Project Canterbury

Life and Letters of
Thomas Thellusson Carter
Warden of the House of Mercy, Clewer,
Hon. Canon of Christ Church, Oxford, and
For Thirty-Six years Rector of Clewer.

Edited by the Ven. W. H. Hutchings, M.A.
Archdeacon of Cleveland.

London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1903.

Chapter 11. Later Years

IN June, 1881, Canon Carter left the Rectory, which, by the kindness of his successor, the Rev. Roland Errington, he was permitted to occupy for a year after his resignation, and went to live in St. John's Lodge, the beautiful home prepared for him by generous and loving friends, in which the remainder of his life was spent. Here, for twenty years, he worked with unswerving regularity, visiting the scattered branches of the Sisterhood, and receiving all (and they were many) who desired to come to him for spiritual help. No stress of weather, even when he was long past eighty, would induce him to give up his weekly visit to the house in Rose Street, Soho, where he was accustomed to see the Sisters and others who came to him from different parts of London; and though extremely sensitive to changes of temperature, he seemed to take an almost boyish pleasure in braving the elements. "I have come back safe," he would say, with his bright smile. "But really it was not fit for you to have gone." "So the guard told me at the station," he answered, laughing, after a day of dense November fog.

To the very last no temptation would induce him to put aside his plan of work. He would not, even in the heat of summer, change his accustomed hours so as to walk or drive at a cooler time, lest he should thereby cause some slight inconvenience to others. His consideration, his delicate thoughtfulness for the comfort or pleasure of those about him, seemed to grow year by year.

He read widely, almost to the end, using for this purpose every available moment. His great power of abstraction enabled him to read much--even difficult books--during his frequent railway journeys. He took great delight in history and biography (one of the last books that he enjoyed was the "Story of Dr. Pusey's Life"), and he was heard to regret Bishop Creighton's appointment to the See of London, because it destroyed all hopes of his completion of his "History of the Papacy." The last hour of the evening was frequently spent in reading aloud, and none who heard it can forget his reading of his favourite passages from Wordsworth or Tennyson. For Browning he never cared much. The Christian Year was a lifelong companion, usually called for on Sunday evening, or, when away from home, during afternoon rambles on the seashore or mountain-side. He retained his early love for Scott's novels and poems, but as a rule he refused to read stories except in his holidays, saying they took up too much of his thoughts.

The intense delight in scenery, in natural beauty of all kinds, seemed to deepen as his years increased. It was indeed a delight and high privilege to be with him in the holidays, spent always in some beautiful spot--often in Switzerland or the Highland glens, or, when long journeys could no longer be undertaken, in Devonshire and Cornwall.

"I think it is really the nicest combination I have come across in this paradise of pastoral beauty," he wrote to his son from St. Beatenberg in 1885 or 1886; "undulating, bright, upland scenery, and gigantic masses around crowned with those great Oberland heights. You can wander, lie down, just as you like, with plenty of pine trees for shade, and splendid views around, and in the glorious though rather hot weather we have now, we could not have a pleasanter place, and pleasant people have been or are here. ... I am very glad Gladstone has resigned, though evidently he does not bate his absoluteness. I have had the Spectator forwarded to me as well as the Guardian. Don't you think the Spec. good? It suits me admirably, though I suppose it has been more dead against G.'s views than I can quite be."

No doubt his wonderful endurance and power of work, prolonged through so many years, was due in great part to this gift of fresh enjoyment, and the keen interest which he was ever ready to take in new scenes and differing lives. Thus he describes a tour in Wales:--



"We have had, I think, a very prosperous expedition. The first week, unchanging sunshine, was very delightfully spent at Chepstow, Tintern, Eaglan, Llantony (not with Ignatius; he is four miles beyond, on a desolate side of the Black Mountains. He has injured the influence which he once had by upholding a supposed apparition of the B.V.M.).

