Prynne's Jubilee at St. Peter's (1898) and Golden Wedding (1899)--Death of Mrs. Prynne--Sermon at Truro Cathedral Commemoration--Last appearance at St. Peter's--Final illness and death--Episcopal sympathy--Funeral services at Plymouth and Plympton St. Mary--Prynne and preferment--Personal reminiscences by "E. M. G.," Mr. John Shelly, Mr. Paul Swain, F.R.C.S., and others.
THE closing years of Prynne's life were marked by many periods of intense bodily suffering, and from 1890 onwards there were moments when it seemed to those around him that death was imminent. Again and again, however, he rallied in the most wonderful way, his splendid constitution enabling him to recover from the most serious illnesses, and to resume some considerable share in the services of St. Peter's. Failing sight, too, caused him much inconvenience, preventing him from using his pen with the freedom to which he had always been accustomed. An operation upon his eye, performed with remarkable success when he was approaching eighty years of age, relieved this source of trouble, but the weight of fourscore years pressed heavily upon him in many ways. His weaknesses were entirely physical; mentally he retained all his vigour and brightness to the close of his days. In 1898 he kept the jubilee of his appointment to St. Peter's, the occasion being marked by an endeavour to complete the tower of the church at a cost of several thousands of pounds At this time, as a writer remarked, it was difficult to describe the peculiar affection and respect with which he was regarded; and where his personal influence was not known, the influence of his books and hymns had extended. It was added:--
"So far as the records have come into our hands, we have read the heated, virulent, and utterly untrue things that used to be said of him; but in none of his replies can we find one unkind or even impatient word. Firmly, but kindly, without heat and without exaggeration, he denied the misrepresentations that needed to be denied, and explained over and over again the teaching of the Church which was--and is still to some extent--so grievously misunderstood. It is no wonder, therefore, that with a full heart many of us have this week offered such a man our congratulations, and God our thanksgivings, on his commencing the fiftieth year of his work in the parish of St. Peter's."
Another very happy occasion occurred on April 17, 1899, when Prynne kept his Golden Wedding, his ten children, two daughters-in-law, two sons-in-law, and thirteen out of his twenty-seven living grandchildren being present. The happy day began with a celebration of the Holy Eucharist in St. Peter's, at eight, the aged priest being celebrant, his wife and all his ten children communicating; and at the close of the service Prynne's well-known hymn, "Jesu, meek and gentle," was sung by the family. Lord Halifax, who ever entertained the most affectionate feeling of regard and admiration for Prynne, was associated with other friends at a distance in a special message of congratulation on this happy occasion; and at the reception which formed part of the day's proceedings, two of Prynne's oldest and most devoted friends, Mr. John Shelly and Mr. Paul Swain, were present. Among the many affectionate attachments of so long a life, it is probable that, outside his family circle, Prynne's warmest regard and fullest confidence was given to these two devoted laymen, whose labours for the Church at large have long earned for them the respect and esteem of all who know the greatness of their influence and work.
In the illnesses and weakness consequent upon advancing years, his wife, the devoted and loving partner of practically his whole life in Plymouth, tended and helped him with a solicitude which was beautiful and pathetic to witness. With her husband she had shared in the horrors of the cholera visitation of 1849, bravely facing the dangers and dreadful conditions of that period, making light of the hardest toil in her efforts to relieve the awful suffering all around. Throughout the early days of persecution this good woman was ever at hand to cheer and sustain him, when friends were few and difficulties of every kind had to be faced and met. With her husband, she knew what it was to experience the loss of practically every worldly possession for conscience' sake; as will be remembered, even her wedding-gifts were seized within a short time of her marriage, to meet the cost of legal proceedings undertaken by her husband in the attempt to clear his character from the baseless and scandalous charges with which the enemies of the Church assailed him. Through evil report and good report she had been the faithful helpmeet of her husband, and her death in March, 1901, was indeed the severest personal trial that could have befallen one so aged and infirm as Prynne had then become. Nevertheless the old man bravely took up the threads of his work, in spite of his great sorrow, and on many subsequent occasions assisted in the services, or preached to his flock, at St. Peter's. At the invitation of the Bishop of Truro he preached in the cathedral of his native county at the Commemoration Festival of 1902, and officiated at the opening of the S.P.G. bi-centenary exhibition in Plymouth Guildhall. Recovering from another serious illness in 1902, he again assisted in the services of his beloved church, and early in 1903 was engaged in correspondence with clerical brethren in London and elsewhere, endeavouring to secure an additional helper for his clerical staff. Failing in this effort, Prynne went on endeavouring to take a share in the services, celebrating on Sexagesima Sunday, and preaching on the morning of Quinquagesima. On Ash Wednesday he assisted for the last time in the services of his church, and it is probable incurred the chill which caused a return of the old complaint which had laid him by so many times during the latter years of his life. The illness was throughout a painful one, and from the first his friend, Mr. Paul Swain, gave no hope of recovery. On the evening of Friday, March 13, he received the Blessed Sacrament for the last time, seeming then to be not far removed from death. But for nearly a fortnight longer he lingered, suffering a great deal of pain with that gentle patience which was ever one of his chief characteristics, until early on the Feast of the Annunciation--the anniversary of his admission to the Church in 1821, and of his ordination to the priesthood in 1843--all pain was ended and his soul had passed to the great waiting Church beyond the veil.
