Project Canterbury

Father Pollock And His Brother:
Mission Priests of St. Alban’s Birmingham

Transcribed by Robert Stevens
AD 2001


CHAPTER VI.
SOME LINES OF CHARACTER

Blending their souls’ sublimest needs 
With tasks of every day,
They went about their gravest deeds
As noble boys at play.”
—HOUGHTON.

THE characters of the two Priest-Brothers were in some respects a contrast, the elder being more enthusiastic, and less calm and cautious than the younger. Father Tom, no doubt, had an excellent head for business, and was very shrewd and practical; though Father Pollock was not so much in the clouds as some were apt to think, and could be very practical when there was occasion if the welfare of one of his people was concerned.

Both were ardent, untiring battlers for the right, bravo champions of purity and truth. True to the spirit of his own soul-stirring lines—

“We are soldiers of CHRIST, Who is mighty to save, 
And His Banner the Cross is unfurled;
We are pledged to be faithful and steadfast and brave
Against Satan, the flesh, and the world.

We will master the flesh, and its longings restrain,
We will not be the bond-slaves of sin,
The pure Spirit of GOD in our nature shall reign,
And our spirits their freedom shall win,”

Father Tom during his last year of life, under the nom de guerre of “An Old-fashioned Man,” entered the lists in the cause of purity against a very popular but unsavoury novel which a kindly-meaning but mistaken friend had given him, hoping he would enjoy its perusal! It is good to know that “An Old-fashioned Man” had the best of that battle.

Both the brothers were intensely lovable and sympathetic, whether in joy or sorrow. Father Tom’s two simple words, “I know,” to one who was trying with difficulty to tell out a tale of sorrow, had in them a whole world of indescribable consolation. Each had also in a high degree the gift, precious to all workers, priceless to a Priest, of seeing the best in every one, and if he could not see it, of believing it was there. Of brightness, another invaluable gift, both brothers had a large endowment. They had neither time nor inclination for melancholy musings; and their strong, bright faith made them both optimists, though the natural disposition of each was also happy and cheerful. Father Pollock was, so to speak, more sparkling. He seemed to bring the sunshine with him, and to take it away when he left.

Shrewd and practical though Father Tom might be, his sense of strict rectitude was ever predominant. “I don’t want a bargain. I wish to pay the fair and proper price,” was his reply to a friend who had offered to procure, as “a great bargain,” a Shetland pony which Father Tom wished to give to a small relation.

Father Pollock, as well as Father Tom, had a keen sense of humour, and the conversation of either was a mental treat. They had an inexhaustible fund of good stories, and could tell them well. One of the former’s was of two rival parish clerks in the days of three-deckers and barrel-organs. Both were enthusiastic performers, and tried to outvie each other in the realistic method of their playing. One of these boasted how he could make his instrument describe the “hailstones and coals of fire” of Psalm xviii. “Ah,” retorted his rival, referring triumphantly to Psalm lix., “but you should hear mine grin like a dog, and run about through the city!”

Father Tom used to tell of an inexperienced cleric who, having an old-fashioned Bible wherein the letter “s” was printed long like an “f,” before him, read a passage from the Prophet Ezekiel thus: “The fathers have eaten four grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” He could enjoy a joke against himself, and would relate, with a twinkle in his eye, how on his inquiring of the bookseller concerning the sale of one of his volumes on the Psalms, he had been told that it was much bought and liked by old ladies.

Father Pollock fairly bubbled over with merriment at times. A humorous picture, of his own painting, occurs to the mind of a certain wedding festivity, where—he had a particular antipathy to bride-cake—he held the hostess in rapt attention by his charming conversation. But all the while his hand, holding the slice of bride-cake, was behind his chair, to the supreme delight of a lucky dog, who was there surreptitiously regaled.

Another of his stories told how, when he was paying parochial visits to a public-house in the district about the middle of the day, a man was overheard commiserating “poor Mr. Pollock,” who had no one to send, and had “to fetch his beer himself.”

Father Tom had a peculiar dry humour of his own, very apparent in his terse and trenchant remarks, and in his “Prologues” and his manner of reading them. His eyes were ever keenly observant, and would twinkle with fun when, on a parochial visit, he said to a little maid answering the door, and vainly trying to dispose unperceived of a jug in her hand, “You took me for the milkman!”

There is a fine touch of subtle humour in the heading of some papers Father Pollock wrote periodically for The Gospeller:—

“BOOKS WITHOUT NAMES.

“Under this heading it is proposed to notice from time to time certain publications which it is well to review, but not well to advertise.”

The same subtle sense is observable in the following little piece found among Father Pollock’s Gospeller MSS.:—

“THAT FACE.

It is right to ask questions in a right way.  But there is a wrong way, too often followed.  Some people with little experience or knowledge are wont to sneer at truths which wiser men hold firmly. In one case of this kind, a looking-glass was held before the caviller, and he was asked whether such questions suited that face.”

All beauties of the natural world were appreciated to the full by both brothers.

