could be urged by 
the minority in favour of their view that Smith had 
already been condemned when Sir Henry Moncreiff's 
motion was carried in May 1878, but the impropriety of 
Sir Henry's tactics on that occasion, and the obscurity 
of the resulting judgment, had now been placed in a much 
clearer light by the debate in the Presbytery, and most 
people will agree with the contemporary opinion of the 
press 1 that "the next General Assembly would now be 

1 Aberdeen Free Press, October 23, 1878. 



302 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1878- 

in a far better position to do what equity and right 
demanded than if no such discussion had taken place." 

Meanwhile Smith had made up his mind to go to Egypt, 
and had asked and obtained leave of absence for a few 
months " in order that he might spend his winter at a 
distance from Aberdeen in a manner that might be of 
some service to the Church when he resumed his duties." 

On November 6 he writes from London : "I start to- 
night for Venice and Alexandria. . . . The case is now 
fairly suspended till the Assembly, and I think that every- 
one is heartily tired of it." He was in high spirits, as 
always when he set out on a journey, and had taken the 
precaution to arm himself with a revolver, and to procure 
in addition to the ordinary passport a circular letter 
from the Foreign Office to the British Consuls in Syria 
and Egypt. From Munich, where he was visiting his 
old friend Professor Klein, he wrote to his father : "in 
spite of my run of thirty hours from London I feel wonder- 
fully fresh, and already seem to have got out of the 
atmosphere of Church Courts." He seemed indeed to 
have succeeded in shaking off all thought of the con- 
troversy, and during his absence from England there are 
few references to past events or the impending future 
conflicts. 

His impressions of the Italian towns (Verona, Venice, 
etc.), which he now visited for the first time, are recorded 
as usual at some length for the benefit of his family. As 
he was merely a passing traveller, and the Italian tour 
was outside the main purpose of his expedition, the record 
is of no biographical interest until he reached Alexandria 
on November 22, just in time to hear the news of the 
outbreak of the Afghan War. 

His first impressions of the East have a certain interest : 

" The omnibus to the hotel, and the hotel itself, are just 
as in Europe. One must go to the door to recognise that 
one is really in the East. There one comes at once on a 
wholly new life. Donkey boys and servants in long 



i8 79 ] THE AMENDED LIBEL 303 

white or blue night-gowns, women with veils, dragomans, 
Eastern gentlemen in handsome rich coloured gowns, 
camels heavily laden with sacks. These, and all the 
other things one knows before-hand to expect, are mixed 
up in the most amusing confusion with Europeans in 
holiday dress, Italian pedlars, Jewish money-changers, 
and so forth. The place is a meeting point of East and 
West. Both come together, but except in public offices, 
banks, hotels, and the like, there is no attempt by the one 
to assimilate itself to the other. 

" I am sure from what I have already seen that my 
journey must prove most enjoyable. I hope it may also 
be profitable ; but I am not sure that the place will be 
as good for work as for play." 

Less than a week later he was installed " with his 
books about him " at Cairo in the house of Dr. Sandilands 
Grant, whose acquaintance he made through his friends 
the Campbells of Tullichewan. Dr. Lansing, the head 
of the American Mission, lent Smith his amanuensis as 
Arabic tutor, and he began immediately to learn the 
spoken tongue, taking lessons for three hours daily. 

" I am trying," he writes, " to learn the pronunciation, 
but I find it slow work at first as my ear is rather slow. 
Dr. Grant is an Aberdonian. He knows the country 
thoroughly, and is an enthusiastic archaeologist, so that 
it is a great boon to me to have so much of his company 
as I shall enjoy. The Americans are also very nice and 
very kind, so that I already feel myself at home. I went 
to-day to look up another acquaintance, Dr. Spitta, the 
librarian at the public library here." 

In Dr. Grant's company he began his sight -seeing, 
and soon became " the owner of several curious bits of 
enamel, etc." picked up in the ruins of the temple at 
Tel-el- Jahudieh. " I am to be exceedingly comfortable 
here, it is plain and very quiet," he reports a day or 
two later; " the only drawback is the mosquitoes, which 
are unusually troublesome because of the high inundation. 
When the water, which still covers great spaces near 
Cairo, goes back, I suppose we shall get rid of them." 



304 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1878- 

The months of December and January passed very 
pleasantly and swiftly with the occupation of studying 
Arabic and making archaeological expeditions in the 
neighbourhood. Smith made many friends, both English 
and foreign, and his letters as usual contain appreciative 
references to new acquaintances. He was of course 
very keenly interested in the life of the people, and the 
growing prosperity of the country, then in its beginnings 
under the British ascendancy. He writes modestly of his 
progress as an Arabist to his brother : 

" I have hitherto been sticking very steadily to my 
work, and I think that I have made some progress, 
though the language is so difficult that I sometimes feel 
as if I were making no way at all. A special difficulty 
lies in the great differences between the spoken and the 
written tongue. One must work at both. I began with 
a Christian teacher from the missionaries. But I have 
to-day begun a new venture, viz. to read with a 
Sheikh who knows no English but is a thoroughly good 
Arabic scholar. He rejoices in the name of Abd-el-Azyn 
el-Ansary. ..." 

Another letter, however, indicates that he was already 
beginning to find his way about for himself among the 
Arabs, and the following extract gives an instance of his 
aptitude both for making friends and turning them to 
account. 

" I sometimes get amusing practice by going out with 
Dr. Grant. When he enters a house I talk to the coach- 
man and sais, that is the groom, who in the narrow 
crowded streets of Cairo is always required to run before 
the carriage. Generally the bystanders strike in, and I 
have been received with special favour because I have 
learned to repeat some suras of the Qoran. 

"Another way to practise talking is to take a long 
donkey ride. But some of the donkey boys are quite 
useless. They talk entirely in a peculiar shouting voice 
and very fast. But if one gets an intelligent boy one 
can make him speak slowly and explain words one does 
not know in Arabic. Yesterday I had a long ride over 



i8 79 ] THE AMENDED LIBEL 305 

the Nile bridge, and as I was talking, or trying to talk, 
to my boy, another rider came up whose donkey man 
knew mine. So, from the boys fraternising, I and the 
other rider began to get friendly, and finally he explained 
to me that he was riding out to the railway station of 
Bulak ed-Dakrur to relieve a comrade in the telegraph 
office who would, if I pleased, give me his company into 
town. I accepted this proposal, and at the station he very 
politely asked me to join him in a glass of cognac, for 
which he insisted on paying. This is not at all what 
one is taught to expect in the East, where we are told 
that everything is done with an eye to bakhshish I 
certainly have not found it so. No doubt the beggars 
are annoying and numerous, and gratuities are often 
asked by donkey boys, etc. But I have again and again 
found both poorer and richer people ready to do any 
little friendly service, and show the same or greater 
gratuitous politeness than one finds at home. Certainly 
I don't think that two telegraph clerks at home would 
have been so civil to a stranger, borne with my miserable 
broken talk, and done their best to give me a useful 
Arabic lesson." 

He was also finding his way about the bazaars, where he 
made many purchases for himself and his friends with 
shrewdness and success. One of his letters to his mother 
gives a vivacious rendering of the now familiar humours 
of shopping in the East. He saw a good deal of European 
society at Cairo, and among other interesting people he met 
at Suez, where he had gone to meet his friend and travel- 
ling companion Mr. Adair Campbell of Tullichewan, was 
the celebrated General Grant, ex-President of the United 
States. Besides his linguistic exercises, and his social 
and political observations, he was of course also making 
himself familiar with the museums and libraries of Cairo. 
An interesting early record of studies which became 
afterwards of great importance, is to be found in a letter 
to his sister, through whom he sent to Mr. M'Lennan 
notes of traces of matriarchy in early Egyptian society, 
and of totemism among the Bedawin of Sinai. 

His daily occupations and his plans of travel are 

20 



306 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1878- 

summed up in the following extract from a letter dated 
February 6, 1879 : 

" It was a very good notion to end your letter with 
a series of questions, and it will save me a great deal of 
trouble if I just begin to answer them one by one. 

" Firstly, you ask if I associate with any European 
except Grant and Spitta. . . . These are certainly the 
two I see most of. But I also am not very seldom at the 
Hotel du Nil. . . . Among other nice people I should 
mention Von Kremer the Orientalist, Mr. Mitchell, for- 
merly tutor in the Khedive's family, and, as the latest 
arrival, Davidson, a Fellow 1 of Balliol. 

" There is also a good fellow, Beaman, in the consulate, 
who is working at Arabic and may possibly go up the 
Nile with us. The arrangements for that purpose have 
been vexing my soul for some time back. I thought to 
go with donkey and a tent, but for various reasons have 
at the last hour decided that it will be better to take a 
small dahabiyah from Assiut, which we can get very 
cheap. I have bought stores and engaged a native 
servant who does not speak English. 

"We start on Monday for a month. I hope with 
favourable wind to reach the first cataract. It will be 
splendid practice in Arabic, and enables me to dispense 
with a contractor (that is, necessarily, a dragoman) who 
would have been inevitable had we taken a tent. And 
now for your other questions. 

" Oh ! the American missionaries, yes, they are very 
nice, and I see a good deal of them. I have preached 
for them four or five times, and on other Sundays go 
to their English Service, and generally also to an Arabic 
one, which is very interesting. Otherwise Sunday is a 
quiet day. I often spend a little time with Spitta, and 
once went out on Sunday to dine with Von Kremer; 
otherwise it is very like a Scotch Sabbath in our circles. 
As to the climate, it is now very like our July, except 
that it has rained but twice or thrice. We have a little 
damp, however, and occasional mists of an almost Scotch 
thickness. Then people do take colds, as you appear 
to have suspected, the natives quite as badly as the 
Europeans, to say the least. But I don't think the 
Europeans resist cold as well here as at home ; and as 

1 The present Master. 



i8 79 ] THE AMENDED LIBEL 307 

most of them are not fully occupied they become 
especially the ladies limp and valetudinarian. 

"As to food, I have nothing serviceable to relate. We 
have even had porridge lately, as oatmeal was sent from 
Scotland as a Christmas present to the Doctor. I have 
had but one real native dinner eaten with the fingers. 
It was a very good dinner, too. 

" We go to Palestine about the middle of March 
steamer to Jaffa. I don't think our purse will bear a 
journey to Moab or the Hauran, but I trust that we shall 
manage Jerusalem, Hebron, and the route northwards to 
Damascus and Baalbek. I have not been thinking much 
about ' the case,' but I suspect that things are still in 
a pickle and that next Assembly may not see the end 
of it." 

The result of the experiment referred to was very 
successful, and Smith found his proficiency in Arabic 
quite sufficient for the purpose of commanding the 
expedition. The party in the dahabiyah got on very 
well together and thoroughly enjoyed the tour, and the 
crew were a perpetual source of amusement. 

" This mode of travelling is very delightful," he writes. 
" The boat indeed is not furnished in the luxurious style 
of the most costly Cairo dahabiyahs, and Mr. Wasif has 
given us a very limited canteen. The captain, Smain 
(Ishmael), is a very pleasant quiet fellow. His brother 
Ali is our sufragi or table boy. He is full of intelligence 
and good nature, and amuses us greatly in his dealings 
with Campbell, who holds a good deal of intercourse with 
him by signs, and teaches him some English words. Then 
we have the . . . singer of the company, a black 
man but not a negro. His nickname is ' the white.' I 
am sorry to say that he takes hashish when he can get it. 
But he is full of fun and a great favourite with the crew. 
Another merry young fellow, who sometimes takes Ali's 
place as table boy, is Ibrahim, nicknamed Ibrahim Basha. 
Then we have the steersman Murad, a solid steady fellow, 
a little boy of all work plate-washer, etc. called Shalibi, 
a man Neradi, and another whose name I have not yet 
got. Besides all these we have our cook Ibrahim a good 
cook, but a perfect goose in every other way. 

" One might suppose it tiresome to be windbound as 



308 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1878- 

we were for about two days. In reality it is great fun, 
as one has the boat to row about in, the fields and palm 
groves to wander through, and the men to talk to and 
pick up Arabic words and Egyptian ideas from. We 
get on pretty well with our talking. I know enough now 
to express my meaning in almost every emergency. 
Beaman, too, can get along with more difficulty, and of 
course we learn daily. 

" There was a great deal of shooting done last two 
days by every one but myself. The chief game consisted 
in turtle-doves. Yesterday Campbell shot a duck, and 
we had a long row in vain after geese. There are plenty 
of other birds hoopoes, larks, sandpipers, kingfishers, 
cranes, hawks, owls, wild pigeons, etc. One very curious 
bird is the spurred plover. It has a spur on the wings 
with which it is said by our men to kill crows." 

His observations of the peasantry, though necessarily 
superficial, are often interesting : 

" They are not quite easy to converse with, being shy 
at first and having for the most part a queer thick way 
of talking. But I begin now to understand their ways, 
and to get on with the fellahin. We have not seen very 
much of the famine, which is worst in inland places. The 
crops now look splendid, and, as the beans will be in in a 
fortnight, the trouble will be over for the present. 

" I find the peasants think more of the question of the 
new government. Some of them have the idea that the 
Khedive is now quite abolished, and they evidently have 
very Utopian notions as to the remission of taxes, etc. 
They are certainly dreadfully overtaxed at present 
land tax, poll tax, salt tax, tax on cattle, tax on date 
palms, tax on everything, and octroi besides in every 
market town. 

" But oppression is the custom of the country, and every 
one who is not oppressed is ready to be an oppressor. I 
was much amused yesterday with my little donkey boy, 
ten years old, at Denderah. Quite a crowd of big boys 
were following, clamouring for alms : ' Go,' he cried, 
flourishing a miniature walking-stick, ' lest I beat you ; 
yea, by God, it is in my mind to beat you.' Of course 
he felt that he had my authority to back him up." 

It had been intended that the party should go up 



i8 7 9] THE AMENDED LIBEL 309 

the river as far as Assouan, but contrary winds and 
calms delayed the dahabiyah so much that they had 
to turn north again at Edfou. They reached Cairo on 
March 13, and Smith proudly announced in a letter to a 
friend that he " now felt able to act as dragoman to any 
party whatever." 

He had expected to have a few days to prepare for 
a tour in Syria, which, as we have seen, had for some time 
been part of his plan, but he had to set out almost im- 
mediately on his return from the Nile, and a week later 
we find him riding from Jaffa over the plain of Sharon 
to Jerusalem, with Mr. Campbell and another friend. 

" I got on very well with my riding," he writes on his 
arrival at Jerusalem, " much better than I expected. 
Our horses can't trot, but they canter and gallop beauti- 
fully, and alternate these paces with an easy walk. We 
came up with a man Markos, a hotel keeper, and have 
gone to stay with him, as he seems a pleasant fellow. 
The hotel, though in a wretched dirty lane, is very clean 
and comfortable, and we seem likely to be well enter- 
tained for zos. a day. We all sleep together in a nice 
room under a dome at the top of the house, and step 
out on a terrace with a view of Olivet and the Haram- 
es-Serif." 

After a busy week in Jerusalem the party went for a 
camping tour of several days, visiting first Hebron and 
Bethlehem, whence they rode to Marsaba. Smith and 
his friends took readily to camp life and " found it very 
comfortable." He was, as before, in charge of the party, 
and soon made great progress with the Syrian Arabic. 
From Marsaba on March 26 he wrote enthusiastically 
to Keig of " the magnificent wild route a great part 
perfectly desert but for a few clusters of the black Bedouin 
tents the tents of Kedar." " To-night," he continues, 
" we have a Bedouin guard whose lance is erected beside 
his bivouac, just as Saul's spear was." On the following 
day they visited the Dead Sea, an excursion he much 
enjoyed. 



310 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1878- 

" The descent from Marsaba to the Dead Sea is superb, 
over mountain tops where you look beyond a great 
waste of hills down on the intense blue of the sea, with the 
fainter blue of the high mountains of Moab in the back- 
ground. Then you plunge into a wild glen, the Wady ed 
Darb, and at length come down on a waste salty plain 
with a brake of half-parched prickly shrubs, through which 
your path winds till you come out on a pebbly shore 
without a sign of life, but all strewn with whitening 
trunks of trees which have been washed up by the sea. 
On the shore we found a small Jordan fish dead and 
withered up. Nothing can live in the Dead Sea. We 
had a bath in the water. You can't sink, and on coming 
out the skin feels quite oily. But it is wonderful pure 
clear water for all that. I took a small gulp by mistake, 
which was atrocious. And the water makes the eyes 
smart a little, but I didn't find that it irritated the skin 
as some people report." 

From the Dead Sea they rode by way of Jericho to 
Jerusalem, where they arrived on March 28, after a 
thoroughly successful expedition. " If I bring nothing 
else back from Palestine," Smith wrote, " I trust I shall 
bring a great stock of health. This way of journeying is 
perfect from an animal point of view, quite apart from 
the Biblical interest." 

Little time was lost in arranging for a much more 
extensive expedition. The caravan, consisting of four 
men and a cook, three horses, six baggage mules and a 
donkey, was soon got together again and started north- 
wards from the Holy City. After five days' riding, in the 
course of which they visited many of the most interesting 
sites in Old Testament history, they passed by good 
paths soft with rain across the great plain from Engannin 
by Jezreel, " and finally struck up a steep path to the 
lovely little valley high on the edge of the Galilean hills 
on which Nazareth nestles the sweetest place we have 
yet seen in Palestine, so sweet that one cannot fail to 
realise it as a fit and lovely place for the childhood of 
Jesus." 



i8 79 ] THE AMENDED LIBEL 311 

The route from Nazareth chosen by the travellers 
was by Mount Tabor, " a lovely ride," and so to Tiberias 
and round the Sea of Galilee past the rival claimants for 
the honour of representing Capernaum. Then away up 
the mountains to " Safed, the ' city on the hill which 
cannot be hid ' as tradition very fitly has dubbed it." 
A visit to Tyre and Sidon is very briefly recorded, and 
the next event of importance was an ascent of Mount 
Hermon which took place on April 13, and is vivaciously 
recorded in Smith's journal. The party started under 
the guidance of one Jakub, a Christian, " with a military 
bearing, and a figure of Christ tattooed upon his wrist." 

" The road up the hill winds very gradually through a 
sparse vegetation including an eatable herb called mishshy 
with leaves rather like the sea-daisy and a slight apple 
flavour. As we ascended, the slopes became waste and 
stony, a red soil amid fragments of grey limestone which 
gives the hill its purple glow at evening. We reached 
patches of snow very low down, and here our guide 
Jakub began to give in. He lagged desperately and had 
to be stimulated with chaff which he did not take in 
very good part. He had, however, a bad leg from a fall 
from a mule some months ago. We could not keep the 
usual road up a wady full of snow. The snow lay in one 
great sheet from the top of the mountain down the side 
and course of the valley for a depth of perhaps 3000 feet. 
We had to keep up a rocky buttress slope to the left. 
No difficult climbing, but some rough walking, and occasion- 
ally ankle or even knee-deep through the snow. At length 
we gained the top of the corrie, where to the left the 
hill was more precipitous, sinking in great crags towards 
the Hauran. But we had no view ; for the day, dull at 
first, had grown thick with lowering clouds, and it was 
in a drizzling rain that we struck up the snow slope above 
the corrie head which still separated us from the top. 
The top plateau had little snow on its level part. We 
ascended the north top and also Qasr 'Antar, a little to 
the south, where a little group of peaked rocks rises from 
the plateau. All round these are traces of well-built 
walls, and to the south, just under the crags, are the ruins 
of a temple in classical style. We could not find the 



312 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1878- 

inscription, part of the stones being under snow. The 
day cleared slightly, so that we could look down on the 
nearest part of the plain and the roots of the mountain 
through which one tremendous ravine (I think the Nahr 
Jennani) descended to the plain. But the distance never 
cleared. . . . Our guide plucked up courage going down, 
and headed us for a bit, declaring he was not tired, but 
that the fast ascent was mush tayib ['not good']. Then 
he lagged again, pulling and eating mishshy, but in the 
plain put on a spurt and tried to pass us by a short cut. 
Now this would never do, as on the top, in spite of whisky, 
he had collapsed and left us as soon as he reached the 
plateau to go up the tops alone. We were not to let 
him get in with false colours, so C. was deputed to walk 
ahead, I accompanying him as closely as I could on 
the stony road with the sole of one boot hanging off, and 
H. behind to issue bulletins on the state of the patient. 
He made several spurts, and then made a desperate 
effort to stop us by shouting Khallaz mush tayib. On 
C. went (4^ miles an hour good) and H. behind treading 
on Jacob's heels, and advertising us by a whistle when- 
ever he put on a spurt. Soon we began to meet peasants 
and townspeople, who at once took in the situation, and 
poor J. fell more and more behind in his efforts to 
apologise. He was too far back for much to be audible, 
but I heard one very emphatic sentence : ' Thus have 
they been marching ; thus, by God.' In the village 
he fairly took to a run and came in a bad fourth amidst 
the jeers of the populace. We had an enthusiastic 
reception. Ours was the first ascent of the season, and 
I think J. never intended to go up the whole way and 
never had been up in such snow. Paid him 6 B (5^ first) 
with which he was much pleased. We had several visitors, 
curious to see the aneroid, etc. one a respectable-looking 
sheep merchant, owner of 500 or 600 sheep, with an agent 
in Damascus. 

" I ought to mention that we saw a double wine-press 
partly cut, partly built, near the limits of culture. There 
was a double ra and the Up" 1 above was quite shallow 
and open to the vTroXijviov. The juice is used to make 
dibs." 

From the camp at the foot of Hermon they crossed a 
grand pass in the Antilibanus and descended to Damascus 



1879] THE AMENDED LIBEL 313 

on April 15. Smith's leave was now running out, and after 
an interesting visit to Baalbek the party rode down out 
of the desert to Beyrout, where he received a telegram 
announcing his election at the top of the poll to the 
Aberdeen School Board. This was an entirely spontaneous 
compliment paid him by his fellow-citizens, and intended 
as a mark of public sympathy and confidence. It does 
not appear that he had any ambition to become pro- 
minent in the business of local government, and his 
name was brought forward without his knowledge at a 
time when he was beyond the reach of posts and telegraphs. 
The expenses of the election were defrayed by a subscrip- 
tion of his friends, and his majority, which was no less 
than 7607 over the second candidate elected, was swollen 
by the maladroitness of his enemies. 1 Principal Brown 
had stated expressly that votes ought not to be wasted 
on Professor Smith. " There is no room for doubt," 
observes the contemporary chronicle, " that, in place of 
serving the end intended, the venerable Principal's remarks 
directly caused the sort of revulsion that sent more Free 
Church electors off to plump for Professor Smith than 
would otherwise have adopted that emphatic style of 
vote." 

From Alexandria he came straight to London in time 
to attend a meeting of the Revision Committee, and full 
of health and spirits " so strong," he wrote, " that, if 
my case were decided by a physical contest, I could give 
a good account of my adversaries. ' ' After a few days spent 
in London with Mr. Bryce, he hurried North to prepare 
for the resumption of the struggle. As we have seen, 
there are few references to the case during the Eastern 
tour, a period of rest and study which he very wisely 
kept as free as possible from theological cares. Events, 
however, had moved to some extent in his absence, and 
an occasional letter from Scotland reminded him of his 
position as the leader of a party in the Church. The 

1 Aberdeen Free Press, April 14, 1879. 



314 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1878- 

most interesting and important of these communications 
was a letter from Dr. Candlish which reached him at 
Cairo early in the year. Dr. Candlish wrote : 

"... my earnest prayer is that you and all of us may 
be strengthened and guided in the coming months, which 
I feel will be critical for me as well as for you. For I 
don't see how I could retain my position if last Assembly's 
judgment be sustained as a finding of relevancy in a 
libel. I should be constrained at least to avow my 
conviction that many of the Deuteronomic laws are later 
than Moses. I have not said so hitherto, because I have 
only lately been thoroughly convinced, and because my 
opinion is of no value on such a point ; but I could not 
conceal it if it seemed to be made a divergence from the 
Church's standards. But I trust our Church will con- 
tinue to stand on the old Reformation ground. We need 
light and grace, and we know where to look for them and 
all blessings." 

In the midst of much obscure manoeuvring which, 
to the lay mind at least, is both tedious and unedifying, 
this simple and clear pronouncement is as pleasant as it 
was exceptional. The issue whether Smith's writings 
on the subject of Deuteronomy were or were not com- 
patible with the Confession of Faith was in itself com- 
paratively simple. It had been needlessly complicated 
by the deliverance of the previous year's Assembly, for 
which Sir Henry Moncreiff had been responsible, and which 
for prolixity and obscurity might have been fitly com- 
pared to the celebrated rescript of Tiberius in the case of 
Sejanus. Sir Henry, as we have seen, had been opposed 
by the leader of the Assembly in a speech which in 
vehemence and power was surpassed by none of his 
addresses to the Supreme Court of the Church. In that 
speech Dr. Rainy's career as a professional theologian 
reached its grand climacteric. But its immediate effect 
had been that his advice was not taken, and that he 
momentarily lost his habitual ascendancy in the Assembly. 

We have now to record how he regained the confidence 
of his followers, and how by gradual and skilfully contrived 



i8 79 ] THE AMENDED LIBEL 315 

approximations he rejoined the main body. While Smith 
was absent in the East, the adversary was not idle, but 
the activities in the camp over which Dr. Brown and 
Dr. Begg presided were of little importance compared 
with the dealings of Dr. Rainy with the leaders of the 
liberal party. In the early part of 1879 we already find 
him in correspondence with Professor Salmond, the terms 
of which, to use the words of his biographer and apologist, 
" show with what rigid fairness Principal Rainy interpreted 
a decision which he had vehemently opposed." At first 
he had been inclined to doubt whether Sir Henry's motion 
had affirmed more than " a qualified relevancy " of the 
Deuteronomy charge. Now, however, he had come to 
the conclusion that relevancy was affirmed simpliciter, 
and a decision which he had denounced as " incompetent " 
and " illegitimate " was to be held binding on all loyal 
members of the Free Church. This view is expressed 
with greater clearness in a letter to Dr. Whyte written 
towards the end of March, in the course of which Dr. 
Rainy, referring to the passing of Sir Henry's motion, 
observes : 

" Though I opposed that judgment with great earnest- 
ness, I must further say that I do not see my way to take 
part, in any form, in upsetting a judicial decision which 
I had the opportunity of opposing in last Assembly, by 
a new effort in this one. I think that in itself and as a 
precedent that course would be bad. Without laying 
down the duty of other men, I am, as to this point, clear 
about my own." 

The doctrine of chose jugfe was a good starting-point 
for further counsels of " high moral expediency " which 
might resolve the difficulties likely to be raised by the 
acceptance of this highly clarified version of Sir Henry 
Moncreiff's very complex motion. Dr. Candlish's posi- 
tion was no secret, and a series of secessions seemed by 
no means improbable if Smith should be condemned. 
The number of progressives was respectable : their anxiety 



316 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1878- 

was acute, and the moment for diplomacy was at hand. 
Accordingly we find, about a month later, that the 
Principal had almost got so far as to open negotiations 
with the other side. In this matter he was " emphatically 
not the leader of the Free Church " ; he had merely to 
observe a wise discretion while others carried out a 
policy of which he disapproved. Meanwhile, however, he 
made a remarkable suggestion, which was destined to 
prove exceedingly fruitful. 

" I have long been satisfied in my own mind, from all 
the manifestations in this case, that if you are to avert 
the libel being carried out to the end, it must be by being 
prepared to withdraw Smith from the Chair. Whether 
that would do it if wisely and considerately arranged, I 
cannot say. It might. But that the libel will be fought 
out to the end and opposition voted down, in the face 
of all consequences, rather than continue Smith in the 
Chair, seems to me certain." 

There is no record of the reception given to this sug- 
gestion by Smith's friends, and there is nothing in Smith's 
own papers to show that the idea of giving up the struggle 
had yet occurred to his mind. After the Assembly the 
question, as we shall see, presented itself to him in a more 
definite form, and the history of this phase of the case is 
not the least interesting and instructive. In April and 
May his one idea was still to contest the issue to the end. 
For the moment Dr. Rainy too held in reserve the 
policy of compromise and all that it implied. His approxi- 
mation to Sir Henry Moncreiff was not yet complete. 

The Assembly sat in Edinburgh from Thursday, May 
22, to Tuesday, June 3, and devoted but one day 
Tuesday, May 27 to the Smith case. In the first place, 
there were, as usual, appeals to be disposed of. The 
minority in the Presbytery had appealed to the Synod, 
as they were defeated, on each count of the amended 
libel from Primo to Octavo ; the Synod, in turn, had re- 
ferred the appeals simpliciter to the Assembly. Again, 
the Presbytery had referred the Deuteronomy question, 



i8 79 ] THE AMENDED LIBEL 317 

that obstinate survival of the old libel, to the Synod, 
but the Synod had dismissed the reference, and against 
this again the minority had appealed. Thus there were 
at least nine appeals ; and when " parties " were called, 
quite a crowd of dissentients and complainants appeared 
at the bar. 

The arguments began with a lively discussion of the 
order in which the case should be taken. Sir Henry was, 
of course, anxious that the House should as soon as 
possible declare that his unintelligible motion of the 
previous year was a motion of relevancy. Smith and 
his friends, on the other hand, declared that the interests 
of the defence would be compromised if there was any 
departure from the order which the Presbytery had 
adopted. The question was, in fact, one of tactics. It was 
by this time apparent that Deuteronomy was the surest 
foundation on which to build a condemnation for heresy. 
On this the adversary wished to concentrate his strength 
without frittering away time and oratory on the eight 
points under the unsubstantial charge of " tendency." 
These points, in the event of Smith being acquitted on 
Deuteronomy, would supply eight further chances of 
damnation, " one sure if another failed." After a debate, 
in the course of which Dr. Rainy protested against the 
proposed alteration of the order of topics, but did not 
push his protest to a division, it was decided to take the 
appeals on the subject of the reference of the Deuteronomy 
question. The Defence retorted by abandoning their 
appeal to the Assembly, and, " instead of having prepared 
the way for the discussion of the reference, as he had 
intended, Sir Henry found the way so effectually cleared 
that he was introduced to the presence of blank space." 
The case now assumed this peculiar phase in regard to 
the first general charge, that the Assembly, having found 
that charge relevant in regard to Secundo (date, author- 
ship, and character of Deuteronomy), had sent it down 
to the Presbytery ; the Presbytery, finding themselves 



318 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1878- 

in difficulty, referred the case to the Assembly ; and the 
Synod, to whom their decision was appealed, refused 
to transmit the reference, which accordingly was now 
nowhere. 

There was nothing for the prosecution but to proceed 
with the references of the dissents and complaints under 
the " tendency " charge, and this was done after Smith 
had been permitted to read a protest against the legality of 
the action of the Assembly of 1878 in adding a substan- 
tially new charge to the libel under the form of an amend- 
ment to the second branch of the abstract major, and 
directing the Presbytery to accept this charge as relevant. 
The protest declared that, if he pleaded to this charge, his 
action was not to be held " to compromise or abridge 
his right to use all lawful means within the courts of 
the Church to challenge and reduce the aforesaid finding 
of the Assembly of 1878." 

This being done, the House addressed itself to the 
appeals on the second general charge, only to be again 
surprised by the fatuity of the prosecution. Primo 
(the particular relating to the Aaronic priesthood) had 
been found irrelevant under the second alternative 
charge, by the Presbytery ; Dr. Brown, Mr. Selbie, and 
others had dissented and complained to the Synod ; the 
Synod had agreed to refer this with the other dissents 
and complaints simpliciter to the Assembly ; and the 
complainants were now invited to argue their case. 
Whereupon Mr. Selbie, speaking from the bar on behalf 
of the managers of the prosecution, to a court which had 
not till this moment, in its judicial capacity, heard a 
single word upon this difficult subject, stated that he and 
his associates had made up their minds not to trouble 
the Assembly with any speech on the subject. They 
were more and more satisfied that they were right, and 
they had plenty to say, but it would conduce to the 
convenience of the Assembly, and be of advantage to the 
case, not to occupy any time in saying it. Dr. Brown 



i8 7 9] THE AMENDED LIBEL 319 

added that there were eight particulars, and as the rules 
of the House allowed four speeches on each, there was 
the intolerable prospect of thirty-two long addresses. 
Professor Salmond and Mr. Iverach, who appeared for the 
other side, said that as nothing had been said in support 
of the dissent and complaint, they of course had nothing 
to say in reply. Mr. Selbie, by this time probably aware 
of the absurd mistake which he had made, now proposed 
to address the House, but it was pointed out that the 
standing orders forbade the introduction into a reply of 
any matter that had not been referred to in the opening 
speech, and Professor Smith rose to claim judgment for 
the Presbytery on the ground that the case against him 
had not been supported. 

The parties were then removed from the bar, and 
Dr. Rainy, remarking that the course which had been 
taken had been entirely unexpected by him, and, he 
presumed, by other members of the House, moved that 
the complaint be dismissed. He did so on the simple 
ground that he held that the course taken was not just 
to the House. He was sure it had been intended to help 
the House and to save time, and had been adopted 
under the idea that so much had been said elsewhere that 
speaking from the bar was not necessary. But he held 
that a court like the Assembly, sitting as a court of 
appeal on so great a question, required to have the case 
put before it in another manner. If this was true in 
general, it was especially true where there was a charge 
against an accused party. This motion was seconded by 
Principal Douglas, and from all parts of -the House it was 
made clear that the foolish conduct of Dr. Brown and 
his friends had seriously offended the Assembly. Even 
Sir Henry somewhat tartly intimated his acquiescence, 
and it seemed as if Dr. Rainy's motion had been carried, 
but after some irregular discussion, a motion was made 
and seconded that the dissent and complaint be sustained. 

And now came a third surprise ; the prosecution had 



320 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1878- 

been completely out-manoeuvred, and resolved to evacuate 
its positions on the " tendency " charge in order to con- 
centrate on the grave issue of Deuteronomy. It was 
proposed by Dr. Adam, and with little difficulty carried 
unanimously, that all the appeals under the second form 
of charge should be set aside en bloc. The words of the 
finding are to the effect that both motions are with- 
drawn : " wherefore the Assembly, considering the cir- 
cumstances in which they find themselves placed and 
the great importance that any decision to which they 
come should be thoroughly discussed and well weighed, 
and finding that the dissents and complaints under the 
second form of charge cannot be satisfactorily dealt with 
in the present Assembly, and considering that the charge 
in the first alternative is the much more serious charge, 
resolve to depart from the second form of charge ; but, 
in doing so, the Assembly declare that they are by no 
means to be understood as under-rating the grave im- 
portance of the second form of charge, as set forth in the 
major premise." 

The Assembly next disposed without much trouble 
of the appeal against the resolution of the Presbytery, 
reserving power to deal in a paternal way with Professor 
Smith otherwise than by libel upon the strain, tendency, 
and general character of his writings. Neither Smith nor 
his best friends were concerned to maintain this resolution. 
It found no favour in any part of the House, and it 
disappeared for ever, without demonstration of regret 
from any one but Principal Rainy, who described it, as 
Smith had done in the Presbytery, as " a very harmless 
thing," and sighed gently at having to part with so con- 
venient an appliance for the mild chastisement of heretics. 

It was now past two o'clock, and the prosecution 
had exhausted their powder and shot. The unusual 
step was therefore taken of adjourning the House to 
enable them to take counsel what was next to be done. 
After the interval Dr. A. Bonar, who it will be remembered 



i8 7 9] THE AMENDED LIBEL 321 

had presided as Moderator at the Glasgow Assembly in 
the preceding year, at once moved : 

" The General Assembly instruct the Presbytery of 
Aberdeen to meet, and take immediate steps for having 
the libel, as regards the second particular of the first 
alternative charge, served in due form upon Professor 
Smith ; they also instruct the Presbytery, in the event 
of their finding the libel sustained, either by the ad- 
mission of Professor Smith, or by adequate proof, to 
suspend him from his functions, professorial and min- 
isterial and judicial, till the next meeting of Assembly, 
reserving final judgment in the case till that meeting of 
Assembly ; and the Assembly now appoint a Committee 
to adjust the libel in this view, excluding from it all 
parts that are not now applicable, and to report .at a 
future diet of this Assembly." 

This motion made the situation critical, both for the 
party whose interests and indeed whose ecclesiastical 
existence depended on tolerance, and for those who, like 
Principal Rainy, were chiefly concerned to prevent the 
awkward consequences which would follow the triumph 
of reaction : 

we/oi fox*} 1 * @' OV EKTO/JOS tiriroSapoio. 

Nothing less was at stake than the continuance in the 
Church of those who did not believe that Moses wrote 
Deuteronomy. It was not surprising therefore that the 
counter-motion came from the leader of the House, who 
implored his hearers to be content to temporise. Dr. 
Rainy's motion was : 

" Having respect to the novelty and perplexity of this 
case in certain of its aspects, the serious difference of 
opinion that prevails throughout the Church regarding it, 
the gravity of the consequences which the disposal of 
it may involve, the General Assembly resolve before 
proceeding further with the libel to appoint a Committee 
fairly representative of the Church, with powers, if 
they see cause, to confer with Professor Smith, directing 
them to consider the case in all its bearings, with the 
view of ascertaining the best means for arriving at a result 

21 



322 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1878- 

honouring to the truth of God, and fitted to secure, as 
far as can be, all the weighty interests which are at 
stake, and to report to next General Assembly." 

The position of the mover was difficult in the extreme, 
and the feelings with which he urged upon his hearers 
counsels of moderation, or at any rate of delay, must 
have been painful indeed. Dr. Bonar had delivered a 
speech, the purport of which was (as a subsequent speaker l 
put it) that, the better a man was, the more hardly 
the Church should deal with him. His seconder was 
Mr. Bannerman, at that time Free Church minister of 
Dalkeith, in whose more artful and polished address the 
House seems to have detected a flavour of self-advertise- 
ment. Mr. Bannerman's qualifications for the office of 
accuser, as stated by himself, were that " he had studied 
in more than one German University," that he was 
familiar with the speculative opinions of Mr. Matthew 
Arnold, and that he held strong views on the subject of 
the appointment to professorial chairs of gentlemen who 
had never been country ministers. He lectured the 
House, and more particularly Smith, on the necessity of 
professors having a knowledge of the world and of human 
nature, " and of theology properly so-called." His ob- 
servations were taken in very ill part by some of his 
hearers, and resulted in his being severely snubbed from 
more than one quarter of the House in the course of the 
subsequent debate. 

Dr. Rainy found himself much embarrassed by the 
declarations already noticed to the effect that Sir Henry 
Moncreiff's motion in the General Assembly of the 
previous year had in effect been a motion of relevancy. 
As regarded this point, he could only put it to the House 
that a majority of twenty- three was a somewhat flimsy 
foundation for a condemnation of views which he hinted 
might be more widely shared and more popular than 
some of his hearers imagined. With such divisions among 

1 Dr. Walter C. Smith. 



i8 79 ] THE AMENDED LIBEL 323 

them as to the liberty of members of the Church within 
the Confession, it was well not to forget that there was 
always something at the bottom of tendencies such as 
Professor Smith represented, and that it was desirable 
to have some in the Church who gave these tendencies 
a special and exhaustive study. At the same time 
the Church had " a natural right to influence and im- 
press " teaching in her colleges, and the speaker concluded 
with a polite reiteration of the view that there were other 
methods of dealing with a recalcitrant professor than by 
way of a libel. " For his part," he observed, " he could 
not regard it as possible for the Professor to give satis- 
faction unless it is established in the end that the Church 
is willing to accord him her confidence." 

Smith's speech, the only other which requires notice, 
was not one of his greatest oratorical efforts, but it was 
a powerful piece of argument. He disposed of the 
contention that the Assembly could not go back on Sir 
Henry Moncreiff's motion of relevancy by a skilful parallel 
between the Presbyterian infallibility implied in this 
argument and that of the Pope of Rome. He repudiated 
the accusation that his views on Deuteronomy were 
part of a system opposed to the doctrines of the Church, 
and said that, though he was still convinced he was right, 
and could hold out no hope that he would retract what 
he had said, he was willing to seek more light, and if 
Dr. Rainy's proposed Committee were appointed, he was 
ready to meet them " in a spirit of humility and with the 
desire to find that the questions which divided them were 
not so large as they might seem ; and he might do some- 
thing to satisfy the Church on many points with which 
there was connected at present much misunderstanding." 

The division which immediately followed ended in a 
remarkable result, for the numbers handed to the clerk 
at midnight showed that Dr. Bonar's motion had been 
carried by a majority of one (321 to 320 1 ). 

1 The corrected figure : at the time it was given as 319. 



324 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1878-1879] 

Dr. Rainy intimated his dissent " because the case 
was reduced to a single charge ; and when the relevancy 
was found by so small a majority and in so special a form, 
it was the duty of the Assembly, in the interests alike of 
the peace of the Church, the justice of the cause, and 
the influence of discipline, and the maintenance of sound 
doctrine, to take the course suggested in the rejected 
motion, as most likely to conduce to unite the Church 
and to exert a happy influence in the whole case." Those, 
however, who had accepted a majority of twenty-three as 
good and sufficient in 1878 were content with a majority 
of one in 1879, and on Friday May 30, the third and 
last form of the libel emerged from the hands of Sir Henry 
Moncreiff, and was ratified by the Assembly, who ordered 
the Presbytery of Aberdeen to meet for its consideration 
on the first Tuesday of July at noon. The document 
(which for purposes of comparison is printed in the 
Appendix) contained the single charge of expressing the 
opinion that, 

" . . . the book of inspired Scripture called Deuteronomy, 
which is professedly an historical record, does not possess 
that character, but was made to assume it by a writer 
of a much later age, who therein, in the name of God, 
presented, in dramatic form, instructions and laws as 
proceeding from the mouth of Moses, though these never 
were and never could have been uttered by him, an 
opinion which contradicts or is opposed to the doctrine 
of the immediate inspiration, infallible truth, and Divine 
authority of the Holy Scripture as set forth in the 
Scriptures themselves, and in the Confession of Faith as 
aforesaid." 



