Project Canterbury

The Mind and Work of Bishop King

By B.W. Randolph and J.W. Townroe

With a preface by the Bishop of London.

London: Mowbray, 1918.

Chapter IX. Friendship and Influence

ENOUGH has been said already to show what a genius Bishop King had for making friends with all with whom he came in contact. The influence of such a man in such a position was of course very great.

Immediately after his death Canon Crowfoot wrote the following in the Diocesan Magazine: "He was universally beloved, more and more as years went on, with a stronger and deeper love throughout the length and breadth of his diocese. He threw his spell over Lincoln at once. 'A nice, comfortable sort of gentleman,' was the verdict of an old Lincolnshire waiter, after a large luncheon in very early days. It was a homely phrase, but it hit the mark. Wherever the bishop went the charm of his presence brought sunshine and happiness; it made all about him feel at their ease, and then acted as a magnet for drawing out all that was good in them. 'If we can get the bishop all will go well 'became a proverb in the diocese. 'I wish to be good for quite a long time after I have been with the bishop. The very sight of his face makes me feel that wish,' said a young officer. And that was the experience of very many of all classes, high and low. 'You made me the happiest woman in the world (referring to the bishop having officiated at her wedding). I will not refuse to do anything you ask me to do,' said a great and gracious lady when asked by the bishop to open a bazaar. 'I have conducted this Retreat because the bishop asked me to do it,' said a bishop when a vote of thanks was proposed. 'If the bishop asked me to do the most impossible thing, I should try.' His sympathy created faith and hope in all who would open their hearts to receive it. The Archbishop (Benson) of Canterbury was attracted by what he called his 'heavenly-mindedness.' The beautiful face was in him the index of a beautiful soul. He had indeed grown up 'like a gentleman, with nothing between him and heaven.' His unfailing courtesy, with its notes of distinction and high breeding, was the gift of his birth and his home. But, as he could not entertain an unkind thought, he could not say an unkind word; and, as he treated all, whatever their rank, whether high or low, as if they were what they ought to be, an influence of irresistible charm flowed from him. The sympathy behind that deep blue eye revealed to him at a glance what to say, and how to say it. His gifts of utterance were unique; and they were gifts--but they were his own; just as the flies with which he caught trout as a boy were all of his own making and ever irresistibly attractive, so was it when he became a fisher of men. His gifts of speech placed at his disposal powers of expression which gave even to quite familiar truths, as they fell from his lips, an added grace and life which they had never seemed before to have. His way of putting words together--whether in ordinary conversation or in a set speech, or in sermons, or in addresses when he was conducting a Retreat--was all of his own making, and was irresistibly attractive."

"My first acquaintance with Bishop King," writes the Earl of Yarborough, " was in July, 1885, shortly after he came into the diocese.

"The occasion was the county agricultural show at Grimsby, for which he came as my guest to Brocklesby.

"At the luncheon he responded, of course, for the toast of the 'Bishop and Clergy': it was the first occasion many of us had met him, and I well remember the deep impression he made on his hearers. Among my guests was my brother-in-law, Francis Astley-Corbett, then a subaltern in the Scots Guards, who had fought in the Egyptian campaign of 1884, and came home very ill with enteric fever contracted at Suakim. On the platform, waiting for the train to convey us all into Grimsby, my huntsman, Will Dale, greeted the young officer very cordially, and, shaking him by the hand, said, 'Glad to see you back, sir.' The bishop made that greeting a text for his speech, delighted as he always was to bring in some homely reference on which to found his lessons. His sympathy and kindly remarks brought tears to some of those who heard him.

"The bishop was then fifty-six, and perhaps looked more than his years owing to his bowed head which, as Mr. Russell has shown in his work, was merely a physical habit, and implied no diminution of general strength. I was only a young man of twenty-six, but so far from experiencing any alarm in talking to so distinguished an ecclesiastic, and one so much older than myself, I felt it a delight and a privilege to be in conversation with him. In fact, I fell under the spell of his charm, and felt instinctively the love he possessed for the association of younger men.

