WE have thus traced the life of Mr. Bennett through the days of his London work--at first beneath halcyon skies, and then amid storms; through the strenuous work at Froome, and through the many contests of his time--down to the days when he was at last left to do his work undisturbed.
His life had not been free from many domestic losses. His father died, at the age of thirty-seven, while he was a boy at Westminster. His mother married afterwards Thomas Alston Brandreth, C.B., Colonel in the Royal Artillery, who proved a most excellent stepfather to her three children. After various commands at the Cape of Good Hope and elsewhere, Colonel Brandreth retired to Chudleigh, in Devonshire, where he died. Mrs. Brandreth, after his death, lived with her youngest son at Kemerton, in Gloucestershire, and there died, in 1867, at the age of eighty-two.
Mr. Bennett married, as we have said, Mary Concetta Franklin. Their first child, a daughter, died a few months after birth. The second, Georgina, was born while he was Curate of "Oxford Chapel." She married, in 1852, the Rev. F. Farrer, and died in India, leaving two daughters. Her eldest daughter, Miss Mary Farrer, and her granddaughter, Miss Wollaston, are the only surviving descendants of Mr. Bennett.
Mr. Bennett's only son, William Henry, was born in 1834. He was also a Queen's Scholar of Westminster School, distinguishing himself at the election, and would have been also Captain had he not left the school in 1853. He joined the Bengal Infantry, but died in Burmah in 1854.
Another daughter, Augusta, was born in 1836, when Mr. Bennett was Minister of Portman Chapel. She died, unmarried, at Conigar House, Froome, in 1902.
Mrs. Bennett died at Froome Vicarage in 1879, at the age of seventy.
A brief record may be given of the near relatives of Mr. Bennett.
His brother, George Augustus, the next to himself, who was born 1807, became a Captain in the Royal Engineers, thus continuing the older traditions of his race. He showed, however, the religious tendencies of his family by building a church in New Zealand. It seems to have been a wooden structure, and to have been now pulled down. He died in New Zealand in 1845.
The third of the brothers, Frederick Hamilton, was born in Ireland in 1816, and as he was destined to share in the same kind of troubles as his elder brother, some account of him seems to form part of our story.
He was as a boy at Westminster and Winchester Schools, went, like his brother, to Christ Church, Oxford, and took his M.A. degree in 1843. He was ordained to the curacy of Daventry in 1840. Curiously enough, though so much younger than his brother, he preceded him in the date of his conflicts. In 1842 he became Curate-in-charge of S. John's, Worcester, the Vicar being Canon Wood. There he did his best to improve the work and services of the church, carrying out every part with as great care and attention to detail as his brother in London. But his improvements brought terrible storms about his head. Among other enormities he caused the bells to be rung, and this misdemeanour was resented and denounced by the Protestants as "Tractarian Chimes," just as, in 1850, the bells of S. Barnabas' were denounced. The Parish Choir of October, 1849, says--
"Great improvements had lately been made in the performance of Divine Service at S. John's Church. The long-forgotten plain-song was restored in all its solemnity in the Evening Service, and the quire was reconstructed so as to chant the canticles and intone the responses, as well as sing the metrical psalms. Suddenly, however, a most lamentable outbreak of popular prejudice has taken place, and all the advances which had been made in promoting greater decency and solemnity in the worship of the sanctuary have been reversed--the parochial quire and the choral service being entirely swept away."
Nevertheless, all these things were speedily restored again, whatever may have been the cause of their temporary abandonment, for on August 27, 1850,
"the services of the day commenced by the clergy and choristers entering the church in procession chanting the eighty-fourth psalm to the eighth Gregorian tone, second ending. The prayers were intoned by the Rev. E. G. Moon (afterwards Sir Edward Moon, Bt.) assistant curate. The Canticles were chanted from the 'Psalter Noted.' The Communion Service was intoned by the Rev. F. H. Bennett, the service being choral throughout. The choir occupied the new oak stalls which have been erected in the chancel for their use."
But party feeling ran so high in S. John's that Mrs. Bennett lived in a state of terror for her husband's safety. The vestry meetings were almost always an attack on the Curate-in-charge, and the Low Church partisans used to threaten to stone him as he came out of the vestry. On one occasion one of the members (it is believed to have been a churchwarden!) fired a pistol through the vestry window just after the meeting had dispersed, and then told every one that Mr. Bennett had tried to shoot him while he was sitting in the vestry in a chair under the window. The Vicar, with Mr. Bennett and others, went into the vestry and found the bullet in such a position in the wall that, if the man had been sitting in the place he said, the bullet must have gone through him.
Such were the lively events of those "stirring times."