As soon as his death became known numerous messages of sympathy were received by his sons and daughters; the Bishop of the Diocese being one of the earliest to send his condolence and episcopal blessing to the bereaved family. The funeral arrangements, and the services which preceded them, were carried out in accordance with the principles for which Prynne had so long and unfalteringly contended. After Evensong on the Sunday the body of the aged priest was borne from the Vicarage in Wyndham Square to St. Peter's Church, where Vespers of the Dead were sung. In all the solemn ceremonies of those hours, it is doubtful whether anything more deeply impressive was witnessed than that long procession, when, amid the gleam of swinging lights, preceded by the great cross of the church, and followed by those who loved him, the body of George Rundle Prynne was carried between dense masses of his sorrowing people into the church he had raised and where he had so long and faithfully ministered. At such a moment, who that knew anything of that life just ended on earth could forget that in this very square, not sixty years before, the scene had been one of wild and uncontrollable uproar, again and again repeated, and ever directed against that saintly priest for whom men now sorrowed so deeply?
The scene was a sermon and a revelation, stronger far than any spoken word, the like of which comes not often in the lives of men or the history of parishes.
On the following day, Monday, March 30, 1903, after the body had rested before the altar through the night, the Great Sacrifice was continually pleaded during the early hours of the day. The assistant-clergy of the church at this time were the sacred ministers at the Requiem celebration, namely, the Rev. E. R. Hudson, the Rev. B. H. Kingsley, and the Rev. W. H. Morgan. The Rev. A. Preedy, too, Vicar of Saltash, for eleven years Prynne's devoted and loyal helper at St. Peter's, and the Rev. J. Mercer Cox, Vicar of Plympton St. Mary, took part in the service, many other clergy being present in the church. The interment took place at Plympton St. Mary, a beautiful little churchyard some five miles from Plymouth. Here, in the midst of God's Acre, almost under the shadow of the grey old Devon church, the body was laid in its flower-lined grave, side by side with that of his wife, while the choir sang the Easter hymns, and last of all the Nunc dimittis, which he had so often desired might be his last conscious speech on earth.
The funeral of the poet-priest was both memorable and notable, affording convincing witness to the beauty and perfection of the long and splendid life of one whom people had come to love so well. Clergy from far and near; former colleagues and helpers; laymen who had learnt the highest truths from Prynne's lips and had borne with him the burden and heat of the day; Sisters of Mercy whose work he had helped to make possible in the great towns of England; little children, for whom he ever had a bright and loving word; poor people from his parish of St. Peter's; and simple country-folk, like those among whom his earliest ministry was spent,-- it was good that these and such as these should gather round the grave of the "private priest," as he loved to call himself, whose life's ministry had been bound up with them and their necessities, to the exclusion of so much that men rightly prize and deserve. Standing here one felt how truly it might be said of George Rundle Prynne--
"Plain patient work fulfilled that length of life; Duty, not glory,--Service, not a throne,-- Inspired his effort, set for him the strife."
Many of Prynne's friends regretted that he had never received any preferment or ecclesiastical honour from the authorities of the Church, and--as Lord Halifax once told him--they did not always feel able to preserve silence on this point. Prynne himself, however, had no such feeling of regret; he dearly prized the marks of confidence which were given him by his brethren of the clergy and his fellow-townsmen, and for the rest, may we not say in the words of one of his closest friends, "his work was that of a mission priest, a guide of souls, and it was his most fitting honour and reward that he led so many to the feet of the Saviour and trained so many for the inheritance of the saints"?
