Project Canterbury

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

By Sophie McDougall Hine

Milwaukee: Morehouse, 1933.

Chapter II. A Personal Picture

FOR fifteen years the Right Rev. Herbert Bury, D.D., as Bishop of North and Central Europe, administered a diocese, consisting of some eighteen countries, with such untiring zeal, energy, and devotion that his name will be recorded not only on the rolls of history, but in many an obscure corner, where the fragrance of his personality will linger until tradition may be trusted to preserve his memory. It was in 1923 that the late Archbishop of Canterbury said of him:

'By his persevering powers, his generosity of outlook, generosity of manner and everything else, and by the outpouring of his physical strength and his mental capacity, Bishop Bury is setting us all an example of what an active bishop in days long distant from apostolic times may do in apostolic fashion.'

One of his Northern chaplains said of him, in writing to Mrs. Bury: 'He reminds me of the London bus driver who only had one day's holiday in the year, and that he spent in driving for a pal.' And another of his most trusted workers was heard to remark: 'I wish we could do something to prevent our Bishop going round the Continent with a bag in one hand and a sandwich in the other.'

'I succeeded him seven years ago,' wrote the Bishop of Fulham, in his tribute in The Times, 'and wherever I go I hear him spoken of with respect and affection. His vitality was wonderful. The work of an Anglican bishop in North and Central Europe entails much travelling on long tours in eighteen countries between the Atlantic and the Ural Mountains; most nights are spent in the train, and the days are filled with engagements. Up to the age of seventy-three he never shrank from this work, which imposes a physical strain on one many years his junior.'

Bishop Bury was never weary of his work: that is a safe statement. Nobody could contest it. It would not be equally true to say he was never tired, but he never showed any of the usual signs of mental fatigue; never displayed those signals which point to nerve weariness and strain, and which are so familiar to-day in all circles where men busy themselves with the affairs of their fellows; never wanted to 'burn his boats' and 'get away from it all for a time.' So when during a holiday any call for service came along he responded in exactly the same spirit as he would had he been 'in harness.' His diaries, into which no biographer will ever be able to peep, as he left directions that they were all to be burned, extended over a period of fifty-eight years. These diaries were kept regularly, day by day, with detailed precision, so that he could (and I have often seen him do this) turn up any event and ascertain at what hour it took place, and other particulars, which were often of great value after the passage of years had swept such facts out of memory's reach. 'He had his opportunities, and he used them,' as Mr. Gladstone once said of another famous man. No opportunity that came to him had one single chance to rust. A meticulous correspondent, Bishop Bury attended with painstaking persistence to every detail concerning his vast field of labour. During the war, especially, his post-bag was colossal, and to each correspondent he sent a personal reply. Without hurry or excitement, he faced the day's list of engagements, and when he came to life's cross roads, he went on his way, without fear or hesitation. His alert and eager spirit was ever under control, checked and moderated by an inner poise, the Source of which could never be doubted; the gracious charm and fascination which radiated from him defies description, but it seemed to come direct from a radiant light within which burned ceaselessly--and which will, surely, never cease to shine.

There never could have been a man who presented such a complete antithesis to the individual who must have given rise in the first place to that terrible expression--'gloomy parson.' Bishop Bury's smile, his glinting humour, his penetrating, searching inquiry into 'the daily round, the common task' of those with whom his work brought him into contact, his intense ardour for the right thing in the right place, the right way instead of the partly right way of doing things; his enjoyment of the simple ceremonial of homely hospitality, and his conspicuous ability to play a leading part in the most important functions of Church and State--these are but a few amongst the qualities which endeared the man to his fellows and sent congregations home from a church where he had been preaching with a memory of the Bishop in the pulpit which would never fade away. Though his words might become dim and eventually obliterated in the mind, his beautiful voice, his persuasiveness, his manner of saying 'my brothers,' which even the most skilled artist in mimicry would have found it impossible to imitate; his inexplicable method of' getting across 'any sermon or speech without once raising his voice or becoming excited--those are the things, so impossible adequately to express in words, by means of which Bishop Bury found his way into the secret places of the heart. By his example and magnetism, and by his determined and unremitting efforts 'to turn the clouds about,' he cheered and encouraged the toilers and the strugglers, the downcast and the distressed; and those with this world's goods gathered round him for the help and inspiration which he knew so well how to give to high and low, and rich and poor.

His preaching never varied. After the Bishop had had a severe attack of influenza, one of his chaplains wrote:

'His spiritual sincerity and power has been in no degree abated by his recent illness. Those who heard him at Matins and Evensong could not have failed to note the conviction, the joy, and the enthusiasm which underlay his words.'