CHAPTER VIII 

THE SHORT LIBEL (1879-1880) 

THE biographer of Principal Rainy observes with justice 
that so narrow a majority on such a critical question 
revealed a deep and dangerous division in the Church. 
He consoles himself and his readers with the reflec- 
tion that " in the Scottish Church questions, however 
grave, are carried on to authoritative judgment," and 
with some complacency contrasts the fanatical but 
intelligent discussions which are possible in an emancipated 
Presbyterian polity with the peace " whose basis is 
impotence " which distinguishes less favoured branches 
of the Visible Church. The consolation may be accepted 
for what it is worth, but it may be observed with con- 
fidence that in June 1879, Dr. Rainy and such of his 
colleagues as were capable of appreciating the situation 
would have welcomed peace on almost any basis without 
too curious a scrutiny. The first thought of nearly all 
parties was in fact to effect a compromise whereby the 
" authoritative judgment " of the Assembly might be 
evaded. Sir Henry Moncreiff, still " emphatically the 
leader of the Church in this matter," had already sug- 
gested, even before the Assembly met, that the two parties 
should both negotiate and pray for the discovery of a 
via media, and the vote of May 27 brought matters to 
such a point of urgency that a private conference of 
Church leaders was held on June 3 to discuss the situation. 
Professor Salmond was the representative of the party of 

325 



326 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1879- 

progress at this meeting, which broke up without coming 
to any conclusion, after hearing a written statement of 
Sir Henry's views, the point of which was that the 
condemnation of Smith's theory of Deuteronomy was 
essential to the preservation of the integrity of the Free 
Church. Smith announced this result to his father on 
his return to Aberdeen a day or two later. 

" I got home last night, but only to-day have I seen 
Salmond with sufficient time to get a clear view of what 
was done yesterday. Sir Harry ultimately declined the 
conference : so the meeting was informal, and no one 
was present for us except Salmond. Rainy, after the 
others left, seemed much moved with the state of matters 
and uncompromising hostility of Wilson and Moncreiff. 
He also expressed his sympathy for me very warmly, 
and I hope that he will now see it to be inevitable to 
fight the thing out to an issue. ... I am very well, 
though still a little fagged. The crisis is very serious, 
but must be honestly faced. We must not let any in- 
justice go without a protest." 

In this spirit he wrote to Mr. M'Lennan some days 
later : 

" I mean to fight them for another year. It is hard to 
make up one's mind to do so ; but, were I to give in, the 
adversary would score, and many friends notably James 
Candlish, who freely publishes the fact that he has now 
satisfied himself that all the laws in Deuteronomy are not 
Mosaic would be left in an evil case. Even if we gain, 
my position will not be enviable ; and then I may have 
to think of a change. But this is not the time to do so." 

These words show that at last he was beginning to 
realise that the termination of his connection with the 
Free Church would have advantages for himself as well 
as for his enemies. That he regarded resignation of his 
position as Professor at Aberdeen as a temptation to be 
resisted rather than as a misfortune to be endured is also 
shown by the attitude which he at first assumed towards 
an important proposal which was made to him at this 



THE SHORT LIBEL 327 

juncture. The Chair of Mathematics in the University 
of Glasgow had just become vacant, and Professor Lindsay, 
mindful of Smith's scientific attainments, suggested that 
he should apply for the post. There were obvious practical 
objections, such as his abstinence for some years from 
scientific studies, and the doubtful propriety of opposing 
other candidates who had devoted their lives to mathe- 
matics; but apart from this Smith demurred to any 
solution of the ecclesiastical difficulty which would 
involve abandoning his fight for liberty of critical inquiry, 
though he clearly showed that he would be glad enough 
of an honourable discharge from a struggle which involved 
such a melancholy waste of energy. He wrote to Professor 
Lindsay : 

" I don't think my resignation at present, on whatever 
grounds, could fail to hurt our cause. I don't feel at 
liberty from your note to consult any one on that topic. 
But my own feeling is so. ... That is what occurs to 
me on the subject. No doubt the idea has much about 
it that is tempting, and I have serious doubts whether 
I can ever again be comfortable in my present position. 
But I don't see my way to move at this moment, and if 
I move I hardly think that the path of duty is to go back 
to mathematics, but rather to continue Biblical studies 
from the unembarrassed position of a layman." 

All his energies, therefore, were for the moment con- 
centrated on the new phase of the Presbytery discussions, 
and on the attempt which was being made by his friends 
to encourage that court in continuing to resist the re- 
actionary conclusions of the Assembly. As the Assembly 
had sent down the latest and briefest form of the libel 
to the lower court with directions that it should be 
served, the defence was driven back from the merits 
of the case on a technical claim of right, and on July I, 
when the Presbytery met, Smith submitted a plea in law 
" guarding a right which might readily be infringed, and 
putting forward a claim to be heard again upon the whole 



328 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1879- 

relevancy of the libel." The usual attempt to prevent 
the accused being heard was made by Dr. Brown's party, 
and was defeated by the usual majority, and the plea 
became a paper in the case. The main point of it was 
the obvious one that, as his accusers had restated their 
charges against him, and in fact had abandoned all these 
charges but one, which now appeared in a different form, 
he as the accused party had the right to restate and con- 
centrate his defence. It would be manifestly unfair if the 
court were to be influenced in pronouncing its judgment 
on the Deuteronomy charge by considerations affecting 
other charges now dropped ; and his previous defences, 
having been composed largely with reference to such 
charges, were no longer appropriate. He pointed out 
that he had not challenged anything done by the Assembly. 
He had simply appealed to the principle that what was 
done by the Assembly must be understood to have been 
done in a sense consistent with the constitutional regula- 
tions of the Church. In consequence of that, the first 
step to be taken towards serving the libel was that he 
should be summoned again to answer upon the relevancy. 
As he had intimated, he did not desire to do that in any 
way which would hinder procedure. He would try to put 
before the Presbytery at once his whole defence on the 
charge. He now laid upon the Presbytery's table, along 
with the plea, in case they entertained it, a paper which 
embodied his answer to the libel both as to relevancy and 
proof. 

After another division the defences were also received, 
and the Presbytery resolved to serve the libel " without 
prejudice to the plea in law advanced by Professor 
Smith," a form of words intended to show that the 
Presbytery disbelieved in the relevancy of the libel, but 
acted ministerially in obedience to the directions of their 
ecclesiastical superiors. A copy of the libel, " composed 
of various cuttings from the Daily Proceedings of the 
General Assembly patched together by means of wafers," 



i88o] THE SHORT LIBEL 329 

was formally authenticated by the signatures of the 
Moderator and the Clerk, and Professor Smith, waiving 
the legal induciae of ten days, accepted service of the 
libel, subject to a dissent and appeal which he had taken 
in order to maintain his constitutional rights. Having 
placed his judges in possession of his defence on the 
narrowed issue, a learned and highly technical document 
which covered the old ground, but also reflected the most 
recent advances in Old Testament scholarship, Smith 
departed for London, where the Revision Committee was 
sitting. He stopped on the way at Edinburgh, and there 
had an important interview with Dr. Rainy, his account 
of which has already been published, 1 but which may well 
be reprinted here : 

" Whyte was not available yesterday," he wrote to his 
father, " so I had to stay to-day. I had two hours' hard 
fight with Rainy, and practically broke his whole line of 
defence. 

" Finally, after an attempt on his part to ride off with 
a statement that he wanted both to do justice to me and 
vindicate the authority of the Church, I pinned him by 
asking whether he thought it would be just or unjust to 
condemn me on the new libel, and whether he desired my 
condemnation or acquittal. 

" He admitted (rather reluctantly and a little testily) 
that he wished in justice to see me acquitted, a strong 
admission in the presence of Whyte, and one from which 
he can hardly go back. It is plain that he is very un- 
willing that I should pass quite clear, and he admitted 
that he was sorry the minor charges had gone. But as 
soon as he was brought to the point he got franker and 
friendlier, and now I think will be forced to help us." 

This somewhat hopeful view of Dr. Rainy's attitude 
seems to have been due to the first flush of his triumph 
in the argumentative encounter, for by the time Smith 
reached London we find him writing to Professor Lindsay 
that he has changed his mind about the Glasgow Chair : 

1 Life of Principal Rainy, vol. i. p. 358. 



330 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1879- 

" If I had not found that there was a general feeling 
among friends that by leaving at the first good opportunity 
I would rather help than hinder them, I'd never have 
faced such a thing. Even as it is, it is painful to me to 
seem untrue to my proper studies ; but I fear it has 
come to that. I thought your proposal not conclusive, 
because I felt you to be so much concerned for my personal 
comfort and welfare that you might advise me to consult 
for myself while others would still advise fight. 

" I don't quite see why you are surprised at my dis- 
appointment at Rainy. I was disappointed because I 
saw that he did not seriously wish to see me acquitted. 
I am sure he didn't, and that in my interview on Thursday 
I forced his position. But, being driven in by force, he'll 
never be hearty, and I feel sure he'll not oppose any 
attempt to restrict my teaching. If this is so, I see it 
to be hopeless to protract the fight." 

On his return to Aberdeen he decided, as he said, " to 
take the plunge boldly and become a regular candidate " 
for the Glasgow chair. The succeeding letters are full 
of details about testimonials, the probable attitude of 
individual electors, and all the hopes and anxieties which 
precede an appointment to an important post of this 
kind. Smith was again able to rally round him a 
remarkable body of distinguished friends. His old 
teachers, Professor Fuller and Professor Thomson of 
Aberdeen, wrote commending him in the highest terms 
to the electors ; Professor Tait was one of his most 
conspicuous supporters. From London he received the 
cordial good wishes of Sir William Huggins and Professor 
Foster. His eminent German friends, Dr. Klein and 
Dr. Nother, testified that in their opinion he was com- 
petent to teach the ordinary mathematical subjects with 
complete efficiency, and that in a very short time he would 
be qualified to make substantial advances in special 
departments ; old students bore witness to " his very 
superior excellence as a teacher " ; while Mr. Gladstone, 
the Lord Rector of the University, though he followed 
the established etiquette by declining to support any 



THE SHORT LIBEL 331 

candidate, wrote Smith a polite postcard in which he 
" rated his qualifications for the vacant office very 
highly." 

Meanwhile the case proceeded, and the Presbytery 
met again on September i. This meeting had the effect 
of delaying matters once more ; the progressive party, 
after a prolonged discussion, and much to the annoyance 
of their opponents, carried a resolution to " sist pro- 
ceedings," in view of the defence and the plea in law 
which had been presented, and, instead of going to proba- 
tion, to report the case to the Assembly. Shortly after 
this meeting Smith sums up the situation in one of his 
periodical letters to his brother in India : 

" I think it is about time that I gave you a notion of 
my present prospects and plans. We had a Presbytery 
yesterday, of which I enclose the report. You will see 
that we can get no further. I am not clear that it might 
not have been wiser for the Presbytery to face its full 
responsibility, and sustain my plea and find the libel not 
relevant. But this would probably have been called 
rebellion, and many of my friends in the Presbytery 
would not have felt easy in their minds to go so far, 
fearing to exasperate leaders and perhaps alienate sup- 
porters. 

" I am not hopeful. Rainy at Assembly time seemed 
ready to help us. But his usual instincts of cold and 
selfish ambition are too strong for him. I had a very 
instructive interview with him in July along with Whyte. 
We got him fixed down as to the injustice of the present 
charge. But he is sorry that the minor charges were 
withdrawn, and I now see that he has never really been 
with us. He could not admit heresy to be in my writings, 
as he had said the opposite in the College Committee. 
But beyond that he will not commit himself to help us, 
and I am quite sure that he will not willingly support 
any motion to restore me to my chair. When the thing 
comes up to the Assembly, it is to be feared that he will 
not support my plea. Perhaps he may move to drop 
the case, but probably in that event he will be for adding 
to the finding an admonition limiting my teaching which 
I could not accept. So on the whole I think the best 



332 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1879- 

chance to avoid serious calamity to the Church is that 
I should get the Glasgow chair. Then the fight would be 
only for ministerial status, in which Rainy must help us, 
and which I think we can carry. " 

Dr. Rainy's policy from this time became more and 
more unsatisfactory from the point of view of Smith and 
his friends. Dr. Candlish wrote from Glasgow to ascertain 
his views, and received a reply to the effect that the 
Principal had determined to act with others with whom 
it would be premature to consult. He had no doubt 
by this time definitely made up his mind to act on his 
belief that Smith was " impossible," and to launch the 
policy of the middle party, to which we have already 
referred, and of which there will be much more to say. 

About the end of the month Smith was again in London, 
where he learned that the election to the Glasgow chair 
had gone against him. The fact that Lord Kelvin (then 
still Sir William Thomson) had never supported his 
candidature had to some extent prepared him for this 
result, which he accepted with great philosophy as indicat- 
ing that he should " stick to his own work, and go back 
to the East." 

He returned to Aberdeen in time for the meeting of 
Synod at which, after a very protracted sitting and much 
acrimonious debate, it was decided to uphold the Presby- 
tery's decision, and refer the Smith case yet again to 
the General Assembly. Immediately afterwards he set 
about preparing for his second journey to the East. 
Before he left, he received a final proof of his Encyclopaedia 
article on the " Epistle to the Hebrews," and about this 
time he brought into all but final form two pieces of 
work which were destined to be of the greatest importance 
in his history. One of these was the article on " Hebrew 
Language and Literature," also for the Encyclopedia 
Britannica, the effect of which was ultimately to close 
his theological career. The other was an article for the 
Journal of Philology, entitled " Animal Worship and 



THE SHORT LIBEL 333 

Animal Tribes among the Arabs and in the Old Testament," 

which was to be the starting-point of a new phase in his 

intellectual and scientific life. In the next chapter we shall 

have occasion to consider both these publications in detail. 

Smith left London for Egypt on November 5, 1879, 

and spent the next six months abroad, returning to 

England on May 4, 1880, greatly invigorated in health, 

and bringing back with him a rich accumulation of 

observations and experiences that greatly influenced all 

his subsequent thinking and writing. The chronicle of 

his movements, which in some respects were not unlike 

those of the 1878-79 furlough, need not detain us 

long. He reached Cairo on the 25th, travelling by way 

of Naples, Palermo, Girgenti, and Catania ; and his 

notes on each of these historic places were recorded in 

four interesting letters to the Aberdeen Free Press. He 

spent a month in Cairo, again under the hospitable roof 

of Dr. Sandilands Grant, and diligently read Arabic with 

the friendly sheikh of the previous winter. At every 

turn " totem facts " crowded in upon him, " crying aloud 

to be registered." Though studying as hard as ever, he 

entered even more than before into the social life of the 

place, and saw something of many of the European 

visitors, including Mr. Herbert Spencer, whom we regret 

to learn he regarded as a very tedious person. Among 

the diversions was a three days' excursion into the Libyan 

Desert, involving twenty hours of camel-riding and two 

nights of the hospitality of a Bedouin tent. 

The next two months were spent at Jeddah, half-way 
down the Red Sea, the entrepot of the trade and pilgrim 
traffic of the Hejaz, the western province of Arabia. 
Here he lived in the house of Mr. Wylde, of the eminent 
firm of Wylde, Beyts & Co., and saw much of the life 
of that important mercantile centre. He also was in 
very friendly relations with the officers of the British 
gunboats on that station, particularly with those of 
H.M.S. Philomel, on board of which he made a cruise, 



334 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1879- 

not without exciting incident, to Suakim. On New 
Year's Day he wrote to his mother : 

"... We left Jeddah on Saturday (Dec. 27) with a 
favourable breeze, and, running across the Sea, got into 
very good anchorage in a creek called Mersa Sheikh 
Baroud. It is a desolate place, with no fixed inhabitants, 
but the herdsmen come up from Sawakin, which is thirty 
miles to the south, with their camels and cattle to pasture. 
The pasture-ground is a long flat stretch, an old coral 
shoal running eight miles or so inland from the sea to the 
great mountains. Of this stretch part is quite barren, 
but part is covered with coarse grass and patches of 
prickly shrubs, with interspersed groups of Mimosa, 
Euphorbia, Spina Christi, and Tamarisk. There are lots 
of hares (of which we shot a good many) and some ante- 
lopes ; birds are in great plenty, and some of them are 
very pretty. Captain Berners brought home a tailor 
bird's nest with a young bird in it. I didn't see any of 
these on the trees, which was a disappointment ; but 
some may turn up again. 

" We saw a good many natives very dark, with 
enormous bushes of hair sticking out like the biggest of 
turbans. They are dressed in a sort of dingy white sheet. 
They had no houses, but had rigged up one or two rude 
huts with branches and mats near the wells. The latter 
are dug deep in the coral rock, and round about are pans 
of moist clay, into which the water is drawn. 

" Yesterday we left Sheikh Baroud, and had certainly 
a very unlucky day to close the year. We had a stiff 
northerly breeze, before which we ran pleasantly enough ; 
but the channel south to Sawakin between coral reefs is so 
narrow that the run was rather an anxious one to our 
captain, who, once started, could hardly have got back to 
the anchorage. At Sawakin it took us more than three 
hours of very anxious work to find anchorage. The place 
marked in charts proved not only unfit but most danger- 
ous with the wind we had, and we had a very narrow 
escape of going on shore. Of course had we done so we 
should have been in no danger of our life and property, 
but the rough rocks would have made a sad mess of the 
ship's bottom. As it was, our mizen mast came into 
collision with an Egyptian vessel and got a crack. To-day 
we are engaged in making repairs. 



i88o] THE SHORT LIBEL 335 

" We have got a first-rate captain and excellent officers 
altogether. I need hardly say that I am greatly enjoying 
my experiences here. It is like yachting on a grand 
scale. I don't think we shall stay here long the anchor- 
age is too bad. We shall be off again for Massowah 
to-morrow, I daresay, and get in on Saturday. There will 
be some interest there, as the Abyssinians may probably 
be already at the place. Of course we are neutrals, and 
have nothing to do but to protect British subjects, who, 
to be sure, have little to fear from the Abyssinians. 

" I am not learning much Arabic on this cruise, but I 
am picking up a great store of health. The weather has 
been quite cool for some days much cooler here than at 
Jeddah, so that one was able to walk about all day at 
Sheikh Baroud without inconvenience. The cold time of the 
Red Sea is just beginning, and for a couple of months I fancy 
we shall have all we can wish for in the way of weather." 

But the most interesting episode of his stay in the Hejaz 
was unquestionably his enterprising eleven days' excursion 
to Taif, from which he wrote to his father on the day of 
his arrival (February i) : 

"... We have had a good, comfortable, and most 
interesting journey. Two nights we bivouacked, and two 
we passed in houses. Here a good empty house has been 
put at our disposal, for you must know that Taif is a 
fashionable summer residence, so there are plenty of 
empty houses. The Shereef, the prince of Mecca, whose 
escort is with us, wrote especially to recommend me to his 
agent here. 

" I have copied one interesting inscription, which has 
been seen before, but not I think published, and now I 
hope to get some others which I have heard of as near 
Taif. I am very well. The air of the desert is magnifi- 
cent, and this place is famed for its health-giving qualities. 

" We were quite a company two armed slaves of the 
Shereef, with two superior officers and a camel man. I 
fear it will cost a lot of baksheesh, but I shall realise by 
writing my adventures to The Scotsman." l 

1 He wrote ten letters, which appeared in The Scotsman (February to 
June, 1880). He thought they " might probably end in a small 
volume," but the editing of this he never found leisure to overtake. 
The letters now appear in Lectures and Essays. 



336 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1879- 

Taif is some ninety miles from the coast, Mecca lying 
almost midway in the direct line. Mecca, as is well 
known, is even now inaccessible to any but professed 
Mohammedans, and in order to reach Taif, which does 
not share its unapproachable sanctity, it is necessary for 
the non-Mohammedan traveller to make a wide detour 
(determined partly by the mountains) round the Haram or 
sacred territory. Smith without much trouble obtained 
the requisite permission from the Emir of Mecca, and 
travelled with a retinue of five servants, who understood 
no language but Arabic, with whom he at once established 
friendly relations, and to whom he was indebted in the 
course of the journey for much information which has 
been preserved in his letters and in his books. Following 
advice, he wore the Arab dress, in which he was afterwards 
photographed by Mr. Dew Smith ; his description may be 
quoted : 

" A long white caftan reaching to the heels, and covered 
by an equally long mishlakh or cloak of fine camel's hair, 
do not at first sight seem to form a good dress to ride in. 
But I found by experience that the Eastern dress is far 
the most comfortable for such a journey, both upon the 
camel and in camping out at night. The only disad- 
vantage was that it gave my native companions the 
opportunity to tell a great many lies about me. They 
were really a little nervous about travelling with a Frank 
in out-of-the-way places, and while I adopted the Eastern 
dress mainly to avoid intrusive curiosity, they occasionally 
made a serious effort to pass me off as a Mohammedan. I 
know that Abdullah Effendi, as they chose to call me, 
figured in one village as a doctor whom the Shereef had 
sent to inquire into the plague which has been raging 
among the horses in the towns of the Hejaz ; but as I did 
not appear to approve of this fiction, I was afterwards 
kept in the dark as to my supposed personality. When 
I say that my attendants were nervous about travelling 
with a Frank, I do not, of course, mean that they antici- 
pated any danger to me while under the protection of the 
Shereef. They took good care never to let me out of their 
sight, and with the Emir's men at hand I was perfectly 




ABDULLAH EFFENDI (1880). 
From a Photograph by the late A. Dew Smith, Esq. 



i88o] THE SHORT LIBEL 337 

safe, even in a place like Zaime, where Mr. Doughty was 
exposed to insult and some hazard as a Christian, after 
crossing the remotest deserts without hindrance or danger." 

During this excursion his home-letters were very 
brief, but he took notes with great diligence of each day's 
occurrences, of the manners and customs he saw, of the 
geology and natural history of the country so far as his 
opportunities allowed, and made observations deemed by 
experts to be of value, not only on pre-Islamic Arabia, but 
also on contemporary Mohammedanism, and especially 
on the working of the slave trade. 

While in the neighbourhood of Taif he visited and 
transcribed the inscriptions, believed to be of Himyaritic 
origin, of which he had already written to his father. 
He forwarded his description of these to his friend, Pro- 
fessor William Wright of Cambridge, who communicated 
his letter to the Athencsum (March 20, 1880) ; Professor 
Sayce wrote in the following week that they were 
interesting, containing as they did a number of names 
and addresses to the sun-god. 1 

March 14 found Smith again at Cairo, where his Arabic 
studies were resumed for some six weeks, the only consider- 
able interruption being an eleven days' excursion along 
with Captain (afterwards Sir Richard) Burton to Fayyum 
and the Nitrian Lakes in search of manuscripts. Inci- 
dentally, they came across some unexpected proofs of the 
existence of an active slave trade, which were made the sub- 
ject of correspondence with the Foreign Office, and which 
are referred to by Lady Burton in her life of her husband. 

Meanwhile the traveller was kept duly informed of 
the progress of ecclesiastical affairs in Scotland, where the 

1 Among the spoils he had brought from Jeddah was " a valuable 
and apparently unique MS. by a certain Abu Aly el Qaly," now in the 
Cambridge University Library. " This is a prize, and I have got some 
other useful things also." In Professor E. G. Browne's " Hand-list of 
the Mohammedan MSS. in the Cambridge University Library," the 
MS. in question figures as Kitdbu'n-Wd'wdder (book of anecdotes, 
facetiae, etc.) by Abu Isma'il al-Baghdadi, called al-Qali. 

22 



338 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1879- 

champions of orthodoxy were showing themselves by 
no means disposed for an armistice, however brief. Not 
only were arrangements made on private initiative for 
the publication of a series of polemical pamphlets by Dr. 
Andrew Bonar and others on such subjects as " Well- 
hausen and the Higher Criticism," " What is being said in 
America," " A Protest for Reverence," in which attention 
was called to the heretic's hardening impenitence as 
shown by his latest, and as yet unlibelled, article on 
" Eve," and his recent review of Wellhausen ; l public 
attention was also systematically called to the behaviour 
of his aiders and abettors, and in particular of Professors 
Candlish and Davidson. 

Here it is necessary that we should look back a little 
way. Late in 1878 Professor Douglas of Glasgow had 
joined the army of pamphleteers with a brochure of 
113 pages entitled " Why I still believe that Moses wrote 
Deuteronomy : some reflections after reading Professor 
Smith's Additional Answer to the Libel." This mani- 
festo naturally had to be noticed in the " Review of Works 
on Old Testament Exegesis in 1878," which Professor A. B. 
Davidson contributed to the British and Foreign Evangeli- 
cal Review early in 1879. In the part of his article devoted 
to Professor Douglas's pamphlet, Professor Davidson begins 
by reminding his readers that Dr. Douglas had never 
doubted that " the critical opinions " regarding Deuter- 
onomy might be embraced and advocated by one who 
was as sincerely attached to evangelical truth as he was 
himself. He proceeds to say that "never having had 
occasion to teach on Deuteronomy and, in consequence, 
having made no special study of the book," he had turned 
to Dr. Douglas as likely to help him to meet the difficulties 
that beset the traditional view. He had been disap- 
pointed. The difficulties, which could not be described 
as small, had not been met. There were some who 

1 The article " Eve " in the Encyclopedia Britannica, vol. viii. 
(1878) ; and a review of Wellhausen's Geschichte Israels, vol. i., in The 
Academy, May 17, 1879, reprinted in Lectures and Essays. 



i88o] THE SHORT LIBEL 339 

seemed to think that it is enough to pronounce such 
words as " prophecy " or " revelation," with or without 
insinuations that the difficulties are entirely due to 
" unbelief." " Prophecy " and " revelation " indeed are 
real factors ; but in any given case the question must 
be asked whether we are justified in declaring that they 
supply the complete explanation of the facts before us. 
It is clear, although he does not say so in so many words, 
that the scholarly reviewer disbelieves in the Mosaic 
authorship of Deuteronomy ; and his conclusion is, in the 
first place, that the facts in the history of redemption are 
left entirely untouched even by the most advanced critical 
theories, and, in the second place, that even the record of 
these facts as given in the Scriptures is less vitally affected 
than is often supposed. 

Attention had already been drawn to the article at the 
meeting of the Commission in November ; and after due 
notice a formal motion was made and debated in the 
Presbytery of Glasgow, in which that Court was asked 
to take judicial notice of Professor Candlish's pamphlet 
on the Testimonium Spiritus Sancti as unaffected by 
criticism, of his opening lecture on the same subject, and 
of the responsibility he had taken upon himself as editor 
of the British and Foreign Evangelical Review in allowing 
Professor Davidson's article on Old Testament Exegesis 
to appear. The motion was defeated at a meeting in 
February by an overwhelming majority ; the agitation 
prospered no better in the Synod, to which an appeal was 
taken, and the matter was allowed to drop. 

The efforts of Dr. Begg, Dr. Horatius Bonar, Mr. 
Macaulay, and others met with somewhat greater 
success in the Edinburgh Presbytery, where a motion 
to appoint a committee to examine Professor Davidson's 
article and confer with him as to the statements therein 
made in respect to Pentateuchal history, law, and prophecy 
found considerable support. The matter was appealed 
to the Synod and thence to the Assembly, where a decision 



340 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1879- 

in Professor Davidson's favour was reached. The reasons 
in logic which led the defenders of orthodoxy to propose 
judicial inquiry into the published utterances of those 
who were known to be in more or less complete sympathy 
with Smith's opinions are easy to see. But the con- 
siderations of policy which dictated to Principal Rainy 
a different line of action are hardly less apparent. We 
find him accordingly, alike in Presbytery and in Assembly, 
urging that some latitude in argument must be allowed 
to those who take part in the discussion of doctrinal 
points raised by others, and in answer to those who had 
complained of the Presbytery's lack of zeal, it was ex- 
plicitly affirmed that " it was the duty of the Presbytery " 
to avoid, if reasonably in their power, any course of 
action which might force upon the Assembly the con- 
sideration of any additional allegation against the 
orthodoxy of a professor, while the process against 
Professor Robertson Smith had not yet been brought 
to a termination. In other words, it would be time 
enough for the Assembly and its leader to consider what 
to do with Professors Candlish and Davidson after they 
had made up their minds what to do with the author of 
the article " Bible," the article " Eve," and the review 
of Wellhausen. 

Among the letters which reached Smith at Jeddah 
was one (received on January 13) from Mr. James Bryce, 
enclosing a proposal from the President of Harvard that 
Smith should accept the Chair of " Hebrew and other 
Oriental Languages " in that University. Smith was 
at first disposed to regard this as perhaps a providential 
call by which he, his friends, and the Church might 
be relieved from a situation that had become in many 
ways so embarrassing. Full records are extant of the 
progress of the confidential discussion of this problem. 
His parents raised no obstacle ; Professor Lindsay 
thought the best course would be to accept the offer ; 
but Professors Candlish and Bruce were decidedly and 



isso] THE SHORT LIBEL 341 

emphatically adverse to his doing so until the mind of the 
Assembly had been ascertained. Ultimately it was found 
that the Harvard authorities were willing to keep the 
offer open until June, and there the matter rested. 

A few passages from Dr. Candlish's letters will make 
the situation clear. On April i he wrote : 

" As to the Chair in Harvard and the question whether 
you should, supposing you see your way clear on other 
grounds to accept it, resign for that purpose before the 
Assembly, I have consulted our friends here, and their 
opinions are somewhat divided. Bruce, Reith, and I are 
strongly of opinion that such a course would not be 
advisable, and that it would be better for the credit and 
interest of the Church that the case should be fought out 
at the Assembly, a motion being made that would retain 
you in your chair, and pressed to a vote no matter how 
certain and overwhelming its defeat may be. 

" On the other hand, Lindsay thinks there would be an 
advantage in your accepting the appointment before the 
Assembly, and Melville said to me of his own accord, 
when we were walking with Douglas last Saturday, that 
he thought it would be well if you got some other appoint- 
ment before the Assembly, and so were independent of 
what they might do ; because this would throw more 
odium on the prosecution if they attempted to go on 
with the case after that, and make your withdrawal less 
like a defeat. Lindsay also thinks that the avoidance 
of a clear issue at the Assembly would be less burdensome 
to young men who feel that they must have liberty on 
such questions as are raised. But my feeling is different 
as to that, and I think that anything like a compromise 
huddling the thing up, and getting you out of the way, 
would be more fitted to discourage and disgust independent 
men than a formal decision strongly protested against 
and arrived at in the illegal way of this libel. If that 
were followed up by even a few men quietly informing 
their Presbytery that they hold your opinions, it seems to 
me that would be the best way of securing freedom 
short of your being retained in your chair. 

" We have heard rumours lately that seem not baseless, 
that Rainy and Adam have made up their minds to let 
you go, and make some compromise with Sir H. & Co. 



342 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1879- 

to drop the libel. They have not had the slightest com- 
munication with us, which I think is very unfair ; but if I 
have an opportunity I'll ask Adam whether the rumour is 
true. But if it is, this to my mind only makes it all the more 
necessary that we should be no parties to such a base and 
unprincipled compromise, but fight the battle out for what 
we believe to be the cause of truth and right. . . ." 

Dr. Candlish went on to suggest yet another means of 
providing for Smith's future, and broached a plan (not 
destined to be carried further so far as he was concerned) 
that he should accept the charge of a new Free Church 
congregation in the West End of Aberdeen, of which the 
present Principal of Aberdeen University was for many 
years the minister. The project was naturally favoured 
by those who looked forward with regret to Smith's 
probable severance from the Free Church ; but it may be 
said with confidence that it was better in Smith's own 
interest, and perhaps also in the interest of the peace of 
the Church, that it did not succeed. 

Dr. Candlish wrote again on April 21 : 

" I have hardly any additional news to give you. We 
had a meeting of a few friends here on Monday week 
(April 12), and I am glad to say that all were unanimous 
in the opinion that a stand must be made at the Assembly 
on a distinct motion that would retain you in the chair, 
and also agreed with you that as far as can be seen just 
now the best opportunity of bringing it in would be when 
you have been heard on your plea in law. There was 
another gathering at Whyte's in Edinburgh last night 
(Tuesday, April 20), but unfortunately I was not able 
to be there. . . . The idea was that if we were sufficiently 
agreed and fixed in our own minds, there would be a re- 
presentation to Rainy telling him the course our friends 
were going to take, and that we were resolved to take it, 
whatever he and others might do, and whether or not 
we had any chance of success. It may be possible still 
to influence him, and anyhow we should find out what 
he is going to do. 

" I have not heard anything more decided or authentic 
in regard to the rumour I mentioned in my last. As 
far as I know it is still only a rumour, and some, such 



i88o] THE SHORT LIBEL 343 

as Salmond, refuse to believe that Rainy will take such 
a course. Salmond and some others are inclined to 
attach, as I think, too great importance to the dropping 
of the libel as saving the Church from a judicial decision ; 
but legally, and as binding on men's consciences, the libel 
is not worth the paper it is written on, and what we have 
to look mainly to is the practical effect of the case on 
young ministers, students, and laymen. What we must 
seek to make them feel is that, even if you must go, there 
is still liberty in the Church for views such as yours. . . . 
" Bruce expresses himself still more strongly than I 
have done on the advisableness of your not committing 
yourself to the Harvard offer or resigning before the 
Assembly." 

The time was now approaching for the re-entry of the 
protagonist himself. Smith left Alexandria on April 25, 
and travelling by way of San Remo, where he saw Mr. 
M'Lennan, he reached London on May 4. Two days 
were devoted to revision work before his return to 
Scotland. On the nth he reports to his father an im- 
portant meeting in Edinburgh, where the long-expected 
developments of Dr. Rainy's policy had at last taken 
place : 

" We had a great conference to-day : Salmond, Lindsay, 
Candlish, as well as Edinburgh friends. Rainy was seen 
by Salmond, and said he had made up his mind and 
drawn a motion, which, at the moment I write, he is 
submitting as his judgment on the case to a meeting he 
has called. 

" The motion is : to depart from the libel, but on grounds 
of expediency to deprive me of my chair. Adam also 
has come to this conclusion. We don't yet know if 
Moncreiff accepts Rainy's motion, conserving as it does 
my ministerial status. My friends, of course, now see 
the thing to be hopeless, but a good deal of pressure is 
being put on me to resign, then get Rainy to support 
dropping the libel simpliciter with a view to my being 
chosen minister of some church and remaining in office. 
I don't quite see what this scheme gains, and I don't see 
my way yet to fall in with it. . . ." 

Two days later he adds : 



344 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1879- 

" We have concluded that I must write an ' Open 
Letter ' to Rainy, to be circulated before the debate. 
So I have been detained here, but must come north 
to-morrow." 

The Open Letter thus resolved on was written, it may be 
presumed, in the quietude of the manse at Keig ; it was 
finished on May 18, and reached Dr. Rainy's hands on the 
2ist. A brief summary of its contents will be sufficient 
here. The writer begins with the statement that, although 
he had had no direct notice of the fact, he has learned " in 
a way which leaves no doubt as to the correctness of the 
information," that a new project has suggested itself to 
Principal Rainy's mind, and is being ventilated in his 
name the proposal, namely, that the Assembly should 
summarily terminate the judicial process by dropping the 
libel, but at the same time should deprive him of his chair, 
not by judicial sentence, but by an act of administrative 
authority. He cannot assume that the Principal has made 
up his mind or formally committed himself to this pro- 
posal ; but at any rate it is being currently discussed. 
Smith therefore takes the liberty of addressing an Open 
Letter to Dr. Rainy open, as intended not only for the 
recipient but for all who might have this suggestion before 
their minds. 

The Letter goes on to deal with the proposal to drop 
the libel. It is argued with great cogency that, inasmuch 
as the libel had been framed on the demand of the accused 
a demand which he had a perfect right to make it was 
the duty of the Court to carry it through to a judgment. 
" My contention still is," observes the writer, " that I 
have a good answer to the libel. And that, as every one 
knows, is your own position." The libel, he holds, 
ought in justice not to be dropped but dismissed. 

The second part of the proposal which, it is pointed 
out, has no logical relation to the first is treated at 
greater length. Confessing himself unable to conjec- 
ture what the arguments in support of it, or what the 



i88o] THE SHORT LIBEL 345 

form of motion proposing it, are to be, Smith proposes to 
inquire in his own way into the meaning of such an act 
of deprivation. The answer that most naturally suggests 
itself seems to be that it is penal in its nature. But if 
so, what is the offence it proposes to punish ? The libel 
is dead. The whole array of conceivable charges has 
been dealt with in detail, and no judgment has been given 
against him. 

Deprivation, then, was not to be thought of as a penal 
act. It must be intended (as was his suspension in 1877) 
as an act of policy and administration. The postulate by 
which it was sought to justify this act was that under 
certain circumstances the rights of individuals may be 
overridden for the greater good of the Church. In other 
words, the ordinary rights of one person may be shown to 
be in collision with a higher right. But who does not 
know that questions of the conflicts of rights are judicial 
questions, the gravest and most difficult that a judge 
can be called to decide ? 

" I take it for granted that you do not suppose that 
judicial forms and processes should be altogether abolished 
in our Church. Even after the experience of the last 
three years you may be presumed to concede that the 
notion of justice has a place in the Church as well as in 
the State, and that individual Church members possess 
rights which, in the ordinary course, can be asserted and 
vindicated in judicial form. But when you suggest 
that an office which I have not forfeited in the eye of 
justice may be taken from me by an administrative act, 
you affirm that, under certain circumstances, the rights 
of individuals may be overridden for the greater good of 
the Church. I presume that this is a nameless preroga- 
tive of ecclesiastical authority ; when the State over- 
rides individual rights, the action is called tyranny." 

Perhaps, however, in Principal Rainy's view the 
government of the Church is a despotism ? The argu- 
ments for Civil despotism would no doubt be irrefragable 
if one could find an infallible despot. But the proposal 



346 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1879- 

at present is inconsistent with the idea that the Supreme 
Church Court is limited in its action by any constitution 
whatever. 

The ultimate ground of the deprivation must be that 
Smith has promulgated certain opinions which many in 
the Church condemn, dislike, or at least suspect. Yet 
the fact remains that, beyond certain limits definitely 
fixed by the standards, all questions are open to free 
discussion. If it is asserted that professors have special 
responsibilities, it must also be maintained that it is the 
business of a professor, more than of any other man in 
the Church, to seek truth where it is to be found, to weigh 
evidence by his conscientious judgment, and to refuse 
to sacrifice the truth of which he is conscientiously per- 
suaded to any popular vote or clamour. 

" The right to be in the minority for conscience' sake 
belongs to my Christian freedom. Did I resign that 
freedom when I became professor ? No ! I then sur- 
rendered nothing which it is the right and duty of a 
Christian to maintain. I only bound myself to assert, 
maintain, and defend the doctrines of our Church and 
standards, which now, as firmly as then, I accept on their 
evidence as the truth of God." 

Another argument for the proposed act of policy 
was that, if he were left in the chair, there could be no 
peace in the Church. But if the peace of the Church 
had been disturbed, he certainly was not to blame. 
Whatever errors of judgment lay in the manner of 
publication of some of his views, the publication itself 
was quiet and orderly. 

Dr. Rainy 's reply (on May 21) was courteously worded, 
but gave no hint that he had been moved by any of 
the arguments addressed to him. It was as follows : 

" DEAR PROFESSOR SMITH Returning home to-night, 
I found your note and your ' Open Letter.' I have not 
yet had time to read it, but on the first page I observe 
the expression of your feeling that before making up my 
mind to the course of terminating your occupancy of your 



i88o] THE SHORT LIBEL 347 

Chair otherwise than by sentence following on a proved 
libel, I might be expected to consult with you and lay 
my reasons before you. I desire without delay to say 
one word to you on that subject. 

" I may have been wrong, but I have acted on the 
feeling that I ought to abstain from representations to 
you which might seem to wear the character of an attempt 
to press upon you, and to influence your course of conduct 
with a view in that way to solve the Church's difficulties 
or my own. And, on the other hand, it seemed to me 
that whatever objections in your interest it might be my 
duty to consider ought not to be made matter of private 
discussion with you, but ought to be sought and found in 
some other way. 

" It was my duty certainly to consider what could be 
said from your point of view. And as soon as I felt 
myself in a position, with Dr. Adam, to make known my 
conception of the line to be taken to friends whom I 
thought likely to agree with me, I made it known at the 
same time to friends of yours through whom I knew it 
would reach you. And so far as effective representation 
of objections is concerned, I believe I have experienced 
it more impressively, at repeated meetings, from attached 
and devoted friends of yours, than I could have done in 
any conversation or correspondence with yourself. I may 
add that whatever is proposed, as it has been subject 
to private argument and remonstrance, so it will be 
subject to the influence of formal pleading in the Assembly. 

" But, whatever you may think of this, my object in 
writing is to say that at all events it was far from my 
intention to disregard what is due to you on my part. 

" I refrain from saying anything about the painful 
feelings connected with these matters, because I believe 
you would rather, as I in your place would rather, be 
spared anything on that subject. I am, dear Professor 
Smith, yours very truly, ROBERT RAINY. 