Father Pollock, as the present writer recalls, seemed one day quite unable to take his eyes off a pot of coral moss (a pretty little green plant with bright scarlet berries) which he said was a fit ornament for a poet’s table.

He had an intense love for beautiful scenery, and would often, as in the following instance, illustrate his sermons by his holiday experiences:—

“I was once walking through a wild, mountainous district. It was a fine evening in summer. The calm solitude, the glories of the setting sun, the blue expanse of heaven, the few clouds passing across the sky, the steep hill in front—all reminded me of the Transfiguration. It was the 6th of August. I remarked to my companion that it was a pity we had not a hymn-book to sing the hymn appointed for the Feast. He took the hymn-book I wanted out of his pocket. When we reached the top of the mountain we stood there and sang the hymn. Need I say how we realised the wonders of the ‘holy mount?’

“The 6th of August in each year is the Feast of the Transfiguration, as you will see in the Prayer Book Kalendar. Do we think enough of the glories of that day?”

Father Tom is the author of the following word-painting:—

“SUNSET-DAWNING.

“From my Diary in Lapland.

“The sunset I saw at Haparanda, at the extreme north of the Gulf of Bothnia, was never to be forgotten. The sun only dipped behind a hill, and was hidden for scarce half-an-hour. We lost little of his light, and sunrise came before the loveliest sunset I ever saw had passed away. As we stood on the river’s bank, we were fairly awed by the dreamlike beauty of the scene. The water was like a mirror, smooth and clear, imaging everything around with a wonderful distinctness.

“Some men were sweeping a wood-raft down stream, and each dip of the oars seemed to break the silence with a shock. There were no other sounds, but now and then the playing of a fish, or the melancholy cry of a water-fowl. On the river’s farther shore was a large white church, and the shadow of its ghostlike form, and of the green mound on which it stood, was marked on the water in sharp, clear outline. All along the banks, deep shade brought out in marvellous contrast the silvery glow of part of the stream where the rays of daylight clung. To the north was the pretty wooden church of Tornea, standing out against the sky in bold relief, with every turn of its quaint, tall spire and belfry marked. On one side of it there was a blaze of light where the sun had just gone down. One cloud was there, alone in the heavens, as if to hold the rays, and give them a resting-place for a while. Gradually the glory grew fainter, and the light changed from shade to shade of colour. And now at the other side of the church, which had been in deep shadow, a light gleamed along the edge of the hill. We could hardly believe it at first, but there before us was sunrise coming, ere the sunset rays had died. We saw the light of one day waning, and the light of another dawning. They blended together. Touching the little church on one side was evening, touching it on the other was morning. We stood gazing on the strange scene of beauty till the sun rose in a cloudless sky and blazed upon us over a blue hill.

“I watched the sunshine pass away
One night, in that far northern clime,
Where, through the pleasant summer-time
The night is but a gentler day.

I felt the music swelling high
Of nature’s holy, ceaseless psalm,
The river flowed so deep and calm,
I could not hear it moving by.

The heavens were spotless o’er them shone
A quiet and a ruddy glow,
That deepened towards the west, to show
The path by which the sun had gone.

There all was lit with strangest hue,
And past the cloud a glory gleamed,
And up the sky the crimson streamed.
The low hills wore a deeper blue.

A wooden church, with quaint, tall spire,
Rose on the river’s farther bank,
And where the sun in glory sank,
Its western walls were bathed in fire

While, to the east, in deepest shade,
Its outline stood against the sky;
The wondrous splendour glowing nigh
A darker shadow o’er it laid.

And now the light burned low and faint,
But lovelier as it paler grew,
And o’er the changing sky it threw
Such tints as only GOD can paint.

It seemed as if with failing might,
But holier beauty, died the day:
I watched to see it pass away.
And leave the quiet world in night.

Few sounds the breathless silence stirred,
The plash of fish beside the shore,
The dipping of a distant oar,
The cry of wandering water-bird.

Lo while I gazed, a sudden ray
Gleamed where the sky and mountain met,
Where all had been in shade as yet 
I thought it soon would melt away.

'Twas nearly midnight: in the west 
One cloud lay low along the hill,
As if it lingered there until
The sinking sun was laid to rest.

But brighter I beheld it shine,
And farther, higher, radiance throw, 
And burnish with a deepening glow
The hilltops’ clear and waving line.
Before me there at once were seen
The sunset and the break of morn—
A dying day—a day new-born
The quaint old church stood up between.”

That Father Tom was a poet of no mean order is now universally acknowledged. He was the inventor of the metrical Litany, and in this particular form of hymn-writing his Compositions are unrivalled. The Litany Appendix, which was in regular use at the “old S. Alban’s,” was written by him. It is a perfect treasury of melody and devotion, and also contains some lovely hymns, one or two of which are reprinted among the “Selections” which conclude this memoir. Some of Father Tom’s most beautiful hymns, “We are soldiers of CHRIST,” “Weep not for Him Who onward bears His Cross to Calvary,” &c., and also his Litanies, have found a place in several of our hymnals. Two hymns in Hymns Ancient and Modern, “My LORD, my Master, at Thy Feet adoring,” and “O scorned and outcast LORD,” are his translations from the French. Of the first of these Father Tom used to complain of an alteration made by the compilers in the last verse which he rendered, and which stood in the original, “O Victim, slain by love.”

