WHEN I had read this memoir of one of the best and truest friends I ever had, I naturally felt that I could not write such a prefatory note as was asked of me, because of the way in which the subject of the memoir speaks of me personally. However, I have been convinced that he would have wished me to write it, so I will do as I am asked, contenting myself with remarking about the passages I have referred to, that we used often to find occasion to tell our friend that 'all his geese were swans.'
It is possible to deprecate composite memoirs: but in this case it was hardly possible to contemplate anything else. And the sketches of the same man contributed to this volume by different hands, both the longer and the shorter, seem to me to be admirable--perfectly truthful pictures of a very remarkable character. If I may add two remarks about him, they would be these--that I have seldom known a man, whose whole life was based on a dogmatic Catholic foundation unhesitatingly held, who was at the same time so appreciative of people who had assimilated the Christian religion on a very different basis: it was as a result of this continued openness to new impressions, without losing hold of the old, that, if one saw him after a longish interval, one always expected to hear something new. This is not a common experience among men who are getting old.
The other remark I would make is that in his mind the grave and the gay lay close together. This gave a singular charm to his conversation. One moment he would be telling an amusing story with the greatest gusto or shaking with laughter over some funny incident, and the next would find him sinking to the depths of solemnity or rising to the heights of aspiration without either feeling or giving any sense of incongruity. His reaction was equally spontaneous to the most different varieties of experience. But these are little details. I have in substance nothing to add to the picture of a most lovable character which this memoir presents.
+ CHARLES GORE.
I SUPPOSE that very few among the priests of the Church of England during the last fifty years were better known than Canon Stuckey Coles. To a very large number he was an intimate friend and a spiritual father: to an even larger number he was known as a great preacher of righteousness, a stalwart defender of the Catholic Faith, an ardent apostle of the Catholic Revival. He was known as an ideal village priest, and no less as a wise and powerful teacher, though unofficial, in a great University.
For his friends who treasure his memory, and for those who may desire to know about him in the future, I have tried to gather in this book characteristic illustrations of his life's work. I have made a small selection from many letters, and in four papers written by himself may be seen his view of the progress of the Catholic Revival in his time. Mr. Borlase, as Canon Coles expressly desired, has made a sketch of his life, and I have tried to describe further some phases of his life and character.
I am very grateful to Dr. Gore for his preface, and for reading through the proofs of the book; to Dr. Stone, who also has read through the proofs; and to Lord Halifax, Prebendary Mackay, Prebendary Lethridge, and other friends for much valuable help.
Those who have so kindly lent me letters and contributed reminiscences have done very much towards the making of the book.
Before me as I write is almost the last of very man letters Canon Coles wrote to me. In it he says, "I hope you can put the best interpretation on what I feel bound to think and say.' I hope indeed that nothing I have written here is other than a tribute of loving and dutiful affection to one who was for so long my father and friend.
S. James's Day, 1930.
VINCENT Stuckey Stratton Coles was born in the old Rectory of Shepton Beauchamp, Somerset, on March 27, 1845. His father was the Rev. James Stratton Coles, 'squarson' of the parish, and his mother a daughter of Vincent Stuckey, the well-known west-country banker.
His childhood and much of his early manhood were spent amidst the quiet beauty of the remote village to which he returned to spend his last days. In those years he gained a love for the country and country people which he never lost.
In his boyhood he was fond of riding and walking, and entered into many interests of the countryside. Sport in the ordinary sense of the word never appealed to him, and in later life he seriously questioned the morality of hunting and shooting. While still very young he rode daily on his pony to the neighbouring village of Hambridge, where the Vicar taught him Latin. From early days people interested him far more than things, and he soon showed that genius for friendship with people of all classes which was such a marked characteristic of his later life. His father's ideal of the priestly life and duty must have been far in advance of that of the country parson of his day, and in later life he was greatly influenced by the Tractanans His mother was clearly a woman of deep religious principles, and to the end of his life Stuckey, as his friends always called him, used to mention how much he owed to her. She was apparently attracted to the 'Tractarian' or 'Oxford Movement' by reading the Christian Year, and no doubt it was from her that he caught his early enthusiasm for that cause.
