"Twas ever thus from earliest time
That God's elect, in every clime,
Though hidden deep and unobserved
Like scattered salt, have still preserved
His blessing (lest it turn again)
To the rebellious sons of men."
Spiritual Songs by the late REV. DR. MONSELL.
THE biographer of a man who has been called to fill a high position, whether in the Church or in the State, may be expected to describe such an one both in his official capacity and in his private life; and often it may be that the qualities displayed in the one serve but to show the failures and littlenesses of the other; while in some instances personal qualities of amiability, generosity, and the like, are found in combination with helpless incapacity for government, for administration, in short for the performance of all the functions of public life; in others, administrative genius is often marred by ambition, by self-seeking, or by defective morality of life. In the case of Bishop Feild there is no such inconsistency. From the earliest period of his life of which we have any record, until its close, as Curate, as Fellow and Tutor of his college, as an English Rector and as a Colonial Bishop, his whole character, whether in its public or private aspect, is marked by an uniform consistency. 'Qualis ab incepto' is his fitting epitaph: these pages, however, are concerned principally with his episcopate, which extended over the greater number of the years of his manhood. In this high position he showed that he possessed qualities of administration and of far-seeing statesmanship of no mean order: surely in no diocese could the difficulties have been greater, the society to be moved less open to impressions and suggestions, the prospects of self-support and self-government more remote: a country whose sole harvest-field is the ocean, ice-bound for the greater portion of the year, with no export save fish, with no home-grown products, and in which, therefore, everything has to be imported; with no aristocratic elements in its society, the very merchants, the only capitalists of the country, either non-resident or sojourning in it but for as long as it may be necessary to accumulate a competence with which to retire to more genial regions,--surely such a colony, if any, might well have claimed its right to remain for ever a pensioner on the alms of the Mother Church and mother country.
No doubt Newfoundland has been largely helped, and is still largely helped, by funds from England; and never was there a case in which the necessitous struggling colonial Daughter had a stronger claim on the Mother Church: never certainly has there been a case in which such aid has been more wisely extended or more profitably used. The foregoing pages have recorded the various plans which the bishop has conceived, and lived to carry out for the benefit of his diocese: the efforts which he made in the cause of education while an English curate were continued on a larger scale and with extended experience in Newfoundland: for the middle classes he, on his own responsibility, established schools both for boys and girls, in which they should be trained as children of the Church: the arrangements of the civil power for long years upheld a system of popular education in the colony unsatisfactory to every consistent churchman; but the apparent hopelessness of the task of amending such a system never led to a relaxation of effort, and it was not until the last year of his episcopate that he succeeded in obtaining a distribution of the public funds for educational purposes on a principle of more equity to the Church. Prom the first he declined to seek from the Government the means of maintaining the clergy, well knowing that, if obtained, the concession would be weighted by conditions that would make it an embarrassment and not a help; and he scorned to look permanently to "the pence and shillings of the artizans and poor people of England" for such assistance.
He saw that the Church must both maintain and produce her own clergy: for the latter purpose he found on his arrival a skeleton institution, with three or four students, living in lodgings under no sort of discipline: he began by gathering them into a humble cottage, and he was able in time to build a suitable College, and ultimately to raise for it a competent endowment: his efforts to teach the people the hard lesson of self-help, a lesson tenfold more hard to those who have been accustomed to endowments at home, raised about him a storm of unpopularity, whose echoes reached to the highest circles in England, before which a less stout heart, or shall we say, a less scrupulous conscience, would have given way: if it be added that he did not yield--that in fact he never yielded or withdrew from any position which he had deemed it his duty to assume, it must also be added that he had none of the obstinacy which weak minds miscall principle, and in clinging to which they find an immunity from the effort of thinking or from the humiliation of confessing themselves mistaken.