"Tenby we grew to like very much. The air, we all agreed, was very pleasant and healthful; the sands and rocky shores, the absence of fog, the interest of old castles and churches in. the neighbourhood, and pretty wooded spots in hollows, sheltered from the ceaseless winds that play at their own sweet will on the general surface of the country, all give great variety and enjoyment. Then, too, a fine church and bright services, lights and linen vestments at early celebrations, good choir and organ, and very large congregations, were a good addition; a good deal of Church life, a C.B.S. ward. . . . The people seemed very hospitable and kind, several calling, in a quiet way. Weather very variable, but a good share of fine, and in our lodging we had all the sun that shone. The expedition to St. David's, of which, doubtless, you heard, was a very enjoyable episode. Certainly a wonderful Church settlement as ever was, in a kind of creek in the once waste moorland. . . . We came here to finish our outing with a little more mountain scenery ... a fuchsia is in bloom under our window, a myrtle hedge not far off, and at a farmstead on the hill a bed of lilies like the Japanese. The place must be mild."

In 1891 a severe attack of influenza compelled him to take three months' rest, and this time was spent at Penzance.

"I am clearly gaining ground, though slowly," he wrote to his brother, the Rev. W. A. Carter, in July of that year. "I cannot walk much, but exercise my legs as much as I can. I am obliged to take either a fly of some sort or donkey-chair, and vary our movements in this way. There are beautiful drives. Mr. Bolitho1 has kindly sent his carriage for me more than once. We enjoy our view of the bay from our window very much indeed--very pretty, and alive with boats. The fishing-boats from Newlyn at one side of the bay are most picturesque. . . . The Sundays are the worst for me. I have not yet ventured to church."

It pleased God to restore his strength in a wonderful degree, so that after a few months he was able to resume his customary work, and his powers of walking and standing seemed but little impaired; and when, for the first time, during the holiday of 1897, his pleasure in walking began to fail, he fell back on his early love for boating, and spent much time on the beautiful sea-creeks of Salcombe.


Salcombe, August 16

"We have exceedingly enjoyed this place. The windings of the inland sea, the varied coves, the rocky shores, the undulating slopes of hill, not high, but always picturesque, the endless boating, and the lovely walks, all this has been very delightful. . . . We took General Roberts' book on his Indian life, and have been reading it in the evening with the greatest interest. It is admirably done. For the day reading I have been going on with Archbishop Benson's 'Cyprian,' a very wonderful work for such a busy man. I should like some day to tell his son how greatly interested I have been, and how much it shows his intellectual power."

Such extracts might be multiplied. All his letters on such subjects show the same delight in natural loveliness, the same readiness to be pleased by all simple pleasures, and gratefully to receive all kindnesses. It was the spiritual side of beauty that appealed to him. Hence his great love for Wordsworth. "Such beauty as this uplifts the heart," he said, in 1899, while crossing the Dart. Many years earlier, in a sermon preached at All Saints, Margaret Street, he expressed the spirit in which he regarded the visible works of God. "Created forms are as shadows cast from the substances of the inner world, and it is designed that we should attain to a gradual knowledge of God as we look on and through outward nature with an illuminated eye." ["Lent Lectures," p. 18.]

Among the interests of these later years was the repair of a small chapel, situated in the courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem, and known as the "Chapel of Abraham," of which some account is given in Chapter VIII.

In the parish church, which he quitted with such deep regret, he always took the keenest interest. He often visited it, delighting in any repair or improvement, and caring specially for the beautiful churchyard.

But, in spite of much kind pressure from his successor, he could never, except on a single occasion, make up his mind to take part in its services. That occasion was a marked one, to be long remembered by the parishioners. In 1896 a mission, conducted by the Rev. Cyril Bickersteth, had deeply stirred the hearts of many, and at its close Canon Carter consented to speak once more from the pulpit in which he had stood Sunday after Sunday for six-and-thirty years.

The following notes written on the spot, brief and incomplete as they are, may yet, to those accustomed to listen to Canon Carter, give some idea of this beautiful address:--

"The great movement by which this place has been so deeply stirred has come during the festival of the Saint whom in this church we specially commemorate. We may trust that his intercessions with those of all Saints may aid to bring a blessing on those who have been gathered here, and on those who minister to them. Such a hope opens to us the whole vision of the kingdom of God, and of those who are within the kingdom round His Throne, and among them are some of those whom we have known and loved in the flesh, whose names we cherish in our deepest hearts. We are helped in our passage through this troubled state by contemplating the restful, peaceful denizens of that world we trust to enter.