With Characteristic modesty he used to say of himself: “I am only a rhymer, and I do not profess to be more than a mechanical builder up of lines.” He would sometimes facetiously style himself a “foolometer,” alluding to his being such a stickler for correct scansion.

Father Pollock did not write poetry. He once, however, gave a very interesting lecture on the incongruities of English spelling, in proof whereof he quoted these lines—

“Life’s rough lough I travel, though
Cough and hiccough plough me through,”

showing how each word, were spelling consistent, might be pronounced in seven different ways. “These lines,” added the lecturer, “are the only poem I ever composed in my life.” But this being so, Father Pollock none the less had the eye and heart of a true poet. No one could listen to his sermons or read his writings and not be quite sure of this. He was also very musical, and had a voice of great sweetness.

Father Pollock’s literary work was of the most extensive and laborious kind, though he has left only two completed volumes of any considerable size—Out of the Body and Dead and Gone—behind him. His little devotional and instructive manuals are well known and widely circulated. One of the latter, the Catechism in Story, is a remarkable monument of thought and labour. Father Pollock took an intense interest in everything relating to the supernatural, and the unseen world. The two volumes above named, which are of great and lasting interest, bear witness to this.

Some extracts from Out of the Body are given among the “Selections.”

The following, from the “Introduction” to Dead and Gone, is very characteristic of the mind and spirit of its author:—

“A quaint old writer says: ‘When a certain Frenchman came to visit Melanothon, he found him in his stove,[1] dandling his child in the swaddling clouts with the one hand, and in the other holding his book and reading it.’ I ask no indulgence for my book because I have been constantly engaged in pastoral work. The two go well together: in this case one has helped the other.

“Mr. Ruddle ends his story of an apparition thus: ‘I being a clergyman, and young, and a stranger in these parts, do apprehend silence and secrecy to be my best security.’ I want no security for myself. For Dead and Gone I desire some such success as this: ‘Some bought my book on purpose to laugh at it, and lent it to others for them to do the same, to whom GOD blessed it; and who, instead of laughing at it, wept over it, and had their faith encouraged by it.’ ”[2]

The writer of the present pages has heard Father Tom say that neither he, nor his brother, much as the latter would have appreciated such, ever had any personal experience of supernatural revealings; while their sister, one of the most matter-of-fact and practical of people, could have related remarkable incidents from her own experience.

Some of Father Pollock’s narratives from Dead and Gone, which there is little doubt were derived from his own immediate knowledge, are included among the “Selections.”

To those who knew anything of the parochial work of these Mission Priests, who would often visit forty houses in one afternoon, and in cases of extreme illness see a sick parishioner two or three times in one day, the literary labour they got through is simply a marvel. The authorship of the Daily Round was not generally known until Father Tom had passed away. This priceless volume, which takes its place in Christian literature by the side of the Imitation of Christ, had long been read and prized by all schools of religious thought. Our late beloved Queen Victoria had a copy upon her dressing-table for years before she knew, if ever she did know, by whose hands its pages were penned.

The Gospeller for July 1909 contains a touching little story of the Daily Round.

“Amongst others who volunteered to serve their country in the South African war were a number of men of the Lancashire Hussars. Before leaving their homes I gave to several who lived in my parish (Ashton-in-Mansfield) a copy of the Daily Round, of such a size as could be conveniently carried in their tunic breast-pocket, with an earnest request that they would endeavour to read the daily portion. I had subsequent means of knowing that this was generally done. One of these (Abel Ogden) died in the war. Some weeks after his death I received a letter from the Chaplain who attended him at his last moments, and who discovered my name and address in the book. He wrote to inform me that Ogden said to him he had only on one or two occasions (when in active service) failed to read the daily portion, and that it had been the greatest comfort and support to him in those terrible days of the war. He passed away in peace with the Daily Round at his side. The good Chaplain also wrote to his bereaved mother, and sent to her the few things her son had left behind him.

W. J. MELVILLE.”

The present Bishop of London (Winnington-Ingram) in one of his Lenten sermons testified to the value of this work, saying that the Daily Round was “one of the best devotional books for daily reading, and one which could be used year after year without tiring of it.

This volume, the two on the Psalms, and the beautiful and helpful papers that enriched The Gospeller, and were afterwards collected into the volume Daily Life, must, not to mention his poetry, have cost Father Tom an immense amount of time and labour. He had in contemplation, very shortly before he was called away, a collection of translations from French hymns, to be called Lyra Gallicana, which he intended to prepare in conjunction with one of his friends whose own poetical efforts he had himself helped and encouraged in a way never to be forgotten.

[1] Father Pollock quotes from Fuller’s Holy State. in Lloyd’s Encyclopĺdic Dictionary “stove” is defined as a room artificially heated.

[2] William Huntingdon, S.S. (Sinner saved).


Project Canterbury