IT will be instructive to take now a review of those characteristics which enabled Mr. Bennett, with no advantages of rank or of fortune, to accomplish so much.
One of the most essential qualities of a priest in every period of the Church's history is courage; it may sometimes be of the physical sort, sometimes of the moral sort. That Mr. Bennett was not deficient in the former was sufficiently shown in the riots at S. Barnabas', and when in the midst of the worse riots at S. George's-in-the-East he volunteered to go and preach to the mob of roughs. Soon after he arrived at Froome, on a Sunday evening, when the congregation were singing Bishop Ken's hymn, as was the weekly custom, a madman, who perhaps conceived it his duty to slay this terrible person of whom he had heard so much, rushed out of his pew and up the pulpit stairs with a knife in his hand. The doors of the "three-decker" probably formed a good defence, and the man was soon removed. "The Vicar" was not at all perturbed, and being asked if he was not alarmed said it was nothing after the S. Barnabas' riots. Already he had much gained the affection of the people of Froome, and many of them stayed afterwards to inquire if he was hurt. He was much touched by this proof of their anxiety about him, and said, "Now I know that I am among friends."
That he was not deficient in the other species of courage is notably shown in his vote against Mr. Gladstone at the Oxford election of 1852. In 1847 he had voted for Mr. Gladstone, but in the mean time the future Prime Minister had revealed what his real politics were to be. Mr. Bennett had the same prevision about Mr. Gladstone as Archdeacon Denison, who had, when a Fellow of Oriel, foretold, from his speeches at the Oxford Union, that Gladstone would become a Liberal, as T. Mozley tells us. But the difficulty had arisen that Mr. Gladstone had been taking a strong course and not a popular one in defending Mr. Bennett against Mr. Horsman in the House of Commons. Whatever else may be thought of Mr. Bennett's vote under these circumstances, he will certainly be credited with wonderful moral courage in his vote.
His work was incessant. The amount of his writings is immense, his arrangement and supervision of every detail of organization in his parishes implies a great deal of labour; we have seen how in the Portman Chapel days he was rarely to be seen in his drawing-room on account of his work and study, and at Froome "he was so occupied," his son-in-law writes, "morning and night that it was next to impossible to get a quiet chat with him.'
To this energy and courage he added another quality, firmness and determination. "An Englishman," Archdeacon Denison was wont to say, "when he gets up in the morning, thinks while he is shaving how many compromises he can make before breakfast." But the Archdeacon and Mr. Bennett must both be excepted from the list of such Englishmen. Neither would compromise or recede from his principles, and to refuse to do so is Mr. Bennett's own advice in the preface to the Octave sermons at S. Barnabas'.
"Those who run in the via media run warily because they want to please the two extremes which border on their path. These characters become, under the guise of moderation perhaps, compromising, toneless, vapid, dead and useless. Take a good side--here or there--and abide in it. Take some colours and fight under them, and, when you have taken them, nail them to the mast; and then, while you are so doing, make a calculation that while you shall gain so many friends you shall make so many enemies. But better so than a courteous compromise with two opposites, displeasing all by turns."
This was not only his advice, but his practice. This, too, is wisdom. Had Mr. Bennett shown the white feather or the slightest sign of wavering or compromise, the riots would have become much worse.
"And with all his strength," says Mr. Carter, of Clewer, in a letter to the Guardian, "he could yield gracefully when there was real cause to yield, as when he resigned S. Barnabas' because he had committed himself to his Bishop."
To this firmness he joined a large and real charitableness in judgment of others.
"In his dealings with those who opposed him," says Mrs. Compton, "there is neither littleness nor bitterness, and during the prosecution he was never heard to speak an unkind word nor would he allow others to do so."
His son-in-law, Mr. Farrer, gives the same testimony, and speaks of
"his invariable kindness and absence of all bitterness towards his opponents; always giving them credit for good motives and not seeming to listen to the fierce denunciations of them that were sometimes uttered."
He was ready to stand by any one whom he thought unjustly attacked--no doubt reminiscent of his own experience in that way. Thus he defended Mr. Poole, who was persecuted for hearing confessions; and Mr. Linklater, his Curate at Froome, writes--
"He was a most generous and chivalrous priest. It was sufficient for him that he thought I had been unfairly treated in my first curacy and that Sacramental truth had been attacked in my unworthy person to move him to become my champion and to offer me his curacy. I am thankful that I can look back on the happy time I spent under him. I looked upon him," he adds, "during the whole time I was with him, and I look upon him now, as an admirable type of an Knglish gentleman--a good parish priest of course he was, and a sound scholar--but also a thorough gentleman, refined and cultivated, a most delightful companion and a sympathetic friend."
Great was his own expenditure on Church and parochial work. It was said in the letter to the Bishop that he laid the whole "of his private fortune on the altar at the head of the subscriptions for S. Barnabas'." At Froome he did the same. In order to save the church from ruin he advanced £8000, which was finally repaid to him in 1877 by the offertories and subscriptions. How he obtained that £8000 is, and will no doubt remain, unknown. He inherited no more than £300 from his parents. It can hardly be thought that, after the expenditure of all he then possessed on S. Barnabas', his books had brought him in so much as £8000; his wife's money was under settlement and could not be touched, and the same was the case with a sum of money which was subscribed for him on leaving S. Barnabas'. Hence it can only be conjectured that he raised this money by borrowing on his life insurance; if so, it must have entailed a very heavy burden on his yearly income. He calls it, in his statement of accounts, 1877, "the debt pressing upon me for the last nine years."
