Clerical Reminiscences (1880) by Josiah Bateman
The Rev. Bateman was the Vicar of Huddersfield from 1840 to 1855, and the chapter on "Yorkshire" (reproduced below) deals with his incumbency at the St. Peter's Church, although he does not specifically name the town.
As in a former page, I deprecated any idea of writing history or biography: so now would avoid "Parochialia." And think that by selecting certain topics in their order, Clerical Reminiscences will be best drawn out.
This was a very old building, in the worst part of the town, with a garden attached, in which nothing green wouId grow. Close by, a large, old-fashioned inn was standing, which in times past had been built upon the glebe, and now paid a good rent to the vicar. But all was hemmed in by tall chimneys and wretched buildings; and the house proved on trial an unhealthy residence.
Again and again, one and another of my family was attacked with illness ; again and again we were invited by kind parishioners to make their handsome houses in the outskirts our home for weeks together.
But this could not last; and before a year had elapsed, a decision was required whether we should leave or stay ; and that turned upon the retention of the old house, or the erection of a new one. I called a meeting in the vestry, and proposed the question with all simplicity. It was responded to with Yorkshire liberality and kindliness ; and in the result a beautiful paddock of two acres and more, just outside the town, was exchanged (the exchange being legally necessary) for an equal quantity of glebe land, covered with gorse, five miles away ; and two thousand two hundred pounds were raised to build a handsome Gothic vicarage. I need not say that I watched its progress with great interest, and a careful avoidance of extras ; and I rejoiced exceedingly when, in due course, I received a request from the bank that I would allow them to close the account by drawing out the "twelve shillings" due to me. I absolutely refused ; and said I should leave the twelve shillings as a lasting proof that one Anglican Vicarage had been built, debt-free!
This settled the question of resignation or retention ; and in this most comfortable house I lived, and successive vicars are still living. I took care, and I wish all the clergy would take care, that the necessary fixtures were covered by the subscriptions. What a relief is thus afforded to each in-comer! And how much trouble is saved to each out-goer!
But this was not all. The patron was a minor, inheriting immense property from his grandfather, who had directed £20,000 to be placed at the unfettered disposal of his executors, for the benefit of the estate. I knew of this ; and, some time after, I placed the old vicarage, the old inn, and the adjacent ground, at their disposal, as an advantageous investment for building, and benefiting that part of the town. My application was favourably entertained, the whole property was valued, and £7000 was paid into Queen Anne’s Bounty, as an additional endowment for the living. What an escape this from the embryo Dilapidation Acts!
These were matters of anxiety for many years. Church rates had been refused long before my time. The offertory collections, as a substitute, were then little known, and not to be relied on. The expenses of a large church, capable of holding above two thousand people, were very serious, and were met by annual subscriptions and occasional collections. But each outgoing churchwarden left, as a rule, a heavy debt to be borne and discharged by his successor. Affairs were, moreover, much complicated by pew rents, which yielded money, not to the church officers, but to the pew owners.
How the system arose it is hard to say, but ancient rights or claims were respected, it may be supposed, when the church had been rebuilt. The holder or occupier of a pew in the old church claimed a corresponding one in the new; and when the claim was conceded, he let or occupied the pew at his discretion. Now a possessory right to a pew in the parish church is valid, as against churchwardens, if long usage is shown, and the claimant is the occupier; but he has no right if his occupation has ceased. Pew rents are not private property ; and yet, in the case we are considering, the patron himself, though entirely non-resident, claimed sixty-five pews as his own right ; and his agents collected the rents every year, letting and re-letting, as it happened.
This had been silently acquiesced in; and what was to be done ? I did nothing hastily; for so many were interested, that great disturbance, and appeals to law might well be apprehended. Good seats were let, I knew, for ten guineas per annum ; and many ladies rejoiced at the windfall, though they never attended the church. Timid churchwardens shrunk back. Trading churchwardens feared to give offence. Peaceable churchwardens were for letting well alone. I waited for some time, and at length found a man of action — a gentleman, and free from all entanglements.
A vicar has no authority over pews in church, and hence I could only act in concert with him. To deal with simple parishioners was to show the white feather :— but a victory over the Patron would suffice to finish the campaign. Hence, a pew was assigned to a lawyer, and he was bidden to pay no rent when the agent called. This opened the whole question, and brought it before the trustees, one of whom was Lord Cottenham, the celebrated lawyer and Lord Chancellor. What took place I know not : but the result was unqualified submission.
All claims for payment of rent for the sixty-five pews to the patron ceased ; and, with them, all other lettings and payings. Every pew was, from that moment, at the disposal of the churchwardens, who placed a church-rate, so called, upon each. If the occupant was willing to pay the rate, he retained the seat; and when a vacancy occurred, the first family in a long list of applicants was seated. No room was left either for partiality or complaint ; and I heard no grumbling, except from a few ladies who lost their pleasant, but "sacrilegious" ten guineas.
Since this was done, debt, I believe, has been unknown, though far greater expenses have been incurred. Church restoration has been carried to a great extent, Church officers and choirs have been regularly paid, and curates’ salaries have also been forthcoming.
There were two Churches in the town, besides the Parish Church ; one was in private patronage, and one was in the patronage of the vicar, as was also the patronage of six incumbencies outside. Churches had been built in all these ; but there were no houses, and scarcely any endowments, apart from the sum (thirty pounds) then required, previous to consecration. The result was very sad ; for the clergy were very poor, and scarcely able to support their families. I came in a happy time, i.e., when the Ecclesiastical Commission was beginning to work, and was hoping to do great things for the Church. They were soon straitened ; but before the "fat kine" gave place to the "lean," my applications were ready, and they were, thank God, pressed successfully.
Before the nature and amount of the general grants were modified, I had obtained £300 per annum for every Church, and a good house for every incumbent. This was "great gain." It was not that £300 per annum was absolutely given, but that every income was made up to £300 per annum ; and the clergy could thus keep a servant, and eat meat every day in the week, which they could not do before.
It was all done simply at the turn of the tide — no thanks to me : all praise to God!