" Since writing the above I have read your letter 
through, and I hope you will not think I take an undue 
liberty in acknowledging the perfect courtesy and great 
forbearance of tone which marks your argument." 

The rumours of the compact finally sealed between 
Sir Henry Moncreiff and Dr. Rainy, and the scathing 
indictment contained in the Open Letter, had caused 



348 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1879- 

much scandal, and the bitterness of feeling which pre- 
vailed was reflected in the proceedings which took place 
on the first day (Tuesday, May 25) devoted to the Smith 
case by the memorable Assembly of 1880. This day 
was entirely occupied with the consideration of the appeals 
taken by the minority of the Aberdeen Presbytery against 
the decision to refer Smith's Answer to the Amended 
Libel and his plea in law to the Supreme Court of the 
Church. The question immediately at issue was not one 
of much intrinsic importance, and, as the contemporary 
chronicler observes, the unofficial agreements previously 
arrived at by the leaders of the Church cast an air of 
unreality over the discussion. The play, however, was 
played out with a certain air of conviction. Smith and 
the more prominent of his friends were received with 
demonstrations of popular favour ; Mr. Mitchell and others 
on the opposite side were loudly hissed. The House 
was crowded, and the debate was conducted with vigour, 
and even with acrimony. Both parties to the case were 
heard as of right, and Smith, after some demur, on 
the point whether he also had technically the rights of an 
appellant, consented to speak by leave of the House. 
His speech, which was distinguished by all his usual 
acumen, showed traces of impatience with his enemies, 
and even a certain degree of bitterness which in the cir- 
cumstances is not incomprehensible. Its chief feature 
was a not unjustified attack on the position of Sir 
Henry Moncreiff, who, in his recently published History 
of the Case, had prejudged the questions raised in the 
plea in law, and, as Smith contended, had thus com- 
promised his impartiality as a judge in the proceedings 
still pending. In a secular court this contention would 
have had great force, but ecclesiastical tribunals are 
governed by laws of their own. Smith seems to have 
received little sympathy, even from his own side, in 
attempting to vindicate a principle which seems irrefrag- 
able to the lay mind ; and we are told that his speech was 



i88o] THE SHORT LIBEL 349 

considered to be a mistake in tactics, and that it suggested 
unfavourable comparisons with his great Glasgow speech 
two years before. 

Sir Henry Moncreiff's motion, in which for the first 
time the coalition was publicly acknowledged as an 
accomplished fact, consisted of two parts. The first 
was that the Assembly sustain the dissents and find 
that the libel is now ripe for probation. Had this been 
all, the normal course of events would have been that 
the case would have gone back to the Presbytery. This, 
however, would have meant perhaps a year's delay, and 
opened up further possibilities of controversy and even of 
the acquittal of the accused. Sir Henry's motion accord- 
ingly went on " but that in place of instructing the 
Presbytery to proceed to probation, the Assembly resolve 
to consider on Thursday next what course it would be 
best for the Assembly to pursue for the purpose of bringing 
the case to a conclusion without delay, and that Professor 
Smith be cited to appear at the bar on that day." A 
counter motion that the Assembly receive the report of 
the Presbytery thus imposing upon the Assembly the 
task of dealing with Professor Smith's Answer and Plea 
was defeated by an overwhelming majority, and the 
ground was thus prepared for the more summary treat- 
ment of the case on which the coalition had determined. 

The intervening day was spent by all parties in meetings 
at which the last dispositions were made for the final 
battle, and on Thursday, May 27, the Free Church 
crowded to the Assembly in its thousands to witness 
what was confidently expected to be the closing scene in 
the Robertson Smith case. Feeling ran even higher 
than on the previous day. 

" There were applicants for admission to the ladies' 
gallery so early as half-past six o'clock in the morning," 
writes a special correspondent, " and two hours before 
the meeting of Assembly the audience galleries were well 
filled. Members began to take their places in the House 



350 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1879- 

between eight and nine o'clock, and long before ten every 
available seat, every vacant space that could be found on 
the floor of the House, was taken up. The students' 
gallery was especially demonstrative, cheering and hissing 
those who had taken part in the case. Professor Smith 
entered at ten o'clock, and was received with wild cheering 
from his enthusiastic sympathisers. A more unusual 
demonstration was that which greeted Principal Rainy, 
who, probably for the first time in his experience, was 
hissed as he took his place. The demonstration startled 
and surprised everybody, and after an answering cheer a 
remarkable hush fell upon the House, and the Moderator's 
modest procession entered amid profound silence. In the 
opening service the Moderator offered a fervent prayer 
for the guidance of the House in the circumstances of 
the case. After the minutes had been adopted the 
Moderator gravely addressed the House, expressing his 
hope that no demonstration so unseemly in a court of 
Christ as hissing would be heard that day, and that both 
the audience and the members of the House would as 
far as possible restrain their feelings." 

Smith, in obedience to the Assembly's citation, took 
his place at the bar, presumably as an accused person 
to answer a charge. But Sir Henry had already given 
notice of a substantive motion which seemed hardly 
consistent with that view. After recalling the Report 
of the College Committee in 1877 and the discussions and 
decisions of the Assemblies of 1877, 1878, and 1879, as 
having failed to allay the feelings of anxiety and alarm 
that had been raised in the Church, his motion proceeded : 

' The General Assembly feel constrained to come to 
the conclusion that Professor Smith no longer retains that 
measure of confidence on the part of the Church which 
is necessary to the edifying and useful performance of his 
professorial work, therefore with great regret the Assembly 
find and declare that he must now cease to hold the Chair 
of Hebrew and Old Testament Literature at Aberdeen. 
And with this finding the Assembly declare that the case 
takes end." 

The question having been raised as to whether Smith 
should be called upon to plead at once, or not until 



1880] THE SHORT LIBEL 35* 

after the motions on the notice paper (now four in number) 
had been tabled and supported, the decision of the House 
was found to be in the former sense, Dr. Rainy in particular 
declaring that he for one would not be put in the position 
of reasoning the case as a judge, and then afterwards 
hearing what Professor Smith had to say about it. In 
these circumstances Smith declined to plead, pointing 
out that though he had received notice of a proposal to 
deprive him of his Chair, he had not received notice of 
the arguments by which the proposal was to be supported. 
He then left the House, Professor Lindsay remarking 
that in the circumstances of the case, and especially after 
Dr. Rainy's declaration, Professor Smith's silence would 
be more eloquent than anything he could say. 

Sir Henry then proceeded with his motion. He ad- 
mitted that it was peculiar ; but then the circumstances 
were also peculiar. The idea of such a motion had not 
originated with him, but he had taken it up because he 
had been made aware of two things : first, that some who 
had hitherto rather seemed to lean to Professor Smith's 
side of the case were now disposed towards some such 
adjustment as this ; and, secondly, that those who had 
consistently supported the decision of previous Assemblies 
were now desirous that the case should be brought to a 
close in the present year. He had the less hesitation in 
making this proposal because even had the case gone to 
probation, and the charge been found proven, he would 
not have proposed any further sentence than to exclude 
Professor Smith from his chair. The charge against 
Professor Smith, in his view, was not that he denied 
directly, or even constructively, any fundamental doctrine 
of the Church ; it was that he had maintained publicly 
an opinion respecting a book, or portion of a book, of 
Scripture which in the judgment of the Church could not 
be logically reconciled with the doctrine of the standards. 
The alarm and anxiety were so great and so increasingly 
prevalent that Professor Smith could not look for the 



352 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1879- 

confidence of the Church in the conduct of his chair. 
Nothing that Professor Smith had ever pleaded had 
allayed that alarm. The point was further laboured by 
Sir Henry's seconder (Dr. Adam), who repudiated with 
emphasis the statement that this alarm and anxiety 
had been the result of clamour. 
Dr. Laidlaw l then moved that 

" Though the views published by Professor Smith 
regarding the origination of the Pentateuchal Scriptures 
and institutions are not the views of the Free Church, 
yet, seeing they do not contradict the Confessional 
doctrine of revelation and inspiration in such a way 
as to necessitate censorial discipline beyond what may 
have been involved in his having been already tem- 
porarily suspended from the work of his chair, the 
Assembly pass from the libel and repone Professor 
Smith, humbly looking for the blessing of God on his 
resumed labours. Further, having regard to the circum- 
stance that the publication of these vie*ws by a 
Free Church professor was fitted to occasion, and has 
occasioned, much anxiety and alarm among the people 
of God in our Church and land, the Assembly urgently 
admonish Professor Smith to be extremely careful in his 
public utterances upon questions such as those which have 
been exercising the mind of the community in connection 
with this case, and commend all professors and ministers to 
observe the like carefulness in their treatment of these 
subjects." 

While condemning the views, he desired, he said, to 
save the Professor to the Church in a chair where he 
would be pre-eminently useful. Deprivation would 
not stamp out his views, whereas if he were reponed 
with some such declaration as that proposed, they 
would have a better chance of seeing these questions 
of criticism relegated to the subordinate place the dull 
uneminence which really belongs to them. This was 
seconded by Professor Macgregor. 

1 Then minister of an important charge in Aberdeen. He after- 
wards became Professor of Systematic Theology in the New College. 



i88o] THE SHORT LIBEL 353 

Dr. Rainy and his allies had now the mortifying 
experience of listening to a lecture from their old opponent, 
Dr. Begg, on the impropriety (to say the least) of the 
course which they were pursuing. The language he held 
almost recalled the phrasing of the Open Letter, and it 
was received with loud demonstrations of approval by 
the students' gallery. He moved that the Assembly 
proceed with the probation of the libel. He described 
the course proposed by Sir Henry Moncreiff as unpre- 
cedented, and injurious to the interests alike of professors 
and ministers, whose rights to a fair trial it suspended 
in a way that might make Presbyterianism an instrument 
of intolerable tyranny. He also objected to the abrupt 
and summary ending of the case, inasmuch as it did not 
protect the rights of the people, leaving as it did the 
question undecided whether Professor Smith was to be 
entitled as a member of the Church to promulgate the 
views for which he had been deprived as a professor. 

The effect of this pronouncement on the final issue of 
the debate was remarkable, but Dr. Begg's intervention 
was not the most picturesque incident in a memorable 
evening. The next speaker was the venerable Dr. Beith, 
whose first appearance in the case had been on the side 
of reaction, and whose conversion to the more liberal view 
(noted in an earlier chapter) was one of the few events 
in the controversy which the historian can regard with 
unqualified approval. Dr. Beith was old enough to have 
taken part in the division which resulted in the deposition 
of Mr. Campbell of Row in 1831, and it was a comfortable 
recollection of his that he had not voted for the removal of 
that protomartyr of the Broad Church party. His age, 
and the great respect in which he was held, easily procured 
the leave of the House for his son (Mr. Gilbert Beith, M.P.) 
to read the statement which he had prepared in support 
of his motion, which was to the following effect : 

"The General Assembly, considering that the course 

23 



354 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1879- 

of the case has confirmed the Report of the College Com- 
mittee that they had not found any ground sufficient to 
justify a process for heresy against Professor Robertson 
Smith, inasmuch as seven of the eight counts in the 
original libel have been found irrelevant, while with 
regard to the remaining count the explanations offered 
by Professor Smith at various stages, and in particular 
his answer to the amended libel, afford satisfactory 
evidence that, in this aspect of the case also, there is not 
sufficient ground to support a process for heresy, do 
resolve to withdraw the libel against him. Further, the 
Assembly, finding that Professor Smith is blameworthy 
for the unguarded and incomplete statements of his 
articles, which have occasioned much anxiety in the 
Church and given offence to many brethren zealous for 
the honour of the Word of God, instruct the Moderator to 
admonish Professor Smith with due solemnity as to the 
past, in the confident expectation that the defects referred 
to will be guarded against and avoided in time to come. 
And, finally, the Assembly declares that, in declining 
to decide on these critical views by way of discipline, 
the Church expresses no opinion in favour of their truth 
or probability, but leaves the ultimate decision to future 
inquiry in the spirit of patience, humility, and brotherly 
charity, admonishing professors to remember that they 
are not set for the propagating of their own opinions, 
but for the maintenance of the doctrine and truth com- 
mitted to the Church." 

In his statement Dr. Beith respectfully reminded 
fathers and brethren that no question of doctrine was 
before them. As to doctrine the whole circle of con- 
fessional Scriptural doctrine Professor Smith was as 
clear, unchallengeable, and zealous as any of the able and 
trustworthy ministers of their beloved Zion. " The ques- 
tion," he continued amid applause, " was one of criticism 
of delicate and difficult though not vital criticism into 
the merits of which he himself did not pretend to be able 
to enter, as he believed only very few of the old ministers 
were." This admission divided the House between 
approval and laughter, but Dr. Beith gravely reminded 
his hearers that their duty to the glorious Head of the 



i88o] THE SHORT LIBEL 355 

Church required that heed be taken not to interfere 
unduly with efforts made to elucidate truth truth to be 
ascertained by careful examination and earnest prayer 
for divine guidance. " Authoritative decisions," con- 
tinued the speaker in prophetic words, " which are 
dictated by motives of expediency, however good the 
object may be, can ultimately avail nothing ; they are 
always, moreover, perilous in view of the future, both as 
to the Church's peace and the honour and glory of our 
great Head and Master. In the case of Professor Smith, 
any extreme sentence would ere long appear indefensible, 
and therefore be not for the truth but against the truth." 
The debate which followed occupied the whole after- 
noon, and was renewed, after an adjournment, at seven 
o'clock in the evening. Almost all the prominent members 
of Assembly, and many who had no prominence, addressed 
the House, which listened in turn to speeches in every 
key from shrill denunciation to humorous remonstrance. 
The discussion, as was expected, was strenuous and 
sometimes bitter, and there were repeated outbursts of 
pent-up excitement. Professor Lindsay twitted Sir Henry 
with the strange discrepancy between the preamble and 
conclusion of his motion. The Earl of Kintore, Mr. 
Ferguson of Kinmundy, Mr. Colquhoun of Luss, and the 
well-known and respected Dr. Benjamin Bell of Edinburgh, 
showed once more that Smith had on his side the mass 
of intelligent lay opinion. The Procurator of the Church 
(Sheriff Campbell) defended the legality of the official 
motion, but Sheriff Cowan contended that the right, 
reasonable, and constitutional course of procedure was 
to carry the libel to probation as proposed by Dr. Begg. 
He and other speakers pointed out (and were not con- 
tradicted) that if the Assembly passed Sir Henry's motion 
the Church would put herself " in a position of antagonism 
to the just laws of the land ... if Professor Smith chose 
to go to the court of session, which he would not do 
(applause), with the case, notwithstanding the Assembly's 



356 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1879- 

offering him money, the court would review the proceedings 
of the Assembly and grant the Professor damages." 
Some of the orthodox party themselves wavered. 
Professor Blaikie said that three days ago he had not 
been able to see any way of reponing Professor Smith, 
but when he heard the motions of Dr. Laidlaw and 
Dr. Beith, proposed and supported by those who knew 
Professor Smith's views better than he did, he saw a ray 
of light on the matter. If Professor Smith was prepared 
to concur in either of these motions, he suggested that 
he should be heard, and that a way to a decision would 
thereby be cleared up. This led to a second attempt 
being made to obtain a hearing for Smith before the 
division was taken ; but the proposal produced a long 
and excited wrangle, and was opposed both by Sir Henry 
Moncreiff and Dr. Rainy. It was not adopted. 

Two speeches call for some special notice. The first 
was that of the Reverend Hugh Mackintosh, a highly 
orthodox young minister, a former student of Smith's and 
one of the signatories of a Memorial by students in Smith's 
favour which had been circulated among the members 
of Assembly. In supporting Dr. Beith's motion he bore 
enthusiastic testimony to the inspiring and elevating 
nature of the Professor's influence upon his students, 
his unvarying fidelity to the doctrines of grace, and the 
freedom of his teaching from all unsettling tendencies. 
Personally he had no difficulty in reconciling Professor 
Smith's views with the strictest view of plenary inspira- 
tion. As for the argument from loss of confidence, if 
they went on this principle it would give an encourage- 
ment to turbulent people to bring about want of confidence, 
and if these people were only long enough and loud 
enough they would succeed. But if this sort of thing 
went on, there would soon be a want of confidence in their 
Church's justice, in Presbyterian order, and ecclesiastical 
righteousness. 

The other speech was that of Dr. Rainy. The leader 



THE SHORT LIBEL 357 

of the Assembly laboured visibly. He admitted, as he 
well might, that his heart was heavy, but declared that 
his course was clear. He showed that he felt the taunts 
of Dr. Begg and the remonstrances of Smith's friends, 
and acknowledged somewhat ruefully his share of the 
responsibility for the course that was being taken. He 
had always been against a libel, and particularly against 
finding the existing libel relevant ; but to go back on the 
previous findings of Assembly would be to pursue an 
obstructive course. Neither the motion of Dr. Laidlaw 
nor that of Dr. Beith would, he contended, extricate 
them from the difficulty. Either solution would most 
Probably be the beginning of a new case. They must look 
at the practical difficulties in which the libel had landed 
the Church. Though technically the decisions of the 
Assembly hitherto proved nothing against Professor 
Smith, he asked whether morally and really there was not 
in these successive decisions a great proof of want of 
confidence in him. 

It was now past eleven o'clock, and amid a scene of 
great excitement the Assembly proceeded to vote. The 
account of the chronicler l is to the effect that it was 
seen at once in the first vote, between the motions of 
Dr. Begg and Dr. Beith, that a number of the Moncreiff- 
Rainy party meant to vote for Dr. Beith's motion, in the 
hope evidently of swamping Dr. Begg's ; and the doors 
were watched with keen interest as members made their 
way towards them. On the tellers reporting a majority of 
31 (287-256) for Dr. Beith, there was great cheering and 
waving of hats and handkerchiefs by the students and 
other occupants of the galleries. After Dr. Laidlaw's 
motion had been negatived by 244 to 51, the final vote 
between the motions of Sir H. Moncreiff and Dr. Beith 
was taken at ten minutes after midnight. Before dividing, 
Sir Henry said he had been asked whether members who 
had voted once already were entitled to vote again. 

] The Scotsman, May 28, 1880. 



358 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1879- 

Of course the answer was that they must judge for them- 
selves. They were entitled to vote. During the progress 
of the division the greatest uncertainty for some time 
prevailed as to how the vote would go. A compact body 
of members at once rose when the division was called 
and made their way towards the doors on the left of the 
Moderator, which were set apart for the followers of 
Dr. Beith ; but, when the floor of the House had cleared 
a little, a considerable section of the party who usually 
followed Dr. Begg rose and walked across the House to 
vote for Sir Henry MoncreifL Dr. Begg, Dr. Kennedy 
(Dingwall), and a few others abstained from voting. The 
Rainy-Moncreiff party were a little longer than the other 
in passing the tellers, and this gave rise to the impression 
that their motion had been carried. So convinced 
of this, apparently, were the public, that when Principal 
Rainy, who was one of the tellers, came to report he was 
roundly hissed. Gathered in front of the rail of the 
clerk's table, the tellers gave in their statements, and 
the result was awaited with breathless interest. The 
suspense was terminated in a very unexpected way by 
Professor Lindsay slightly waving his hat. This, along 
with the joyous expression of his countenance, was 
rightly interpreted to mean that Smith's cause, despite 
all the powerful influences ranged against him, had 
triumphed. The whole assemblage sprang to their feet, 
cheering vociferously. In the midst of the din those near 
the table heard the voice of the clerk announcing the 
numbers ; Dr. Beith's motion had been carried by a 
majority of 7 (299-292). 

Sir Henry, as soon as silence had been obtained, 
announced the numbers, and intimated his dissent from 
the judgment of the Assembly. The same course was 
followed by Dr. Begg, and also by Principal Rainy. It 
was a barren satisfaction. The coalition had been 
defeated, and it remained only to carry out the finding 
of the Assembly. After a pause, therefore, Sir Henry 



THE SHORT LIBEL 359 

Moncreiff directed that Professor Smith should be called 
to the bar, and the official account l continues : 

" The officer thereupon left the House, and in a few 
minutes returned with Professor Smith, whom he con- 
ducted to the bar. As soon as the Professor made his 
appearance at the door immediately to the right of the 
Moderator, the whole audience again rose to their feet, 
and raised a ringing cheer which all the attempts of the 
Moderator, Principal Rainy, and the clerks were unable 
to suppress. The ladies seemed the most incorrigible, 
for they kept waving their handkerchiefs, even after the 
cheering had begun to subside." 

After silence had been restored, so far as was possible 
in the excited state of the House, Sir Henry intimated 
to the Moderator 2 that Professor Smith was now called 
to the bar to hear judgment, whereupon Smith stood up 
while the finding of the House was read, and the Moderator 
addressing him, said : 

" Professor Smith, it is my painful duty, in accordance 
with the terms of the resolution to which the Assembly 
has come, to admonish you ' with due solemnity as to 
the past, in the confident expectation that the defects 
referred to will be guarded against and avoided in time 
to come.' The foundation of this lies in the fact that 
you are said to be ' blameworthy in the unguarded and 
incomplete statements ' of articles which you have 
written. Observe, that whilst there has been a very 
nearly balanced vote upon the present occasion, it was 
solely in regard to what was fitting and proper to be done 
in the circumstances. Amongst all those who have 
voted there was no diversity of opinion in regard to the 
incompleteness and unguardedness of the statements you 
have made. The unanimous judgment of the Assembly 
is that these views have been unguarded and incomplete, 
and the anxiety created throughout the Church at large 
has been great indeed. I can scarcely imagine but that 
you yourself feel very deeply with regard to that, and 

1 Proceedings and Debates of the General Assembly of the Free 
Church of Scotland held at Edinburgh, May 1880, p. 244-5. 

2 The Rev. Thomas Main, D.D., minister of St. Mary's Free Church, 
Edinburgh. 



360 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1879-1880] 

the confident expectation of the Church, therefore, is this, 
that seeing the solicitude that has been awakened, 
realising the solemnity of the circumstances in which 
you have been placed, and the confidence that is reposed 
in you, that in the time that is to come you will carefully 
guard against all approach to the same line and the same 
tone of statement, and that by your future line of 
action the confidence which the Church has expressed 
shall be found to have been fulfilled, and, if so, there 
will be great satisfaction throughout the Church at large. 
I think that I fulfil my duty in making these statements. 
I admonish you, therefore, in regard to the line of the 
past to be guarded against, and as to the course of the 
future which it is needful and becoming for you to take." 

Professor Smith, who was received with cheers followed 
by cries of " Hush ! " and who spoke amid perfect silence 
on the part of the audience, said : 

" Moderator, I hope that I am not out of place when I 
say that while I thank God for the issue of this evening 
an issue which I trust will be for His glory and for the 
maintenance of His truth I have never been more 
sensible than on the present occasion of the blame that 
rests upon me for statements which have proved so 
incomplete that, even at the end of three years, the 
opinion of this House has been so divided upon them. 
I feel that, in the providence of God, this is a very weighty 
lesson to one placed, as I am, in the position of a teacher, 
and I hope that by His grace I shall not fail to learn by 
it. (Loud cheers.) " 

The Moderator gravely rebuked the audience for the 
unseemly manner in which they had received the becoming 
acknowledgment which they had had from Professor 
Smith as to his having been blameworthy in the past, 
and observed that it would be a solemn and weighty 
consideration for the Church, against the time that was 
to come, to guard against the possibility of the recurrence 
of the scene they had had that evening. The benediction 
was thereafter pronounced by the Moderator, and the 
Assembly adjourned at about one o'clock. 



CHAPTER IX 

THE SECOND CASE ( JUNE-OCTOBER l88o) 

THE decision of the Assembly was one of those which 
may be grandiloquently described as having " satisfied 
the public conscience." It was received with a chorus of 
approval by the morning papers of May 28, 1880. 

To all Dr. Rainy's opponents, to many of his friends, 
and perhaps even to himself, it must have seemed that 
his position as an Assembly leader was gravely com- 
promised. The humiliation of the middle party was 
complete. They had sold their birthright and had been 
cheated out of the mess of pottage. They were condemned 
for being disingenuous, and mocked at for being un- 
fortunate. Dr. Begg was held up to them as a model of 
consistency and honesty ; they were told that " nobody 
who loved justice and admired straightforward dealing 
would have much sympathy with Sir Henry Moncreiff 
and Dr. Rainy in the profound mortification which they 
must feel." The majority of the Assembly narrow as 
it was was congratulated on having shown " that the 
Church's policy and procedure are not to be regulated 
by either a bigoted and intolerant ecclesiasticism, straining 
judicial forms to carry out its ends, or by a time-serving 
expediency perpetually watching ' the minds of men ' to 
know which way the wind blows." In many of the 
attacks Dr. Rainy was singled out for special animad- 
version. It was felt that the proposed sacrifice of the 
libel was a less serious offence than the attempted betrayal 

361 



362 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1880 

of the man. The shortcomings of Sir Henry Moncreiff 
were condoned as due in great measure to an honest 
incapacity to comprehend the issue, a defect which was 
shared by many of the " old ministers " to whom Dr. 
Beith had so feelingly alluded on the previous evening. 
The " compromise " to which Sir Henry had been in- 
duced to consent was known to be the work of another and 
a stronger brain, and it was " the crooked deviser " of 
his motion who was held up to the contempt if not to the 
execration of honest men. 

A defence of Principal Rainy's conduct in this unhappy 
transaction has lately been put before the public by an 
eminent and a friendly hand, in which all that he did 
and suffered for the advantage (as he conceived it) of his 
Church, all the perplexities with which he was beset, 
and all the difficulties he encountered are feelingly 
described. The present writers cannot fully admit the 
pleas which are advanced by Dr. Simpson, still less can 
they acquiesce in the inevitable attempt which has been 
made to put a large share of the blame for the troubles 
caused by the Smith case on Smith himself. But after 
thirty years they have no wish to revive the contem- 
porary bitterness with which Dr. Rainy was assailed, and 
they recognise the peculiar delicacy of his unique position. 

The Presbyterian system of Church courts, which Dr. 
Simpson has commended as much superior to an Episcopal 
constitution under the ultimate control of the Judicial 
Committee of the Privy Council, has at least one serious 
drawback. The supreme authority of the Church is a 
democratic chamber approximating in size to the House 
of Commons, and composed of human beings of high 
intellectual and spiritual qualifications, but of like passions 
with the rest of mankind. Such a body is in any case 
unfitted for the conduct of judicial proceedings, but 
eminently so when the questions at issue are not questions 
of ordinary morality but difficult points of scholarship 
and theology, requiring for a right decision the equipment 



1880] THE SECOND CASE 363 

of a scholar and the trained and unbiassed intelligence of 
a judge. The task of leading such an Assembly must 
always require political sagacity and worldly wisdom 
qualities the habitual exercise of which is, perhaps un- 
reasonably, dissociated in the popular mind from the 
highest manifestations of the Christian character. The 
Church leader will often find himself in positions in which, 
so to speak, he cannot save his own soul without imperilling 
interests to all appearance at least equally sacred. If he 
is to perform with success the duties of his position, he 
must often employ means characteristic of the dexterity 
of the old parliamentary hand rather than in harmony 
with the somewhat vague standard of ethical sim- 
plicity which the public is pleased to require of a clergy- 
man. So it was with Principal Rainy ; and while 
the compromise in the momentous issues in the Smith 
case, which he now attempted and finally carried out, 
may be justly condemned as neither courageous nor 
high-minded, let it not be forgotten that compromise, 
foreign as it is both to religion and to science, is of the 
very essence of all politics. 

Sir Henry Moncreiff 's position, as we have said, did not 
call for any special criticism. There were a few acrid 
references to the wreckage of his reputation as an ecclesi- 
astical lawyer, but on the whole there was a general dis- 
position to let him alone ; and when on the day following 
Smith's acquittal he moved in the Assembly for a return 
of the views on the subject of Inspiration held by the 
professors throughout the Church, his motion was quietly 
negatived and no more was heard of the proposal. 

Smith meanwhile was the hero of the hour, and the 
twenty-one days which were destined to elapse between 
the ending of the first and the opening of the second 
Robertson Smith case were crowded with demonstrations 
of admiration, rejoicing, and relief. The morning of the 
28th brought, of course, a shower of telegrams all on one 
note of joyful congratulation on what the senders regarded 



364 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1880 

as a splendid victory for " the principles of truth, justice, 
and liberty." After the telegrams came innumerable 
letters to Smith himself, and to his father, expressing the 
same thought more fully. 

' You have fought a noble battle," wrote an old 
friend. " Had you been defeated in it you would still 
have won, in the very conflict and the rousing of men's 
minds that it involved, a great triumph ; but now that 
you have not only done all this, but vindicated success- 
fully for yourself and all other students in your Church 
the right of free research, and have also the happiness 
of thinking what a scandal your victory has saved your 
Church, you may well be a proud and happy man." 

These and other ideas suggested by the great event, 
recur in endlessly varied phrase from all sorts and con- 
ditions of correspondents, some personally quite unknown 
to Smith. Professor Blackie sent a characteristic letter, 
and celebrated the happy issue of the struggle in a sonnet. 
Professor Baynes of St. Andrews, editor of the Encyclo- 
pedia Britannica, " thanked God on behalf of the Church 
and on behalf of the momentous interests of liberal 
thought and critical science in these islands," though he 
expressed disappointment that the victory put an end to 
the plan of permanently attaching Smith to the staff of 
the Encyclopaedia. 

Professor Wellhausen sent laconic but affectionate 
greetings from Leyden, where he happened to be on a 
visit. Professor Ritschl hastened to say " how fully he 
shared Smith's feelings about the result of so much toil 
and anxiety, and to wish him all happiness and pros- 
perity." Lagarde's letter had its usual touch of piquancy : 

"It is a great pleasure for me to learn that you keep 
your place. From the German point of view a great 
many things connected with your trial are unconceivable. 
I read every word concerning this business that came 
within my reach, and find that you behaved most wonder- 
fully. . . . Let me hope that the whole affair will not 
be lost for your Church. 



i88o] THE SECOND CASE 365 

" I have to thank you for your letters from Arabia, 
which will be carefully preserved, pasted upon paper. 
There is a good deal of very useful information in them. 

" Lotze is probably going to Berlin. RitschTs last 
book is horrid, in the worst style of his theology, and 
now he declares himself a Lutheran ! " 

Professor Noldeke, who is now the doyen of European 
Orientalists, wrote tersely from Strassburg : 

"It is with peculiar satisfaction that I observe that 
even in Scotland a hearing is given to views such as yours, 
the important bearing of which upon the traditional 
view of the Old Testament is obvious. After all, the 
world will not stand still, however pleasant a state of 
repose might be to many ! " 

Principal Fairbairn, then of Bradford, welcomed the 
decision as "an honour to the Free Church and one of 
the best things it has ever done for religion in Scotland 
and the cause of Presbytery throughout the world." 
Dr. Aldis Wright, Secretary of the Old Testament Revision 
Committee, and editor of the Journal of Philology, said : 

" The announcement in The Times of this morning of 
the triumphant termination of your case has given all 
your friends here the most unfeigned satisfaction. It is 
the only good thing which has come out of the long and 
harassing persecution you have had to endure. I have 
all along trusted that the cause of free investigation 
would win, as it always has done, in the struggle with 
theological dogmatism. Your opponents' bad general- 
ship secured their defeat. Such a compromise as that 
proposed by Sir Henry Moncreiff and Principal Rainy 
could never have imposed upon any Assembly in the 
world. It was a compound of weakness and treachery, 
and met with the fate it deserved." 

Professor Cheyne, the reader will not be surprised to 
find, was even more uncompromising. He wrote : 

" I was most pleased, but my joy was dashed by the 
humiliation which you have had to suffer. It is no 
doubt true that the Church has a right to tenderness from 



366 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1880 

believing Biblical critics, but the demands of the Assembly 
are excessive. To be quite just, the veterans of the 
Assembly ought to have gone down on their knees, and 
asked pardon for their sins of omission. If the older 
generation had done its part, how much easier would be 
the lot of those who desire to do their duty both to 
science and religion ! " 

The longest and the most important letter which Smith 
received on this occasion was, however, from one with 
whom he was not theologically allied. Professor Kuenen, 
as we have seen, had already intervened in the case to 
protect Smith against a mendacious allegation of his 
opponents. On June 7, 1880, he sums up in his grave 
and impressive way the situation created by the Assembly's 
decision. The reflections he makes are so just and so 
important that they must be given at length. 

" The coalition between Sir Henry Moncreiff and 
Principal Rainy made me fear the worst for you. Doubly 
pleasant therefore was the issue in your favour. In every 
respect it was pleasant. First, from the standpoint of 
morality, Sir Henry and Dr. Rainy are without doubt 
' honourable men,' nevertheless their proposal was not an 
honourable one an attempt to evade a decision on the 
principle involved and by give-and-take to secure a great 
and seemingly unanimous majority. The miscarriage of 
such a scheme is a triumph of right. In the second place, 
I am glad for the sake of the Free Church. Her creed is 
not mine. But I have deep respect for her faithfulness 
to conscience and for her zeal. For that very reason I 
should have been deeply grieved had she by expelling 
you and those of your way of thinking deprived herself 
of her best forces in the great struggle in which we are 
.all at one against the errors and miseries of our time, 
against materialism and pessimism. Lastly, I am heartily 
glad on your own account. I place this last, because I well 
know that it has the last place in your estimation. The 
thought that you were to be ejected from the sphere of 
activity in which you had laboured with so great fruitful- 
ness, seemed to me well-nigh unendurable. With all 
my heart, I wish you all prosperity and good success in the 
resumption of your work, now that this danger has been 



i88o] THE SECOND CASE 367 

averted. Of the cordiality of your students on your 
return to them, no doubt is possible. 

" There is one feature in which, as I view it, I can find 
no satisfaction, I mean, the admonition from the Chair. 
I cannot see that you deserved it, and thus have difficulty 
in seeing how you could accept it. Yet, I think I under- 
stand why you decided to do so. For you the Church is 
something more than it is for us. You were able, there- 
fore, to impute it to yourself as a fault that you had 
caused anxiety and distress to many well-meaning persons 
within its borders, and were thus able to accept rebuke 
for this at the mouth of her constituted representative. 
And so, in point of fact, you retreated in order to advance, 
and it is a healthy advance that she makes through you. 
However this may be, the younger generation under your 
leadership and that of your like-minded colleagues will 
understand these things better than they are at present 
understood, and so help the Church forward in a progress 
which she has not yet attained." 

Hopes for the durability and success of the settlement 
arrived at were expressed on all hands ; but there were 
some who did not fail to observe that there were elements 
of instability in the situation. Even the Press in the 
first flush of triumph allowed itself some uncomfortable 
reflections on the smallness of the majority ; and an 
analysis of the voting at once showed that Smith's 
victory was in fact due to a miscalculation of Dr. Begg, 
who was precluded from himself supporting Dr. Rainy, 
but who intended that his followers should do so in 
sufficient numbers to secure that the policy of extrusion 
should prevail. More than one shrewd observer mingled 
warning with congratulation. Dr. Benjamin Bell wrote 
in the manner of the older generation : 

" In looking back on the recent time of trial and anxiety 
to yourself and all of your friends, I cannot help seeing 
many indications of the Lord's gracious and superin- 
tending care ; and these seemed to thicken as the end 
approached. The happy termination must be traced to 
Him alone. With this conclusion I know that you 
thoroughly acquiesce. Now as to the future. Being all 



368 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1880 

solemnised, and I hope in some degree humbled, by a 
sense of God's nearness to us in what has taken place, 
it surely becomes one and all of us to exhibit no symptoms 
of human self-complacency or of jubilation over our 
opponents, and to walk very softly, doing as individuals, 
and as a party in the Church, all that we can in His 
strength for the advancement of His kingdom both at 
home and abroad. Many eyes will be upon us, if I mistake 
not, trying to discover some of the dangerous results 
so freely prophesied for some time back." 

Even more remarkable was a letter from Sir William 
Huggins, who expressed his view of the situation under a 
striking figure. 

" I suppose now you are again fairly free to carry for- 
ward your own views and teaching. I suppose the enemy 
would not hesitate to bring a fresh accusation of heresy, 
if you should say or write anything which they think 
they can show to be inconsistent with the Confession. I 
cannot help looking upon you still as a giant in fetters, or 
like Lazarus with the grave-clothes about him." 

Lady Huggins, continuing on the same sheet, observes 
prophetically, " I hope you will have some rest now ; 
but somehow I think you will have more fighting to do by 
and by." Events were already bringing about the fulfil- 
ment of this prediction. 

The eventful Assembly of 1880 rose on Tuesday, 
June i, and on the same day Smith's article, entitled 
" Animal Worship and Animal Tribes among the Arabs 
and in the Old Testament," l of which we began to hear 
rumours in the autumn of 1879, was a ^ last published 
in the Journal of Philology. In the calendar of Smith's 
life the appearance of this publication is of great im- 
portance, for it may be taken as marking the close of the 
period when his literary and scholarly activities had a 
pervadingly ecclesiastical interest and a positively theo- 
logical character, and the beginning of the fruitful period 
during which his researches were pursued in the wider 

1 See Lectures and Essays. 



THE SECOND CASE 369 

fields of anthropology and comparative religion. The 
starting-point of the article was the totemistic hypothesis 
of his friend Mr. J. F. M'Lennan, first published ten 
years previously in the Fortnightly Review, to the effect 
that from the earliest times, in very many cases, and in 
the most widely separated races, animals had been wor- 
shipped by tribes of men who were named after them, 
and believed to be of their breed. 

In the light of this hypothesis the article discusses 
the probability that among the Semites, as in other parts 
of the ancient world, and notably in Egypt, animal 
worship and animal tribes were associated in the way 
which Mr. M'Lennan's theory would lead one to expect. 
This probability had first been suggested to Smith several 
years previously by the examination of data afforded by 
the Old Testament. The Old Testament facts had seemed 
to point to Arabia as the part of the Semitic field most 
likely to throw further light on the matter. In Aberdeen, 
unfortunately, he had not sufficient access to the indis- 
pensable Arabic texts, but even the scanty material at 
his disposal there had yielded so many relevant facts, and 
thrown so much light on the data contained in the Bible, 
that he thought himself justified in publishing his pro- 
visional argument, and so inviting the co-operation of 
scholars in further research. The research has been 
carried on by many scholars since June 1880 ; the 
advances made by Smith's own studies are to be seen in 
his Kinship and Marriage in Early Arabia (1885, 2nd ed., 
1903), and can be traced everywhere in his Religion of the 
Semites. 

The article was very favourably received by the 
learned world, and was regarded as throwing " a new 
and surprising light on Semitic religion and on several 
parts of the Old Testament." The interest in the idea 
suggested rapidly grew, and the author soon became 
aware, through the letters he received from the leading 
scholars of Europe, that he had already achieved a new 

24 



370 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1880 

reputation, a reputation which, as we now know, was 
destined to outshine that of a successful teacher of Hebrew 
in a theological seminary. On June 17 he writes from 
Aberdeen to his sister, expressing the hope that the 
" totem paper " has reached Mr. M'Lennan's hands, 
and adds : "it has been very well received by the 
leading Arabic and Old Testament men to whom I 
have sent it, and I have got in letters several in- 
teresting new pieces of evidence." It will be necessary 
in due course to notice the effect produced by the 
article on his theological brethren ; it is now time to 
turn to another publication, in itself of far less import- 
ance, but destined to greater prominence in his history by 
reason of its incidental effects. 

The eleventh volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica, 
which appeared on June 8, 1880, contained Smith's article 
on " Hebrew Language and Literature," an unambitious 
and highly condensed summary of facts, such as might 
naturally be looked for in such a book. The etymology 
of the word " Hebrew," the connotation of the expression 
" Hebrew language," the relations of Hebrew to the 
Semitic group of languages in general, the area and 
history of Hebrew as a spoken language, are briefly 
discussed. The literary development of Hebrew is con- 
sidered at greater length. It is pointed out that the 
earliest products of Hebrew authorship seem to have 
been lyrics and laws, which would circulate in the first 
instance from mouth to mouth. Something is said as 
to the earliest written collections of lyrics, and it is 
stated that the earliest date of written law-books is 
uncertain. As regards history, the story of the early 
fortunes of the nation often presents characteristics 
which point to oral tradition as the original source. 
And so forth. Finally, a somewhat detailed narrative 
relating to the cultivation of Hebrew as a dead language 
is given. Naturally the article covered to some extent 
the same ground as the article " Bible." But it was five 



THE SECOND CASE 371 

years later, and quite five years more mature. The 
writer had learned a good deal in the interval, and had 
reached greater clearness on many historical points. 
Moreover, from the nature of the case, it was even less 
possible here to give prominence to the supra-naturalistic 
point of view. As a matter of fact, the article dealt 
exclusively with the human side of the subject. It 
wholly ignored the old notion of Hebrew being a language 
sui generis, and indeed the primitive language spoken by 
" man " (Adam) in Paradise ; without a word of ex- 
planation or apology it assumed that any hypothesis of a 
divine authorship for some, or most, of the extant remains 
of Hebrew literature did not foreclose the freest discus- 
sion of the literary or linguistic phenomena it presented. 