In all his work he stimulated the simple gaieties which fellowship and friendliness will promote, and attached great importance both at home and on the Continent to social gatherings or as, with more dignity, they are called abroad, receptions. Definitely he made it clear that he considered the Reception (which he always spelt with a capital initial letter) as one of the greatest opportunities a travelling European bishop can possibly have of getting into that personal touch which means so much both to clergy and people:

'During the war, when in the Zone des Armées,' he says, 'I was again and again addressed by members of the Army Service Corps, who reminded me of having met me at a Reception at which I had had the opportunity of saying a few words to them, when they were chauffeurs there, and even now, though it is three years since I resigned, I am constantly receiving letters or calls from those I had met abroad, but always at a Reception.'

He has often described these pleasant gatherings--'parties' he would have called them had he wanted to use another word for 'Receptions.'

'At Biarritz for instance,' he says,'--it poured with rain there and at St. Jean de Luz, just as it had done previously at Pau--we had a very interesting Reception, including "all sorts and conditions of men." There was royalty in the person of Princess Frederica of Hanover, who, as a great grand-daughter of George III, is a Princess of Great Britain and Ireland, and young shopmen and bank clerks, with representatives of all other classes between. It might be truly said that "everybody was asked and everybody came." At St. Jean de Luz also the Reception was again the feature of my visit, though we had an excellent Sunday afternoon service--I was at Biarritz in the morning--at which a hundred and forty people were present. The Reception was immediately afterwards, and no less than two hundred came, although it was, as I have said, a very wet afternoon. There is a very great deal to be said for a Sunday Reception where it can be arranged, for there can be little doubt that many can come at that time and at no other.'

Here is one of his chaplains on the subject:

'On the Wednesday at St. Servan a Reception was given by Mr. and Mrs. Dyson-Cooper at their charming residence, the "Manoir de la Baronie," where a most enjoyable afternoon was spent. The Bishop was, if we may be permitted the expression, in particularly "good form," and, in a delightfully genial manner, invited the members of his audience to, choose the subject of his address and to put any questions to him they liked. Needless to say, these questions were answered with characteristic readiness and picturesqueness, the Bishop enriching his answers with many valuable and deeply-interesting details gathered from his experiences in Palestine, Budapest, and America. To have had our Bishop amongst us has been a great happiness, and more than that, it has been a distinct encouragement to the chaplain of St. Servan, and his little flock.'

Here, again, this time from Biarritz:

'On the Tuesday a large Reception of members of the congregation was held at their villa by Brig.-General and Mrs. Macfie, with whom the Bishop stayed during his visit. More than a hundred were present. And, after tea, the Bishop held the rapt attention of his audience as he related his wonderful experiences during his visit to Egypt and Tutankhamen's Tomb.'

After a visit to Antwerp the Bishop wrote:

'I had a quite brilliant Reception, in the evening of my first day, at the Salle de Boeck, with nearly two hundred present, and whom I addressed with very great pleasure. I get to attach more and more importance to a largely-attended Reception during my visit to a chaplaincy, for though I think it is a pleasure for them to meet their Bishop socially, as it is to me to meet them and address them, it is clearly a great pleasure to them to meet each other, and their chaplain, and great good is done socially in thus bringing them together.'

'Herbert Bury was a man who made himself beloved as a parish priest,' said a writer in the Guardian, 'but he will chiefly be remembered for the imagination that he showed while bishop of a diocese that gives more scope to the spirit of adventure than does an English see. He certainly proved that the Anglican bishoprics on the Continent can be important embassies of goodwill and international understanding.'

That word 'embassies' is a reminder that Bishop Bury always recalled with the greatest possible pleasure his experiences as a guest at the various Embassies, Legations, and Consulates, both in and out of Europe.

'At Prague,' he wrote in 1923, 'I spent two interesting days staying with Sir George Clerk, our Minister there, at his Legation, which is one of the most romantic palaces I have ever entered, with all sorts of quaint arrangements. I passed through three beautiful Salons, for instance, to reach my bedroom, which had evidently originally been another reception room, and which had a huge and magnificent heavily carved oak ceiling. I went out by another door and descended to the drawing-room, by a circular staircase which made me feel quite dizzy as I looked down from the first step into the room below. Outside there were three gardens at different heights, the top one being given entirely to roses, and which made me think of the "hanging gardens of Babylon," which, I suppose, were terraced in the same way.'