In truth he took no step without being assured that it was the right step, and when it had been taken it was not in him to yield to clamour, however loud: so in the financial provision which he made for his diocese, it is now seen how sound were his principles: in the revenues of the Church Society of Newfoundland and in the system established only by the bishop's perseverance, by which every person, even the poorest, has his share of the burden, or privilege, of maintaining those who minister in holy things, the Church has within herself the machinery for continuing and extending her work, and of teaching her children to value, while they sustain, the ministry of the Word and Sacraments. For the benefit of the clergy he established a Widows' and Orphans' Fund, from which their own contributions, paid yearly, removed the stigma which attaches to purely eleemosynary institutions: he left two Orphanages built and partially endowed: instead of twelve clergymen whom he found in 1844, each doing what was right in his own eyes, he left more than fifty, a large proportion of whom had been trained under his own eye in the college which he had himself created: the income of the See, instead of being derived from three different sources, two of which would certainly fail at his decease, he has succeeded in providing in perpetuity by raising an Endowment fund of more than 12,000l: in S. John's the Cathedral which he may be said to have built (for, but for his persevering efforts it would never have been,) stands now the most imposing specimen of pointed architecture on that side of the Atlantic, and in Bermuda the beautiful Church of the Holy Trinity, commenced by him with prayer and hope, while everybody foretold the certainty of ignominious failure, remains a monument of his perseverance and liberality, the sole example of correct ecclesiastical architecture in the island, and what is still better, by its reverent and frequent services is nurturing a generation of devout and intelligent churchmen.
But while, as many others have done, he deservedly gained the reputation of a wise and statesmanlike administrator of his diocese, a special characteristic of his administration is the quiet firmness with which each successive step was taken. There was no effort at originality in aught that was said or done; whatever the circumstances and conditions in which the diocese of Newfoundland differed from others, the bishop never thought himself superior to the principles of the Catholic Church, which he deemed sufficient to cope with all emergencies and problems, however diverse or strange. He had a real and intense faith in the Church, and in his own office as a bishop of that Church; while personally he was one of the very humblest of men, his profound humility never led him, in mistaken reverence, to depreciate the gifts of which the Holy Ghost had made him the dispenser: the functions which he performed were to him realities, of the full efficacy of which he had not the shadow of a doubt; and while he thus believed unhesitatingly in his office, he had the grace (how great a grace it is!) to despise popularity: he never uttered, probably never was tempted to utter, so robust was the courage of his convictions, a meaningless platitude, or condescended to an ad captandum declamation; and he never wasted a minute in trying to steer between the Scylla and Charybdis of "Yes "and "No." What he said he meant and adhered to, and this not from impetuosity of character, for he was grave and thoughtful, but because his well-trained, well-stored mind, and sensitive conscience, ever illuminated by the Holy Spirit, and unwarped and uninfluenced by a single selfish thought, enabled him both to "perceive and know" what was right, and to abide by it when seen and known.
One of the most dangerous errors which has sprung up amongst ourselves of late years is a vulgar and idolatrous worship of majorities, a love of counting heads, and of a boastful display of numbers. No doubt in an Established Church which cannot hope to maintain such a position, if it can be proved to be the Church only of a minority, to those who "tolerate the Church for the sake of the Establishment instead of tolerating the Establishment for the sake of the Nation" the temptation to "make a fair show in the flesh" is great. "The idol of the present political physicians of the Church is size," writes the greatest living theologian, "under the guardian supremacy of the State. Many seem ready to sacrifice any principle (if, indeed, it is to them any sacrifice) to a supposed influx of numbers; as if man could do the work of the Spirit of God, and a motley crowd of worshippers, of discordant faith or of no faith, could form a Church, the Temple of the Holy Ghost. True, as they say, that a National Church ought to take in the nation. True, also, that the Christian Church ought to take in the world; but by winning it to the truth, not by becoming the domicile of its errors, an aggregate of all its unsanctified 'opinions,' a Pantheon of all its idols. Accessions of numbers, which are won to the Truth, are the glory of the Church, the fruit of the Blood of Christ, the travail of His soul, which He beholds with joy, the triumphs of His perpetual intercession. Accessions of numbers, unconverted, unwon to the 'Truth as it is in Jesus,' form but a house builded on the sand, ensuring its fall the more fatally by their accession: a Babel-multitude collected only in order to be dispersed the more hopelessly."
Although he lived much nearer to that continent from which we are supposed to have borrowed the worship of "bigness," Bishop Feild never showed any favour to plans of comprehension and concession at the cost of the Faith; in not a few cases he saw his people deserting to other folds: no one ever lamented more sincerely such defections, but he saw the remedy for them not in idle concessions of things which were not his to yield, but in a fuller and more distinct proclamation of the creed of the Church.