To quote some of the many very striking tributes evoked by the death of this good priest is a temptation. In the cathedrals of Exeter and Truro, in the churches of the Three Towns, and in many another place, reference was made to the tender and faithful witness of the life of Prynne, such testimony being general, and by no means limited to any one school of thought in the Church. The burden of all the testimony thus given was this--however men might differ from him, however widely they might disagree with his line of action at times, yet each and all recognized in his gentle life the fruits of the Holy Spirit, love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. Prynne's life, with peculiar clearness, seemed to reveal that message of goodness of which the writer of the "Imitation of Christ" speaks when he says, "Many words do not satisfy the soul, but a good life comforteth the mind, and giveth great confidence toward God."
Three appreciations of a special and personal character may fitly find a place in these pages. The first is from the pen of one of Prynne's many spiritual children; the second is contributed; by Mr. John Shelly, of Plymouth; and the third is a summary of the Lenten address given in St. Peter's on the Sunday after Prynne's death by his old friend and medical adviser, Mr. Paul Swain.
Looking back into my earliest childhood, almost my first memory of Mr. Prynne is his coming to preach in my father's parish, some miles out of Plymouth. Even at that date it was considered rather a daring step on my father's part to ask him, and I can remember considerable excitement about the matter. My father drove him from the station, and I sat silent in the back seat of the pony-carriage, wondering that a man of such extreme gentleness should be the cause of so great a stir.
It was a Wednesday in Lent, and the service was at 8 p.m.--a usual hour then in the country, when people worked late, and were not too tired or apathetic to come to church after a day's work. The church was as full as it was on a Sunday; I cannot tell whether this was owing to a curiosity to hear Mr. Prynne, or whether it was that church-going in Lent was a more ordinary thing then than now. Probably both reasons had their weight; anyhow, the large country church was filled. The best part of a lifetime lies between then and now, and yet across all the years the memory of that sermon is as fresh as if it were yesterday, and of the text--"What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" He held up the picture of a pair of scales, and on one side he put all the riches, pleasures, and glories of the world, and dwelt on the enjoyment of them for seventy or eighty years--and in the other scale he put a human soul and eternity. I can still feel the silence creeping over the church, and see the upturned faces, as the eternal standard shone out clearly, and the appeal went home. Then we sang "Saviour, when in dust to Thee," to a tune never now heard, and went home through the mystery of the night, on a high cobbled pathway, with a lantern for the benefit of the stranger. I declined my supper of bread and cheese, and went hungry to bed, hoping that gaining the world would never tempt me to lose my soul.
We live in so rapid an age that it is difficult for us to imagine the stir in Plymouth about things that are now universally adopted. Mr. Norrington, who was Mayor of Plymouth at the time, can remember going to St. Peter's when the excitement was at its height, and the Bishop of Exeter (Henry Philpotts) came to Plymouth to take part in a service, hoping thus to quiet the public mind. He read the Lessons, but though Mr. Norrington sat in the front seat, so great was the hubbub of the mob outside that not one word was audible. At the conclusion of the service the Bishop was got into his carriage outside, which was pursued by the yelling multitude, throwing sticks and stones. And what was the cause of all this uproar? Mr. Prynne preached in a surplice.
The Rev. Walter Guppy Abbott, afterwards Vicar of St. Luke's, Old Street, E.G., told me that when he was curate at St. Peter's, and they began to sing the Psalms on Sunday mornings, it was thought that their extreme practices could go no further. But in considering the state of things at that time, it must always be remembered that the West of England was some years behind the rest of the country in many ways.
Yet it must not be thought that the chief memory of Mr. Prynne is as a fighter of battles, even for the truth; of course that aspect formed a share of his work, but his abiding characteristic was a deep love of souls. Almost the last time that I saw him he said, "It is all mission work at St. Peter's." Probably Henry of Exeter, to whom the Church owes so much, saw this power in Mr. Prynne when he first sent him to Plymouth.
Mr. Prynne was not in the strict sense of the term a Ritualist: he was too much like his old friend, Dr. Pusey, to form a pattern for those young clergy whose great aim is to be "correct." In the early days of Church revival, some one asked Mr. Prynne what was the meaning of a priest wearing a biretta in church? And his face lighted up as he gave the answer, "Oh yes, it has a meaning;" he paused for a moment to reflect, then he added frankly, "But I have forgotten what it is."