He had stayed at almost every Legation in Europe--with Sir Edward Goschen at the Embassy in Berlin, 'a very imposing building in the Wilhelmstrasse, close to Unter Den Linden' in those days (Lord d'Abernon was his kind host at Berlin); at Vienna, where the Embassy of other days was known for its brilliant gatherings, and where, when Sir Maurice de Bunsen was Ambassador, the Bishop fell ill for the first time during his work in Europe, and by the kindness of the Ambassador, and in defiance of his doctor, took a Confirmation service in the Embassy, with his Bishop's robes over his sleeping suit; at Brussels, where Sir Francis Villiers made the Legation a great centre of interest and helpfulness to the Churches, and where Sir George Graham, for whom the Bishop had 'a profound respect and sincere affection,' was the last Ambassador with whom he stayed; at Copenhagen, where the Diplomatic Corps was especially marked by sociability and friendliness; at Stockholm; and, of course, at the Russian Embassy, where the Bishop enjoyed the friendship of Sir George and Lady Buchanan. Sir George had undoubtedly one of the most difficult parts that any diplomatist had to play in the whole course of the war, and Bishop Bury always felt that no one had appreciated this more fully than Mr. Arthur Henderson. In June, 1916, the Bishop was present at what he said was one of the greatest functions ever seen in Moscow--the giving of its Freedom to the British Ambassador.

In that poignantly beautiful and entirely ex tempore address delivered by the Bishop of London at the funeral service for Bishop Bury, at S. Stephen's, Westminster, on January 19, 1933, we have a personal picture of Herbert Bury which enshrines his memory for all time in the hearts of those who knew him and loved him. The Bishop of London said:

'My dear Friends--All of you who are joined together by our great love of the friend who has been taken from us would like me to speak a few words this day before we escort his honoured body forth from this church.

'Now the first thing I would like to say about my dear old friend is that he was a simple and believing Christian. I take that first of all for this was really the secret of all his influence. He loved Christ; and that was the foundation of his holy life; and he showed it by the generosity of his spirit. I suppose a more generous man than he never lived; there are some here whom I know in the church to-day who owe him all they have, and look upon him as a true and a real father in the literal sense.

'But it was not only that he lived a Christian life; he was one of the most eloquent exponents of the Christian Faith. I have no doubt there are some here from that church he so dearly loved, S. Anne's, in the City. Now, if any of you are here you may have wondered why we did not have the service in that church. The particular reason was of course that this is his parish church, the parish where he died; not only that, but because it is impossible in the crowded state of the City to-day to have taken the funeral service there. But I would like to testify how much he loved that church; and you know how wonderfully he held those congregations week by week, year after year, by the telling way in which he spoke every week, always on a Wednesday, when he was in London.

'But it was not merely that he was a great preacher. I saw him first as one of the most efficient parish priests I have ever known. I was proud to go day by day and kneel by his bedside and pray for him twenty-five years ago in his terrible illness, which I believe left its mark upon him all his life. But in those days he held, as a parish priest, the most devoted congregation that I have ever seen in London. This little church of S. Paul's, Avenue Road, led the whole diocese in the lists of subscriptions for several years. I used to be asked down as Bishop to take the contributions of his flock; and it would make you smile to have heard him when he used to look at the cheques as they were handed in, and, as I remember him saying to one distinguished man in the congregation, "Take it back and put upon it another nought"; which he most meekly did.

'That will show you the influence he had upon London men; I have never known a man with such influence over human souls as he had at S. Paul's, Avenue Road.

'When he became a bishop I did not know much of his work far away in Honduras, except through the book which he wrote, but I always had my eye on him to bring him back to London; and it was really a most providential thing that happened that I was able to appoint him to North and Central Europe, which was exactly fitting for his powers and talents, and where, as his most equally hardworking successor knows, he set a most wonderful example of courage in his work. He went across the Steppes of Russia to Siberia in the fastest pace ever known of anybody. He went to Ruhleben, although I was always afraid whether he would ever get out again; and he went as far as Moscow in Soviet Russia. He did all these things without a thought of his own personal safety at all; and the whole of North and Central Europe will bear witness to the devoted care he took of the people and the chaplains who were in his care.

'And yet when I have said all that, there is something still left to be said. The reason I think we all loved him so was that he was one of the most loving and lovable friends you could ever have had. I used to have with him in his home here little lunches; he used to love to have me to himself; when he came to Fulham he was lost in the great palace, but there was nothing he loved better than this little tête-à-tête we had together, which I had with him when I lunched with him on a Thursday. And many of you who knew him intimately knew that behind a rather natural reserve there was the most loving heart that ever man had. No wonder so many have come here in the middle of the day. I have had many letters of sympathy. We shall never forget him or the example--could we?--that he has set; and we are going to escort him with honour from this church--a most forceful preacher, a most faithful bishop, and a most loving friend.'

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