After the improvement already referred to, this amounted to about £700 — reduced more than a third by necessary expenses. It was not a comfortable tithe-rent charge, easily collected, and tolerably sure ; but there were patches of poor glebe land, and payments from the townships, and fees, and Easter dues. These last were an unceasing cause of irritation and trouble, yet they were strictly legal — recounted in all successive terriers for the last two hundred years. So much was payable for each inhabitant householder, so much for each inmate of the house, so much for each "communicant," or young person of an age to communicate. The lowest amount claimable was, I think, seven pence ; the highest, about one shilling and ninepence. The vicar was wont to sit in the vestry for three days in Easter week, receiving voluntary contributions, under the same name.
This last was pleasant enough, and kindly, and useful. But it was followed by a compulsory agent, who brought in from time to time the sums he received. This collection was not so pleasant and kindly as the voluntary one ; yet it was still necessary : for if neglected, through three incumbencies, a right existing for hundreds of years would have been lost.
No incumbent has a right thus to please himself, and consult his own ease. He is a trustee, as to the temporalities of his living. I have known a vicar who exchanged livings; and then, fearing the loss of his new and temporary popularity, ceased to collect these dues, lost sixty pounds per annum of his living, and then accused his predecessor of having given him a false return of its value! This is alike dishonest and dishonourable!
For myself, I let things go on, and took the consequences. A strange variety of incidents occurred. I remember a few of them.
A working man’s wife sought an interview with me. My agent had called and claimed fourteenpence, which she strenuously declared her husband was unable to pay. Wages were low, work was scant, children were many. I heard her, and looked at her. In those days groups of artificial flowers were worn inside bonnets; and she had two good ones, one on each side.
I gave her a kindly look, and said, "How much did those two little nosegays cost you?"
She said not a word, but laid down the fourteenpence on my desk. It had been in her hand all the while, wrapped in a comer of her handkerchief; and I have no doubt she went home, and had a good laugh with her husband and neighbours about the unlucky flowers.
Another was not a laughing matter. One morning early, my collector came, and told me that a man upon whom he had called, had threatened to put a knife into him, if he called again.
I bade him go at once to the magistrates, who were sitting, take out a distress warrant, hire a bailiff, and go to the man s house at dinner-time. The amount due was ninepence ; but the warrant made it twice as much. If when he saw the man, payment was refused, the Bailiff was to seize and sell all the knives on the table, as a lesson not to be forgotten, and a reminder of the threat. It was not necessary. The man, cowed, put his hand into his pocket, and paid the money.
The third reminiscence was more serious. It was looking like a Dissenting question, and a leading man, a rich wool merchant, and deacon of a large Independent chapel, refused to pay one shilling and sevenpence due from him and his household. I sent him a courteous message when I heard of his refusal, and he repeated, courteously, his refusal.
Now, Yorkshiremen have no respect for timidity or temporizing. Of course, it was not the money I cared for, but the principle. My messenger told him this ; and warned him that the matter would go on to the end. And so it did. He would not pay. The warrant was issued. A quantity of wool, sufficient to cover all claims was seized and carried to the Cloth Hall, and there put up for sale. This was intentionally done on market day, when hundreds of clothiers assemble to buy and sell.
"Whose wool is it ?" they asked ; "why is it to be sold? who are the parties?"
No secret was made as to the vicar’s purpose : and it was said that he made no distinction in these matters between rich and poor :— "He is a plucky fellow," was the response, "we will buy it." And it was sold there and then ; for how much I know not ; but that afternoon the one shilling and seven-pence was put into my hand.
Very rash and foolish, some reader may remark :— but let him hear the end!
Next Easter I received a thick packet from this very wool merchant, with whom I had had no special intercourse, direct or indirect. It contained a sheet of postage-stamps, value one pound, with a note, saying that he esteemed me the more for what had passed, and this sheet was the payment of his Easter Dues. My response was prompt. I thanked him for both note and inclosure, and said he would hear no more of "Easter Dues," whilst I was Vicar.
Other fees were, of course, payable as usual ; and I quit the subject, repeating my conviction that it is the duty of every Incumbent to hand over, at any cost, to his successor the rights he has received from his predecessor.
I have touched upon Dissent, and it necessarily appears amongst my Northern reminiscences. I found it very strong when I entered the parish, but it did not increase in strength; and during my fifteen years no new chapel was built. I never attacked dissenters, and never quarrelled with their ministers — neither did I compromise matters. I simply minded my own business, and left others to mind theirs.
There were several large Wesleyan chapels, as well as Baptists and Independents. With one of these bodies — the Methodists of the "New Connexion," I think it was called — I was brought into what might have proved very interesting and important contact.
Three gentlemen, of weight and high respectability, came to wait upon me as a deputation from that body. They were dissatisfied with some action taken at head-quarters, in London ; and actually asked me, as Vicar, to take charge of themselves, their chapel, their local preachers, and their whole organization. I could scarcely realize their words and wishes. What a grand thing it would be if this should prove a first step in the reconciliation of so important a body to the Church of England!
"Would I object," they asked, "to minister, by myself and curates, in their chapel, holding at least a thousand people, if it was duly licensed or consecrated? Would I object to their local preachers, and experience meetings?"
I replied that, under other names, we had much the same things — "Scripture-readers," for instance, and "Bible-classes." The only condition necessary would be that all should be under the Vicars control. But were they sure about the transfer of the building? The title-deeds must be all right before it could be recognized.
That was the only doubtful point, they said, but it was a lawyer's question, and would all come right. I made them clearly understand that the decision of such an important matter did not rest with me, and that I must write to the highest authority in the Church on the subject.
I did so. I wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury (Sumner), and told him all that had passed. In his reply, he said that he sanctioned everything I had said — only it must be understood that the "local preachers," acting under the Vicar, must confine themselves to the boundaries of the parish, and not rove far and wide. He waited for the settlement of the legal question with some anxiety — and so did I. I wrote once and again, and received evasive answers; and, at last learned, that the authorities in London held this chapel in a sort of legal vice, from which there was no escape. The congregation could not gain or give possession, and the whole thing fell through. Whether concessions were made which satisfied the discontented I know not ; I was powerless, and the matter glided away. Any personal interference would have been misunderstood.