The beautiful reredos at Froome was, if I remember aright, his own gift to the grand old church.
"I cannot say how much he deprived himself of," writes one of his household, "during the restoration of the church. No dining-room carpets; the stair carpets wore out; he had them taken up and not replaced; his bedroom paper and paint were in a dreadful state and the whole house was very bad, but he said, 'The old, old takes all I have now.' But while he was away from home a poor man papered and painted his room. He was extremely pleased when he was told it was a little offering to him. 'It did very well,' he said, 'for me till the old, old is finished.'"
In July, 1886, a month before his death, he contemplated taking a cottage in Cornwall for a summer holiday, but was obliged to give up the scheme.
"There is so little money in the exchequer," he wrote; "the school support has left me in the infants' school £15 on the wrong side, and the girls' school £28. The people lean on me to pay it all, and where am I to get it? Thus you see I cannot dream about cottages or going abroad or anything else. Sufficient it is to have the roof of the Vicarage still to shelter me, and perhaps it will not be very long."
At his death it was found by the churchwardens of Froome that he had paid for schools, provident society, dispensary, church expenses, school treats, choir, poor, and other things, out of his own pocket, £9229, i.e. about £275 per annum.
An interesting example of the generosity of his ideas is this, that on the National Fast Day, March 24, 1847, when the workmen at S. Barnabas' were prevented from earning any wages, he arranged that they should be paid for the day as if they had been at work.
And here is a delightful story--
"One night, when the Vicar was sitting in his library writing, after all the household had retired, a tap came at the window. He went to the front door and found it was an Italian who had neither food nor sufficient clothing. Mr. Bennett gave him help and his own large cloak which hung in the hall. Not long before his death a very respectable Italian came to thank him for his help and for the cloak. It had been the means of success to him, and he had long wished for the time to come when he might call and give him thanks in person."
In nothing does a man's character display itself better than in his handwriting, and Mr. Bennett's handwriting, is a strong example of the truth of this. Interpreting it by the usual rules we discover "absence of vanity and affectation"; that the writer was "argumentative and practical"; that "intelligence, good taste, and sequence of ideas" are indicated, and likewise "honour"; but, as might be anticipated, one of the most strongly shown characteristics is "tenacity of purpose and iron will."
His abstemiousness was remarkable.
"The most noticeable thing," says his son-in-law, "in his daily life was the infinitesimal amount of food he seemed to require. When we were well into breakfast he would run in in a hurry, and without sitting down would take a cup of tea in one hand and a bit of toast in the other, and be out of the room long before we had finished. At luncheon and dinner he would certainly sit down, but eat so little that one wondered how he kept body and soul together. He seemed to be in a kind of reverie during meals and talked little, but when he did talk he was amusing and often witty."
His conversation had been, in earlier days, in Belgravian drawing-rooms so amusing and interesting that it was common, so his mother used proudly to relate, to see him surrounded by a crowd of listeners. The fascination of his manner was always very great. And one might almost conjecture that he discovered some temptation in this power which led to his being in later days silent and grave, and reserved in conversation.
A sense of humour is said to be necessary to the full equipment of a good man, and in this he was not by any means deficient. When he could safely indulge it without irreverence his writing could be extremely comic. Witness his description of Mr. Horsman's abortive committee, already quoted. There was a delightful sense of humour in his treatment of a man who came into the vestry of S. Barnabas' after service and complained of all that was done, and especially of Mr. Bennett's sermon. Without saying a word, Mr. Bennett went into the church and beckoned to the objector to follow. He sat down in one of the front seats and pointed to the pulpit.
"Now," he said, "will you kindly go up there and show me how the sermon ought to have been preached? I will sit here and listen. I am always anxious to learn."
Needless to say, the illustration was not given.
"He was not only very full of humour himself," says Mr. Linklater, "but he could also appreciate a joke in others. I must have tried his patience many times. For instance, I gave at Froome a lecture on Causative Philosophy, at which, to my horror, he was present. The lecture consisted of a number of comic illustrations of Diogenes and his tormentors, the mud-larks of Corinth, and his philosophic declaration at the final catastrophe, 'This comes from that.'"
But with all this sense of fun he would never allow an irreverent joke or story, and would at once reprove any one, whoever it might be, who transgressed in this respect.
"His manner of doing the service was most reverent and of entire recollectedness; and outside the church his whole demeanour bore the stamp of perfect dignity."
To this may no doubt be attributed in part his great influence. Mr. Hampton tells of "the wonderful influence his quiet, serious, yet so kind, speech had over us boys." In the same way, at Froome, a correspondent says, "His courtesy and charm of manner carried all before them." One may reasonably ask the up-to-date curate of the period whether Mr. Bennett could possibly have had such influence and success had he been conspicuous at times in a football scrimmage, or dressed like a harlequin, or (as I am told is the correct thing now) trying to get the lads of his parish to call him by his Christian name.