But in considering Mr. Prynne's early work at St. Peter's, it is very difficult to present a clear picture of things as they were at that time, for, perhaps, it may truly be said, that the children to whom is most abundantly shown the glory forget too quickly the servants who did the work. To have at least a better idea of the state of affairs, it must be remembered that Plymouth itself was very different from what it is now. I was talking the other day to an old inhabitant who remembered the town in 1824, and though it was a little difficult to sift dates and get a true picture of 1848, when Mr. Prynne came to St. Peter's, it was certainly useful as showing a condition now passed away, which would produce its own characteristics. Mr. W--remembered Mr. Hawker, who had owned Eldad Chapel before it was bought by the Church, and he could see him now, walking down the street in his buckled shoes, and his wife "looking like a duchess." Then he went back to the fearful storm in November, 1824, before the breakwater was built. Plymouth had three churches in those days--the Old Church (St. Andrew's), the New (Charles), and Stoke; Union Street was a marsh where you could go snipe-shooting.
Here I tried gently to bring him to the point by the mention of Mr. Prynne, and I succeeded. "Mr. Prynne," he said, "ah, yes, he was so Christian; never heard him say an unkind word of any one. I was brought up a Dissenter, but their want of Christianity and truth turned me into a Churchman. One day at a council meeting one of them said, 'The nearer to Church, the nearer to hell.' Think of that! I broke with them then." And he went on with his memories of the Upper Barracks and the Lower Barracks, where men were flogged--a proceeding which he, as a boy, could see from his grandfather's yard. There was no sewage in those days in the Three Towns; a stream ran down the streets, and into this any refuse was thrown. Was it any wonder that cholera broke out in 1832 and again in 1849? The district of St. Peter's then was far more cut off from the better localities of Plymouth than it is now, and, with the exception of a small chapel, in a population of over five thousand, when Mr. Prynne came in 1848, there was not a single place of worship nor any school.
Then what was the state of Church feeling in the country in general, and in the West of England in particular, at this time? We have to turn back to what seems ancient history now, so rapidly is what is past forgotten in this busy age, and we see an excitement over the Gorham case which is transferred to-day to matters of less vital principle. We see, too, in the Diocese of Exeter, that it was the Bishop who stood in the forefront when an attack was made on the Faith, and who was in deed as well as word a Father in God to all his clergy. To read the "Letters of Archdeacon Denison" at that time will show any who are inclined to despond about Church matters in England to-day, that we have battled through worse times.
But the one thing that will always be remembered in connection with Mr. Prynne is, that it was in St. Peter's Church in 1849 that the Daily Eucharist was first revived in England. To-day, in hundreds of churches over the country, the Sacrifice is offered daily with worshippers who have never known scenes such as that little band of workers lived amongst. For it was during the cholera outbreak of almost unparalleled horror that an English priest began day by day to plead the one availing Sacrifice; and those who joined with him might be called away before nightfall. In another place the story of these days is told, and still in country churchyards round Plymouth there are corners never touched where the cholera victims in their numbers were laid.
And yet, though of course the connection is close with Eucharistic worship and Communion, if you were to ask any one who had fallen under Mr. Prynne's influence what he had chiefly learnt from him I think the answer would be, "The fulness of the forgiveness of sins." It is no secret now that the little red book, "Pardon through the Precious Blood," was written by him. This work is known to thousands who have never seen St. Peter's; but there are not a few persons scattered over the world who will remember the quietness of the old church on Friday afternoons, emphasized by the chattering of sparrows in the ivy outside the windows--a thing which has entirely passed away with the old building,--old Mrs. Parsons moving silently about, dusting in the distance, or on guard in the last pew in the church--so much a part of the proceedings that even when Mr. Prynne was away on his holiday she still remained in church on Friday afternoons, saying that "If the vicar did not do his duty, she should do hers." Then the little vestry with its red-clothed table, and above the text on zinc, painted amid passion flowers, "They saw no man save Jesus only;" these are the things encircled in many a memory with the holiest and deepest moments of a lifetime.
That the reality of Mr. Prynne's religion made itself felt, even among those who professed little religion themselves, was once shown in a third-class railway-carriage on the Great Western, where several men of the working class were travelling, talking loudly of the things which interested them, and paying no attention to me behind my paper in the corner. Something was said about the preferment of one of the Plymouth clergy, and the chief speaker broke in with eager comment: "They are all alike," he said, "it is only a question of money. That's what their religion means; if they can get more money they go somewhere else."