He had many temptations to compromise, but he had grace to resist them all. In one of his charges he reminds his clergy that in the previous year he had been exposed to much obloquy by declining to receive, and thereby to recognize, in his official capacity, a person who called himself the President of the Wesleyan Conference of North America. The bishop had been quite willing to receive him as a private gentleman, but this was not what was desired, and the offended President had written and spoken much and vehemently against the arrogance of the bishop personally, and of the unscriptural position of Episcopacy generally; but within, twelve months the bishop was able to state that two sons of this Wesleyan President were ordained by a Bishop of the North American Church, and that in Newfoundland one of the best of the clergy, who had undertaken the charge of a vast mission without any aid from without, was the son of another Wesleyan teacher who had a second son a hard-working priest in England. Those who have followed contemporary history at home will be able without difficulty to find a parallel case in one of our English bishops, who, the last man in the world to make light of departures from the faith, has, more than any other, won to the ranks of his clergy not a few of those who had been in the schismatical position of Wesleyan preachers, and to whom concessions of the faith would have been repellent.
Neither amid the great schemes which in so poor a diocese could only be accomplished by unceasing labour did he allow himself to be absorbed to the neglect of his own spiritual life, or of the needs of individual souls. His every action was performed in a prayerful spirit, and only in the strength thus acquired did he undertake any work. I have had the privilege of seeing his Charges in manuscript, and at the commencement of each there is a prayer composed by himself, and which was intended to be read by none but himself, and which testify to the spirit which was within him, and which directed his daily life.
These prayers possess so much beauty, so closely resemble the best ancient examples, and contrast so favourably with modern attempts at composition of this kind, that the two following are given. They were written on the first leaf of the Charges for 1854 and 1866 respectively.
"Make me, O Lord, and all who labour with me in the work of the ministry, every day more worthy of this honour to which Thou hast called us; that we may diligently preach Thy word, rightly and duly administer Thy Holy Sacraments, and exercise godly discipline; that we may be wholesome examples in word, in conversation, in love, in. faith, in purity; and grant unto the church and congregation whom we serve that they may profit by us daily, for Jesus Christ's sake, the supreme bishop and pastor.--Amen."
"O God, the fountain of all wisdom, in a deep sense of my own ignorance and infirmity, and of the great charge which lies upon me, I am constrained to come often before Thee, to ask that help without which I shall disquiet myself in vain; most humbly beseeching Thee to guide me with Thine eye, that I may learn from Thee what I ought to think and speak for Thy glory, and the edification of Thy Church. Direct and bless all my labours; give me a discerning spirit, a sound judgment, an honest and courageous heart. And grant that in all I write, and in all I speak, my first aim may be to set forth Thy glory, and to set forward the salvation of mankind, particularly of the people committed to my charge, that I may give a comfortable account of my time, and other talents at the Great Day when all our labours shall be tried. Grant this, O Father of all light and truth, for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen."
Not, only did he know accurately the condition of each parish and the qualifications of each clergyman, but he seems to have noted every family with whom he came in contact, and to have looked anxiously for spiritual growth as he visited the same household time after time; no harbour or cove was so remote, no little settlement so poor, as to be beyond the reach of his personal care and interest; nay, it would seem that the poorer or more despised, or more exposed to temptation, the individual or the community, the more keenly did he recognise the claim on his fatherly sympathy; in Bermuda he went out of his way to declare his interest in the poor people of colour, and, to go to another class of persons of very different social position, but much exposed to temptation--he ever took a warm interest in the young naval and military officers who were stationed or quartered within the limits of his diocese. A letter now lying before me, dated "Besika Bay," bears warm and willing testimony to the kindness which the bishop showed long ago to the writer, then a midshipman; to a young officer in the Royal Artillery who had been under his influence in Bermuda, he wrote:--
"I should be very glad if you are able, to keep up an acquaintance with------ and------, for men of such consistency and sterling worth cannot fail to give you profit and pleasure. May you in your next station be equally fortunate in your companions and friends, for I am sure that much must, under God, depend upon them as to the confirmation of your own character. "What a blessing it must be that you can look back upon your residence in Bermuda without, at least, the painful consciousness of having fallen back through the temptations of bad company, knowing how many young men have been thereby ruined."
