Project Canterbury

Bishop Bury: Late Bishop of North and Central Europe
A Memoir

By Sophie McDougall Hine

Milwaukee: Morehouse, 1933.

Chapter I. An Intrepid Traveller

IN one of the by-ways of Westminster there stands a house, surrounded by high buildings, which will ever be associated for me with the comings and goings of a traveller--a traveller who made more journeys in the course of a year than most men make in a lifetime. I always thought of Bishop Bury as one thinks of the seasons, arriving and departing, and yet I most often saw him quietly at work in his London home--a home of simple comfort and ecclesiastical dignity, but from the windows of which, he would sometimes say, 'You can never see a sunset.' To this pied à terre in London he gladly returned, as to a starting-point, on the completion of each carefully-planned itinerary, and it was in this place of rest and refreshment after his strenuous journeys (he was described in his lifetime as 'the most widely-travelled bishop in the Church of England') that he wrote his books, attended to the business which had accumulated during his absence, and prepared his next itinerary. For fifteen years, as Bishop of North and Central Europe, he journeyed from end to end of the Continent, in fair weather and in foul, in peace and in war, and right on to an age when most men have long ago laid down the burden of active life he quietly pursued his travels.

But it was in very early days that Herbert Bury, the son of Mr. Abraham Bury, of Oswaldtwistle, began his travels. At the end of his first year at Oxford, in 1875, after a walking tour and camping out on Exmoor, he fell into the doctor's hands, and as his lungs had never been strong he was ordered to take a sea voyage as soon as he possibly could. At that time it so happened that a family friend was over in this country from Argentina, where he had gone as a very young man, and had greatly prospered there. 'Why go for a long sea voyage,' said he one day, 'amongst strangers and people you know nothing at all about? Why not come out to me in the River Plate, one of the loveliest countries in the world, and where you can stay as long as you please?'

'This was too good an offer to refuse,' says Bishop Bury, in telling the story of his cattle-ranching days, 'and gratefully accepting it, I joined him in the late autumn of 1875. A voyage at that time by an ordinary steamship was full of interest, with all the old customs, throwing the dead horse overboard and crossing the line, with King Neptune and his Queen coming aboard being duly observed, and I was just at the age, of course, to enter into it all with zest and enjoyment.

'Buenos Ayres, even at that time, gave promise of what it was to be--the queen city of South America--but I only stayed a few days there, and then went up into Santa Fe, by the River Parana. What a wonderful river it seemed at that time, reminding me of Kings-ley's chapter in Westward Ho, "The Banks of the Meta." I remember that just as I was going on board, but while still in Buenos Ayres, I was asked unexpectedly to open my boxes for a Custom House examination. I was so taken by surprise that, taking out my keys, I dropped them into the river, and it was impossible to regain them. This at once excited suspicion, and I was positively made to take the boxes back and have them examined at my hotel, and, of course, miss my boat. I felt it to be so annoying to get in a locksmith and procure fresh keys that I determined then and there never to lock up again, and I have always kept to this resolve. I have travelled in every part of the world for twenty years as a bishop in both hemispheres, sometimes sending my bags registered, sometimes having them with me in the coupe, and never from that day to this (over fifty years) have I locked up either trunk or portmanteau or dispatch case, and never in the whole time lost a single thing!

'In due time I arrived in Rosario and then went on to the Canada de Gomez, fifty miles away, where my friend was a station-master, having worked his way up to that position after starting years before in the engineering shops of the Central Argentine Railway, and having acquired a good deal of land in the neighbourhood, which he was farming and upon which he had horses and cattle. After a very short time I found there was but little to do, and gladly welcomed my friend's suggestion that I should buy a small herd of cattle and look after them myself as I did not know at all how long I should have to stay in the country to regain my health. With the assistance of a peon I made a large corral myself, enclosing some twenty acres, and practically for nearly a year and a half lived in the saddle in a country where there were no roads or towns, and where one could ride in all directions in the open country without let or hindrance. Under such circumstances as these one seemed to drink in health daily, and certainly experience.

