Project Canterbury

Two Sermons Preached at S. Matthew’s, Otterbourne in Memoriam, Charlotte Mary Yonge, March 31st, 1901.

By Robert Campbell Moberly and H. Walter Brock.

Eastleigh: Eastleigh Printing Works, 1901.


By the Rev. Canon MOBERLY, D.D. (Regius Professor of Pastoral Theology, Christ Church, Oxford.

“For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not; for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband.”—Gal. iv. 27.

ST. Paul is quoting from the 54th chapter of Isaiah. Both the Apostle and the Prophet are speaking of Jerusalem as the fruitful mother of spiritual children. Both are contrasting the literal Jerusalem with the spiritual Jerusalem, and the literal bearing of children in the natural sense, with the real spiritual motherhood, the bearing of children as in God, and to God. And in this contrast both Isaiah and St. Paul are carried away with the thought what a small thing natural motherhood is in comparison with spiritual motherhood. It is not the woman who has borne and bred most children in the flesh, but she who has borne and bred most children in respect of the divine character and the divine spirit:—she is the true mother; hers is the abiding joy of motherhood. “Break forth and cry, thou that availest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband.”

You know well with what thought it is that I venture to begin by striking such a note as this. We, as we look back to-day, can see that there have been few indeed to whom could so rightly be given the title that Deborah claimed for herself long ago. You remember the verse in the 5th chapter of Judges, “The inhabitants of the villages ceased, they ceased in Israel, until that I, Deborah, arose, that I arose a mother in Israel.” A mother in Israel. In Israel, that will mean to us, in the very House or Church of God; and a mother, one, that is, from whom came the spiritual opening of the eyes, the spiritual formation and sustaining of character, of countless children in Christ. Whom can we name, who has been in her time, or for so long a time, more completely all that that word a “Mother in Israel” really means than Miss Yonge, whom you [1/2] reverently miss and mourn to-day: Miss Yonge—without whom there is no one, I suppose, now living who can at all remember the village of Otterbourne?

It is natural to think of her first and most as a teacher of others, so early in life did she begin to teach, and so long has her work as teacher continued without a break. But let me remind you—what we all know quite well—that there is something else which is really from the first, and throughout, the necessary foundation of teaching. She could teach much because she could learn well. Born herself of parents who were simply, strongly, dutifully religious, and the pupil, from early days, and true spiritual daughter, of Mr. Keble, in whom she learned to discern, and to love, the truly reflected image of the spirit of his Lord, she learned first to be, in the simplicity of her own soul, that which she could have never rightly taught to others, if she had not first learned and practised it in herself. It was here in Otterbourne, surrounded by all the familiar Otterbourne surroundings; here at the foot of your familiar hill; here with the Itchen and the water-meadows on one side, and Cranbury Park, and the Hursley Woods, and the New Forest country on the other; here within the range, so to speak, of Winchester Cathedral, and College; and St. Cross, and he fresh chalk downs which encircle them; here in the quiet village life, under these skies, amid these trees, and these flowers, and these birds and butterflies, and these particular homes and families and traditions; it was here that she learned her lessons from the past and in the present—learned from history alike, and imagination, and religious faith, the true meaning of the true service of God and man. Here, and in this House—in this House from the time of its first building under her father's thoughtful and reverent care—here she waited as a dutiful handmaid upon the Lord: here she learned, as in earlier days, when Mr. Keble prepared her for her confirmation, so throughout the length of a long life, what Christian truth, and Christian faith, and Christian life, and Christian hope, and Christian power—in the Sacraments of Christ's Church—really are.

What she learnt that she taught. She taught it first, and throughout, in the most direct way. It is not for me to stand here and tell you—rather I would ask you to think how much you could tell me, or even tell one another—as to her religious teaching in the Otterbourne School, or in classes of one kind or another, growing out of it. How many years is it since she began teaching in Otterbourne? How many generations of Otterbourne children have [2/3] learned in their time to associate Scripture lessons, or other forms of religious teaching, with her own peculiar manner and tone of voice? How many generations of Otterbourne children, or those who were Otterbourne children once, could say of her, as St. Paul said of old of Phebe, “our sister,” as he calls her, “which is a servant of the Church which is at Cenchrea . . . For she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also.”—Romans xvi. 2.