One of the clergy in Newfoundland writes to me:--"I have scores of letters in my possession written by the bishop on the subject of my mission and of the works connected with it: if he took the same interest in every other mission and missionary (and I have abundant reason to believe that he did), his minute care and concern for every detail of the work of the diocese must have been simply astonishing."
This intense zeal which subordinated everything to the highest good of his people led him to rule with a firm hand which overlooked no slighting of ministerial obligations. To how many clergy has he uttered his favourite axiom--"The shepherd exists for the sheep, not the sheep for the shepherd"? With idleness or luxury, or even with an absence of diligent effort, he had no sympathy: his words were always to the point, and in such cases were sharply pointed: to the comforts of life he had made himself indifferent, or, at least, what were comforts to others he regarded as luxuries.
"What does Mr.------want of an outfit?" he wrote of a possible volunteer who had inquired about ways and means: "I really don't know what an outfit means: I can only say I had none. I bought a new portmanteau because my former one was a very bad one, and a few pairs of socks because my others were worn out."
Thus he came to be reckoned by some persons as autocratic and imperious; he was called on occasions a Martinet; but it should be remembered, what, indeed, the history of all wars teaches us, that it is just those leaders who in times of peace have been called Martinets by the idle and undisciplined, who in the hour of peril have led enthusiastic followers to victory and to triumph. And so with the great Bishop of Newfoundland: he found himself at the head of a band of men, few in numbers and insufficiently equipped; but he led them to the accomplishment of the work given to them to do, and though from time to time it was murmured that he was over-strict and the like, never was it given to a bishop to have under him. a body of clergy poorer in this world's goods, or more devoted to the duties of their calling, more united among themselves, or more loyal to their bishop. He ruled them because he led them: the soldiers follow with enthusiasm a strict and brave general, because they know that he shares their peril and is, in common with the humblest in their ranks, subject to the articles of war. Clerical lawlessness will not be found where bishops and priests are alike subject to the same laws: the "consensual compact," in other words the force of canonical obligation, is the only bond that exists or is desiderated in the unestablished Churches of the colonies, and while Acts of Parliament fail, as they might be expected to fail, when they attempt what is beyond their scope, the spiritual obligations, which alone the Church is at liberty to enforce, are found to be as stringent as can be desired. In the work to which the clergy in such a country as Newfoundland are called the labour must be unceasing; and truly in the episcopate of Bishop Feild there were few interruptions: it may be doubted whether during the thirty-two years of his episcopate he was absent from his diocese much more than as many weeks, and it has been shown how, when failing powers warned him to resign his office, he contemplated spending the rest of his days in the diocese and among the people for whom he had done so much. It was little wonder that as so glorious a career drew towards its close, and those who had from time to time opposed and misrepresented his action retired, there came to him, not indeed the popularity which he had always despised and which is the reward of those less noble natures who seek for it,. but the respect and the affection of all good men. If life is long enough, occasions are offered in which the whole man is shown, the softer side of those who are naturally-stern, as well as the more earnest qualities of the habitually easy-going; and so with the bishop, those who had before compared his will to an iron bar were led in times of sorrow to declare that his heart was as tender as woman's. One clergyman writes to me:--"Wherever he heard of a clergyman being unwell, in affliction, or temporarily overworked, there he was sure to offer his services. Everywhere he showed the same industry in the duties of his office, the same consistent obedience to the rules of the Church, the same simplicity of manner and of living, the same winning tenderness to the young and courtesy to all,--the same faithfulness in reproving where reproof was necessary, and in suggesting duty to those in high positions who were not likely to be reminded of it by any one else."
Another clergyman, one of the oldest in the diocese, writes:--"Bishop Feild and I did not always agree, but I always found him a kind friend, and can truly say, 'May I be as ready to depart when my call conies, as was our late bishop.'"
Yet another clergyman (Rev. W. K. White) who has laboured in Newfoundland for nearly thirty years, writes:--"I have not recovered from the shock of the departure of my dear and venerable Bishop Feild. I loved him as I never loved any man, and I miss his loving words of comfort and encouragement, of wise counsel, and fatherly advice, more than I can tell. I have always before me his joy now. I fancy I see his welcome, and hear, 'Well done, good and faithful servant,' for good and faithful he was indeed."