'I had all sorts of adventures as the Indian country was not very far away, with snakes, somewhat rough natives, and the usual mischances that befall those who have to herd up cattle. But it was a perfectly invaluable opportunity of really getting to know my fellow men. On all sides there were estancias, held both by Englishmen and natives, where one was always welcome. My host had brothers with him and we had expeditions of all kinds together.

'I sometimes think of the way in which our clergy are usually trained, going from a good home to a good school, then on to the University, finishing up very often with a theological institution. Ordination follows and they begin their life's work. Never, as a rule, do they have an opportunity of learning how ordinary men and women look at our human life, for wherever they go after ordination, respect for their office makes other people speak a little less freely than they would as laymen when together. But when you have sat round the camp fire and heard somewhat lurid experiences, and conversation is, to say the least, very frank, natural, and unabashed, you really know how an ordinary layman looks at human life--a perfectly invaluable help when you have afterwards to preach to him.

'We had very little in the way of religious ministrations. Only once in all the time I was there was a chaplain able to come out and take a service for us. I had fifty miles to go to church to receive Communion at Rosario, and this was my first experience of learning what a church really means in a British community, and what the absence of one means also. Furthermore, in Rosario there was a beautiful church, with a broad-minded and large-hearted chaplain, and there again I had my first experience of a community of all sorts and conditions of religious belief--Churchmen, Congregationalists, Baptists, Wesleyans, and others, and yet all kept in spiritual sympathy and true fellowship with each other. I felt it a great compliment in later years, quite early in my first curacy, to be asked by the committee to return to Rosario and be their chaplain, the good and faithful Mr. Coombe, the chaplain of my time, having unexpectedly died.

'Early in 1877 my guardian suddenly died, and it was necessary I should return immediately, but I think I should have done so in any case, as health had been restored, and I had already come to feel that I wanted to resume my life at home. I was just in time for the summer term at Oxford, and, receiving a warm welcome from Rector and Fellows, I settled down to Varsity life again just as if nothing had happened to break its continuity, and I may say that I did not feel in the very least unsettled, but, on the contrary, entered with a keener and more quickened interest into those opportunities which Oxford so wonderfully gives to her children. That wonderful country, Argentina, has advanced since those days in a more remarkable way than any other country perhaps in the world in the same time. When I took up my work as a bishop thirty years afterwards I found at once that all my early experiences there were perfectly invaluable. Never during the whole of that intervening time had I been on horseback, and then in Central America, where I had to ride, I took it up again just as if I had never left off. My Spanish, which had never been spoken in the meantime, at once came in useful, as I was bishop not only of British Honduras, where English is spoken everywhere, but in those five Republics which make up Central America, and where, of course, Spanish is spoken.'

Herbert Bury was ordained in 1878 to the curacy of Prestwich, taking his degree at Oxford in the following year. From 1885 to 1888 he was Vicar of S. Peter's, Stockport, and then he was appointed preacher and assistant at S. James's, Piccadilly. From 1891 to 1896 he was Rector of Newchurch-in-Rossendale, and he then returned to London as Vicar of S. Paul's, Avenue Road, Hampstead, where he remained till 1908, being also for the last three years at Hampstead honorary chaplain to the Bishop of London. In October, 1908, he was consecrated Bishop of British Honduras.

In describing the Diocese of British Honduras, a little country about the size of Wales, he says it is one of the most interesting in the whole world, for it includes the countries made famous by the Spanish Conquista under Cortes and his able Spaniards, and later by the exploits of our great naval heroes during the Elizabethan age.

'I know no more romantic part of the world--and I have had some little experience of romance and adventure--than Central America, and yet, as far as its place on the map is concerned, most people place it in their minds near Bolivia or Peru. It certainly is not very well named as Central America seeing that it is not in the central part of the other hemisphere, but in its northern portion. British Honduras is that small country which has Mexico as its northern frontier, and stretches practically down to the Isthmus of Panama.

The diocese includes, therefore, Spanish Honduras, Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama, but no longer the Canal itself, nor three miles on its northern side. I had only been bishop there for about three years, though it often seems to me that I crowded into those years experiences enough for twenty [many of these experiences are recorded in his book, A Bishop Among the Bananas], when the Bishop of London asked me to succeed Bishop Wilkinson, who, after twenty years, had rather suddenly resigned North and Central Europe, and as he had been to me for over thirty years one of the staunchest and most faithful of friends, and as I have long had the greatest respect, admiration, and affection for him, I had no hesitation whatever in accepting his kind offer.'

