Project Canterbury

Hugh James Rose
1795-1838

Text from Lead, Kindly Light: Studies of Saints and Heroes of the Oxford Movement, by Desmond Morse-Boycott. (New York: Macmillan, 1933).


TO understand the vocation of the Rev. Hugh James Rose, one should repair to a Mr. T. Sikes, pastor of an obscure village in Northamptonshire, who, alone among his contemporaries at the close of the eighteenth century, possessed a spirit of prophecy. As he has fulfilled the Scriptural test of a true prophet, his words to a friend are worthy of remembrance:

The friend speaks thus to Dr. Pusey:

"I well remember the very countenance, gesture, attitude and tone of good Mr. Sikes, and give you, as near as may be, what he said.

"I seem to think I can tell you something which you who are young may probably live to see, but which I, who shall soon be called away off the stage, shall not. Wherever I go all about the country I see amongst the clergy a number of very amiable and estimable men, many of them much in earnest, and wishing to do good. But I have observed one universal want in their teaching, the uniform suppression of one great truth. There is no account given anywhere, so far as I see, of the one Holy Catholic Church. I think that the causes of this suppression have been mainly two. The Church has been kept out of sight, partly in consequence of the civil establishment of the branch of it which is in this country, and partly out of false charity to Dissent. Now, this great truth is an article of the creed, and, if so, to teach the rest of the Creed to its exclusion must be to destroy ‘the analogy or proportion of the faith [ten analogian tes pisteos]. This cannot be done without the most serious consequences. The doctrine is of the last importance and the principles it involves of immense power, and some day, not far distant, it will judicially have its reprisals. And whereas the other articles of the Creed seem now to have thrown it into the shade, it will seem, when it is brought forward, to swallow up the rest. We now hear not a breath about the Church; by-and-by, those who live to see it will hear of nothing else, and just in proportion perhaps to its present suppression will be its future development. Our confusion nowadays is chiefly owing to the want of it, and there will be yet more confusion attending its revival. The effects of it I even dread to contemplate, especially if it come suddenly. And woe betide those, whoever they are, who shall, in the course of Providence, have to bring it forward. It ought, especially of all others, to be matter of catechetical teaching and training. The doctrine of the Church Catholic and the privileges of Church Membership cannot be explained from pulpits; and those who will have to explain it will hardly know where they are, or which way they are to turn themselves. They will be endlessly misunderstood and misinterpreted. There will be one great outcry of Popery from one end of the country to the other. It will be thrust upon minds unprepared and on an uncatechized Church. Some will take it up and admire it as a beautiful picture others will be frightened and run away and reject it and all will want a guidance which one hardly knows where they shall find. How the doctrine may be first thrown forward we know not, but the powers of the world may any day turn their backs upon us, and this will probably lead to those effects I have described."

How the doctrine may be first thrown forward we know not. We who look back upon a century of the Catholic Revival ought to know, though we do not widely know, that Hugh James Rose threw it forward.

The elder son of a Rev. William Rose and Susanna his wife, he was born in the parsonage of Little Horsted in Sussex on June 9, 1795 - His nurse, who had never had the care of a child before, seems, though very young, to have been given a free hand with him and to have used it discreetly. She taught him so well that before he could speak he could pick out letters on a chart. Before he was four he had mastered the Latin Grammar, and was an omnivorous reader. His mother says: " I recollect one summer morning (he then slept in our room)—knowing he was awake and yet not hearing him—his father asked, 'What are you doing?' 'Reading Knox's Elegant Extracts.’ ‘You can't understand what you are reading? ‘O, but I can, Papa,’ and he told us what it was. He was then about four years old." A few weeks later he was immersed in The Arabian Nights.

From Little Horsted the family removed to Uckfield, where Mr. Rose conducted a school and ministered. Hugh was a delicate child and gave them anxiety. He was given freedom to please himself in his studies, which now included Greek and Heraldry. He showed a talent, also, for drawing.

Precocious children are not attractive, but Hugh was an exception. He had a singular loveliness of character and "the 'Commandment with promise' was 'Written indelibly on his inmost nature." Fortunately, too, he could mix with his father's scholars, and found a happy home in holidays, as he grew older, at Sheffield Place, where he tutored Lord Sheffield's son. He went up to Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1813. There he did well, and became a figure in the Cambridge Union. "From a boy," says Burgon, who struggled eagerly to rescue Rose from the limbo of forgetfulness—he is one of those who seem born to be forgotten while lesser heroes gain the haloes—

He had been a prodigious reader, and cherished, as a very young man, a burning desire to acquaint himself with every department of polite learning. It was a thirst for knowledge, of which ordinary spirits seem scarcely to have a notion. To the writers of antiquity he chiefly devoted himself . . .