"Popular" is a word which, applied to a clergyman, makes one feel uncomfortable. It could not be applied to Mr. Bennett, but we may safely say that he was, what is better and more truly in accordance with the ministerial character, beloved and respected, and that intensely. Of this we have had plenty of illustrations, but one sent by Mr. Linklater is amusing.
"It is curious how the farmers and farm labourers took a keen and intelligent interest in the controversy relating to the prosecution. I give a remarkable instance. Mr. Sheppard, whose name figures in the case, though every one knows that he was merely persuaded to allow his name to be used, bought a sitting of ducks' eggs from a neighbouring farmer. It proved a failure, and he wrote to complain, adding that 'the hen sat very patiently.' The farmer wrote to express his regret; he had sold several sittings, and this was the first complaint he had had. Personally, he thought it was a mistaken and invidious position to place a hen in, and one likely to be productive of disappointment on both sides; to the little ducks who would be ashamed of their producer, and to the poor hen who would not understand her offspring, and," he added, "if you will allow me respectfully to say so, if the egg on which you have sat so long and patiently be equally unproductive, it is a consummation devoutly to be wished."
Whatever his temper was in the days of his childhood he must have acquired a good one in after-years. In the slums of Pimlico he was pelted with stones and mud. "I am going to pelt you," was his only reply, "with bricks and mortar." In his earlier days at Froome he met with much the same treatment, and frequently had rotten oranges and the like thrown at him, but "he only smiled."
It is certain that in many ways his "attractive personality" and strikingly handsome appearance was, especially in the earlier days, a help to his work. These things will have their effect. The face is recorded, for those who did not know him, in the engraved portrait by Richmond.
"I advise the reader," writes Mr. Linklater, "to study his beautiful face. But no picture can convey the charming and ever varying expression, the light of intelligence and fun that flashed from his speaking eyes, and the sweet charm of his sympathetic smile."
The dark hair and the powerful eyes he derived from his mother. Of those eyes there is a curious story to tell. On one occasion he was called to minister to a person who was dying of insomnia. After doing what he could for her spiritual health, he sat down by the bed, and fixing his eyes upon her, told her to go to sleep. To sleep she accordingly went, and, having thus broken through the insomnia, recovered. It was, of course, an early example of hypnotic suggestion.
In his will he gave instructions that he should be buried as near as might be to the grave of Bishop Ken. He directed also that there should be placed in his coffin, according to the old custom for priests, a chalice and paten "of common metal," and that he should be buried in the vestments used for celebrating the Eucharist. Thus he wished to be in life and in death, as one of his friends well expresses it, "Always a Priest of GOD."
We must now take a view of his teaching and opinions, such, at least, as were not settled for him by the undivided voice of the Church. With regard to the Church itself, he held firmly all through his days to the belief that the Church of England is the one and only representative of the Catholic Church in this country. He taught, too, from the beginning to the end of his career that as the Roman, Church has no position in this country, so the Church of England has no right to invade the dioceses of Roman Catholic or Greek Church prelates abroad. This view he sets forth in his pamphlet, "Foreign Churches in Relation to the Anglican," published in 1882, in which he strongly condemns the setting up of Anglican Churches and chaplaincies on the Continent. To him this is schism. He points out, somewhat unanswerably, that when the same "indefensible violation of Ecclesiastical order "(as the Bishop of Ely phrased it) was committed in Scotland by Bishop Beckles, the Bishops of Scotland and England alike protested. How, then, could they consistently set up bishoprics in Gibraltar and Jerusalem? This same doctrine he had set forth in his "Letters to my Children," in 1843, and in his second letter to Lord John Russell, in 1852, when found fault with for attending Mass in Roman churches abroad during his enforced holiday in 1851. The difficulty of not being able to communicate when abroad at once arises. He therefore desires that all travellers should provide themselves with commendatory letters from their own Bishops to those of the foreign dioceses, and thus at least attract attention to our desire for intercommunion. If refused, as, alas! we no doubt should be, we must be contented with attending Mass and with spiritual communion till we return home.
His view of "The Italian Mission" in England we have seen in the matter of the "secessions" of early days, and of his Curate, Mr. Chirol, and it is worthy of record that during all his time at Froome only two persons left his congregation to join the Church of Rome, while a greater number were by him drawn away from that schism.
He was, as may be supposed, equally definite in denouncing Dissent as schism, and such schism as a sin. In his second pastoral letter to the people of Froome, 1857, he speaks of "the very great number of Dissenters among us," and addresses them in a most admirable manner. He points out their inconsistency in sometimes coming to church to hear sermons, and thinks that to do so is to play fast and loose with their salvation.
"To hear a sermon here which teaches one doctrine, and then a sermon there which teaches the opposite doctrine, and to imagine that this is of no consequence; this, I would affectionately tell them, will, if persisted in, imperil their salvation. It is either of great consequence to be a Dissenter, or it is not. If it is not, then why do they not come forth out of their schism and rejoin the Church, and be restored to communion? But if it be of consequence to be a Dissenter, then why do they come and play with the Church and amuse themselves with hearing sermons, and partake in worship which in their own opinion and by their own showing is sinful and injurious?"
He then quotes the words of that very inconsistent person, John Wesley, on this subject, and bids all pray for unity. This was plain speaking, but, nevertheless, the Dissenters would come to the Sunday and Octave Evensongs with all their elaborate ceremonial. "They enjoy it all," he said to the writer, with his kindly and tolerant smile. On Good Fridays the church was filled with Dissenters.