Stuckey was interested in religion from childhood. His sister, Miss Coles, records that he always took a great interest in religious matters, and mentions that as a very small boy he said he wished to be ordained, and used to induce the servants to listen to his sermons. In fact the religion of Jesus Christ was the chief enthusiasm of his life. He was not without strong temptations, and at no period did he find life easy. However, from the beginning he found the help and guidance that he needed in the Christian religion, and so gained the unwavering faith which is based on rich spiritual experience. He once told me that he had never had any serious doubt about the Faith, but that writings of apologists had not helped him much, since he could never remember their arguments. His belief was based on something different. At certain periods of his life he had doubts about the position of the Church of England, and he ever felt the attraction of Rome, though he seemed to regard it rather in the light of a temptation. Enthusiastic as he was for the advance of the Tractarian movement and the Catholic party, he never lost sight of the main principles of religion, or became narrow or sectional.
From the early 'fifties the fervour of the movement was having its influence on the countryside. Churches were being built and 'restored,' orderliness and beauty were being brought back into the services, and a new interest in religion was evinced. So it is not to be wondered at that a spiritually-minded, enthusiastic youth should be attracted to this movement from which all that was alive and beautiful seemed to come. Certainly, while still a young boy, Stuckey embraced the Tractarian cause with all the fervour of his being, and was ever after closely identified with it. He joined the English Church Union when he was eighteen, but tells us that for years before that he ' felt himself a young and humble member of the fellowship of the Catholic revival.' Everything connected with it was endued with extraordinary glamour, and he mentions elsewhere how he saw a chasuble for the first time in 1861, and Father Stanton in 1862.
In 1855 Stuckey was sent to a preparatory school at Exmouth, where he was not very happy. This probably was due to the fact that he was stout and suffered from poor health. These two afflictions he bore with wonderful patience throughout a long life, but they incapacitated him from games and would make life among small boys difficult. He was always sensitive about his stoutness, but I remember his telling us how, when a boy at Eton refused to recognize Charles I as a royal martyr, he promptly sat on him until enlightenment came, and added: 'You see I was quite as stout in proportion then as I am now.'
Though Stuckey was never good looking in the ordinary sense of the word he had a striking presence, and his kindly eyes looking out from beneath one black and one white eyebrow seemed to invite confidence. He had a large, sensitive mouth, and in later years his face acquired great spiritual beauty. He was one of those people whom once having seen one does not forget, and in a crowded room he generally seemed to be the point of attraction.
When he was thirteen he was confirmed in Martock Church, and in the same year he went to Eton where, in spite of his lack of aptitude and interest in games, he was apparently happy and popular. He established friendships with several boys destined to be well known in after life, amongst whom were the young poet Digby Mackworth Dolben; Robert Bridges, the late Poet Laureate; and young Archibald Primrose, afterwards Lord Rosebery, with whom he wrote a hymn. In spite of his being plunged suddenly into the various distractions of Public School life, religion and matters ecclesiastical remained his chief interest. At Eton he soon showed his capacity for spiritual leadership. Dr. Robert Bridges, his old schoolfellow and life-lone friend, wrote in his introduction to a book of Dolben's poems: "We were both Puseyites and members of a small group of High-Church" boys. Coles,' he says, 'pre-eminent for his precocious theological bent and devotion to the cause, was indeed the recognized authority, and our leader in so far as universal esteem and confidence could give any one such a position among us.'
Stuckey himself, writing of this time, mentions: 'We had come to know that there was such a thing as a "retreat," though how to set about it rather puzzled us. We had reduced our food, and had settled down to devotions consisting eminently of prayers for the soul of King Henry VI, but "after four" our constancy broke down and some one was sent for ices.'
Besides his marked religious devotion and interest he was at this time developing what Bishop Gore in a notice in The Times calls 'his enormous capacity for friendship, and his un-forgetting faithfulness to his friends.' His love for his friends throughout his life was remarkable for its intensity, tenderness, and catholicity. Stuckey's friends were of every age and class, for he was capable of as great affection for a ploughboy as for a peer. However, he soon realized that this beautiful and ennobling love for his friends might co-exist with much that is faulty and ill-regulated, and even with much that is corrupt, and that, like all passionate enthusiasms, it has untold capacities for good but also carries within it possibilities for evil. While still a schoolboy Stuckey set himself the task of sanctifying his friendships, and thought out a philosophy of conduct in these matters.