But it is of something much wider than her work in Otterbourne that we are thinking to-day. After all, quiet as her life was, if you look at its outer conditions, it is wonderful really how much that life contained, and how rich its content was. Will anyone say it was a solitary life? Well, Otterbourne, no doubt, is quiet place, and her home party never was a large one, and it is many, many years since the death of old Mr. Yonge; so many that even among those whose hair is gray, and who feel themselves old men, there will be some whose very memory of him is little more than a dim and childish memory. And it is many years since Mrs. and Miss Yonge left the old home to go to the house in which you have known her so long, and many years, too, since Mrs. Yonge went to her rest. And since then, at least, shall we say that the life has been in the main a solitary one? Surely, if there is an aspect in which this is partly true, it would be much more true to say that her life has been a richly peopled one; peopled more richly by far than the lives of many who are all day long in a hurry and in a crowd. For she from the first was endowed with what men call, not unaptly, the gift of a lively imagination. What is this lively or "life-giving" imagination, this imagination which makes things to be "alive?" What is the meaning of it, and what is its function? Is it a mere delusion; an idle or misleading unreality? It may be so degraded as to become all this. But this is not at all what it properly means. It may be so misused as to be a mere substitute for truth, mystifying and misleading the minds which yield themselves to it, and find that they have been mocked by an empty illusion. But the real work of a lively imagination is not so much to create unrealities, or substitute the untrue for the true. Rather it is to make the truth living and real, as it was not before to the minds of the unimaginative. It is to make remote truths near and present; and dull precepts fascinatingly interesting; and slumbering principles all alert with living power. It is to bring us into near and living contact with all the realities of all the world, however remote from us outwardly, in place, or time, or kind.

[4] Think how imagination gives life to history. We have heard perhaps that William Rufus, the King, when killed in the New Forest, was carried in a cart along the King’s Lane, past Silkstede, to be buried in Winchester Cathedral. How much or how little is this, or any other of the historical events connected with Winchester, or its neighbourhood, to us? But only think how these scenes become alive again, as living realities, and the different actors in them become no longer dull names, but living flesh and blood—with all the throb and play of human anxieties and hopes—to the minds of those who have diligence enough to hunt out all such facts as can be known; and imagination enough to put them all together into a single glowing picture or narrative! And in this it is plain that imagination serves not so much to invent fictions as to make truth living and real.

Again, as imagination makes dead scenes out of history live, so think how it also gives live to abstract principles. A precept becomes a parable. A proverb is recognised as the brief summary of a whole chapter of living incident. So every realized principle, or complexity of principles, to her imagination became a story. The story was the illustration of the principle. But the principle, as illustrated in the story, had a power which as an abstract principle it would never have had, to bite upon the imaginations, to sink into the hearts, and be fruitful in the characters, of a great variety of readers. As true history, rightly understood, is the illustration of divine principles, and is therefore, when rightly told, an unfolding of something of the Being of God; so also true principles of the Being and government of God may be set forth, with luminous clearness, in what we call fiction. Perhaps everyone who has read any little story of hers, however slight or small, will recognise herein what I say. And this is the principle which underlay the parables of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. They were Divine truths put as stories. And they are the sanction for ever of fiction as a vehicle of Divine truths.

Perhaps the smallest stories show this most plainly. But this, probably, is the true account, in principle, of all serious fiction. It is not for amusement only; still less for fantastic extravagance; least of all for demoralization, or for self-indulgence, or the pleasure of studying vice. But it is still, really, even in complicated situations, or exceptional trials, a setting forth of essential truth through fiction—a preaching of righteousness and of truth, of God and of [4/5] faith, under the shifting forms which human experience suggests. And it is all this through the power which belongs to true, life-giving, but religiously disciplined, imagination.

