Ordination--First curacy at Westbury--Early ministerial work--Removal to Wantage--Letters from Bishop Denison--Wantage in 1852--Letters from Dr. Liddon and the Dean of Lincoln--Work at the hamlet of Charlton--Reminiscences of the villagers--Thought of mission work abroad--Call to St. George's-in-the-East.
It was in Lent 1849 that Mackonochie was ordained by Bishop Denison at Salisbury, and went at once as curate to the parish of Westbury in Wiltshire.
On January 20, 1849, the Bishop's chaplain writes:
Mr. Meyrick has informed me that he has been allowed by the bishop to nominate you to a cure at Westbury. Under ordinary circumstances the bishop would require you to come to Sarum for a preliminary examination--as it is, he will not expect to see you here till the examination commences at the palace.
And on February 27, Mackonochie wrote to his mother from Salisbury:
The examination will begin to-morrow. I know I need not repeat what I said before, that I have now an especial claim to be in the thoughts of all my friends. At such times one feels most strongly one's great want of all that the intercessions of friends and fellow-Christians can obtain for us.
I am very glad (he writes again) that the examination is over, for it has been hard and exciting work and nowise conducive to such meditations as befit the work of to-morrow.
And then again, on a scrap of paper dated March 4:
I have only time to tell you that the ordination is at last over. . . . Meyrick (the Vicar of Westbury) offers me a week's holiday, but I have decided to go down on Monday.
In the preceding October, the Rev. E. W. Tufnell, afterwards Bishop of Brisbane, had recommended him to apply for the Westbury curacy.
It is (he wrote) one of the most important parishes in the county, and the curates there seem to work so happily and laboriously with the vicar that it must be a very desirable post.
The Rev. Thomas Bowles (afterwards Mackonochie's fellow-curate and intimate friend) had, however, been first in the field. He was ordained to Westbury at Christmas, and no other suitable curacy offering itself, Mackonochie's ordination was delayed until Lent. It was shortly before his ordination that Mr. Meyrick communicated with him again. He was obliged by failing health to leave his parish for some time, and wished to secure his services if he were still disengaged. This proved to be the case, and he at once closed with Mr. Meyrick's offer. As usual, he had accepted his first disappointment very quietly.
Mr. Bowles, who furnishes us with some recollections of this time, writes:
I was much more vexed at having stood in Mackonochie's way than he was with me for interrupting his plans. ... In a very few days after his arrival he was at work amongst the poor, visiting with great diligence and at first with some difficulty of manner, though it was not long before he was much liked by his own especial parishioners as well as generally, though they thought him 'stiff,' as in those days he was. His preaching at the time I was with him at Westbury could not be called good. He wrote sermons and preached from his paper. He wrote with slowness and considerable difficulty. I have known him write most of Saturday, and, unable to make enough to fill his paper, work on into the night, till he went to bed on Sunday morning rather than Saturday night in despair, and have to fill a few more pages on Sunday morning before service. ... It was certainly hard work for three curates, all young. We had three churches. One of them (Bratton) was more than three miles off; another (Ditton) one and three-quarter mile. Bratton had its two services, Ditton two also, and there were three at the parish church . . . From the first A. H. M. had always to preach two sermons a week.
The curates lived together, and 'I do not think,' writes one who knew them intimately, 'that they ever had a shade of disagreement. The only fault was that they did not know the limits of human strength, fasted too much and worked too hard. Mr. Mackonochie's powers of work were wonderful. At one time, when single-handed in the parish, he had four daily services in different parts of it, in addition to his other work. When he first came to the parish, various circumstances had combined to bring about a great deal of poverty in the district, and he could not restrain himself from giving what lie could ill afford to those in need. On one occasion, being much pressed to go to Oxford for some interesting gathering, his friends were puzzled by his refusal, until at last the reason transpired. He had not a coat fit to go in, and as he very apologetically remarked, "I could not help it, the fever was so bad at Ditton."'
About forty years ago (writes Canon Tinling) my official duties as H.M. Inspector of Schools required me to visit Westbury. I remember distinctly the real pleasure I enjoyed in passing forty-eight hours with the curates and witnessing for the first time the community life that they were living. . . . Mackonochie was evidently a power; there was a manly vigour pervading the home. Everything was charmingly clean, and yet no waste or luxury; all was unselfishness, brotherly love, and earnest devotion to God and man; all was calm, unpretending. . . . Mackonochie impressed me very deeply as a man of God--certain to draw those with whom he came in contact to a higher life of devotion.