In the same connection I recall a revivalist mission amongst the old Wesleyan body. The town was visited by a famous man, from America, I think; and the impression made, as reported to me, was very great. Such crowds assembled in the large chapel, that communication with individual desirous of comfort, or assurance of salvation, could only be obtained by ministers walking on the backs of the pews. Real results I cannot relate ; but two facts occur to me, as learnt by parochial visitation, which suggested very doubtful advantages!
In going my rounds, I visited a family of operatives, at the head of which was a daughter of mature years. I forget what led to my questioning her on matters of religion ; but in response she took from her neck a little square tin plate, with a date stamped upon it. This she had received at a revival meeting, and she showed it as a proof that she was "saved"!
In another case my senior curate visited a dying girl, and speaking to her seriously as touching her state before God, she called out to her mother below stairs.
“Mither, mither! when were I converted?"
"When?" said her mother ; "were it not at the revival, on the 25th February last year?"
"Yes," said the dying girl to my curate : "I were converted on February 25th last year." No further proof seemed to be desired or thought of.
Far be it from me to connect such revivalism with our Church Missions, as now so frequently attempted ; or to throw discredit on Home Missions generally. I only recall reminiscences of the past by way of caution, which, I am sure is often necessary.
In a similar connection, an attempt was made by a number of young incumbents and curates, at this time, to stay the imagined progressive advance of Romanism in the parish. My sanction was sought and refused ; because I denied the reported progress, and because I doubted the power of these young and inexperienced divines to encounter it.
But a church was opened, and a course of sermons preached on, and against, the distinctive doctrines and practices of Popery. Bills were printed, congregations assembled, vigorous sermons were preached, and results waited for. The Romish chapel and priest remained silent for awhile. Then a course of sermons was announced and preached, by a stranger — a calm, persuasive, attractive orator, whose arguments may be summed up in a very few words, viz. :— "We are violently accused of teaching and preaching certain doctrines ; we repudiate the teaching thus imputed to us. We are not the aggressors. Young men, ignorant and hotheaded, have libelled our ancient church. Let all who heard them, now hear us."
And they did hear ; and the result was what I feared. The quiet words overpowered the violent ones — not by the force of truth, but by the rebound of what appeared to be unjust and exaggerated accusations — and it was reported to me, that four members of my own congregation had given up their attendance, and were attending the Romish chapel. One I did not know personally ; and when I learnt how matters stood, it was too late. He was a clerk in the bank; and one day, standing alone, he was addressed by the Romish priest in the street.
"I have observed your attendance in chapel ; your mind is in a disturbed state; you are unhappy ; you want to serve God with a quiet mind; come, join our church, and you will find it. I will receive your confession, and admit you to communion with us this evening after service."
This ended all ; and when I saw him afterwards, he would not listen, and would scarcely look at me.
The others were ladies. The first was gentle, and desirous of knowing the truth. She listened to my words ; and by prayer for grace and guidance, was restored to her mother-church.
The second was strong-minded, self-willed, and living with a godless father, who "cared for none of these things." The Priest had free access to his house ; and whilst taking his soup, or sipping his tea, would whisper, "Have you read the book I lent you? Do you like it? I will give you another. Let us see you at chapel to-night. Don't tell, or speak a word; only repeat the prayers I sent you."
This went on till, hearing how matters, stood, I sent for her. She had been one of my district-visitors, and we were good friends.
"I will be whichever you please," she said, at the close of our conversation ; "either a Romanist, or an infidel. I will believe everything, or nothing!"
I entreated her to wait : prayer and waiting upon God were simple and primary duties before any decisive steps in life were taken. But she refused to wait ; and, in spite of affectionate and warning words, she joined the Romanists, married, and died within the year after — to my great grief.
The third lady was weak, silly, and impulsive. I did not even see her. She was the wife of my coal merchant. I sent for him. "You are master of your own house, I suppose. Your wife has been attending the Romish chapel for the last six weeks. If she attends one Sunday more, our accounts will be closed, and you will supply the vicarage with no more coal."
The words, were, of course, reported ; and her Romanism passed away, as the morning cloud and the early dew!
So much for ill-considered controversy.
I imagine that, from first to last, I had twenty Curates, two at a time — all good but one, and all finally beneficed, and rendering the Church valuable service. The "bad one" was a punishment for my relying upon another clergyman, instead of forming my own opinion on a matter for which alone I was responsible. The candidate was very poor, and lived near London ; and I shrunk from subjecting him to a journey of four hundred miles, to and fro, on the mere probability of acceptance.
I need not go into details. It will suffice, amongst other things, that he ventured on this. Having sent him a text, and asked for a sermon upon it, that I might ascertain his views, and his capacity for expressing them :— he had sat down, copied out a sermon of Dr. McNeile's, and sent it to me as his own! In three months he had left my curacy, with the sanction of the Diocesan, and in six months I received a letter, from a well-known Rector in Wales, begging from me an assurance that the said clergyman, whom he had taken as his curate, was really in holy orders, which he had reason to doubt ; and if he was, begging to know my opinion of him, that he might compare it with his own. I replied that his information, as to the reception of " holy orders," was correct ; but that I declined subjecting myself to an action for libel, by giving my opinion of the individual in question. He should have asked for it before engaging him!
Since that time, I have learnt some practical duties concerning Curates. Three things, are indispensable — 1. Previous questions as to sentiments ; 2. Good testimonials as to character and disposition ; 3. A personal interview.
How strangely are the "qualifications" dealt with in these days! Let advertisements testify as to this. The want is notified, the stipend mentioned, the place named, and then the qualification expressed in the one or the two-words, "musical," or "eastward position" — nothing more, nothing less ; and, to my certain knowledge, in many cases these words suffice ; everything else being taken for granted as included in them.
One method of dealing with another Curate, whom I highly valued, I may mention. I had a maiden lady in my congregation, whom I much esteemed, and with whom I often conversed ; desiring to bring about an agreement on the important point of our Lord's true divinity. She was the last of a family of Unitarians. She attended church most regularly, acknowledged herself a sinner, received Christ thankfully as a Saviour, called Him "Lord," but feared to call Him "God."