His learning, indeed, was already profound and astonished Bishop Blomfield, who wrote, in reply to a criticism made by the youthful scholar of one of his books (and that upon a subject remote): "There are not more than five people in England who really understand or care about these things; and I am glad to perceive that you are going to be . . . sixth." He was unsuccessful, however, in securing a fellowship at Trinity, and gave up residence in 1818, being ordained in the following year to the curacy of Buxted. He married and settled down, as far as any could tell to a life of uneventful obscurity, dividing his attention between pupils at Maresfield (where he had removed) and parochial work. But in i8zi he was given the living of Horsham. There he did a remarkable work. His people flocked to church in large numbers and he was much beloved, a faithful dispenser of the Word and Sacraments in the simple way of the old High Churchmen. His thorn in the flesh was asthma, and when he was very low in health (in 1823) he was persuaded to go abroad.

It was the phenomenon of German Protestantism, as the system was to be seen at work in Prussia, which shocked his piety, aroused his worst fears, exercised Ws intellect [says Burgon]. A rationalizing school, of which the very characteristic was the absolute rejection of a Divine Revelation, dominated at that time in Prussia, and furnished (him) with materials for raising his voice in solemn warning to his countrymen, at a time when in high places the fires of faith and love were burning very low.

Meanwhile another Apostle was feeling his way through the maze of German thought, and, while recognizing with alarm the possible consequences thereof, becoming convinced that it was wholly sincere and might produce much good. This was Dr. Pusey, whose tale is told elsewhere. The result was a regrettable controversy between him and Rose which engaged much attention; but Rose was undoubtedly right in his estimate of the effect of German thought upon the Faith, and Pusey seems, in after years, to have modified his views. These two young champions of orthodoxy were seeing the same enemy from different vantage ground; Rose desired to destroy it; Pusey to find some good in it. . . .

In 1830 Rose was presented to the living of Hadleigh in Suffolk, and promptly rebuilt the parsonage. His study must rank first among the "Rooms of the Catholic Revival." I should like to write a book on the Rooms. It would be a short book, composed of seven chapters. The first Room I am about to describe. The second I describe in my chapter on Charles Marriott. The third would be Charles Kingsley's study at Eversley, and the fourth the little cell at Edgbaston where Newman penned the Apologia; the fifth Keble's room at Hursley; the sixth the bare cell of Cardinal Manning at Westminster; and the seventh the garret in which Father Wainwright, the saint who carried Lowder's work at Wapping into the present generation, died a few years ago. My choice is possibly arbitrary, but the theme is of interest. At least my choice of Hadleigh cannot be disputed.

There Rose founded the British Critic. The aim of the Critic was to defend the Church. One afternoon he had been visited by a London publisher who was prepared to undertake commercial responsibility if he would consent to be Editor. He had many scruples, and his health was bad, but he consented, and his organ soon became the Church magazine of the period. Thus he was drawn into the centre of affairs, and began to make friendships with those whose names are familiar to this day, while his own is forgotten.

We come now to that tremendous moment when the Catholic Revival took shape through the initiative of Rose. We enter Rose's study. It is a beautiful room in the back of the house, looking towards the garden. Under one window there is a desk heaped with papers, by another a large table with a round-backed chair. The table has two drawers. Its surface, shining in the sun as it falls through the window, has a blotter, and a tidy array of writing materials. It is the plain desk of a man who means business and does it. There are none of the easy chairs that would grace the room of a modern Anglo-Catholic calling a conference of clergy at a crisis. Neither are there ash-trays or a tobacco jar. Those you might find in Kingsley's study at Eversley, but a minute research into the habits of the Tractarians is entirely negative in the matter of smoking.

The chair, I have said, is a round-backed one, made for a man who has to sit upright at his work. It is a bed of suffering. Many a time has Rose sat there the long night through, hearing the clock in the hall tick away the slow watches, choking for breath. Many a dawn has he struggled out of it, exhausted in mind and body. Many a time has he sighed a deep sigh of unutterable weariness at the sight of the literary work that gave him no respite. Poor Rose—capable of prodigious effort, yet hampered at every turn. To-day he is expecting visitors. He will hide his weariness. He will assume the aspect of an alert scholar. If his tired mind wanders away he will look at the crucifix in a small triptych that stands behind his silver inkpots. He has attended to the parochial business of the day and sits in eager expectation. He has invited his young curate to attend the conference. The curate enters and, mindful of his low estate, keeps silence after he has been introduced to the visitors, who come in one by one. Mrs. Rose met them as they came through the entrance of the old tower built by Archdeacon Pykenham in 1495. They inquired after Rose's health, and she told them the truth; after her own, and she, worn out by her husband's malady, made a bright answer. But I must not forget the curate. His name is R. C. Trench. He is to become Archbishop of Dublin.

The formal greetings over, the visitors are shown to their rooms, and return again to the study. The Rev. the Hon. A. P. Perceval and William Palmer, quiet, serious men, come first, and quietly talk about ecclesiological matters, and the difficulties that are agitating Oxford. Froude joins them with a merry jest on his lips, and whether they like it or not the desultory talk immediately seems more in keeping with the Common Room at Oriel than the study of the Editor of the British Critic.

"A most enjoyable fellow," thinks Rose, "but rather flippant. He watches the face of the eager, merry speaker and sees a turn of the mouth which indicates wistful yearning for something unattained, and it fills him with sympathetic melancholy. A dashing fellow indeed, in neglige dress, with a large cravat and very tall collar, his hair straggling all over his forehead; a "blood" by the look of him, but then, he is Froude of Oriel, and his works have gone before him. Rose has heard, perhaps, that Froude wears a hair-shirt, and wonders if the story is true. The hour points to noon, and two more visitors are expected, John Henry Newman and John Keble. At that moment the post-boy comes, and a maid brings Rose a letter.