It is an interesting little record, as showing the continuance of Catholic customs in the country, that when there was an outcry about Mr. Bennett teaching the people to bow to the altar, one of his own servants at S. John's Vicarage defended the practice as nothing new, inasmuch as she had been always taught to do so in the village (probably in Herefordshire) where she had been a schoolgirl. This would take us back to about 1830.
For about eight years Mr. F. H. Bennett continued his work at S. John's, supported by many friends, among others by Theodore Gallon, who, alas! was driven by some of the untoward events of the time to desert us for the Roman schism.
But at last, just when his brother was being forced to leave his work at S. Barnabas', Mr. F. H. Bennett was driven away from S. John's, in April, 1851.
For many years he lived at Kemerton, in Gloucestershire, and finding no heroic Marchioness of Bath to present him to a Froome, many of the best years of his life were lost to the work of the Church.
Kemerton was then, under Archdeacon Thorp, one of the centres of progress, especially in Church music. The church had been rebuilt, from the designs of Carpenter, in the Decorated style, and for many years a full Cathedral service was sung daily with a splendid choir.
But finally, in 1869, Mr. F. H. Bennett became the first Vicar of the little Church of S. Mary's, Freeland, near Oxford. It is an exquisite little building from the designs of Mr. Pearson, the architect of Truro Cathedral. The little hamlet of about 120 people supplied a large choir, and during Mr. Bennett's incumbency full choral service was sung every evening. The opinion had been expressed by a cleric of the neighbourhood that "there was an old-established Wesleyan chapel there, and what more could they want?" Nevertheless, a reformation of manners was much needed, and with the church and its services and the work of Mr. Bennett this reformation came. He died at Freeland in 1873.
Some anecdotes from his clerical experience are amusing. At Worcester there was a delightful old man with a magnificent head of the whitest hair, the admiration of all beholders. One Sunday morning he appeared in church (owing to some error on the part of his hairdresser) with the formerly white hair dyed the most brilliant blue, much disturbing the gravity of the choir and the congregation.
One night, at Freeland, Mr. F. H. Bennett was awakened by a shower of small stones at his window, and he was hastily summoned to minister to a woman who was supposed to be dying. Her chief symptom was that "she was turning quite black all over." But in spite of this alarming symptom she regained her normal colour and recovered.
On one Palm Sunday Mr. F. H. Bennett was astonished, at the hour of Morning Service, to find the church and churchyard crammed with people. On inquiry it was found that a report had been spread by one of the villagers that Mr. Bennett was to ride up the church on a donkey--a report which has been promulgated and believed about other churches and clergymen, with such recklessness are such tales accepted and repeated. Mr. Bennett, going to the porch door, was greeted with cries of "Where's the donkey?" He replied that there were no donkeys there unless it were those who were so easily gulled. On this the concourse, much disappointed, sadly dispersed.
One other fact relating to Mr. F. H. Bennett deserves to be recorded. A church was planned by three benevolent ladies of wealth, who intended Mr. Bennett to be the first incumbent. The plans for the whole institution were submitted to him and arranged according to his suggestions. The founders, however, put the patronage in the hands of the Bishop, as was then supposed to be the proper thing to do, with the understanding that Mr. Bennett was to be appointed. But the Bishop, who trembled at the name of Bennett, overriding the wishes of the founders, gave the living to another person. Both brothers learnt the lesson--not to trust in State-appointed bishops, and the lesson was not forgotten when the same thing might have happened again.
It is also perhaps worth while to record that there were two first cousins of Mr. Bennett's, on his father's side, who were well known. The eldest of these, George Renaud, obtained a scholarship at Corpus, in its palmiest days, at the age of fifteen, and afterwards became Fellow of the College. His life was largely spent as a tutor, and he had very many distinguished men among his pupils, as Lord Rosebery and Lord Methuen.
The other cousin was William Renaud, the much-respected Rector of S. Thomas', Salisbury, and afterwards of Havant. Their sister married her cousin, Mr. F. H. Bennett.
The father and mother of these three Renauds were persons of the most primitive piety, so devoted to each other that on the death of her husband the wife could not survive him, and died within a week.
"He died the first; she for a little tried
To live without him; liked it not and died."
We have now to record the last days of Mr. Bennett, days of peaceful old age.
In 1883, being now seventy-eight years of age, he did not preach at the Octave, but merely took his favourite part of catechizing on the Sunday afternoon.
In 1884, however, he again preached in the Octave, and again in 1885 he preached on the Wednesday in the Octave. "The zeal of Thine house hath eaten me up."
In October, 1885, he gave a lecture at Froome on the French Revolution. His grasp of the subject was complete.
On his eighty-first birthday, November 15, 1885, he was presented with an altar cloth, sanctuary carpet, and kneelers for the Ladye Chapel. These seem to be the last records.
He wished to have a holiday by the seaside during the summer of 1886, but had to give it up. "The exchequer," he says, "is too empty."