"He visited us on a good many occasions during his episcopate, chiefly when called into the neighbourhood for Confirmations, and Lady Yarborough and I always anticipated these visits with pleasure. He was always so broad-minded in his interests and his conversation. Here at Brocklesby, during the winter months, we were a good deal absorbed in the pleasures of fox-hunting, which was our chief relaxation, and it might be thought there was not much in common between a learned prelate and the young men and women he met in our house; but he always showed a warm interest in the sport, and would be glad to talk about it and the influence for good fellowship it engendered. He would invariably, in those days, stroll up to the kennels and talk over hunting matters with my huntsman, Will Dale, and inquire tenderly after his wife, who was crippled with rheumatic fever. I have always understood that as a young man at Oxford he was an expert horseman; and, though his modest nature never gave a hint of this, his interest in riding never appeared to fail.

"He was once preaching at a Confirmation in Limber church soon after Will Dale had broken his leg through his horse falling over wire placed in a fence. The bishop brought the incident happily into his address in order to impress his hearers that it is not only the great dangers and temptations which must be guarded against, but that the smaller faults, like the hidden wire which we fail to notice, are apt to trip us up in life.

"The bishop and I some twenty years ago were guests of Mr. E. G. Pretyman at Riby, to which estate he had recently succeeded, and on this particular morning our host and I were going out hunting. I well remember the bishop's delight in seeing our host in boots and breeches reading prayers for the household. The appearance of the young man, full of health and vigour, starting the day with public prayer appealed strongly to him, and he frankly showed his pleasure.

"I have mentioned his interest in fox-hunting because it happened to come under my observation, but he was equally at home with other sportsmen. Ask the shooting-man, and he will tell you of the keenness with which he discussed the day's bag, and the evident delight with which he conversed on the subject. The fact was he had an intense love for the country. Mr. G. W. E. Russell has well shown in his delightful work his interest for birds and flowers, but the whole of nature in the countryside appealed to him. He always appeared intensely happy in the country, and the quieter the surroundings the better pleased he appeared to be. He was quite happy addressing the lads in the churchyard of a village in the midst of nature and in language which they could well understand.

"Nobody can doubt that from the day of his entering the diocese this saintly man was an influence for good in the lives of all with whom he came in contact, no matter what they called themselves as religionists and to what class they belonged. Above all, he was a great gentleman: the courtesy and gentleness of his manner, the sympathy expressed in every line of his features, acted like a magnet, and won at once the confidence of every man or woman who was fortunate enough to meet him.

"Among the impressions his life and character made on the laity in his diocese, I would mention first his intense humility--surely there was never a finer example of a virtue, none too common in the present day, than was shown by this distinguished man in his saintly life and conversation. Mr. Russell has given us the story of his deep interest in visiting the poor young fisherman of Grimsby who was sentenced to death for the murder of his sweetheart. When the death penalty had been exacted the bishop writes to his old friend Mr. Russell, as recorded in his book, not taking any credit to himself for what he had done to save the poor lad's soul. On the contrary he tells him 'it was a terrible privilege; but I am most thankful I was allowed to be with the poor, dear man. He was most beautiful, and his last (and first) communion on Sunday put me to shame. I felt quite unworthy of him.' What an example of humility!

"After his humility I would mention his intense human sympathy; he abounded in it, it was evident in every line of his face. Then his simplicity--the simplest incidents in life were sufficient for him, and, as I have stated, he was able to found on them the finest principles and the most necessary lessons. Again, the breadth of his mind and the interest he took, and genuinely felt, in the interests and occupations of others. All these gave him the power of friendship with his hearer, who was made to feel at once that he was speaking not only to a learned divine but to a real friend. The way he expressed himself, the tenderness with which he put his hand on a little boy and blessed him, as he did when my sons were small--all this was done with so much real love and sincerity that it can never be forgotten.

