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A History of the Church of England in India
Since the Early Days of the East India Company

By Eyre Chatterton
Bishop of Nagpur

London: SPCK, 1924.

Chapter XVI. Bishop Cotton, a Great Educationist

Books of Reference.--Memoir of George Edward Lynch Cotton, D.D., by Mrs. Cotton.

GEORGE EDWARD LYNCH COTTON, the second Metropolitan of India, arrived in India at a time when his special gifts were most needed. No selection could have been a more happy one. Never was there a time in the whole of our connection with India "when the Supreme Government evinced a more sincere desire to acknowledge the work which the Church had to do for India and to do all in its power to strengthen her hands, and never was there a Bishop in whom they reposed greater confidence." [Memoir, by Mrs. Cotton.] As Headmaster of Marlborough, he had already won for himself a reputation as an able educationist. As a religious leader at a time of much perplexity, few men were more calm, wise, and fair-minded. Few too had greater gifts of penetrating into the heart of things and giving a clearer exposition of religious problems and difficulties. His biography makes it clear that he was one of those fortunate men who went on learning to the end of his life. As a boy, educated at Westminster School, he hardly gave promise of the remarkable ability and force of character which he showed in later life. He was a delicate boy and unable to take part in school games. He was, however, always interested in everything that was going on, and especially in his school-fellows; and his quaint dry humour and gentle sarcasm often exercised a distinct influence for good on boys who were about to do wrong. From school he passed on to Cambridge, where he finished his course as eighth classic, after which he went to Rugby as an assistant-master. It was there that he met with one who was to exercise a profound influence over his future life and character.

Dr. Arnold, Headmaster of Rugby, was then at the height of his power. From the first he seems to have been strongly attracted to Cotton. To Cotton he was always one of the heroes of his life. From Rugby Cotton passed on to Marlborough as its first Headmaster. The school was just being started, more or less as an experiment. Unlike the other great public schools, it was run on dormitory lines, i.e. with a common-room in which the whole school had their meals. It was started with the idea of being less expensive than the other great public schools. The six years of his life at Marlborough were amongst the most difficult in Cotton's life. He had to cherish the infant school with great care. His influence was remarkable. He attracted quite a number of young masters, who came to his assistance with the one desire of making the new experiment a success. They came prepared to accept smaller incomes than those given in the older public schools. Sufficient to say that before Cotton relinquished his charge of the school to go to India as its second Metropolitan, the school was an assured success. His addresses to the boys on Sunday evenings, which he described as his "sermonettes," became quite famous.

Then came the call to Calcutta. It came to him one afternoon when he was in school, and it came to him without any previous warning. Dr. Tait, then Bishop of London, was a warm admirer of Cotton, who had been his Examining Chaplain. On the news of Daniel Wilson's death, Dr. Tait strongly urged the claims of Cotton. On receiving the telegram Cotton rushed up to London to see a friend whom he had often consulted on difficult things in his life. "What are your reasons for thinking that I ought to take this Bishopric?" "There are two qualifications," was the answer, "indispensable to a Bishop of Calcutta, which are possessed by very few, but are possessed by you: one is the power of understanding the old religions of India, the other is the power of dealing fairly and kindly by the different Christian communities. Therefore you must take it."

He was consecrated in Westminster Abbey on Ascension Day. The sermon was preached by his friend, Dr. Vaughan, the Headmaster of Harrow. It was a sermon of great eloquence, and concluded with the following passage: "Amidst all the prayers of the Church, she asks not for him a speedy return. Checking the impulses of a natural affection, she rather asks for him that no nearer future may be suffered to become his horizon, but only that more distant . . . distant of all, the anticipation of which, unlike every other anticipation, is purely invigorating, animating, and satisfying. With his heart in his work, and his hope placed above, he asks of us to-day, not the prayers for a return, but the prayer for success and blessing; for a work that shall abide, and a recompense that shall be permanent."

Bishop Cotton was consecrated in May, but, as it was impossible for him to sail for India till September, he went back to Marlborough and continued his duties as Headmaster. During the vacation he paid farewell visits, transacted necessary business, and made a short excursion of a few days with one of his friends to see the Cathedrals of Norwich, Peterborough, and Lincoln. Shortly after the boys had reassembled for the winter term, Bishop Cotton took his last farewell of Marlborough. The whole school turned out at eight o'clock in the morning to cheer him as he started for Southampton on the outside of the familiar omnibus. No wonder that when the fatal tidings, eight years afterwards, of the Bishop's death reached England, many recalled the scene of parting on that memprable morning, and Dr. Bradley, then Headmaster of Marlborough, preached an eloquent sermon in the College Chapel on "The Parting at Miletus."