The other men applauded this speech, but a change came over the Plymouth man's face, and he added, "Not quite all. There's Prynne now, he sticks to his work. He doesn't get much for it; but he isn't looking out for himself--that's religion." Yes, that was also the opinion of Henry of Exeter when he backed up Mr. Prynne's work in the early days.
Half a century brings about great changes, and at the end of Mr. Prynne's long ministry, though, as he said, "It is all mission work at St. Peter's," the condition of many things had been altered. Throughout the country the children were seeing the glory of the work which God's servants had done, and with increased opportunity had crept in a spiritual lassitude and a want of moral backbone. Perhaps this statement sounds hard, yet a comparison with the days of the Oxford Movement will serve to justify it. The doctrines for which the leaders of that movement fought are taught to-day by thousands; but, while crowds flock to the sung Eucharists, it may be asked--How many approach the standard of those early days in fasting, or take anything like the trouble then needed to go to an early Communion? Reflections like this help us to realize the religious atmosphere of the first part of Mr. Prynne's life, of which no history exists save that truest of all history--contemporary fiction. To read the stories in the now extinct "Churchman's Companion," is an astonishing as well as an humiliating revelation to the present generation. Then, as the Church was seen with a new light on her ancient splendour, there was a fervent earnestness in the minds of her children which made the Daily Service a delight, and caused them to spare no pains in the struggle after personal holiness. The realities of life stood out boldly, and less important things did not assume undue significance. That was the world in which Mr. Prynne lived, and we who knew him felt it. The love of God, the hatefulness of sin, the value of a soul,--these were linked together in one great motive. Perhaps the little prayer (at the end of his book of Private Prayers)--a prayer partly learnt from Dr. Pusey--shows the bent of his life:--
"Blessed Jesus, give us the gift of Thy holy Love, pardon of all our sins, and grace to persevere unto the end."
It may be that the world is less serious to-day. I doubt whether Lent preachers send children home now in a frame of mind that makes them decline their suppers, and if they did, possibly some correct person would tell them that this was not what is meant by fasting, and that their zeal was altogether misplaced.
The last time that I saw Mr. Prynne was during the Dedication Festival, the last but one of his life, and he was as full of interest as ever in Church work all over the world, telling me of Father Benson's account of Father Puller's work amongst the Ethiopians, and asking much concerning mission work in Africa. When the news of his death came I was far away from the country we both loved so much, and it was impossible to go to the funeral; but the thought of those for whom he had worked during a long lifetime seemed added to the reverent throng visibly present--those who died penitent during the cholera; girls rescued from sin; men, women, and children, chiefly poor, who had learnt to find pardon--these were the lives which his had most nearly touched. No honours had come to him, as men count honours, only a share in that mysterious heritage which St. Paul ventured to hold forth as his claim to spiritual aristocracy, of which so large a share is loneliness. Had Bishop Temple still been at Exeter, I venture to think that he would have been at the funeral, for no one recognized more keenly than he did the value of Mr. Prynne's work. Had Bishop Philpotts been there, our great "Henry of Exeter," I am sure he would have been present. But Mr. Prynne has passed to a world where human recognition cannot affect him, and as his body was laid to rest in the Devon churchyard, not far from the scene of his life's labours, those who stood by knew that his great soul was with God.
E. M. G.
Mr. John Shelly, of Plymouth, who was for close on forty years in close and affectionate touch with Prynne, contributes the following recollections:--
"It must be difficult for one who has not actually experienced all the movement and interest of the ecclesiastical life of the last fifty years to understand the extent of the influence which Mr. Prynne exercised from the first upon priests as well as lay people in the Church of England. It was an influence that was won locally against fierce opposition. When I first came to Plymouth, in 1857, he was still spoken of by Nonconformists and Low Churchmen almost with horror. I well remember how, some years later, a man who would now, I suppose, be called a moderate Churchman, refused an invitation to go to a service at St. Peter's as a thing almost impossible to be imagined. At the same time there was, even in 1857, an undercurrent of admiration of what Mr. Prynne had done during the time of the cholera. When I first knew him he took no part in public affairs, and was seldom seen outside his parish. But his patience, his sweetness of temper, and his sincere piety were steadily winning their way.
