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George Rundle Prynne
An Early Chapter in the History of the Catholic Revival
by A. Clifton Kelway

London: Longmans, Green and Co, 1905. 248 pp.


Meeting with Dr. Pusey--Prynne and the Vicarage of St. Saviour's, Leeds--Appointment to a new district at Par--His father's death--Removal to SS. Levan and Sennen--Dr. Pusey on Wesleyanism--Appointment to St. Peter's, Plymouth (1848).

IT was at Clifton that George Prynne first came under the influence of Dr. Pusey, who was frequently there, visiting his daughter, and who on several occasions celebrated and preached at St. Andrew's Church. Introduced to Dr. Pusey at the early service on Christmas Day, 1843, when the great leader was celebrant, the acquaintance soon seems to have deepened into friendship. Prynne's diary about this time contains many references to Dr. Pusey, whose influence is seen in such matters as the more careful observance of fasts and Saints' days, and daily attendance at Divine worship, a record of which appears. At this time, too, the young priest began to hear confessions as a regular part of his ministerial work. That Pusey estimated the character of George Prynne very highly is evident from the urgency with which he pressed him to join the clerical staff of St. Saviour's, Leeds, at one time thinking of him as a suitable incumbent of that notable church, in the stormy days that marked its early history after the first secession to Rome. Pusey's idea, however, as he explained to Prynne, was to establish there a college of celibate priests, living in common; and Prynne, though he did not disclose the fact just then, was at that time contemplating matrimony, and was, indeed, practically engaged. He felt, therefore, that he could not fulfil the conditions. Nevertheless, the idea had its attractions for Prynne, and we find Pusey alluding to it again at a later date, as in the following letter, written six months after the young priest left Clifton:--


"I hear that had St. Saviour's been unprovided for, you would not have been unwilling to have undertaken the charge. I need not say that I am sorry it is provided for, for that would be to disparage the valuable person whom God, I hope, gave us at last, the Rev. A. Forbes, of B.N.C. I had often thought of you in my perplexity, as I have habitually prayed for you, with reference to that life since our conversations some time past; for I knew of no hindrances except, as I thought, that your departed father did not appreciate it for you. So I often had you in my thoughts, but I thought that you were placed elsewhere, and that I had no business to disturb you; so I did nothing, and I had applied to Forbes before your first intimation came to me that you might possibly be disposed to accept it. I should have valued this bond between us, and should have been thankful if it had been a comfort to you.

"I do not know Mr. Forbes' age, nor indeed yours, very well; nor how far it would suit you to take part in that work, he being vicar. We hope that a second church will be built soon in the district. You know, I believe, the plan. Four clergy (at present) to live together in the midst of a population of six thousand souls, bound by no pledge, in great simplicity and, I suppose, what we deem poverty--indeed in poverty yet not austerity (for which the fatigues of the Church would be unsuited); their congregation a very affectionate one, a beautiful church, good schools, in the midst of dissension and a system of espionage at present, frequent services, and weekly communions. It is a very promising field.

"But here I cannot give an opinion. I know not whether your ages might not make it unfitting for you to be living under Forbes, though as .brothers; and after the sad mistake I made in sending Macm. there, I keep from recommending coadjutors. It is a grave step, for although there are no pledges, still it is desirable that they who go there should have their hearts in the direction of desiring to give themselves to the Lord without distraction.

"I have been sorry to hear privately that you have had much distress. But God does not take anything from us without replacing it by His own love, if we seek it of Him.

"May His love be with you.
"In Him, yours affectionately,
"Tuesday after Ascension Day, 1847."

St. Saviour's, Leeds, with all its splendid possibilities, was indeed a promising field; but, looking back over the past sixty years, may we not say that God had other plans for this young priest of His Church--that for him work was to be found in another portion of the great Vineyard ? Pusey assisted financially in the funds raised by Prynne for building a school in his district, and also wrote him as to a conditional promise of £500 towards providing a new church there.

On June 18, 1846, a letter came to Prynne from Mr. Lyne, his former vicar at Tywardreath, offering to recommend him to the Bishop of Exeter and to Sir Robert Peel as vicar of a new parish at Par, about to be carved out of Tywardreath. Prynne hesitated some time, but ultimately accepted the offer, and received his nomination from Sir Robert Peel just before that statesman went out of office in 1846. It is easy to understand Prynne's hesitancy in deciding to leave Clifton, where the work had proved congenial and he had formed various attachments.

Amongst other things, he had, while there, attained some reputation as a preacher, as his volume of "Sermons Preached in the Parish Church of St. Andrew, Clifton," and published in October, 1846 (Ridley: Bristol), gives evidence. Of these sermons the English Churchman, at that period a leading exponent of the Catholic cause, said that they were of the rare class which fully justify their publication. "As sound, practical, and edifying discourses, we can very strongly recommend them." On the other hand, the young clergyman, to whom family ties were ever of the strongest, did undoubtedly desire to be near his father, whose health was failing; and there were other private reasons which prompted a return to his former sphere of work. He left Clifton in October, 1846, going immediately to his charge in Cornwall, and receiving a letter of welcome from Bishop Philpotts on his return to the diocese.