The article had been completed before he left for 
Egypt in the previous autumn, and had it not been for the 
accidental delay of the eleventh volume of the Encyclo- 
pedia, due to another contributor, 1 it would probably have 
been actually published before Dr. Beith's motion was 
debated in the Assembly. In his speech in the course of 
that debate Dr. Rainy, as we have seen, had expressed 
the view that the settlement ultimately reached by the 
House was no durable settlement at all, but was likely 
to prove only a new beginning of the case. How correctly 
he had gauged the disposition of the orthodox party was 
now shown by the re-entry into the conflict of a com- 
batant whom the reader has probably forgotten. 

The Rev. Mr. Macaulay, who was so prominent in the 
early days of the first case, and who had no doubt been 
patiently watching for opportunities of further distinction, 
saw his chance of stirring up the old controversy, and 
launched an attack on " Hebrew Language and Litera- 
ture " with amazing energy and promptitude. On 
Tuesday June 8, at the earliest, on Tuesday June 15, 
at the latest, 2 the Encyclopedia volume came into the 

1 Sir William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), author of the article " Heat." 

2 The brief autobiographical note in Mr. Macaulay's speech is here 
somewhat obscure. 



372 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1880 

hands of this doughty champion, and, within two 
hours, his vigilant zeal aided by the experience gained 
in his previous exploits in the same field had enabled 
him to frame an exhaustive " memorial and petition " 
to the College Committee, which he laid before the 
Edinburgh Presbytery and the public on June 15. 
The memorial was in the form of a threefold com- 
plaint, first, against Professor Smith's critical method, 
which as applied to Holy Scripture is illegitimate 
and inapplicable, since it ignores the fact that the 
holy writings were given by inspiration of God ; secondly, 
against his " theory " of the course of the develop- 
ment of the Old Testament literature, a theory which 
is without ground in fact, and, where entertained, makes 
belief in the consistency, continuity, and integrity of the 
written Word of God impossible ; thirdly, against all 
the conclusions arrived at on this method and theory, as 
being not only false, but also dangerous and destructive 
in their tendencies, and contrary to and inconsistent with 
the Confession of Faith. In particular, as regards the 
Pentateuch, it is falsely said (a) that it may fairly be 
made a question whether Moses left in writing any other 
laws than the commandments on the tables of stone; 
(b) that Deuteronomy consists of the ancient ordinances 
of Israel re-written in the prophetic spirit; and (c) that 
the Levitical code, first drafted by Ezekiel, was nearly 
the last development of Israel's literature. Thus, by 
placing last what should be first, and first what should 
be last, by dislocation and inversion, the whole of the 
divinely given revelation is thrown into confusion. 
Further, it is falsely said that Eber (the progenitor of the 
Hebrews) in Genesis is not an actual personage, but an 
ethnological, geographical abstraction, that the author 
of Chronicles worked from older documents which he 
did not fully understand, that Canticles as a lyric drama 
has suffered much from interpolation, and presumably 
was not written down till a comparatively late date 



i88o] THE SECOND CASE 373 

and from imperfect recollection. Similar injurious state- 
ments are made about Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Daniel, 
Ecclesiastes, and Jonah ; while Isaiah is sawn asunder. 

Such being the memorial, the petition was that the 
Commission take prompt and effective action to prevent 
the Rev. Professor Smith from teaching the erroneous and 
destructive views complained of in one of the theological 
colleges of our Church, and to secure that the testimony of 
the Church to the truth, authority, and inspiration of the 
Word of God may be fully and without compromise 
maintained. 

The memorial is, in fact, an excellent preliminary 
sketch or programme for a new libel in which our old 
acquaintances Secundo, Tertio, Quarto, Quinto, and Sexto 
are easily recognisable. When compared with the old 
libel which the Assembly had by a majority dropped less 
than three weeks before, it presented prominently two 
new features which presumably its author regarded as 
improvements. In the first place, it raised quite frankly 
and explicitly the question which had been only obscurely, 
elusively, and evasively brought forward in the previous 
trial. Does the Church's doctrine of inspiration in the 
case of the canonical books render illegitimate and 
inapplicable the critical method which is admittedly 
legitimate and applicable in the case of books that are 
not canonical ? In the second place, it raised in its 
simplest and broadest form the further question of a 
theory of development as applied to the Mosaic legis- 
lation, challenging as false and pernicious the view that 
certain parts might be classified as Sinaitic and early, 
others as Deuteronomic of much later date, and yet 
others (the so-called Levitical) as later still and indeed 
post-exilic. 

Here again, however, it will not be out of place to 
remark that the friends of orthodoxy laid themselves 
open to a charge of great negligence and culpable laxity 
when they allowed Professor Smith to go to his Chair at 



374 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1880 

the time of his election in 1870. For, as we have seen, 
he entered upon his professoriate as avowedly one of 
those who practised the higher criticism on the canonical 
books, and who did not hesitate, for example, even then 
to suggest that probably, perhaps almost certainly, a 
large portion of the book assigned by tradition to the 
prophet Isaiah really belonged not to the Assyrian, but 
to the Chaldean period. 

The Presbytery met on June 30, but on the motion 
of Sir Henry Moncreiff it was agreed after a somewhat 
keen debate to postpone consideration of the motion 
for another fortnight. It was timidly and tentatively 
suggested that the Aberdeen Presbytery or the College 
Committee might, in courtesy at least, be allowed time 
to consider whether there was any ground for action ; 
but the prevalent feeling was that no duty of self- 
restraint lay upon any one who was dissatisfied with 
the action of last Assembly. The discussion disclosed 
that Drs. Rainy and Begg had both of them read 
the new article, and had " made up their minds about 
it " (in what sense they did not say). It also transpired 
that a private meeting on the subject, attended by Dr. 
Rainy among others, had been held ; what he then said 
was not stated, but we already know that he had put on 
record his dissatisfaction with the Assembly's decision as 
not adequately meeting the " exigencies " of the case, 
and no doubt he also gave expression to the feelings of 
" legitimate disappointment and vexation " and " sheer 
sinking of heart " which he recalled in the Assembly of 
1881. Mr. Macaulay was ultimately allowed to substitute 
for the long motion of which he had given notice a much 
shorter and more generalised form, in which the most 
important change was in the destination of the petition. 
It was no longer proposed that it should be addressed to 
the too timid and forceless College Committee, but that it 
should go to the Commission itself, a body which contained 
Dr. Begg and all the energies he represented. Meanwhile, 



THE SECOND CASE 375 

however, Mr. Macaulay's original motion had been 
published in all the newspapers, with the effect of raising 
what the prosecution afterwards called a " disturbance " 
demanding the strongest repressive measures, not against 
those who had raised it, but against him who had been 
the object of it. The avowed purpose of the adjourn- 
ment was to enable the members of the Presbytery in 
the interval to master the contents of the article, which 
was characterised by one speaker as " very abstruse," 
and " in some respects difficult," but which, it was 
pointed out, was fortunately easily accessible in the 
public libraries. 

Smith meanwhile had returned to his interrupted 
occupations, and was beginning to reorganise his life as 
a Professor of the Free Church. One of his first cares, 
as soon as the decision of the Assembly was known, 
had been to telegraph and write to President Eliot, to 
inform him that he was no longer in a position to con- 
template acceptance of the Harvard appointment to which 
reference was made in last chapter. Dr. Eliot sent a 
courteous reply, announcing that in default of Smith the 
Governing Body had appointed an American heretic, 1 
whose views on Isaiah had offended the Baptist com- 
munion to which he had belonged. " I have not seen any 
intelligible account of the proceedings of the General 
Assembly," continued the President, " the vote seemed 
too close to be decisive, but you evidently count it a 
battle won once for all. The Free Church is much to be 
congratulated on the result." 2 

June 29 found Smith again in London, busily engaged 
with Old Testament Revision. In passing through 
Edinburgh he had " seen many friends," and found that 
they were "not nervous about Macaulay"; in a post- 

1 Prof. C. H. Toy, who has since become so well known on both 
sides of the Atlantic for much excellent work in the field of Old 
Testament literature. 

3 From the following letter from the then Lord Advocate to Professor 
Tait it will be seen that more than one sphere of usefulness elsewhere 



376 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1880 

script to the same letter (dated June 30) to his father he 
adds : "I met an American Professor yesterday from 
Johns Hopkins University. They also were looking out 
for the issue of the Assembly, thinking to bring me out 
there." 

The newspaper accounts of the Edinburgh Presbytery 
proceedings, which no doubt reached him in London on 
July 2, together with other communications, seem to have 
aroused his anxiety for the first time. On that date he 
wrote to Mr. J. S. Black complaining of the Edinburgh 
proceedings, and admitting that the impression conveyed 
to him by the news from Scotland was that there was a 
really considerable amount of annoyance at his views, 
and that many people were beginning to feel that it 
might compromise them to have to fight for him again. 

" I am not sure," he continued, " that I may not find 
it necessary to retire still a disappointing result. I can't 
have a chance to communicate with my Presbytery before 
July 13, and indeed I don't wish one. It does not consist 
with my conscience to take any fresh pledges. Altogether 
I am both puzzled and distressed. Till now I have had 
really no difficulty in choosing a path of duty. But in 
present circumstances one does not know whether to go 
on or to go back." 

A few days later he wrote to Professor Lindsay : 

" I really don't see that there is any room for discussion 
of plans before the Commission. I take up the position 
that the whole thing is absolutely irregular. 

might have been open to Professor Smith, had the Assembly's decision 
been adverse : 

" LORD ADVOCATE'S CHAMBERS, 

" HOME OFFICE, WHITEHALL, S.W. 

May 29, 1880. 

" DEAR PROFESSOR TAIT I very much regret that so good a man as 
Robertson Smith should be disinclined to offer himself as a candidate 
for the Logic Chair at Aberdeen. I do not think it would be consistent 
with my official duty to ask him to reconsider his determination, as that 
might imply a promise which I cannot give until I know who are to be 
the candidates ; but I know that in you he will have a judicious and 
friendly adviser. Believe me, Yours truly, 

" JOHN M-LAREN. " 



i88o] THE SECOND CASE 377 

" I have communicated to Bell and others such facts 
as seemed to me fit to be known, and I have quite made 
up my mind to do or say no more, at least in the way of 
explanation. If the Edinburgh Presbytery does or says 
anything very irregular, I may have to remark on that. 
I don't see the least necessity for wasting our time and 
strength on George Macaulay. If Rainy or other leaders 
take an active part in breaking the law of the Church, 
that may change the aspect of things." 

The Edinburgh Presbytery met as arranged on July 13, 
to discuss Mr. Macaulay's proposal to report the new 
heresy to the Commission of Assembly. His speech 
contained a characteristic insinuation that the article 
" Hebrew Language and Literature " was not only in 
itself vicious, but was plagiarised from Professor Reuss of 
Strassburg. Neither the speech nor the accusation calls 
for any further notice. It was then moved that Smith 
should be allowed sufficient time to submit himself to the 
admonition of the Assembly. The remainder of the 
discussion is interesting historically, but it was ominous 
of evil for Smith and his friends. Sir Henry Moncreiff, 
who made the amazing admission that he neither had 
read nor for the time intended to read the article at all, 
moved that without committing themselves as to the 
character of the impugned writings, the Presbytery 
should memorialise the Commission to adopt such steps 
as they judge fit to meet the disturbance and to vindicate 
scriptural principle. Dr. Begg did not scruple to say 
that the opportunity of reopening the case and reversing 
the decision of the Assembly was a " marvellous inter- 
position of providence," and Dr. Rainy made a short 
speech, which showed that he had taken occasion to 
revise his high constitutional views on the infallibility 
of the findings of the venerable the General Assembly. 

He evaded any indication of what he thought should 
be done. He did not see that any action could be taken 
then ; on the other hand, he was not prepared to say that 
the decision of last Assembly necessarily precluded the 



378 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1880 

Church from taking up the article. If the Church decided 
to reopen the case, he held himself entirely free to take 
what line he thought proper. In these circumstances 
he decided not to vote. The result was that Sir Henry's 
motion (founded, as we have seen, on avowedly complete 
ignorance of the issue) became the finding of the Presby- 
tery, Mr. Macaulay having withdrawn his proposal in 
Sir Henry's favour. 

It was characteristic of Smith that he saw in these 
manifestations nothing that was seriously alarming. He 
wrote reassuringly to his family, and somewhat stiffly 
to Professor Lindsay to the effect that, while not professing 
to have penetrated the precise plan of his adversaries, he 
believed that they were either aiming at some summary 
procedure, or hoping to concuss him by the threat of 
this, not yet having seen their way to a libel. Premis- 
ing that it is open to the Commission either to inquire 
into or to drop the matter, he does not think it possible 
that they can propose to prosecute without further 
inquiry. 

He goes on (naively enough, as we now can see) to say : 

" If the Commission resolve to inquire, they will, of 
course, proceed next to read my article. Now I suppose 
that in that case they will ask me for explanations. But 
you may as well know, and I give you authority if it 
seems proper to tell the Commission, that, as passages 
in my explanations were last time founded on in the 
libel, they need not expect me to make any answer to 
them until they themselves send me a precise formulation 
of what they suppose to be the heresies in my new article. 
I shall be very wary in dealing with the Commission this 
time, as I have no doubt that Rainy is waiting for my 
halting." 

Smith's optimism was not shared by his friends, one 
of whom l wrote to Professor Lindsay at this very time 
in distinctly lugubrious terms of the prospects of the 
new struggle, estimating that they could hardly hope 

1 Dr. Orrock Johnston of Westbourne Free Church, Glasgow. 






- THE SECOND CASE 379 

for a hundred votes if the matter was pressed to a division 
in Assembly, and reluctantly avowing that he now felt 
that Smith's resignation alone could save the situation. 

Smith resolved to lose no time in publishing a 
statement which might strengthen the hands of his 
friends. This statement took the form of a letter to 
Dr. Spence, the Clerk of the Presbytery of Aberdeen, 
which with his approval was at once made public. 
In substance the letter is a criticism of the irregular 
conduct of the Edinburgh Presbytery in " having made 
itself the mouthpiece of a fama against me without 
inquiring into its ground, and without communicating 
the matter either to me or to my Presbytery." He 
thinks it due to the Presbytery of Aberdeen, the 
court to which he is directly responsible in matters of 
discipline, to make a clear statement of his present 
position. After stating the main facts as to the publica- 
tion of the new article " on a subject of legitimate study, 
which cannot be treated without reference to the dis- 
coveries of modern criticism," he proceeds to say that it 
had never been a question with him whether, in order to 
remain in the Church, he should sacrifice his convictions 
as to the truth of the opinions with regard to which he 
had been put upon his trial. . . . 

" Since I wrote the article, the Assembly has given a 
final decision on the question whether the critical views 
for which I was libelled are inconsistent with office in 
the Free Church. . . . This decision enabled myself, 
and those who hold like views, to remain at our posts 
with a clear conscience, and to return to the work of 
the Church with fresh vigour. . . . For my own part I 
recognised in that issue a solemn invitation to throw 
myself into such departments of Church work and 
scholarly research as could not excite fresh controversy." 

He had taken immediate steps before the Assembly 
closed to rearrange his literary engagements in accordance 
with this plan, and trusted that his present statement 
had made it plain that he accepted the decision of last 



380 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1880 

Assembly with all loyalty, and had given it immediate 
effect by so arranging his studies and plans of literary 
work as to give the Church a respite from critical con- 
troversy so far as he was concerned. 1 

This was the explanation which Dr. Carnegie Simpson 
complains that Smith made " a little tardily " in response 
to the agitation which originated in the clamour of Mr. 
Macaulay and had been patronised by the ostentatious 
ignorance of Sir Henry Moncreiff. The reader must be 
left to judge of its adequacy ; not even Mr. Macaulay 
ventured to express a doubt of its good faith. 

In preparation for possible eventualities at the August 
sitting of the Commission of Assembly various drafts of 
a motion in his favour were submitted to Smith by his 
friends. He insisted that a firm line should be taken, and 
that nothing should be said or admitted which implied 
that he did not enjoy the same freedom as other members 
of the Church. 

"It is not enough," he wrote to Professor Lindsay, 
" to ask the Commission merely to give me time. It 
ought to be settled that the Commission won't take up 
the article. Of course, if I commit any offence in the 
future I must answer for it ; but I won't have things 
left hanging over me. 

" Observe, if I consult only my own comfort, I resign 
to-morrow. Is it fair to ask me to stay for the sake of 
freedom, and not allow me to remain otherwise than as a 
person suspect ? " 

" Nur keine Kompromisse / " a phrase which occurs 

1 As early as June 24, 1880, the Aberdeen Daily Free Press mentioned, 
as of interest to its readers, that Professor Smith had " brought back 
from the East several interesting Arabic MSS. for the purpose of trans- 
lation, the most important being, it is understood, El-Wahidy's ' Causes 
of the Descent of the Koran,' a MS. dated about A.D. 1230-31 and of 
unusual accuracy and perfection." ..." The editing and translation 
of this MS., specially undertaken by Professor Smith, along with other 
work of the same character which he has on hand, must fully engage 
his leisure time for a considerable period." Messrs. Black were also 
quoted as writing that the article " Hebrew Language and Literature " 
was received by them on October 17, 1879, and the proof finally revised 
in the first week of the following month. 



THE SECOND CASE 381 

in a post-card, written in German to an intimate friend 
at this time, was to be the watchword of his defence. 

Before the date of the meeting of the Commission the 
activity of the least worthy of his enemies entered upon 
a new and scandalous phase. The scene was the Presby- 
tery of Edinburgh, an ordinary meeting of which was held 
on July 28. At the beginning of the proceedings Mr. 
Macaulay startled his brethren by solemnly requesting 
them to meet in private conference at one o'clock on a 
matter of the gravest concern. The public withdrew at 
the appointed hour, and after an hour and a quarter re- 
turned to find that Mr. Macaulay had been communicating 
to the meeting the fruits of his first studies of totemism. 
He had intended, he said, to submit a very important 
motion for the Presbytery's approval, but on reflection 
had decided to send a statement to the Press instead. 
The statement as it appeared in the newspapers next day 
contained the motion, which ran as follows : 

" The Presbytery having had their attention called 
to an article by Professor Robertson Smith in the 
Journal of Philology l (vol. ix. No. 17) resolve to petition 
the Commission of Assembly appointed to meet in August 
to issue an edict peremptorily prohibiting Professor 
Smith from the exercise of his functions as minister and 
professor in this Church till the meeting of the General 
Assembly in 1881. The Presbytery also agree to request 
the Commission to instruct the College Committee and 
the Presbytery of Aberdeen each to take in this grave 
emergency whatever action is competent, so that the 
doctrinal confession and testimony of the Church concern- 
ing the truth, authority, and inspiration of the Word 
of God may be asserted, maintained, and vindicated 
against the unscriptural and pernicious views set forth 
in the said article by Professor Robertson Smith." 

Appended to the resolution was the following note : 
" First, concerning marriage and the marriage laws in 

1 The number containing Smith's " Animal Worship " was, as it 
happened, a particularly brilliant one, among the contributors being 
Professors Nettleship, Robinson Ellis, Postgate, and Verrall. 



382 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1880 

Israel, the views expressed are so gross and so fitted to 
pollute the moral sentiments of the community that they 
cannot be considered except within the closed doors of 
any court of this Church. Secondly, concerning animal 
worship in Israel, the views expressed by the Professor 
are not only contrary to the facts recorded and the 
statements made in Holy Scripture, but they are gross 
and sensual fitted to pollute and debase public senti- 
ment. Third, concerning the worship of God in Israel, 
and the law of that worship in the temple, and generally 
in the times of the Old Testament, the statements of the 
Professor are not only contrary to all evidence, but they 
are also fitted to destroy all reverence for God and for His 
Holy Word." 

It is evident that Mr. Macaulay did not succeed in 
persuading the Presbytery to adopt his motion ; x and it 
may be conjectured that the voice of prudence and 
common sense was not wholly unheard at the private 
conference. Nevertheless, Mr. Macaulay could con- 
gratulate himself on having augmented very appreciably 
the " disturbance " which he had learned from Sir Henry 
Moncreiff and Dr. Rainy would be taken by them as 
an important element in the case. It is most painful to 
have to record that neither at the time nor afterwards 2 
was any protest or objection made by either of these 
gentlemen against this particular method of intensifying 
the Church's " anxiety and alarm." The flow of 
memorials from the northern Presbyteries, which had 
already set in, was greatly stimulated, and gave fresh 
vigour to the agitation against the heretic. 

The more responsible members of Sir Henry MoncrehTs 
party seem about this time to ha^e realised that they 
could not hope to get rid of Smith by a coup de main at 
the August Commission. Accordingly, overtures were 

1 The article in the Journal of Philology was, however, as we shall 
see, examined by the Committee of Commission in October, and 
unfavourably reported on as suggesting that Scripture does not give 
an authentic narrative of facts. 

2 Dr. Rainy was absent from Scotland at the time of this meeting 
of Presbytery. 



i88o] THE SECOND CASE 383 

made through Dr. Wilson, Sir Henry's colleague as Clerk 
of Assembly, to Professor Candlish suggesting that both 
sides should agree on a Committee to examine Smith's 
article and report in March. Dr. Candlish was at first 
inclined to regard this as a hopeful sign, as the appoint- 
ment of a Committee would, at any rate, postpone the 
danger of suspension. Smith, however, took the view 
that the proposal of a Committee was rather the admission 
of a prima facie case for inquiry than a step friendly to 
himself, and held that the Commission should find that 
there was nothing to justify their intervention. Shortly 
before the meeting of the Commission there was an 
unimportant meeting of the Aberdeen Presbytery at 
which Smith's public letter to Dr. Spence was discussed. 
He wrote in cheerful terms to his father of a report 
(apparently quite groundless) that " Rainy now thinks 
the thing ought to be stopped at the Commission having 
seen more of the true temper of the Church since he left 
Edinburgh " ; and again, on the following day, " Binnie 
has a pamphlet against me in the press. Capital letter 
yesterday from Professor Guidi of Rome about my 
totems." 

When the Commission met on August n, memorials 
from twelve Presbyteries were laid before it, all calling 
for " suitable " action with reference to the incriminated 
writings. Four motions were submitted, but of these 
one, to the effect that, in respect of the decision of last 
General Assembly, the Commission were not entitled to 
reopen the case, failed to find a seconder ; and another, 
capable of being construed as favouring a policy of 
friendly inaction, was withdrawn. Professor Smith's 
friends ultimately concentrated their support on a motion 
to the effect 

" That while deeply regretting the renewed agitation . . . 
the Commission, considering that the case of Professor 
Smith had already been dealt with by the Assembly, 
and that such matters as that which has emerged since 



384 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1880 

that time are ordinarily dealt with by the College Com- 
mittee and the Presbytery of Aberdeen, resolve in hoc 
slatu to take no action in the matter." 

This was, however, defeated by 210 to 139, and the 
resolution adopted was as follows : 

" The Commission, having respect to the letter of 
Professor Robertson Smith, transmitted by the Presbytery 
of Aberdeen, and to the representation made to them by 
so many Presbyteries as to the writings of Professor Smith, 
to which attention has been called since last General 
Assembly, and considering the widespread uneasiness and 
alarm as to the character of these writings, resolve to 
appoint a Committee maturely to examine them and the 
letter of Professor Smith, and to consider their bearing 
upon the accepted belief and teaching of the Church, and 
to report their opinion and advice to an in hunc effectum 
meeting of Commission to be held on October 27, at 
which Professor Smith should be cited to appear for his 
own interest." 

The appointment of the Committee led to a somewhat 
unseemly controversy. As proposed by Dr. Wilson, it 
contained no representatives of the party which supported 
Smith and his views. When a protest against this was 
made by Professor Lindsay, it was explained that Dr. 
Wilson could not be expected to propose the names of 
persons opposed to his motion, but that he would not 
oppose the appointment of such persons to serve on the 
Committee. This did not altogether satisfy Professor 
Lindsay and his friends, who seem to have expected that 
a Committee proposed by an official of the House to deal 
with a grave matter of doctrine and discipline would 
naturally contain a representation of all parties. It was 
ultimately agreed that the names of some of Smith's 
prominent supporters should be added to the Com- 
mittee; but not one of these gentlemen was a member 
of the sub -Committee appointed to draft the Report. 
This and other regrettable features in the Committee's 
procedure did not pass without vehement protests, and 



i88o] THE SECOND CASE 385 

from this point the conflict on the second case became 
even more hopelessly embittered than the earlier pro- 
ceedings which had ended at the Assembly of the pre- 
ceding May. 

To observant and intelligent outsiders the meaning 
of all this seemed plain enough. Wellhausen and Spitta, 
for example, both saw that the Aberdeen chair could not 
be held much longer. 1 Professor Binnie also helped to 
make this clear in the pamphlet already alluded to, which 
saw the light a few days after the meeting of Commission. 
Not content with a statement of the arguments which 
weighed with himself personally in assigning the author- 
ship of Deuteronomy to Moses, he proceeded to say that 
disbelief in the Mosaic authorship always went along 
with disbelief in God, and more or less explicitly ranked his 
colleague amongst the " infidels." This led to a corre- 
spondence with the somewhat unsatisfactory result that 
Professor Binnie, under severe pressure, acknowledged 
Professor Smith to be a sincere believer at present, 
but insisted that he could not long remain so unless he 
abandoned his critical opinions ; and further made un- 
mistakably clear his view that the Church ought to get 
rid of him at once without waiting any further develop- 
ments. 

Early in September Smith writes with unconquered 
optimism to his father : " I had Candlish here yesterday. 
He is not in good spirits. Indeed our friends seem in the 
dumps again at the prospect of a complete coalition 
between Rainy and Begg. The Aberdeen friends, how- 
ever, are very fiery." On the nth, however, his tone 
was more subdued. " I think I am very likely to be 
able to offer you my house for the winter. I don't believe 

1 Wellhausen wrote: "Dass die orthodoxen Bullenbeisser Sie gar 
nicht los lassen, 1st recht traurig. Ich glaube, sie wollen es so lange 
treiben, bis Sie abdanken ; wenigstens scheint alles auf diese Taktik 
hinzudeuten," and Spitta: "Auf die Dauer werden Sie doch nicht in 
Aberdeen bleiben konnen. Gegen Dummheit kampfen Cotter 
selbst vergebens." 

25 



386 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1880 

that my friends will muster strong enough at the Com- 
mission." Still, he could not endure the thought of 
abandoning the fight. Lagarde wrote from Gottingen, 
September 24, condoling with him on the new troubles 
and hinting at the obvious ways of getting out of them ; 
Mr. Campbell wrote on the same date from Tulli- 
chewan : "I often wonder you don't throw up the 
sponge." Smith still kept up his spirits, though three days 
later he had to tell his father (September 27, London) : 
" I have a letter from Lindsay rather disconsolate. He 
thinks many people are content with the victory which 
gives themselves all the freedom they need, and don't care 
whether / have to go for the sake of peace or not." 

A letter to Professor Lindsay written about September 
29 reads like a final effort to rally the shattered forces 
of progress : 

" Your letter is certainly discouraging, but I think that 
people's courage will rise when they see that much more 
than a personal matter is involved. What I wish to say 
is : 77 faut de Vaudace. It will never do to be afraid of 
the help of the people you call Adullamites. We must 
for once get these men all men who care for the Free 
Church to come out and take their due part. It is far 
too late to confine ourselves to the received influential 
people for aid. . . . We must at any rate use all means. ..." 

Professor Lindsay's discouragement was natural 
enough. He had better opportunities than Smith had 
of gauging the effect produced upon the mind of the 
ordinary man by such personal insinuations as those con- 
veyed in Professor Binnie's pamphlet ; he was, moreover, 
by this time beginning to realise very clearly what the 
Report of the Commission's Committee was to be, and to 
concentrate his attention on the forms which the dissents 
of himself and one or two others were to take. Dr. 
Walter Smith, too, began to view with serious alarm the 
probable abstention of many members of Commission 
who had supported Professor Smith at the Assembly. 



THE SECOND CASE 387 

About these he wrote to Smith (on October 14) a long 
letter in which he urgently and affectionately pressed 
him to write another public letter to stimulate the weaker 
brethren, in which it should be pointed out how impossible 
it was to mention the new article in the course of the 
proceedings at last Assembly, and how grave was the 
constitutional question raised by the attempt which was 
being made to persuade the Commission to undo the 
Assembly's work. " Do think of this and do it at once. 
There is no time to lose. It will not alter the malignant 
stupidity of your unfriends, but it will restore the faint- 
hearted stupidity of honest fellows who have grown weak- 
kneed." 

Smith's response to the appeal thus made to him in 
circumstances of such gravity was prompt, frank, temper- 
ate, and (it will surely be generally acknowledged) , though 
unsuccessful, well-judged. He wrote an Open Letter 
to Sir Henry Moncreiff, setting forth the constitutional 
arguments against the proposed procedure of the Com- 
mission, and also a covering circular letter with some 
personal explanations of the kind indicated by Dr. Walter 
Smith. The Open Letter, marked as " printed for private 
circulation," consists of eleven octavo pages and is dated 
October 21 ; the covering letter, in lithographed facsimile, 
was forwarded along with it to all members of Commission. 
In it he earnestly repudiated the desire or intention to 
publish anything inconsistent with the Church's scriptural 
doctrine. He sincerely regretted that articles, which he 
wrote in the full expectation that they would be published 
while controversy was still open, actually appeared after 
a settlement had been reached, and at a time when they 
could not fail to make it more difficult for a large and 
highly respected section of the Church to acquiesce in the 
settlement. In direct response to one of the most urgent 
of Dr. Walter Smith's appeals, he continued : 

" I am aware that some of my friends now think that I 
should have informed the Assembly that such articles 



388 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1880 

were on the eve of publication. But no such course was 
suggested to me at the time. We were all too busy with 
the urgent duties of the moment to think of the future. 
Besides, the Assembly closed my mouth by refusing to 
hear my defence at the only time when I could with 
propriety have offered personal explanations. After the 
vote I could only utter the feelings with which I received 
the deliverance of the Court. To do more could only 
have caused misunderstandings, even if it had been 
possible for me to think of other things amidst the emotions 
of such a moment. But I ask you to believe that the 
feelings which I then expressed still urge me to do all 
that in me lies to avoid offence and maintain the peace 
and unity of the Church." 

His argument addressed to Sir Henry in the Open 
Letter deals entirely with the constitutional issue, and 
may be very briefly summarised. To make the Com- 
mission a court of first instance was, he urged, in effect 
to deny the jurisdiction of the Presbytery, and therefore 
to supersede the most fundamental principles of Presby- 
terian discipline and government. In point of fact the 
Commission was not a court of the Church at all, but 
merely a Committee of Assembly with carefully restricted 
powers. The proper organs for dealing with charges of 
heresy were two. The presumed heretic's Presbytery 
had in every case the duty to look into his doctrine ; 
in the case of a Professor there was also the College Com- 
mittee. Were these two bodies remiss, the Commission 
might properly remind them of their duty, but could 
not with propriety usurp their constitutional functions. 
He then went on to complain, surely with some show 
of reason, that his citation was unaccompanied by any 
statement of the accusation which he had to answer ; 
so far as appeared, he was not to know it till he stood 
before the Commission. The date fixed for the special 
meeting of Commission was then remarked upon ; it 
had been fixed for a day immediately before the com- 
mencement of the College session, on the avowed ground 
that it might in all probability be necessary to forbid 



i88o] THE SECOND CASE 389 

him to teach. It was assumed to be within the power 
of the Commission to suspend an office-bearer without 
trial upon the simple report of a Committee pre- 
sented upon the same day in which sentence was to be 
pronounced. After touching on the point that the 
opinions contained in his new articles were almost in 
every particular identical with those for which he had 
already been tried and acquitted, he proceeded to urge 
that, if it had been desired to bring about his suspension 
on the fresh charge in a constitutional way, this could 
have been accomplished by some private prosecutor, who 
could easily have been found, framing a libel and bringing 
it before the Presbytery ; for " when a libel comes to the 
Presbytery from outside, it is served immediately without 
prior discussion of relevancy, and so, long ere now, I 
might have been suspended." 

Sir Henry's reply, had he chosen to make one, could 
only have been an admission of the highly novel character 
of the procedure, and an appeal to circumstances to justify 
the innovation. He could hardly have been expected to 
explain that the circumstances were simply that, as 
experience had abundantly shown, neither the College 
Committee nor the Presbytery of Aberdeen could be 
trusted to decide in the sense predetermined by himself 
and his friends, the leaders of the Church and the deposi- 
tories of her true doctrine. So far as the present writers 
are aware, Sir Henry made neither this nor any other 
answer to the Open Letter. 

All Smith's plans for a resumption of the active duties of 
his chair were of course in abeyance during these troubled 
days, and indeed from this time forward his connection 
with Aberdeen began rapidly and perceptibly to dissolve. 
It does not appear, for example, that he had any leisure 
for the activities of his position as a member of the School 
Board, a position which in happier circumstances he 
would no doubt have found thoroughly congenial. About 
this time, however, he did take part in an educational 



390 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1880 

discussion unconnected with theology, and the contribution 
which he made to it has more than a passing interest. 
His old teacher, Professor Bain, had just retired from 
the Chair of Logic and English Literature in the University, 
and was a candidate for the vacant office of Assessor to 
the Lord Rector, 1 which is filled by the election of members 
of the General Council of Graduates. Professor Bain 
was opposed by Smith's friend, Mr. J. F. White, a man 
who, as we have already seen, was not only widely and 
deservedly popular, but possessed many qualifications 
and accomplishments which specially fitted him for the 
position to which he aspired. The question of what are 
locally known as " options " in other words, of the 
reform of the curriculum in Arts was then as now 
agitating the academic world, and Professor Bain was 
known as an advocate of the abolition of compulsory 
Greek. This was in itself enough to alienate the support 
of the more conservative of his colleagues ; but behind 
this administrative divergence, in itself of great conse- 
quence, there lay a more profound theoretical question. 
Dr. Bain, in the course of the speculations which made 
him famous, had applied his severe analytical methods 
to the question of education, and had produced 2 a 
characteristic system which, if carried out in practice, 
would have produced much more revolutionary changes 
in existing arrangements than were implied in allowing 
students a partial exemption from the study of Greek. 
" On the supposition," he argued, " that languages are in 
no sense the main part of education, but only helps or 
adjuncts under definite circumstances, the inference seems 
to be that they should not, as at present, occupy a central 
and leading position, but stand apart as side subjects 
available to those who require them." 

This somewhat startling conclusion, which, like many of 

1 Like the Lord Rector himself, the Assessor has a seat in the 
University Court. The post carries some distinction. 

2 See Bain, Education as a Science, 1879. 



i88o] THE SECOND CASE 391 

its author's opinions, has not stood the test of time, was 
vaguely present to the minds of the Council when it 
assembled under the presidency of the Vice-Chancellor 
to decide on the claims of the rival candidates. There 
was an uneasy feeling even among progressive members 
that Dr. Bain might not be content with the modest 
programme of academic reform then considered practical 
politics, but might hurry the University into new and 
strange experiments. The discussion, however, proceeded 
for some time on personal, practical, and administrative 
questions. Dr. Bain was proposed by Mr. Webster, 
member of Parliament for the City, and Mr. White was 
brought forward against him in due form. Shortly before 
the vote was taken Smith intervened, and his speech 
thanks, no doubt, to his recent practice in other assemblies 
was a highly finished and characteristic performance. 
He refused to allow the decision of the Council to turn on 
so narrow an issue as the question of Greek, which he 
denied to be the radical question in University reform. 
He paid a tribute to the instruction he had received from 
his old teacher, but took occasion to observe that his own 
further studies had led him to conclusions diametrically 
opposed to those of the philosophical course he had taken 
at Aberdeen. Dr. Bain's idea of a liberal education, he 
pointed out, did not provide for a single language, ancient 
or modern, and implied 

"... that in the whole sphere of history except the 
history in which the original documents are written in 
English which is very small in the whole of literature 
except English literature, the student is to know nothing 
except at second-hand. ... It was to be an education 
based on compendiums ... on the half-digested pabulum 
supplied by translators and epitomators. . . . That is, 
that University education was to be continued to the 
end in that very elementary style which must be used 
with children in the first beginnings of their learning. ..." 

There followed a passage, received with great applause 



392 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1880 

by the House, in which the speaker gave an interesting 
view of his own conception of a University. 

" Our Universities have passed through many phases 
since they were first instituted. But from the first day 
that there was University teaching, from the first day 
that the notion of higher instruction was formed in the 
great philosophical schools of Greece, it has been under- 
stood that the great object of the higher education was 
to train the intellectual ttite, and to cultivate the original 
powers so that they might work with the greatest possible 
freedom and force. Universities have undoubtedly a 
function in relation to the practical professions, which in 
some cases will consist largely of the mere providing of a 
certain amount of material ready made ; but that is not 
the main work even in professional teaching. The main 
object is to inculcate habits of research, to teach how 
to deal with original materials, to encourage men to look 
at things at first hand, to develop originality, and to 
provide the forces the original forces which from 
generation to generation shape the history of our race 
with that kind of help which will enable them to exercise 
themselves with freedom and with full sweep ; and I deny 
that the education of compendiums can ever fulfil this 
function. (Applause.)" 

Smith concluded with some pungent observations, 
which were also very much to the taste of his hearers, on 
Bain's well-known " tendency to disparage all that was 
imaginative, speculative, and ideal." 

" I do not say," he observed, " and I do not wish to 
think, that Dr. Bain thinks as little of these higher 
elements as his book would lead us to suppose he does. 
I do not believe he is so insensible to the charm of poetry 
and to the value of imagination and great ideas. But his 
scheme is so. In this book he prefers Macaulay to 
Bacon on the ground of his more recent information and 
more perfect style. (Laughter.) In like manner he prefers 
prose to poetry as an educative agent, because it contains 
more matter of fact. The same disparagement of the 
subtler elements of culture appears in his estimate of 
aesthetic matters, as when he expresses a fear that in- 
struction in colour and a keen perception of the beauties 



i88o] THE SECOND CASE 393 

of nature would turn the minds of pupils from analytical 
realities. (Laughter.) An education based upon these 
principles can never have any other end than this the 
manufacture of a superior kind of intellectual artisan, 
the extinction of imagination, and with it the extinction 
of all originality and all genius." 

Mr. White's election, which was carried by a large 
majority, was no doubt a great personal satisfaction to 
Smith, though it may well have intensified the intellectual 
estrangement which had existed almost from the begin- 
ning between him and Dr. Bain. We shall see with 
satisfaction in a later chapter that it did not prevent 
Bain (who was destined to survive his distinguished pupil 
and opponent for many years) from cordially acknowledg- 
ing Smith's own claims to honour in the University 
of Aberdeen. This election may be said to have been 
Smith's last appearance in the public life of Aberdeen. 

Meanwhile the Committee appointed by the Com- 
mission in August had been, as instructed, busily engaged 
in " maturely examining the writings of Professor Smith " 
published since last Assembly, and in " considering 
their bearings upon the accepted belief and teaching of 
the Church." The small sub-Committee, to which the 
task of preparing a draft Report had been assigned, 
appears to have finished its labours by the middle of 
October. The Report they submitted for the Committee's 
acceptance followed, with some closeness both in thought 
and in expression, Mr. Macaulay's tract, which had been 
widely circulated and doubtless was in the hands of all. 
With a view to its preparation each member, we learn, 
had been invited to specify the passages to which he 
individually took exception, and the list of these was 
afterwards tabulated. By far the most of them were 
found to occur in a single section of one article that 
on " The Literary Development of Hebrew." x It will be 

1 See Appendix E (p. 608), where the section is given, and the pass- 
ages pronounced to be liable to ecclesiastical censure are marked on 
the margin. 



394 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1880 

seen that the " faults " are almost as numerous as those 
recorded against Walther, Beckmesser being the marker, 
in the famous scene in the Meister singer. Indeed, once 
one has mastered the principles of the fault-finding, it 
becomes evident that the judges have been far too lenient, 
and that in reality hardly a single sentence in the whole 
article can escape condemnation. The reporters them- 
selves say as much. " The particulars here adduced," 
they explain, " are not meant to be exhaustive. They 
are presented as specimens of the manner in which 
Professor Smith handles the books of Scripture." 

The Committee's Report did not reach its final form 
until late in the afternoon of Tuesday, October 26. 
Premising that the questions now raised affect primarily 
the authority of the Supreme Standard of the Church 
rather than that of the subordinate Confession of Faith, 
and declaring that the Committee do not impute to 
Professor Smith the intention of assailing the integrity 
and authority of Scripture, the Report goes on to say 
that 

"... the statements made by him in many particulars 
are such as are fitted, and can hardly fail, to produce 
upon the minds of readers the impression that Scripture 
does not present a reliable statement of truth, and that 
God is not the Author of it ; and it greatly concerns the 
character and credit of the Free Church to make it 
clear, in opposition to any such impression, that she 
holds firmly, and will maintain, the infallible truth and 
authority of Scripture as the Word of God." 

It proceeds to classify the " many " particulars under 
four heads : (i) Passages in which the books of Scripture 
are spoken of in an irreverent manner ; (2) Passages in 
which these books are spoken of in such a way as to 
render it very difficult for readers to regard God as the 
Author of them ; (3) Passages which naturally suggest 
that Scripture does not give an authentic narrative of 
facts or actual occurrences ; (4) Passages which discredit 
prophecy in its predictive aspect. 



i88o] THE SECOND CASE 395 

To sum up : 

" The whole tendency of the writings examined by the 
Committee is fitted to throw the Old Testament history 
into confusion, and at least to weaken, if not to destroy, 
the very foundation on which New Testament doctrine 
is built. Moreover, the general method on which [the 
author] proceeds conveys the impression that the Bible 
may be accounted for by the same laws which have 
determined the growth of any other literature, inasmuch 
as there is no adequate recognition of the divine element 
in the production of the Book. The Committee accord- 
ingly recommend the Commission to take steps for 
making it evident that the Free Church cannot sanction 
the kind of teaching animadverted upon in this Report, 
which these writings would justify, and for urging the 
General Assembly to declare to her people and to other 
Churches that she cannot sanction the idea suggested 
by it." 