From the first he realized that this love was given for sacrifice, and that it meant giving and not getting. So it became a ruling principle that all he had and was must be absolutely at the service of his friends, and friendship literally meant for him an opportunity of giving. Because of his ideal that friendship should be wholly unselfish, he severely repelled the least suggestion of jealousy or in fact the seeking for any return. His two great enthusiasms--his religion and his friendships--were closely intertwined. His love of our Lord was expressed in his work for his friends and his longing to bring them to his own joyful faith, while his love for his friends stirred him to seek personal holiness that he might have the more to convey. If ever, with reverence, it might be said of any man, 'For their sakes I sanctify myself,' it could surely be said of him.
As the years went on he learned to sublimate his warmth of feeling into an intense love of souls, and to feel that the joy God gave him in the friendship of certain people was something that must be given back to others--perhaps to those who attracted him least. It was the intensity of the early battle and the sanctification of his friendships that enabled him to guide the numbers who sought his counsel in later years, and made them feel that the advice he gave was the fruit of his own hard-won victory. Often he would state some conclusion which one felt was the outcome of much thought and experience, such as 'Love that is not given for marriage is given for sacrifice.' Or again, 'All love is meant to be threefold like the love of the Blessed Trinity; the love of the husband and the wife is perfected in the love of the child, and therefore,' he would add, 'one must never try to keep one's friends to oneself.'
While still a schoolboy we find him trusted and consulted. Dr. Bridges tells how young Dolben, while at Eton, conceived a passionate devotion for a boy called Manning, and was in the habit of writing verses about him. 'Dolben,' he says, 'would never show the poems or speak much of the matter to me,' but adds, 'He had, however, not shrunk from speaking openly of it at that date to Coles, whose advice in any spiritual dilemma he constantly sought or playfully provoked.'
Another remarkable characteristic of Stuckey was his instinctive dislike of saying or doing anything that might hurt others. Dr. Bridges alludes to the habit in those days of provoking masters by petty annoyances, and mentions: There were some whose character preserved their manners from being contaminated by this local folly; among these Coles was one.'
In several of Dolben's letters there are references to Coles's having failed to answer letters, a habit his friends complained of to the end. Dolben on one occasion wrote to Dr. Bridges, who had just gone to Oxford: 'I look anxiously in the Births, Marriages, and Deaths for some news of Coles, for I can get none in any other way.' Stuckey's correspondence in later years was enormous and his post-bag was full of missives from those seeking spiritual advice and help in various ways. His letters always conveyed a sense of intimacy and he frequently did not hesitate to give his feelings rein. Though he was somewhat unbusinesslike with regard to ordinary correspondence, he rarely failed to write at once to a friend in real need or trouble, and many of his letters contain expressions of deep regret for delay and lack of method. In reply to a complaint of mine in 1921 that he had failed to answer an important letter, he wrote characteristically:
My dear Friend,--I did not realize that I had been quite as shamefully neglectful of you as I find I have been, but I can truly say that when I get a letter from you my thought always is, I must put this away till I have a moment to write about things that are nearest to us both, and then the letter gets into a congested heap. That is hardly an excuse. Can you believe that you are as dear to me as ever, and that I write these words with a great longing to see you? I think you know me well enough to understand that my miserable disorder and procrastination do not represent what is strongest in me.
From Eton he went up to Balliol and soon became greatly interested in the religious side of Oxford life. At that time the views of the Tractarians were still discussed in Common Rooms. Newman and Manning had gone to Rome but Pusey was still in Oxford; and Liddon, a life Student of Christ Church, was exerting a great influence among undergraduates.
Stuckey took a third in 'Moderations' and a third in 'Greats,' much to the disappointment of his friends and tutors, who expected him to take a better class. But apart from the fact that his time was largely taken up with ecclesiastical interests, as Bishop Gore wrote in The Times: 'He was never a student and always preferred persons to books, though he had a great faculty for tearing the heart out of a book.'
He also developed considerable gifts as a hymn writer. Several hymns of his are included in Hymns Ancient and Modern and the English Hymnal. Perhaps the best is the one commencing:
We pray Thee, heavenly Father,
To hear us in Thy love,
And pour upon Thy children
The unction from above;
That so in love abiding,
From all defilement free,
We may in pureness offer
Our Eucharist to Thee.