"As years advance, and we experience more of earth's trials, it is a great interior strength to have that vision in our minds, and catch such glimpses as we can of the host now before God. There is a touching story told of Kichard Hooker, a man of many conflicts, in his last days; he was seen by those who watched him, his eye glistening, and a smile on his lips, and he said that he was contemplating that world of peace and rest to which he was hastening. It is a lesson to ourselves.
"In the Revelation of St. John, after speaking of the terrible woes that are to come on the earth, he says, 'Here is the patience of the Saints.' This was to be the first point selected in viewing those who had passed through their time of trial, issuing out into that perfect grace of patience, resting on the will of God.
"At the close of a great movement, such as is taking, place here, breathing into souls momentous resolutions, keen anxiety must be felt by those who watch over them as to how the impression will live on, and those higher purposes be maintained, amid the pressure of daily life, with its multiplicity of details, through which all have to work their way upward and onward. It is a false view to look on these details as hindrances, as merely 'worry.' Opposition, interruptions, sudden alarms, the weariness of pain or weakness, is not to be looked on as hindrances to our true life. They are opportunities for the growth of the spiritual life. We may say that all depends on them.

"Whether we can gain any likeness to our blessed Master depends on habits formed, on the tone of mind, on persevering steadfastness. Through these things we gain the stillness of the soul of which we dream. But only after conflict, hard trial, and weary detail; thus only is anything of that interior rest or true peace to be found.

"It is a lesson and encouragement to feel that if we are faithful in the trial, there comes at last as the fruit that blessedness which is some reflection of the Heart of God and the Mind of Jesus. 'He shall sit as a Refiner and Purifier of silver, and He shall purify the sons of Levi.' It is a wonderful picture of a real fact. He sees before Him the great mass of humanity, with its intermingled dross. He sees the nations, and the individual lives among the nations, spread before Him, and as the silver is purified in the fire it reflects the image of the Refiner on its surface. We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is."

In 1897, feeling no longer able, owing to his increasing deafness, to take an active part in the meetings of the Society, he resigned his position as Superior-General of the C. B. S., which he had held since its first foundation, thirty-five years before. In the following year, October 26, 1898, he received, with great pleasure and emotion, the magnificent gift in which the members of the Society expressed their love and gratitude for his long services, a splendid set of altar vessels. They were brought to him by the new Superior-General, the Rev. E. Suckling, the secretary, the Rev. J. Dixon, and his lifelong friend and fellow-worker, the Rev. J. E. Hall, and he dedicated them in his oratory at St. John's Lodge, putting in tender words and prayer for the loving friends who had given them, and then blessed the gold medal for the Superior-General, which had been brought at the same time, putting it first on himself, and then hanging it round Mr. Suckling's neck, and gave his blessing to him and to the others who were present, and afterwards, in his study, made a little speech, in which he spoke of the growth of the Society from its tiny beginnings at all Saints, Margaret Street, the many helpers passed away, those still left, and ended brokenly, "I think you've overdone about me; but I don't know--I don't know." He was much affected, but not overcome.

On January 6, 1899, he sent the manuscript of his last volume of sermons, the "Spirit of Watchfulness," to Messrs. Longmans, himself correcting the manuscript and revising the proofs. In that year he went down to Paignton for the summer holiday, and was able to enjoy the beautiful drives, going as far as Totnes and Berry Pomeroy, and spending a few days with a nephew at Exeter. The Channel Fleet came into Torquay during his visit, and was a source of much interest, and one day he was rowed out into the bay to get a nearer view of the great ships.

Among his autumn pleasures was the watching the first work of his architect grandson--a new bell-tower at the House of Mercy.