"It must have been, I think, about 1863 that the Rev. Eugene Tracey, who was then a curate, virtually in charge of the mother parish of St. Andrew, first brought Mr. Prynne into actual contact with the Low Church clergy of the town. Mr. Tracey endeavoured, with some success, to bring the clergy of different parties together in social intercourse, and it was at a dinner at his house, as I have heard, that Mr. Greaves, the Calvinist Vicar of Charles, first met Mr. Prynne, their host having put them side by side. Mr. Greaves afterwards declared that he was delighted to find Mr. Prynne so sound and evangelical in his views; and Mr. Prynne, who was never narrow in his sympathies, began to love the simple piety of Mr. Greaves. The laity, however, were quicker than the clergy to admire Mr. Prynne, even when they did not follow him--and admiration often led them to follow. In the early 'sixties St. Peter's was beginning to attract a great number of young people, and particularly young men. I often saw there young officers quartered at Plymouth, and from many of the villages round young people used to come in on Festivals, and even to the ordinary Sunday and weekday services. At Christmas and Easter there were often a number of Nonconformists. All of them did not understand the meaning of the Festivals as well as one I remember, who said, 'We don't keep Lent and we have no right to keep Easter;' but Mr. Prynne's teaching brought a great many to the church. The musical services, then still a novelty, and the vestments and lights drew some; but Mr. Prynne himself was the great attraction. His peculiarly beautiful voice, his serious manner, won and held the attention, and the plainness and obvious sincerity of his teaching made converts. But people were moved even more by hearing him celebrate the Holy Eucharist than by his preaching.
"From the first time that I knew him to the very end of his life, Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament was the one centre of his love and source of his influence, and all who heard him celebrate, all who came in contact with him, felt it to be so. The solemnity, the tenderness, the absorption of his manner at the altar cannot be described, but can never be forgotten. They live in the memory with the patience, the gentleness, and wisdom of his dealing with penitents. He seldom went far from Plymouth to preach, and it is astonishing that his influence should have been so wide. I have heard Father Lowder, who was a member of a Plymouth family, and Canon Body, of Durham, say how much they owed to St. Peter's; and constantly in all parts of the country, when people have known that I came from Plymouth, I have been first asked about Mr. Prynne and St. Peter's. Quite lately I heard from Canada of two ladies who said they owed all their Church teaching to Mr. Prynne. They had attended St. Peter's when their father, who was an officer, was stationed at Plymouth, and had received as young girls the definite and clear teaching which they never forgot. About the same time I heard of a postman at Toronto who saw St. Peter's Magazine, which I had sent to some friends there, and began at once to talk of what he owed to Mr. Prynne. In the current (October) number of the magazine the present Vicar mentions the grateful testimony of an aged priest to Mr. Prynne's teaching. These are not singular but typical cases.
"Nothing, I think, in public life touched Mr. Prynne so deeply as his election by the clergy of the diocese to be their Proctor in Convocation. It was the first and, indeed, the only public recognition of his services to the Church. But what struck me most at the time was the general recognition that, in spite of his retired life, he was indeed a leader--to use his own phrase, one of the 'standard bearers of the Lord.' No doubt his writings, and especially the 'Eucharistic Manual,' one of the first and still, I think, one of the best of altar books, contributed to make his name generally known; but still I am convinced that it was mainly the knowledge and report of his character and personal teaching that were the great means of his influence being extended, first in Devon and Cornwall, and afterwards in remote parts of the country. His was an extremely winning personality. The wonderful buoyancy and cheerfulness, which made him seem sometimes younger even than his children, the smile and outstretched hand that one felt were so sincere, the quick understanding and sympathy, the grave and tender counsel--all these made every visit to him a happiness and comfort."
"And though his advice and teaching were; always very plain and simple, one felt that there was behind them an accuracy and fulness of knowledge that inspired complete confidence. He thus became more than a parish priest. People, and especially the clergy, throughout the two counties, used to ask in any difficulty or when any important question arose--'What does Mr. Prynne think? What is Mr. Prynne going to do?' and nothing had greater weight than his opinion. And looking back over the forty years I knew him, I am surprised to find how unchanged his teaching was. There was change, no doubt, or rather development, of practice, but the underlying principles were always the same." It is quite a mistake to suppose that he was hurried by his curates or his lay supporters into excesses of ritual which his wiser judgment would have disapproved. All the developments of ritual at St. Peter's had his well-considered and entire approval. Many indeed of those that have only lately attracted much attention began long ago, and to the end he was conscious of no change in his faith or doctrine. On the fiftieth anniversary of his coming to St. Peter's, he delivered again the first sermon he had preached there, and said, what no one who knew him ever doubted, that from the beginning and throughout his ministry he had always remained true to the Catholic faith which he had taught in his earliest days."