Now in these ways, for at least half a century, Miss Yonge has been helping to teach, by history and by fiction, one generation after another, not only of children in Otterbourne, but of children, and of grown up people, too, throughout the whole length and breadth of the English-speaking world. And because she was always true to herself and to her God, therefore her teaching in these ways, however much it might otherwise amuse or instruct, went always, most of all, to this—to the true building up of moral and of spiritual character. Every writer of fiction, as well as history, must, whether purposely or not, be teaching something, through his fiction, about God and man. He whose fiction contracts the character of God, is abusing his God-given power of imagination to perplex and mislead the children of God. But he who understands what faith in God means, and is true to the faith which he understands, is always, in all that he teaches, performing that truest service to God upon earth—he is helping to build up Divine character, as in himself, so no less truly in others.

“For at least half a century.” Truly may she be thought rich in daughters, aye and in sons, who for so many years has borne such a part in the training for God of the characters of English men and women. Truly may she be called a “Mother in Israel.” And may we not, in all reverence, think of her as meeting in Paradise with many who, though she knew them not here, yet have owed to her, in the wonderful mercy of God, no small part of what they have themselves been enabled to become? And if it be true that English men and women read her work, or care for it, less now than a generation ago—well, I will not accuse my generation; but let them look to it carefully; let them, before they turn lightly from her, inquire first, and be sure that they can find done as well in other ways that priceless work which she, in her way, did for their elders so loyally and so well. In this work she has surely been herself no small part of the history of our country for the last half century, as that history is recorded in the truth of God.

It is Palm Sunday to-day. We are entering upon the awe of the Holy week. It is by the power of the death which we this week devoutly worship, that she could, or that anyone can, either live or [5/6] die in Christ. Under the shadow of the Cross we leave her—which is her and our life.

It is just five-and-thirty years since, in the middle of the Holy week, Mr. Keble was called to his rest. He fell asleep in the middle of the Holy week, on the 29th of March. On the 29th of March, just before the Holy week, all that was mortal of her was reverently laid in the grave. Their further, their more blessed, meeting in the Paradise of God, is, as yet, beyond our sight. Yet, not unaptly to us, they seem to meet and to rest together, there where it is fittest for Christian souls to rest—under the shadow of the Cross of Jesus crucified.


By the Rev. H. Walter Brock, M.A., Rector of S. Pierre-du-Bois, Guernsey (formerly Vicar of Otterbourne).

“Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”—St. Matt. xxv., 21.

ALL through the holy Lenten season we have been trying, by the help of the candle of the Lord, to drag out our sins and failings into the light, to repent of them, and to brace ourselves more bravely to resist temptation. And now to-day we are entering into the dark valley of the Passion of Our Lord. The Incarnation tells us how the Son of God took our flesh in order that He might enter into all the joys and sorrows of our human nature, but the Passion tells us what our sin meant for Him. There was only one point in which His human nature differed from ours, and that was its absolute holiness. And it is just because Christ was absolutely holy that He was the greatest sufferer the world has ever known, and that His passion was more awful than we can possibly conceive. It is only as we try to do what St. Paul calls “know the fellowship of His sufferings,” i.e., enter into the spirit of them, that we shall realise how terrible sin is in God’s sight, and what a dreadful burden it was which was borne by our Lord upon the cross.

And yet all through Holy Week, as we follow our Lord along His way of sorrow, we must not forget another aspect of His Passion, and that is its joy. It is a strange thought how closely pain and pleasure are linked together. It is just because the Lord Jesus Christ is the ideal man, in whom human nature reached its highest perfection, that His joy was such as we cannot fully enter into. His heart must ever have been flooded with joy. If it must have grieved Him to know that the Pharisees were plotting away His life, that the Sadducees were sneering at Him, that Peter would thrice deny Him, that Judas would betray Him with a kiss—what joy it must have been to Him to gather round Him His little band of faithful disciples and tell them of the Father’s love; to welcome the penitent Magdalene to His feet, and to hear Peter say, “Lord, Thou knowest all things, Thou knowest that I love Thee.” He never, [7/8] through all the sufferings of the Passion, forgot the joy of it. He looked right across the agony of Gethsemane and the gloom of Calvary, to the glory of Easter and the triumph of Ascension. And so the Apostle tells us that “for the joy which was set before Him, he endured the cross, despising the shame.” There ever floated before His eyes the vision of a world redeemed, ransomed, glorified. And, if during the Lenten season we have been trying to “know the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings,” to enter into the spirit of them, to feel as He felt about sin, to brace ourselves to an earnest effort to combat it in ourselves, and to help others to do so, we too may know something of the joy of our Lord even now, and one day enter into the fulness of it.