She died ; and on the morning of the day appointed for her funeral, the Curate whose month it was to perform the service, came up to me to say he could not, conscientiously, read it over her grave. He knew her character, but had never visited or even spoken to her. Now, I could easily have sympathized with and excused him, and taken the funeral myself. But to every Curate there is some turning-point in life, and this was one of them. I took upon myself in words all the responsibility attaching to a superior authority ; but, finding him still hesitate, I turned aside, took a sheet of paper, and wrote on it as follows : "I decline to take the funeral ; and I hereby give you three months’ notice to quit your curacy."
"Now," I said, "I give you your choice. Either take the funeral, without another word, or sign this paper." He went out, and took the funeral.
Nothing passed for a few weeks, and then he came up to me one morning to return special thanks for my decisive action. " Anything less decisive would not," he said, "have availed ; and he now saw that indulgence to a mere scruple would have unfitted him for further service in the Church. Constituting himself a judge of one, he must have judged all ; and this would have been final and fatal."
This was going on continually. But what are three among so many? We were assisted largely by a District Visiting Society, chiefly, but not exclusively, of ladies, by whom the greater part of the sacramental alms wore dispensed. An account was rendered every month of visits paid and charity expended. All cases of sickness also were brought to immediate notice. Fifteen visitors reported to one Curate, and fifteen to another; and special cases were referred to myself.
I did not require my Curates to visit cases of dangerous infection, unless they had experience ; but I always went myself. I have never, as a general rule, admitting of exceptions when attendance would have been useless, refused to visit such cases, and I have never caught infection. The secret, humanly speaking, is fearlessness. I went, as a doctor goes, as a matter of course, and a matter of duty. When my family was around me, I never mentioned, either to wife, or child, or servant, when any dangerous visit had been paid : but I quietly changed coat and waistcoat, and said nothing about it. Whereas I have known several clergy, who from sheer nervousness have suffered; and one, who, having had to pass to his home under an archway, over which a case of typhus fever was lying, was wont to cover face and mouth, and run under with all speed. He was attacked with the same fever, and died.
I cannot enumerate the dreadful cases I have seen ; nor can I venture to narrate the dreadful stories I have heard by sick and dying beds. I knew almost everything, because I told nothing.
Two churches arose whilst I was Vicar. The one was built by the trustees from the fund at their disposal, on my urgent personal application. I had asked for three small churches, dotting the town ; and eight thousand pounds was promised, for their erection. But difficulties arose, and the promise was not fulfilled as made to me. One only was built by them, in my time. The erection of the other, was more peculiar and interesting.
A very kind, good, and wealthy cloth manufacturer, was retiring from business. I sat by his side one day at dinner, and suggested his doing something to leave a good savour behind him.
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"Why, build a church near to your great works, for the benefit of your people."
"I will think of it," he said ; and as he drove home, he told his lady that he would do it.
Two or three weeks afterwards, he was walking into town, and saw a poor boy sitting by the roadside and evidently very ill, — ill, in-truth, with typhus fever. As a magistrate, he stopped, and spoke to him, and told him where to go and what to do. In doing so, he caught the terrible infection, and in ten days was himself a dead man!
I saw him, but nothing special passed. His weeping widow sent for me again, after his death, and told me that she meant to carry out his purpose. But affairs were complicated, and it was a long time before his brothers could set things free ; and in the meantime I waited. The younger and more active brother was a huntsman, and a first-rate rider. One day he was out with the hounds, and had to cross a wide, deep river, in a ferry boat. He was safe enough, with some others, standing by the side of his horse and holding the bridle, when two-or three young farmers came hurrying up, and forced their horses into the boat. It swayed from side to side under the sudden pressure, upset, and men and horses were all swept down the stream. Happily, my friend kept hold of the bridle ; his horse swam well ; they reached the other side, and he lay fainting and prostrate on the bank. There and then the "Church" came into his mind, mingling with thanksgiving and gratitude to God ; and he resolved that, as a family memorial, it should be built. A call at the vicarage was his first act on his return home. I was out, but he left a message, and I went down at once to his counting-house. His first words were :—
"You want a church, do you not? I will see that one is built."
And so he did.
I was at once in communication with Mr. (not then Sir Gilbert) Scott, whose father had been my tutor, and he, a friend from his boyhood ; and he sent beautiful plans for choice. In the progress of the work I thought the east window, plain simple Gothic, rather commonplace, and mentioned that three brothers (John, Thomas, and Joseph) were concerned :— could they not be commemorated in some better and more effective way? Instantly he formed the window into three deep recesses, each one to be filled at the end, with rich stained glass commemorative of "St. John," "St. Thomas," and "St. Joseph ;" and thanked me for the thought which had made the chancel "so spicey."
All the parties are now deceased, but I have preached again and again in their church with feelings of tender regard mingled with regret, and associated with all these reminiscences.
Every week a meeting was held in the vestry of the parish Church, as in times past, for Scripture reading; but something more also was now added.
Any parishioner might attend, and bring "hard texts," or doubtful questions, or inquiries as to the path of duty, etc., etc. The questions were to be written on folded paper, no name being attached. They were simply laid upon the table, and when I came in, I mingled them all together, and after the "Scripture Collect," opened them one by one. Sometimes it was a hard text from Isaiah, or Ezekiel, or Galatians, or Revelation, or other parts of Scripture. Sometimes it was a question about Holy Baptism, or Holy Communion. Sometimes Church and Dissent were touched upon. Every parishioner who chose, might learn the Vicar’s opinion upon any point.
It was not only pleasant to them, but profitable to me : for it broke me off from Commentaries, and made me think out Holy Scripture for myself, and undid many a tangle, and untied many a knot. It went on for years, and was always well attended ; and if at any time papers fell short, exposition filled up the one hour allowed, with watch on table.
One evening, a gentleman stayed behind the rest ; and when they were gone, he explained his reason for doing so. He had not liked to trouble the minds of ethers with a part of Scripture which had greatly troubled himself. I inquired as to his meaning, and he opened his Testament at Romans iii. 10 : "As it is written," etc.