On Saturday, August 14, 1886, "he was very active, and gave directions at night that only one young servant should stay away from the early service to get his breakfast, saying, 'That will do for me.' Up to the very last he would have very little service done for him; helping himself all his life."
The next day, August 15, the Eighth Sunday after Trinity, he was to have celebrated the Holy Communion, and preached, but was found in the morning lying across his bed struck down with paralysis.
He was still slightly sensible, and asked, "What has happened to me?" but he never recovered complete consciousness. He showed, however, as he was departing, that he heard the words repeated to him by one of his devoted friends, "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me." They were the last words he heard on earth. He died on Tuesday, the i7th.
On his desk was found the sermon, published by Mrs. Sidney Lear in "Last Words," entitled "Children of God," which he had written for the day, but which he was not destined to preach.
So passed away, in harness to the last, one who had been a worker for fifty-eight years in the Church of God.
He had built, adjoining the study at the Vicarage, a small Oratory, and on its altar stood always the little chalice and paten which had been used by Bishop Ken, and which the saintly Bishop bequeathed to the Vicars of Froome "for ever."
In this Oratory the body lay, watched after the solemn manner of the Church; and on the Thursday, according to a wish he had formerly expressed, a celebration of the Holy Communion was held there.
He was buried at Froome, near the grave of Bishop Ken, as he wished, on Saturday, August 21.
Most of the old chiefs of the Movement were gone before him, but some survived him and were at his funeral. Notable among them was the (in every sense) Venerable Archdeacon of Taunton, George Anthony Denison, side by side with whom Mr. Bennett had fought so many a battle. "It was touching," writes Father Benson, who thirty-six years before had walked in the procession at the opening of S. Barnabas', "to see the dear old man wiping away the tears which were ever ready to fall from his eyes, while we were all lamenting the death of the Vicar." There were present, too, many of the leaders of the generation after his own, who owed so much to his work and teaching.
Several hundreds of his fellow-townsmen followed the procession and stood around the grave, departing after taking a last affectionate look upon his coffin; and so concluded those days in Froome which had begun with something like a riot in opposition to him.
His wish, as expressed in his will, was that the cross which he had erected in the churchyard, and which he had brought from S. Barnabas', should be considered as his monument, and that no other memorial should be erected to his memory. Nevertheless, memorials were built to him both at S. Barnabas' and at S. Paul's, Knightsbridge, and at Froome the churchyard cross was restored in his memory, and the platform round it with the steps leading up to it were enlarged and decorated.
At his old School of Westminster Mr. Bennett was commemorated in the prologue along with his old friend and schoolfellow, Robert Eden, Bishop of Moray and Ross and Primus of the Scottish Church, in December, 1886.
These are the lines which speak of them--
W. J. E. B.
"Nec duo tacendi, sanctitatis lumina;
Unus, Crucem praebere non imponere
Doctus, calorem absorpsit hostilem sacris
Taedis amoris, lenis ac fortis pati,
R. E. alter, fax Evangeli,
Cui laeta sensu Numinis serena mens
Vultusque menti concolor, Caledonum
Novos paravit spiritus Ecclesiae;
Portum Salutis victor aureum appulit."
Which have been thus put into English--
W. J. E. B.
"Next should we name two lights of piety;
Learned the one, less by his word to enjoin
Than by example to display the Cross;
From foeman's fire he lit the torch of love,
Kind, brave to endure, by yielding conqueror.
R. E. That other soul, true candle of the Faith,
Calm, joyful in sure knowledge of his God,
With mien that matched his mind, to Scotland's Church
Fresh courage did impart; he, victor now,
Has gained the golden quay in realms of Life."
This prologue was chiefly composed by the Rev. H. A. H olden, well known to schoolboys of a past generation as author of "Foliorum Silvulae." He showed a good acquaintance with Mr. Bennett's life if he wrote these lines.
The words "Cedendo victor"--"a conqueror by yielding"--refer to the resignation of S. Barnabas'. Mr. Bennett had himself said in the preface to "The Last Sermons at S. Paul's and S. Barnabas'--
"It is no matter that we failed in the immediate issue. That failure brings the ultimate victory. It is our victory that we failed, for yielding up our cause to Him who ruleth all things, our victory was that we maintained the Faith. It was our duty to obey the Bishop--in obeying we conquered."
And in his sermon "On the Triumph of Charity," preached November 24, 1850, "in the midst of the disturbances at S. Barnabas' Church," he had put the same thought before the rioters--
"We will passively suffer, but at the same time, we shall passively conquer. Even in your victory over us we shall have the victory over you."
So it has turned out.
"No iconoclast," it was written at the time of his death, "can undo the work which he has done. His voice will remain--in his work--in the church which he built--in the church which he restored--in the faith which he revived and preached."
And we may well hope and believe that this prophecy will be fulfilled.