And many more such testimonies could be produced. In private life the good bishop was a charming companion; you felt at once that you were in the presence of a thorough gentleman. He was not a great talker, but his conversation had a peculiar grace, for his frequent wit was ever of the most refined kind, and his well-stored mind was wont to produce just what was wanted at the particular moment. He was given to hospitality, and was specially fond of getting his clergy to dine with him in the middle of the day; to these gatherings he always made a point of inviting the chaplains of any ships of war that happened to be in harbour. He entertained liberally, but his table was never luxuriously furnished, and in his own person he practised a temperance, almost an abstinence, that sometimes seemed to be extreme. He was at all periods of his life fond of children, and the liking was reciprocal; it has been mentioned already how the infants at Kidlington used to struggle for his caress, and in the present year the following testimony is borne by the Rev. J. C. Harvey of Port-de-Grave:--"Bishop Feild was unusually fond of children, and used to take our little, ones upon his knee and repeat to them some of the nursery rhymes, which we used to hear in our early days. He was also very fond of sacred music, and took much notice of one of my daughters who, when nine years of age, attracted and pleased him much by her musical talent; he sent her a tune-book of Hymns Ancient and Modern, having written inside, 'The organist, Port-de-Grave, from her friend and admirer, E. Newfoundland.' He was constantly saying that she must be his organist at the cathedral, and once when the child went to S. John's he took her over the cathedral, showing and explaining the organ to her."
No one could be long with the bishop without detecting a quiet humour which was both unceasing and irrepressible. It sparkled in his gentle conversation, which was always easy and free of effort, and overflowed in epigram, in quotation, or jeu d'esprit in his letters. This joyousness of spirit is often found in connection with the highest measure of personal holiness, and in all his playful words it would be impossible to detect any that could justly be called "idle." How great a sustaining power this must have been to him during the anxieties and isolation of his long labours, need not be stated. He seemed to be of those who are ever
"Through darkest nooks of this dull earth
Pouring in showery times their glow of quiet mirth."
He was fully aware of the presence of this brightness of spirit, and was conscious of the blessing which it proved to him. "If God has given me what the wise man says is a continual feast, and doeth good like a medicine," he once wrote in a playful letter to a former parishioner, "how can I help indulging myself when I recur to those scenes and those friends which were always so pleasant to me?"
Nor were the good effects of this cheerful spirit limited to himself. The following statement which has been kindly sent to me will show how useful it was to others:--
"He was noted for lightheartedness," writes my informant; "and especially so when travelling. Away in the midst of wild scenes or amongst the little isolated communities scattered here and there, one would almost think from his manner that he did not know care.
I well remember how on one occasion, shortly before I was ordained, the sunshine of his humour fairly broke up and dispersed a cloud of melancholy that had settled upon me one dreary day. He had taken me with him on a few days' tour in Conception Bay, and we were returning to S. John's. After crossing the bay in a steam-ferry (and to a poor sailor as I was a passage on such a day in a small steamboat was by no means enlivening) we had then a ten-mile journey overland to the town. We drove in an open trap; it was pouring with rain; the month November. Whether there was anything besides the weather to make me uncomfortable I can't remember, but I fancy there was some little trouble, real or imaginary; and altogether I was dismal and decidedly unconversational.
After a longish silence the bishop was the first to speak. 'An uncomfortable day.' Answer, 'Yes, it is.' (Silence). Bishop, 'Wet.' 'Yes, very wet.' (Silence). 'Something like a Scotch mist.' (Another silence). 'Rather showery to-day.' Answer, 'Well, it's wet.' (Silence again). 'It's a little cloudy.' (Silence). 'Do you think we're going to have any rain?'
Well, seeing it had been pouring incessantly for hours, and seemed likely to do so for hours more, my grumpiness was fairly beaten. The humorous way in which he made these little absurd observations was irresistible, and in. spite of my dismal feelings, he had succeeded at last in making me laugh. That accomplished, we began to talk, and my spirits were up for the rest of the journey.
There was a real kindness in that, and some cleverness too. But it was not only in such trifling ways that he endeared himself. Through all the time that I served under him, he was ready with counsel, encouragement, and if need arose, with help of a more material kind.