The Bishop journeyed to India via the Mediterranean and Egypt, and was installed in St. Paul's Cathedral, Calcutta, on November 14, 1858. This change in the Episcopate of Calcutta occurred, as we have seen, just after the Indian Mutiny. Bishop Daniel Wilson, during the last few years of his life, had been able to do but little in the way of active Church work. There were many burning questions on which the Church wanted guidance, and on no question were good men's minds more exercised than on the subject of Missions and Evangelisation. There were some who urged it strongly, not only as a religious duty, but as a means of drawing men to an active loyalty towards the ruling power. There were others who vigorously opposed it, and said that it would cause endless trouble and a fresh mutiny. It was a time when, above all things, it was necessary that a leader in Bishop Cotton's position should be a man of wisdom and firmness. Prom the outset Bishop Cotton set himself to think out calmly and dispassionately the best way of fulfilling our religious duties to India. He had come out, to quote from Dr. Vaughan's sermon, "to quicken the energies and regulate the labours of missionaries of Christ in the East, to build up again from its ruins a Church distressed and desolate and baptised in blood."

On two big missionary problems his mind soon became clear, and he gave his opinion in no hesitating manner. As regards the teaching of religion in Government schools, he would have no compulsory teaching of non-Christians, nor would he have the Bible taught by any one who was not a strong and well-educated Christian. "When I consider" (so runs the passage in the Charge, written with all the acute personal feeling which this aspect of the question invariably excited in him) "how great, whether for good or evil, is the influence of the living voice and the contact of mind with mind, and how disastrous in religious teaching is the effect of the suppressed sneer, the vacant air of indifference, the doubting or hostile comment, I must maintain that it were almost better for a Bengali not to know that the Word of God exists than to hear it explained by one who regards it as an imposture and a delusion."

On the subject of bazaar preaching he held decided views, which certainly do not reflect the opinion of many able missionaries. He realised the difficulty of talking to large crowds, of answering objections, often frivolous and vexatious, and so was on the whole opposed to bazaar preaching. He preferred that missionaries should preach in some quiet hall, as St. Paul did in the school of one Tyrannus.

His views about the Missions of the Church of England in and around Calcutta are given in an interesting way in a letter to his friend Dean Stanley. "They are very like well-ordered English country parishes, each with its Church, parsonage, and schools; cottages neat, people neat and tidy, schools decidedly good. But undoubtedly very little is doing in the way of adding to the converts (at least in the places just visited), though great care is taken to keep the existing converts and their descendants in the right path. Certainly able men are wanted. Few of the missionaries appear to me quite up to the mark of battling with acute Hindu or Mahomedan disputants."

It is interesting to note that he thought quite highly of the German missionaries who had been admitted to English Orders. In spite of certain disadvantages, he regarded them as having introduced "more taste and romance into the Missions than some of the stricter English Puritans would tolerate or appreciate." He stated that in two places where they were working "the singing of the Bengali congregations was quite beautiful, and there was always something picturesque about our reception."

Like all Indian Bishops, he was constantly on tour. He was a great reader, and many of his long journeys by boat or carriage or palki were lightened by the pleasures he found in his books. He was a great reader of Indian History and brought a splendidly trained mind to its study. He always thought it well to have plenty of light literature with him, and could have stood an examination in all the leading novels of the day.

He was never really a great lover of Indian life. He missed home society greatly, especially the society of able men; but he never allowed vain regrets to interfere with his constant toils and duties. He was a great lover of soldiers. Himself a soldier's son, he took care, whenever he visited a Cantonment, to visit the Hospitals, Institutes, and everything which was important in the life of the soldier. He was particularly anxious that all the soldiers should be confirmed, and always tested the Chaplain's efficiency by his Confirmation results. On one occasion at an historical dinner, when the 7th Fusiliers were celebrating one of the great anniversaries of the Peninsular War, the Colonel of the regiment made a touching allusion to the fact that the Bishop, who was the principal guest of the evening, was the son of one of the officers of their regiment who had fallen on that memorable day. It was his wish, if God so willed it, to be laid to his last earthly rest in a soldiers' cemetery.

No account of the life of this remarkable man would be complete without some reference to his work for the Anglo-Indian community. Before coming to India he had no conception of the numbers and importance of the Anglo-Indian community from a Church point of view. He writes of his surprise in the following language:--

"I imagined Calcutta to be a large city, occupied by European officials and merchants; with the soldiers in the fort and sailors by the river-side, but with no poverty strictly so called, except among the natives, who would, of course, be cut off from us by barriers of language, religion, and caste. ... I need not say that such anticipations have been entirely falsified by the reality; there can be no city where, from the strange mingling of inhabitants, of English and East Indians, descendants of the old Portuguese settlers or of the slaves whom they imported, of traders from all parts of the world, the Church's work is more imperative or more difficult. For, in dealing with these classes, the Clergy have to encounter faults and peculiarities to which in England they are unaccustomed. From early marriages and frequent deaths, they find families in strange and unnatural relations; widows who have hardly ceased to be girls, stepmothers charged with the care of their husbands' children before they are well able to take care of themselves. Many are the hindrances too which an Indian sun and an enervating climate interpose between us and the energetic discharge of our duties: but we know that our high calling must carry us through these and even greater difficulties, that we must never forget that the same voice which said to Saul, 'Why persecutest thou Me?' will say to any one of us, 'Why neglectest thou Me?' if through our indifference those for whom Christ has died are left in misery and ignorance."