He threw himself at once into his work with energy and zeal, and a painstaking conscientiousness as to its smallest details which was even more remarkable in so young a man. The drudgery of parochial work, which must often precede direct spiritual ministrations, was never neglected. He described it as 'spade husbandry,' and as absolutely necessary if the work was to bear fruit. There was not only a singleness of aim, but a method and order in his life which shut out any thought of personal ease or self-indulgence. One of whom he never afterwards lost sight, who was at that time Master of the Westbury Union, writes:
I knew his landlady, and she told me that he was very exact and orderly in all his movements, that he declined everything in the shape of personal indulgence, and even if she put an extra covering on his bed in cold weather he made no remark, but she invariably found it in the morning neatly folded and laid aside. He usually rose about four or five o'clock in the morning. . . . I knew several schoolboys whom he invited to his lodgings to receive special instruction from him; one of whom unexpectedly called on me the other day and feelingly spoke of him as the first person who initiated him in the study of Latin and encouraged him to persevere. This same schoolboy has now for many years been a successful parish priest and vicar in the north of England. . . . During many years of intercourse with Mr. Mackonochie I never ceased to notice and admire his deep humility and self-abasement; his unwillingness to blame and his readiness to approve. The poor, and especially the sick and suffering, always found in him a constant, sincere, and generous friend. . . . The most desolate and least inviting parts of the parish were the places to which he dedicated the chief part of his time and the exercise of his energies. I have known him walk several miles day after day in all sorts of weather to prepare poor pauper children for Confirmation, and to minister to the sick and dying in the lowest haunts of the poor and in the Union Workhouse. One incident I will venture to notice. There was in the workhouse a resolute and abandoned woman known to my wife, for whose state she felt much concerned. She drew Mr. Mackonochie's special attention to her, but she refused with a scowl and an oath to have anything to say to the parson. After several fruitless attempts to see her, he at last only succeeded by following her and remaining with her until her passion had subsided, and by making her feel that his only object in visiting her was to lead her to her Saviour and so make her happy. Then for the first time the idea seemed to dawn upon her that she was not utterly forsaken, that she had one friend in the world who cared for her. This was the turning point in her moral history. Henceforth she honoured her pastoral friend and was always ready to receive his ministrations. From that time he often read to her and prayed with her, and the blessed Spirit carried his words with convincing and purifying power to her once cold and obdurate heart. Her early excesses had, however, impaired her constitution to a fatal extent, and she began rapidly to sink, and while dying faintly breathed out the wish that her gratitude might be conveyed to Mr. Mackonochie who had brought her to feel her sinful state and her need of her Saviour. . . . His unabated zeal and untiring devotion to his Master's service (continues this old and faithful friend) was also seen in his visits to my wife when nearing her end. He used frequently to walk from St. Alban's, Holborn, to Great Cambridge Street, Hackney Road, and after performing his early morning duties as chaplain at St. Saviour's Priory, would reach my house at Bermondsey (a distance of several miles) by eight o'clock in the morning, that he might converse with his friend of the Saviour's love and administer to her the Blessed Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ. . . . When I look back and contemplate my intimacy with him for more than thirty years, his life appears to me to have been an unbroken series of acts of self-denial and of the faithful discharge of the duties of his ministerial commission; and an attentive observer could not fail to perceive that he was sustained and cheered in his life of self-sacrifice by an unfaltering trust in the promise of the abiding presence of his Risen Lord.
The simple testimony bears the stamp of truth. It was for this reason that the ordinary duties of a village pastorate were neither commonplace nor wearisome, and Westbury was ever held by Mr. Mackonochie in affectionate remembrance.
To one case of great difficulty which came under his notice whilst there, he applied himself with that persistent care for the individual soul which was such a marked characteristic of his ministerial life in after years.