Some years later he was chosen as one of the small committee that revised Hymns Ancient and Modern.
He had a very keen perception of the beautiful in nature and art, but no interest in ancient things as such. Once, when I was anxious to show him some very early brasses in my church in Norfolk, he said, 'Don't trouble, I believe in life everlasting, I don't believe in brasses.'
Stuckey, even before leaving Eton, seems to have been quite clear about taking 'Orders.' He no doubt felt that as a priest he could best find the true outlet for the two great enthusiasms of his being--his love for our Lord and his love for his friends.
After a year at Cuddesdon, where Edward King was Principal, he was ordained to a curacy at Wantage under W. S. Butler, afterwards Dean of Lincoln. Butler was a wonderful parish priest and Coles, who had a great admiration for him, learnt much from his methods.
In 1872, when he had been at Wantage for three years, his father died, and he was presented to the family living of Shepton Beauchamp. Stuckey soon after leaving Eton was apparently troubled by doubts as to whether he ought to accept a family living, for Dolben wrote to Robert Bridges about this time: 'I heard from Coles the other day. He is distressed as to his father's living--thinks it would be wrong for him to take it. But as the reverend gentleman is in good health, this seems an unnecessary anxiety for the present.' However, Stuckey appears eventually to have felt that it was right for him to accept, and for the twelve years following his father's death he threw himself whole-heartedly into the work of this country cure.
The services were increased in number and dignity, and his love and sympathy won the hearts of the villagers, particularly those of the young men and lads. His earnest desire was to bring his people to love the Catholic Faith and practice, but he ever respected their slowness, and was content to build steadily, so that Shepton before long came to be regarded as a model of what a Catholic parish should be. This small sphere, however, could not for long absorb all his energy and enthusiasm, and he soon came to be asked to take missions in London and elsewhere, in fact for many years there was hardly any one in the Church of England more sought after as a missioner. At his best he was truly eloquent, and his obvious sincerity and sympathy made him almost irresistible, particularly to simple folk. To see Stuckey walking up and down the aisle of a Somerset church, talking to the country folk in the dialect that they loved and understood, was something never to be forgotten.
In 1884 he was called to be one of the four librarians at Pusey House. The house had just been founded as a memorial to Dr. Pusey. It contained a chapel and library and was intended as a head-quarters for four priests, who would devote themselves to spiritual work among members of the University. This offer gave Stuckey the opportunity of doing the great work of his life, for as Bishop King said to him: 'You have learned to be the friend of country lads, and now you will have to be the friend of undergraduates.'
There was some surprise that a priest from a country rectory should have been brought up to be librarian with great scholars like Gore and Brightman. He was no scholar but was of scholarly mind, and from the first he gave himself not so much to the justification of the Catholic Faith as to the spiritual guidance of individuals. In this there was no one quite like him, for he seemed able to understand and help every type of undergraduate. The catholicity of his sympathy was immense. I once asked him whether he did not sometimes come across a youth who jarred on him. After a moment's silence he said: 'There are occasions when I find it best to shut my eyes and imagine that I am talking to the nicest boy I know.' After his death Bishop Gore, who was a fellow librarian for some years, wrote: 'I wonder if there was any one of his contemporaries who knew so many people, as one may say, within and without, and remembered all about them'; and again, 'There are very few men of our time who have died more widely regretted by individuals who have owed very much to him.'
Stuckey was interested in every one, and because he longed to bring them to his own joyous faith he never lost an opportunity of getting into touch with them, always talking to people in trains and omnibuses. At the beginning of one October term he entered into conversation with a youthful freshman between London and Oxford. In the course of their talk the. freshman informed Stuckey that he had a letter of introduction to a man called Coles at a place called Pusey House, but did not think that he would present it. As Coles got out of the carriage he turned to the freshman and said: 'I should take that letter to Coles if I were you, you will know him when you see him, as he has got one white eyebrow and one black one,' and then went chuckling down the platform.
