Who wrote The Wheat and the Chaff?

The Wheat and the Chaff was written in the immediate aftermath of the Disruption. It has already been the subject of a blog on this site: Disruption Defaulters. The question of its authorship is what concerns us here.
This web-site followed Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae in attributing this book to the James McCosh, who was a Church of Scotland minister in Brechin in Angus, and who abandoned the Establishment at the Disruption to become a Free Church minister. Later he made a name for himself in the academic world and rose to become President of Princeton College, New Jersey, USA. I consulted the catalogues of eight leading Libraries and seven of them also give this James McCosh as the author.

A communication I received from Dr John Stuart Ross, writer and historian, puts the case for a different author:

“I have recently been making use of your resources in relation to my research into the life and work of the UP/UFC missionary, Christina Forsyth (1844-1919) of Xolobe, Transkei.

“Her husband was a mining engineer called Allan Forsyth, whose father Ebenezer Forsyth (1816 – 1873) owned and ran The Inverness Advertiser, and was, after an interval of five years, when it was run by two other owners, the successor of James M’Cosh, author of The Wheat and Chaff.

”The following interesting summary of M’Cosh’s life in journalism is taken from James Thomson, The History of Dundee (Dundee: John Durham, 1874), pp.348-349.

“In 1845, [the Dundee Warder’s name] was changed to the Northern Warder, on its amalgamation with the Fife Sentinel, when it was enlarged to eight pages, and became the largest newspaper then issued in Scotland. …. The first editor of the Warder was James McCosh, a native of the town, whose trenchant writing contributed largely to the success of the cause he espoused. About 1845, a strong desire was shown by some leaders of the Free Church party to get McCosh associated with Hugh Miller on the Witness, and negotiations were opened for that purpose; but the resolute opposition of Mr Miller frustrated the scheme. To secure the services of Mr McCosh in Edinburgh, a semi-theological monthly was started, under the title of Lowe’s Edinburgh Magazine, of which he became editor, and thus terminated his connection with Dundee. His new magazine was supported by Drs Chalmers, Candlish, and other eminent leaders of the party, but was discontinued after the publication of its third volume. Thereafter Mr McCosh proceeded to the north, and started the Inverness Advertiser, which he conducted with vigour and success until his strength, at no time robust, gave way, and he died in 1850, a martyr to the cause in which his ardent sympa¬thies had been enlisted.”

“Another useful summary of relevant information is John Noble, ‘Bibliography of Inverness Newspaper and Periodicals’ in Scottish Notes and Queries, May 1888, vol.1, no. 12, pp. 191-192.

”In other words, the M’Cosh of The Wheat and the Chaff is not the James M’Cosh (1811-1894), “a minister who rose to become President of Princeton College, New Jersey, USA .””

The view that McCosh of Princeton wrote The Wheat and the Chaff depended on him being the editor of the Warder at the same time as being the minister of Brechin. Now that we have been put on the right track, it is easy to see that the editor and the minister are clearly distinguishable in the records.

James McCosh, the minister, according to the Matriculation Albums of the University of Glasgow, was born at Carskeoch, Straiton, Ayrshire, on 1st April, 1811, the son of Andrew McCosh, farmer. But James McCosh, the editor, according to the Old Parish Records, was baptized in Dundee on 30th October, 1814. He was the son of Robert McCosh, tailor in Dundee by his second wife Mary A(i)kenhead.

In the 1841 Census, the family name of the editor is given as McCash. He was living in McCashes Close, Murraygate Courtyard in Dundee, with his widowed mother and three siblings. He was then described as a newspaper editor. In contrast, the minister at the time of the Census was in Straiton, Ayrshire, his native parish. He was designated as the minister of Brechin but was visiting Robert Paton, the parish minister there – a man about whom the other McCosh was soon to write: “A strong assertor of the principles of non-intrusion and spiritual independence, and a leader in his presbytery on the Evangelical side. In the Assembly of 1832, supported the overtures on calls; and, in that of 1842, voted for the Claim of Rights. Was a member of Convocation, but did not adhere to either series of the resolutions” (McCosh, The Wheat and the Chaff, p.42).

The minister had a long career and died in Princeton on 16th November, 1894. The editor had a short career, dying in Inverness in January, 1850: “Death of a Brother Editor.—Mr James M’Cosh, editor and proprietor of the Inverness Advertiser died here this morning (Wednesday). He was about 35 years of age. The immediate cause of death was disease of the heart, but the deceased laboured under a complication of physical weakness and malformation that rendered his activity of mind a remarkable instance of energy. Mr M’Cosh had only recently established a newspaper here, but was long connected with the press in Dundee. He was a zealous member of the Free Church, and at the time of the Disruption wrote a pamphlet on the clergy, entitled The Chaff and the Wheat [sic]” (Inverness Courier, Thursday, 10 January, 1850). He was buried in the McCosh family grave in The Howff, Dundee, along with his parents and siblings.

I sometimes wondered what President McCosh in his later years as an academic thought of his early writing of The Wheat and the Chaff. Was he ashamed of its non-academic tone – of its sweeping judgements and blatant partisanship? Did he wish he had never written it? Now I have to re-write sections of this web-site and relieve President McCosh of the burden of having The Wheat and the Chaff associated with his name. At the same time, James McCosh, the editor, gets credit for a competent piece of investigative journalism and for his vibrant writing up of his research.


You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *