THE story of William Bennett--Perpetual Curate of S. Paul's, Knightsbridge; Founder of S. Barnabas', Pimlico; Vicar of Froome--is an essential part of the story of the Oxford Movement. As one of the most energetic restorers of the paths, one of the first to see that the doctrines of the Faith must be set forth by the ceremonial of the Church, one engaged in a lifelong struggle to free the Church. from the tyranny of the State, one of the most prominent of those whose work it was to carry the teachings of the Oxford leaders into the practical daily life of men, his life is a factor which is not to be neglected in the history of the Church of England during the nineteenth century.
As early as 1849 an opponent described him as "the most distinguished Tractarian in London." Still more in 1850 and 1851 was he the prominent figure of the advance--"a pioneer," as Dr. Littledale said to a friend of them both, "blasting the rocks and levelling the road"--"A master-builder of the Church," says Mr. Cosby White. He was assuredly felix opportunitate. His life synchronized with the success of the Movement. His position among the early workers was unique. To no man was given a greater chance than was given to him when he became Incumbent of S. Paul's, Knightsbridge, and had the wealthiest, most powerful congregation in England. No man could have used the chance more vigorously. The moment when S. Barnabas' was built was the very moment when it had become needful that the ideals of the Movement should be clearly, and on a conspicuous scale, set before the eyes of men--the second act of the drama must begin. With the building and consecration of S. Barnabas' it began with all its power. Mr. Bennett was great as preacher, catechist, and organizer. As a writer of pamphlets setting forth the Catholic Faith and its claims in popular, telling language, his energy was inexhaustible. The greater leaders--Keble, Newman, R. H. Froude, Pusey--appealed to the intellectual portion of the Church; Mr. Bennett preached to the fashionable and to the poor; to the powerful and the degraded alike. He spoke out full plainly to the grandees of the land. He preached the gospel to the wretched. Twice round him the battle raged--at S. Barnabas', when he taught us the lesson not to rely on the great ones of the earth; and at Froome, when, prosecuted by the Church Association, he put before us the truth that the Church has the inalienable right and duty to rule herself without the interference of the State.
Yet one little apology is needed for printing the story of his life--in that he himself disliked memoirs, thinking them too often sentimental and unreal. In this Life of him this objection shall be avoided. His printed opinions, his public actions, will be the chief source, the chief subject, of our history. It will be a simple account of what he did, what he said, and what he wrote, and to this, as being a record of what is already public property, it would seem that he could have had no possible objection.
The writer has to thank the following persons who have kindly contributed reminiscences or appreciations, or have replied to his letters of inquiry on various points:--
The Rt. Hon. the Earl Nelson.
The Rev. J. Hampton, Warden of S. Michael's College, Tenbury, Precentor of Hereford.
The Rev. Prebendary Linklater, D.D., Vicar of Holy Trinity, Stroud Green.
The Hon. and Rev. A. F. A. Hanbury-Tracy, Vicar of S. Barnabas', Pimlico, formerly Vicar of Froome.
The Rev. A. G. Mortimer, D.D., Incumbent of S. Mark's, Philadelphia.
The Rev. T. H. Compton, formerly Vicar of S. Katharine's, Woodlands, near Froome; and Mrs. Compton.
The Rev. Father Benson, of Cowley.
The Rev. G. Cosby White, formerly Vicar of S. Barnabas', Pimlico.
The Very Rev. the Dean of Westminster.
The Very Rev. the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford.
The Rev. the Head Master of Westminster School.
Mr. A. P. Waterfield and Mr. K. R. H. Jones, successive Captains of Westminster School, for records' of rowing at the School in Mr. Bennett's time, and other information.
The Rev. W. E. Sherwood, Vicar of Sandford, for remarks on rowing at Oxford in Mr. Bennett's time.
Miss Maria Albin Baily, formerly of Froome, now of The Hall, Glastonbury.
Miss Leeds, formerly one of Mr. Bennett's helpers at Froome.
Miss Plowden, a lifelong friend of Mr. Bennett.
Miss Louisa Morgan, formerly one of Mr. Bennett's household at Froome.
And many other persons.
The late Rev. F. Farrer, son-in-law to Mr. Bennett, contributed some delightful personal recollections.
The writer has also consulted the Guardian, the Church Times, the Illustrated London News, the Times, the Somerset and Wilts Journal, Punch, and other newspapers from the time when Mr. Bennett's doings began to be publicly recorded. The amount of matter relating to Mr. Bennett in the various newspapers is indeed enormous, but too often needs verification.
The history of the House of Commons debates relating to the appointment to Froome has been recorded from Hansard.
The writer has gleaned a few facts from Denison's "Notes of My Life"; the Lives of Skinner and Lowder; from Mozley, Overton, Leach, and the late Mr. Wakeling's amusing '''Recollectrons of the Oxford Church Movement," and many other 'books on that subject, the literature of which is, of course, immense.
He has also to thank the Rev. G. H. Palmer for most kindly revising the account of Church music as it was, and of the revival of better things at S. Barnabas' and elsewhere.