Another trait in his character was careful attention to minute details. Sometimes I thought that in certain matters he carried it almost to excess. On the whole, however, it answered well, and the fault, if it was a fault, was a good one. This trait in his character is illustrated by a letter I received from him after I had left a mission of which I had charge for rather more than seven years. He had been making a Visitation of it, and at the last place he visited he wrote me this letter. He told me something of what he had done in every place he went to; gave an account of all the services held; the number of communicants, ot children baptized, of persons confirmed, and the names of a couple married in his presence. He had something to say about every one of the mission buildings, built or building, six in all; something about school arrangements; and something about several individuals in whom of course I was interested. He took himself an interest in all these persons and things; and he remembered"
Conjoined with his bright cheerfulness, the bishop had in him much of the spirit of an ascetic. He was rigid, as may have been expected, in observing the season of Lent, the weekly fast of Friday and similar obligations. His habits of private devotion were, of course, unobserved although not unknown by his friends, but when he was on board ship and privacy was impossible, it was then seen what his life was, and indeed the whole time of the Visitation which was not spent on shore in active ministrations among the people, was devoted to a perpetual round of prayer, study and psalmody. During his visits in England it has been mentioned to me by more than one of those who had the privilege of receiving him as a guest, that he has been overheard repeating prayers and offices in the night hours, when the whole of the household was supposed to be asleep.
A traveller in North America has recorded the circumstance that, while resting at a lonely inn, he was roused at night by the sound of a solitary voice chanting the psalms. The next morning he made inquiries as to the source of sounds so unwonted, and learned that his fellow-traveller who had so disturbed him was the Bishop of Newfoundland; the incident formed the theme of the following verses, which appeared with the well-known initials of the authoress in the Churchman's Companion for 1848:--
"Wake, wanderer, wake, a solemn voice
Chants softly to the chill night air,
In old familiar melody,
Sweet strains of praise and prayer;
Such strains as in thine own dear land
Unnumbered voices love to sing,
When, morn and eve, the Bride of Heaven,
Brings homage to her King.
Here are no old collegiate walls,
No mighty minster fair and strong:
Whence caught this wild north-western waste
The Church's Evensong?
Sleep, wanderer, sleep, thy mother's hand
Is stretched to guard each wandering child;
Her shepherd waketh for the flock
Far scattered in the wild.
'Tis meet his voice should linger here,
Chanting alone the dear old lay,
Who heareth from the dear old land
High spiritual sway.
'Tis meet his deep unwearied tone,
Still night and day, her songs renew,
Like strain thrice echoed from the hills,
Whose every note is true.
Head of the Church! forever hear,--
Hear Thou thy servant's evening hymn;
Give that lone voice a power to raise
From sleep more dark and dim.
Be it a witness to Thy name,
For truth, for love, for order dear,
Charming the sinner from his path,
Soothing the exile's ear.
It dies beneath the wide grey heaven,
It dies along the silent plain;
No answering flock, no deep-voiced choir
Take up the solemn strain
Yet patience, strong and holy heart,
Nor doubt the full response shall come;
Still waken with thy lonely note
The desert dark and dumb.
Deep down the course of coming years
That cord shall vibrate yet again,
And ages yet unborn shall hear
That slumbering Amen.
C. F. H.
In money matters the question with all who knew his munificence was, not what he gave, but how he could find so much to give away. It was said of him "that he lived like a beggar, and gave like a prince," but the estimate was not a just one, for there was nothing of the sordidness of the beggar in that voluntary simplicity of his life which enabled him to indulge in munificent charity.
Of his intellectual powers nothing has been said, and nothing need be said; they were recognised by all who knew him, and it is characteristic of his marvellous simplicity that while he could not but be aware that he was competent to fill any position, however high, he always spoke of the office to which he had been called as one for which many more fitted could have been found, and in which another would probably have effected more.
It will be remembered that while awaiting his consecration he wrote to a friend expressing his desire to carry on, and, if it pleased God, to reap the fruits, of the great and good beginnings which his predecessor had made. The desire was eminently characteristic: to build on the plans of others was always natural to the bishop: it will have been observed by the readers of the foregoing pages that everything which Bishop Spencer had commenced, however incomplete the condition in which he left it, was carried out and perfected by his successor; the proposed College the proposed Cathedral, the Organization of the Diocese, are all abiding memorials of his successful toil and prudent organization; and although many other works were originated and completed by Bishop Feild, no one who knew him would have wondered at being told that he regarded the whole of his episcopal labours as but the complement of the designs and aspirations of his predecessor.