It is into that joy that the dear friend who is in all our thoughts and memories to-day has entered. Ever since the tidings went forth that she had passed away, the newspapers, both religious and secular, have been full of estimates and appreciations of her life and character. They have spoken of Charlotte Mary Yonge as a Churchwoman. Her childhood was spent in spirit-stirring days, and she had caught the infection. To us of the younger generation the great leaders of the Oxford movement are only names; but then they were known by infallible tokens—by the spirit which lived in them and by the character written upon their lives. She had known from childhood John Keble, the saintly leader of them all, him of whom it was said that his famous Assize Sermon started the whole movement. Of him she said "No on else, except my father, so influenced the whole cast of my life." Indeed it has been said that the whole ideal of her life was based upon the "Christian Year." John Keble was her master and inspirer, and what she learnt from him she never forgot, but set to work to teach others by her character and writings. Her aim was to make men and women understand the power and reality of the Catholic faith. Yes, she was beyond all doubt an enthusiastic Churchwoman. Then the papers have spoken of her as a talented authoress. It is sometimes the fashion now-a-days to speak of Charlotte Mary Yonge's writing as dull and old-fashioned, lacking in imaginative power. We hear taunts about the "literature of the parish library type." But we may leave the advanced criticism of the modern woman and turn with relief to the estimate of Dr. Whewell, the Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, the man of whom it used to be said that he knew everything, and who considered the "Clever Woman of the Family" the best novel in English literature;—of Charles Kingsley, who said "thousands of [8/9] girls are reading her books and becoming wiser thereby:”—of Dr. Bright, of Christ Church, lately called from us, who wrote “that the account of the death of Charles IX. in the ‘Chaplet of Pearls’ was extraordinarily fine;”--of Tennyson, who was so interested in “The Young Stepmother,” that he sat up reading it in bed. If the girls of to-day feel no interest and find no enjoyment in the sweet grave pictures of refined middle-class life so gracefully drawn by Charlotte Mary Yonge, then so much the worse for the growing womanhood of England. But thank God there are still many who bless her for having by her writings helped to form their characters, direct their thoughts, and set before them a noble ideal of womanhood. Again, the papers speak of her as a zealous friend of missions. They tell how the proceeds of one of the books which made her fame, “The Heir of Redclyffe,” were devoted to the Melanesian Mission, while from the proceeds of another she gave £2000 to the founding of a Missionary College at Auckland, New Zealand. Yes, indeed, she had grasped, if anyone had, the raison d’être of the Church. She remembered the Lord’s parting command to His disciples on Olivet, and knew that our religion, if it be worth anything, must not be hugged to ourselves as a selfish possession, but diffused all the world over.

So the world knew her. But to us at Otterbourne she was much more than the enthusiastic Churchwoman, the gifted authoress, the zealous friend of missions. To us she was everything—the Queen-mother of our dear village. It was her presence which made our parish feel like one family. Now the central figure has been removed, the pillar of the house has fallen. As last Friday I turned with aching heart from that flower-strewn grave, I said to myself, what many another man and woman must have said, “Otterbourne can never be quite the same again.” This morning we heard from Canon Moberley, in thoughtful measured terms, and eloquent appreciation of her character and work. I can only hope, in broken words, to recall some personal reminiscences of her home life. Think with me first of all of her devotion to her family and the old home. How piously she cherished the memory of her father and mother, and ascribed anything that was lofty in her principles and high in her thoughts, under God, to her early training. How devotedly she loved her only brother. When the news came that he had been suddenly called home she told me that life could never be the same to her again. How good “Aunt Charlotte” was to all the younger members of her family, watching over them with tender [9/10] care and interest. When the old home was broken up, and they had gone away, she used to say that she fancied she heard their footfall on the stairs. Herself a soldier’s daughter, how proud she was of the brave boy who died, as God’s Englishmen do, with his face to the foe, fighting for Queen and country. [Sergt.-Major George Alan David Yonge, who was killed while fighting with Co. Plumer’s force, early in the present war.] I shrink from seeming to draw aside the veil which hides the privacy of the home life, but, speaking here at Otterbourne, there are things which cannot be left unsaid.