Mr. Paul Swain, F.R.C.S., speaking to the men of St. Peter's on the Sunday succeeding Prynne's death, said it was his great privilege that day to pay a layman's tribute to his memory. George Rundle Prynne had won for them, as lay people, two very great benefits, which could not be overestimated. First of all, through great suffering and persecution, he had obtained for them free access to the tribunal of penance, whereby they could have recourse to their parish priest in confession. How many sin-laden hearts he had unburdened, how many broken hearts he had healed, and how many timorous hearts he had fortified God only knew. The other great gift he had won, not only for them at St. Peter's, but for the whole Church of England, was the restoration of the Daily Sacrifice. That privilege was only won through great suffering. In 1849, when the dread cholera was raging in their midst, their noble vicar, in a most heroic manner, ministered to the sick and dying. He put up an altar in the cholera hospital and celebrated daily in order to communicate the patients. When the terrible scourge was over, the Daily Sacrifice was perpetuated at St. Peter's as an act of thanksgiving, and has never ceased from that day. It was the first restoration of the Daily Sacrifice since the Reformation. What better memorial of George Rundle Prynne's work could they give him than to be more frequent in their attendance at this service?
About Mr. Prynne's personal character, as one of his very oldest friends he thought he was entitled to say something. The prevailing characteristic of his life was love. He had never met so gentle, so loving a man. Under the most trying circumstances he never remembered one single instance when their late vicar lost his temper, or said an unkind word of anybody. Of his greatest enemies he always spoke with extenuation. Christ's words upon the cross must surely have been in his heart and upon his lips: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." The other characteristic of his life was firmness. Once convinced as to the rectitude of his position and of the fact that the course he was pursuing was the right one, nothing would swerve him from the point. Love and firmness of character were characteristics which do not always exist in the same individual, but they existed in Mr. Prynne's character. He quoted an incident which occurred during Mr. Prynne's last illness. He thought he would not be committing a breach of confidence to tell it. Some few days before their vicar died it became his (Mr. Swain's) duty to tell him one evening that he thought the time had come when he should receive his Viaticum. Mr. Prynne strongly objected, because he said it would interfere with the rule of his life as to fasting Communion. He (Mr. Swain) represented to him, what, of course, Mr. Prynne knew full well, that in his condition, that rule was always dispensed by the Church. And so the Blessed Sacrament was brought to him that night. The next morning the first words Mr. Prynne uttered when he saw him were: "Ah, Swain, I had a visit last night from the Medicus Medicorum."
Through all the later years of his life, he had suffered more than fell to the lot of most of them to suffer, and yet he was never peevish, or complaining, and they knew how up to the last he stuck to his post and endeavoured to do his duty. It was quite amusing sometimes, how towards the end of the week he would endeavour to shirk seeing him (Mr. Swain) because he was afraid that his Sunday duty was going to be interfered with. There was one other trait of his character which he could not forget. That was his extraordinary humility. Who had ever heard Mr. Prynne boast of anything he had done? He was all unconscious of his greatness--for a great man he was, even though he died only the vicar of a miserable Peel parish, unrecognized by the respectable Establishment. Wherever they went they would meet strangers who would say: "Oh! you come from Plymouth, and, therefore, must know Mr. Prynne." That had been said to him over and over again. A lady once saw a photograph of Mr. Prynne in a cottage in North Wales. She remarked to the occupant of the cottage: "So you know my old Vicar." The reply was: "Oh no; but I have read his books and have heard so much about him that I secured his photograph." Mr. Prynne's reputation had gone far beyond Plymouth. His kindly nature had endeared him to and won the respect of those outside as well as inside the Church. The day Mr. Prynne died he (Mr. Swain) met a well-known Nonconformist minister, who was a personal friend of his. He said to him: "Dear Mr. Prynne, I have been saying to myself a line from his own hymn: 'From terrestrial darkness to celestial light.'" Who was to be his successor was in God's hands. The appointment would be made by men in whom they might have the utmost confidence--men who would be undeterred by ignorant and popular clamour. He urged them, if they had faith in prayer, to crowd their church day by day and pray God that He might find them a worthy successor to carry on Prynne's work on his lines.