"Now," he said, "I do not find it is written anywhere, as here set down. I have looked all over the Bible to find the quotation, and have failed."
"Yes," I replied, "but if you had said quotations, you would not have failed. The Apostle quotes, not from one Psalm, but from several — not from one Prophet, but from several. The extracts are meant to prove the general sense of Scripture as to the corruption of human nature. St. Paul does not say, "As it is written by David, Isaiah, or Jeremiah ; but generally by the inspired writers." He had not thought of that, and was content.
He afterwards inquired about the Holy Sacrament, and wished to become a communicant ; but the expressions in the service were too strong for him. He did not feel that the "remembrance of his sins" was grievous to him, and "the burden of them intolerable." I was deeply interested in his state of mind, and told him that the office of the Holy Spirit was to "convince of sin :" and I bade him pray earnestly for the teaching of that great Guide and Comforter of the Church, in order that he might learn the deceitfulness of the heart, and the heinousness of sin in the sight of God. He was to come to me again in three months for further conference.
He came, and, with tears in his eyes, said, "I need no conference; God has heard my prayers. The remembrance of my sin is grievous unto me, and the burden of it intolerable!"
I invited him to Holy Communion, and the benefits of absolution then and there bestowed ; and he came constantly and happily for some months. He was Manager in one of our large banking companies, and lived most respectably, with his mother and a pious sister. The yearly statement of accounts drew on, and a meeting of the shareholders was called, and after it a luncheon was provided at the "Royal Hotel." I received myself a formal invitation. The whole was to him a matter of terrible excitement. Everything, however, went off well ; and he was in the hotel, welcoming his friends, when sudden faintness came on. He was led to a sofa ; and when I came down, I found him lying there — dead! Unknown to himself, he had heart-disease, and it proved fatal.
It may easily be imagined with what joy his sister heard of the way in which God had led him, and of the preparedness wrought for his sudden summons. She had remarked the change, but had not known the cause.
During the first seven years of my residence, I wrote at least seven hundred sermons. A congregation of two thousand people required all, and far more than all, the powers I possessed. I did not preach extempore : for even if I could have done so, I prefer the maturity of thought, and the pleasant Saturday night and Sunday morning feeling, of two written sermons safely nestling in their cases!
In one exceptional manner I may be said to have preached in two places nearly at one and the same time : for a young man, connected with a large Grammar School in my parish, was a very clever shorthand writer ; and sitting in a prominent pew in church, I had observed him taking down, with all diligence and great regularity, what I said in the pulpit. I thought it was for his own individual edification, and took no notice, till I heard one day from his father, the incumbent of a church in a fashionable watering-place, telling me that my ministrations were conferring a double benefit on the church ; for his son sent him every week in long hand, the sermon taken down in short-hand, and it was preached by him the Sunday after it had been preached by me. I strongly remonstrated with him on the dishonesty of such a proceeding : and threatened the young man with arrest by the verger. But it was in vain. The son only retired to a back seat in the gallery, and the father continued the double edification!
After the first seven years I slackened somewhat, and ventured on occasional repetition, and was not sorry to find that some sermons, when recognized, were welcomed as old friends. Courses of lectures were delivered on all possible subjects — the seven Penitential Psalms for Lent; the seven Wishes of St. Paul ; the Temptation ; the Lord’s Prayer ; the Wanderings of the Children of Israel ; the Lives of Samuel, Ruth, Jonah, Daniel ; events on the "Mountain-top," involving Noah and the Ark on Mount Ararat, Moses on Mount Zion, Aaron on Mount Hor, David on Mount Olivet, etc. Also, in the New Testament, the Sermon on the Mount, the Transfiguration, Calvary, and Bethany. The Epistle and Gospel, Lessons and Psalms, were always fruitful with texts ; and I think I could find seven sermons for every Sunday in the year. A little care, however, is sometimes needful in the selection of these last, and their adaptation to the hearers.
One circumstance in connection with a too strict following of the rule of selection above referred to, occurs opportunely to my mind, going back to past years. I knew a clergyman who was, in his time, a great favourite with King George IV. Whether his Majesty turned over the Bible for himself I know not, but he used often to discuss texts with his chaplain. Amongst many others, he one day selected the Parable of the Talents, and gave his royal views upon the subject. He was all wrong ; but it would not do for the chaplain to set him right. With all courtesy, therefore, he asked and obtained leave to preach a sermon on the subject, which accordingly he did ; and I presume his Majesty approved. It is not this to which I refer, but to a text selected from what used to be the first Lesson for the Evening Service on the Second Sunday after Trinity, and was taken from the history of Eli. The text was, "His sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not." Surely a most unguarded selection, for a sermon to George IV., by a Court chaplain. It was certainly not intentional. The King heard, and said nothing ; but the chaplain was never made a Bishop!
Whilst mentioning this, I recall earlier days, and remember the feeling of loyalty that used to pervade my heart as a young man, and rouse my loud tongue. But history reveals many secrets, and changes many minds. If loyal however, then, how much more loyal now, and with how much better cause! Has the throne ever been filled by one so faithful and true, so mindful of all high duties, so tender in her sympathies with sorrow, so impartial amidst the strife of parties, so loved and reverenced by all, as the gracious Queen whom God, in His good providence, has set over us? Loyalty was a name in time past ; it is a reality now!
It is a long step backward to go to King George IV., and his times. But they were stirring times, and filled with great names. My feet have been trodden on by the Life Guards’ horses again and again, in desperate efforts to see the Emperor Alexander of Russia, the King of Prussia, Blucher, Wellington, Soult, Metter-nich, Castlereagh, Canning, Peel, and many others, in the processions of those days. I well remember the last time I saw the Duke of Wellington. I was walking with my son, a noble little boy of nine years old (the wound opens, and my heart bleeds at the remembrance of him!), to, or from, the first Exhibition, when, passing Apsley House, the great gates stood open. A fine soldierly man of six feet high, who had, no doubt, faced the French in earlier days, stood inside. I asked him if the Duke was coming out. He looked at his watch, and said, "If you wait a minute and a half, you will see him." Then I said to my boy, "Now, look well at him, and then, when you are an old man, you will be able to say you 'have seen the Duke.'" At the time named, to a second, he appeared, mounted his horse, and passed through the gate. We lifted our hats, as in duty bound ; and he lifted his open hand to his forehead, as the manner of a Field-Marshal is ; and then, in a gentle canter, passed into the Park.