The child of a somewhat prominent member of the Baptist Chapel in the place had died suddenly under suspicious circumstances, and after a while (though no inquest had been held at the time) the body was exhumed, and it was proved to have been poisoned, and by its own mother, who had also, it was now discovered, got rid of her elder children by the same means. The Baptists would have nothing to do with this unhappy member of their community. It was Mr. Mackonochie who at once went to see her, and during the time she lay under sentence of death did his utmost to bring her to repentance, never relaxing his efforts (which were, unhappily, unavailing) until life itself was gone. It was an early instance of that practical love for the lost and outcast, which was, as it were, the mainspring of his actions, and to which so much of his influence in after life was due.
The vicar's bad health necessitating frequent absences, led in 1850 to his resignation; but in the short time they had been together he had greatly endeared himself to his junior curate, who wrote of him in 1854:
I have had letters telling me of the departure of my dear friend and vicar, Meyrick. His death was, as his life had been, simple, trustful, full of faith and hope and love. Frederic Meyrick kindly wrote to tell me of it, and said that he spoke of me among the last things which he said about this world. We cannot wish him back to live over again the last five years, and yet it is hard to think of him as gone.
Mackonochie was the only one of the three curates who stayed on with the new vicar, the Rev. Henry Duke.
The work amongst the scattered population was trying, and in some respects unsatisfactory. His was certainly not a restless mind, but he had now been three years at Westbury. There was no possibility of increased organisation, nor prospect of much development in the work. He had been compelled to buy his own experience, and had had but little training. Moreover, he had an increasing desire for opportunities to give practical expression to his faith. Frequent celebrations, and even weekly communions, were as vet seldom to be found in country villages. Long years after, only a month or two before his death, he told of the disappointment of the Westbury curates when they had clubbed together to buy a pair of candlesticks, invited the vicar to tea and presented them to him; and how when he had admired them enough they broke to him the fact that they were intended for the church, and with profuse admiration he repeated over and over again: 'But you know I cannot put them on the altar.' Still he was a kind man, and so they got them into the vicarage, and on to the highest shelf in the pantry; and at last, years after, on a certain occasion when he returned to Westbury, he found the lights on the altar, where they still stand. He told the anecdote as a consolatory one to some one whose offering had been in like manner rejected, but it is a little indication of the state of Church feeling in his day, which must of necessity have been a trial to him.
He was near enough to Wantage to hear a good deal of the work going on there. His friend Mr. Bowles strongly urged him to apply for a vacancy upon the clerical staff; and after an interview with the vicar, he made arrangements to go there at Michaelmas 1852. On October 5, 1852, Bishop Denison wrote: I am sorry to sign your testimonials as a step to your removal into another diocese. I cannot do so without expressing my sense of the faithfulness with which you have discharged the functions of your ministry at Westbury and the benefit which has resulted from your exertions. I hope that the post of duty upon which you are now entering may prove one satisfactory to you, and with every wish and prayer for your happiness and usefulness in it,
Believe me yours faithfully,
Already, in 1852, Wantage was celebrated for its elaborate parochial machinery and efficient organisation. Under the energetic rule of the Rev. W. Butler, the present Dean of Lincoln, it was especially fitted to be a training school for the younger clergy. There was no overwhelming population with which to contend, no crushing sense of multiplied duties some of which must needs be left undone; neither was there the isolation and monotony of a single-handed ministry in a country village. There was a sufficient staff of clergy with varied duties, in the town itself, in the large Church schools in the outlying hamlets, without speaking of the different works of mercy carried on by the Sisters, who co-operated with them. Men were not slow to avail themselves of the advantages offered to them of associated labour and systematic training, and it is a curious fact, which has frequently been commented upon, that so many who afterwards occupied important posts, or were in other ways especially distinguished, had been, at one time or another, curates of Wantage.
It lies at the foot of the Berkshire Down; an old country town dating from the days of King Alfred; carrying one's mind back to childish times when the stories happily connected with that Saxon monarch shed a cheerful though transitory gleam of light over the dull pages of early English history. It is an old-fashioned place, with an air of sobriety which has little in common with the noise and bustle of modern life. There is a wide marketplace where business is transacted after a leisurely fashion; the foot-paths before the red-tiled cottages lead down into shaded lanes or green pastures; every now and again the soft lines of the landscape are broken by a straight row of rustling poplars; patches of orchard are bounded by clusters of houses; a sluggish stream fringed by willows flows under the stone wall of the churchyard and rectory garden;--at every turn, with scattered blossoms and much waving of green boughs, the country makes friendly inroads into the town.