The Report next devoted a couple of paragraphs to 
Smith's letter to the Clerk of his Presbytery, repudiating 
as altogether untenable his representation of what was 
expressed and implied in the judgment of last Assembly. 
The relevancy of the libel as regarded Deuteronomy had 
been affirmed by three successive Assemblies, and this 
finding was irreversible. 

It follows from the dates given above that the Committee 
were unable to circulate copies of their Report to members 
of Commission until the very day and hour of the meeting 
at which Smith was cited to " appear for his interest." 
It will hardly be believed, and yet it is the fact, that 
the Committee appointed to examine his writings on a 
suspicion of heresy made no communication whatsoever 
to him before that time, and that the first official notice 
he had of the charges preferred against him arrived almost 
at the moment at which he was called upon to defend 
himself on the floor of the House. The presence of 
Professor Lindsay at the meetings of the Committee, 
however, had fortunately provided a source of informa- 
tion, and Smith was kept aware of the proceedings of his 



396 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1880 

enemies as well as of the counter -movements of his 
friends. These counter-movements, as was inevitable, 
consisted entirely of protests against the scandalous 
unfairness of the procedure, and of dissents from the 
Report, by Professor Lindsay and others, which the 
Committee by a majority decided not to publish. 

At the sitting of the Commission on Wednesday, 
October 27, some of these irregularities were provisionally 
adjusted. Smith's protest, and those made by his friends 
against the validity of the whole proceedings of the 
Commission, were received, and the suppressed dissents 
of Smith's party in the Committee were by permission 
read to a reluctant audience. The most important of 
these was Professor Lindsay's. Smith had had an 
opportunity of seeing it on the previous night, and 
to some extent it anticipated the main points of the 
defence which he was so soon to be called upon to extem- 
porise. Briefly put, the grounds of objection were, first, 
that the Committee had failed to take the natural and 
honest course of either conferring with Smith about the 
incriminated passages of his writings, or of comparing 
these with other statements made by him ; secondly, 
because the opinions condemned had already in almost 
every case been adjudicated on by the Church ; and, 
thirdly, because these opinions did not, when fairly 
interpreted, justify the charges of irreverence and of 
disparaging Holy Scripture which had been founded on 
them. The dissent then took up in detail all the seventeen 
particular cases one by one, and in each Professor Lindsay 
associates himself rather with the heretic than with the 
majority of the Committee. It is difficult indeed to see 
how the Commission avoided making him particeps 
criminis and taking summary proceedings against him 
for this vindication of his friend. For the moment, 
however, the prosecution required all their audacity in 
order to deal effectively with Smith ; and the reader, 
remembering the character of the Committee's delibera- 



i88o] THE SECOND CASE 397 

tions and Report, will not fail, whatever be his views, 
to admire the nerve of Dr. Wilson in giving notice of a 
motion (which ultimately became the judgment of the 
House) to the effect that the Commission approve 
" generally " of the Report of the Committee that the 
recent articles are " fitted to produce upon readers an 
impression that the Bible does not present a reliable state- 
ment of truth, and that God is not the Author of it," and 

" considering further, that the Church must sustain 
serious injury if she can be regarded as giving any sanction 
to, or as concurring in, the views expressed in these 
writings, declare that the Commission as representing 
the Free Church cannot but protest against the Church 
being implicated in the promulgation of them, and resolve 
to transmit the Report of their Committee to the General 
Assembly, and further in view of the whole circumstances 
of the case instruct Professor Smith to abstain from 
teaching his classes during the ensuing session, and 
leave the whole question of his status and position in the 
Free Church to the determination of the ensuing Assembly. 
The Commission also instruct the College Committee to 
make provision for the teaching of these classes during 
the ensuing session." 

The speech which Smith made on this occasion 
occupied an hour and three-quarters in delivery, and 
maintained a high level of interest and persuasiveness 
throughout. Spoken without notes and in a very true 
sense ex tempore, it deserves probably the first place 
among his debating speeches ; on no occasion did he 
show greater felicity of expression, or easier command 
of his subject. Contemporary opinion was enthusiastic 
in its praise ; by its " marvellous ability and power 
it must ever hold a central place in the history of this 
case " ; " his opening appeals to the indulgence of his 
audience seemed superfluous in view of the splendid 
result " ; and " even the disadvantages, under which he 
must undoubtedly have laboured, were skilfully turned 
to good account and made to score points in his favour." 



398 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1880 

When, however, it is said to have been unprepared and 
improvised, it must be remembered not only how familiar 
he was with the whole matter to which it related, but 
also that Mr. Macaulay's speech, which the Report of 
the Committee so closely followed, had been before the 
public since July, and that Professor Lindsay had kept 
Smith apprised of the course events were taking in the 
deliberations of the sub-Committee. The topics there- 
fore, and even their arrangement, lay to his hand and 
within easy reach. At the outset it was obviously 
natural to urge upon the Commission the protest, which 
he had already intimated in his Open Letter to the 
Senior Clerk, against what he held to be the unconstitu- 
tional character of the proposed intervention of the 
Commission at this stage, and also against the obvious 
injustice of calling upon an accused person to speak and 
exhaust his case before the questions had been opened 
up by the main agents in the suit. In this connection he 
reminded his hearers, with effect, that the Report he was 
now being called to answer had been put into his hands for 
the first time that morning as he entered the hall, although, 
as it happened, he had unofficially seen the dissents on 
the preceding evening. Before he had been able to 
read the Report, he had further been called upon to listen 
to the notice of the motion which Dr. Wilson intended 
to offer as the judgment of the House upon it. At this 
point a written copy of the motion having been handed 
to him, he asked the indulgence of the Commission if he 
read it in their hearing again, as the only means, without 
an interruption of the business of the House, of knowing 
what he was expected to rebut. In the motion thus 
read clearly the first point to be taken was the proposal 
that the Commission approve of the Report " generally." 
Here he was on familiar ground ; we have already 
seen that a general treatment of critical opinions supposed 
to be heretical had been recommended three years before 
by Dr. Brown, but had been rejected both by the 



i88o] THE SECOND CASE 399 

Presbytery and by the Assembly. Again, when Smith 
proceeded to speak of the vagueness of the terms of 
the Report which it was proposed thus generally to 
approve, he had already learned from Professor Lindsay 
what to expect ; the sub - Committee had steadfastly 
refused to listen to suggestions as to what Smith meant, 
stating that its business was only with what he had 
said ; and in accordance with this view (as Smith 
pointed out) the Report sedulously abstained alike from 
saying that he intended to present Scripture as other 
than a reliable statement of truth, and from saying 
that there was any expression in his writings which 
was inconsistent with the supposition that Scripture is 
a reliable statement of truth ; all it said of the inculpated 
writings was that they were " fitted to produce upon 
the minds of readers the impression that God is not the 
Author of Scripture." Here Smith contended that the 
Report either went too far or failed to go far enough. 
" It says too much if my views are not inconsistent with 
the divinity of Scripture, and it says too little if they 
are." There was nothing, he proceeded, at all surprising 
to him in seeing such general statements, accusations, 
and insinuations put forth against his writings. They 
had been put forth again and again, they had been put 
forth against previous writings, for which he had been 
tried and acquitted. This word " acquitted " was 
received with loud demonstrations of dissent by his 
opponents, who made attempts to howl him down so 
persistently that the Moderator was weak enough to 
intervene with the remark that " Professor Smith will 
consult his own interest better if he does not proceed in 
that line." Smith, however, claimed the protection of 
the Chair in saying what he desired to say, and he was 
at last, after some minutes of uproar, allowed to proceed : 
" I say, on which I was acquitted ; for these reasons 
because the libel formulated against me was in greater 
part withdrawn, and the part which was left never went 



400 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1880 

on to probation, and therefore never went on to judg- 
ment ; and in the judgment of every court a man is 
acquitted if he is not condemned." l But the best way 
of disposing of the general accusations would be to treat 
them in connection with the particulars on which they 
were based. These as we have seen, some seventeen 
in number were accordingly taken up one by one, no 
point being shirked. If one of his journalistic critics 
next day mingled with his praise some censure of the 
severity of one or two of the speaker's references to the 
majority of the Committee, and to his " veiled sneers " at 
their comparative want of scholarship, the candid reader 
now will readily admit that in discussion of what were 
largely academic problems it was almost impossible to 
avoid touching the question whether both disputants 
were equally well informed as to the facts. What- 
ever exceptions may have been taken in detail, the 
general verdict on the speech as a whole was at all events 
that it had been an extraordinary tour de force ; an 
impression which, however little they may have desired 
to receive it, appears to have been shared even by those 
who had least respect for the spirit of free inquiry. The 
voice of the devil's advocate should be heard in reason, 
and we quote a few sentences from the account of 
one who watched Smith's performance with no sym- 
pathy or satisfaction, yet not altogether without under- 
standing : 2 

1 The reader will recall that one of the reasons of dissent tendered 
by Dr. Begg and others after the judgment of the 1880 Assembly was 
that by it " the opinions of Professor Smith were not condemned, and 
presumably therefore were to be tolerated." It may also be pointed 
out that when Smith said that the old libel against him had been in 
greater part withdrawn, he might have gone further and reminded 
his audience that as regards, for example, Octavo, the judgment of 
the court had been that his teaching was entirely consistent with the 
confession. 

2 The extracts are from a little brochure entitled " The Hielan' Host 
and the Assembly of 1881 : by Wan of Them." It was published 
anonymously, but the writer is now known to have been the Rev. Dr. 
Kennedy of Dingwall. 



i88o] THE SECOND CASE 401 

" His voice is thin and sharp. I am right sure he can't 
sing, for there is no melody in his tones, and no music in 
his heart at all. But he has good lungs in his chest, and 
hard brass on his brow, and he will stand and he will 
speak, till you might think that the feet and tongue of 
the creature would be clean wearied. There is a great 
deal in him, but it was put into him, and oh, hasn't 
he the power to put it forth ! His mind is like a shop 
with a big cellar behind it, and having good shelves and 
windows. His memory is the cellar, and it has a great 
deal of stuff in it, and his mind has shelves for his gear, 
and his tongue is smart in setting them out. But he 
doesn't grow his own wool, nor does he spin the thread, 
nor weave the webs that are in his cellar or on his shelves. 
All his goods come in paper parcels from Germany, for in 
that country they can spin and weave without one tuft 
of wool ; they take their thread, like a spider, out of their 
own bowels. His friends are fond of saying that he has 
mastered the German learning. But I am thinking 
rather that the German learning has mastered him. . . . 
But oh ! that tongue of his can rattle quick. And he 
can stick to his point as well as a limpet to a stone, or 
rather as the wheels to the rails, for he will be going till 
you would think that he would never halt. And his 
body doesn't make much fuss about it. A tiny little 
hand at his side is working like the docked tail of a pony 
when the midges are bad, but that is all the help the 
other parts of his body give to his tongue. It gets almost 
all the work to do, and all it needs to keep it going is a 
little calfsfoot oil from the heels that are thumping in 
the gallery. And he is as empty of reverence and as 
smart as a weasel ; and he has as little common sense as 
a sucking calf. His gifts are cleverness and memory. 
And it's for this same that they made an idol of him. 
Well ! well ! if that's all they have to make them 
proud of him, they will get a thousand times more of 
that in the Evil One himself. Oh, but it's a sad pass we 
have come to, when a little of what the Devil has much 
of will make a man great in the Church. And there is 
another point in which the two agree ; and that is, ill- 
will to the Bible, with a sham of respect for it, for Satan 
would have us to think that he does not despise it, for he 
makes use of it as a tempter, just as he did in the great 
battle in the wilderness." 

26 



402 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1880 

Smith was quite unconscious of the dramatic aspects of 
his speech which appealed so strongly to the writer just 
quoted. He calmly pursued his argument from point to 
point, uninterrupted, after a time, by any hostile demon- 
stration, and helped, no doubt, by the consciousness of 
those friendly heels in the gallery. He ended almost 
abruptly with a passage which, though it cannot be called 
a peroration in any technical sense, appears to furnish a 
perfect example of the kind of criticism he was throughout 
the whole case called on to meet, and of the manner in 
which he met it : 

" The Committee report, in the last place, that in 
attributing the rise of written prophecy to the eighth 
century before Christ, I appear to be at variance with 
the plain teaching of our Lord, who says, ' Had ye 
believed Moses ye would have believed Me, for he wrote 
of Me.' Let us accept the whole traditional view. Let 
us satisfy Dr. Wilson's heart and say that Moses wrote 
the whole Pentateuch. Very well ; that was at all 
events the Pentateuch, and the Pentateuch has always 
been called the Law, and neither our Lord nor the Jews, 
nor any theologian in any age, has ever called it part 
of the prophetical books. Our Lord always speaks of 
the Law and the Prophets as two distinct things. I do 
the same and, doing so, state the undoubted fact that the 
earliest of the prophetic books were written in the eighth 
century. I cannot better leave my defence in the hands 
of the Commission than by pointing out that this Com- 
mittee has been capable of founding a charge against me, 
whether from ignorance or from captiousness I am unable 
to say, which has no other basis than disregard of the 
fact that the Hebrew Bible is divided into the Law, the 
Prophets, and the Hagiographa." 

The official reply was made by Dr. Wilson, the Junior 
Clerk of Commission, who moved the motion of which 
he had two hours before given notice. He began by 
declining to discuss the question of the truth of Smith's 
views as being " irrelevant " to the issue before the court. 
What was certain was that the expression of such views, 
true or false, must lead any ordinary mind to the con- 



i88o] THE SECOND CASE 403 

elusions of the Rationalistic school of German criticism. 
It might or it might not be that Professor Smith had 
himself been led to adopt these views ; it was at any rate 
certain that the Church was suffering in reputation owing 
to the manner in which he had chosen to express himself. 
Something must be done to " vindicate their character," 
and the only course seemed to be to report the matter 
to the ensuing Assembly with a view to judicial action, 
and, meanwhile, by silencing the disturber of the peace 
to prevent further mischief from being done. A dis- 
cussion followed which need not detain us ; the moment 
was come for Dr. Begg and his friends to rectify the 
miscalculation which had proved so inconvenient for 
Principal Rainy in the previous May, and, on the vote 
being taken, Smith found himself again suspended from 
the duties of his chair, by a majority of 68. 



CHAPTER X 

THE SECOND CASE, CONTINUED (l88o-l88l) 

To an author less optimistically inclined, so solid a 
majority prepared to say that, speaking generally, his 
writings were fitted to produce so bad an impression 
might well have been somewhat dispiriting. It was not 
so with Smith. There is no note of depression or mis- 
giving in the cheerful words he wrote to his mother the 
day after the great fight ; the old familiar motifs of hope 
and victory ring out full and clear as ever : 

" . . . In spite of the adverse vote I find that our 
friends are all in the highest spirits again, and all united. 
The fact that the adversary did not meet one point in 
my argument did not even attempt to do so has told 
widely ; and those who formerly had lost heart now feel 
confident of final victory. The adversary in spite of his 
majority is in very low spirits. It is felt by all that 
their fine Report has been smashed, and, as they must 
fight at the next Assembly on the basis of that Report, 
they are not happy. . . . Lindsay has gained great glory 
by his share in the whole fight. . . . Altogether, things 
are looking up. . . . Don't lose heart." 

It must be admitted that in this attitude he was 
encouraged by many of the best minds in the Church. 
On the same day Mr. Campbell wrote a note from Glasgow, 
in the course of which we hear for the first time of the 
suggestion that Smith should utilise his winter's leisure 
by delivering for the information of the public a series 
of popular lectures on Biblical Criticism : 

404 



i88o-i88i] THE SECOND CASE 405 

" Persecuted, but not forsaken cast down, but not in 
despair. You have not got your own way, but you have 
made a good fight, and upwards of 200 good men at your 
back is not so bad at all. Your own speech is most 
admirable. What the future is to be one cannot say, 
but I have again to encourage you to fight on. I have 
been thinking over your idea of the lectures in Edinburgh 
and Glasgow. I cannot make up my mind about it, 
not that in themselves the lectures might not go far to 
enlighten people's minds, but they might be open to the 
objection of being a defiance of the present verdict 
though that verdict may be unjust. I shall probably 
see Lindsay. God bless you. ..." 

In other letters from Glasgow and elsewhere there 
are the warmest expressions of admiration of the great 
speech, and we find the beginnings of an agitation which 
ultimately reached large dimensions, as to the con- 
stitutional right of the Commission of Assembly proprio 
motu to supersede the action of Presbyteries and set 
aside the safeguards of personal liberty provided by the 
Form of Process : 

" I was not despondent before," writes one corre- 
spondent ; " I am hopeful now that if we act with diligence 
and wisdom during the next six months, the mind of the 
Church may be so educated as to give us at next Assembly 
pretty much what we desire. Last night I travelled home 
with one elder who was against us in August, and who 
went to Edinburgh meaning to vote against you again. 
He voted with us, however. Your speech quite carried 
his convictions. He is the type of a candid mind, and 
though all minds even in the Free Church are not 
candid, let us hope there are some." 

Sheriff Nicolson's sentiments may be gathered from 
the following characteristic extracts : 

"... I honestly think you had divine help and 
inspiration l of a manifest kind in that most singular 
and trying emergency, and I believe, in some sense or 

1 Professor Wellhausen also wrote from Greifswald : " Ihre improvi- 
sirte Verantwortung ist eine erstaunliche Leistung. Sie scheinen 
inspirirt gewesen zu sein." 



406 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1880- 

other, that was made plain even to the least sympathetic 
and dullest capacity. . . . 

" Go you ahead, therefore, my dear boy, and stick to 
your guns, and believe that you are doing right, and that 
if (as we believe) God is with you, and not with these 
bloated obscurantists some of them good, well-meaning 
souls, but the strongest and worst of them simply priests 
and nothing more Free Churchmen and yet priests, 
believers or pretending believers in infallibility, and in 
purely official religion divorced equally from morality 
and reality. ..." 

Meanwhile a regular plan of campaign was set on foot. 
Every effort was made to secure that overtures in Smith's 
favour should be sent up to the ensuing Assembly from 
as many Presbyteries as possible. The lecturing pro- 
ject, in spite of the doubts of some, had also begun to 
find favour, and a series of public meetings of protest 
was arranged. The first step was the publication of the 
speech to the Commission, which by the munificence 
of Mr. Campbell and others was circulated gratis to 
every member of the Commission, together with a 
trenchant summary of the history and the merits of 
the case. It was also sent to friends and admirers, by 
whom, as may be supposed, it was very favourably re- 
ceived. President Eliot of Harvard had already heard 
of the turn which affairs had taken, and wrote to Mr. 
Bryce to inquire whether Smith would accept a chair of 
Ecclesiastical History. In transmitting this inquiry, 
Mr. Bryce observed : " Thanks for your speech, which 
I read with great pleasure. It seems to me almost the 
most effective thing you have said on the whole subject." 

The reader will be amused by an extract from a letter 
on the same subject from Sir Richard Burton : 

" Many thanks for the speech. You are in the right 
way, perge puer and you'll end well. But what the 
Devil (a Ruskinism, there is no such body) will the 
Assembly say after the merry jig you have executed 
upon their pet corns ? Dear, dear ! So Moses did not 



i88i] THE SECOND CASE 407 

write the books of Moses ! (As if anybody ever believed 
he did.) If you republish, read (unless you have read) 
Spinoza, who proves the late date philologically." 

Public interest in the case was again powerfully 
awakened. The newspaper war broke out again, as 
was to be expected, with redoubled violence ; and as a 
counterblast to the publication of the speech, and to 
certain resolutions of Presbyteries which had begun to 
come in, Dr. Wilson somewhat unwisely wrote a letter 
to the Daily Review, defending the proceedings of the 
Commission, and somewhat unskilfully balancing between 
the two inconsistent positions that no punishment had 
been inflicted on Smith, and that parts of his writings 
had been decided prima facie to be of such a character 
as could not be sanctioned by the Church. To this letter 
Professor Lindsay replied by a severe denunciation of 
Dr. Wilson's " elaborate special pleading in favour of a 
prolonged course of injustice which has roused the moral 
indignation of the country." Dr. Wilson says that no 
sentence has been pronounced, and that no punishment 
has been inflicted. 

" Well, that is technically correct ; for ' sentence ' and 
' punishment ' come after judicial dealing, and when 
Dr. Wilson makes these statements he practically admits 
the travesty of justice in which he has borne such a con- 
spicuous part. The Report is a ' libel found relevant ' 
in all but the name, and the command not to teach is 
a ' punishment ' in all but the name, and the gross in- 
justice of the whole matter is that these things have been 
done and yet cannot be called by their proper names ; for 
if they could be called by their proper names, a judicial 
process must have previously been gone through." 

Sir Henry Moncreiff rushed to the assistance of his 
colleague, and with some temper described Professor 
Lindsay's statements as " destitute of foundation and 
contrary to facts which the writer knew or ought to have 
known." This gave Professor Lindsay another oppor- 
tunity, and he published a stinging rejoinder, in the 



408 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1880- 

course of which he pointed out that the choice for him- 
self and his friends was between Smith and Dr. Begg, 
and declared that, as their forefathers could not endure 
the traditions of Rome, so they could not see " the 
Word of God in bondage to the traditions of the Rabbins." 
All this greatly pleased Smith, who found himself 
once more in what must be admitted was to him the 
congenial atmosphere of battle. He writes to Professor 
Lindsay on November 15, from Aberdeen : "... Best 
thanks for the smashing discipline you have administered 
to Wilson. I don't think I ever saw you so angry before ; 
but I don't think that you have exposed yourself to any 
riposte" 

There was much indeed about this time which was 
calculated to produce a mood of over-confidence in Smith 
and his supporters. The conduct of the Commission had 
given them the prestige which belongs to the victims of 
persecution, and had awakened anxiety in many minds. 
The movement which had goaded Dr. Wilson into print 
was attaining formidable dimensions. A public meeting 
of office-bearers of the Free Church in Elgin, where Smith's 
old friend, Mr. Gray, was minister, passed resolutions 
criticising the conduct of the Commission in the prosecu- 
tion of the case as " uniformly unbrotherly and un- 
righteous " ; and the example thus set was followed in 
many other places. 

On November 22, at a public meeting of office-bearers, 
members, and adherents of the Free Church resident in 
Aberdeen and the surrounding district, attended by 2000 
persons, and presided over by the member for the city, 
it was agreed to adopt a memorial to the Assembly to 
the effect that the memorialists viewed with much regret 
and alarm the proceedings of the Commission, and pro- 
tested against them as a dangerous departure from the 
well-defined order of government and discipline in the 
Free Church, an infringement of the liberties secured by 
the ecclesiastical constitution, and a precedent subversive 



i88i] THE SECOND CASE 409 

of the rights of office-bearers who may at any time fall 
under suspicion or be identified with unpopular views. 
The memorialists, therefore, while humbly expressing 
their opinion that the case ought to have taken end on 
the basis of the decision of last Assembly, beg that, if new 
action seem fit, it shall be taken only in the direction of 
instituting a regular and deliberate trial of the questions 
at issue before the ordinary courts of the Church, and in 
accordance with the provisions of the Form of Process. 
This memorial was signed by the chairman and 3435 
others. 

Similar action was taken by a meeting of office-bearers 
held a little later in Glasgow, and Smith derived great 
encouragement from these friendly demonstrations as 
well as from the growing popularity of the proposal that he 
should deliver a course of lectures on the question of the 
hour. He had at first shared the doubts expressed by Mr. 
Campbell and others, as he was justly anxious to avoid even 
the appearance of contumacy or defiance. " I continue to 
receive many warnings against lecturing," he had written ; 
" of course, if a bad impression would be produced, that 
is fatal, however unreasonable the impression may be, 
and I begin to have serious doubts about the plan. ..." 
But the pressing requisitions of his friends in Glasgow, 
and elsewhere, led him to change his mind, and the re- 
newed activities of his opponents soon removed all doubt 
of the propriety, and indeed the necessity, of his taking 
action. The numerous overtures and memorials ad- 
dressed to the Assembly in his favour by Presbyteries 
and other bodies were by this time beginning to 
produce the inevitable reaction. Dr. Begg's party 
organised a retort, and soon there was a formidable array 
of counter - resolutions to strengthen the hands of the 
leaders of the Church. In the first days of December 
Smith's friends experienced a serious reverse in Glasgow, 
where the Presbytery refused by a large majority to 
transmit an overture to the forthcoming Assembly 



410 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1880- 

condemning the action of the Commission. Of this 
incident Smith wrote : 

" This Glasgow Presbytery affair will do good by taking 
our friends out of the absurd seventh heaven they have 
been in, and showing them that they must face a material 
issue. After that, there is no doubt about the lectures 
being an instant necessity." 

Smith accordingly gave himself entirely to the pre- 
paration of the lectures ; in the last days of the year we 
find him in Glasgow, making final arrangements. He 
writes to his sister : 

"... Friends cordial. Preached on Sunday to a big 
congregation in Kelvinside. Yesterday was with some 
friends arranging about the lectures. Over 700 applica- 
tions for tickets. This exceeds all expectations, and 
those whom I thought absurdly sanguine in thinking of 
1000 auditors now declare that they are sure of at least 
1400 between the two times." 

The general subject of the series was " The Old 
Testament in the Jewish Church," and the first lecture 
was delivered twice in Glasgow on Monday, January 10, 
1881 ; it achieved a great popular success, which much 
gratified the lecturer. He wrote to Keig : 

"... The start yesterday was in every respect most 
successful. In the afternoon the audience was, I think, 
about 500, and in the evening certainly not less than 700. 
The evening meeting was the warmest, as I believe is the 
rule in Glasgow ; but both were thoroughly attentive 
and appreciative. A. B. M'Grigor says the afternoon 
one was the most remarkable he has ever seen in Glasgow 
from the people that were at it." 

A few days later he delivered a discourse on Arabia l 
in the Philosophical Institution in Edinburgh, and on the 
next night he repeated the lecture which had been so 
well received at Glasgow. In spite of the fact that the 
Free Church opinion of the capital was not expected to 
be so favourable to the lecturer as that in the West, 

1 Apparently still unpublished. 



i88i] THE SECOND CASE 

Smith received another striking demonstration of public 
confidence and approval. His account is as follows : 

"... The lecture came off very well, in spite of a 
bad afternoon which must have kept back some. As far 
as I can hear, the impression is a favourable one, and 
the audience was of capital quality, including Tait, 
Chrystal, Crum Brown, Dr. John Brown, Dr. Alexander 
Buchan, a number of advocates, etc., etc. The numbers 
were near 300, but I believe more than 300 tickets have 
been sold." 

The courses of lectures in Edinburgh and Glasgow 
kept Smith busy during the first three months of the year. 
" It is pretty hard work," he writes, " but very interest- 
ing." The material of his discourses was no doubt 
extremely familiar to him, but the subjects were intricate 
and technical, and much labour was necessary in order 
to get the lectures into an attractive and popular shape. 
Judging, however, from his letters, Smith was never in 
better health or spirits than during this time. Early in the 
year he fulfilled an engagement with the Glasgow Uni- 
versity authorities to preach in the College Chapel, and 
there delivered " an old sermon " on the Anointing in 
Bethany to a crowded and interested congregation chiefly 
composed of students. In Glasgow, as we have repeatedly 
seen, he had many admirers. 

" My lectures yesterday (in Glasgow)," he writes in 
February, " were as full as ever, perhaps fuller in spite 
of the dreadful weather. The interest seems to be 
increasing. . . . Rainy is said to be getting quite de- 
moralised. He even accepts invitations to dinner and 
never turns up which is thought the height of im- 
morality." 

This somewhat flippant reference to the leader (or, as 
some then thought, the ex-leader) of the Church will 
remind the reader of Dr. Rainy's absence from the 
controversial transactions which we have just described. 
He had been present at the meeting of the Commission 
of Assembly in August, and had supported the proposal 



412 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1880- 

to appoint a committee of inquiry, apparently against 
his own better judgment and even his convictions. His 
experience at the preceding Assembly had thoroughly 
shaken his nerve, and the problem, as he himself rather 
artlessly put it, of " getting a sufficient number to agree " l 
to any course whatsoever was a forbidding one. The 
only point which seemed clear was that neither he nor 
the Church could face a second case in which Smith's 
views should again be sifted in due form. The accused 
was too dangerous a man to be allowed a fair trial, and 
the only exit from the difficulty was to use force. This 
dangerous expedient a favourite resort of " strong 
governments," civil or ecclesiastical, when they find 
themselves in a difficulty had been tried once and had 
disastrously failed. In the circumstances the best course 
seemed to be peace. But Principal Rainy was overborne 
by Mr. Macaulay and Dr. Begg. 2 " My disinclination to 
take renewed action on the new article," he afterwards 
wrote, " was based on the impression that no useful 
action could be taken without proposing and doing a 
very strong thing, and that, in our divided state, it was 
impossible to tell what the effect of that might be." In 
another 3 letter he said : 

" Perhaps I should have made more of a stand for my 
own view of the case in the early part of summer, but I 
felt a good deal disabled and disqualified for exerting much 
influence by the result of the Assembly. When the 
August Commission came, I went as far as I could in 
backing up the course resolved on, but I doubted then, 
and doubt yet, whether I was quite entitled by the state 
of my convictions to do so much. A silent vote would 
have been more accurately true to the position of my 
own mind." 

Shortly afterwards Dr. Rainy left for America, and we 
have seen how his colleagues managed the case in his 
absence. The strength of his position lay in the fact 
that he was indispensable; and when he returned in 

1 Life, i. p. 379. 2 Ibid, i p. 381. 3 Ibid. i. p. 381. 



i88i] THE SECOND CASE 413 

November he must soon have become aware that he must 
inevitably resume the reins of power. He was " assailed 
by alarmist representations." Smith and his friends 
had made a deep impression, and Dr. Wilson and Sir 
Henry Moncreiff had thrown away the fruits of the coup 
d'iiat which they had effected in suspending the heretic, 
by protesting that what they had done was " not a judicial 
decision," though the Report on which they had acted 
was to all intents and purposes a detailed indictment, 
and though the effect of their action was penal in 
character. To rectify the mistakes which had been 
made was not easy, but it was not beyond Dr. Rainy's 
capacity ; and the situation with which he had to deal 
presented two great advantages. In the first place, the 
course was clear : the Church was now definitely com- 
mitted to take action, and that action could only take 
the form of depriving Smith summarily of his chair ; even 
the stern, unbending partisans of Dr. Begg had ceased 
to press for a new libel and a new series of unedifying 
litigations in the Church Courts. Secondly, as this was 
so, Dr. Rainy could reckon on much more united support 
than formerly, and the possibility of an accident such as 
happened in the Assembly of 1880 became more remote 
every day. The very brilliancy of the defence, the very 
power of Smith's lectures, was day by day consolidating 
the forces against him, and lessening his chances of final 
success. 

There was still, however, need for great caution : the 
doctrine of " the sufficient number " had to be very 
carefully observed, and for nearly a month after his 
return Dr. Rainy showed every sign of vacillation and 
indecision. His biographer has given an interesting 
account of the state of his mind at this time as revealed 
in a series of letters to his friend and henchman, Dr. 
Adam of Glasgow, who " was not a man of theological 
insight or even of the highest type of Church leader, but 
who was thoroughly clear-headed and most persistent 



414 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1880- 

in pursuing what he aimed at." l Dr. Adam made it his 
business to discover what Dr. Rainy meant to do at the 
forthcoming Assembly, and elicited a series of historical 
avowals from which we have quoted above. As the corre- 
spondence progressed, Dr. Rainy, assisted, no doubt, by 
the persistency of Dr. Adam, became clearer and clearer 
in his mind, and finally, under pressure, admitted that he 
saw no better way out of the existing troubles " than that 
of carrying Smith's case through to the conclusion, and 
that means separating him in time from his chair. I 
intend to support that course ; but, as I did not see my 
way to recommend the beginning of the proceedings 
which look to that issue, and as my grounds for supporting 
it are in some degree different from yours, I cannot 
undertake a leading part in carrying it on. . . ." 

Looking back on these events it is now clear that Dr. 
Rainy, having gone so far, was bound to go farther, and 
that the Smith case was now as good as settled. The 
leader was still in his tent, but he was arming for battle, 
and the sufficient number were not likely to play him false 
a second time. 

Dr. Rainy indeed may be said to have regained the 
full prerogatives of leadership by the beginning of the 
New Year, in the early days of which we again find him 
negotiating on the old basis with the party which in his 
private correspondence he used to call the Smithites. 
The chief outstanding embarrassment by which he was 
hampered in resuming his ascendancy was, as we noted, 
the extremely doubtful legality of the procedure of the 
October Commission. With this the Smith party were 
making considerable play, and at a private conference 
with them the Principal, judging from a long confidential 
communication to Dr. Adam, 2 appears to have suggested 
that this might possibly be dealt with to their satisfaction, 
provided that they for their part were prepared to concede 

1 Life of Principal Rainy, i. p. 381. 
2 Ibid. i. p. 384. 



i88i] THE SECOND CASE 415 

something for the good of the Church. The concession 
hinted at was of course nothing less than Smith's 
voluntary resignation ; and that, apart from other 
considerations, would in the circumstances have been 
treachery to the interests of Professors Davidson and 
Candlish, who were protected only by the fact that the 
heresy hunters were fully occupied with the heresiarch 
himself. It is to this meeting, or to a conference of a 
similar character, that the following extract from one of 
Smith's letters refers : 

" Gilbert Beith has had an interview with Rainy, who 
is not in a good mood. He admitted that he might have 
to do something, but he had not determined on a course, 
and would not tell any one what his ultimate plan might 
be. He would not speak of the Commission's injustice, 
believing that the only point was what the Assembly 
was to do. We had no right to complain ; for my article 
had ruined me, and the blunders of the Commission, 
adroitly used by the Glasgow elders, had put me in a better 
position than ever. It was plain, Beith said, that he 
was watching eagerly for any slip on my part in the 
lectures which would give him the means of turning 
them against me." 

It will be observed that hitherto Dr. Rainy had shown 
his hand only to Dr. Adam, and that Smith did not yet 
know how far the concentration of his adversaries had 
gone. He even appears to have thought that things 
were going in his favour, for in March he writes to Keig 
with some appearance of jubilation : " The enemy, I 
hear, don't now think that they can undertake to defend 
the Commission ! Lindsay says that it is possible that 
the Report may never be printed." 

Meanwhile, the lectures were progressing amid great 
tension and occasional excitement. The following extract 
shows how difficult even the details of daily life became 
to the leading parties in the struggle : " Yesterday was 
the Examination Board l meeting. I went up and took 

1 The Board responsible for the qualifying examination of regular 
students in the Halls of the Church at their entrance and exit. Smith, 



416 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1880- 

part in the business, greatly to Rainy's disgust, who 
ultimately marched out in a temper, slamming the door 
not that I had had any passage of arms with him." 

It was clear that some drastic development was 
imminent, but, as Dr. Rainy still kept his own counsel, 
and as the situation had been hopelessly embroiled by 
the events which had happened in the autumn and the 
fog of controversy in which they were shrouded, no one 
could guess what that development would be. The air 
was full of rumours. The Smithites thought, as we have 
seen, that the prosecution would fail on a point of law. 
Others put it about that the authorities in Edinburgh 
were considering whether it might not be well to remit 
the case to the Aberdeen Presbytery after all, but with 
the addition to the Court of trustworthy Commissioners of 
approved anti-Smith orthodoxy; following the example 
of the Moderates in the middle of the eighteenth century, 
who sent " riding commissioners " to make a majority 
when Presbyteries showed unwillingness to carry out the 
Patronage laws. All these conjectures were fanciful, as 
we know ; they served for the time to supply the news- 
papers with abundant " copy," and to keep alive for a 
short time the forlorn hope of the party of progress. 

Smith delivered the last of his lectures on April I, 
and, having completed their preparation for the press, he 
left immediately for Italy in the company of his friends, 
Mr. Gibson and Mr. Irvine Smith, and took a month's 
well-earned holiday before the meeting of the Assembly. 
In his absence The Old Testament in the Jewish Church, 
the fruit of his strenuous labours during the first months 
of the year, and the first of his more important works, 
was issued to the public hi book form. 

The Preface was dated April 4, and the volume was 
published in the beginning of May. It almost immedi- 

who was a member, had been duly summoned to the meeting, and his 
attendance emphasised the fact that suspension from his teaching 
functions did not shut him out from his other administrative duties. 



i88i] THE SECOND CASE 417 

ately attracted ecclesiastical attention. On May 9, the 
Presbytery of Hamilton overtured the Assembly to the 
effect that the new publication was " seemingly not in 
harmony with the Standards," and prayed that Venerable 
Court to take cognisance of the matter and " vindicate 
truth." On May 12, in the Presbytery of Edinburgh, 
Mr. McEwan l also submitted an overture of which he 
had given notice, stating in guarded and studiously 
general terms that the book contained much that would 
have to be considered in connection with the case, and 
suggesting that the Assembly should deliberate and 
" do thereanent as in its wisdom may seem best." Mr. 
McEwan, it appeared, had read the book three times, 
and he was able to express admiration of " the very 
considerable talent it displayed," but more particularly 
of the " great dexterity and ingenuity " with which the 
author's views were advanced and the difficulties kept in 
the background. In view of the laudation with which 
the lectures were being received by the Press, it was 
desirable that the simple and unwary should be warned 
that the principles laid down, and the statements made 
therein, involved most dangerous consequences. Mr. 
McEwan developed this theme under three heads, the 
first two being the familiar questions of historicity and 
canonicity, with which so many pages of the present work 
are burdened. The third was somewhat novel, and Mr. 
McEwan deserves credit for his sagacity in apprehending 
it so clearly. He argued with some force that Professor 
Smith's doctrine of sacrifice involved a new theory of 
the essential character of the Old Testament religion, 
and in his judgment cut away the basis on which the 
whole doctrine of salvation rests. This is not the place 
in which to argue out this complicated question : it is 
enough to say that in view of the recent developments 
of research into the evolution of religion, the present 
writers are not prepared to deny that the point raised 

1 Minister of John Knox's Free Church, Canongate, Edinburgh. 

27 



4i8 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1880- 

by Mr. McEwan was entitled to more serious consideration 
than most of those debated during the five years of 
controversy which were then drawing to a close. 

It does not appear that Mr. McEwan's discovery made 
very much impression on the Presbytery. Sir Henry 
Moncreiff, in seconding the overture, emphasised its 
neutral character, pointing out the obvious fact that it 
was as much in Smith's interest as in the interest of his 
opponents that it should be transmitted. Without com- 
mitting himself to a doctrinal approval, he paid a high 
compliment to the ability and learning of Smith's latest 
performance, though for this very reason he considered 
it was all the more necessary that it should be carefully 
scrutinised. 

Dr. Horatius Bonar, who next spoke, was less diplo- 
matic. He delivered an attack on " conjectural criticism " 
in general, and in particular on Smith's " inaccuracies," 
and " ominous silence " on such subjects as the miracles 
of the Old Testament, Messianic prophecy, and Christology, 
atonement by blood, and the genealogies in Matthew and 
Luke. This speech led to one of Smith's innumerable 
newspaper controversies, but its interest for readers of 
the present day is purely archaeological. Smith's friends 
having intimated that they were in favour of the over- 
ture, the House submitted to a characteristic effusion 
from Mr. Macaulay, and the overture was unanimously 
adopted. 

The volume which was thus formally brought before 
the Assembly was attracting at least equally respectful 
attention in the learned world at large. It was reviewed 
by the Press with great promptitude, and its reception 
was generally very favourable. One of the earliest notices 
was by Mr. Bryce, then Professor of Civil Law at Oxford, 
who devoted two articles in the Pall Mall Gazette to an 
exposition of Smith's main results. Professor Bryce, who 
had special claims to speak on the historical and legal 
aspects of the subject, was much struck by the success 



i88i] THE SECOND CASE 419 

with which Smith had to his mind convincingly estab- 
lished the late date of the Levitical system. " A better 
piece of historical work, exhibiting a sounder historical 
method, we do not remember to have ever met with." 

Professor Cheyne contributed an interesting review to 
the Academy of May 7, in which he spoke with high 
approval of 

"... this last and perhaps most important of Professor 
Robertson Smith's defences ... by which the possibility 
of a free and yet religious handling of the Biblical texts 
has been established as it had not been established 
before. ... To have accomplished the composition, the 
delivery, and the printing of such a delicate and compli- 
cated investigation within so short a time, is a feat 
which more than anything else shows the fullness of 
learning, and the fertility of resource of this highly 
cultured Biblical scholar." 

In Professor Cheyne's view the effect of the book 
was to lay a firm foundation for the study of Biblical 
criticism (almost altogether new in Great Britain) by 
giving " a conspectus of primary facts and presupposi- 
tions." A personal interest attaches to the reviewer's 
remark on the writer's moderation in regarding the last 
twenty-seven chapters of Isaiah as a single prophecy, a 
moderation which, in the Free Church, as we have seen; 
was regarded by the orthodox as a heresy of the first 
magnitude. It is interesting also to note the tone of 
qualified regret with which Professor Cheyne speaks of 
the " theological tinge " of the book, the absence of 
which from the article " Bible " was, as the reader will 
not have forgotten, one of the efficient causes of the 
Smith case. " It would be a pity if any one . . . should 
be repelled from the study of the work by its ultra- 
Protestant tendencies, a pity moreover were it to be 
demanded of every Old Testament scholar that he should 
be always holding up his theological flag." 