Bishop Bury had been rather reluctant, in the first place, to go to the West Indies, and had twice declined two offers of a diocese in that province. But when, at the Lambeth Conference and Congress in 1908, meeting in Synod, with the Archbishop presiding, he was unanimously called for a third time, he felt he could not possibly refuse. After consulting the Archbishop of the West Indies, receiving his full consent and approval, and realizing that such experiences as he had had under his guidance would be a help in visiting the scattered communities of North and Central Europe, he returned from this 'adventurous diocese' in Central America, which he had begun to feel called for the services of a younger man.

Unconsciously, through the years, Herbert Bury had been preparing for his great life work.

'I knew my Europe unusually well,' he says, 'when called by the Bishop of London to become Bishop for the North and Central part of it. I had travelled in every part of the Continent almost, except Russia, which was to become eventually the country next in my heart and interest to my own. France, for instance, I knew particularly well, as I was one of the earliest members of the French Touring Club, and of the Entente Cordiale. I climbed its mountains in the Dauphiné, and tramped on foot its most frequented places, but had especially ridden en bicyclette in the east, west, north, south, and centre, and had come really to know that country almost better than my own.

'During my very happy time as Vicar of S. Paul's, Avenue Road, London, I could have two months' holiday every year, August and September, and those I invariably spent in some part of Europe. Sometimes I travelled quite en fouriste, and not in clerical dress, and thus mixed amongst men as a man, and went to church as an ordinary member of the congregation, and heard the conversations of the laity after the service was over, and their comments on the clergy, in this way getting quite invaluable experience.

'Perhaps the holiday which taught me most about Europe was my bicycle ride from Ost-end, across Belgium, Germany, Austria, and Hungary to Budapest, taking the lower side of the Danube. From there we turned and went up through the Bohemian Forest to Berlin, and from there through the old North German towns, Brandenburg, Hildescheim, and the rest into Holland, and up to the Helder. We never once took a railway train, nor travelled on Sundays, carrying what we needed on the carrier, and picking up a bag for change of linen from time to time--a long way the most interesting experience of travelling in Europe that I have ever had. Later, when a bishop, and staying at the Embassy in Vienna, where I made friends with the Ambassador's young son, I puzzled him by asking him how he thought I had come to Vienna last. He said, "By train, I suppose, or on foot, or in the air." But it never entered his little head that I had come by bicycle. I may say it was the first time any one had ridden from Vienna to Budapest, and we later wrote up the road guide for the Austrian Touring Club.'

Another instructive holiday of pre-episcopal days was spent in getting to know the Balkans, this time tramping with a knapsack.

'Our route lay from Venice to Trieste, up into the mountains of Istria and down the Dalmatian coast, visiting such places as Pola, Zara, Spalato, and Ragusa, with the result that I have been able to follow very keenly the course of Italian aspirations and the development of Yugo-Slavia, with Spalato as its port. This--the modern rendering of the Latin Palatium--is one of the most interesting places in Southern Europe, for it was practically, when I visited it, the Palace of Diocletian, the huge sea-wall being almost the only part of it left, but that very impressive indeed. The cathedral was his mausoleum, and, attending Sunday services in the tomb of this great and relentless persecutor of our religion, one could realize how times had changed.'

The ancient customs and costumes still preserved, and other striking features, make France quite and absolutely unique amid the countries of Europe, says Bishop Bury, and he was often surprised to find how little France is known, both to the ordinary tourist, and even to Frenchmen themselves.

'The French are not great travellers,' he tells us, 'for not only is it true that they do not know much, or care to do so, of other countries, but they do not even know their own. The Touring Club de France has done its best, not unsuccessfully, and to youthful France, especially, their country is becoming better known. Years ago, when the experience was fresh in my mind, I now and then spoke to Frenchmen whom I met of recent holidays in the Gausses country, but never found any one who knew anything about it, and was asked to describe it and say how I came to know of it. I told them that I had read of it in an English book by the Rev. S. Baring-Gould, called The Deserts of Southern France. "Deserts!" would be the exclamation. "Deserts in France? Why, where can they be?" And then I had to explain that all the country round about Mende, or the Cevennes country, reached by way of Clermont Ferrand, consists of what can only be described as deserts, vast plateaux, arid and bare, for the most part, though here and there were bits of pasture where shepherds kept their flocks, and which are called by the French Gausses, notably the Causse Noire and the Causse de Sauve-terre, which could only be translated in English as "deserts," for without population and trees, or cultivation in any form, or rivers, deserts they certainly are.