The Dissenters had, indeed, a very deep and real respect for him, in spite of his plain declarations about their schismatic position. They showed it practically, when even the Dissenting ministers subscribed to his improvements. One of the most prominent of the Dissenting tradesmen, who had called the church "Mr. Bennett's peep-show," was one of his sincerest mourners when the end came. And in the Dissenting chapels memorial sermons were preached when he died, as well as in the churches. Dissenters ever respect a firm and definite opponent, but those clergy, who, in spite of the teaching of the Church to which they belong, persist in coquetting with Dissent, get but little sympathy from "our friends the enemy," and no advantage from these unnatural blandishments.
Next in importance is the question of "Church and State"--the so-called "Establishment of the Church." The conflicts in which Mr. Bennett was involved, beginning with "Gorham," soon brought this point into prominence. His ideal was at first a free Church though still "Established"; like the "Established Kirk" in Scotland, where "their General Assembly decides finally on all cases of doctrine or discipline." But he soon perceived that this was not to be had in our case, and he became strongly in favour of separation. He is accused of having advocated this in a sermon in 1847, but the sermon does not seem to have been among the published ones. In 1850, in consequence of the Gorham case, he published two sermons on "The Church, the Crown, and the State." In this he says--
"We must have Liberty--not the chains and entanglements of a State protection--which, while it embraces kills, and, while it flatters, poisons."
In his "First Letter" to Lord John Russell he gives the declaration, which was signed by 1800 of the clergy, on the Royal Supremacy.
"I have hitherto acknowledged, and do now acknowledge, the supremacy of the Crown in Ecclesiastical matters to be a supreme civil power over all persons and causes in temporal things, and over the temporal accidents of spiritual things.
"I do not, and in conscience cannot, acknowledge in the Crown the power recently exercised to hear and judge in appeal the internal state or merits of spiritual questions touching doctrine or discipline, the custody of which is committed to the Church alone by the law of Christ.
"I therefore, for the relief of my own conscience, hereby publicly declare that I acknowledge the Royal Supremacy in the sense above stated, and in no other."
In this light alone he regarded the connection of Church and State. So in his "Catechism of Devotion," he says, drily, "In this book Acts of Parliament are not considered."
In his first pastoral letter to the parishioners of Froome, he says--
"I still think that it would be highly for the blessing of the Church if she could be amicably separated from that which manifestly pollutes, interferes with and clogs her full and free operation in the souls of men, namely the State.
"I think more may be done by the clergy and laity in parishes uniting together with one heart and mind to bring this great blessing about (I mean, in plain words, the separation of Church and State as at present maintained) than by individuals gloomily and despondingly departing from her. I will tell you honestly, my brethren, that I am ever looking and hoping for the time when Church rates may be abolished, and every compulsory or merely legal establishment of the Church's claims be for ever set aside, that the Bishops may no longer sit in the House of Lords, but legislate for the Church in the Church's legitimate way, in diocesan and provincial synods, subject to the General Council of all Christendom."
Again, in April, 1862, he attacks, in The Old Church Porch, the folly of "Church Defence" Societies which seek only to defend the temporal position of the "Establishment," and points out how, in the attempt, luckily vain, of the Bishop of Rome to maintain his worldly dominions, he sacrifices the spiritual interests of millions over whom he rules as pastor.
In his preface to "Hurrell Froude's Remains" he asks--
"Does the union of the Church and State any longer exist? The laws of it exist, but is the spirit there?--The cry of 'Church and State,' let us honestly say it, however we may deplore it, means nothing now. It is an idle dream, a vapour. It has perished for ever."
He presently deals again with the "Royal Supremacy."
"To talk of the Royal Supremacy as of the ultimate power residing either in the sanctity or the orthodoxy or the will of the Sovereign who may from this time wield the sceptre or wear the crown of these realms--to talk of the Queen in the nineteenth century, with Mr. Gladstone or Mr. Disraeli for First Lord of the Treasury, and the Times newspaper published daily,--to talk of the Queen now as men talked of and trembled at the frown of Henry VIII. or Queen Elizabeth--and cry 'Royal Supremacy!' is a mere fiction too barefaced for the most credulous to tolerate. There is a Supremacy, but it is not Royal. It is the House of Commons, not the Queen, that governs the Church, makes laws for the Church, sits in judgment on the Church, directs the rites and ceremonies of the Church, pronounces the doctrine of the Church, consecrates bishops for the Church (or orders them to be consecrated), and in short--as universal manager of the Excise or of the Board of Trade, so is manager of the holy things even of GOD Himself. The Queen has nothing whatever to do in all these respects; every one knows it; and to put her sacred person forward as one of the arguments for 'Conservatism' is just one of the pieces of hypocrisy which once detected by honest Englishmen will be sure to bring its own punishment. The government of the Church, in point of fact, comes simply to this--that she is governed by her enemies. If you can imagine the case of a great war between France and England in which the English should be content that her strongholds should be garrisoned by French soldiers and her army directed by French generals, then we can imagine the Church of JESUS our Lord presided over by statesmen and served by bishops appointed by the House of Commons. The ruin of the English army and of the English Church would be about equally certain.