The fine old church with its massive central tower, stands on the low hill-side. At a short distance there rises a pile of grey stone buildings, the home of the Wantage Sisters, who have another large house, St. Michael's Home, where they train industrial girls and pupil-teachers. For the old town is full of young life. From schools of every grade and kind there comes a cheerful sound of children's voices, and at every turn in the green lanes on a summer's evening you meet a group of small loiterers on their way home from school. The religious houses, the large body of sisters and clergy, and the varied works of mercy carried on in its midst, have given a curiously religious character to the place. People mark the lapse of time by the Church's calendar, and life moves along sedately to the sound of church bells.
It was with an intent purpose to use to the utmost his opportunities for parochial work and spiritual advancement that Mackonochie came to Wantage. The disadvantages under which he had unmurmuringly laboured at Westbury were about to be removed. For the first time he was to be within reach of a daily Eucharist; the church was open all day long for private prayer and frequent services. He had the constant companionship of men who were, like himself, reaching forward to the higher life, fed and sustained by the means of grace and the Sacraments of the Church. There were not only opportunities for study, but guides in the way of knowledge, and ample opportunities for putting that knowledge into practice. From the first he had been deeply impressed with the responsibility of his position as a religious teacher. He would have earnestly corroborated the assertion that 'in every one who has a cure of souls, an accurate and habitual knowledge of the Church's formal statements of doctrine will be an essential part of his qualifications,' and all the more necessary when he is called upon to minister to the uneducated; for 'in what manner are the unlearned and unintellectual to learn orthodoxy?--indeed the whole subject of the religious knowledge of a saintlike and heavenly-minded believer who should be wholly without intellectual cultivation, is full of importance, interest, and, we may add, mystery,'
Mackonochie's work at Wantage lay principally amongst the young and ignorant. He was daily in the schools, and one of those, then a teacher, who came into constant contact with him, writes:
He took upon himself not only the teaching in the parish schools for an hour or so on certain days, but also what would be called the drudgery of the work; in the absence or illness of the mistress, keeping school himself and giving his whole power to the most trivial detail. . . . There was in those days a school for the employment of elder girls in plain needlework, at which they partly earned their living. They were always at daily Matins, and regularly after the service Mr. Mackonochie came into the transept where they sat and catechised them on the 2nd lesson for the day. . . . His teaching, though I was then only a girl of fifteen, left a very deep impression on my mind, and though of course the subject of his sermons is forgotten, there are many passages of Holy Scripture which I scarcely ever read without recalling the fact that he preached upon them.
And in reference to this period the Dean of Lincoln writes:
The Deanery, Lincoln: July 23, 1889.
You have asked me to give you some notices of the life of our dear friend A. H. M. during the time spent by him as assistant curate of Wantage. I must premise by reminding you that more than thirty years have passed away since he left Wantage, and that therefore (keenly and clearly as in a general way his memory comes before me) it is impossible for me to recall many of those incidents which show most satisfactorily what a man really is. I remember very distinctly his first arrival in Wantage in the summer of 1852. My fellow-workers, as was our wont, were dining with me in the middle of the day, and we saw a tall spare figure standing at the door of the Vicarage, and asking to see me. He had been recommended by a curate, Rev. S. J. Bowles, who was leaving Wantage, to take his place, His manner was, as ever, simple, bright, straightforward, and we soon made an alliance and friendship, which, in spite of serious differences in some very important questions, never for a moment flagged. Soon he settled down among us, together with others, the Rev. R. Harvey, now Vicar of Sarisbury near Southampton, Rev. H. P. Liddon, now Canon of St. Paul's, and later on the Rev. W. Sawyer, Vicar of St. Luke's, Maidenhead, in a small house in the town, which they took among them, living, as I need hardly add, in the very quietest and simplest way. He came to us in the earlier days of my Wantage ministry, not long after the stir about the 'Papal Aggression' as it was called, when every effort for improving the services or the fabric of the church was looked upon with bitterness and suspicion. The body of the church was choked up with high pews and galleries, and the chancel, though in somewhat more seemly condition, was sorely inadequate to guide the heart to realise the greatest act of Christian service. We had then to work against considerable difficulties, and it is impossible to describe how much we were aided in our struggle by the nobility of his character, his absolute self-sacrifice, and his very considerable ability. While he frequently took part in the services of the parish church, his special charge was a certain street in the town, called Grove Street, noted as having been inhabited first by sackweavers, men and women and children earning high wages, and spending as they earned, and then when this manufacture had left