"It must not be inferred that with his tender nature there was any weakness in his character. Though his features were of delicate refinement, the mouth was firm and the chin well-developed. I don't think any one would care to have taken a liberty with him or laid himself open to a rebuke from him. Nobody who ever had the good fortune to meet this saintly man could ever forget his kindly smile, which lit up his whole face. I suppose to reproduce this smile, at once so full of refinement and sympathy and tenderness, in clay would be wellnigh impossible; but, in my judgement, Sir William Richmond has gone as near to doing so as can be expected in the fine statue which records his memory in the minster.

"Bishop King was always glad to be in the company of young men, and his hospitality at the Old Palace was well known. When I commanded the Lincolnshire Yeomanry on one occasion we were camped in Riseholme Park, just outside Lincoln, for our training. The bishop invited the officers to dine with him one evening, and I remember there was some speculation as to whether there would be smoking after dinner, knowing as we did that he himself did not indulge in tobacco; and that smoking was only permitted, as was natural, in a small room downstairs. Knowing his thoughtfulness and hospitality we should not have doubted: after dinner cigarettes were handed round, and, needless to say, we spent a very enjoyable evening.

"The Bishop of Grantham has told me how, on the occasion of another dinner given to Yeomanry officers, with his usual thoughtfulness Bishop King had instructed his chaplain specially to invite his suffragan to dine on this particular evening because he knew his propensities for tobacco, and thought that the officers would be placed more at their ease if they saw the Bishop of Grantham indulging in a cigarette after dinner!"


Canon Wilgress, Rector of Great Elm, Somerset, who was the bishop's private chaplain for fifteen years, writes:--

"No one can claim to have really known Bishop King unless he had had the privilege of spending a holiday with him. One of the things which attracted persons to him, wittingly or unwittingly, was the holiday aspect he could throw over so many duties. Holidays were a very real thing to him. Perhaps he never let the outer world so much into his innermost feelings about them as he did in a speech that he made at a prize-giving at the Lincoln Training College, which was held shortly before his last holiday but one; the thought of his holiday was then vividly in his mind, and filled him with overflowing spirits, and enabled him to throw himself with full sympathy into the feelings of the students who were so soon to begin their holidays. The height of hilariousness which his spirits reached on that occasion came as a great surprise to many.

"The thought of his holiday began to take shape some weeks before the actual event. . . . He prepared for it and planned out his tour. If he had no special place he was desirous of seeing, one would be put into his mind sometimes by a friend. This was the case, for example in regard to his resolve to go to Ravenna, which he had long wished to see, and to which he was finally encouraged to go by Bishop Stubbs, who assured him that with reasonable caution it would not be too hot in August.

"If he was sometimes rather slow in making up his mind where to go, when once made he carried out his plan with great inflexibility of purpose. His plan at times was criticized by the cautious as being rash, but his sportsmanlike character would not listen to any such advice. What he had planned he determined to carry out.

"But, combined with the lightheartedness which so characterized his holidays, there was always an element of seriousness; and underlying his plan there were some real principles or objects to be kept in view and attained. There was always a threefold end to be kept in view--physical, mental, and moral.

"It is not necessary to dwell on the first of these, for it is obvious. He carried out the second in a variety of ways. He carefully selected the books he took away with him. There would always be some book of the Bible to read; latterly he used to take a little Hebrew Psalter with Dr. Kay's Commentary--a book which he valued very highly. He also generally took the Paradiso. He would then add some theological book which had recently been published, and some book on the places he was going to visit (it was the Life of Theodoric when he went to Ravenna), or some book on European History. Finally he might take some book likely to give him suggestions for the coming Confirmation tour.

"With regard to the moral end, it will be enough to say that he thought a holiday should always lead on to throwing oneself with increasing zest and determination into the work awaiting one on one's return home.