He was always a courteous host, and an amusing talker with a fund of laughter ever ready to bubble up. But what really caught us in those days was his intense devotion to our Lord, and the simplicity of his single aim to bring others to share in his experience of the abounding love of God. We realized too that he cared for us and wished to help us with a passionate longing. We felt that his victory over sin was largely won that he might the better serve us, and that he was really interested in us and loved seeing us. There was never a trace of effort, and when one went to see him he always conveyed the impression that, for the moment, one was the only person in the world for him. He could be stern and rebuke, but I doubt whether any one ever resented it, because of the love and understanding that lay behind. His days were largely taken up with interviewing the endless stream of undergraduates who came to him throughout the term. The amazing thing was that he remembered about them all, and continued to remember them long after they had left the University. It was only quite near the end, when his memory was failing, that he seemed to forget anything about his friends. One who came up to Oxford as an undergraduate, soon after Stuckey had settled in at the Pusey House, wrote:
I owe to him more than one could ever express. What struck one most was his entire consecration of himself, his time, and his gifts to our Lord's service. . . . He had a love of souls which I have never found equalled elsewhere. He seemed to be accessible at all hours of the day and night ... his patience with one was wonderful. When one went rambling on talking of every subject except the one one meant to talk about and was too shy to do so, he listened and was never impatient. His sheer goodness, too, was irresistible, and he would be content with nothing except the highest standard and motives in us. He was the first person who ever saw good in me and helped me to see possibilities in myself. My love and trust in him was very great.
In another letter he writes:
Stuckey could be very compelling at times. Once, meeting him towards the end of term, he said, 'Oh, D., I am arranging for a retreat on the last day of term, it would be excellent for you to try one, will you come?' 'Sorry,' I replied,' but that happens to be my twenty-first birthday.' 'Well, how could you spend it better than in retreat?' I was so taken aback with the effrontery of the remark that he had his way, and my parents' little plans for me had to be postponed. Did any one ever do the like?
It was to the same, some five years later, that Stuckey wrote with his usual sympathy and breadth of view on the question of celibacy:
I am hoping (almost I am praying) to remain single. One need not say that one 's hope or prayer will be granted. I do not think one can say more than this. As to your own life's work, I have a firm conviction that there is a great work to be done in London by unmarried priests.
Stuckey always showed great sympathy and patience to those who experienced difficulties in believing. To a young man, who had spent some time at Pusey House in preparation for ordination and had left on account of doubts as to his vocation, he writes without a trace of rebuke or annoyance:
April 21, 1903.
MY DEAR B.,
Every year brings fresh evidence that many of those who are most fit for the priesthood find the greatest difficulties in their way. The white robes on earth as well as in heaven belong to those who have come out of great tribulation.
Of course we shall miss you, and of course we shall pray that you may yet be a true servant of the servants of our Lord, but I can quite understand that the decision you have made may be the only possible decision at this moment. Certainly we will keep your things as a pledge that you will come as soon as you can to claim them. When you are no longer swathed in flannel, and this bitter wind has ceased to blow, you ought to get to the seaside. This odd little place where my sister and I now are--if you could put up with its shabbiness--would be quite at your service, and there is plenty of room to bring a companion or two, and a charwoman who does for us, would come in. The air and country are perfect. Then you might look at Oxford one way or the other.
It is astonishing to find the effect influenza has on the nerves and spirits. You must not judge yourself by what you feel just now. Only be sure that patience, and any approach to patience, is the condition of great blessing.
God bless and guide you.
Yours in Him,
V. S. S. C.
With regard to the question of clerical celibacy, Stuckey always taught that it was a matter of vocation, and that some were as truly called to the married state as others to the single, though he would say that the latter was the normal for a priest. I remember him saying that as a layman ought to have some special reason for not marrying, so a priest ought to have a special one for marrying. As regards himself, he came to feel that he was called to celibacy.
A mother sends a letter written on this subject by Stuckey to a gifted young priest on whose life, she states, he had a great influence: I wonder whether you are to be perfected in the married or unmarried life. You will, I trust, pray for the divine guidance in this. I can imagine a very happy and blessed marriage for you, but I do not want you to be at the mercy of a chance meeting. I mean I should like to think that two years hence you will be praying either that you may have the gift of sacrifice in celibacy, or be directed to the right partner of your life, and that meanwhile you will be praying to be so guided that later you may know which gift to ask for.