The winter brought a heavy and wholly unexpected blow --the death of his only son on December 14. This bitter grief was borne with calm submission. He went on, to the fullest measure of his strength, with his accustomed work, he met all around him with his usual gentle smile, but those who watched him closely saw that the spring of his life was broken, and from that day his strength failed more and more rapidly.

Still, for nearly two years he worked on, till, after his return home from Eyde, in the summer of 1901, he was laid by with a slight internal attack, from the effects of which he never wholly rallied. In October he seemed much better, and on the 26th of that month he was able to preside at the reelection of the Mother Superior. On that day he visited the Convalescent Hospital, as well as the House of Mercy, doing more than he had done for long, and was bright in the evening, and pleased to have got through so much. The next day he did not feel able to rise, and on the following morning, the Feast of St. Simon and St. Jude, he passed away without pain or struggle, in the presence of his two daughters and a nursing Sister.

Two days later, on the eve of All Saints, he was laid beside his wife in Clewer churchyard, in the presence of a great gathering of friends and fellow-workers in those labours for the Church of God to which all his life had been given.

Canon Carter's great delight in natural beauty has often been noticed in this volume. There was a last and touching instance. At dusk, on the evening before his death, one of his daughters was about to draw the curtains. He stopped her, saying, "I want to see the star," and lay gazing at the planet which shone in unusual splendour through the window at the foot of his bed. A star appears in the background of the bronze placed in the parish church of Clewer to his memory, in remembrance of this his last look on outward things.

A few lines written by himself may here find a fitting place.

"I am deeply grateful to Almighty God for life prolonged, so that I have lived to see the result and the success of the struggles of many years, during which in His Providence I have had to bear some part. Doctrines, once fiercely opposed, now accepted or tolerated, and at least making their way more peacefully; Ritual, once still more wildly attacked, now authoritatively sanctioned, at least as to its main features; the Religious Life, once so strangely suspected, spreading everywhere; a whole Church Revival on true Catholic lines, which commenced since I was ordained, thus obtaining a settlement and bearing promise of permanence and of progress through after ages, on English grounds and according to English ideas. Thanks be to God!"

The following is a touching account of Canon Carter's last years in his ministerial life, from 1885 to 1901, written kindly at the instance of the editor of this work. Mr Cuthbert was for some time an assistant Curate of Clewer in earlier life, and was subsequently Sub-Warden for about seventeen years, and has been appointed, since the Founder's death, his successor as Warden. He had many opportunities, from friendship and office, of intercourse with Canon Carter during his declining years until their close, and the impressions which he received from the holy life which he constantly had before him he has recorded in a few pages, which will form a suitable conclusion to this memoir. Mr. Cuthbert's record bears out the description given of the Warden of Clewer at the time of his death--"Canon Carter presented sanctity under the aspect of beauty."

"St. John's Lodge, Clewer.


"In trying, at your request, to put on record some reminiscences of our venerable and beloved Master, I feel very painfully how inadequate will be the few scattered recollections which are all that I can contribute to give any true impression of him as I found him to be during an intercourse which lasted through more than a quarter of a century, and which latterly became so close and intimate. My first meeting with Mr. Carter was in the year 1867, when I attended a Retreat conducted by him at Bovey Tracey. It was my first Retreat; the subject of the addresses was 'The Priesthood,' and ideas of the ministerial life were then opened out to me which were far in advance of anything which I had hitherto realized, and which were deepened and brought more closely home to me when I went to him privately. This Retreat was held either immediately before or after the opening of the newly erected House of Mercy, and I remember being greatly impressed by the sermon which Mr. Carter preached at the dedication service, in which he dwelt on the place which the Grace of Sympathy holds in the Christian life as a fruit of the Incarnation, and how especially requisite and important it was in Penitentiary work. After this I did not again meet him until the beginning of 1873, when I had the privilege of renewing my acquaintance with him at Rome. I remember then especially a walk with him, on the Festival of St. Antony of Padua, to the church where on that day the animals are blessed, and the interest he took in the benediction service as we saw it then performed.

