Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hanna, William
HANNA, WILLIAM, LL.D., D.D. (1808–1882), theological writer, born at Belfast on 26 Nov. 1808, was the son of the Rev. Dr. Samuel Hanna [q. v.], a distinguished minister of the presbyterian church of Ireland in that town. He received his university education at Glasgow, where he distinguished himself as a student, especially in the classes of mathematics and natural philosophy. From Glasgow he proceeded to the divinity classes in the university of Edinburgh, and studied under Dr. Thomas Chalmers [q. v.] Here likewise his high ability showed itself, particularly in the debating societies.
In 1834 he was licensed as a probationer of the church of Scotland, and in the following year he was ordained to East Kilbride, a parish near Glasgow, 17 Sept. 1835. While here he married Anne, eldest daughter of Dr. Chalmers. In 1837 he was translated to the parish of Skirling, Peebles-shire, in the immediate neighbourhood of Biggar. During the controversy that preceded the disruption of the church in 1843, he took an active part on the side of Chalmers and his friends. When the disruption took place he left the establishment, taking his whole congregation with him. On the death of Dr. Chalmers in 1847 Hanna was entrusted with the writing of his life. In order to obtain the requisite leisure, he arranged a temporary exchange with a clergyman, and resided for a time in Edinburgh. The 'Life' came out in four successive octavo volumes (1849-52), to which was added a fifth, containing extracts from Chalmers's 'Correspondence.' Hanna likewise edited the 'Posthumous Works of Dr. Chalmers,' which extended to nine volumes 8vo. The 'Life' was received with great approval. In token of the value placed on his labours he received in 1852 the degree of LL.D. from the university of Glasgow.
Hanna had always been a man of culture, and in 1847 was appointed editor of the 'North British Review,' a journal started in 1844 by the Rev. Dr. Welsh, and designed to combine the usual range of literature and science with a liberal spirit in politics, and a cordial recognition of evangelical Christianity. The 'Review' never had a very easy career, and Hanna soon relinquished the editorship.
Having resigned his charge at Skirling, Hanna removed permanently to Edinburgh, where in 1850 he was called to be colleague to Thomas Guthrie [q. v.], as minister of St. John's Free Church. Though in temperament and gifts they differed widely from each other, their relations were remarkably harmonious. A more thoughtful mode of teaching and a quieter manner characterised Hanna, while his style of thought, coupled with the quiet pathos of his tone and the vivid clearness of his style, won him many devoted hearers. In 1864 he was made D.D. by the university of Edinburgh. In 1866 he retired from the active duties of the ministry. He died in London, 24 May 1882.
Besides editing the works and publishing the life of Chalmers, Hanna published (among other books): 1. 'Wycliffe and the Huguenots,' 1860 (originally forming two series of lectures at the Philosophical Institution, Edinburgh). 2. 'Martyrs of the Scottish Reformation.' 3. 'Last Day of our Lord's Passion,' 1862 (this volume reached a circulation of fifty thousand). 4. 'The Forty Days after the Resurrection,' 1863. 5. 'The Earlier Years of our Lord,' 1864. 6. 'The Passion Week,' 1866. 7. 'Our Lord's Ministry in Galilee,' 1868. 8. 'The Close of our Lord's Ministry,' 1869. 9. 'The Resurrection of the Dead,' 1872. Hanna likewise edited in 1858 a volume of 'Essays by Ministers of the Free Church of Scotland,' Dr. Charles Hodge's 'Idea of the Church' in 1860, and in 1877 the 'Letters of Thomas Erskine of Linlathen.' Among works for private circulation were a brief memoir of a warm personal friend, Sir Alexander Gibson Carmichael of Skirling, bart., a young man of singular promise, and a similar tribute to Alexander Keith Johnston [q. v.] He was a frequent contributor to the 'Sunday Magazine,' 'Good Words,' the 'Quiver,' &c.
The tendency of Hanna's sympathies was indicated by his editing of Erskine's 'Letters.' On the day of his funeral the general assembly of the established church suspended its sittings. A high tribute to his consistency and independence was entered on the minutes of the Free church assembly 30 May 1882.
[Scott's Fasti; Scotsman, 25 May 1882; Acts and Proceedings of General Assembly of Free Church, 1882; family information and personal knowledge.]