the town, by the same people converted into hawkers and cadgers of every kind, and a district outside the town called Charlton, where a small chapel had been built, and where the bulk of the agricultural part of the population lived. To these two he gave his whole heart, and produced very remarkable results, taming and humanising, and teaching definite doctrine, and converting souls in true Church fashion. Even at this long interval of time his name is remembered, and there are some still who love to tell of his assiduous visiting, the earnestness of his preaching, the wonderful influence which he gained over some of the most hardened and hopeless. There was in Wantage at that time a lady, widow of a former curate, wealthy and eccentric. For some reason of her own she would not enter the parish church, but she found her way to Charlton, and though by no means naturally disposed to what are called Church principles, she became a complete convert to his teaching, attended the services regularly, sent large gifts of the rarest flowers for decoration, and when she died some years after he had left Wantage, left him in her will a very considerable legacy. As a preacher in those days he was remarkably ready and often very effective, though his voice was somewhat too high-pitched to be always agreeable. I remember on one occasion when some club came to church and behaved a little disorderly, he was asked on the spur of the moment to address them, which he did so admirably, that all were impressed and made for the season reverent. At my request the Bishop of Oxford appointed him to preach the Ordination sermon in Wantage parish church in 1857. He preached, if I remember rightly, an un-written sermon, such an outpouring from the heart, such a setting forth of the solemnity as well as of the blessedness of the ministerial office as could have been uttered by no one who had not like himself probed it to the very core. This too struck deeply into his hearers' hearts. Though not a good teacher, being from his great conscientiousness too much given to overload instruction with details, no one was ever more loving to children, or more beloved by them. With them he was always full of merriment, and knew well at our school feasts and at other times how to brighten their young lives. Thus for six years we laboured together in most loving brotherly fashion, and during that time it is no exaggeration to say the parish distinctly mounted to a higher level of spirituality than it had ever before known, from which I rejoice to think that it has never fallen. It was in 1858 that his chivalrous heart was greatly stirred by the riots at St. George's-in-the-East. He had been asked to preach at the time when the mob had been hounded on to yell through service and sermon, and it will be remembered that he was almost the only preacher who subdued them into temporary silence. He was very much affected by what he saw and heard on that occasion; and greatly to my regret and to the regret of Wantage generally, he left us for that London work in which he lived and died.
As the foregoing letter intimates, his special charge was the hamlet of Charlton, where the simple-minded villagers in undiminished affection, even after the lapse of more than thirty years, have kept his memory green.
It was in this spring (1889) that we found our way to the group of cottages with their roofs of thick thatch or red tiles, which, on rising ground at a distance of about a mile and a half from Wantage, are closely clustered about the little church.
It is Easter-time, and within it is sweet and gay with flowers; they line the walls above the low oak benches where in past years he gathered all the generations to be taught, until, so the old people declare, there was hardly one amongst them, except the young children, who were not communicants.
Some of his closest affections were twined about this place, to which he gave so much of his early zeal, which long years after, in his weakness and failing health, he so often revisited, almost unconsciously wandering back to his old haunts; just as the mind, in times of depression, reverts with a happy instinct to brighter days.
On this spring evening the people have come home from their work and are at supper before the fires in their low wide hearths, or loitering in their well-kept gardens amongst the sprouting gooseberries and patches of polyanthus and wallflower. Their minds work but slowly, yet dimly they have discerned something of the meaning and motive power of his life. They are eager to tell us how he was always amongst them, a most welcome guest; they speak of his daily visits, his love for the children, and his care for the sick and dying. 'He were a friend to we,' says the mother of the family as she tells of what he did for her own aged mother and for the growing up boys and girls, and then, half apologetically, with rustic simplicity she adds that she may say 'they were all friends to he.' As, one after another, one hears them talk there is no doubt about it. 'Preach!' cries the old sexton, with indignant contempt for our ignorance when we venture to ask a question about his sermons. 'He were a fine preacher. He'd rumple himself up to give it 'em straight and plain till he were red in the face. He were the shepherd of the flock and no mistake.' And then they tell how, after the Sunday evening service in the little chapel was over, half the congregation would walk down to the town below with him to see him home. Nothing was insignificant or unworthy of his attention, if it could in any way raise their thoughts or brighten their lives, and in his day the little churchyard was gay with flower-beds, because 'he was always a-tending of them.'