"The result of our intercourse at Rome was that on St. John the Baptist's Day, 1873, I went to Clewer as assistant curate of the parish, where I remained for rather more than two years. The clerical staff at Clewer in those days was a large one, the clergy of the parish and of the Sisterhood forming practically one body. We used to meet every Monday at the Rectory to settle the week's work, and when this had been done/the Rector, as he was then, used constantly to bring before us some matter connected with the Church questions of the day in which he was especially interested, and ask for our opinions about it. And I well remember how greatly I was struck by the breadth and largeness of view with which he was wont to take in all the aspects of the subjects which he proposed for our consideration, as well as by the patience with which he used to listen to the sometimes very crude expressions of opinion to which some amongst us, myself especially, gave utterance. Another point which at that time greatly impressed me was the intimate personal knowledge which the Rector had of many of his parishioners, so that although he did not then as a rule visit much in the parish, he was always ready himself to take up any case which I found especial difficulty in dealing with.

"I left Clewer at the end of 1875, and for the next nine years my opportunities of meeting Canon Carter were almost entirely limited to the annual visits which we used to pay to him on the occasion of the Commemoration Festival at the. House of Mercy, an event which was always to me one of the red-letter days of the year. In 1883, however, he was kind enough to come to preach at the reopening, after restoration, of Market Drayton Church, of which I was then Vicar. Before he came, there was among the people a certain amount of prejudice against him on account of his reputation as one of the leaders of what was called 'the extreme High Church party.' But his presence and his sermon on 1 Cor. xiii. 12 quite dispelled the unfavourable feeling which had existed, and his visit was productive of the happiest result.

"In 1884 I returned to Clewer as Sub-Warden of the House of Mercy. The Warden was then in his 77th year, but was still as .active, both in mind and body, as many a man of 60. His Sunday evening sermons he preached sitting, but without any notes; they were of the same deeply thoughtful and spiritual character as they had ever been, and for some time seemed to me to gain rather than fall off in lucidity and clearness of arrangement.

"For some years after I went to Clewer the Warden took his full share in all the services and other work connected with the Community. Only as regarded outside engagements and matters connected with the public life of the church did he gradually come to take a less active part. His last appearance on a public platform was, if I remember rightly, at the Church Congress at Birmingham.

"We at Clewer had feared that the effort of going to and speaking at the Congress would be too much for him, and tried to dissuade him from it. But he was quite decided that he ought to go, and the impression which he produced upon a large and somewhat excited audience was noticed at the time as being very remarkable. Though, however, he gradually withdrew from the position which he had held for so many years as a leader of the Catholic School in the English Church, Canon Carter's interest in all the current questions of the time continued to be as keen as ever. He would still, as of old, at our Monday morning meetings, talk over whatever subject was 'in the air,' and from time to time letters with the well-known signature used to appear in the papers, which showed how alive he was to everything which had to do with the maintenance of the Faith and Ritual of the Church.

"Thus the years went on so quietly and with such little outward change that we hardly realized when he reached and passed the limit of his four-score years. Not, I think, till after that did the necessity of trying to save him any unnecessary fatigue, whether of body or mind, really come home to us. And when it did so, we found it no easy t&sk to carry out our duty in this respect. Many a time did it only come to light after the event that the Warden had, unknown to us, taken some piece of work from which, had we known of it in time, we should certainly have endeavoured to dissuade him. I think at times he found some pleasure and amusement in thus circumventing us. His weekly visits to the London Houses of the Community were among the first things which we prevailed upon him to give up. He came back one day from one of these expeditions with his face sadly cut from having fallen in trying to get into an omnibus while it was in motion. This, of course, alarmed us greatly. But all we could succeed in doing was to extract a promise that he would in future make the omnibus stop before attempting to get on it. Soon afterwards a carriage was provided for him by the kindness of an old friend, and for some time he continued this part of his work. But at last it became manifestly too much for him, and he quietly consented to relinquish it. In other respects he went on much as usual, celebrating always on Sundays, and at least on one day in the week. His sermons, however, gradually changed their character. He began to take his notes with him, and to read from them, and there was a marked growth of simplicity in what he said, so that the likeness which we always loved to trace in him to St. John, became in his old age more striking than ever as the burden of his exhortation became more and more the cultivation of Love and Unity one with another. It was not, I think, until after his return from his summer holiday in 1900 that the decline in his power became very marked. From that time he himself recognized his growing weakness, and quietly acquiesced in, though he very rarely suggested, the surrender of this or that portion of his work. He often spoke of his failing memory, and gently put aside matters which he felt he could no longer deal with, though still keeping his hold on much of his distinctively spiritual work. And not, I think, until the summer of 1901 did he give up celebrating on Sunday at the altar of the House of Mercy, and take to celebrating in his own private oratory instead.