"On one occasion he copied out and gave to each of his companions the words of St. Anselm, which he considered summed up the true end of a holiday:--

"'Da mihi quietem et salutem corporis et animae, simulque opportunam ad Te vacationem.' [Give me rest and health of body and spirit, and at the same time leisure spent agreeably to Thee.]

"He delighted to be able to talk a foreign language; he could talk French, German, and Italian quite easily; and in a Catholic country he tried to glean all the information he could about the state of religion in the towns and villages. For this purpose he would call on the cure and try to elicit information from him. His conversations, for the most part, on these occasions, dealt with three points--(I) the state of religion generally; (2) the possibilities of religious education in the schools of the country; (3) the supply and training of the clergy. From the cure he often got several Lent Pastoral Letters issued by the bishop of the diocese.

"Sometimes he had the opportunity of getting the information which he desired from the bishop himself, when he happened to get an interview with him.

"Quite a long list might be made of the foreign bishops with whom he had such interviews. Among these in France were the Archbishop of Rheims and the Bishop of Amiens; and in Italy the Archbishops of Milan, Siena, Brescia, and Verona, and the Bishops of Como and Cremona. He was most anxious to see the Bishop of Cremona, many of whose writings he had read, and indeed he went to Cremona with the special object of seeing him. When he got to the palace he learnt that the bishop was in bed with the gout, but he nevertheless welcomed him in his bedroom, where he sat and talked for some time.

"If he was staying at any place where there were Old Catholics, as for example at Munich, or Zurich, or Bonn, he would try and find out the bishop or leading priests. He felt great sympathy for the Old Catholics, and at times expressed a doubt whether he had done his part by them. He took in regularly one of their periodicals called the Deutscher Merkur.

"It would be difficult to say which of the two--Switzerland or Italy--he liked most. Perhaps it would be truer to say that he liked each best in its own way. He immensely enjoyed the strength and grandeur of the Swiss mountains; he felt braced by the invigorating air, and appreciated the strength of the Swiss character. On the other hand, he thoroughly enjoyed the softness of the Italian colouring and the warm and soothing effect of the climate. Latterly he was more inclined to go to Italy, partly because he could see more with less physical fatigue, and partly to get thoroughly baked in the Italian sun after the cold he had experienced during the spring Confirmation tour, and to prepare for the cold of the autumn and winter travelling."

Mrs. Kitchin, with her husband the late Mr. T. M. Kitchin, often went abroad, especially to Switzerland, with the bishop. She writes:--

"From the day the blue line was drawn in the bishop's diary, which was done as soon as Easter Day was over, the line showing that all being well the holiday would begin at that date, the bishop in the midst of all his work looked forward with intense delight to the few weeks he hoped to spend in Switzerland and Italy. Writing once he said he was getting into that grumbling and ill-tempered state, which seems to be a necessary preliminary to a holiday! Our holidays with him were spent in Switzerland, we were never with him in Italy. The first time we had the great privilege of travelling with him was in August, 1890. The bishop was then staying at Glion, above Montreux, alone, and he asked us to go on with him to Orleans and Chartres. I remember one little incident of his stay at Glion. A man in the hotel there had broken his collar-bone. When the bishop heard he had been taken to the Infirmary at Montreux, that he had no one with him, he at once went down to visit him. It was on the journey from Orleans to Chartres that I read in Galignani of the death of Canon Liddon. I knew what grief this would cause, and hesitated to tell him; but he saw something was wrong, and asked for the paper. I noticed as soon as he caught sight of the name he took off his hat while he read the account. He would not, however, allow his sorrow to interfere with our plans; he went on to Chartres, saw over the cathedral, and in the evening we went to a big fair then being held in the town--he always so much enjoyed mixing with the country people, talking to them, buying " fairings " for the children--it was no unusual sight to see a little child slip its hand into the bishop's and walk beside him.

"On reaching a town of any size where there was a seminary the bishop always went to see the principal and have a talk with him over the religious state of the country. He generally returned from these visits rather depressed, as he had gathered that " indifference," not real hostility as to religion, was the difficulty the priests had to contend with.