Careful investigations were made under his instruction, throughout India, of the needs of the neglected Eurasians, and he soon realised, what so many have realised since then, that the best way of helping them is by giving them good schools. "He saw that if there could be one thing fatal to the spread of Christianity, it was the sight of a generation of unchristian, uncared-for Englishmen, springing up in the midst of a heathen population. He felt that, if there could be one thing subversive of our Indian Empire, it was the spectacle of a generation of natives highly educated, and trained in missionary and Government schools, side by side with an increasing population of ignorant and degraded Europeans."

The foundations of extended Anglo-Indian education were laid in the Thanksgiving Services for the restoration of peace on July 18, 1859. The Bishop himself preached a notable sermon in his Cathedral in Calcutta, taking for his text the latter part of Romans xii. 21, and for the title of the sermon, "The Christian Victory over Evil." He dwelt on the restoration of British supremacy and security in India as an overwhelming responsibility cast upon England, and exhorted his congregation to be stirred by recollections of the past, by faithfulness for the present, by hopes for the future, by the memory of the brave and good who had gone. He pleaded for the work they were inaugurating that day amongst the Anglo-Indian community as a means to the great end of guiding professing Christians to make their Christianity a reality in a heathen land. The collections throughout the Diocese of Calcutta on that memorable day amounted to over half a lakh of rupees, towards which the Viceroy and Lady Canning contributed eleven hundred pounds. In all his efforts to improve the Anglo-Indian education, Bishop Cotton was helped very fully by Lord Canning, whose admirable minute on this subject can be read in Bishop Cotton's Memoirs.

A Board of Education was also formed by the Bishop to take an extensive view of this question of Anglo-Indian education and to keep Government in touch with their needs. The first school actually started by the Bishop is one which bears his name in Simla to-day. The Bishop, noticing that there were some admirable schools for Anglo-Indians and Europeans in Calcutta, Lucknow, and other plain stations, felt the need of a really good school in the hills, and took the keenest personal interest in everything connected with the starting and working of the Bishop Cotton School at Simla. When first started it was located at Jutogh, a few miles out of Simla, and now a military station. The ground, however, was not sufficiently large for the purpose, and a short time afterwards it was moved to its present admirable site. Its first Headmaster the Rev. S. Slater, was specially selected by the Bishop. Recalling his own experiences as Headmaster of Marlborough, he was determined to give the Headmaster of Bishop Cotton School as free a hand as possible. He felt, and rightly, that if a man was fit to be put in charge of a school, he was fit to be trusted.

In 1864, after a great deal of careful consideration, St. Paul's School in Calcutta, which had been started more than thirty years before by Bishop Corrie, when Archdeacon of Calcutta, was moved up to Darjeeling, where it has been located for nearly sixty years. Later on the Bishop's Board of Education acquired a large private school at Mussoorie from a Mr. Maddock, at a cost of twelve thousand pounds, so that in a comparatively short time the Bishop had been instrumental in establishing no less than three schools in the Himalayas. Everywhere throughout India his Board of Education were engaged either in starting schools or suggesting to local committees in various places how best to start schools. Nagpur, the capital of the Central Provinces, was one of many places where a Church school for Anglo-Indians was started during this period.

While interested so deeply in the education of the Anglo-Indian, Bishop Cotton's mind was constantly dwelling on missionary plans for the extension of the Kingdom of Christ in India. He was anxious that missionary work should be started in Assam, which could be linked up with our S.P.G. Missions in Burma and down to the Straits Settlements. His visits to Burma made it clear to him that without a separate Bishop the work in Burma could never really flourish. He was also anxious that an Assistant-Bishop should be appointed somewhere up country to exercise more watchful care over the North-West Provinces.

During Bishop Cotton's period a difficulty arose which many Bishops in India have experienced, but which is now practically settled. It sometimes happened that Scottish regiments were located in places where there was only a Church of England Church. In the legal deed of consecration of such Churches it was clearly laid down that these Church of England Churches were to be used for Church of England services and for nothing else. It was felt by many to be a great hardship that a Church built partly by private subscription and partly by Government could not be used occasionally for Presbyterian or Nonconformist services. Bishop Cotton adopted a rather liberal view of his powers in this matter, and arranged that under certain conditions these Churches could be loaned to Scottish regiments for parade services at times when not needed for the Church of England services.