The writer of the Athen&um review, which appeared 



420 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1880- 

on May 21, l also disapproved of the " theological tinge." 
Remark is made on certain " well-worn " phrases, 

"... which appear to be thrown in at random, but may 
nevertheless be designed to be important ; we mean 
such expressions as ' the Bible is God's book,' ' the 
Bible approves itself the pure and perfect Word of God.' 
' The inspired writers were so led by the spirit that they 
perfectly understood and perfectly recorded every word 
which God spoke to their hearts.' ... It is possible 
that these phrases may be explained in accordance with 
critical results, but they scarcely accord with the pre- 
vailing current of thought in the book, though they fit 
well into that of the Westminster Confession of Faith. 
... In harmony with them we find certain inter- 
pretations called ' rationalising ' or ' belonging to rational- 
ism ' which should not be so stigmatised." 

With these reservations the reviewer declares the work 
to be excellent, and commends it to readers as " a popular 
exposition of the most recent views advanced on the 
Continent respecting the Old Testament views running 
to an extreme in some cases." 

In a very different spirit Wellhausen wrote, in the 
Theologische Liter aturzeitung, a dignified and scholarly 
vindication of his friend. Smith's position is determined 
on the one hand by Lagarde, his old professor, and on the 
other by Graf. Many who would otherwise have been 
inclined to sympathise with him will find fault because 
he holds the Priestly Code to be later than Ezekiel. It is 
not easy to see why the Biblical criticism exercised by 
the theology which has prevailed since the death of 
Schleiermacher, should acknowledge, as it does, that the 
heathen Porphyry was right as regards the book of 
Daniel, yet take up an attitude of noli me tangere on the 
subject of the authenticity of the Mosaic law. Doubtless 
the inconsistency is to be accounted for as a survival 

1 Perhaps Dr. Samuel Davidson, himself a veteran Higher Critic 
of the school of Eichhorn, and author of the article " Adam " in the 
Encyclopedia Britannica (see above, p. 188). 



i88i] THE SECOND CASE 421 

of the view, which in its principle has been abandoned, 
that revelation and historical development are incom- 
patible ideas. That they are really capable of reconcilia- 
tion Smith in his two opening lectures seeks to show with 
great success. All that remains to be wished is that his 
argument will pacify his opponents as well as satisfy his 
friends. It is certainly for the interest of the Free 
Church of Scotland that it should remain en rapport 
with science and with the intellectual life, and there are 
few men so able or so willing as Professor Robertson Smith 
to help it to do so. 

While the learned world was engaged in canvassing 
the merits of Smith's work, his colleagues were equally 
busy in discussing the best means of terminating his 
career as a teacher. With the help of Dr. Carnegie 
Simpson we have been enabled to follow the evolution of 
the political situation up to that crucial point at which 
Dr. Rainy promised to support the policy of turning 
Smith out, while still protesting that he could not take 
a leading part in carrying that policy into effect. Un- 
fortunately it is just at this exciting moment that Dr. 
Simpson's guidance fails us, and we have no light on the 
process by which the Principal's faithful attendants 
again forced the helm of state into his reluctant hands. 
But however interesting it would be to know exactly 
how it was done, the material fact is that it was done, 
and on May 18, we find the coalition re-established on a 
surer basis, and Dr. Rainy in his natural position at its 
head. 

On that day a highly important private meeting of 
members of the General Assembly which was to meet on 
the morrow, was held in the spacious premises of the 
Young Men's Christian Association in Edinburgh. Dr. 
Wilson presided over a large and representative attendance 
of no less than three hundred persons " favourable to the 
action of the Commission in the case of Professor Robertson 
Smith." Prominent in the company were Sir Henry 



422 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1880- 

Moncreiff, Dr. Rainy, Dr. Begg, Principal Brown, Professor 
Binnie, Dr. John Kennedy, Dr. Moody Stuart and Dr. 
Adam. An official statement of what passed was sent 
to the Press. 

" The proceedings having been opened with devotional 
exercises," the chairman * urged upon the meeting the 
necessity for common action at the coming Assembly. 
Sir Henry Moncreiff then announced that he was ready 
to move a resolution in Assembly approving of the 
action of the Commission in instructing Professor Smith 
not to resume teaching in Aberdeen last session. This 
was unanimously agreed to, and then followed the event 
of the evening, which showed that Dr. Rainy's mental 
evolution was complete. He " submitted the terms of a 
motion which had been handed to him as the result of 
previous conferences, and which, with certain alterations 
made upon it by himself, he indicated his willingness to 
propose to the General Assembly." This motion, after 
a preamble to which we shall return, proceeded to declare 
" that it is not for the advantage or interest of the Church 
that Professor Smith should be continued in charge of 
the training of her students." It was framed (as was 
officially explained) so as to give Smith an opportunity 
of resigning voluntarily ; failing which, " Dr. Adam or 
some other leader of the Church," was prepared to move 
a resolution formally removing him from his chair. At 
this point Dr. Rainy asserted himself for the first time 
since his eclipse. He " expressed an opinion to the effect 
that with the adoption of such a finding, the case should 
take end in the meantime." Dr. Begg cordially approved 
of Smith's removal, but suggested that there should be a 
committee to examine The Old Testament in the Jewish 
Church, " and if possible to frame a libel for depriving 
him of his ministerial functions." This time, however, 
the meeting was mindful of the doctrine of the sufficient 
number, and Dr. Begg's proposal was coldly received, 
and by agreement adjourned for further consideration. A 



i88i] THE SECOND CASE 423 

further meeting was held on the following Saturday ; the 
programme was ratified and the cast approved, and it 
was intimated that Dr. Begg's proposal had been dropped. 
Dr. Rainy had carried his point ; the man and the libel 
had both been sacrificed. 

The final stage of the five years' conflict had now 
really arrived, and with unconscious dramatic irony the 
Edinburgh Courant (causa mail tanti] summed up the 
situation in words which had less power upon events 
than those which under Providence had started the 
Smith case. After an expression of " the deep respect we 
cherish at once for his piety and his learning " the re- 
viewer * continued : 

" We cannot doubt that this stir and controversy 
over the Old Testament Scriptures will make the Old 
Testament far more than it has been amongst us, a living 
book. . . ." To her advanced critics, " Germany owes 
a new era in Old Testament interpretation and theology. 
It may be so with us, and to Professor Robertson Smith 
the country may yet owe much. ... If Professor Smith 
be not already too far committed, we urge him with his 
splendid talents to treat those problems affecting the 
foundations with caution, lest it should be said of him, 
in even a more literal sense than of the great sage 2 who 
has just gone to his rest, that he led the men of his 
generation out of Egypt and left them wandering in the 
desert." 

The first part of the programme planned by the allies 
was carried out with complete success at the evening 
sitting of the Assembly on Monday May 23. At that 
sitting Sir Henry Moncreiff met all the numerous protests 
against the legality of the action taken by the Commission 
with the uncompromising motion that the General 
Assembly ..." find that there is no occasion for 
interfering with the action of the Commission, but that 
the Report of its Committee furnishes materials which 
call for earnest attention. ..." 

1 Of course of The Old Testament in the Jewish Church. 
2 Carlyle died February 10, 1881. 



424 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1880- 

A counter - motion disapproving of the Commission's 
conduct, which was moved by the Rev. Mr. Thomson, 1 
and supported by able arguments, did not commend itself 
to the judgment of the House. At the beginning of the 
second case Smith's supporters, as we have seen, were 
doubtful whether they could muster as many as a hundred 
at the Assembly ; at the height of the enthusiasm en- 
gendered by the high-handed and unprecedented action 
of the Commission, they expected to be able to bring at 
least three men to the vote for every four polled on the 
other side. It was now shown how much too sanguine the 
latter expectation had been ; for Sir Henry Moncreiff' s 
motion was carried by a majority of more than two to 
one (439 to 218). 

On the following day it was the turn of Principal 
Rainy, who moved the motion which had been so carefully 
settled with the various sections of his supporters. It will 
not, we hope, be forgotten that of all the defences of the 
conduct of the Commission, the only one which had the 
slightest plausibility was that in which Sir Henry, Dr. 
Wilson and Dr. Adam had concurred. That defence was 
that the Commission had not assumed any judicial 
position, that it had not made Smith's case " even a 
virtual case of discipline, nor was its action so much 
as a virtual condemnation of Professor Smith or his 
positions." Yet the preamble of Dr. Rainy 's motion 
cynically referred to the "judgment of the Commission," 
and made this " judgment " a ground for conclusions 
which left the Church no alternative but to remove the 
erring Professor, without further trial or inquiry, from 
his chair. 

The way had no doubt been prepared, by Sir Henry 
MoncrehTs triumph of the previous evening, for the 
assertion of any proposition which suited the purpose of 

1 The Rev. George W. Thomson, D.D., then minister of St. George's 
Free Church, Glasgow, and afterwards of the West Free Church, Aber- 
deen. 



i88i] THE SECOND CASE 425 

the majority ; but the scandal of such a repudiation of 
the public utterances of recognised leaders of the Church 
must have given much cause for rejoicing to her enemies. 
The reasons for dismissing Smith were stated at length 
in the motion. They were five in number, and were as 
follows : 

" i. That the construction of last Assembly's judgment 
in Professor Smith's case, on which, in his letter, 
he claims that the right was conceded to him to 
promulgate his views in the manner he has done, 
is unwarrantable ; the Assembly therefore re- 
pudiate that construction, and adopt the state- 
ment on this subject contained in the Report 
submitted to the Commission in October. 

"2. That the article ' Hebrew Language and Literature ' 
is fitted to give at least as great offence, and cause 
as serious anxiety, as that for which he was 
formerly dealt with. 

"3. That it contains statements which are fitted to 
throw grave doubt on the historical truth and 
divine inspiration of several books of Scripture. 

"4. That both the tone of the article in itself, and the 
fact that such an article was prepared and 
published in the circumstances, and after all the 
previous proceedings in his case, evince on the 
part of Professor Smith a singular insensibility 
to his responsibilities as a theological professor, 
and a singular and culpable lack of sympathy 
with the reasonable anxieties of the Church as 
to the bearing of critical speculations on the 
integrity and authority of Scripture. 

"5. That all this has deepened the conviction, already 
entertained by a large section of the Church, that 
Professor Smith, whatever his gifts and attain- 
ments, which the Assembly have no disposition 
to undervalue, ought no longer to be entrusted 
with the training of students for the ministry." 

And the conclusion which deserves also to be pre- 
served in its own historic words, ran that 

" the General Assembly having the responsible 
duty to discharge of overseeing the teaching in 



426 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1880- 

the Divinity Halls, while they are sensible of the 
importance of guarding the due liberty of pro- 
fessors, and encouraging learned and candid 
research, feel themselves constrained to declare 
that they no longer consider it safe or advantage- 
ous for the Church that Professor Smith should 
continue to teach in one of her colleges." 

Executive action on this conclusion, the hangman's 
work, would take place, it was announced, on the following 
Thursday morning. 

The speech in which Dr. Rainy commended to the 
House the motion which had been entrusted to him was 
hardly worthy of the occasion. The speaker himself 
must have been painfully conscious of the moral weakness 
of his position, and it was perhaps owing to this that 
he displayed even less than his usual power of lucid 
and cogent language. In 1880 his speech had been 
laboured, but then he was arguing for the victory and 
in fact did not prevail. In 1881 the very consciousness 
that he could not fail seems to have benumbed him. 
It is said that he had spent the previous night absorbed 
in anxious thought without retiring to rest. To a man 
with his knowledge of the world the prospect of the 
future must in truth have given much cause for sombre 
reflection, and the reader of the cumbrous paragraphs 
of his address to the Assembly, seamed and scarred with 
parenthesis and anacoluthon, must be insensible indeed 
if he does not realise in some degree the price that some 
men pay for leadership. 

The Principal began with history, and dwelt for the 
last time on the " legitimate " anxieties awakened in the 
Church by the " accumulation of tendency " represented 
by the article " Bible." This part of his speech is haunted 
by the ghosts of dead libels and echoes of defeated charges 
of dangerous and unsettling teaching. Was he not the 
spokesman of those who had learned nothing and for- 
gotten nothing ? He proceeded to argue that, apart 
from the views themselves, the decision and confidence 



i88i] THE SECOND CASE 427 

with which they had been expressed was an aggravating 
circumstance which compelled the attention of the 
Church. He summoned up a smile wherewith to dismiss 
a taunt * that he at least had never offended in this 
particular manner ; and after a reference to the absence 
of the Divine factor in Smith's theory of the Old Testa- 
ment Scriptures, he entered on another train of retrospect. 
The Church had been compelled to combat these views ; 
but the constitutional method of doing so, which in her 
innocence she had adopted, had never seemed to him to 
be satisfactory. " He himself had always regretted the 
libel though he acquiesced in it at the time as having 
prejudiced in various ways the right dealing with the 
case." A libel in such circumstances was an awkward 
thing. In the first place it was difficult to prove, and 
secondly, it was apt to involve other members of the 
Church, as distinguished as the heretic but less dangerous, 
in the consequences of his heresy. After a reference to 
the decision of the previous year Dr. Rainy approached 
the question of the new article. And here we must sup- 
pose that the vigil of the previous night had had its share 
in obscuring his perception of facts, since in the passage 
that followed he did the accused a very grave injustice. 
He spoke of the article " Hebrew Language and Litera- 
ture " as a restatement of Smith's convictions which he 
had claimed it to be his right and his duty to make, and 
the whole trend of the argument was to show that the 
article was a " renewed challenge," and that the alleged 
faults of matter and manner which it contained were a 
wanton affront to susceptibilities which the author had 
been solemnly warned to respect. This, as we know, 
was nothing short of a most unfair misrepresentation of 
what actually happened ; it was no doubt involuntary, and 
it was not allowed to pass unnoticed. At the moment Dr. 
Rainy, of course, believed that he was using a fair argument, 
but he seems to have felt that in itself it was not a strong 

1 Dr. Bruce's. 



428 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1880- 

one. At any rate he proceeded to support it by 
another. 

"I have one thing more to say with regard to this 
article. It was a restatement of Professor Smith's con- 
victions, or included a restatement of them, so far as the 
purposes of that article seemed to him to require it. 
But it appears to me, on the evidence of some of the 
quotations that are supplied in the Report, that in this 
article, when we look into it, we are forced to see fresh 
questions arising." 

These new features were an " increased strength and 
trenchancy of statement in regard to matters which I 
am willing to treat as minor matters " ; for example, "... 
in regard to some of the books of the canon, which 
may be held to admit of some debate as to the precise 
view to be taken of them, and the precise way in which 
questions about them are to be dealt with, . . . but 
especially the train of reasoning which established the 
late date of the Levitical legislation." 

" This is the state of things in which we find ourselves 
at the end of five years. It appears to me that this in 
itself this new complication of the convictions stated, 
and in the manner of stating them the persistency, the 
increased intensity these circumstances really raise the 
question of continuing to entrust the training of students 
to Professor Smith. ... I do hold that teaching like 
this, if the Church is simply to tolerate and take no action, 
will inevitably be misunderstood, will give an impulse 
in a direction of loose and large views about Scripture 
which the Church ought not to consent to have connected 
with her name." 

Like the Platonic Legislators in their pursuit of a 
practical approximation to justice, Dr. Rainy had escaped 
two great waves only to be threatened by the third 
and greatest of all. He had proved to the satisfaction, at 
least of his own side, firstly, that Smith had wilfully 
violated the peace imposed upon the Church by the 
accident of the previous year ; and secondly, that his 
teaching, while it could not be dealt with by ordinary 



1881] THE SECOND CASE 429 

methods, was such that the Church could not safely 
tolerate it within her borders. It remained to show that 
it could be suppressed by means legitimately at the 
disposal of the Court. And here, if we were to pursue 
the train of Platonic reminiscence, Dr. Rainy's argument 
might remind us of the mythological foundations on which 
the legislators, yewcuov n ev t/'evSoju.evoi, were advised 
by Socrates to base the ideal polity. It would not be 
fair to press this analogy too far ; let us return instead, 
as Dr. Rainy returned, to the idea of " high moral ex- 
pediency " which he pressed upon the Assembly with 
greater success than on a former occasion. The speaker 
contended somewhat formally, and a little perfunctorily, 
for the doctrine that there is a reserve of power in the 
Assembly whereby in emergencies it can supersede the 
working of the Church's constitution. 

" But," he added impressively, approaching eloquence 
for the first time as he drew to a close, " even if it be 
conceded that a general power of this kind rests with the 
Church, the question returns, Do you think it fit to use 
this power in this case ? Yes, Moderator, fathers and 
brethren, think well of that ; I do not wish to conceal the 
gravity of it. It is a very grave burden to my own 
mind. ... It is a great sacrifice not to Professor Smith 
merely. It is a great sacrifice to us. If you doubt your 
power, do not use it. If you doubt whether there is a 
case for the exercise of your power, do not use it ; but if 
you believe that the case has arisen, has become such a 
case a complication threatening grave and serious issues 
that it is no longer fit that even this professor should 
be maintained in the office which he occupies and if you 
believe this is the right way to care for your souls, and 
to place the Church in the best position, thus deliberately 
and calmly facing with strength and patience all those 
questions so plainly in the air, and so inevitably questions 
that remain to be considered then, if you think that, 
you must act, and you must take the responsibility and 
the unpopularity of your action." 

The leading speech for the defence was delivered by 
Dr. Whyte, who moved that a Committee should be 



430 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1880- 

appointed " to consider maturely the writings of Professor 
W. R. Smith, published since last Assembly, with power, 
if they see cause, to prosecute him by libel before the 
Presbytery of Aberdeen, and in any case to report to next 
Assembly." The speech in which he commended this 
moderate and prudent course to the House was remark- 
able for its wisdom no less than for its fine spirit of 
courage and kindliness. Dr. Whyte was at that time 
reckoned a " Smithite " by Dr. Rainy and his friends; 
but, as the motion itself shows, he was not in any sense 
committed to Smith's views, and he spoke from the 
standpoint of a man who in defending his friends was 
defending also the highest interests of the Church. He 
appealed against " the mistrustful, ungenerous, somewhat 
panic-stricken motion " of Dr. Rainy, which counted 
on the timidity, the alarm, the excited traditionary 
sentiment of the House," and " the indecent and un- 
lawful violence " that was proposed. He pleaded that 

"... the devout sentiment and solicitude that is in the 
Church shall not persecute out of it the faithful and 
diligent student, or be a barrier in his way in seeking out 
the whole truth attainable concerning the past ways of 
God with His Church, and the work of the Spirit of God 
in the production, preservation, and transmission of the 
Word of God. 

" You cannot arrest the movement of mind in Christen- 
dom of which these inculpated writings are an outcome. 
Had this movement of the theological mind been confined 
to Professor Smith and a handful of German or Germanised 
scholars like himself, you might have ignored it or arrested 
its progress in your Church. But the movement is not 
of them ; they are rather of it. They are its children, 
and they cannot but be its servants. Fathers and 
brethren, the world of mind does not stand still ; and 
the theological mind will stand still at its peril. No 
man who knows, or cares to know, anything of my personal 
sympathies and intellectual and religious leanings, will 
accuse me of disloyalty to the Calvinistic, Puritan, and 
Presbyterian polity, or neglect of the noble body of 
literature we inherit from our fathers. But I find no 



i88i] THE SECOND CASE 431 

disparity, no difficulty in carrying much of the best of 
our past with me in going out to meet and hail the new 
theological methods. Of all bodies of men on the earth, 
the Church of Christ should be the most catholic-minded, 
the most hopeful, the most courageous, the most generous, 
sure that every movement of the human mind is ordered 
and overruled for her ultimate establishment, extension, 
and enriching. . . . Professor Smith may have been 
courageous and venturesome to a fault ; but he is fitted 
by gifts, learning, sagacity, descent, personal piety, to 
serve the Church as few men in any generation possibly 
can ; surely she is not prepared to cast him over her 
walls to the scorn and rejoicing of the besieging army." 

This eloquent and affecting appeal may be said to 
have fallen on deaf ears. Mr. Guthrie, son of the cele- 
brated Dr. Guthrie, now a Senator of the College of 
Justice, and at that time commencing his career as 
Procurator of the Free Church, impartially advised the 
Assembly, as his predecessor had done in 1880, that what 
they proposed to do might be visited with damages by 
the Court of Session. All this seemed but to add fuel to 
the flames, and in the long debate which followed " the 
excited traditionary sentiment of the House " asserted 
itself loudly and repeatedly. 

" I find," said one speaker (Mr. M'Tavish of Inverness), 
" that the Confession declares that it pleased God to 
commit His word to writing, that He is the ' Author ' of 
the Scriptures, and if the ' Author,' then, of course, the 
Composer, and that the ' style ' is an evidence of their 
divine origin, and therefore it teaches that the style is 
God's." 

In these few lines the view of the majority is admirably 
summarised. Dr. Begg himself, who intervened later in 
the debate to rebuke and repudiate all craven fear of the 
law of the land, could not put it more trenchantly. There 
is indeed a sameness in the speeches for the prosecution 
which would deprive them of interest for the reader of 
the present day, even if it were possible to epitomise them 
for the purposes of this narrative. It is interesting to 



432 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1880- 

note that at this supreme moment Sir Henry Moncreiff 
was not found among Smith's most bitter opponents. 
No doubt he expressed the view that The Old Testament 
in the Jewish Church " required to be looked at," and his 
present impression was that it contained things which 
would make the groundwork of a libel. " But for himself 
he confessed that the mode in which the Professor's book 
is executed disposed him to do something to regain the 
Professor ; but he as yet did not know how that was to 
be done." 

The attitude of the younger men was on this occasion 
expressed by two of Smith's former students, one of 
whom, Mr. Forrest of Stevenston, Ayrshire, came forward 
as a consistent opponent of his teaching, and as one who 
had been unable to sign the Memorial in favour of his old 
Professor which had been presented to the Assembly in 
the previous year, and who regarded the testimony of 
his class fellows merely as " a remarkable instance of how 
good men may be blinded by partisan zeal and strong 
personal attachment to a friend." Mr. Robertson 
(Stoneykirk), one of the memorialists, on the other hand, 
testified to the benefit he had derived from Professor 
Smith's teaching, and the corrective to rationalism which 
it was fitted to supply. 

Smith rose to reply at a quarter to ten. His speech 
occupied more than an hour in delivery, and was spoken 
of by the journals next day as an extraordinary oratorical 
effort, alike in " fluency of utterance, facility and aptness 
of illustration, sharpness of criticism, promptness of 
argument; and readiness of retort." Its substance need 
not detain us long. No general survey of the merits 
of the case, no comprehensive defence, was possible; 
for the merits of the case had ceased to make any 
figure in the speeches of his accusers, and, as he 
pointed out, the opportunity afforded to him was not 
the opportunity for a full and regular defence such 
as the law and constitution of the Church nominally 




CARICATURE OF PROFESSOR SMITH DURING THE PROGRESS 
OF THE CASE. 



i88i] THE SECOND CASE 433 

give. All he could do was to criticise the proposals 
of his opponents as they had arisen. He acquiesced 
in Dr. Whyte's motion, not because it pointed to a 
new libel in his view the motion committed the House 
to no such course but because the Church, if she 
chose to deal with the grave questions that had been 
raised, ought to do so on her responsibility as a Church, 
and ought not to leave them to be agitated by any chance 
individual. Dr. Rainy's motion had evaded all con- 
sideration of the views which it was proposed with such 
violence to repudiate. The question, which now came 
before an orderly court of the Church for the first time, 
and which, according to Sir Henry Moncreiff and Dr. 
Wilson, had merely been kept open by the Commission for 
the decision of the Assembly, was now to be passed by 
with the declaration that it was impossible to go into the 
merits. As regarded these merits, those from whom Dr. 
Rainy expected support were hopelessly divided. The 
speaker who held that the style of the Word of God was 
God's style, if he succeeded in imposing his doctrines on 
the colleges of the Church for a single year, would empty 
them of every student worth admitting to the ministry. 
Dr. Begg and Dr. Rainy were notoriously and publicly 
at variance as to the nature and import of the testimony 
of Christ on the question of the Mosaic authorship of 
the Pentateuch ; yet Dr. Begg and Dr. Rainy pro- 
posed to vote together. The coalition which they had 
formed was only upon legal points, and would have 
been impossible if the real issue had been faced. 
According to Dr. Rainy the real issue still called for 
discussion in happier times ; according to the others it 
was res judicata. 

Smith next fastened on what was really the main 
point of Dr. Rainy's speech the charge that he had 
misconstrued the liberty accorded to him by the finding 
of 1880, and had claimed in his letter to the Clerk of the 
Presbytery of Aberdeen the right to restate views to 

28 



434 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1880- 

which the Church took exception. He declared that he 
could not find any such claim in the letter, and he 
challenged his accuser across the floor of the Assembly 
to point to the passage referred to. The Principal com- 
plained, somewhat unreasonably, that he had had no 
specific notice of the question, but after a somewhat 
lively passage it was made abundantly clear that he 
could not maintain the position he had taken up. Smith 
then proceeded to explain with great care the spirit in 
which he had accepted the admonition. 

" At the time that this decision was before me, I had 
several opportunities of useful work in my offer, one of 
work of a similar character to that in the Free Church, 
and in these circumstances was it possible that I would 
have gone back to this Church's work unless I had felt 
it was work which I still desired to do, and in which I 
still hoped to live in unity with my brethren (applause) 
and, I venture to say, before God and man, with an 
unalloyed desire to serve the Church in which I was born, 
in which I have heard the Gospel, in which I was trained 
to the ministry, in which I have been privileged to exercise 
a sphere of usefulness ? (Applause.) I accepted the 
admonition, feeling, as an honest man, that I could 
continue to hold office, and that, as a scholarly man, I 
could find work to occupy myself without agitating the 
mind of the Church. I can assure you, from the depths 
of my conscience, I have never said and never thought 
that it would have been right in me to write the article, 
' Hebrew Language and Literature,' under the decision 
of last Assembly. I do not think it would have been right 
for me to have written it. Now, I may say, since the 
question has again been raised, I would have been glad 
to have taken it back, not because I did not believe what 
I had written for if a libel is brought I am prepared to 
answer it but because I felt it would not have been a 
charitable thing to have written such an article as that, 
after the solemn circumstances through which we had 
passed. ... It has been said," he continued, " that the 
writing of my letter in regard to this article on ' Hebrew 
Language and Literature ' was worse even than the 
article itself, but I can tell you that if ever there was a 
document that was written with all feelings of charity 



i88i] THE SECOND CASE 435 

and wishes for peace in the Church, it was the letter 
which I sent to Dr. Spence. I tell the Assembly again 
that I claim no such right as that imputed to me in Dr. 
Rainy's motion, and no man can honestly vote in support 
of the statement in Dr. Rainy's motion when I tell him 
distinctly that I claimed no such right. 

" It is not probable," he went on, " that anything 
I may say now will move such a coalition as has been 
formed. What I wish to do is, that I shall not part with 
you if I must part with a cloud upon our relations 
which it is possible for me by frank and friendly explana- 
tion to remove, and, therefore, I have sought to give at 
some length a plain history of this fault, if you call it a 
fault, which showed that I have neither a disloyal heart 
to you, nor a disregard for my position as a professor of 
this Church. (Applause.) We have come to a con- 
stitutional crisis, of the legal results of which I will not 
speak, but it is evident that there is a possibility that 
the Church, by taking the strong step proposed, may 
compromise itself before the State." 

Smith proceeded to dilate upon the probable results 
of the interference with the doctrine of appointment 
ad vitam aut culpam, and strongly protested against 
Dr. Rainy's argument that the Church had a power in 
reserve above the ordinary constitution and law. He 
concluded by saying : 

" The power of the Church is regulated by common law. 
In his motion Dr. Rainy appealed to no spiritual con- 
siderations. In his speech he gave no Christian argu- 
ments, none that did not come from common expediency 
(applause) no argument but that by which despotism 
has always been supported the argument that the State 
must have the power to prevent the State from suffering 
ill. There is a power watching over the Church, there 
is a power watching over it now in this crisis, which I and 
all of us hope and pray will not desert this Church, even 
though on this occasion she may be led wrongly. The 
power which watches over our Church is not a power 
arbitrarily asserted by a mere body of men without a 
constitution and on grounds of mere temporary expedi- 
ency. The power that watches over our Church is that 
power which enables us to be patient, to be temperate, 



436 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1880- 

to be truthful, to exercise charity and faith to one another 
it is the power of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the power 
of His Spirit that lives in our hearts." 

Dr. Rainy's reply came at midnight and, according 
to contemporary critics, " was not delivered with his 
customary force and care." He accepted Smith's correc- 
tion of the interpretation to be placed on the letter to 
Dr. Spence, and proposed to meet his objection to the 
form of the charge of contumacy by omitting the words 
" as he has done " from the first of the five clauses 1 of his 
motion. A somewhat confused argument followed, in the 
course of which the defence made a series of protests to 
the effect that, if the words were to be dropped, the whole 
motion fell with them. The Principal, however, denied 
that he had based any of his argument on the words which 
he proposed to omit, and was frank enough to explain 
that he had personally nothing to do with their appearance 
in his motion, but had inserted them at the request of a 
supporter whom he did not name. The protests were 
overruled, and, continuing his speech with increasing 
sadness of tone, Dr. Rainy justified afresh the wisdom 
of the course recommended in his motion, and abruptly 
concluded with the declaration that, whether he was 
believed or not, he would much rather that the case 
had been one of Professor Smith putting him out of his 
chair than of his putting Professor Smith out of the chair 
in Aberdeen. 

Before the division was taken a somewhat heated 
discussion arose on a question put by Smith, " whether 
the members were to vote on Principal Rainy's motion 
as originally proposed, with the inconsistency with fact 
which it included, or as the Principal had proposed to 
amend it." There was considerable doubt whether the 
House had consented or would consent to the proposed 
amendment, and a division was actually challenged ; but 

1 See above p. 425. 



i88i] THE SECOND CASE 437 

in deference to the view of the Moderator it was decided 
that the motion should be put as amended. 

Half an hour later the result was announced as 
follows : 

For Dr. Rainy's motion . . 423 
For Dr. Whyte's motion . . 245 

Majority against Professor Smith 178 

Thus the Assembly with no ambiguous voice declared 
its conviction that Smith's continued occupancy of his 
chair was no longer safe or advantageous for the 
Church. 1 It will be remembered that the last para- 
graph in Dr. Rainy's motion, which had now become the 
finding of the House, was that the Assembly should 

1 From this judgment of the Assembly Dr. Candlish and others 
dissented for reasons which may be summarised as follows : Because 
it was founded on a misstatement as to a matter of fact ; because 
vague statements as to tendency and tone cannot be the basis of 
definite ecclesiastical action ; because the matters based on in the finding 
were all antecedent to the admonition addressed to Professor Smith by 
last Assembly, and in justice to that Assembly opportunity should have 
been allowed for the proper influence of that admonition ; because the 
declaration that it is no longer safe or advantageous for the Church 
that Professor Smith should continue to teach, can only express the 
opinion of a majority of this Assembly, and the Assembly is not 
authorised in this matter to speak in the name of the Church ; because 
the declaration must either be entirely inept, or must lead to the summary 
removal of Professor Smith from his chair, an act which would be 
contrary to the Scripture principles of Church discipline and to the 
Form of Process; and because the finding is based mainly on seeming 
present expediency and contributes nothing to the settlement of the 
vital questions involved. 

The official answers, handed in by Dr. Rainy, were, in substance, 
that the Assembly was at all events entitled to repudiate a construction 
of last Assembly's decision which seemed to render it antagonistic to 
previous judgments and, if it was meant that Professor Smith had 
claimed only the right to hold his opinions though not to promulgate 
them, such was not the impression which his letter was fitted to make ; 
that the judgment itself set forth sufficient grounds for the action taken ; 
that it brought up matters of serious moment which were not in view 
of last Assembly and fell to be dealt with now ; that the Assembly was 
entitled and bound to judge as to what was safe and advantageous ; and 
that the judgment arrived at in no way precluded any subsequent 
action that might be required. 



438 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1880- 

" resume the matter on Thursday with a view to giving 
effect to this judgment." Obviously, the judgment was 
one that was intended to have consequences ; but it was 
thought courteous, or at least desirable, to give the 
Professor thus declared to have lost the confidence of 
his constituents the opportunity of resigning, should he 
prefer to terminate his official connection with the Church 
in that way. For reasons other than personal he decided 
not to adopt that course. 

On Thursday May 26, accordingly, Dr. Adam moved 
his predetermined motion, which declared that from the 
3ist of the month Professor Smith's tenure of his chair 
should cease as regarded all rights to teach and exercise 
professorial functions in the College of Aberdeen, and as 
regarded all ecclesiastical rights and powers grounded on 
his professorial charge. The motion expressly reserved 
to Smith his full salary, leaving to future Assemblies the 
further regulation of that matter. Steps were to be 
taken to appoint a successor and to make arrangements 
ad interim for the instruction of the classes. As regarded 
the overtures from various Presbyteries which cried 
aloud for action anent The Old Testament in the Jewish 
Church, various considerations were set out, the effect of 
which was that, while the matter was a very grave one, 
and the anxieties connected with it serious and justifiable, 
the Assembly were invited for the present to take no 
further action. 

The last stand of the defence, a forlorn hope indeed, 

was taken in a simple direct negative by Professor A. B. 

Bruce, who moved that the House decline to adopt Dr. 

Adam's motion on the ground that his colleague's summary 

; removal would be an act neither consistent " with the 

; Scriptural principles of Church discipline," nor likely to 

' contribute to the settlement of the vital questions at issue 

regarding the truth of Scripture. He and his friends 

knew that failure was inevitable, and they had considered 

whether a simpler protest than a formal motion would 



i88i] THE SECOND CASE 

not be sufficient. On reflection, however, they had 
resolved to divide the House once more and to argue 
their case again, as the most effective means of discharging 
their responsibilities. 

Dr. Bruce's argument was much the same as that 
which at each successive stage of the case was pressed 
upon the Church, and has with sufficient frequency been 
brought before the readers of this book. Conducted not 
only with great lucidity, but with great earnestness, and 
without any note of theological bitterness, it concluded 
with these words of memorable intensity : 

" I cannot sit down without expressing my sorrow and 
shame at what is about to be done. I never expected 
to see the day when such a spectacle could be witnessed 
in our Church. Had I foreseen it, I do not know that I 
should have been very much inclined to be either a 
minister or a professor in this Church. But, notwith- 
standing all that has happened and is about to happen, 
I do not regret, nor do I think any of us regrets, that he 
is a Free Churchman. We are proud of our Church's 
past history and achievements, and we will not despair 
of her yet having a future of which we can be proud a 
future in which she shall appear orthodox yet not ilhberal, 
evangelical yet not Pharisaical, believing yet not afraid 
of inquiry. And even now we love our Mother Church, 
and will serve her faithfully and loyally as long as she 
will allow us. We will cling to her through good report 
and through bad, and we will use our influence to induce 
all others to do so our members, our office-bearers, our 
students. We humbly think she is doing a great wrong, 
but we count surely on a reaction and a noble repentance, 
in which she will cancel the ostracism which she is about 
to exercise against her ablest servant and devoted son." 

The debate continued for some hours, and several of 
the more prominent persons in the drama made their 
final appearances. Dr. Marcus Dods intervened publicly, 
both for the first and the last time, taking the obvious 
point that, if the Church suspected a heresy, she should 
deal with that heresy before she dealt with the heretic. 
For himself, he regarded the Professor's views with 



440 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1880- 

regard to the Deuteronomic authorship as demonstrably 
false in some particulars, almost as indefensible as the 
old traditional views, but while the Professor had made 
mistakes as a scientific investigator, he had likewise 
rendered most valuable services to the cause of orthodoxy ; 
and he entreated the House to take account of the 
immense benefits the Professor had conferred on the 
Christian Church at large. He appeared, therefore, for 
delay and suspension of judgment before an irretrievable 
step was taken. Dr. Begg and Sir Henry Moncreiff 
delivered characteristic speeches on the other side. Dr. 
Begg recalled the attention of the Assembly to the 
business in hand, which was to execute the judgment of 
the day before, and not to argue about its justice or 
expediency. He called for the immediate exercise of the 
nobile officium, and amused the House with the customary 
illustrative anecdotes. Sir Henry could neither feel nor 
express enthusiasm for Dr. Adam's motion, but accepted 
it subject to his old distinction between the case of 
Professor Smith and a case of discipline, and, having 
administered to himself this dialectical consolation, quietly 
fell into line with the other members of the coalition. 
The only other feature of the debate worthy of note was 
an attempt made by Mr. Cowan, Law Agent to the Free 
Church, to hearten the weaker brethren by disputing the 
view expressed by Mr. Guthrie on the previous day as to 
the legal position of the Church in regard to Smith's 
tenure of his chair. 

Dr. Rainy spoke shortly towards the close of the 
debate : the subject so far as he was concerned was 
practically exhausted, and, indeed, he at first proposed to 
leave the debate to Smith and Dr. Adam who, of course, 
would exercise his right of reply. This course did not 
commend itself to the House, and the Principal was 
induced to say a few words. He began by explaining 
that until the publication of the recent lectures he had 
purposely maintained a neutral attitude, and that even 



i88i] THE SECOND CASE 441 

now he had listened with much sympathy to the appeals 
made by Smith's friends ; at the same time he frankly 
intimated that he and others had suffered too much 
already in connection with the present case to be easily 
driven from the course they had marked out, more 
especially as he felt that inquiry by a Committee would 
assuredly land them in a libel. He did not object to the 
investigation of the questions raised by means of a 
grand committee, but he was not disposed to consent to 
such an investigation while Professor Smith remained in 
the chair at Aberdeen. 

When Smith took his place at the table to deliver the 
last of all his many speeches, his manner and bearing (so 
the contemporary chronicler tells us) showed plainly 
enough that he appreciated to the full the seriousness, 
not to say the hopelessness, of his position so far as the 
verdict of the present Assembly was concerned. He 
began by remarking that, though unable to regard the 
decision of the previous Tuesday as in any part a decision 
on a point of law, he could not fail to see in it a strong 
personal expression of disapprobation on the part of the 
majority of the House. It had gone so far as to place 
upon words of his a construction which he had solemnly 
and before God repudiated, thus placing between himself 
and them a personal bar of a kind which in ordinary 
circumstances would have led him to shrink from again 
meeting with them on that floor. Yet, painful as it 
might be to meddle further in the case in this Assembly, 
he also felt compelled to consider that he was still a 
Free Churchman, a member of Assembly with a com- 
mission from his Presbytery, and, therefore, so long as 
he had strength and voice, he was resolved to do what 
he could to protest not to save himself from personal 
consequences which, indeed, after what had come and 
gone might perhaps rather be a relief but to save the 
Church from at one fell swoop destroying her whole 
constitution. He then went on to argue that the finding 



442 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1880- 

a " judgment " as it called itself of Tuesday had not 
expressed any opinion as to the Church's legal power 
in the way of removing professors or other office-bearers. 
It had simply stated that the Assembly had certain 
responsibilities to which it was sensitive, and had accord- 
ingly emitted a declaration, not on a point of law, but on 
a point of expediency merely, to the effect that it was 
no longer safe or advantageous that a certain professor 
should teach in a certain chair. But it did not require 
so much as one word to prove that between such a 
declaration and the conclusion that it was necessary to 
remove the professor from his chair there was a very 
important link missing the link which Dr. Adam's 
motion tried to supply. It was vain to argue that Dr. 
Adam's motion was one to which the Assembly was shut 
up. It might be true that the first step was one which 
could hardly be justified, unless the Church was prepared 
to take the second. Still, there were two separate 
steps indicated by the two separate motions ; and no 
church can be shut up, without discussion and without 
vote, to take a second step because it has taken a 
first. There was a new case to-day, which had to be 
decided altogether upon its own merits. Still dwelling 
upon the constitutional question, he proceeded to argue 
that if the inherent power of the Assembly as defined 
by Dr. Rainy a power not regulated by law, but solely 
by the responsibility of the Assembly were to be ad- 
mitted, there would be a temptation, such as had never 
existed before, for those who felt strongly on some subjects 
to agitate with the set purpose of producing a crisis. By 
way of illustration he proceeded to refer to the disturbance 
that had been diligently fostered in connection with the 
appearance of his article on " Animal Worship and Animal 
Tribes among the Arabs and in the Old Testament " in 
the Journal of Philology. His references to this subject 
brought to their feet both Dr. Rainy and Mr. Macaulay 
Dr. Rainy to say that he had not been present at the 



i88i] THE SECOND CASE 443 

meeting of Presbytery when the subject had been brought 
up, and Mr. Macaulay to crave liberty to vindicate all he 
had then said, adding, however, that in that case the 
galleries would need to be cleared. The speaker, without 
taking this unfriendly interruption too seriously, insisted 
that a definite mischief had been done, that those who 
might have controlled it had not interfered, and that 
many elements of a similar kind, diligently fostered on the 
one hand and left uncontrolled on the other, had combined 
to form a current of feeling which had culminated in the 
present crisis which it was now proposed to deal with, 
not by methods of law, but by the exercise of " a sense 
of responsibility." The result would be to close the 
mouth of a professor in his chair while leaving open to 
him the pulpit, while permitting him to officiate at the 
Communion table, while enabling him to put on the title- 
page of his book, " Minister of the Free Church of 
Scotland." Would the gain be so very great ? It was 
no paradox to say that there is probably no way of 
promulgating individual opinions in which the position 
of the promulgator is less influential than that of a 
professor. Becoming for the moment reminiscent and 
autobiographical, he recalled his own experiences as a 
pupil of Professor Bain, 

"... perhaps the most powerful teacher intellectually in 
many respects whom I ever sat under. At the present 
moment my attitude to all the problems Professor Bain 
discussed is perhaps as remote from his as is possible to 
any person in Scotland : but that does not affect the fact 
that he was an excellent, powerful, and conscientious 
teacher. The really good teacher will teach his students 
to form conclusions, but he will not and cannot supply 
them with conclusions ready made, . . . his influence is 
great, and it leads to the formation, not of conclusions, 
but of habits of thought." 