Of course Stuckey had other activities in addition to his individual work among undergraduates. He preached constantly in Oxford, particularly at S. Barnabas' where his friend, rather Noel, was vicar. He was always interesting and, at his best, an eloquent and moving preacher. His addresses in the chapel at Pusey House became quite an institution and were largely attended by undergraduates, and he also frequently spoke at various Church societies. Another activity of those days was his work among the deaf and dumb, for whom he used to hold a service in a classroom by means of a blackboard. I think, however, that what most impressed us in those days was his great reverence. The suggestion of awe and consciousness of the Divine Presence, when he celebrated the Holy Communion, was such as I have never felt with any one else in quite the same degree.
Oxford only held him for twenty-four weeks in the year, though the correspondence that grew out of his numerous personal relationships soon became vast and continuous. The remaining half of the year was filled by various activities such as missions, sermons, and retreats, for all of which he was constantly in demand. Perhaps it was as a conductor of retreats that he became best known in later years, for he must have taken a great many, and men and women were always anxious to attend them, and that for the sake of his personal guidance in confessions and interviews as much as for his teaching in the addresses.
Partly contemporary with the years at Pusey House was his work in connection with the Society of the Resurrection, a body of celibate priests living by rule in the world. For many years he was elected Superior and was the valued friend and counsellor of the members.
His connection with Scotland also dates from about this time, and grew almost wholly out of his friendship with George Wilkinson, Bishop of St. Andrews, and subsequently Primus. After the death of Mr. Carter of Clewer, Wilkinson constituted Stuckey his confessor and spiritual adviser, and it was at his suggestion in 1904 that I was appointed resident chaplain to the Bishop, a fact which brought me into very close relationship with Stuckey. Wilkinson had many devoted friends who helped him in various ways, but there was no one on whom he relied as he did upon Stuckey, who, he used to say, was without equal as a spiritual guide. Stuckey never spared himself where his friends were concerned. Once he travelled by a night train from London to Perth to have a talk with the Bishop who was ill and troubled, and it was with difficulty that he was persuaded to take a night's rest before returning. Wilkinson relied much on the help and sympathy of those about him, and Stuckey revealed his sympathy and wisdom when in reference to him he said to me soon after my appointment: Those people who are able to help others most are often those who most need help themselves.'
When Wilkinson had to undergo a very serious operation at seventy-two years of age, Coles wrote: 'I suppose very few people have had to do special work for our Lord under such repeated strokes of hindrance (which is after all hardly hindrance) as you have. But it is always happy when there is no question about what has to be done, and if the doctor says an operation must come it cannot be refused.'
Though Stuckey's work in Scotland grew largely out of this friendship, he made many friends among both clergy and laity, and was in fact proposed as Bishop of St. Andrews after Wilkinson's death.
During the twenty-five years that he was at Pusey House, only once did he undertake work which involved his absence from Oxford during term time, and that was when he went to Africa in connection with the Mission of Help to the Church of that country. At the end of the South African war the Bishops of the Province formally requested Bishop Wilkinson to organize what came to be known as the Mission of Help to South Africa. In February, 1902, Bishop Hornby and two priests--now the Bishops of St. Albans and Kensington respectively--were sent out as pioneers, and to confer with the archbishop, bishops, clergy and laity in South Africa as to the kind of help which was specially needed. Next year Bishop Wilkinson sent Stuckey Coles and Archie Campbell--afterwards Bishop of Glasgow--to complete the survey. These two traveled immense distances through South Africa, preaching missions, holding conferences with clergy and laity, and generally striving to quicken spiritual life in the districts visited. Coles bore the rough life and traveling better than many a younger and more athletic man would have done. On more than one occasion he had to undertake long journeys in a bullock wagon over the roughest of tracks. The South Africans, with their lack of conventionality, appealed to him immensely. On one occasion, he told us, he had to hear a lady's confession and give absolution sitting in a waiting-room at a wayside station. They returned to England in October and made their report, on which were based all the arrangements for the great mission of 1904.
In 1909 Coles resigned his post of Librarian at Pusey House after having held it for twenty-five years. His health had not been good for some time, and he quite cheerfully laid down the work which he had done so supremely well. When people asked him whether he did not feel leaving Oxford after so many years, he characteristically replied that he loved the people not the place, and people were always moving from Oxford.