Think again of her loyalty to her friends. I have already spoken of her veneration for the memory of John Keble, to whom she owed so much. Perhaps in no book which she wrote did she enter more heartily than in “John Keble’s Parishes,” wherein she has loved to recall all that had to do with her honoured master. Some of us knew, too, of her deep affection for her old friend who came to Otterbourne for six weeks and remained for thirty-seven years, and of the letter which each old friend wrote to the other every Sunday during their long lives. [The late Rev. W. Bigg-Wither, Rector of Hardwicke, who left Otterbourne in 1870.] And how lovingly she was to the sick friend to whom she devoted her life. [The late Miss Gertrude Walter] Qualified by her gifts and talents to mix with all that were best and greatest in the world of letters, she grudged even short absences from home because they involved separation from her. When that friend became more and more feeble, and could not bear the glare of light and hum of voices, Miss Yonge would sit with her for an hour every day in a dark room without speaking. I used to console myself with the thought that at least it was a rest for her busy brain, but do we realise what a beautiful act of self-sacrifice it was on the part of a woman of such an energetic and active temperament?

Think once more of her wonderful love for children. Ah! that was the ruling passion of her life. She used to tell me that a letter from one of her old school girls, telling that she had derived some help from her, gave her more pleasure than all the enthusiastic comments of the newspapers on her writings. Day after day, for sixty yeas, she went across and taught in the schools, never missing except through illness or absence from home. I remember that sometimes I felt tired, and would rather not have gone to the [10/11] school of a morning, but I used to think “she will be there, and I must not fail.” You know she has taught three generations of Otterbourne folk. I walked up to church this morning with two grey-headed women, and they said “Ah, sir, we have lost our best friend; she taught our parents, she taught us, and she taught our children.” There must be many, many who can trace under God’s grace the beginning of good things to those lessons she gave. And it was not only the religious education in which she took an interest; she desired that the secular education should be as efficient as possible. I believe that never a week passed but that she examined one of the standards, and she gave prizes for regular attendance and good conduct, and interested herself in every little detail of school life. On May Day each year how delighted she was to see the May Queen, and the children with their garlands, crowding on the lawn at Elderfield, how she admired all the flowers and rejoiced with the children. You remember, too, on “Shick-shack” day, how she would say, “There are the dear boys with their sprays of oak,” and how she welcomed the mummers and carol-singers in her hall at Christmas-tide. Ah! many of her children rise up to-day and call her blessed.

Think, lastly, of her enthusiastic love of nature, and especially for his village where she was born, and lived, and died. People said she buried herself here, and that she ought to have gone and lived in London, but like the Israelite matron of old, she preferred to “dwell among her people.” Every stick and stone of Otterbourne were dear to her she tells us in her “Old Woman’s Outlook.” She saw beauty and interest in everything around her. Let me read you an extract from one of her books, which describes a walk by the river:—”Smooth and level, the river is still an unfailing source of enjoyment in the walks along the towing path, when the moor hens are swimming and dipping on a glimpse of the spectator; when fish are rising, or sometimes taking a sudden ‘header’ into the air and going down with a splash; when the water vole rushes for his hole with head just above the water; when a blue flash of kingfisher darts by, and the deep blue or green dragon-flies sit on the sedges, or perhaps a tiny May-fly sits on a rail to shake off its last garment, and come forth a snow-white fairy-thing, with three long whisks at the tail.” [From “John Keble’s Parishes.”] Can you wonder that in the heart of one who wrote like that every natural beauty called for a responsive echo.

[12] So we knew her, so pure—so true that a false note jarred at once—so absolutely free from self-consciousness—so humble, shrinking almost instinctively from all praise, retiring into her shell at any word of flattery—so accessible to those who sought her advice—unsparing of herself of she could help anyone—so boundless in her charity.