Returning to the main argument, he contended that 
the proposed course of procedure would mean the intro- 
duction of a principle new to their ecclesiastical system. 



444 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1880- 

The assertion that the Church must have whatever power 
is necessary is merely another way of saying that she must 
have what she considers necessary what the Assembly 
what this Assembly what the majority of this Assembly 
considers necessary. This might be called the old 
claim of prelacy ; but it was something more, and 
worse, because even in prelacy there was something of a 
constitution. The Free Church Claim of Right spoke of 
Church government as " ministerial, not lordly " ; was 
this the kind of government proposed in Dr. Adam's 
motion ? In it there is claimed for the Church a power 
which is limited by no right. There is a sense in which 
the Church has this power, for there is no Court of Appeal 
beyond it ; but because a body is irresponsible in the 
sense that there is not any one able to call it to order, 
that is no reason why it should go beyond the point 
denned by law. In an impressive parenthesis he repudi- 
ated the proposed reservation of his salary. He would 
never, he declared, consent to eat the bread of a Church 
which did not permit him to serve her. No honest man, 
having formed views, could yield them except to argu- 
ment, and what he said now would be said to-morrow 
by thousands throughout the Churches if the violent step 
proposed in the motion was taken. There had been 
some talk about secession. Secession was not unknown 
in Scotland ; but it was not the attitude of the Free 
Church. . . . 

" In 1843 we left the State ; we did not secede from the 
Church ; we carried her with us. And there will be no 
secession from the Church now. There will be an ad- 
hesion to the principles of the Church, and there will be 
an open, frank declaration of that adhesion against any 
majority and any power. And, Moderator, my removal 
from the place which I now hold in this Church, painful 
as it is to me, and grieving as it is to me in my personal 
life, is a mere incident in the case before the Church itself. 
The case is only now beginning." 

In conclusion, he went on to describe the other side as 



i88i] THE SECOND CASE 445 

having secured a majority, or being about to secure a 
majority, not by the exercise of a constitutional right, 
but by the temporary tyranny of a despotic power. 

"What all sound Free Churchmen will do," he con- 
cluded, " is this. We will hold by the principles of the 
Church, by the freedom which Christ has given us and the 
constitution has secured for us. And we will endeavour, 
without dispeace or evil feeling, in every constitutional 
way some as office-bearers, some as adherents of the 
Church to make it plain, as we have done once and 
again before, that the people of the Free Church can pull 
it through any trouble which its leaders have got it into." 

Amid a tumult of applause, Smith then left the House, 
and did not return. 

Dr. Adam briefly replied to the effect that the power 
which it was proposed to usurp was simply that of asserting 
authority as to who should train the future ministers of 
the Church, a power to interfere if the teaching were of a 
kind believed to be hurtful. As for the constitutional 
rights that had been spoken of, if these were of such a 
nature that danger was likely to arise from them to the 
faith of the ministry, if the rights were of the kind that 
the Assembly must simply stand aside and let any amount 
of injury be inflicted without interposing, then he was no 
friend to such rights as these. 

The vote which followed showed a majority of 163 for 
Dr. Adam's motion (394 to 231). The decision, which 
had long been foreseen, was quietly received, and immedi- 
ately after its announcement Professor Bruce submitted his 
reasons of dissent l which had already been signed by Dr. 

1 The reasons given were repeated a couple of days later, and are 
given below (p. 450). 

The official reply was that it was unreasonable and unconstitutional 
to hold that in all circumstances a professor could maintain his right 
to teach unless libelled, or that the Church has no right to judge whether 
his duties are discharged to edification unless prepared to make good a 
libel for immorality or heresy ; and that the only rights taken away had 
been those based upon the charge which naturally terminated his 
tenure of the chair. 



446 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1880- 

Whyte, Dr. Marcus Dods, Mr. Benjamin Bell, Professor 
Salmond, and others. Immediately after its presentation 
other members desirous of signing crowded to the plat- 
form in such numbers that it was found necessary to 
intimate that ample opportunities for doing so would be 
afforded later. 

Smith, we have seen, had said, at the close of his speech, 
" There will be no secession." If such a thing had ever 
been thought of, these words were enough to put an end 
to the idea. For the only possible leader in any such 
movement was Smith himself, and he had explicitly 
renounced the task. We may leave undiscussed the 
validity of the only reason expressly put forward by 
him that secession had never been a principle of the 
Free Church, meaning, we may suppose, however un- 
historical the view may seem to some, that the principles 
of the Church of Scotland as exemplified in her practice 
had hitherto been against such a course. The simple 
fact was that, as yet at least, there was nothing to secede 
about. If secession were to become the normal remedy 
for every act of administrative injustice, it is difficult to 
see how any popularly constituted church could long 
escape complete disintegration. But in the present case 
there was this special peculiarity, that if Smith had 
consented to place himself at the head of a secession he 
would (so far as then could be known) have found himself 
almost destitute of followers. On the constitutional 
question, no doubt, he had many sympathisers ; but on 
the primary and ultimate issue that of the truth or 
falsehood of the new reading of the Old Testament the 
number of those who were prepared to give him their 
unhesitating support perhaps did not exceed half a dozen. 

It remained to be seen, however, whether there was 
to be toleration. Smith had been indeed " sacrificed " ; 
in compensation it might perhaps be said that the libel 
also had been sacrificed. How far this compensation 
was a real and not merely a nominal one required to be 



i88i] THE SECOND CASE 447 

made clear. Was the libel to be kept in store, ready to 
be brought forward again when a seemingly suitable 
opportunity offered, whether in the case of the Rev. 
William R. Smith (no longer Professor) or of any other ? 
And, above all, what limits, if any, were to be set to this 
" reserve of power " which had been claimed for the 
Assembly, and in the present case so violently exercised ? 
Evidently some more overt action than the mere recording 
of dissents by those who felt themselves threatened or 
aggrieved was called for. 

No time was lost in organising a protest, and on 
Saturday May 28 an important meeting of the minority 
of the Free Church took place. It took the form of a 
public breakfast, and was attended by some three hundred 
ministers, elders, and others. The place of meeting l 
proved quite inadequate for the large numbers who 
eagerly signified their desire to be present, and had the 
time at the disposal of Professor Lindsay, the energetic 
organiser, been longer, it would have been easy to arrange 
for a very much more numerous gathering. Of the 
company present it is sufficient to say in general that it 
included most of the prominent laymen who had con- 
sistently supported Smith, and that very few of the 
ministers junior to Dr. Rainy, who have since reached 
eminence in the councils of the Church, were absent. 

Mr. Benjamin Bell presided and addressed the gather- 
ing, and among the other speakers were Dr. Whyte, 
Professor Bruce, Professor Lindsay, Mr. Taylor Innes, 
Dr. Walter Smith, Dr. Dods, Professor Candlish, Dr. 
Macdonald of Ayr, Mr. Gilbert Beith, M.P., Mr. 
Ferguson of Kinmundy, and Mr. Henderson of Devanha. 
The spirit of the meeting was admirable ; at the outset 
the chairman was able to congratulate the audience on 
the jubilant and cheerful aspect of every countenance. 
Though defeated, they bore no appearance of defeat, and 
this he believed was due not only to the inward conscious- 

1 The Masonic Hall, George Street, Edinburgh. 



448 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1880- 

ness that during this controversy they had taken no 
step of which they could be ashamed, but also to the 
feeling that now virtually they were masters of the 
situation. Dr. Whyte and Dr. Bruce repeated the 
declarations they had made in the Assembly that there 
would be no action on their side which would threaten 
the integrity of the Church. " Rather," observed Dr. 
Bruce, " we should feel as men who are convinced that 
we have right on our side, and that the candid and honest 
feeling of the community in general will sooner or later 
come over to our side." 

The language of the elders was equally hopeful. Mr. 
Taylor Innes reminded his hearers that the battle might 
be long, but he spoke with a certain exhilaration of the 
prospect. " We have an opportunity of fighting a 
theological and constitutional battle together such as 
we have never had before ; and, with regard to the spirit 
in which it can be fought, I think nothing could be more 
admirable than the way in which that was put in the 
closing sentences of Professor Smith's speech and mani- 
festo the other day. It is he who has told us the right 
way of doing it, and the way in which we are bound in 
conscience to carry it out. In all these matters we are in- 
debted far more than to any other to that most loyal son 
who has thrown his shield over the weakness of his parent 
Church in its unvenerable hour." The magnanimity of 
Smith's conduct in not forsaking the Church which had 
cast him out formed the theme of several of the speeches. 
Dr. Ross Taylor and Dr. Walter Smith dwelt much on 
this aspect of the situation, and with the zeal of friends 
they perhaps almost exaggerated the danger to which 
the Free Church would have been exposed by the personal 
withdrawal of the heretic. Little, on the whole, was 
said of the merits or demerits of the heresy until it came 
to the turn of Professor Lindsay, who made what was in 
some respects the most notable contribution to the 
morning's discussion by articulately, explicitly, and 




PROFESSOR SMITH'S ROOMS, FELLOWS' BUILDINGS, CHRIST'S COLLEGE, 
CAMBRIDGE (page 480). 

From a Photograph by C. M. Smith, Esq. 



i88i] THE SECOND CASE 449 

publicly asserting his right to believe and to teach the 
views laid down in the article on " Hebrew Language and 
Literature." The future, it had been said by Dr. Adam 
in the Assembly, depended on what Professor Smith and 
his friends did and, presumably, said. Professor Lindsay 
had never stated his views on the questions which had 
been discussed, " partly," he explained, 

"... because, to a large extent, my views were not quite 
the same as those of Professor Smith, and I did not wish 
by any word of mine in any way to do anything that 
would not improve his position but I am now going to 
say this, and let Dr. Adam take it for what it is worth, and 
do what he can, . . . there is something to be done in refer- 
ence to the reconciliation of the legislation with the history 
of the Old Testament. The old way of doing it was to look 
upon the legislation as the easiest thing, and make the 
history suit it. ... The new critical method is to take 
the history as being the simplest thing, and try to make 
the complicated law-book which is a much more difficult 
thing to understand fit into that. (Cheers.) Now, in 
whatever details I may differ from Professor Smith and 
others, I think that is the method that we must take to 
reconcile the difficulties. I take my stand, therefore, on 
the critical position. (Cheers.) Another thing is this, 
that with everything that Professor Smith has said about 
prophecy except one reading it in my way, and according 
to my understanding of what he has said I agree with 
him. Let Dr. Adam do what he likes." 

Other speeches followed, and before the meeting 
adjourned arrangements were made for giving practical 
form to the results of the morning's proceedings. The 
issue was a largely signed protest in the following terms : 

"We, the undersigned, ministers, office-bearers, and 
members of the Free Church of Scotland, feeling deeply 
grieved by the action of the last General Assembly in the 
case of Professor W. Robertson Smith, and feeling that, 
by our continued membership in the Free Church, we 
may be regarded as consenting thereto, desire to make 
the following explanatory statement of our position : 

" ist. We loyally hold and maintain all the principles 
of the Free Church of Scotland, and more especially its 

29 



450 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1880- 

principle of spiritual independence, and, therefore, we 
declare that any ecclesiastical wrong done by the Church 
must be set right only by the Church itself. 

" 2nd. We cordially adhere to the reasons of dissent 
against the finding of the General Assembly of Thursday, 
May 26, read by Professor Bruce on the floor of the 
House, viz. : We dissent from the finding of the Assembly : 
'(i) Because to appoint and declare that Professor Smith's 
tenure of his chair shall cease is inconsistent with the 
terms in which he was appointed to it, inasmuch as 
no charge has been regularly proved or formulated 
against his life or doctrine. (2) Because this act is a 
violation of the Scriptural principles of discipline, and 
implies an assumption of power which is not merely 
ministerial but lordly and despotic. (3) Because, besides 
removing Professor W. R. Smith from his chair, it also 
deprives him of ecclesiastical rights and powers distinct 
from the function of teaching.' 

" 3rd. We pledge ourselves by all lawful means to do 
what lies in us to maintain the ancient constitution of 
the Church violated by last General Assembly. 

" 4th. We also declare that the decision of the Assembly 
leaves all Free Church ministers and office-bearers free 
to pursue the critical questions raised by Professor W. R. 
Smith, and we pledge ourselves to do our best to protect 
any man who pursues these studies legitimately." 

This may be said to have been the last word spoken 
in the second Robertson Smith case. No reader who 
recalls the words of admonition with which the first 
case terminated can overlook the dramatic contrast 
of the two scenes. Then the note was almost one of 
whispered humbleness ; now there was bold assertion 
of the liberty of research and outspoken discussion. It 
was a Protest and Claim of Right which, like its famous 
prototype of 1843, was destined never to be answered 
and never to be withdrawn. Professor Lindsay's chal- 
lenge, needless to say, was not taken up, and without any 
disparagement of his well-known courage we may venture 
to say that probably he never expected that it would be. 
Professor Smith's lectures were not, as had at one time 
been threatened, made the subject of a third process. 



i88i] THE SECOND CASE 451 

The suspected professors in Edinburgh and Glasgow were 
allowed to remain undisturbed. In the years that 
followed, low murmurs were now and then heard regarding 
the writings of Professors Dods, Bruce, and G. A. Smith, 
yet they continued to exercise their liberty with impunity. 
How many ministers and office-bearers of the Free 
Church would be prepared even now to say that they 
accept the modern critical reading of the Old Testament 
history in the sense in which that was expounded by 
Smith in the 'seventies, it would be rash to conjecture ; 
but the opinion may be hazarded with some confidence 
that no repetition either of the first Smith case or of the 
second is now possible. On any of the problems of Old 
Testament history it is hardly conceivable that the 
question could be raised. But if any one wishes a ready 
means of realising for himself what the then new Deuter- 
onomy heresy meant to the old orthodoxy, he has only 
to ask himself what would now be likely to happen in 
any Scottish Church to any responsible person who should 
venture to signify his acceptance of, let us say, the 
analogous critical position now so widely accepted among 
scholars on certain New Testament questions, such as 
those relating to the origin of the three synoptic Gospels, 
or to the authorship and date of the various writings 
attributed by long ecclesiastical tradition to Saint John 
the Apostle. 



CHAPTER XI 

EDINBURGH AND CAMBRIDGE (1881-1883) 

THE action of the Assembly, and Smith's energetic and 
entirely proper repudiation of the proposed solatium, had 
now deprived him of his occupation and for the moment 
of his livelihood. Fortunately, however, there was not 
likely to be any very serious anxiety about means of 
subsistence. Other institutions, whose academic reputa- 
tion was as great as that of the Free Church, but whose 
orthodoxy was less unbending, had, as we have seen, 
already made determined efforts to secure the stone which 
the builders had rejected ; and it was at once clear that 
Smith would not have long to wait for a choice of suitable 
employment. Meanwhile his friends and admirers took 
counsel together, and concerted a scheme for making the 
period of transition as comfortable as possible. In June 
1881 a plan was formed for raising 1000 to enable Smith 
to provide himself with the Oriental books and MSS. 
necessary to his studies, and a further sum of 2500 to 
secure that for five years at least he might pursue these 
studies without being harassed by material anxieties. 
The scheme was well received, and money was easily 
found ; but Smith declined to live on the generosity of his 
adherents, and only accepted the proffered testimonial in 
so far as it enabled him to extend his library and to carry 
on his heretical researches without having to depend on 
the official resources of the Free Church. The presenta- 
tion was made to Smith in the following October in the 

452 



[1881-1883] EDINBURGH AND CAMBRIDGE 453 

name of " many persons all over the country, who were 
desirous of testifying their approbation of Mr. Robertson 
Smith's achievements in the past, and of aiding in the 
prosecution of his researches." l 

Meanwhile, he had effected a provisional but highly 
satisfactory solution of the practical problem. Many 
rumours had been current on the subject of his intentions 
and of the offers which had been made to him, but at the 
very beginning of June, a few days after the closing 
scenes described in the last chapter, it was authoritatively 



ERRATUM 
Page 452, Chapter Heading, for 1883 read 1886. 



had attained such a distinguished position." 

He accordingly abandoned his house in Crown Street, 
Aberdeen, and in the course of July removed his books 
and furniture to 20 Duke Street, Edinburgh, which was 
to be his home for the next two years. He had already 
taken up his new duties, and was constantly in attendance 
at 6 North Bridge, then the offices of Messrs. A. & C. 

1 The books and MSS. which he thus acquired greatly enlarged his 
already considerable library, which by his will was left partly to the 
Cambridge University Library and partly to that of Christ's College. 



CHAPTER XI 



to provide nimseii wramie x^neirtai UUUK.S emu. ITJ.VJO. 
necessary to his studies, and a further sum of 2500 to 
secure that for five years at least he might pursue these 
studies without being harassed by material anxieties. 
The scheme was well received, and money was easily 
found ; but Smith declined to live on the generosity of his 
adherents, and only accepted the proffered testimonial in 
so far as it enabled him to extend his library and to carry 
on his heretical researches without having to depend on 
the official resources of the Free Church. The presenta- 
tion was made to Smith in the following October in the 

452 



[1881-1883] EDINBURGH AND CAMBRIDGE 453 

name of " many persons all over the country, who were 
desirous of testifying their approbation of Mr. Robertson 
Smith's achievements in the past, and of aiding in the 
prosecution of his researches." l 

Meanwhile, he had effected a provisional but highly 
satisfactory solution of the practical problem. Many 
rumours had been current on the subject of his intentions 
and of the offers which had been made to him, but at the 
very beginning of June, a few days after the closing 
scenes described in the last chapter, it was authoritatively 
announced that he had accepted an important position 
on the staff of the Encyclopedia Britannica. This 
development of his career was of course not unforeseen ; 
it had been suggested as early as the beginning of 1880, 
when it seemed likely that judgment in the first case 
would go against him ; and it is known that Professor 
Baynes, who was beginning to feel that the burden of sole 
editorship grew heavier with advancing years, rejoiced in 
the turn of fortune which gave him so energetic and 
efficient a coadjutor. It was arranged that Smith should 
hold the position of joint-editor with a suitable remunera- 
tion, and that he should continue himself to contribute 
largely to the work. It was stated that although the 
editorial duties would make it desirable, if not necessary, 
that Smith should leave Aberdeen for Edinburgh, " they 
would not interfere with his giving continued attention 
to the line of Biblical and philological studies in which he 
had attained such a distinguished position." 

He accordingly abandoned his house in Crown Street, 
Aberdeen, and in the course of July removed his books 
and furniture to 20 Duke Street, Edinburgh, which was 
to be his home for the next two years. He had already 
taken up his new duties, and was constantly in attendance 
at 6 North Bridge, then the offices of Messrs. A. & C. 

1 The books and MSS. which he thus acquired greatly enlarged his 
already considerable library, which by his will was left partly to the 
Cambridge University Library and partly to that of Christ's College. 



454 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1881- 

Black, and the headquarters of the Encyclopedia. He 
was received, as we have said, with the warmly expressed 
goodwill of his co-editor, and with a no less appreciative 
and admiring welcome from the members of the editorial 
staff. The cordial relations established at the outset 
continued to the end. It was more and more per- 
ceived that he was almost an ideal chief. If any 
one was occasionally tempted to think him rather 
autocratic, it was at least acknowledged that his was an 
autocracy of the fittest, and generally in the end it had 
to be owned that he had been right. Particular instances 
of this quality must be noticed in their proper place, 
but it may here be said that in the thirteen volumes 
published between 1881 and 1888 there are few articles 
that do not bear, directly or indirectly, the impress of his 
powerful personality. To the delicate question what 
were the new features, if any, that he introduced, it would 
be difficult to give a very definite answer. Or rather it 
ought to be said that he had no wish to introduce any 
radical innovations, being fully satisfied with the general 
scheme of the work as originally laid down by Professor 
Baynes in consultation with Huxley, Clerk Maxwell, 
Cayley, Geikie, and other specialists eminent in their 
various departments. But upon the main lines already 
laid down, and within the limits of the ground plan long 
ago marked off, and in many parts already built upon, 
there was ample room for the fresh activities of a mind so 
vigorous and well stored. He himself was the new feature. 
His own contributions increased greatly both in number 
and in extent. Whereas in the first eleven volumes the 
articles from his pen, whether signed or unsigned, did not ex- 
ceed twenty in number, the remaining thirteen contain more 
than two hundred, many of them large and important. 1 

If it had been a fortunate circumstance for Smith 
that the Encyclopedia could offer him an editorial chair 
and a means of livelihood at a critical juncture in his 

1 See the Bibliography appended to this volume, p. 617. 



i88 3 ] EDINBURGH AND CAMBRIDGE 455 

career, it was a no less fortunate circumstance for the 
Encyclopedia and for the world of letters that the course 
of events had left him free for such work at this stage 
in the history of a great undertaking. While his advent 
brought new life into all departments, his influence was 
naturally most conspicuous in the group of subjects 
connected with comparative religion and theology, and 
with Biblical Criticism. 1 He resumed the interrupted 
series of his own articles on these subjects, which had 
commenced with " Angel," " Ark," and the too celebrated 
article " Bible " ; and his wide acquaintance among 
English and continental scholars enabled him greatly to 
widen the field from which the Encyclopedia drew its 
contributors. Almost the first of his editorial letters 
were addressed to Wellhausen, Noldeke, and Ritschl ; 
and though the last-named unfortunately found him- 
self unable to comply with the request for an article on 
Lutheranism, the contributions of the two first-named 
scholars were, it will be on all hands admitted, of singular 
importance and value. Among Biblical critics it will suffice 
to mention the names of Hatch, Schiirer, and Harnack. 

It is perhaps in his relations with the publishers and 
proprietors that an editor will oftenest find the autocratic 
gift most desirable and most embarrassing. To dis- 
criminate successfully between what the public actually 
does want and what the public ought to want, and to 
decide in a manner that shall serve every obvious interest, 
is not the good fortune of every editor. Nor is it always 
his good fortune to have a public testimony to the feelings 
of goodwill with which his regime, autocratic or other, is 
regarded. All the more pleasant, therefore, is it to read 

1 Smith's own Biblical articles now and henceforth attracted little 
notice ; but he resumed the interrupted series with unremitting in- 
dustry, and it is interesting to note that so high, and usually so critical, 
an authority as the Athenceum observed of the articles " Kings" and 
" Lamentations " (among the first to be written after he recovered his 
freedom), that they were "two of his best pieces of work," in which 
he had been more original than had been his wont in previous 
contributions. 



456 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1881- 

the appreciative words written after Smith's death by one 
of the publishers of the Encyclopedia, the late Mr. Adam 
W. Black. In the pages of the Scotsman of April 3, 1894, 
writing as one who had " held very intimate business 
relations with Professor Smith," Mr. Black thus summed 
up his qualities as an editor : 

" His business aptitude and administrative ability were 
on a level with his high intellectual gifts. He possessed 
a penetrative power of observation and a quickness of 
judgment that, together with his varied and exact know- 
ledge, made him an expert in dealing with the circum- 
stances and transactions of practical life. There never was 
a more tremendous worker. That his actual achievements 
we : e but an earnest of what he would have attained to, 
had health permitted, could not be doubted by any one who 
ever had the good fortune to come in contact with him." 

Much, however, as he valued his editorship as a sphere 
of useful work, and as a means of earning an honest 
livelihood, it cannot be concealed that he often found his 
task excessively irksome. It kept him (and in this most 
of those who knew him best agreed with him) from his 
proper work. "Anybody," he would sometimes say, 
with pardonable, if whimsical, perversity, " can edit." 
And in the more exasperating moments, at least, he was 
tempted to call the editor's " a dreadful trade." As we 
shall see, it was with real relief that he saw the way 
gradually reopening which should lead him again to an 
academical career, and with a right good will that he 
transferred to other hands more and more of the responsi- 
bility for one after another of the departments which he 
himself knew so well how to guide. 

In the meantime, even in the earlier and most laborious 
days of his editorship, it was much that the ruinous waste 
of his energies which had marred six of the best years 
of his life was now finally at an end. It was a time of 
new beginnings, but he had still to render what may be 
called a final service to his ecclesiastical friends, at whose 
instance he delivered a course of eight lectures entitled 



i88 3 ] EDINBURGH AND CAMBRIDGE 457 

" The Prophets of Israel," which, as he himself explains in 
the preface to the volume, were based mainly on lectures 
regularly delivered by him during the years of his active 
professoriate. Notwithstanding the circumstances in 
which they were delivered, the lectures, which were 
favourably received by large Sunday evening audiences 
in Edinburgh and Glasgow, were by no means contro- 
versial in form or tone. In spirit and intention they may 
fairly be described as a series of historical and (in the 
large sense) expository discourses on certain portions of 
Scripture, for the instruction and edification of Christian 
believers by one of themselves. Only four prophets were 
taken up Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, and Micah; i.e. only some 
sixty chapters in the four canonical books bearing these 
names. " Deutero-Isaiah," as well as Isaiah xiii.-xiv. and 
Micah vi., vii., were left out of the reckoning as belonging 
to a later date ; but the chapters treated constitute 
the whole of the prophetic literature surviving from the 
short but most fruitful period of considerably less than 
a century to which they belong. Again and again the 
lecturer is at pains to make clear the " positive " character 
of the religion of the prophets, and of our religion. By 
positive he means that which is more than merely sub- 
jective and personal. 

"All true knowledge of God is verified by personal 
experience, but it is not exclusively derived from such 
experience. There is a positive element in all religion, 
an element which we have learned from those who went 
before us. If what is so learned is true, we must ulti- 
mately come back to a point in history when it was new 
truth, acquired as all new truth is by some particular 
man or circle of men who, as they did not learn it from 
their predecessors, must have got it by personal revela- 
tion from God Himself. To deny that Christianity can 
ultimately be traced back to such acts of revelation, 
taking place at a definite time and in a definite circle, 
involves in the last resort a denial that there is any true 
religion at all, or that religion is anything more than a 
mere subjective feeling." 



458 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1881- 

Free though the lectures were from anything that 
could be described as destructive criticism, it does not re- 
quire much attention to perceive that they accept as estab- 
lished the two great negations with which we have already 
become familiar. They almost wholly ignore the " pre- 
dictive " element as that had formerly been understood 
in the prophets' work ; and they convey with unmistak- 
able clearness that it was no part of the prophets' business 
to preach a return to " Mosaism," for the simple reason that 
Mosaism as we now understand it had not yet come into 
being. If the question is asked, What was the contribu- 
tion of these prophets severally to " revealed religion " ? 
the answer will perhaps seem somewhat meagre and vague. 
The earliest prophetic literature, it is pointed out, set 
forth the prophetic ideas, as might indeed be expected, 
in their least complex form. The theological thought 
of the Hebrews underwent a great development after 
the time of Isaiah. But in the days of Amos and his 
successors the supreme truths of religion " were first pro- 
mulgated and first became a living power, in forms that are 
far simpler than the simplest system of modern dogma." 
For those teachers the religious unit was the nation, and 
it was the primary function of the prophet as the man who 
stood " in the secret " of Jehovah to bring about right rela- 
tions between Jehovah and Israel. " The cause of Jehovah 
in Israel was the cause of national freedom and social 
righteousness ; and the task of the religion of Jehovah was 
to set these fast in the land of Canaan in a society which 
ever looked to Jehovah as its living and present head." 

But the difference between the religion of Israel 
and other religions " cannot be reduced to an abstract 
formula." " In truth, metaphysical speculation on the 
Godhead as eternal, infinite, and the like, is not peculiar 
to the religion of revelation, but was carried by the 
philosophers of the Gentiles much further than is ever 
attempted in the Old Testament." If the sum of the 
teaching of these prophets under consideration, and the 



i88 3 ] EDINBURGH AND CAMBRIDGE 459 

whole revealed Will of Jehovah as made knoyfn. to them, 
has to be expressed in a single sentenced/It must be in 
the words of the prophet Micah (vi. 4) which tell us 
that a heart that delights in acts of piety and loving- 
kindness, and a humility that walks in lowly communion 
with God, are the things in which Jehovah takes pleasure. 
What, if any, were the religious ordinances and institu- 
tions that the prophets introduced, encouraged, or 
regarded as most helpful or necessary in promoting 
" lowly communion " with God, is a question, the attentive 
reader perceives, that the lecturer is not yet prepared to 
answer with precision. In reality it remains unsolved. 
It was destined to be taken up again in later years in 
the lectures on the Religion of the Semites ; but even then 
it received no very definite or conclusive answer. 

The lectures were published in book form towards 
the end of April 1882, under the title, The Prophets of 
Israel and their Place in History to the close of the Eighth 
Century B.C. The volume met with a very favourable 
reception both at home and abroad, and a large edition 
was sold. The success would no doubt have been still 
greater had the author's engagements permitted him to 
proceed to the discussion of Jeremiah and his relations 
to Deuteronomy, and of Ezekiel and his relations to 
Leviticus. The work, however, remains a fragment. 
The author found it comparatively easy in later years 
to revise and bring down to date his lectures on Old 
Testament Introduction (The Old Testament in the Jewish 
Church) ; but so far as rendering a like (but more difficult) 
service to those on The Prophets of Israel, he doubtless con- 
sidered that it had been to some extent, though indirectly, 
rendered in his second edition of The Religion of the Semites, 
the preparation of which was the last labour of his life. 1 

1 The edition of The Prophets of Israel with Introduction and 
Additional Notes by Professor Cheyne, published in 1895, may safely 
be taken as indicating the direction in which Professor Smith's mind 
had been moving during the interval between the first publication of 
these lectures and his lamented death. 



460 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1881- 

Smith's career was now about to enter on its final 
and most brilliant phase. His fame was daily growing, 
and brought with it an access of worldly recognition and 
an ever - widening circle of friends and correspondents. 
In 1882 he was elected a member of the Athenaeum under 
Rule 2, and almost simultaneously his old University 
conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of Laws. About 
the same time also he received the usual compliment to 
British celebrity of being invited to lecture in America, 
but this experience he was obliged by the claims of the 
Encyclopedia to decline. The correspondence which has 
been preserved from this period is voluminous and 
interesting, both because of the distinction of the writers 
and of the remarkable intimacy and cordiality with 
which they address him. His gift for making friends 
had made him a popular figure in many mutually 
antagonistic camps, and the cross references of eminent 
correspondents to each other are often more amusing 
than discreet. The expressions of sympathy in the 
finally adverse result of the case which he received from 
his German theological allies are intensified by their own 
feelings of isolation and revolt against the ecclesiastical 
situation in their own country. Ritschl was then involved 
in bitter controversies, and, in declining to undertake the 
article on Lutheranism in the Encyclopedia, professed 
himself unwilling to expose (as he would have had to do) 
the shortcomings of his Mother Church to a foreign and 
largely Calvinistic public. Wellhausen, with whom Smith 
maintained an uninterrupted correspondence until very 
shortly before his death, at this time severed his con- 
nection with theology altogether at some considerable 
personal sacrifice, and had to resent in no unmeasured 
terms an unfounded statement in the Athenceum that 
his migration to a Chair in the Philosophical Faculty at 
Halle was not unconnected with official displeasure in 
high quarters excited by his writings. Lagarde's char- 
acteristic letters are at this time frequent and melancholy, 



i88 3 ] EDINBURGH AND CAMBRIDGE 461 

but all convey the strong impression that his friendship 
for Smith and his admiration for his attainments were 
among the bright things in a rather sad existence. 
Lagarde's friendship indeed carried him so far as to start 
a suggestion that Smith should be called to a chair of 
Oriental Languages in the University of Konigsberg, 
and though this proposal was not carried far, it was taken 
seriously enough to cause some uneasiness to at least 
one other very distinguished candidate. 

During the brief period of his second residence in 
Edinburgh, Smith was restored to his old associates and 
to his place in the circle which by that time had almost 
ceased to gather at the Evening Club. He affected 
ecclesiastical society less even than in the days previous 
to the case, and his numerous occupations made it neces- 
sary for him to be careful in the expenditure of his leisure. 
But he was often to be met at the literary, legal, and 
academic dinner tables of Edinburgh, and he kept in 
close touch with the more intimate of his former friends. 
Apart from his change of occupation there was little that 
was new in his manner of life. His attire was by this 
time that of a layman, and he discouraged so far as 
possible the use of the title Reverend ; but he remained 
in full communion with the Free Church, was an elder in 
the Free High Church, the minister of which was then 
Dr. Walter Smith, a very old friend, and " taught with 
great efficiency a young men's class." 

Nor, as yet, did he altogether abandon the church 
courts. As " bona fide acting elder " he was eligible for 
a seat in the General Assembly, and, on the nomination of 
the authorities of the Free High Church, he was ap- 
pointed by the Presbytery of Edinburgh to be one of its 
commissioners to the Assembly of 1882. In view of the 
many other imperious calls upon his time, it would not 
have been surprising had he refrained from seeking this 
honour. There is no direct evidence as to the motives 
which led him to accept it, but it cannot be doubted that 



462 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1881- 

his chief reason was that he believed that in that capacity 
also he could contribute to " the work and growth of the 
Church." Incidentally too, perhaps, it may have seemed 
desirable to make it clear from the first that a " lay " 
elder at least might continue to hold office in the Free 
Church although tainted with views that made him in- 
eligible as a theological teacher. This last point was made 
abundantly clear, as we shall see. But it cannot be said 
that his brief career as a representative elder in the 
Assembly was conspicuously successful, and it may be 
doubted whether, even had he remained resident in 
Scotland for another year, he would have sought re- 
election. At all events, this was the last Assembly of 
which he was a member. Three incidents in it are associ- 
ated with his name. His first intervention was on May 
23 ; the question of disestablishment came before the 
House, and Smith, in supporting a motion proposed by 
Professor A. B. Bruce, took the opportunity to repeat the 
views which he had urged on the Synod of Aberdeen in 
1874. These views commended themselves as little to 
the Assembly as they had to the inferior court, and the 
arguments of Dr. Bruce and his seconder were so coldly 
received that on a division they could not muster more 
than thirty-eight supporters. Two days later his ecclesi- 
astical brethren made their last attack on the orthodoxy 
of his writings, and there was some discussion on a pro- 
posal to appoint a committee to deal with The Old Testa- 
ment in the Jewish Church. After a good deal of talk a 
motion declining to act, which was proposed by Principal 
Rainy and seconded by Sir Henry Moncreiff , in speeches 
which cautiously reserved judgment on the .confessional 
soundness of that book, became the finding of the 
House. Finally, in the course of a discussion next day 
on the use of instrumental music in churches, Smith had 
a sharp encounter with Dr. Begg, who had provocatively 
alluded in the course of his speech to ministers and elders 
who took a " slipshod " view of their ordination vows. 



i88 3 ] EDINBURGH AND CAMBRIDGE 463 

The passage is of little interest except as showing that 
Smith's continued interventions in church politics were 
extremely distasteful to a large and growing section of the 
Assembly, which on this occasion went so far as to refuse 
him a hearing. We shall henceforth have no more to 
say of his appearances in church courts. 

Meanwhile his life in Edinburgh was strenuous and 
amply filled with other interests. He corresponded 
steadily with the now scattered members of his 
family; and his younger brother Herbert, a delicate 
youth, lived with him and attended classes at the 
University. His own entertainments were necessarily 
limited by circumstances and want of leisure, but he 
contrived on occasion to see his old and new friends at 
his own house. " I think I never told you," he writes 
to his sister, " how much my pepper mill is admired 
and envied by every one who comes in to get a bowl of 
soup at lunch time. For you must know that, as I am 
near the office, J. S. Black 1 always lunches with me, 
and pretty often some one else turns in." These luncheon 
parties were the outstanding feature of the hospitalities 
at 20 Duke Street, and it is recorded that Smith, who 
had taken to parlour games owing to the exceptional 
severity of the winter, occasionally persuaded his guests 
to remain for a set of battledore and shuttlecock in the 
library. 

The labours of the Revision Committee still necessi- 
tated frequent journeys, during which he renewed ac- 
quaintance with his London friends, and extended a 
growing connection with Cambridge which soon became 
of great importance. His chief friends at that University 
were Professor William Wright and Mr. Ion Keith- 
Falconer. 2 They had " watched the final stages of the 

1 By this time Assistant Editor of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. 

2 The Hon. Ion Grant Neville Keith- Falconer, third son of the ninth 
Earl of Kintore, born in 1856, educated at Harrow and Trinity College, 
Cambridge, was Tyrwhitt Hebrew Scholar in 1878, published a trans- 
lation of the Syriac version of Kalilah and Dimnah in 1885, succeeded 



464 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1881- 

case with pain and disgust," and Professor Wright 
already cherished the hope of seeing Smith established 
by his side as a Cambridge teacher. A tragic event 
soon gave him an opportunity of using his influence. 
Professor Palmer, Lord Almoner's Reader in Arabic 
in the University, who had accepted a political mission 
from Mr. Gladstone's Government, was murdered in 
October 1882 by the Arabs of the Sinaitic Peninsula, 
and as soon as his death was ascertained beyond all 
doubt, Professor Wright urged Smith to become a candi- 
date for the vacant chair, and took all possible steps to 
impress his claims on influential persons. 

As in 1870 and 1879, Smith's distinguished foreign 
friends hastened to testify in his favour, and one of the 
present writers well remembers the pleasurable excite- 
ment which their testimonials, arriving in quick suc- 
cession, used to cause at the Duke Street lunch parties. 
The earliest, dated November 22, was from Professor 
Noldeke, and took the form of a long letter to Professor 
Wright, in the course of which the great Arabist observes : 

"... it at any rate is of great importance that Robertson 
Smith personally knows the East, and in particular has 
lived for a considerable time in the home of the Arabic 
language. His quite modest notes of a journey in the 
Hejaz, contributed to a Scottish newspaper, rank ab- 
solutely among the most instructive things that have 
been written about Arabia ; it were greatly to be wished 
that they should appear in book form. So think, I may 
mention in passing, also my friends Professor Socin 
(who himself has spent much time in the East) and 
Professor Thorbecke (one of the most thorough Arabic 
scholars now living). Robertson Smith, moreover, has 
shown by published writings that he not only has learned 
Arabic as a spoken language, but is also master of the 
language as written, and well read in its literature. 

" In those circumstances it is my hope that so highly 
meritorious a scholar will receive the post. It may 

Professor Smith as Lord Almoner's Professor of Arabic in 1886, and was 
recognised as missionary to the Arabs by the Free Church Assembly in 
the same year. He died of fever at Shaikh Othman near Aden in 1887. 



i88 3 ] EDINBURGH AND CAMBRIDGE 465 

doubtless be taken for granted that you, the most dis- 
tinguished specialist on the subject, and nearest colleague 
of the man to be appointed, will be consulted in the 
matter ; this being so I am sure that you will give your 
voice, and that with effect, for Robertson Smith." 

Wellhausen wrote from Halle on the 2Qth : 

" Though not myself a competent witness as to the 
linguistic qualifications of Dr. W. Robertson Smith, I 
can at least testify that one of the most competent 
of living Arabists, Dr. W. Spitta, formerly librarian to 
the Khedive, in autumn 1881 expressed himself in my 
presence with high appreciation, and indeed with astonish- 
ment, on the ease with which Dr. Smith had learned to 
speak Arabic, and in particular on his extraordinary 
talent for seizing and reproducing the difficult Arabic 
sounds. This opinion is shown to be correct by Dr. 
Smith's journey in the Hejaz ; he could not have carried 
it out as he did without unusual powers of apprehension, 
both linguistic and intellectual, and faculties of self- 
adaptation. Of the value of this excursion in its historical 
and geographical aspects I feel qualified to speak, and I 
have to say that I have for the first time gained from 
Dr. Smith's account a clear idea of the geography of the 
central Hejaz and of many indispensable, if seemingly 
trifling, matters that go to a clear understanding of 
Arabian antiquity. I regret that the narrative has 
appeared only in ephemeral form, and thus has not 
come to be so widely known to the learned world as it 
deserves." 

Professor Socin wrote briefly from Tubingen in a 
similar sense, expressing the confident anticipation that 
Dr. Robertson Smith was destined still to do important 
work in the Arabic field. 

On December i, Spitta Bey, late Director of the 
Viceregal Library at Cairo, and author of Grammatik 
des arabischen Vulgar dialektes von Agypten, wrote to 
Smith that he for his part knew of no one in England 
better fitted to succeed Palmer than Smith himself. 

" Not only are you perfectly acquainted with the older 
Semitic dialects ; you have also and here perhaps I 

30 



466 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1881- 

may take leave to pronounce a judgment during your 
sojourns in the East, acquired a knowledge of the living 
Arabic such as, certainly, but few Orientalists possess. 
Your journeys up the Nile, in the desert, and in the 
Hejaz have brought you into relations with all classes of 
the population, and given you a full knowledge of the 
practical life of Orientals." 

