THE memory of a great man is not public property in the sense which would justify any one in assuming uninvited the office of his biographer. I certainly should not have ventured to have compiled the present book had I not been requested to do so by those who were nearest to the great Bishop of Newfoundland, who loved him best and to whom his memory is most dear. To have been, however unworthy, the chronicler of an Episcopate so noble, and of a life so saintly, has been to me a precious privilege, a labour of love and of solemn interest.
I desired to add to my own record of his manifold labours some independent testimony to the value of such a faithful, chivalrous life to the Church, both at home and abroad, and I sought for it from that eminent statesman, who, amid the manifold cares of his high position, has always found time in which to promote the best interests of religion, and by his office of Treasurer to the Colonial Bishoprics' Fund since its establishment in 1841 to the present time, has shown continued sympathy with the extension of the Church of which he is a devout and faithful son. By the kindness of Mr. Gladstone I am permitted to publish the following letter, written in answer to my request, and the opinion of such a man, "simply as one of the public," is the very testimony which I desired.
"HAWARDEN, September 18, 1876.
"Dear Sir,--I was not personally acquainted with Bishop Feild, and I am, in regard to him, simply one of the public: any sketch, therefore, drawn by me would be wholly wanting in the vital condition of individuality, nor would this defect be compensated by my cordial admiration for his character.
"It is, indeed, I fear, true that not the whole, but a part, of our Colonial Episcopate has sunk below the level established for it thirty and thirty-five years ago by the Bishops of those days. But how high a level it was! And how it lifted the entire heart of the Church of England! so that he who with content and a noble thankfulness buried himself for life in the frost and fog of Newfoundland was in truth one of the most effective labourers in, as well as for, the Church at home.
"Many and many a Bishop at home has set, and sets, us a high example; but so high as Bishop Feild in labour and sacrifice for Christ it is hardly, from their position, given them to rise. May his memory long be as bright as his rest is blessed!
"Believe me, faithfully yours,
"W. E. GLADSTONE."
Five-and-twenty years ago the name of Bishop Feild was suggestive of hope and comfort to many who, amid the controversies of the Mother Church, looked abroad and found in Newfoundland the pledge and token of a living Church and a vigorous Apostolate. I cannot but fear that while recent biographies have been written to keep before the Church the memories of Armstrong, of Mackenzie, of Patteson, of Gray, and of Cotton, these pages may, for the first time, bring before the present generation the labours of one who was still earlier in the field, but inferior to none of these great men in the works of his vocation. It ought to be to us a source of thankfulness that an Episcopate once so widely known and I esteemed should, in the space of so few years, have been to some extent crowded out of men's thoughts by instances of like zeal and self-sacrifice in Africa, in Asia, and in Melanesia. While the revival of the life of the Mother Church has been mercifully vouchsafed by God to the labours of a faithful Priesthood, the extended frontiers of the Churches of our communion in either hemisphere, their happy organization into Dioceses and Provinces consolidated and ruled by Synodical action, their independence of secular interference and patronage, their self-contained, self-supporting, and self-controlled condition, seem with equal plainness to have been vouchsafed to the labours of a faithful Episcopate.
There is nothing in the career of Bishop Feild of the sensational element which wins sympathy for those who labour among Hindoos or Kafirs or Chinese. His work was what the world would call eminently "commonplace." He braved no perils among the heathen; he had not to contend with systems of unbelief, whose very antiquity makes them venerable; he met with no ethnological or linguistic problems on which to exercise his mind as he went among his people; he lighted on no ruined temples or shrines which in certain lands set men speculating on their origin, their antiquity, their uses: while labourers in other parts of the mission field are led to see the utmost height to which civilisation, unaided by Christianity, can raise mankind, as well as the depths to which heathenism and barbarism can degrade--a bishop of Newfoundland has only to minister to those who by baptism are of the household of faith, but who, if neglected by their spiritual mother, are in a fair way to become as the heathen. While the missionary in India discovers with keen delight the trace of a long defunct language in the speech of some native with whom he converses or argues, and on such a foundation weaves for himself many an airy theory on the origin of his race, and its migrations and vicissitudes, a bishop of Newfoundland has sometimes to pause and translate for himself the provincialisms of his poor fisher flock; while, instead of trying to discover in an antique superstition some semblance of common ground on which to rest his argument for the truth, his labour must often be to discover words sufficiently simple in which to convey the rudiments of Christian teaching to unlettered but not unwilling hearers.
All the more honour to those who for the love of God and of souls undertake work which in itself is so humble, and which must be carried on under conditions so arduous and adverse. In this respect Bishop Feild differs from those mentioned above: he shows us that among our colonists, quite as much as among the heathen, there is room for the exercise of the highest courage, the practice of the greatest endurance, the devotion of all gifts and talents, although there may be wanting the applause of those who have ear and heart and purse ever open for the heathen, but little care for the English-speaking and Christian Colonist. It is on this among other grounds that the great Bishop of Newfoundland challenges our respectful admiration--that while by his manifold gifts he was qualified for the highest places in the world and in the Church, he without murmur devoted all his powers to the spiritual good of the poor neglected fishermen who were given to him as his charge.
It happens that I send my book to press on this day when the Church commemorates all who have fallen asleep in the true faith, the small as well as the great, the unknown as well as the known, the martyr and confessor as well as the hidden saint; and as, ere I finally lay down my pen, I once more think of him, whom for many years I have held in reverent honour, and whose works and words and writings have latterly occupied much of my thoughts, I cannot but quote, and apply to him, the words of a living writer on one who was a conspicuous character in the Mediaeval Church, and which seem to describe his present place in the noble company of the strong and meek, who have not been afraid of the mightiest and have not disdained to work for and with the lowliest; capable of the highest things, content as living before Him, with whom there is neither high nor low, to minister in the humblest." [Dean Church on S. Anselm.]
It remains only for me to thank those (too numerous in all cases to be specified) who, by contributing their personal reminiscences, or by the loan of letters and documents, have rendered my task comparatively easy, and have given to this biography whatever of interest or merit may be found in its compilation; especially I desire to record my obligations to the Most Rev. the Primus of Scotland, the Bishops of Chester and Salisbury, the Dean of Wells, the Rev. G. D. Adams, Vicar of East Budleigh; the Rev. E. J. Beck, Rector of Botherhithe; the Rev. J. C. Clutterbuck, Vicar of Long Wittenham; the Rev. W. Falconer, Sector of Bushey; the Rev. J. C. Harvey, of Port de Grave; the Rev. G. M. Johnson, Rector of Barningham Parva; the Rev. L. Lough, Rector of Paget, Bermuda; the Rev. E. Machen, of Eastbach Court; the Rev. A. W. Mountain, Vicar of S. Mary's, Stony Stratford; the Rev. J. Rigaud, Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford; the Rev. U. Z. Rule, formerly Missionary at the Bay of Islands; the Rev. Canon Seymour, of Worcester; the Rev. E. H. Taylor, of Brigus; and the Rev. Cecil Wray, formerly Vicar of S. Martin's, Liverpool.
LONDON, All Saints' Day, 1876.