With a gentle canter, I also, as the manner of old men is, must get me back to my "Sermons."
One course, as yet unmentioned, led to somewhat memorable results. It was a time when Chartism was rampant ; and when a spirit of rebellion, or, at least, of insubordination, prevailed amongst the lower classes. I have seen twenty thousand men assembled in and about the market-place of my Parish, having marched from Manchester and the intervening towns, extinguished the fires in every engine-house, and thus put a stop to all the works : and I have seen them charged, and driven away like sheep, by a company or two of Lancers, after the Riot Act had been read. A huge Chartist Hall had been built, and a community of wives and goods was every evening advocated.
The leaders, of course, did the mischief ; but the followers were the sufferers. Politically, I was of course powerless ; but I had the church thrown open freely on Sunday evenings, and announced a course of lectures on the "Evidences of Christianity," and the "Bible as the Word of God." God vouchsafed a blessing ; and unprecedented crowds of operatives attended. Ante-chapel and aisles were filled each Sunday evening, and the remarks heard and reported to me were very encouraging. When the course of lectures was finished, the churchwardens came with a request that they might be printed. Of course, I assented ; and this assent was followed by a request from my district visitors, that I would print them in the form of separate tracts for circulation. To this also I agreed : and with a little fresh beginning and ending, they ceased to be sermons, and assumed the tract form. God’s blessing still followed, and the only difficulty reported to me, was that, when lent for reading, they could not be got back again. One man who refused for a time, at length surrendered his tract, saying, "You may take it now. I have learnt it by heart."
With a hope of still more extensive usefulness, I sent the printed sermons to the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, and the Committee agreed to purchase the copyright and put the work upon their list, if I would change the aspect of the whole from sermons to lectures — omitting texts and introductions — and receive the suggestions and corrections of the Episcopal referees. A glad assent was rendered, and one Episcopal referee took me in hand. I knew not who it was, but I felt flattered at receiving broad-sheet after broadsheet of suggestions, and criticisms, gently tendered, and always with deference to the author’s authority and responsibility. The Secretaries also recognized this ; and I assented to no omission or alteration which did not express my own views, or commend itself to my own mind.
The omission of an introductory chapter, when suggested, was refused. The addition of a chapter on Inspiration was willingly obeyed. When the whole was completed and printed, I was charmed to learn that he who had honoured me with his criticisms was no other than Dr. Kaye, the learned and distinguished Bishop of Lincoln.
The little volume has been upon the venerable Society’s list for thirty-five years, and still sells. Edition after edition has appeared unaltered, save by my address as changed from place to place, and I dare not enumerate the many pleasant testimonies to its usefulness which I have received. And it will be remembered that I am no semi-sceptic, in a sceptical age.
Two incidents, however, occur to memory, and may be mentioned.
A lady wrote to me and said that the original course of sermons, which had gone through, several editions, had fallen into her hands. Her eldest son had gone out to India, dearly beloved, but careless of the things belonging to his peace. She had fitted up his cabin, and amongst the books had placed my little volume of Evidences. In the tedium of the voyage he had opened and read the book, and had been greatly impressed ; and it had proved to him, through God's grace, the beginning of a new and deeply religious life. She was now sending out a second son, and had been seeking all through Paternoster Row, and amongst all the booksellers of London, to find another copy for him. She prayed me to send her one if I could. I explained that the volume had been originally printed by a local bookseller, but that she might now obtain as many copies as she pleased at one shilling each, by applying to the Christian Knowledge Society.
The other was a much more extraordinary case, and came to my knowledge quite unsought, through the medium of the chaplain of Lewes Gaol. A young, handsome and powerful man had been executed in the county gaol, in 1866, for the murder of a young woman, and the attempted murder of the policeman who came to arrest him.
"Come one step nearer," he said, "and you are a dead man."
A rush was made — he fired, and the policeman fell — but not dead.
Trial and condemnation followed, and an "ocean of upturned faces" (to use the chaplain’s-words) witnessed his execution. He was an illegitimate child, but not uncared for. By his own confession, however, he was, at eight years old, the best fighter, the most artful and expert thief of any child of his age. At. nineteen he had begun to drink, and went to-sea. He visited India and China. He joined the Tæping insurrection, and helped to hold the forts and lead the troops against the English. He then became a smuggler and a pirate in the Chinese waters, and several times escaped death only by hiding in the open-air coffins, covering himself with the mouldering bones of the dead Chinamen. He married several wives, and deserted them by turns. He was several weeks on board the Alabama. On his return to England he resided mostly at Brighton and Brentford, drinking and gambling. On his first entrance into prison, he scorned religion and gloried in his deeds of blood, and when told by the chaplain of God’s power to save even him, he replied—
"I am determined that He shan’t. I have been living a life," he added, "where I gave no quarter to others, and I don’t want any for myself."
One evening in April, 1866, after a busy day in the parish, I was glancing at the newspaper and my eye caught a paragraph headed, "The recent Brighton Murder." It contained a lengthened statement of the career of this man, whose name was Leigh ; and referred to a series of letters written by him to friends after sentence of death had been passed. It would be a repetition to give the whole, but a few words are necessary :—
"I am a living witness," he wrote, "of the results of infidelity. At nineteen years of age I was second officer of a large vessel, and very much liked by the owner and captain, until I imbibed the principles of infidelity. These soon took me amongst the most desperate characters. .... Companions or friends may perhaps say that it is the fear of death which has now brought me to repentance. You may tell them that I fear death as little as any sane man living. ..... The very means I took, in my drunken, ungodly, and infidel state, to secure my happiness, brought me to what I am ..... May it be a warning and an example to others, showing-how weak and degraded we become when we burst through the restraints of conscience and despise our only Saviour ..... Let me recommend to you a book which was, through God's mercy, my turning point. The title is— 'Why do you believe the Bible to be the Word of God ?' It was written by the Rev. —— and is published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge."