One of the women tells us how many hours he would give to comfort those who were in distress of mind. 'For there are many distresses of mind about religion,' she asserts. We cannot help thinking that if such were, indeed, the case in this small hamlet, amongst these sturdy phlegmatic villagers, it must have been in a great measure due to the awakening power of his preaching, when, 'rumpling himself up, he gave it them straight and plain.' With softened voices and the restrained and yet outspoken expression of sorrow which is characteristically English, they speak of his last years and death; and one old man is very anxious to make us understand that he destroyed his health by overmuch study of the Scriptures, for their respect for his learning almost equals their affection. One and all they are proud to hear that the story of his life is to be printed. They little imagine that one of its fairest records is written in their lives.
In corroboration of their simple testimony, we quote a passage from a letter of Dr. Liddon dated February 26, 1889, when he first heard that this memoir was in progress:
I have a vivid recollection of Mackonochie's sermons at Charlton, of our summer evening walks in the fields between Wantage and Letcombe, and of his extraordinary care for those who were under his charge. But he was too absorbed in his work to have much time for intercourse with his fellow-curates, and too simple and humble to say much about what he was doing if this had been otherwise.
He had a way of expanding a single subject into practical details quite extraordinarily. He would, e.g., begin the Prodigal Son or Psalm cxxx. on Ash Wednesday, and preach on the same subject all through Lent two or three times a week and without at all exhausting himself or the interest of his subject. The reason was that his real interests were so predominantly practical, and he had always a fund of new experiences or warnings or reflections of this kind ready at hand to illustrate the sacred words.
Nobody could enjoy the privilege of being near him when he was a young man without being braced in numberless ways by his companionship and example.
It was on Christmas Eve, 1853, that Dr. Liddon went to Wantage; in August 1854 Mackonochie wrote:
Liddon has been appointed Vice Principal of the Theological College at Cuddesdon. The work will suit him much better than this, and he is a capital man for it. There has been a likelihood of it all the time he has been here, but the matter has only just been settled.
Their work together at Wantage was not, therefore, of long continuance, but the friendship there begun was never to suffer any fluctuation or decline. To the last year of his life Mackonochie was amongst those who dined at Amen Court each Christmas Day. The invitation was sent for 1887, but was never destined to be received.
What perhaps strikes us most as thus we pass in retrospect from Oxford to Westbury and from Westbury to Wantage is the consistent and steady advance; the development of abilities until now dormant or unsuspected. There is a striking evidence of it in the fact that though his sermons at Westbury had been said to have been ordinary and laboured, already at Wantage we find that they had made a lasting impression upon Dr. Liddon, and when an ordination had taken place at Wantage Mackonochie wrote:
The bishop had made the great mistake of appointing me to preach the sermon. They insisted on my abandoning a written sermon I had prepared and preaching extempore; so of course I made a mess of it. However, people were very good-natured, and listened better than could have been expected. I need not attempt to describe the ordination service, all who know the wonderful way in which the Bishop of Oxford executes on such occasions his office will feel what it must have been. At the end of the day we all felt as if we had lived a lifetime. I feel that it ought to be a very great thing for the spiritual state of the parish to have had such a service and such a visit from the bishop.
The reference to his own sermon is characteristic. The failure, as he considered it, accepted with composure almost amounting to indifference, with no resentment against those who had suddenly called upon him in his comparative inexperience to preach an extempore ordination sermon before Bishop Wilberforce, his own vicar, and Liddon. There is, indeed, very little about himself in any of his letters, but there is one from Bishop Wilberforce about this time, indicating that he was already intent upon practising the rigid asceticism and self-denial which was a prominent characteristic of his later life.
I do not entertain any doubt that the vicar is right (the bishop writes, in evident reference to some appeal which had been made to him). I am quite sure that with our climate and constitution such fasting would be absolutely incompatible with work, and for the sake of the parish I feel bound to forbid it. May God, even our Father, accept your sacrifices and bless your labours.