'We traversed them on our way--on bicycles--to reach other places, and especially the Gorge du Tarn, running between St. Enemie and Le Rosier, one of the most remarkable of places, for the River Tarn flows through real gorges, or canons of the wildest character, the rocky sides towering up far above the river, with eagles and other birds that one associates with the higher atmosphere circling above one's head. One makes the "voyage" in a flat-bottomed boat which is very carefully steered, as the current is very rapid, past dangerous rocks, and round sharp corners, and with eddying currents that are rather fearsome as one begins the passage, but where fear soon departs as one reflects how comparatively often the experience is repeated without any one hearing of any accident. The river suddenly disappears into the ground, and then travellers have to go on foot for about half a mile to meet it as it reappears again after flowing deep down underground. Another boat, also flat-bottomed, is waiting, and so one completes a very thrilling journey. At Dargilan, far down below the earth's surface are the most wonderful caverns, full of stalactites and stalagmites, one above another. Dressed as for a coal mine in our own country travellers go down and view these marvellous places, looking in the lights one carries like scenes in fairyland. One almost expects to see beings of another world appear in silvery dress with crowns and wands, for everything seems to be of silver, especially when flashlights illuminate all the great spaces in this wonderful underground.

'Then there is Rocamadour, a remarkable and romantic-looking ravine, suddenly appearing as one drives through rather desolate country, with the houses clinging to its sides, and with rocky walls some four hundred feet high, one of the most ancient pilgrim resorts in France, and especially frequented in mediaeval times. The name is derived from S. Amadour, who is said to have lived here in the first century, and by some was considered to have been Zac-cheus, the publican. Nothing like it is to be seen anywhere else. Another place of special interest, and not very far away, reached from Perigueux, is the Trou, or Gouffre of Padirac. This is a great circular opening like a huge well, one hundred and twenty feet in diameter and two hundred and fifty feet deep, down the side of which one goes by a winding staircase. On reaching the ground, in one corner is seen a little opening, with a guide carrying lights to show the way. Down and down we go, as it seems into the very bowels of the earth, until we arrive on the banks of a river. Another Charon is waiting there with his boat, and we are carried down the River Styx, almost wondering whether we are not already in the other world. Truly it is another world, for presently we arrive at a shore on the other side, and, leaving the boat, wander along the stream and lighting up as we go the rocky roof and sides of this wonderful subterranean land. It did indeed seem in a way like coming to life again after climbing the winding stair and reaching the plain above and looking back at that perfectly astounding opening known as the "Gouffre de Padirac." In such guide books as I know it has no other mention, yet, in a sense, there is nothing at all like it.'

These descriptions, in the Bishop's own words, are sufficient indication of his enthusiasm for travel, an enthusiasm which lasted throughout a long life. I well remember his pleasure in very recent years in his journeys to that little haven of peace and beauty on the Italian Riviera, Ospedaletti, where he rested and recuperated when London fogs forced a retreat. After his resignation as Bishop of North and Central Europe, he wrote me from the Hotel de la Reine, Ospedaletti:

'I left on the 14th (December), officiated as in old times three times in Paris, am doing so here to-morrow and on Christmas Day, so the grass has no chance yet.'

And again in the following February:

'I really was in a rather bad way. This place has quite restored me, I am thankful to say. Continual warmth and sunshine. This is the twenty-eighth day quite fine and delightful in succession. Dear Lord Plumer is here at San Remo and we are planning out the service at Ypres' (in connection with the opening of the Menin Gateway and laying of the foundation stones of the Memorial Church and Schools at Ypres).

Mr. H. V. Bury could give us many other stories of this intrepid traveller. Perhaps the greatest tie between father and son, he told me, was demonstrated in Montenegro.