"The thoughts that seemed uppermost in his mind during the holiday were always the same. What was the feeling of the people with regard to religion and religious education--he seized every opportunity of asking men he met their opinion on the subject \ he was much struck by the way the peasants brought God into their daily lives and work; he delighted to see the women at Evolena going into church before they started work, leaving their scythes in the church porch, and kneeling for a few minutes before the altar. Evolena is a village off the Rhone Valley, to which he was very attached. We were with him there on three separate occasions, as it combined the four things he considered necessary for the right enjoyment of a holiday in Switzerland. It must be a Catholic canton, the hotel must be a fairly comfortable one, there must be a village, and it must be about 5,000 feet up. It was the village life he delighted in; he liked to see the people at work, to talk to them, and to join with them in the service at the parish church; he would speak of their out-of-the-world life. Not that we ought to run away from where we are placed, but, he would add, we lose a great deal in losing simplicity.

"It was the bishop's practice after celebrating the Holy Communion in his own room (if there was no celebration in the hotel) to go to the sung Mass in the village church. It was a great delight to him to spend Sunday in a village, and he would sit out and watch the peasants coming down from the mountains, the wife on a mule carrying a baby, and the husband walking by the side, it reminded him, he would say, of the Blessed Virgin with the Child, and St. Joseph. We want to see more of that in England--husband, wife, and children all going as a duty to worship God. Once he wrote, after a Swiss holiday, 'I do hope there is some real Evolena-like progress in the Church of England--that spirit of restful, dignified contentment which ought to mark all true Church people.' At Saas Fee we used to have as a guide the village schoolmaster, Ambrose, with whose character he was much struck, saying once of him, 'Ambrose was most beautiful; what chance one has of getting into heaven if that is the sort of standard I can't think--he seemed to have such a nice, simple, sensible mind, and to appreciate any higher kind of remark; it was quite a privilege to be with him.' In speaking of another guide he had at Montana, and a photograph I took of him, he said, 'X. B., with his toes turning in and his hands sprawling, what a wonderful concealment of such a soul!' X. was preparing to be a priest.

"One of the great pleasures of the holiday to the bishop was the flowers; he was a keen botanist, and lover of flowers, especially of the Alpine ones, and would draw your attention to their delicacy and fragility. At Evolena when he was looking at a patch of saxifrage growing on a rock, he quoted from Dr. Moberly's book, Sorrow, Sin, and Beauty, and said it lay in us to be beautiful, far transcending the lily.

"Sometimes the bishop would talk about his work in the Diocese, preaching, etc. He thought the foreign priests were often more practical in their sermons than ours--they told their people straight out what they were to do. Once he said he did not often compose fresh sermons, but he had one lantern and put in fresh slides. Speaking of a great preacher who had lately died, he said,' Why was he taken, and we, the dross of the earth, left?' " In speaking and writing of the holidays, when they were over, the bishop would say that all the great pleasure of the holiday is bound up with Church principles, and all the joy is part of the enjoyment of the Communion of Saints, which gives a restful kind of background to it all."

We venture to add the following characteristic letter, written from Venice during his last visit to Italy, less than two years before he died, to his footman, Herbert Cotgrove, who was engaged to be married. The date is August 8, 1908.

The bishop begins by telling where to send his letters, and then continues:--

"We got here on Friday, after rather a hot week travelling about, after we came down from Abetone. That was a very nice, cool place; this is hot and relaxing, but very curious and interesting. There are no regular streets for carriages, but you go about in funny-looking boats, which they call gondolas, with one or two men to row. They stand up all the time and push their oar before them; it is a long sort of paddle. They do it wonderfully well. Since I was here (fifty-five years ago!) they have introduced steamboats and all sorts of electric-launches, which rather spoil the place and make it like London with the motor-cars! but not quite so bad. The wonder is how the houses stand, as they are all built on piles, and some are beautiful palaces.