"Let any one with common reasoning power look through the history of the Irish bishoprics and answer honestly what has destroyed that Church? Has it not been its union with the State? Is there anything true of the Church by law established in Ireland which is not true of the Church by law established in England?"
He then deals with the probable status of the clergy if the English Church were disestablished, and comes to the conclusion that, if the clergy owe their value to their money and position only, the sooner we have a different sort of priests the better.
"They had better be pensioned off and give place to another generation who may not be quite up to the mark as gentlemen but will be better known as priests.
"The question is--Can we work our divine mission, can we go into the streets of our great towns as a Church? The answer is--not with the continuance of the junction of the Church with the State. You have had your trial of it and have failed. What has utterly failed during a period when the State guarded against the approach of any save members of the Church herself must be far more liable to fail now when the councillors of the State are, or may be, her bitterest enemies. Without the least fear, then, but rather with the anticipation of ultimate good, I reverse the argument of loss to the prestige and status of the English clergy in her separation from the State into a glowing hope that by her freedom she will come forth cleansed and invigorated for a more noble work than any she has been yet able to achieve. The change will be severe. The uprooting of ancient prejudices will be bitter. It will be a Revolution, nothing short of it; a 'downright Revolution.' Let us consider it so and expect it. But the eventual result (in God's hands) will be untold good."
So in republishing "Neale, on Church Difficulties," in 1871, he says--
"For three hundred years, by the power of those who have ruled with a rod of iron, as in the Star Chamber, the Courts of High Commission, and the Privy Council as at present constituted, the combination has been forced into an external and apparent fusion. But the State, in admiration of every kind of free-thinking, has got its hands at present full of Dissenters and Unitarians, and they, making themselves apparent in Westminster Abbey as well as Westminster Hall, have rendered this fusion no longer possible." [This refers to "the Westminster Scandal," a Unitarian having been communicated in Westminster Abbey as having been selected as one of the translators of "the Revised Version"!]
From these opinions we naturally pass to Mr. Bennett's politics. Except for the bias which his views on Church and State gave him, he was, on the whole, a Conservative, or, as his friend Archdeacon Denison would have preferred to say, a "Tory." But he was always for perfect freedom of conscience.
"I have always considered that you," he says to Lord John Russell, in his first letter to the Prime Minister, "have been hitherto a staunch, firm and faithful advocate of the rights of conscience. Both towards Dissenters as well as Roman Catholics you have invariably manifested a tolerant disposition; not considering that religion or religious forms of belief should be any cause of the loss of the rights of citizenship.
"I agree with your cry of civil and religious liberty. I believe that penal laws against religion are the greatest acts of tyranny of which a country can be guilty. I have read many of your Lordship's speeches with the greatest delight in the enthusiasm of my youth when you fought hard and desperately against the (as I thought) bigoted and narrow-minded cries about Church and State and about the danger of the Pope and his bulls. I have rejoiced exceedingly as session after session went on and Roman Catholics were at length admitted to their undoubted right to sit in Parliament as Christian men serving loyally a Christian Sovereign."
He was thus liberal-minded enough in the true principles of Liberalism, but his early revolt from Gladstone, along with Archdeacon Denison, shows him to have been opposed to Radicalism. Both had voted for Gladstone in 1847, when Gladstone was almost defeated by Round; both voted against him, as "burgess" for the University, in 1853. Generally he seems to have ranged himself on the Conservative side, but his politics were Church politics rather than State politics, and when "Tom Hughes" proposed himself as candidate for Froome in the Liberal interest in 1868, Mr. Bennett "astonished some people," Mrs. Compton writes, "by favourably regarding Mr. Hughes' candidature because of his promise to support some measure which affected the Church's laws." He had naturally no love for Disraeli after the passing of the Public Worship Regulation Act, and being told by Mrs. Compton that Disraeli had visited Froome Church, said, "I wonder the roof did not fall on his head!"
The last word on his politics is an amusing anecdote sent me by one of his workers at Froome.
"I remember on one occasion hearing of a great ovation he got as he drove up to the polling booth to record his vote, 'This is our Grand Old Man!' and they cheered him long and loudly."
It will be instructive to trace next the dealings of Mr. Bennett with the question that is ever with us--the question of religious education, especially as the question really began in his days. Mr. Bennett was one of those who at the commencement of the education movement worked his hardest for it, but adopted the fatal policy of asking for public money for support of Church schools. None, indeed, of the leaders perceived to what this would lead except the sagacious and far-seeing Archdeacon of Taunton. The result, however, must in the end have been the same; the schools could never have been carried on universally without the help of the public purse.
In 1840 Mr. Bennett preached a sermon (which he published in his "Sermons on Miscellaneous Subjects") upon Christian Education. In this he of course urges the necessity of definite religious teaching as the foundation of all true "Education." But the chief interest of the sermon lies in the little sketch which he gives, in it and in the notes to it, of the history of the Government grants. In 1834 Parliament began to make grants for education--the first being of £20,000. These grants were divided impartially between the two great societies--The British and Foreign School Society, founded in 1808, and the National Society, founded in 1811. The first of these acted in religious matters "on the plan of Mr. Lancaster, without reference to any particular Church"; the second "on the plan of Dr. Bell, confining itself to the Church of England." This system continued till 1837, when there appeared a new society, called "The Central Society of Education," whose object was to "withdraw the education from the clergy and to put it into the hands of a central political board." Its programme, it seems, was practically a purely secular one, and against this Mr. Bennett earnestly contends in his sermon. The next event was the appointment, in 1839, of the "Committee of Council on Education."