I am ever yours,
We have a yet stronger proof of his increasing desire for self-sacrifice. It was towards the end of 1856, in the midst of his most congenial work at Wantage, that a desire arose within him to devote himself more entirely in isolation and hardness to God's service in mission work abroad. The Bishop of Newfoundland was seeking fellow-labourers, and he proposed to go out with him.
The Rev. E. Hobhouse, of Merton College, Oxford, afterwards Bishop of Nelson, was at this time his confessor. He had the greatest confidence in his judgment, and some years after, in 1865, we find a letter commending a young man to his care, that he might help him in any spiritual need, 'or name some one who will take the same office on his behalf, which you so kindly and forbearingly discharged for me some years ago.' He now in his difficulty turned to Mr. Hobhouse, and there are several letters from him, all referring to what was clearly a case of anxious choice amongst conflicting duties.
On November 8, 1856, he writes:
With regard to Newfoundland, if your heart bids you go, and no imperious ties forbid, I should say without doubt, go. Faults of character will not hinder there more than here. ... It is eminently a case of Bis dat qui dat cito.
But there were difficulties which finally proved insuperable. His mother's strong opposition was one of them, and at her age he felt it ought to have great weight. Mr. Hobhouse wrote again, advising him to submit the case to the Bishop.
He is (he wrote) the proper authority to decide such questions. I conceive that it would be very contrary to ecclesiastical order to set up the opinion of a self-constituted spiritual guide against the authority of the superior in the diocese. The bishop will, I am sure, give you a ready and full hearing. With earnest prayers for your right guidance,
Yours very affectionately,
The Bishop had, indeed, already written on the 14th: My dear Mr. Mackonochie,--I have given my best consideration to your question, and greatly as I shall regret losing you, I dare not offer any opposition to the desire for more difficult work for God, which He has, as I trust and believe, Himself stirred up in your soul. If, after full deliberation, you resolve on going, my prayers and benediction shall go with you.
I am most truly yours in the Faith,
But when the decision was arrived at it was contrary to his wishes.
Mr. Hobhouse writes on December 12:
I thank you for the letters, though I could have wished the issue more decisive. It is satisfactory enough in one most important condition. You have got guidance and have followed it. Whatever comes you are now and will be simply walking in the appointed way and not after your own choosing. May God of His goodness always make your way as plain and enable you to walk in it.
Yours affectionately in Christ,
And on the 24th the Bishop writes to him again: It must always be a comfort to you to know that it was in your heart to give yourself to the work, though the Spirit, I doubt not, suffered you not. . . . May God continue to bless you in your work.
I am ever most sincerely yours, S. Oxon.
The way seemed to be closed against him, and once more with undiminished energy he resumed the routine of parochial life; but there was still within him the desire for more arduous work, and in 1858 it took a certain shape and form.
Rumours had from time to time reached Wantage of the hand-to-hand conflict with evil which was being carried on in the parish of St. George's-in-the-East. It was a forlorn hope imperatively calling for volunteers, and it was a call to which Mackonochie responded with unhesitating and yet thoughtful devotion. His enthusiasm was never allowed to carry him off his feet; his ardour gathered strength from deliberation.
On October 5, 1858, he wrote to his mother:
J------will have told you of my intention of going for three months to the Mission in St. George's-in-the-East. ... I shall leave Wantage with very great sorrow, especially with the feeling that if the three months' trial is satisfactory my stay there may be longer. Still, I think that I am following as well as I can the indications of God's will. I have consulted the bishop, and he quite agrees with me that I ought not to refuse to try. My only hesitation rested on the vicar's still opposing. He now withdraws all opposition on hearing the bishop's opinion, so that I am simply left to follow the advice of my bishop. I have at the same time the comfort of knowing that those who work with me here, and others who have had opportunities of knowing both myself and the work at the Mission, think that I am right.
That was now, as always, the only thing which really mattered to him. He loved Wantage, the place itself and the people. The old church and the quiet country lanes, the sick whom he had tended, the poor sinners he had sought to save, the little children he had taught; and now, so far as anything can be at an end which has its issues in eternity, it was all past and done with. Henceforth his work was to lie amongst the streets and lanes of a city, amongst those whose claims were stronger because their need was greater than that of those to whom he had hitherto been called upon to minister.