"That's from Newman. . ." says Froude, looking over Rose's shoulder. "Isn't he coming?" "I am afraid not," says Rose, disappointedly. "He hasn't had time to turn round. Well, Keble may be here any minute, so let us pray and begin our conference." Silence falls upon the group of men. They kneel in supplication. They seat themselves. They talk, rather aimlessly at first, of the state of Church affairs, of the secularization of the State, of the possibility of Disestablishment and Disendowment, of the oblivion into which true Church principles have fallen. But let me now employ, not my imaginings, but the words of William Palmer.

We met after breakfast for some hours each day for three days, sitting round the room. Each in succession spoke on the dangers of the Church and the remedies suggested: after which we all expressed opinions. The publication of Tracts and other works was much dwelt on, but we could not settle any details. All, I believe, felt the seriousness of this,—the first attempt to combine the preservation of great essential principles. I know I was myself impressed with the importance of what we were about, but on the whole the result was disappointing : it did not lead to the practical agreement we needed. We had to adjourn the whole matter to Oxford.

They were glad to have Newman and Keble at the second session at Oxford. Keble's absence from the first was explained by the following letter, its interesting nature prompting me to give it in full:

MY DEAR FRIEND,—

Mr. Palmer has communicated to me your kind and tempting invitation, which I heartily wish it was in my power to accept. Believe me, few schemes would be more pleasant to me, if I was in a condition to indulge in schemes at all. But my Father's great age and failing health, and the circumstance that he has no one to be with him in my absence but my sister, who is never well, make me quite a home-bird,—unless when I can get my brother or some of his family to take my place: and then I am bound to be working at Hooker, who hangs on hand sadly on account of these my engagements. Nevertheless I would put by everything and come to you, if I could persuade myself that I could be of much use in discussions such as you and our friends are meditating: but I know my own deficiency in ecclesiastical learning so well as to be quite prepared to bear or read with great profit what might pass on such an occasion, but very unequal to suggest or argue points at the time. And this is really the plain truth, and makes me tolerably sure that altho' I should deeply regret missing such a visit as you offer me, your counsels will have no great loss.

It is beyond my scope to discuss the second session, but its connexion with that convened by Rose is obvious, and we are entitled to regard him as the progenitor of all Anglo-Catholic Congresses. Burgon says:

At Oxford therefore, on their return, the friends (with Newman and Keble) took counsel together;-Froude . . . rendering the good cause the greatest disservice in his power by speaking of the Hadleigh Conference in a letter to a friend as " the conspiracy" ; which letter was soon afterwards published. Undeniable however it is that the Hadleigh Conference had given definite form and substance to the idea of united action. . . .

The Hadleigh Conference had taken place on July 25, 1833, eleven days after the Assize Sermon had been preached by Keble. Little did the friends who met at Hadleigh know the sorrow that was gripping the heart of their host, revealed in the following letter, written a few weeks before the Conference:

It is difficult to say how much I regret the loss of Hadleigh . . . but I have not had one day's health, and hardly one night's rest, since I came . . . I am tongue-tied and hand-tied, doing nothing in my parish, and so exhausted by sitting up at night that I can hardly read or write in the day. . . . My wife, who loves this place exceedingly, behaves like a heroine about it.

He was doomed to leave, for the hand of death was upon him. For a season he worked in London, relieved by its fogs and smoke. Then important work was thrust upon him at Durham. It soon overwhelmed him and he had to abandon it. He became the friend and confidant of Archbishop Howley, who was favourable to the Movement in its early stages, and that may account for his perturbation later when the Tracts for the Times assumed a different and more extreme character. An important aspect of Rose's work was undoubtedly his influence over the Archbishop, who was of a pliable disposition, though capable of being moved on occasions, as when he declared he would rather resign than consecrate Dr. Arnold as a bishop. Indeed, his meekness was never more apparent than when he was mobbed in the streets of Canterbury.

In 1836 Rose became Principal of King's College, London, dying on December 22, 1838, at Florence, attended by his wife. He was buried in "a retired and lovely spot . . . situated just without the limits of the city of Florence, on the road to Fiesole," which, judging by the large size of the cypress trees, had once been a garden. Some thirty years later the tomb was discovered in a neglected condition. The cypress trees were gone. Florence, like every growing city, had swallowed up the peaceful country-side. What had once been a walled enclosure on a little declivity, seemingly shut out from the world-" the dark foliage of the funereal garden contrasting grandly with the everlasting hills "had become an eyesore in the midst of a throbbing city. Little it matters, though surely no Anglo-Catholic should go to Florence without making pilgrimage to his resting-place if it can now be found. It matters more that the Anglican Communion has well-nigh forgotten him who, to use the felicitous phrase of Newman, "when hearts were failing, bade us stir up the strength that was in us, and betake ourselves to our true Mother."


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