Difficulties arose with the National Society about inspection, but were got over, and in 1846 Mr. Bennett published a pamphlet on "Crime and Education," in which he says--
"Grants are now made for the promotion of Church schools with or without the co-operation of the National Society. The Church, then, is now satisfied, and the State once more works in unison with the Church."
But he and others were far from being satisfied with the extent of the education of the country. In the pamphlet spoken of he begins by sounding a note of alarm. He, like others, thought the country on the verge of revolution, and considered the only safeguard was education, and that religious education. He gives terrible statistics of the ignorance then prevailing, and estimates the amount of money required for teaching the one and a half millions of children, who were left without any education then, at £4,500,000 for preliminary building and outfit, and .£800,000 or £900,000 a year for maintenance. "There can be no difficulty in providing this or even a much larger sum than this," and he proposes a penny in the pound added to the income tax as a method of raising the sum.
Then comes the question once more of the religious part. There were then, just as now, three methods of disposing of this.
"The first we may describe as the Intellectual method; that is, waving all matters of religion, and not considering that the business of education has more to do than to cultivate the intellectual faculties.
"The second we may describe as the Compromising method; that is, out of all the various articles of faith deducing a portion which is common to all, merging that which is distinctive in each in silence.
"The third we may describe as the Disjunctive method; that is, separating the children into different schools or classes for instruction in religion."
The first, although "it has had its advocate in the powerful and energetic mind of Lord Brougham," he naturally condemns.
"It is the part of education to develop and bring out to its perfection both the mind and the affections, not the affections for the sake of the mind but the mind for the sake of the affections; so that both cultivated together may engender the highest state of moral excellence: for the mind, however highly cultivated, without moral excellence will fail to produce happiness; whereas moral excellence, duly cultivated, may produce happiness without any great cultivation of the mind. Of this we have instances in every family we meet, and since it is an axiom in Government that that form of polity is the best which produces the greatest aggregate of human happiness, so it follows that the education adopted by any Government for its people must be that which makes the cultivation of the intellect a secondary consideration and moral virtue the first."
As to the second plan, it had been tried in Ireland. It had there failed (he says), and--
"if it failed in Ireland, where it had principally to deal with only two varieties of creed, how would it be possible that it should succeed in England with many numerous and powerful sects infinitely diverging?"
He then draws a most amusing picture of a school conducted on the "Compromising" plan. He imagines the various ministers arriving---the English clergyman and the Roman priest. They agree to a certain point but cannot agree about the Sacraments, so they are omitted. Next comes in a Wesleyan, and then all teaching as to the Holy Catholic Church has to be left out. Presently arrives the "Baptist," so baptism disappears. Then a Socinian, and then a Jew, and so on. "So now let us go on with our arithmetic and our geography; our writing and our reading." Nothing else is left!
Lastly he discusses the "Disjunctive" plan.
"Ireland," he says very truly, "would ever seem to be the place of experiment, both of politics and of education, and a cloud of never-ending failures has encompassed her in both."
This third plan was tried also in Ireland and failed. Dr. Hook proposed a plan of this sort, but it is out of the question now, as it involved the giving up the afternoons of Wednesdays and Fridays to religious instruction by the various ministers of religion. Mr. Bennett points out the many objections to that plan, and the course of events has made his own proposed plan equally impossible.
But he did the work of religious and secular education himself as far as it was possible. At S. Barnabas', as we have seen, a school was an essential part of the design, and when he left S. Barnabas', on March 25, 1851, the children of S. Paul's Parochial Schools presented him with an inkstand "as an acknowledgment of his exertions in advancing their education." At Froome he built or restored a number of schools of various sorts, but at last, owing to want of money, he was compelled, like so many others, to hand over his schools to the Board. Probably, like Archdeacon Denison, he was compelled to acknowledge defeat on this subject. "If the State will civilize them," he said to the writer, "we may be able to make Christians of them."
There is, too, some common sense, urgently needed in these days, in his programme of education for his Church schools.
"There cannot be," he says, in his second pastoral letter to the parishioners of Froome, 1857, "a more wholesome or steady course of instruction for poor children than is here pursued. It has been pungently said that 'nowadays you may meet boys or girls in the street who will tell you the height of the highest mountain on the face of the globe and yet not be able to cook their own dinner or wash their own floor.' But such is not the education of the children of our Church schools. A parade of fancy knowledge for the poor leads only to mischief. The Church Catechism and reading and writing and needlework (for girls) and the Bible; to say their prayers; to worship GOD as good Christians; and to do their duty in that state of life to which GOD has called them: that is the education which, as the parish priest, I should wish to impart to them. All beyond it I repudiate as a mockery and a mischief."