"There seems little more which one can say about this period until quite the end. On Saturday, October 26, 1902, I went to him to speak about the Chapter for the election of the Mother Superior, which was to be held on that day. Some little time previously a Chapter for the election of some novices had been held, at which he had asked me to preside in his stead. And I quite expected he would have done the same on this occasion. But I found him with all the necessary papers carefully arranged, and quite decided to go himself to the Chapter, which he did, and presided at it without the slightest confusion or hesitation. Then I left him, thinking that he would rest during the afternoon. But far from resting, he went first to the Hospital to see some invalid Sisters there, and then to the House of Mercy. On Sunday morning he sent me a note to say that he was not feeling very well, and could not preach. I went over to see him, but found him so bright and entirely himself that I thought it was only that he had somewhat overtired himself the previous day, and needed some rest. Monday was the Festival of St. Simon and St. Jude. I was about to go to him about ten o'clock, when a Sister who had been with him in the morning came hurriedly in and begged me to go over at once. I went, but before I reached his room the end had come, and he was at rest, looking only as he might have done in his sleep. But a few minutes previously he had been talking to the Sister who was nursing him, and had been inquiring about a patient in the Hospital in whom he was interested. Thus quietly, after seventy years of strenuous work in the Church's Ministry, did the soul of this great priest pass into that world in which for so long he had seemed to us who knew him best to be already living, in the scarcely veiled Presence of the Lord, Whose he was and Whom he served.



In the Chapel of the Community at Clewer, on the north side of the altar, against the angle of the apse, there is to be an alabaster effigy of the Founder, fully vested, and of the size of life. The figure will rest upon what is generally described as an altar tomb, with the following inscription, in an abbreviated form, on the base:--

"Orate pro anima Thomae Thellusson Carter domus istius communitatisque Sancti Joannis Baptistas Fundatoris qui in festo Sanctorum Simonis et Judae MCMI anno sacerdotii LXIX° aetatis xciv° in Christo obdormivit."

Over the figure there will be a wooden canopy, and on the wall at the back the Crucifixion carved in a panel, with the words underneath:--

"Caritas Xti urget nos."

On the north wall of the Sanctuary of the parish church of St. Andrew, on a slab of slate let into the wall, there is a small, bronze figure reposing upon a kind of bier, protected by delicate pillars, supporting a canopy. Above this, on a separate bronze plate, but upon the same slate slab, are inscribed these words:--

"In p. mem: Thomae T. Carter, qui olim hanc cancellam exornavit obdormivit in Christo xxviii. Oct: MCMI: et in agro vicino expectat Resurrectionem."

"MY DEAR ------,

"I think you would like the following very touching incident for the Memoir.

"On Saturday last one of our servants was in Clewer churchyard tidying a grave belonging to her family. She noticed a middle-aged, grey-headed working man, who came to her and asked to be shown the Warden's grave. She took him to it, and called his attention to the white flowers lying upon it. He stood bareheaded, and tears ran down his face. 'As is fitting,' he said, 'and as he would have wished.' After a few minutes' silence he begged to be directed to 'the house in which he lived.' The Rectory and St. John's Lodge were both indicated, but before he went on he entered 'the church where he had so long ministered,' and he added, 'This place should indeed be reverenced. If I had not been ill and laid by at the time, I should have been at his funeral.'

"We do not know who the man was, he seemed to have come with a 'coster excursion' from London."

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