Bishop Cotton was a great letter-writer. No one can read his life without being struck by his quite remarkable gifts of succinct expression and vivid and accurate description of anything he wrote about. At times he could be delicately sarcastic. He spoke of a certain Colonel, who was a very aggressive Evangelical, in the following terms:

"Colonel ------ is most edifying on the Afghan War, and very much the reverse on baptismal regeneration."

Eight years of hard and exacting work in a trying climate had been completed with the Bishop started away on August 1, 1866, for a tour in Assam. Of late the Bishop's mind had often turned to England, but under the statutory terms of his appointment it was impossible for him to return to England before ten years of service in India. Had he done so, he would have been compelled to resign.

The Bishop was accompanied on this tour in Assam by his wife and a Mr. Vallings, Secretary to the S.P.G. Dr. Powell was in medical charge of the party, which also included Mr. Woodrow, an Inspector of Government Schools, and his wife. The party, after an extensive journey up the Brahmaputra, came down by river to Dacca, which they reached early in September. After the visit to Dacca was over they entered the Surma Valley and visited Sylhet.

Assam, as is well known, is the land of tea-planters, and on a certain Saturday afternoon in October, the Bishop, who was far from well, left the Government steamer for the consecration of a cemetery. He expected to return by seven o'clock in the evening to dine, and then to leave for Calcutta by the night train. At the Service of Consecration he gave, as was his custom, a short extempore address: "In words prepared, and recorded by the very few to whom he last spoke, the Bishop reminded his hearers that such consecrations were for the benefit of the living, not of the dead; departed souls suffered no injuries if their bodies were left in a desert place, or on a field of battle, or in any other way were unable to receive the rites of burial; that the solemn ceremony of consecration was to enable the living in a better manner to pay the last tribute of affection, and to retain a more solemn and permanent impression of the awful truths which give eternal importance to the questions of life and death." After the service was over, he lingered to discuss some ecclesiastical arrangements with the very few residents of the small station, and twilight was fast passing into darkness when he reached the river-bank. Owing to currents, churs (sand-banks), and the precipitous nature of the bank, it was impossible to bring any vessel up close. The Rhotas, his steamer, was lying in full stream; an intervening flat was at anchor between it and the shore, and this flat the Bishop prepared to reach. But, "between himself and all to which he was looking forward as perhaps still to be permitted to him in this world, unfinished work and fresh-formed plans, active labour yet for a space in India, dawning hopes of England and English friends; between himself and all except the Master he had striven faithfully to serve, there lay many yards of the rapid-rolling river." Somewhere on the perilous causeway of planks bridging the waters his foot slipped; he fell, and was never more seen. The increasing darkness, an unsteady platform, his near sight, the weariness of a frame enfeebled for the time by fever, had all doubtless a share, humanly speaking, in the great calamity foreknown in the counsels of Him "who moves in a mysterious way." Every effort was made to rescue or recover him: all who are acquainted with the current of an Indian river well know how infinitely slight would be the chance of success in the one endeavour or the other.

There were those to whose lips, on hearing the mournful tidings, the simple Bible words arose: "And Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him."

Thus passed away this remarkable man at a time when beyond dispute his powers were at their highest. That he had accomplished a great work during his eight years in India no one can doubt for a moment. From the first he had watched with intense interest the intellectual movement amongst the educated Hindus. He had looked carefully into the teachings of the once famous Keshab Chandar Sen, the founder of the Brahmo Samaj. When others in England had been captivated by this remarkable man, Bishop Cotton with keen insight had detected the vital weakness in his teachings and had seen that, whatever else it was, it was not Christianity. He had done what no one else has ever done, or can ever do, in helping forward the work amongst Anglo-Indians in India. He had also won in a quite remarkable way the entire confidence of the Government of India. They clearly felt that any opinion expressed by Cotton was one which was sure to be wise and backed by the soundest reasons.

We may conclude this brief account of the Bishop's life by the Order in Council issued from Simla by the Governor-General when the news of his tragic death became known. It runs as follows:--

"There is scarcely a member of the entire Christian community throughout India who will not feel the premature loss of this prelate as a personal affliction. It has rarely been given to any body of Christians, in any country, to witness such depth of learning and variety of accomplishment combined with piety so earnest and energy so untiring. His Excellency in Council does not hesitate to add the expression of his belief that large numbers, even among those of Her Majesty's subjects in India who did not share in the faith of the Bishop of Calcutta, had learned to appreciate his great knowledge, his sincerity, and his charity, and will join in lamenting his death."

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