Lagarde's testimonial, written as usual in English, 
was no doubt one of the most welcome as it was perhaps 
the most influential of them all. Lagarde bore witness 
to " the brightness and clearness of intellect with which 
Smith mastered the most difficult parts of Arabic 
grammar. Having begun Arabic with me during the 
Easter term, he was so far advanced in July as to find 
his way through Ibn Arabshah's/a&j'/^ al khulafd, a book 
by no means easy to understand." 

His Excellency Alfred Von Kremer, author of Kultur- 
geschichte des Orients unter den Chalifen, wrote on 
December 5, from Vienna : 

"It would be a lively satisfaction to me if you were 
to be appointed. By your thorough knowledge of Oriental 
languages, and especially of the Semitic dialects, you are 
certainly well entitled to lay claim to the post. I could 
name no English scholar whom I would welcome so gladly 
as you to Palmer's chair." 

Professor Hoffmann of Kiel, an old Gottingen friend, 
wrote on December 9 : 

" I certainly wish to give you all the aid I can. Having 
been an eye-witness of your taking up the study of 
Arabic some ten years ago at Gottingen, I was particularly 
pleased to observe, from your publications of recent years, 
that the duties of your Hebrew professorship at Aberdeen 
did not prevent you from most successfully continuing 
the study of Arabic. As your books and papers show, 
the Old Testament has carried you to select ancient 
history, ethnology, and geography of the peninsular 
Arabs as your special field of exploration. ... If I am 
not wrong in my understanding of the duties of the Cam- 
bridge chair, I should venture to maintain, that there 
scarcely is an English Arabist, at least of literary merits, 



i88 3 ] EDINBURGH AND CAMBRIDGE 467 

who has juster claims to it than you ; and, I have no 
doubt, the great English and Continental authorities 
in Oriental science will anticipate the same opinion." 

Ignazio Guidi, Professor of Hebrew and Semitic 
Philology at Rome, wrote in praise of the articles 
" Mecca " and " Medina," and observed that the cele- 
brated paper on " Animal Worship and Animal Tribes 
among the Arabs and in the Old Testament " " displays 
great acumen, and undeniably the author has opened 
up in it a new field of research." Kuenen and De Goeje 
wrote on December 15, in English, a joint testimonial 
in which again great stress was laid on the importance 
of the letters from the Hejaz. Kuenen's testimonial was 
accompanied by a private letter conveying his cordial 
good wishes. He expressed himself very modestly about 
his own right to intervene where the election of a 
Professor of Arabic was in question, and also was doubt- 
ful whether a testimonial from " a notorious freethinker " 
might not do more harm than good. He left Smith 
perfectly free to use the testimonial or not, as he might 
judge best. 

The doubt thus good-naturedly expressed was not 
wholly out of place. Among Smith's warmest supporters 
in Cambridge anxiety was felt and expressed lest his 
questionable orthodoxy (which was Presbyterian at the 
best) might be an obstacle to his success. The Lord 
Almoner l himself on a subsequent occasion confessed 
that, having learned that Smith was " under a theological 
cloud " in Scotland, he thought it necessary to ascertain 
that the candidate was at least a Christian before seriously 
considering his claims. His Lordship, it appears, was 
completely satisfied upon that point, and did not think 
it necessary to pursue his inquiries further. The strength 
of the testimonials and the urgency of the representa- 
tions made by Professor Wright and others had their due 

1 Lord Alwyne Compton, then Dean of Worcester, and afterwards 
Bishop of Ely. 



468 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1881- 

effect, and on January i, 1883, Smith received the appoint- 
ment, which he announced in the following terms in a 
letter to his sister who was at that time with the 
M'Lennans. 

" This is the first letter of the New Year, and so, 
though it will not reach you on New Year's day, I begin 
it by wishing you all good things in the year now opening. 

" ' But afterwards/ as the Arabs say, I thank you very 
much for the flowers, especially the delicious violets, 
which also stood the journey best. 

"And lastly and really this is what makes me sit 
down to write to you the first thing after telegraphing 
home I had a letter this morning from the Dean of 
Worcester, offering me the Cambridge chair (of which 
you know he is patron). The salary is 50 a year, and 
the duties one yearly lecture ; but I mean to reside and 
work, taking with me as much other work as I need to 
live, and hoping by and by to get a fellowship. I can't 
tell you how pleased I am to find myself again in academi- 
cal work and with a chance of escape from the treadmill 
of the Encyclopedia. Of course, I can't leave the Blacks 
suddenly, and I daresay that for a year to come I shall 
only visit Cambridge." 

The Lord Almoner's choice seems to have been from 
the first well received in Cambridge. Smith at this time, 
as a London journalist once quite accurately described 
him, was " a Presbyterian clergyman suspected of unsound 
opinions," one who had been cast out by his brethren 
and stigmatised by some of them as a contributor of 
improprieties to the Journal of Philology. He was known, 
so far as he was known at all, as a heresiarch. His 
fame as an Encyclopaedist was still quite restricted, and 
he had not the advantage of a previous connection with 
any college in the University. He had nothing but his 
Oriental learning, and the friendship of a few Cambridge 
scholars who were members of the Revision Committee 
to recommend him ; but he was received with the ready 
cordiality and friendliness which is an honourable tradition 
in both the ancient Universities. In his own department 



i88 3 ] EDINBURGH AND CAMBRIDGE 469 

Mr. Bensly, afterwards well known for his Syriac labours, 
hastened to welcome his new colleague with warm con- 
gratulations. " As you are not a man to neglect oppor- 
tunities," he wrote, " I hope to see you soon resident 
among us, infusing life and light into studies which are 
often apt to droop for want of sympathy." 

The very day after the appointment was made known, 
Wright was able to report expressions of approval from 
the President of Queens', and the eminent Dr. Hort, then 
at the height of his reputation and a social force in 
Cambridge. Dr. Hort and others predicted with remark- 
able prescience that the new Reader would be well 
received everywhere, and Wright himself was enthusiastic 
about the accession of strength to the teaching staff which 
would enable him to complete a whole series of unfinished 
Oriental inquiries. It was Smith's ardent desire, as we 
have already seen, to be occupied again with some steady 
academic work, and it was his intention to reside in 
Cambridge and to take up teaching and research work 
there as soon as possible. For the moment, however, 
circumstances did not permit this plan to be carried out, 
and Wright had to mingle with his friendly congratula- 
tions some equally friendly words of cautious advice. 

" Now, don't do anything hurriedly. As I said, no one 
requires you to come here : the chair has absolutely no 
official duties and no obligations beyond what the Lord 
Almoner may impose. Considering your private cir- 
cumstances, of which you have made no secret to me, 
I think it is a pity that you should throw up the editor- 
ship of the E.B., when you can retain it, and yet do a 
great deal more than is asked of you here. When that 
comes to an end, by all means settle permanently in 
Cambridge, and be ready to take my place when I go. 
An additional reason why you should not throw up your 
present post is, that for years to come, under the new 
arrangements, it will be very difficult indeed for any 
outsider to get a fellowship in any college." 

Not long afterwards, as the business of the Revision 



470 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1881- 

Committee required him to be in London, Smith took 
the opportunity of paying short visits to Cambridge. Of 
one of these he wrote towards the end of January 1883 : 
" Had a good time in Cambridge, and seem to have some 
chance of getting into Trinity, but of course this is not 
a small favour." Later, he wrote to his father of the 
official commencement of his Cambridge career : 

" I came down here yesterday evening on the close of 
our revision, and was admitted Professor to-day at 2 P.M., 
previous to a number of graduations in the Senate House. 
The thing did not take two minutes. I had to answer 
' ita do fidem ' to a Latin demand whether I promised 
faithfully to discharge the duties of my office, and then 
had to kneel before the Vice-Chancellor, who admitted 
me in the name of the Trinity (holding my hand all the 
time), and when I rose congratulated me in English. 

" I am staying in Trinity with W. Niven, and I mean 
to try and get admitted as a member of that college 
which will be possible when I get M.A., as I am told by 
the Vice-Chancellor that I shall presently. 1 

" If I succeed in this I shall probably move south for 
good about October next. But if there is likely to be 
much delay I may have to keep my Edinburgh house for 
a year. 

" We have now finished the second revision, and have 
only a last polish to give to our work. I think this will 
not occupy more than one other year." 

In the May term the Public Orator, in presenting 
Palmer's successor to the University, referred in proper 
terms to the loss sustained by the University of one " whose 
skill in Eastern tongues won him both a high celebrity and 
a melancholy death," and then continued in adroit and 
polished sentences, which praised the variety of Smith's 
attainments, and suggested, without relating, the stormy 
passages in his previous career. " Nuper in Arabia exul 
felix commoratus," he concluded, " et Arabicae linguae 
consuetudine cotidiana adsuetus, nobis iam praeceptor 
datus nostra certe in Academia doctrinam suam libere 

1 The Grace conferring on him the degree of Master of Arts 
honoris causa passed the Senate on May 24, 1883. 



i88 3 ] EDINBURGH AND CAMBRIDGE 471 

impertiet ; orientalium gentium historiam et linguas 
libere illustrabit ; probabit denique non de rerum tantum 
natura verum esse, ' Ex Oriente esse lucem.' Vobis 
praesento linguae Arabicae lectorem doctissimum, Pro- 
fessorem Robertson Smith." 1 

In the same term he began his teaching by delivering 
a course of three lectures on " The Early Relations of 
Arabia with Syria, and particularly with Palestine," and 
in a letter to Dr. Black he speaks of having had good 
audiences and a pleasant but busy time. He gives a more 
detailed account of his first impressions of Cambridge 
work in a letter written from St. Ives, where, along with 
his old friend Mr. James Bryce, he was paying a visit 
to Mr. Leslie Stephen, then a new acquaintance. He 
observes : 

" My audiences were counted very good. I was rather 
nervous, but got through very well, I think. I felt, 
however, that the audience is quite a new one, and that 
it will take some experiment to get into touch with it. 
I shall probably have to go down again to get my degree 
before the Revision is over." 

The Cornish visit, in spite of broken weather, seems 
to have been particularly successful, and there is in the 
same letter and others of this period an agreeable picture 
of growing intimacy with his distinguished host. 

" Stephen, though a silent man, is particularly likeable. 
He is very hospitable, and we three men, having the place 
to ourselves, smoke in the drawing-room, and in general 
have a good time not conducive to work in the evening. 
The cduntry is easily described. It is just like the coast 
between Aberdeen and Muchalls. A moory table-land 
with a succession of granite trap and slate headlands and 
coves. Of course the vegetation is different very rich 
and lovely in sheltered spots, and at a few points, though 
not everywhere, the cliffs and headlands are higher. But 
apart from the ferns, hyacinths, primroses, squills, one 
might be at Portlethen. 

1 See J. E. Sandys, Orationes et Epistolae Cantabrigienses (1878- 
1909) ; London, 1910. 



472 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1881- 

" I wrote Gibson some history of our doings. Since 
then we have had two capital days. The first day we took 
train to Redruth, walked down a lovely valley to the sea, 
and returned by the coast along cliffs, over breezy moors, 
and then for four miles along a beach for all the world 
like that at Barra, mindful of which I (and following me 
Bryce) took off our boots and paddled along in great 
happiness. 

" Yesterday was rather commonplace according to 
Stephen. We did quite an ordinary tourist thing, driving 
from Penzance to Land's End, and only doing some five 
or six miles of coast walking I suppose perhaps a little 
more. Bryce is not allowed to do long walks, and is still 
looking a little seedy, but better, and he can do his 
sixteen miles or so quite well, as we saw on Monday and 
Tuesday, though he declined to walk from Penzance to 
Land's End. 

" I feel much set up by the last three or four days, and 
in London shall be game for plenty of work, as the Revision, 
though engrossing, will not be fatiguing. ..." 

In London one of his occupations was to act as 
cicerone to his parents, then on a visit to friends in one 
of the home counties. He recounts their doings in a 
letter to his sister, which it would be a pity not to print. 

" We kept our time at Charing Cross and walked across 
the street to the National Gallery, where I showed Father 
and Mother a careful selection of the best pictures without 
letting them weary themselves. 

" Then we thought it well to take an omnibus to the 
corner of New Burlington Street, which is only a step from 
our rooms. After a short rest we walked up to Oxford 
Circus and took a bus to the Museum, where we confined 
ourselves to the Elgin Marbles, the big Assyrian and 
Egyptian things, and a glance at the Reading Room and 
the Alexandrian MS. and some autographs. Then we went 
to the Horse Shoe in Tottenham Court Road close by, where 
we had a nice early dinner in the ladies' room (a very 
good place) and thence a bus brought us down to West- 
minster. The parents sat in the Abbey while I got my 
letters at the Athenaeum, and hurried back to take them 
to the House of Commons lobby, where Bryce was waiting. 
Father got in at once, heard all the questions, and heard 



i88 3 ] EDINBURGH AND CAMBRIDGE 473 

Gladstone speak. Mother got a peep of both Houses, 
and was shown the library and tea-room, Biggar, Parnell, 
etc., etc. Bryce was most kind. Then, leaving father 
to come home in a cab, I took mother over the park 
(St. James's), where we sat in the sun, and up to Pall 
Mall, whence we took a short drive in a hansom to Hyde 
Park Corner, and so by Park home to get a glance at the 
crowds. You see it was quite a day's work, and yet not 
very fatiguing. Both are tired, but they have a long 
evening to rest, for we were home by six." 

The long vacation of 1883 was spent chiefly in Scotland. 
The house in Duke Street was temporarily shut up, and 
by midsummer Smith was established in a simple rural 
lodging at Colinton, some four miles from Edinburgh, 
at the foot of the Pentlands. He greatly enjoyed the 
quiet and seclusion of the place, and the free access it 
gave to the hills, where he delighted to wander in the long 
summer evenings, lingering over their glorious outlook 
upon the Firth and the Ochils. The mornings were spent 
in preparation for lecturing to his pupils on Al-Fakri the 
Arab historian, 1 and in studying and committing to 
memory large passages of the pre-Islamic poetry which, 
with a vivid accompaniment of elucidation and apprecia- 
tive criticism, he was ever ready to recite to willing ears. 
In the afternoon his habit was to go into Edinburgh, 
and after attending to the business of the day at the 
office of the Encyclopedia, to dine at the University Club, 
returning to the country in time for an evening stroll. 
They were days of hard work, but there was no risk of 
their ever becoming monotonous or dull, and brief visits 
to London on Revision and Encyclopedia business, as 
well as week-ends at Tulliechewan and elsewhere, were 
agreeable episodes. During the latter half of August he 
had the pleasure of entertaining his friend Professor 
Wellhausen, who had been advised rest and quiet, and 
doubtless surrendered himself willingly to the soothing 
influences of the climate and scenery of the Lothians, 

1 The subject of lecture chosen for the Michaelmas Term of 1883. 



474 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1881- 

although it is recorded that he did not carry out with 
any pedantic strictness his doctor's orders to abjure 
all discussion of things Semitic. 

With this period Smith's continuous residence in 
Scotland may be said to have ended. No doubt his 
visits to his family and friends were frequent and extended, 
but henceforth his headquarters were at Cambridge, and 
he became by domicile an Englishman. The early autumn 
was divided between a flying visit to Cambridge, where 
he made arrangements for temporary lodgings until such 
time as he could be made a member of Trinity, and to 
a Congress of Orientalists at Leyden, 1 at which he was 
elected to the honourable position of Vice-President of 
the Semitic Section. This expedition was somewhat 
marred by an attack of ulcerated throat which restricted 
his activities, but he much enjoyed the hospitality of 
Professor Kuenen, whose guest he was, and he had the 
opportunity for the first time of meeting a number of 
interesting people, some of whom he already knew well, 
but only by correspondence, such as Socin, Kautsch, 
Noldeke, and others. 

In October he was established in Cambridge, and 
became a member of the High Table at Trinity. He had 
already removed many of his books and other posses- 
sions from Edinburgh, but it was not found possible to 
provide him with rooms in College for some time. 2 By 
the middle of the month, however, he was able to report 
the beginning of his tutorial and lecturing work, which 
he had already planned on a larger scale. " I have two 
pupils, Keith - Falconer and a beginner, and lecture 
five days a week. So I am fairly busy. I am very 
well, but unsettled till I can move into my rooms. I 
lecture in them now, and also read there, having some 

1 In September. 

2 Robertson Smith resided in Trinity from Christmas 1883 to 
Michaelmas 1884 in the second staircase in the second Whewell's Court 
" the billiard table " first floor 43. From Michaelmas 1884 to Easter 
1885 he lived in R 8 Great Court. 



i88 3 ] EDINBURGH AND CAMBRIDGE 475 

of my books in them : but this makes a very divided 
state." 

He was already beginning to take his part in the social 
life of the place, and, just as of old in Aberdeen and 
Edinburgh, he soon began to complain of a multiplicity 
of engagements. Thus, " The College feast season is 
beginning, and threatens to be trying," and again, " A 
rather weary series of dinners is imminent, indeed has 
commenced." In spite, however, of this pessimistic 
formula, which occurs neither for the first nor for the last 
time in his correspondence, there is satisfactory evidence 
that Smith thoroughly enjoyed the genial hospitality which 
was offered to him, and we know that it was the occasion 
of his laying the foundation of many of his most valuable 
friendships. The trouble caused by the transport of 
his books and belongings to the various abodes occupied 
by him in those early days was more serious than the 
labour of going out to dinner. But presently order 
began to emerge gradually from the chaos to which all his 
current work was at first reduced. " Diogenes is getting 
used to his tub, and hopes to be comfortably settled 
by Monday. My papers and books are still in an awful 
mess, which makes work difficult. I hope to get rooms 
in June, but I fear not till then. Ward's rooms will then 
be vacant a nice set and he wishes me to have them." 

In the Lent term he lectured on the Koran, and in 
Easter term on the Palmyrene Dialect and Inscriptions. 
He also (May 2 and 5) delivered two public lectures on 
the History of Palmyra. Apart from his teaching, there 
was a continual undercurrent of work in connection with 
the Encyclopedia, which was then hovering between 
M and P. His correspondence shows that the editorial 
dealings with publishers and contributors, the unreason 
of reviewers and other critics, not to speak of his own 
constant and important contributions, were almost as 
serious a tax on his time as they had ever been, though 
a process of devolution had already begun and his main 



476 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1881- 

concern was more and more his Cambridge work. His 
friendships in so favourable and congenial an atmosphere 
rapidly increased in number, and in the spring of 1884 
we hear of a short visit to Rome with Mr. John Henry 
Middleton, in the course of which that eminent antiquary 
seems to have worked Smith so hard that he had no 
time to set down his impressions at any length. At 
the end of the Easter term he was engaged in preparing 
a lecture on Mahdism for the Royal Institution, 1 and in 
the course of the same summer the work of revising the 
Old Testament, in which he had been engaged for more 
than ten years, was brought to a close. In the autumn 
he paid a visit to Scotland, and after transacting necessary 
business in Edinburgh he had a well-earned holiday in 
the Highlands with Dr. Sutherland Black and Mr. J. G. 
Frazer, whose labours in the anthropological field were 
already important, and in whose work he always showed 
a warm and helpful interest. 

He returned to his winter's work much invigorated by 
his travels, and wrote in high spirits to Miss Smith : 
" The term has begun very pleasantly and one feels more 
like an old habitue of the place. Every one is always 
very friendly. I have been walking in the afternoon 
lately with various people Frazer, Aldis Wright, Sedley 
Taylor, Neil. To-day I go out on a double bicycle with 
Keith-Falconer." 

Others, too, began to look upon him as a regular institu- 
tion at Cambridge, and about this time an event occurred 
which he communicated in confidence to his more intimate 
friends, and which gave him great pleasure. 

" A thing happened to-day," he writes on November 
i, 1884, to an old friend, in Edinburgh, " which, though 
it has no immediate effect on me, is, I think, a good 
augury. I have just missed . . . being chosen professorial 
fellow of King's. . . . The main thing is that the King's 

1 Afterwards published in Good Words, 1884, vol. xxv. pp. 531, 
620. 



i88 3 ] EDINBURGH AND CAMBRIDGE 477 

people felt sure that a Grace could be passed, which would 
make me eligible for a professorial fellowship which 
opens up possibilities." 

The idea thus started at King's that he could be made 
eligible for a professorial fellowship gained ground, and 
there is reason to believe that more than one college 
about this time considered the possibility of attaching 
Smith to its foundation. Ambitious as he naturally was, 
however, of securing a recognised position in Cambridge, 
he felt that a professorial fellowship would lay on him 
increased duties, and " raise a very anxious question 
about his relations to the Encyclopedia Britannica," 
and he went off to spend his Christmas at Alassio with 
Mr. Bryce, well pleased with the condition of affairs as 
they were. 

Of this visit Mr. Bryce afterwards wrote : * " Having 
once spent five weeks alone with him in a villa at Alassio 
on the Riviera I observed to him when we parted that 
we had had (as the Americans say) ' a lovely time ' 
together, and there was not an observation I had made 
during those weeks which he had not contested. He 
laughed and did not contest that observation." Argu- 
ments with Mr. Bryce and walks in the delightful neigh- 
bourhood of Alassio by no means exhausted his activities. 
He records that he was doing at least five or six hours' 
work daily, and that he sat in a greatcoat working in 
a summer-house. In this way he kept the necessary 
Encyclopedia work up to date, and made some progress 
with a translation of the Arab geographer, Ibn Jubair, 
a task which he had undertaken for the Hakluyt Society 
at Sir Henry Yule's instance, but which he unfortunately 
never managed to complete. Before he returned to 
England he paid a visit to Mr. D. M'Lennan, the brother 
of his old friend and the continuator of his researches, 
who was then living in delicate health at San Remo ; and 
along with Mr. Bryce he also spent some days at Cannes 

1 Studies in Contemporary Biography, 1904, p. 323. 



478 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1881- 

in the company of Lord Acton. By Lord Acton he 
was introduced to Lord Houghton, whom he found 
" pleasanter than one had expected," not having lost his 
esprit with age. 

On his return to Cambridge, he found that events had 
moved in his absence much faster than he had expected, 
for he was surprised by a cordial communication from 
Dr. Swainson, 1 then Master of Christ's, announcing that 
he had been elected 2 some days previously to a fellow- 
ship of that College. He communicated this important 
piece of news to his father in the following letter. 

" TRINITY COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE, 
January 17, 1885. 

" MY DEAR FATHER I have just been elected to a fellow- 
ship at Christ's. That is, I was elected about a week 
ago, but only got the letter on arriving here yesterday, 
so that the matter was not settled and in a case to be 
spoken of till this forenoon. I am to be admitted this 
evening before dinner and shall have the rooms of Vines 3 
who has just married. Of course, this flitting the last 
I hope for a good while will put me in a great state of 
confusion again. As to details I may simply enclose 
Swainson's letter. You need not send it back. 

" I am quite sorry to leave Trinity, and all the younger 
men here at least seem heartily sorry also. But, on the 
other hand, it is a great thing to have a regular college 
position, and I shall now be able to reduce my E.B. 
work as soon as arrangements can be made. I don't 
suppose that I can give it up altogether. 

" I may say that I have but slight acquaintance with 
the Christ's people, and was altogether taken by sur- 
prise. . . . 

" I feel grateful to think that at length I may be said 
to have settled down in a permanent way. It is true 
that the fellowship is only for six years, but before the 

1 From 1879 to 1887 Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity, and 
author of many useful articles in the Dictionary of Christian Biography 
and the Dictionary of Christian Antiquities. 

8 On January 10, 1885. 

3 Dr. S. H. Vines, now Sherardian Professor of Botany in the 
University of Oxford. 



1883] EDINBURGH AND CAMBRIDGE 479 

end of that time it is pretty sure to be changed into a 
senior fellowship, which is permanent, and, at any rate, 
by that time it would be quite unlike Cambridge if I were 
not regarded as a fixture. . . . 

" I must write a little note to thank Mother for her 
gift, and with love to all, am, ever your loving son, 

W. R. SMITH." 

He was accordingly soon established in the rooms on 
the second floor of Staircase A, in the Fellows' Buildings 
at Christ's, which were to be his home till the end of 
his days. At first he possessed only half the territory 
which his friends will remember as his ; but some years 
later he was allowed to annex the rooms at the end of 
the Buildings on the other side of the passage, and by 
placing a partition across this he turned the whole into 
a very commodious flat. He was always fond of recalling 
the fact that this second set had for many years been 
the home of Henry More, the Cambridge Platonist. The 
final " flitting " was naturally a serious affair, but the 
sense of its finality reduced the hardship, and soon we 
find that his books are once more commodiously installed 
in the old black book-cases, which had " turned out an 
excellent fit," and that he himself before the end of his first 
term had become alumnus addictissimus, a most enthusi- 
astic Christ's man. 

The present Master describes for us how rapidly he 
took his place in this new circle. 

"From the day of his election to a Fellowship at Christ's 
he took the keenest interest in the College, and became 
one of its most loyal members. He was always anxious 
to meet with the undergraduates and the senior members 
of the College who from time to time revisited their old 
University, and he took trouble to introduce the younger 
men to any celebrity or distinguished visitor who might 
be stopping with him. Having no College work, he did 
not necessarily come across the Christ's men very often, 
but he never missed an opportunity of meeting them, 
and to those who were reading Semitic languages his 
care and kindness were never failing. . . . His presence 



480 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1881- 

amongst us attracted boys from the north of the Tweed 
to the College, and he was never more pleased and proud 
than when they did well and were a credit to the College. 
... He was fond of giving presents, and especially 
something which would be of use to the College books 
to the Library, an atlas for the Combination Room, etc. 

" He was undoubtedly the ablest conversationalist I 
have ever heard, and I have always regretted that 
Stevenson in his brilliant essay did not include a sketch 
of him as a talker. To many of us the most vivid recollec- 
tion of him will always be the hour in the Combination 
Room after dinner when he always had something 
interesting to say, and raised the conversation to what 
outsiders often think it to be and what in fact it so 
se'dom is. 

" He was for us a link of connexion with the outside 
world, and nothing pleased him more than to arrange 
little dinners in his own rooms or to organise congenial 
parties to dine in Hall. He was always anxious that 
strangers should be interested in his College and impressed 
by it, and he made a most stimulating and patriotic host." 

The rearrangement of his relations with the Ency- 
clopaedia Britannica, which was foreshadowed in the 
letter to his father given above, was immediately taken 
in hand. He found it necessary to retain some final 
responsibility as Editor-in-Chief, and this responsibility 
was faithfully discharged. We still find in his letters 
dissertations on the proper manner of treating such 
subjects as Poker and Pugilism in a publication intended 
for serious readers; and his advice on more important 
matters was always at the disposal of his colleagues and 
his publishers. But the current labours of the great 
book which was as yet by no means completed were now 
mainly discharged by the " Resident Editor," Mr. J. S. 
Black, whose duties and responsibilities were correspond- 
ingly increased by Smith's partial retirement from the 
active management of the affair. 

Smith's reputation among Cambridge teachers was now 
firmly based, and his election to the office of University 
Librarian which forms the starting-point of the next chapter 



i88 3 ] EDINBURGH AND CAMBRIDGE 481 

showed in a very emphatic way the impression which his 
three years of strenuous and fruitful work had made upon 
the University at large. 

As we have seen, the yearly public lecture which 
exhausted his official responsibility as Lord Almoner's 
Professor was punctually delivered each Easter term. On 
each occasion not one lecture, but at least three were given, 
the subjects being " Early Relations of Arabia with Syria 
and Palestine" (1883), "History of Palmyra" (1884), 
"Marriage and Kinship in Early Arabia" (1885), and "The 
Theory of Sacrifice illustrated by a Comparison of Semitic 
and Greek Ritual" (1886). During the Michaelmas and 
Lent terms, from 1883 to 1885, he read Arabic authors 
with his pupils, the list of whom includes the names of 
Messrs. Kennett l and Bevan. 2 At this point it may 
not be out of place to record the admirable appreciation 
published in The Expositor in 1894 by Mr. N. M'Lean, 3 
although he himself did not become a pupil till a later 
date. 

" There was never," he says, " a scholar of whom it 
was more true that he himself was greater than the 
works he gave to the world. I think it was perhaps in 
attending his lectures that one best learned to appreciate 
his mental powers. He possessed a familiarity with the 
details of Arabic history and literature with the topo- 
graphy of Mecca and the other important centres with 
the names and relations of the very numerous Arab 
tribes and with the usages of Arab life in ancient and 
modern times, which enabled him to render luminous 
all the Arabic works he read. Here, as in the case of 
Hebrew literature, he showed always that ' grasp of the 
concrete realities of ancient history ' which Professor 
Bevan has justly noted as pre-eminently distinguishing 
him. A favourite subject was the ' History of the Arabs 

1 The Rev. R. H. Kennett, now Regius Professor of Hebrew, Cam- 
bridge, and Canon of Ely. 

2 Professor A. A. Bevan, Fellow of Trinity College, and Lord 
Almoner's Reader in Arabic, Cambridge. 

3 Mr. Norman M'Lean, University Lecturer in Aramaic, and Fellow 
and Hebrew Lecturer, Christ's College, Cambridge. 

31 



482 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1881- 

before Islam ' ; like all recent investigators he distrusted 
the later traditions which had passed through the dis- 
turbing medium of Mohammedan prejudice. The exact- 
ness of his scholarship, shown especially in skilful analysis 
of the most difficult details of Arabic syntax, taught a 
lesson that no pupil of his could ever forget. His reading 
of the poets was rendered delightful by his keen literary 
sense, and by a peculiar appreciation of the moods and 
humours of the Semitic mind. However small the 
number of his students and Arabic has not many 
votaries in this or any other University he gave them 
of his best. It was one of the lessons he taught by 
example as by precept that every lecture ought to be 
thoroughly prepared, its material arranged and digested 
beforehand." 

The Encyclopedia articles belonging to this period 
cover a wide range of subjects. There was a reversion 
to his mathematical studies in the interesting archaeo- 
logical and historical disquisition given under the head 
of " Numerals." Many important articles in Biblical 
Introduction and Theology also belong to this period, the 
chief being the articles " Messiah," " Micah," " Nahum," 
"Nazarite," "Noah," "Obadiah," "Paradise," "Passover 
and Pentecost," "Philistines," "Psalms," "Ruth," 
" Sabbath," " Samuel." Under the heading of Com- 
parative Religion must be mentioned " Prophet," " Priest," 
and, above all, "Sacrifice" (the latter especially giving 
in its germinal form one of the leading theses of The 
Religion of the Semites). It was specially appropriate 
that the Professor of Arabic should undertake such 
subjects as "Mocha" (he had already written " Mecca " 
and "Medina"), "Movers," "Muscat," " Nabataeans," 
"Nawawi," " Ockley," "Ophir," " Osman," "Palmer," 
" Palmyra," " Caussin de Percival," " Petra/' " Pocock," 
" Quatremere," " Reinaud," " R eland," " Remusat," 
" Renaudot," " RoseUini," and " Sabians." Within this 
period also he saw through the Press, in their complete 
form, the third series of his public lectures, under the 
title of Kinship and Marriage in Early Arabia, which has 



1883] EDINBURGH AND CAMBRIDGE 483 

been singled out by more than one of his critics as the 
most original and remarkable of all his works, and which, 
therefore, requires some brief notice here. 

In his article "Animal Worship and Animal Tribes 
among the Arabs and in the Old Testament," published 
in July 1880 in the Journal of Philology, he had explained 
that at the time when it was written he had access to 
no good library of Arabic texts, but the results of his 
provisional exploration " appeared so promising that it 
seemed desirable to publish them and to invite the 
co-operation of scholars better versed in the early literature 
of Arabia." Several Orientalists of mark had responded 
to this invitation, especially Professors Wellhausen, 
Goldziher, and Noldeke, who have recorded with much 
emphasis their appreciation of the originality and value 
of this contribution, Noldeke in particular declaring that 
even if he had written no further on the subject he 
would by this paper alone have earned for himself an 
enduring name in the list of investigators of Semitic 
antiquity. As early as July 10, 1880, Goldziher had con- 
tributed to the Academy a list of important references to 
various Arabic sources in further confirmation of Smith's 
tentative hypothesis. Smith himself, after his paper had 
left his hands, continued his researches in the Viceregal 
Library at Cairo and elsewhere, and certain notes appended 
to The Prophets of Israel (1882) embody some further 
results of these. A Dutch scholar, Professor G. A. 
Wilken, followed up Smith's suggestions in a work entitled 
The Matriarchate in Old Arabia, published in Dutch in 1884, 
and also in German in the same year ; and the discussion 
was continued by Noldeke and others in the Zeitschrift der 
Deutschen Morgenlandischen Gesellschaft and elsewhere. 
The result of a cautious and ever more widely extended 
research was to satisfy Smith increasingly of the soundness 
of the views he had put forward in his early paper, and 
he was thus led to select the subject of it as the theme of 
his third course of public lectures in 1885. To the four 



484 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1881-1883] 

actually delivered were added other four with many 
notes and dissertations in the volume published by the 
University Press in the following October. 

Alike in his early article and in the finished volume 
the object is to collect and discuss the available evi- 
dence as to the system of female kinship and its 
corresponding laws of marriage and tribal organisation 
which prevailed in Arabia at the time of Mohammed, 
the conclusion being that male kinship had been pre- 
ceded by kinship through women only, a conclusion 
corresponding, therefore, with the general theory that 
had been propounded in 1871 by J. F. M'Lennan in 
Primitive Marriage. Further, it was argued that the 
Arabs must once have had the system which M'Lennan 
had been the first to expound under the name of 
totemism. 

A second edition of Kinship and Marriage in Early 
Arabia appeared in 1903, with additional notes by the 
author and Professor Goldziher, under the editorship 
of Mr. S. A. Cook, who tells us that, among others, 
Dr. J. G. Frazer, Professor Noldeke, and Professor Bevan 
had also interested themselves helpfully in his task. The 
book continues to be regarded as of first-rate importance, 
not only as lying at the foundation of all subsequent 
research in this department of study, but as exhibiting 
in a singularly striking way the skill which is able to 
co-ordinate and correlate a bewildering mass of frag- 
mentary and seemingly unrelated facts, and make them 
converge with irresistible force upon the logical conclusion 
which is ultimately seen to be inevitable. 



CHAPTER XII 

THE UNIVERSITY LIBRARY (1886-1889) 

TOWARDS the middle of February 1886 the sudden 
death of Mr. Henry Bradshaw deprived the University 
of Cambridge of a most accomplished Librarian, and 
cast a shadow of bereavement over a wide circle of 
admiring friends. Mr. Bradshaw had been one of 
Smith's many friends in King's College, and shortly 
before his death Smith and he had travelled together 
in the Loire country. Only a few scattered references 
remain to testify to their friendship, but there is 
enough to show that they regarded each other with 
mutual esteem and affection. The post which had been 
vacated in so melancholy and sudden a manner is one 
which in the nature of the case is particularly difficult to 
fill. From a learned society in which each man's duty is 
to specialise, it is hard to select the synoptic mind to which 
may be safely entrusted the task of supplying each man 
with the very material and stock-in-trade of his specialism. 
The method of appointment to the office, which is given 
by the free election of Masters of Arts qualified to 
vote, is not one which ensures a dispassionate consider- 
ation of the claims of the various candidates. In 
such a contest private and party feelings, irrelevant 
matters of all kinds, are apt to intrude themselves. 
This being so, Smith's appointment as Bradshaw's 
successor is a very striking testimony both to the general 
appreciation of his attainments and to the remarkable 

485 



486 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1886- 

personal ascendancy in the University which he had won 
for himself during the first three years of his residence. 

The idea of bringing him forward as a candidate 
seems to have occurred to his friends almost immediately, 
for we find him writing to Dr. Black very soon after the 
death of Mr. Bradshaw : 

" A good deal of pressure is being brought to bear on 
me from various quarters to stand as Bradshaw 's successor. 
I have not quite made up my mind, but am beginning 
to think that it will not be easy to persuade any of the 
better qualified men to stand, and that I can't well refuse. 
Besides, an appointment for life beginning with 500 
and a fellowship^ with the run of a noble library, is well 
worth setting against the loss of liberty involved in 
office hours and shortened holidays. . . . The election 
will be next week. If I do go in, and get it, the work at 
first will be very heavy. On the other hand, after the first 
year I ought to have a good deal of time for my own work 
even during library hours. But this is counting one's 
chickens before they are hatched." 

The support which his candidature received was in 
every way remarkable. Men who were expected to stand, 
and might well have been elected, resigned their claims 
in his favour. Mr. Prothero, the present editor of the 
Quarterly Review and Mr. Bradshaw's biographer, wrote 
to say that he believed that Smith's election was what 
Bradshaw himself would have wished. A large and 
influential committee led by six Heads of Houses, 
and including most of those of note among the 
younger generation of Masters of Arts, was formed to 
promote his success. The vote was even more striking. 
Smith's opponent was the Rev. Christopher Words- 
< worth, afterwards Bishop of Lincoln, who, by reason 
of his own high qualifications for the post and of his 
influential Cambridge connection, was a formidable 
competitor. The constituency, however, of which over 
four hundred went to the poll, gave a majority to the new- 
comer of nearly two hundred votes, and Smith was soon 



i88 9 ] THE UNIVERSITY LIBRARY 487 

receiving a budget of congratulations, among the first of 
which he gratefully acknowledged a friendly letter from 
Mr. Wordsworth himself. Sir Frederick Pollock wrote : 
" I am glad to see how far the vote I held in reserve for you 
was from being wanted. You will go as near as it is 
possible towards consoling the University for the loss of 
Bradshaw, and that is saying much " ; and the following 
letter from Mr. Leslie Stephen shows the development of 
the friendly relations which had begun the previous year 
at St. Ives : 

" MY DEAR SMITH I had the pleasure yesterday of 
adding one vote to your majority. I was obliged to leave 
by the first train this morning or I should have tried to 
find you to say in person how much pleased I was at the 
result which is creditable to everybody concerned. 

" I am selfishly glad, too, to have a friend at the Library 
in case of need. Yours ever, L. STEPHEN." 

Wellhausen's note is both characteristic and to the 
point : 

" MEIN LIEBER S. ! Gratuliere vielmals. Sie sind durch 
die seltene Vielseitigkeit Ihres Wissens und durch Ihre 
praktischen Anlagen zum Bibliothekar pradestiniert : es 
ware aber doch Schade, wenn Ihnen die Sorge fur fremde 
Bucher keine Zeit liesse, noch selber welche zu schreiben. 
Konnen Sie nicht mindestens die Encyclopedic jetzt aus 
der Hand geben ? Mich dauert die viele Zeit, die Sie fur 
so etwas zum Opfer bringen miissen. Viele Griisse. Ihr 

WELLHAUSEN." 

The progress of the candidature and its final issue had 
been duly reported in frequent telegrams and letters to 
Aberdeen, and on February 25 Smith wrote to his father : 

" I have been too busy to-day to be able to write at 
length, but I must in a word tell you how pleasant and 
cordial every one has been even the Master of Trinity 1 
called on me to-day, or rather sent his card. I was 
inducted at 2 P.M. and went round afterwards for an 
hour, but my regular work does not begin till to-morrow. 

1 Dr. Hepworth Thompson. 



488 WILLIAM ROBERTSON SMITH [1886- 

" Wordsworth has written me a nice letter. His 
chief friends here did not wish him to stand ; but many 
clerics thought it horrible that a Presbyterian should be 
placed in such a post of trust. If they had had more time 
I daresay they would have pressed me hard." 

Smith was now in his fortieth year, and his health, 
which had for many years been satisfactory, still seemed 
equal to the severe strain which he often imposed upon 
it. But a time of great stress and trouble was at hand. 
He was still very full of Encyclopedia work and very busy 
with weighty deliberations on the topics whose initial 
letters occur in the last quarter of the alphabet. The 
great task was now drawing to a close, and he was sur- 
rounded by efficient helpers ; but the editorial responsi- 
bility still weighed upon him, and on occasion he exercised 
his powers of revision and rejection as decisively as ever. 
It is about this time that we find him in a curious 
but characteristically conservative mood, discussing the 
suitability of a very eminent person as the contributor 
of an article on a controversial subject, and coming to 
the conclusion that the celebrity in question was " too 
sceptical and absolutely devoid of reverence, and almost 
certain to give just offence ! " But, on the whole, his 
labours in this field were now effectually lightened. It 
was otherwise with his new University duties. 

He was not mistaken in anticipating that the work 
of the Library would at first be very hard. The un- 
expectedness of Mr. Bradshaw's removal naturally made 
the situation difficult for his successor, who found he 
had to deal with considerable arrears of work. " The 
Library is a very big job," he wrote to Dr. Black, " but 
I like it, and hope to get it into shape." He threw him- 
self into the work with extraordinary energy, and soon 
impressed his assistants with his practical ability in pro- 
viding for the accumulations of books by using to the 
utmost all the space that was still available for fresh 
shelving. He was soon called upon to deal in a more 



1889] THE UNIVERSITY LIBRARY 489 

comprehensive manner with the problem of accommoda- 
tion which weighs upon all librarians, and it was under 
his supervision that the important addition to the 
Library, known as the Hancock Building, was carried out. 
Under his auspices also the methods of cataloguing under- 
went revision, and gained in economy as well as efficiency, 
and Mr. H. T. Francis, whose assistance in the work of 
the Library Smith highly valued, observes : 

" I never knew any one that could so rapidly appreciate 
the value of books ; and in sorting the accumulations of 
years he could be relied upon to pick out any books