Although he had in earlier days appealed to Convocation as the bar at which his opinions and teaching ought to be tried, he holds, in the "Plea for Toleration," 1868, that it could not remedy our difficulties,
Firstly, "because it is not a council called together for spiritual purposes." Its history shows that "it is in reality a mere temporal Court called in to deal with money, not with religion." Secondly, "it is an unfair and incomplete representation of the Church. In the Lower House all the Deans, Archdeacons, Canons, Chapters of Cathedrals and Prebendaries are either directly the Crown's nominees or indirectly so as being appointed by the Bishops, who are themselves appointed by the Crown. What would be said of the House of Commons if more than half its members were nominees of the Crown?" Out of the whole House, he points out, "there are only forty-two Proctors who are true representatives of the clergy."
He then adds that the non-representation of the Curates vitiates even this limited representation, and that the consent of the Upper House (all whose members are nominees of the Crown) is needful to any decision.
It is perhaps scarcely wonderful that his lifelong friend, the great Archdeacon, at last abandoned his seat in that assembly, and that it was needful to enforce by legal penalties, in earlier days, the opinion that Convocation is the Church of England by representation.
Very early in his ministry he began the conflict with unchristian kinds of marriage. In 1837 the law was passed allowing marriages at Registry Offices. He at once preached three sermons on the matter. In these sermons, which he published, he commends the freedom given in the case of those external to the Church, but points out that marriage has always been a religious matter, and speaks powerfully against members of the Church being married without her blessing. Persons so married he was always ready to marry properly in church, even publishing their banns afresh. In 1854, he tells us in The Old Church Porch, he had submitted to Dr. Adams a case touching this question of the Church marriage of persons united in the Registry Office. Dr. Adams gave it as his opinion that such celebration in the Church was not only legal but, if the parties desired it, even compulsory on the parish priest. The Church marriage after the ceremony at the Registry Office was definitely allowed by a subsequent Act, provided that it was not entered in the Church registers.
Next came the Divorce Act, allowing divorced persons to remarry, contrary to the express words of Christ. This he deals with in his second pastoral letter to the parishioners of Froome, 1857. He says--
"I will never allow in any case the Altar of the old church of Froome-Selwood to be desecrated and polluted by any such marriage; nor will I ever surrender the keys of God's House, entrusted to me for its holy keeping, to any person whatever that he may perform that which I cannot but consider sinful and contrary to His most holy Word."
It is not without interest to note that his first cousin, George Renaud, a Low Churchman and a profound scholar, also published a pamphlet in 1857, taking the same view--as showing that both parties in the Church were agreed on this.
Lastly there was the perennial fight against the "marriage" of brother- and sister-in-law, which the Bible pronounces to be incest. In his preface to Dr. Neale's "Church Difficulties "he says, "The House of Lords has hitherto saved us from this pollution."
And in Lent, 1833, he broke into a series of sermons on Isaiah liii. to preach on this question.
"May the Lord GOD," he ends, "whom we serve, grant His protecting grace to us all, that we may even yet be saved from this fearful sin and national pollution."
And he refused the Holy Communion to such as transgressed in this matter, and even declined to read the Burial Service over them.
There can be thus no doubt of the clearness and determination with which Mr. Bennett held his "views," i.e. the doctrines of the Catholic Church. Yet "he was never a bigot," and could understand that men could sincerely hold those "Low Church" opinions in which he had himself once shared. He showed this when he, as patron of the Vicarage of Holy Trinity in Froome, allowed the parishioners of that parish to nominate a Vicar of their own choosing, a Low Churchman having previously had the living. Nor did he show himself less appreciative of the natural feelings of Dissenters when, as we have seen, he refused to have anything to do with Church rates.
"No one," wrote the Dean of Chichester, "conceived a higher ideal of the Church of England. He loved her and understood her as few other men did. His great glory was to have been one of those who made people understand and obey the Church better.
"Those who followed the Church movement of the last fifty years," says Mr. Carter, of Clewer, "know well how much we owe to him. The intensity of his convictions, his great moral force, his laborious energy, with thorough faith in the Church of England's truth and mission, have been a power of encouragement to very many during many anxious, eventful years."
"I always looked up to him," writes Lord Nelson, "as a great leader and a true and faithful priest in our Church working thoroughly on Bishop Kenn's lines."
I will here set down some of the interesting or amusing events of Mr. Bennett's "well-filled life," which have not found a place elsewhere.
The first shall be his vain attempt to restore a little the discipline of the Church. He tells us the story in his republication of "Hurrell Froude." Froude points out the fact that churchwardens are sworn to present to the Archdeacon the names of such as in their parish lead notoriously immoral lives; yet no such presentments are ever made. To this Mr. Bennett adds a note.
"In the year 1858, after in vain exhorting the churchwardens to do their duty, I myself, as Vicar, according to the Canon Law, made presentments of five persons leading scandalously ungodly lives, one living in open incest, two others in open adultery, one a notorious drunkard, and another an open blasphemer and infidel. I was met by the officials of the Bishop by an admonition to the effect that by so doing I was incurring the danger of a pra^munire, and that the Bishop himself, if he should take any notice of my presentments, would be also incurring a praemunire. Nevertheless, I handed in the presentments accompanied by the proper witnesses, and insisted on the Court proceeding to do its duty. I never heard anything more of the matter. Notwithstanding, the usual forms were sent to us the year after with the usual directions to 'make our presentments.'"