Early in the following year (January 14, 1847) his father died. He felt the loss very deeply, and thus records his grief in his diary on the day of the funeral:--

"Followed the body of my dear father to his grave, and saw the earth thrown over him who loved me as his own life. More lonely henceforth am I on this earth, for not one now remains to love me as he loved. May God forgive me whatever I have done in wilfulness or disobedience against my kind, fond, affectionate father. May He grant that the loss of one I loved so well may be made the means of drawing away my mind from seeking happiness in things of this world, and fix my affections more fully on God, Heaven, and Eternity. And whilst I again go forth to my labours, may the thought never leave me that all joys here are fleeting, and that the only true happiness is that arising from a pure conscience and the love of God."

This was in many respects a trying year in George Prynne's life. Besides the keen sorrow caused by the loss of his father, he had troubles of a private nature, that caused him intense mental and bodily distress. His record of these troubled days, as given in his diary, shows very clearly the transparent simplicity of young Prynne's character, and the pain which even an apparent deflection from his high ideal of conduct caused to his extremely sensitive conscience. Eventually, in August, 1847, ne left Par for the parish of SS. Levan and Sennen, near the Land's End, having apparently effected an exchange with the priest who had been at St. Levan, and who now took over Prynne's uncompleted work at Par. During his ministry there Prynne had raised funds for building a new church, a site having been obtained from Col. Carlyon and the plans made by Mr. G. E. Street. The preparation of these plans was Mr. Street's first work on his own account in the profession he ultimately adorned so highly. Prynne's removal to St. Levan was effected at the Bishop's suggestion, Dr. Philpotts proposing it as a temporary charge, "until something could be found better suited to your talents and energies." At St. Levan and St. Sennen there were again two churches to be served, and the young priest found himself (as in his first Cornish curacy) riding or walking considerable distances to his Sunday services. He enjoyed the wild romantic scenery of the Cornish coast, and spent much leisure-time climbing and sketching. But he felt the loneliness of the place, the remoteness of which was at that time far greater than it now is, and he consulted Dr. Pusey as to the advisability of asking a brother priest to reside with him. Dr. Pusey replied as follows:--


"Thank you for your account of T. L. and yourself. I am not sorry it is so. It seems much more natural that you should have others living with you, as you have virtually had the charge of parishes for some years though as a Curate. But I should be glad to hear of your having some one living with you with whom you might have common devotions and common thought, whether a younger Clergyman or (for which the Bishop of Exeter is well disposed) one to be trained for Holy Orders. We want labourers so much that any one who can train any is doing good service.

"Then, too, it would be a comfort to yourself, although the comfort is to be in any way drawn nearer and into more continual intercourse with God.

"May He be ever with you,
"Yours affectionately,
"E. B. P."

At St. Levan, as at Tywardreath, Prynne found Wesleyanism, so-called, very much en evidence; the following letter indicates that he consulted Dr. Pusey in regard to it:--


"I have acted at once upon your letter and am much obliged to you for sending me the information, and shall be obliged to you at any time to tell me of any things you think I ought to know.

"These distractions of our poor Church are very sad, yet we shall have peace when God wills. 'O pray for the peace of Jerusalem.' I cannot but hope that Wesleyanism might still be recovered. Confession seems to take the place of their 'relations of experiences,' and absolution of their 'present salvation.' If the Church withholds her gifts, human nature will crave them and make some substitutes for them. Dr. Hook, you know, told a body of Wesleyans that he would be 'their class-leader,' and so win them back to the Church. The Wesleyans had a fervour of devotion which found no food in the stiff writings of last century. They may yet find in the Church what is more real than what they now feed on, and grow reverentially fervid.

"God be with you alway,
"In Him your affectionate,
"E. B. P.

"St. Saviour's is again vacant. I thought of you, yet regarded your answer as decisive. It is offered, not yet accepted."

The letter is undated: the allusion in the postscript, however, fixes it about the time (October, 1847) when Forbes resigned St. Saviour's on his election to the Bishopric of Brechin. It is probably the letter referred to by Prynne as being received on October nth,--at a moment when he was engaged in defending Dr. Pusey from the attacks of correspondents in the Truro paper, the West Briton.

The work in this isolated district was indeed discouraging, especially to a young priest like Prynne, who had attained some fame and success during his ministry at Clifton. Congregations of half a dozen or less at either of the two churches; four communicants only on Christmas Day; services to which no one came,--conditions like these were disheartening indeed. Yet his diary shows that he plodded on, starting Sunday schools, teaching the children on week-days--for there was no day-school in the place then--and doing what he could to improve the character of the services, even at the risk of offending his only friend and supporter, Mr. Trembath. This gentleman, churchwarden of the parish, threatened to resign if Prynne persisted in reading the Prayer for the Church Militant. But though isolated, the young priest was not forgotten, and early in 1848 he learnt from the Bishop of his probable appointment to one of the populous districts of Plymouth. Eventually he received from Dr. Philpotts the offer of the incumbency of the new district of St. Peter's, Plymouth, to take up the duties of which he finally left Cornwall in July, 1848.

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