For a short time Stuckey made his headquarters at Seaton, where for some years he had rented a queer old house over a grocer's shop in the main street, a position which he liked because it enabled him to watch the children playing in the road. As a matter of fact he had previously been there very little, and kept it chiefly for friends who needed a change and could not afford it otherwise. When he settled in, after resigning the librarianship of the Pusey House, he told me that a lady of the neighbourhood offered to ask some of the county people to call, but that he discouraged her, adding: 'You see I don't like the upper classes.' What he really meant was that he didn't like the upper classes as such. He loved every one as a human being and did not care in the least to what class he or she belonged. One of the secrets of his influence lay in the fact that he treated every man as a brother, almost without the consciousness of any difference of social position.
He held strong views about class privilege and was always wholly on the side of anything which he felt made for the betterment of the poorer classes; for example, he particularly desired equality of educational opportunity for all, and nothing irritated him more than ostentatious display of wealth. I remember his saying that the worst of staying with people in the country was that they would take you to see the houses of the great and to desecrated monasteries, and that he hated both. His own manner of living was of the simplest, and he had the oddest idea of comfort. I remember him amusing my mother by asking if he could have an oil stove in his bedroom instead of a fire. He regarded his considerable income simply as a means of helping the friends and causes he loved. If there was anything over for himself all well and good, otherwise he was quite prepared to do without.
Before long his old friend Dr. Gore, Bishop of Oxford, asked him to help in the diocese by holding short missions in country parishes. His love and understanding of country folk enabled him to do very valuable work in this way. In 1912 he was made Diocesan Chaplain and Hon. Canon of Christ Church. When Bishop Gore resigned the see, Stuckey retired to the west. Towards the end of the War he found that his income was not sufficient to meet his boundless generosity and small personal expenditure, so he was faced with having to curtail his giving or to give up the house at Seaton. He chose the latter, and for the rest of his life made his head-quarters at his sister's house at Shepton Beauchamp. About this time he wrote me the following letter:
S. THOMAS'S CONVENT, OXFORD.
July 19, 1918.
MY DEAR FRIEND,
I felt that I had rather neglected you but am delighted to hear that you are settled in your new home and that you are taking retreats. I forget when I last wrote to you. The war has so diminished my income that I have had to give up Seaton and am making my home with my sister at Shepton. People do not seem to want me much in this diocese. ... I wonder whether you expect great social and national changes after the war. At times it seems certain to me that a better kind of Bolshevism must come. I think it will be better because there has been real liberty here before, but I think all illogical and untenable privileges will go, and what is true in Socialism will triumph. Surely the endowment of a minority will not go on. Either there will be disendowment or a great change in the establishment, probably making it what we cannot accept. I find myself saying there seems no public man that one can rely on. No one that has the force to carry out plans in spite of red tape and individual selfishness and weakness. Yet I am not in low spirits. Surely many people are getting to be better for the war. Perhaps the thought that comes first with me is that the duty of carrying on the Catholic Revival does not exempt us from the duty of doing our best for the people who are not drawn into it, so that we may have two spheres of action very separate.
I do thank you for your unfailing friendship. As I write I wish more and more to see you.
With love and hope, Yours,
V. S. S. C.
Soon after this he began to suffer from a kind of rheumatism and loss of power in his hands and legs. Writing and walking became gradually more difficult to him, and he did little work outside the county. However, up to the last year or two he was always ready to help the neighbouring clergy in cases of illness, or to enable them to get a holiday. He rarely failed to preach twice a Sunday, and was generally present at the daily Eucharist at Shepton, and continued to visit King's College, Taunton, and to preach to the boys up to the last year of his life.
During the last two years his memory began to fail and he would constantly drop off to sleep in the midst of a conversation, though on most days he was carried into church and managed to say the daily offices. At this time, in addition to the loving care of Miss Coles, he owed much to Alan Antrobus-Weston, who, acting as his secretary, took charge of his correspondence, and latterly said the offices with him.
Stuckey passed peacefully away on June 9, 1929, at the age of eighty-four, and in accordance with his wishes was robed in eucharistic vestments, including a stole which had belonged to Bishop Wilkinson. His body was committed to the earth three days later in the churchyard at Shepton by his almost lifelong friend, Preb. Lethbridge, rector of the parish. Clergy and friends came from all parts of England, and many felt that they had lost a friend to whom they owed much that was best in them, as they gazed on the simple inscription:
STUCKEY COLES Priest Died June 9th, 1929 Aged 84 years R.I.P.