Prynne's death brought to mind many beautiful instances of his goodness to others. Of one such the memory had been well-nigh forgotten, and his family only learnt of it for the first time the day before his death. More than fifty years ago a house in his parish was on fire, and in an upper room there was an infant. Among the many persons drawn together by the fire no one dared to attempt a rescue. Then Prynne crawled up the stairs on his hands and knees and brought the child down to a place of safety. The child lived to be a man, dying eventually far from Plymouth, and the incident--never recalled by Prynne--was forgotten until the old priest's death, when many memories were evoked in the minds of those who recollected Prynne as a young man, going about in the midst of the cholera-stricken district in which eight hundred people died, ministering in the wooden hospital put up in Five Fields Lane, and performing deeds of heroism day after day, any one of which is worthy to be cherished and held in remembrance.
One of Prynne's chief characteristics was his intense reverence when within the precincts of the church. The nearest approach to anger was shown when he noticed any act of irreverence or levity on the part of visitors, or still more on the part of decorators or those connected in any way with the church. As a natural result, in few churches is greater reverence shown than by those who assist in the services of St. Peter's, be they members of the choir, Church-workers, or the children in the Sunday schools, or those in the day schools who attend the Saint's Day Eucharist. Once when the Vicar was walking across the Sanctuary of his church, a young curate, with somewhat exaggerated views of things in general, said: "It's a pity, vicar, that we never had a proper altar in this church, is it not?" The somewhat flippant manner in which the question was put, was resented by the Vicar, who, frowning slightly, said, "What do you mean?" To which the young priest answered, as if teaching his aged vicar, "Well, it is usual in Catholic churches for altars to be made of stone, and not wood with only a stone slab like ours." The answer was prompt and characteristic, "I have always understood the greatest of all sacrifices was offered on the wood of the cross."
One other testimony and reminiscence, this time from the Sisters of the Holy Nativity, Knowle, whose House of Rest is at St. Mary's, Plympton, where his body lies. Writing in their paper, "Deus est Caritas," they remarked:--
"We cannot end without remembering one who has passed to his rest and who was closely bound up with the first beginning of the House of Rest--the late dear Vicar of St. Peter's, Plymouth. There were three functions here at different times in which he took part. First, at the opening of the House of Rest in 1880, for which he wrote a beautiful hymn which was sung at the Blessing of the House; then again six years later, when by the goodness of the founders we enlarged our borders, and two large rooms were built for the patients; and lastly, a few years later, when the little house adjoining was bought and added to the House of Rest. Both these additions were dedicated and blessed by Mr. Prynne. But the last visit he paid to the House of Rest, about four years ago, the year of his jubilee, is the dearest memory of all. A Sister was staying then at Plympton who had known him in the early days of our work here, and wished to see him, and so one hot summer's afternoon he and Mrs. Prynne came over together. The Sisters who were here will never forget that visit; Mr. and Mrs. Prynne were like two children enjoying a holiday; they had tea on the balcony with the Sisters, and went home laden with flowers. Mr. Prynne was getting very blind then, and we felt it an honour to take care of him down the steps and dangerous little places. One little thing was so characteristic of him. A poor old woman who was coming here as a patient, came out by the same train. Mr. Prynne, when he saw her, took her bag and little luggage from her and carried them up the hill. He was nearly eighty then, and very feeble, but it was just one of the kind actions which seemed to come naturally to him, and of which numberless instances are coming to light now. It is good to think that his last resting-place is the churchyard of St. Mary, Plympton."
Such memories might be multiplied. But the whole life of George Rundle Prynne is a beautiful memory and an inspiration--a memory of goodness growing ever more and more perfect, pouring itself out in splendid service and loving self-sacrifice for others; an inspiration, telling us more clearly than words can do of the triumph of truth over falsehood, of good over evil, of gentleness over mere clamour and force. Such a life, with its complete self-abnegation, its whole-hearted consecration to the service of God and man, and its beautiful simplicity, is indeed a witness of that ancient good which abides within the Church, and which again and again shines forth so clearly as to compel the attention of all men. May we not say of George Rundle Prynne, in the "In Memoriam" words he himself penned on the death of his friend and fellow-priest Charles Fuge Lowder, "Mors Janua Vitae"--
The standard bearers of the Lord
Are falling one by one.
Calmly they die within their ranks
When the Lord's work is done.
They pass from suffering, toil, and strife
To rest, and joy, and endless life.
Though dead, they speak to us and say,
Stand firm, be true and brave;
Trust in your Lord when foes press on,
For He is strong to save.
And if you fall in His great strife,
Fear not, death is the gate to life.
Lord, give us grace to follow them
As they have followed Thee,
That where Thy faithful servants are,
There we may also be,
And live and reign with them and
Thee throughout a blest eternity.