And when we come to ask what was the secret of her life, we say to ourselves at once, that it was her simple childlike faith. She loved the Lord Jesus Christ. She was filled with the sense of His divine presence in His Church. She was the last person in the world to talk about her religious history or experience. But who could be long with her without failing to discern the mark of a spiritual crisis, or perhaps I should say rather of her having passed through a certain period of religious education. She had grasped the Catholic faith in its fulness; she believed in the Church as Christ’s Mystical Body, to which He vouchsafed His presence, and by which He carried on His work in the world. With her grace was actual, the Sacraments were realities. Memories crowd in upon us to-day. We seem to see her when Holy Baptism was being administered, standing side-ways in her seat, watching with one eye the school children lest they should behave irreverently, and with the other turned towards the font where the infants were being placed in Christ’s arms. We think of her at Confirmation time, gathering the maidens at Elderfield, arranging their veils with loving care, and leading them in reverent procession to the Church to receive through the imposition of hands the seven-fold gifts of the Holy Ghost. We watch her as day after day, morning and evening, through all weathers, in winter by the light of her lantern, she wended her way to God’s House. How she valued those quiet daily services, for she knew that the Lord fulfilled His promise, “Where two or three are gathered together in My name there am I in the midst of them.” Above all we watch her at Communion time, kneeling with such reverent devotion at God’s altar. All through her long life she never missed a Celebration, unless hindered by sickness. Only ten days before she passed away she was present, old lady as she was, at the half-past seven Eucharist. Yes! that was the secret of her beautiful life—her child-like faith, her realisation of Christ’s presence in His Church.

And now she has gone, and we are stunned as we think that on this side of eternity we shall never see her face again. It is of [12/13] course true that she had reached an age when we ought to have been prepared for her loss at any time. It is true that we had been in the habit of using words with reference to her that implied that we were so prepared. But now that the blow has fallen we find that we were not really prepared. For her we do not grieve. We thank God that she died in harness and was spared a long, lingering illness, which to one of her eager, active temperament would have been a grievous trial. We rejoice that she has entered into the joy of her Lord, that she is at rest; that (as we sang at her requiem) earth’s struggles o’er, Jesus has called her to His perfect peace. And we have ill learned the lesson which her life would teach us, if we allow ourselves to be absorbed in grief at her loss. She seems to say to us to-day, “I was only an humble labourer in God’s vineyard, an unprofitable servant, who did what it was my duty to do. I tried in my poor way to fight the good fight and to keep the faith. Now I have finished my course. It is for you to play your part and carry on the work.” Yes, we must all try to be better men and women or having known Charlotte Mary Yonge. I remember, as if it were yesterday, my first interview with her twenty years ago in the hyacinth-scented room at Elderfield, and the “odd majesty and kindliness of her manner,” which Archbishop Benson noted in his diary on seeing her for the first time. And I reckon it as one of my highest privileges to have been allowed many years of happy daily intercourse with such a true saint of God. We are determined that we will not let her memory fade. Her very name will be to us a spur, an incentive to well-doing. Her life, her character, her work, will be to Otterbourne an inalienable possession, fruitful in blessing. Of her it may be said, as she sang of S. Agnes—

“She had knelt with fervent faith
At the foot of Calvary’s cross,
And weighing there the gifts of earth,
She had counted them all but dross;

“She had mused upon thoughts and things of heaven
Till all passing joy seemed nought,
And she bound her soul with a bond of love
To the Lord who her love had sought.”

And now God’s finger has touched her and she sleeps. But the sleep of Paradise is not the rest of inaction. She loves us still. She prays for us still. And to-night with our hearts and thoughts full [13/14] Yes! let us pray for ourselves, and the dear parish she loved so well (again in her own words):—

O loving Lord, of St. Agnes sweet,
Shed down on us bending low,
Some little drops of the tender love
That enraptures her spirit now.

Thy love, dearest Lord, is as great as then,
Thy strength waxeth never faint;
Raise up ‘mid Thy children here and there
Full many and many a saint.

Yes! let us go forth inspired by her memory to lead higher and nobler and better lives, entering as she did into the fellowship of our Lord’s sufferings, striving as she did to combat sin in ourselves, and in others, so that when our day of life is over, we too may hear the Master’s voice saying to us, “Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”

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