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A Memoir of John Armstrong, D.D.
Late Lord Bishop of Grahamstown

By the Rev. T. T. Carter

Oxford and London: John Henry and James Parker, 1857.


It was stated that Bishop Armstrong in his earlier life frequently wrote poetry. In after years he would still occasionally write short pieces, of which many have been found among his papers. A few have been selected as specimens of his style and tone of thought. One is printed in its unfinished state. They are chiefly early productions: one only, the last, has a peculiar interest, having been written in Africa:--



Forth, Israel, from your sacred gate!
Lest ye be late:
The King is here whom ye did wait!
Flowers, boughs, and garlands hither bring,
Speed on the cry, "The King, the King!"
Strew all His way with branches meet,
Lest the vile street
Should soil a Monarch's holy feet!

And forth they came,--a startled throng,
Each with his song,
[And noisy welcome, loud and long,]
And ev'ry hand green boughs threw down,
Or flowers weav'd quick into a crown;
While some with sudden rapture tore
The robes they wore,
And laid them on His way before.

On, on He came: all turn'd to trace
The Monarch's face,
The promis'd flower of David's race;
When lo! a humble Man doth pass,
Sitting in meekness on an ass;--
Yet still the crowd with lavish tongue
His welcome sung,
And the whole heavens with triumph rung.

'Tis past,--the triumph and the day;--* * * *
Dead garlands strew the silent way;
The host has fled that gather'd there,
The shout has died upon the air;
Night's [gathering] shadows dimly fall,
And darken all
Hours, days have pass'd: we look again
On the same plain,--
From the same gate as vast a train

Rush forth, with murmurings wild and deep,
Like torrents thund'ring down the steep;
But who is He they bear with curse and cry,

Grief in His eye,
And His brow wet with agony?
Say who is He whose robes they rend,
Whose mild eyes bend
Round the hoarse crowd, yet meet no friend?
Whom as He moves, slow, spent, faint, pale,
Vile shouts and viler strokes assail?
Though stones and scourges tear His check,
He doth not speak,
But bears all wrongs, calm, silent, meek.
Oh, who is this? for now the cry
Is "Crucify!"
A guilty cross is rais'd on high,
And lo! they lift Him o'er the crowd:
Earth never heard a shout so loud;
For as all see the hated Form,
Their wrath doth warm. * * * *
Can this be man? Man never bore
Such pangs before.
* * * *
It cannot last * * * *
Are deepening, thick'ning towards the close,

[The lines wanting in the unfinished MS. are marked with asterisks. In two cases, words have been introduced to complete the lines, but they are marked with brackets.]

A mist is o'er His eyes;
Father, forgive, forgive, He sighs;
The spirit flies, He droops, He dies.
The very earth, as though in pain
To see Him slain,
Doth heave a mighty sigh,--in twain
Is rent the temple's sacred veil;
The sun doth mourn, the sky grows pale.
What! Did earth, sky, sun, ever shew
Such signs of woe
For the best Saint that died below?
Who, then, is this? Draw near and see:--
About the tree
Some women hang.
Ah! is it He, Once worshipp'd?
Yes, 'tis He, the Same, Thus roughly dragg'd to death and shame,
Whom the same crowd so lately bless'd,
A kingly Guest,
Whose path their brightest garments dress'd.

[It is not generally supposed that the Lord left Jerusalem on Good-Friday by the same gate by which He entered it on palm-Sunday, as stated in this poem.--(Ed.)]


"And when He had spoken these things, while they beheld, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight."--Acts i. 9.

The Apostles stood, the holy few, Sons of the Cross, the first, the best,
The faithful followers, pure and true,
These stood around earth's Heavenly Guest.
No wond'ring crowd that idly stray,
Blind souls that knew and lov'd Him not,
That would not worship, praise, or pray,
Were there to desecrate the spot.
Those who had followed long and far,
Through scorn, and hate, and all His woes,
True to their King, as Bethlehem's star,
Such witnesses the Master chose.

These, as they prized each sacred word,
And caught the sound with watchful ear,
Knew not the loving voice they heard
Would speak no more to mortals here.
He touch'd the mountain, on His own
Th' incarnate Saviour paused awhile;
Then from His footstool to His throne
He rose, and left this world of guile.
E'en while His flock were circling round,
Straight from the midst He soar'd on high,
With wondrous motion spurn'd the ground,
And brighten'd as He reach'd the sky.
Still they, the few that lov'd their Lord,
With awful wonder watch'd His flight,
Till a deep cloud around Him pour'd,
In mercy spar'd their aching sight.
Else the full Godhead, hid within,
In all its glory breaking through,
Had smitten senses weak through sin,
And dimm'd those eyes that dar'd the view.
No angry thunder shook the air;
As at His death, no signs of wrath;
No tremblings of the earth were there,
No lightnings flash'd about His path.
But all was solemn, quiet, still,--
Earth felt the calm, and Heav'n above;
Rejoicing in His Father's will,
He went in peace That came in love.


"Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth."--St. Luke xv. 10.

"God's angels,"--'tis the Saviour's voice,--
"E'en o'er one sinner's prayer rejoice."
What! do the Spirits midst heaven's bliss
Feel for a world as dark as this?