A pleasing sequel is nevertheless on record--that one or more of these delinquents, being informed by the Vicar of what he had done, was so impressed that he or they made a reformation of their lives. He endeavoured also to restore the rule of notice being given to the priest the day before the intention to receive the Holy Communion. He also enforced the rule that godparents should be communicants.
Our next record shall be about his friend Archdeacon Denison. In his history of Froome Church Mr. Bennett gives an amusing account of a sermon by Glanvil, one of his predecessors in the Vicarage. It is the first in a volume of sermons preached by that learned divine in the days of Charles II. Mr. Bennett calculates that it could not have been preached in less than three hours, and we may note in passing that other sermons of the period lead us to the conclusion that that was considered the proper length at the time. Now, on one occasion the great Archdeacon nearly rivalled this feat of Glanvil's, for he preached in Froome Church for two hours and one minute. As the Archdeacon had forewarned the writer, before they went into church, what to expect, he carefully noted the time.
It was the "Octave" in 1874, and the course of sermons was on "The Seven Churches." To the Archdeacon was assigned the summing up, and his sermon was on the Octave of S. John's Day, July i. There was to be a solemn Te Deum and a procession to close the festival.
"I remember," says Dr. Mortimer, then Curate of Froome, "hearing Mr. Bennett in the afternoon say to the Archdeacon, 'You must not be more than twenty minutes with your sermon this evening.' Denison replied, 'I could not preach it in that time.' 'Then,' said Mr. Bennett, 'go into my study and cut it down.' A little before nine the Archdeacon entered the pulpit, produced a pamphlet from which he proceeded to read, and went on till the clock struck eleven. The poor Vicar in his heavy cope on that hot July evening, sitting on a stool without any back, must have suffered terribly. At eleven a lady who was seated just beneath the pulpit, with great consideration and presence of mind, fainted away. The commotion this occasioned caused the Archdeacon to stop and say, 'I have not finished my sermon, but it is printed and you can buy it for a penny to-morrow morning from the booksellers.' The title of the sermon was 'The Tempter's Cup,' and was an analysis of the motives of those who passed the Public Worship Regulation Act, which came into operation on that day.
"We went over to the Vicarage to supper. When the Archdeacon came in he said, 'My dear Vicar, I know I have done very wrong, and I must ask you to forgive me.' Mr. Bennett replied at once, 'I was expecting persecution to begin on the first of July, but I did not expect it to come from my friends; I have had a good many persecutions in my life, but this is the worst!' "
He had a very clear sense, too, himself that it is useless to tire out a congregation. We have seen how very long the services were at S. Paul's, Knightsbridge, in "the forties," and how he endeavoured to somewhat shorten them. One Easter Day, the number intending to communicate being very large, he went up into the pulpit and said, "'The LORD is risen.' This, dear brethren, is my text, and this is my sermon." And with that brief announcement of the Good News he descended from the pulpit.
Close to the Vicarage at Froome there was a factory whose chimneys were a considerable source of annoyance.
"On March 29, 1856," says the reprint of the Somerset and Wilts Journal, "a special jury case was tried at the Somerset Spring Assizes in which the Rev. W. J. E. Bennett was the plantiff and the late Mr. Henry Thompson defendant. The action was brought for the purpose of obtaining redress for an alleged grievance by reason of the smoke that came from the Silk Factory chimneys."
Mr. Linklater, a former Curate of Froome, thus tells the story of the trial--
"At first Mr. Bennett was nowhere. The opposing counsel, who was a schoolfellow at Westminster of the name of Slade, exhibited the designs of the chimneys and appealed to Mr. Bennett to point out the particular chimney that offended him. Mr. Bennett confessed that he did not know which chimney, and opposing counsel turned to the jury and said, 'Gentlemen, I am brought down all the way from London to defend this case, and the plaintiff does not know his own mind--does not know which chimney he objects to.'
"Mr. Bennett all this time was the picture of despair, leaning hopelessly on his umbrella. The judge at this point interfered, exhorting Mr. Bennett to try and collect his faculties and to say to which chimney he objected.
"In the silence of the Court Mr. Bennett answered, 'My lord, it is not the chimney at all that I object to; it's the smoke.' "
The verdict was for Mr. Bennett, damages forty shillings. Leave was given to appeal on the ground that the chimneys had stood for twenty-one years, but there is no trace of the appeal having taken place, and what happened about the obnoxious chimneys themselves is not clear.
During the work on the old church of Froome the question of the side altar in one of the chapels arose. The Bishop, in going round the church, said Mr. Bennett must have a faculty, but Mr. Bennett replied that, as the altar was not a new thing but merely the repair and restoration of an old one, there was no need of a faculty. The hint is valuable!
But of the stories recorded of Mr. Bennett none is more interesting than this, which is told, from the Vicar's own narrative, by Mrs. Compton.
"I was standing in the vestry at S. Paul's, Knightsbridge, when a quick military step made me look round, and there was the Duke of Wellington. I bowed, and he said, 'Sir, I am come for orders. I am to give away a bride to-morrow in your church, and would like to understand my duties.' I took a Prayer-book and pointed out the directions as to the place, viz. at the chancel step at first, before the altar afterwards, and his own special position and duty. He drew himself up, and said, 'I thank you, sir, I quite understand.' And the next day he followed my directions like the good soldier that he is. Only those are fit to command who know how to obey."