'We were both going over the Black Mountain, and as we reached the summit so terrific was the wind that we could only get over by clinging to the mountain and lying flat down. Later on we came to a well-worn track, smooth and glassy through the continual tread of the string shoes worn by the Montenegrins. The wind still continued in great gusts, and I found that my Father, in order to get the best view as we were going down, would walk on the edge of this path which had a fall of thirty feet to it. After enduring this in silence for some time, my anxiety for him made me venture to say: "Don't you think you had better walk away from the edge as it is very dangerous?" But I was given to understand that that was his business. Hardly had he stepped on a matter of, shall we say, a hundred yards, before a gust, to my dismay, actually took him off his feet, and away he sailed to the rocks below. Fortunately for me, and for others also, I suppose, his fall was broken by the knapsack on his back, as this was the first thing which took his weight. He was stunned, but after treatment with brandy, and a rest, we were able to proceed. My Father never lost sight of the expression on the face of the boy of seventeen, looking down upon him as he sailed below, and one might say it has always remained one of the strongest ties between us.'

As a boy Mr. Bury was very keen on catching butterflies, and the Bishop took the greatest interest in anything which interested his son. They had been out to the Tyrol, and were returning with a doctor and his wife, but the doctor had had to leave, owing to illness.

'So there was just my Father and I and the wife, and, of course, after our midday meal they wanted to discuss the affairs of the day for at least half an hour, which was far too long for me, and on a certain occasion I ventured to ask if it might be permitted for me to go on in advance so that I could get on with my collecting, and they could pick me up. I was given permission, and after I had learnt off the name of the place to which we were going, off I sailed on my bicycle. I finally came to a very suitable place for butterflies, a very nice clover field, dismounted, and had a good catch, but no sign of my fellow travellers. So I retraced my steps to see if I was going to the right place. To my dismay I found I was in a cul-de-sac^ and it was a Sunday afternoon. I repeated my sentence in French to an old dame whom I met with a broom in her hand at the village, but her only reply was a demonstration that I wanted a taste of the broom. So I had to return to the inn, and on my way back saw no sign of my fellow travellers. When I got back, they had gone. I had enough sense to stay where I was and wait for them. They returned about 7.30, after their fruitless search for me, and I can remember now my Father's tones as he said that if I could not behave better than that the only thing would be to send me back by the first train. He had given way to my wishes, and I had let him down. On another occasion the butterflies played a part. We had come through from Basle out of Germany into France, across the German frontier. Nobody took any notice of us, and we did not realize that we had got into France. Presently we heard a fearful commotion in our rear. As far as we could see horses were coming out, and they were chasing us. So we thought it best to return, and we received a very unpleasant reception. We were taken for spies, and the officers tried to take my Father's passport. They wished to search us and our baggage, and on my carrier I used a cigar box for my butterfly specimens. When the gendarme, or Customs man, saw this he at once started to seize it. I immediately became over-anxious, and in an excited fashion tried to caution him that it must be opened with care. He thought he had a find, as I was holding on tightly to the box. You can judge of his face when he found it was full of butterflies.'

Bishop Bury's love of boys, and his lifelong friendship for many a choirboy, are well known. Only last year his son, when spending a holiday in Devon, had another charming illustration of this. Two young schoolboys were staying with their aunts in the same house as Mr. Bury and his family, and one day joined them on an expedition up the Dart. The two boys had had no training as Scouts, and greatly enjoyed their efforts, under Mr. Bury's instructions, to pass the. Scout test of lighting a fire in the open with not more than two matches. In this happy position, with their instructor watching, the camera caught all three, and a delightful little picture was the result. This Mr. Bury posted to his father, when he was writing him next day. In his reply the Bishop enclosed ten shillings for each of the boys (whom of course he had never seen). He was himself a boy to the end.

In recent years, his son meeting him in London, after, perhaps, a considerable absence of time, naturally felt anxious about the traffic as they crossed the busy streets. But a mere suggestion on his part in the way of warning always met with a quick rebuff. 'How do you suppose I have managed to get on all these years?' the Bishop would ask. 'Don't you bother about me; I can take care of myself at such times.'

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