Do they, whose voices clear and sweet
God's praise in endless songs repeat,
Like some strong river, ever flowing,
Like wind in early freshness blowing,--

Do they, who are as suns in light,
With sapphire garments shining bright,
With wings like crystal, all on fire,
A dazzling, holy, glorious choir,--

Do these in heaven all pure and fair
For things on earth so keenly care,
That not one prodigal unseen
Kneels to confess himself unclean?

Does every tear from sinner's eye,
Does every contrite throb and sigh,
Each broken, trembling prayer for grace,
Or blush of shame that warms the face,

Pass from the earth on unseen wing,
And make rejoicing angels sing,
Chanting their raptures through the sky,
Till all the air is melody?

One sinner charms that glowing throng;
One sinner fills the heavens with song;
One sinner brightens angels' smile,
Who, sinning, feels and weeps his guile.

Yes, every secret, still retreat,
Where, fearful of its own deceit,
The bleeding heart to men unknown
Reveals its guilt to God alone,

Has hidden angels gliding in,
All list'ning to that tale of sin,
Hov'ring in airy shape above
The lowly form in joyful love.

The gladd'ning Spirits round his head
Mark the quick tears sincerely shed,
Each holy purpose seal'd with prayer,
Each pure intention whisper'd there.

Where is that friendless spot of ground
That hath not angels wand'ring round?
Where solitude, if these be near
With anxious, watchful, loving ear?

Strange, joyful thought! how high a place
Man holds that hath such gifts of grace!
Himself how low! how far from heaven!
Yet for his brethren Seraphs given!

How great, how deep His love, Who sends
Such ministers to be our friends!
At this our dazzled senses sink,--
"Lord, we believe,"--yet dare not think!


Save me, ye woods, from this hot, jaded world,
And while ye twine your green arms o'er my head,
Make the cool arches of your ancient trees
Lead me to contemplation calm and pure.
Ah! this is freedom, here refresh'd I pace
The chequer'd pavement of the turfy floor,
Alternate cross'd with light and shade, the sun's
Kind mixture, as aslant his golden eye
Looks thro' the chinks of the high leafy roof,
And stripes the path with lines of cheerful light.
Yet is not silence here;--O better far
Than silence is the concord of sweet sounds:
Silence hath only charms when Harmony,
Her fairer sister, is not by; or when
Between the intervals of such sweet speech,
She gives us time to ponder on those tones
In an entranced pause of mute delight,
Ere harmony begins again; or when
Hoarse Discord's raven throat has grated loud
In harsh vibrations on the tortur'd ear.
Here is no silence, but no wrangling, for
The feather'd world is singing all in peace,--
Light, shade, birds, breezes soft, the higher key
Of cheerful blackbird, mix'd with deeper tones
Of solemn rooks that sweep like funeral train,
Chanting their dirge aloft,--these fill the mind
With a compos'd and tranquil joy,--the pulse
Of sober pleasure beats with healthful strokes,
And all the frame with temperate gladness glows.
Now stop and hearken, for the humblest brake
Yields its divinity to thoughtful souls.
Are not these notes of birds all different?
Yet, Tho' all these diff'rent throats in diff'rent keys
Are pitch'd, lo! nothing jars; and though, 'twould seem
Confusion, it is concord. Harmony
From many sweets thus sweetly is distill'd,
As rose and woodbine, musk and violet
Mar not each other's perfume, but combine
With various breaths to scent the fragrant lawn.
Unwise were they, who of the higher tones
Enamour'd, wish'd that all the rest were hush'd.
They each set off the other;--clouds and sun
Both make the glory of an April day.
And thus, methinks, these flutt'ring choristers
Shadow the saintly music of the Church.
For do not Saints for diff'ring graces shine,--
This for his faith, and that for love or truth?
Faith, love, truth, knowledge, in each other's arms,
Each like the issue of one stock, impress'd
With mark of common origin, yet each
With something quite apart from all the rest,
Make up a living, loving harmony.
O! tuneful spirits by One Spirit tun'd,
Ye are the music of the world, the harps
That holy inspiration sweeps, and lo!
Your thousand strings, so various, all speak
One language; strongly ye articulate
The truth, both strongly and yet sweetly true,
Strong sweetness and sweet strength alike are yours:
Variety yet unity, as when
We hear in some cathedral's tuneful aisles
The blending tones of men and children meet.
Here in this green cathedral, thus o'erarch'd,
1 see the image of the Church; 'twere ill
So to admire with such exclusive love
One grace as to neglect the rest,--to dote
On faith, and have no ear for charity.
Give me the love of all th' inspir'd tones
That Saints in their pure lives express; let me
Not one, but all, embrace in wond'ring awe,
Discerning in that multitude of notes
One breath that stirs them all--that breath Divine!


Lo, o'er the world, half sun, half storm,
The promis'd arch doth shine,
And as th' harmonious colours form,
We trust in mercy's sign.
So o'er our hearts, 'mid all our pains,
Hope still divides the view,
And shapes, as sorrow darkly rains,
Its glory from the dew.

So o'er our chast'ning hours of woe
The Cross a brightness sheds,
And while our life seems rough below,
A light gleams o'er our heads.

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