Need I say that my heart beat, and my cheek flushed as I read this paragraph? The reason will be easily understood by any one who has the cure of souls. I wrote at once to the chaplain, and he expressed his full belief in the sincerity of the man, and his deep repentance. He had at first given up his case as hopeless ; and as a last resort had left a few books out of the library, in his cell, amongst which was my own.
These Reminiscences are not advertisements, and hence I have not alluded to the literary part of my life ; but the present is, in every sense, an exceptional case, and my narrative may tend, perhaps, to keep the book on the Society’s list, and prevent the substitution for it of more fashionable books of Evidence-Science is a useful handmaid ; but I think that, to the unlearned, she suggests more doubts than she solves.
Of course, these Sermons which I am calling to mind, whether single or in sets, were not confined to my own parish. I have preached at Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Bradford, Halifax, Huddersfield, Wakefield, Dewsbury, York, Scarborough, Bridlington, Worcester, Stafford, Newcastle, Truro, Brighton, Ramsgate, Margate, Dover, Canterbury, Islington, London, Guernsey, Paris, Lucerne, Chamounix, Interlacken, and other places.
The sermon at Manchester was one of a course preached in 1858, during the season of the Art Treasures’ Exhibition, and was subsequently printed, with eighteen others, in an octavo volume. The sermon at Leeds was in the parish church for a charitable object ; and so complicated at that time were the movements attendant on Divine service, that I absolutely refused any participation in it beyond taking my stand on the south side of the Communion Table, and reading the Epistle. "These arrangements are not mine," said the kindly vicar, when service and sermon were ended ; "they are all my five curates’ doing."
At Bradford, Dr. Scoresby, wishing to please all three parties in the church, invited Archdeacon Musgrave, Dr. Hook, and myself to preach. Dr. Hook preached in the evening, and his sermon, intentionally the highest, was certainly the most thoroughly evangelical of the three. No one could surpass him in that respect when he pleased ; but he did not always please. His sermons varied with the place and people. I retain the most kindly personal recollection of him, and have read his "Life" with the deepest interest. His biographer very nearly escapes the great error of the day, into which the biographer of Bishop Selwyn plunges headlong, viz., the protrusion of his own sentiments, and of himself. Who cares to know what school a biographer belongs to—what doctrinal teaching he approves or condemns — what men of eminence he admires or ignores? If he would or could only ignore himself, his pages might please. But I have heard a sensible lady say, after reading "Selwyn’s Life," that "The biographer made her dislike the Bishop." A rapid sale at first tells nothing ; for a book must be read, even to be disliked. Dr. Hook's "Life" is nearly, if not quite, free from this reproach, and also from another, viz., that of undue exaltation. The Doctor is not placed, as the Bishop is, nearly on a level with St. Paul! The Church Poet also may be excused if he has never met Dr. Hook in social life, never sat by his side at table, never listened to his jokes, when he writes that he was—
- "Earnest as Peter, sweet as John."
To those who have known and greatly valued Dr. Hook they sound sarcastic.
I need scarcely say that there are brilliant exceptions to the above criticism, of which the first volume of the Life of Bishop Wilberforce is an example. Would that the biographer had been spared to complete it!
At Worcester, my sermon was in the nave of the Cathedral, then under restoration, now so wonderfully and perfectly restored by Sir G. Gilbert Scott.
Four happy months were once passed in Guernsey ; duties being exchanged. They were followed by the publication of a little volume of Sermons—the only peculiarity being, that when I left the entire choice to the petitioners, they enumerated both the fifteen texts and sermons which they preferred. I was very glad to gratify them, in acknowledgement of unceasing kindness to me and mine. One peculiarity comes to mind in connection with this island. I was told beforehand that Holy Communion was administered in the church I was to serve, to a railful of communicants at a time, and that words not in the rubric were expected before they rose from their knees. To the first I did not specially object ; to the second I did ; and I was left at liberty to act as I pleased. The Sunday and the administration came round ; and the first railful having received, I looked for their retirement ; but they would not rise nor move. What was I to do? To remonstrate, and thus use my own words, would be as unrubrical as to use those to which they had been accustomed, and for which they waited in silent reverence. I had no alternative ; and the words, "Go in peace : and the God of peace be with you!" sounded very sweet, raised the bended knees, and dismissed each successive row of communicants.
A sermon preached at Hastings thirty years ago was brought to mind the other day by one who heard it, and fully appreciates the wonderful significance of the text.
"Do you remember preaching for Mr. Vores, who now rests from his labours?" — I was asked : "And do you remember your text?"
"How should I?" was my reply.
"But I do," was the response. "'His name shall be called .... Counsellor' ; that was the text, and I perfectly remember the sermon."
We were staying at Torquay. The clergyman was suddenly taken ill, and I was asked to perform his service. I preached from i Kings xxii. 34 — The arrow shot at a venture. The congregation was what was called "spiritually-minded and the only comment I heard at the time was from a prominent member of it, who said, "He seems to think we are all sinners!" But when I visited the place a few years after, the Incumbent begged for another sermon ; for, he said, the very best person amongst his hearers, and the most efficient helper in his work, was an individual who had been brought savingly to Christ by that sermon. There had been an opening "between the joints of the harness."
In my own parish one winter morning I was sitting by the fire, talking with the mistress of the house, and the mother of a family, when suddenly she covered her face, and burst into a fit of sobbing.
"Oh, sir!" she said, in explanation, "I cannot keep it in any longer. Your sermons of late have brought me with tears and prayers to the foot of the cross. Oh, tell me what I must do to be saved!"
I was preaching once on the resurrection of Christ, and a young man was present who went afterwards to walk the medical hospitals in London. To all the scoffs and jeers of his fellow-students, he answered by referring to this sermon :—
"You may say what you please" (these were his words, as told me by his own mouth) : "you may say what you please. But I am quite sure that Jesus Christ rose from the dead ; and if He is risen, Christianity is true."
I might enumerate other equally interesting cases, familiar no doubt to the experience of many of my Clerical brethren—but not to all. For some dig all day long, but find no diamonds. The cases I have mentioned, however, will suffice to prove that I have no wish to depreciate the power of the pulpit. But I seemed to learn about this period, and the impression has deepened by experience, that other influences were becoming more powerful than in former days.