"It is rather hot and very relaxing. I hope you have had some holiday, and ------ too, so as to get ready for the winter work. I should be so glad if you could be settled. The only thing I can do is to encourage you to keep steady, and then, some day, one feels something must come. Remember me to all at the Old Palace.

"God bless you and take care of you. "Believe me,

"Yours affectionately,


"We are all well, thank God." The late Mr. Frederick Rogers, a well-known Labour Leader, wrote:--

"I was the guest of Bishop King, and had taken part with him the night before in a very different ceremony, for we had sat side by side on the stage of a public hall. Churchmen most of them probably, though I knew some there, old trade-union friends, who were not. It was just a public meeting of quite the ordinary type, and I was curious to see how my host would comport himself as chairman thereof. To me he was one of the most potent spiritual forces of the Church, and his life was an answer, and an entirely convincing one, to a question asked sometimes by our Roman brethren, 'Can your Church produce saints?' But I knew full well that a saint, by reason of his virtues, might quite easily be a failure at a public meeting; and my experience had taught me that an excellent man could be the reverse of an excellent chairman.

"But Bishop King, caring nothing--perhaps knowing nothing--of the arts of the platform, by sheer simplicity and sincerity kept his audience in perfect control. It was less a bishop speaking to his diocese than a man speaking to men of the glory and the mystery and the shadows and dark places of life. Now and then it seemed as though a wistful note came into his voice, for he knew their life and his were not the same. But he knew too that for every man, be his place in this struggling and dusty old world what it may, the faith of Christ brought strength and healing to every weakness and disease of the soul; and the chairman's short speech, with its little touches and suggestions of the spiritual side of things, was an eminently practical one, illustrating an old truth, familiar to every student of psychology, that the most profound mystic is often the most practical man.

"Bishops are persons of limited leisure, and are not always able to command the graces and the charms of conversation as Mandell Creighton could. Two things impressed me in my brief talks with Bishop King: his wonderful humility and his high intellectual integrity. He and I were at opposite points of the compass in many things, and he must have differed profoundly from much that fell from my lips. But the gentle criticism and shrewd, sound wisdom of his words brought with them a wonderful charm; and the poet's phrase, 'clear dream and solemn vision,' was constantly recurring to me as I saw from many standpoints his transparent and lofty mind. The Times found that the position he held in the English Church 'was due to qualities rather of the heart than of the head; it was involved in the intrinsic attractiveness of the man much more than in the intellectual power of the teacher.' The statement may pass; but its truth depends a good deal on what the Times means by 'intellectual power.' There was a fine intellectual power in Bishop King, but it was applied to themes not discussed in newspapers.

"The qualities of the heart were there in overflowing abundance. Honoured by scholars and beloved of undergraduates in Oxford, he won too the affection of grooms and stable-boys by his simple and direct utterances, touched as they often were with Apostolic fervour. There is little enough of idealism in working-class lads; the whole tendency of modern civilization is to destroy it, and not many men, as years grow upon them, can keep their natures fresh enough to win the sympathy of youth. But Bishop King did not appear to be touched by the mental stiffening that time so often brings, and those who would seek the explanation should read carefully his Lectures to Men, or Meditations on the Last Seven Words.

"Those who fear that the things of the soul will be ultimately submerged in the welter of pleasure-seeking and materialistic ideals that is around us to-day may find an answer to their forebodings in a life like that of Bishop King. Always regarded as an extreme man, he nevertheless united all parties in a wonderful way, and was beloved as much by the Evangelicals as by the extreme men of his own school. And this was as it should be, for truth and reality were his only aims. A Congregational minister of his diocese, the Rev. George Barrett, wrote of him: 'His beautiful spirit, his Christ-like character, his intense loyalty to conviction and to His Church, have won the respect of all sections of the community, and have enriched the Christian life of the city.' A trade unionist wrote to me: 'I was in Lincoln when the bishop passed away. The whole of the city was moved. Everybody seemed affected.' 'A saintly man' was the general description."

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