The preaching of the everlasting Gospel, when prayerful and earnest, is still the wisdom of God in a mystery, and the power of God unto salvation. It builds up the Church, restores the soul, rekindles first love, heals wounds, brings back wanderers, bends the knee, keeps the Bible open, comforts the sorrowful, supports the weak, and promotes unity and brotherly love, But Confirmation has come to the front :— not as superseding, but supplementing. In earlier days it was little thought of. The Confirmation day often began in levity, and ended in excess. The administration, though kindly, was very infrequent, and wanting in seriousness. It was sometimes administered but once in seven years ; and then the Bishop would move about, confirming aisles-full of the candidates, laying hands on some twice over, and on others not at all!
But how is all this changed! How regular now the annual or triennial administration! How careful the previous preparation! How serious the addresses at the time! How devout and impressive the Holy Communion following.
When Holy Baptism is faithfully and prayerfully administered, and when Baptismal Grace proves effectual in its operation, no wonder that Confirmation, thus ordered, becomes oftentimes the turning-point in life!
The soul is brought savingly to Christ, and the life dedicated to His service. And is not this what we desire? And if God so wills it, why should we complain? Is it not better to begin God’s service in youth than in mature age? Is it not easier to train the slender stem than to bend the gnarled oak? Was it not the "young ; man" whom Jesus looked upon, and loved? Was it not young children whom He took up in His arms ; and blessed?
Let us then go on "teaching and preaching Jesus Christ" to all ; but let us not be surprised, if more young persons find Christ in Confirmation, than old persons do in sermons. Let any faithful clergyman pass in review his staff—his district visitors, Sunday-school teachers, Scripture readers, and Church communicants, and. learn what was their turning-point in the Divine: life and I think, if asked, the majority would not name the Sermon, but the Confirmation.
Mission Services, now so common, tend to confirm this view : they are like the calling for "another vessel," because "the oil has stayed."
Personalities — Bad Habits
How I got rid of some of these I will now relate. And in naming "bad habits," I do not refer to the many sins of "omission" and "commission" which press upon the conscience of every minister of God. These are for tears and prayers before the loving Father’s throne — these are for the foot of the cross of that dear Saviour whose blood cleanseth from all sin — these are for the aid of that Holy Spirit who revives the work and comforts the soul.
But what I refer to are habits, not bad in themselves perhaps, but better got rid of : and which with me found place in reading, snuff-taking and smoking. I am to tell, in these reminiscences, how I corrected what had got wrong.
I was a great smoker in early life, and all through College and afterwards, never passed a day and never slept a night without my cigars. The time came for Holy Orders. Was the habit to be allowed or not? Better not. I sat by the fire with a friend, in the hotel at Lichfield. Next day we were to be ordained. The cathedral clock struck twelve. At the end I dropped my cigar into the fire. "That is the last," I said ; and I have not smoked another for five-and-forty years.
I took snuff much longer, and in defiance of all remonstrances. "You have your hobbies," was my rejoinder to them all, "and I have mine. I let you alone ; let me alone."
And I went on filling my stomach, and injuring my digestion by day, and snoring and keeping my wife awake at night. But one day I was poorly and did not get up till mid-day, and recollected whilst dressing that I had omitted my first dear waking "pinch!"
"Suppose I get through the other half off the day," I said to myself. "I will try."
Now I had just ordered down from London a six-pound jar of beautiful snuff, and my little silver snuff-box, fitting my waistcoat pocket, was filled, and close to hand and nose ; but I tried for the rest of the day, and the next, and the next; and so I went on, saying not a word to man or woman. At last my wife said to me, "I think, you do not take as much snuff as you did."
"Snuff," I replied, "I have not taken a pinch for six weeks."
The habit was broken determinately, and given up ; and the jar disposed of amongst my poor old men and women. I have never carried a box since ; but when I see a brother clergyman take out his box, at Synod, or Visitation, or Rural Deanery, I ask for a pinch and then I sneeze violently like any other man!
From earliest life I devoured stories. All Walter Scott’s as they came out, and all his contemporaries, and Sir Charles Grandison and Evelina, etc., were my delight and joy. I read all that fell in my way, by day, and sat up late, with them at night. They refreshed me when weary, and carried away my thoughts from many an anxious care. So far all was well enough. But as I advanced in life, other reading got dull! Biography I did not care for. History sent me to sleep. Science I hurried over. Divinity I could do without. Sweets had spoiled my digestion ; and I was getting dyspeptic. This would never do. Something must be tried, I would see what abstinence would accomplish.
For ten years I never read a story, except such as came in the magazines of thirty years ago. All Disraeli’s novels, and Marryat’s, and countless others, were coming out. They were all in the public library of my parish, which contained ten thousand volumes, and were all on the shelves inviting my perusal there, and awaiting me at home ; but I never opened one, till the dyspepsia passed away. Then volumes of History, sacred and profane, Church records, Divinity, and Biography, and Science, came back again to their proper place and gave me proper pleasure : and then I could read a story, as I read one now, for a wholesome change. But more frequently than not, the volumes glide away with the first one read, and the last peeped at, just to see whether "the lady married, and had sons and daughters, and made her husband happy for the rest of life!"
And now fifteen years began to tell ; and health began to fail ; and worries, such as are caused by great Collegiate schools in debt, and newly-opened Cemeteries with double chapels, began to give sleepless nights and weary days.
Paintings came on, and giddiness, and extra medical aid was sought; and the decree was passed — "Lock up your desk and live ; stay as you are, and die."
The desk was locked, and the parish left; and for eighteen months I was a wanderer on the face of the earth, unable to attend church, or even to kneel down and say my prayers ; but allowed to walk and talk with God, to look at pictures, and paint them, to cut out ships and rig and fight them. These latter have been preserved, and they are fighting still, under glass shades, memorials of the Russian War, and showing the terrible effects of gun cotton! And then, through God’s mercy, health returned, and my large Northern parish, which had been well served in my absence, was exchanged for a small and quiet one in Kent.