Project Canterbury

Bishop Harper and the Canterbury Settlement

By H. T. Purchas

Christchurch, Wellington and Dunedin: Whitcombe and Tombs, 1909.

Chapter I. Early Life and Work at Eton

"Send forth the best ye breed."--Kipling.

Henry John Chitty Harper was born at Gosport on January 9th, 1804. His father, Tristram Harper, was a physician, and belonged to one of the younger branches of a Worcestershire family, which had originally owned the Norland Estate near Hartlebury, and was connected by marriage with the Stracheys of Sutton Court in the County of Somerset. His mother was a daughter of Adam Jellicoe, Deputy Paymaster in the Navy. Through her he was also related to an eminent lawyer, Joseph Chitty, after whom he was named. From these ancestors he inherited a magnificent constitution, which was to stand him in good stead during his colonial experiences, and a tradition of large families which was to be handed on by him unimpaired. He himself was the fifth child in a family of nine; his father was the fourth in one of thirteen; his grandfather, Edmund Harper (also a physician), was one of a family of fourteen children.

Living in Hampshire, it was natural that he should be sent to Winchester for his education. Not to the great school there, however, but to a small (though ancient) foundation in the neighbourhood, called Hyde Abbey School, where he formed a life-long friendship with John Kent, afterwards private secretary to the famous Lord Carnarvon. Without being exactly a studious boy, he rose to the top of the school and competed for a scholarship which would pay his expenses at the University. At the close of his examination he was summoned into the presence of three or four venerable old gentlemen who were seated round a table. "We have to congratulate you," they said, "upon having passed a brilliant examination, but before we can award you the scholarship it is necessary that we should hear you sing." This was a condition of which the candidate had never before heard, and in after years he used to dwell upon the dire despondency into which he was suddenly plunged by this provision of the Founder of the scholarship. He could have stood all Mr. Cecil Rhodes' tests well enough, but as for singing he had neither voice nor ear. He stood looking at the examiners, a picture of hopeless dejection. At last one of them said, "We are not particular about what you sing, Mr. Harper. Sing any song you know--"God save the King,"--the "Old Hundredth,"--anything." But even these were beyond the poor lad's powers. What was to be done? The old gentlemen looked grave, and held a short consultation. At last one of them said, "We shall be very sorry to pass you over for a small matter like this, but we cannot grant the scholarship unless we can certify that we have heard you sing. Come now, just raise your voice, and repeat after me." In a cracked and quavering voice the kind old man chanted the first two verses of the Magnificat. By a desperate effort the young man gave forth some discordant sounds, and presently the tension was relieved by a chorus of approving voices. "That will do, Mr. Harper, we have much pleasure in awarding you the scholarship."

With the aid thus nearly missed he was enabled to proceed to Queen's College, Oxford. The University at this period was not a very helpful institution. There were no athletic sports, there was not much intellectual stimulus, and spiritual life was at a low level. The men who were to initiate the great religious revival which is known as the Oxford Movement, were as yet only feeling their way separately to the convictions which afterwards enabled them to rouse their fellows. Pusey was studying theology in Germany; Keble was quietly composing the Christian Year in his country rectory; Newman was in Oxford, but he was just then passing through his short-lived phase of liberalism. A few years later Mr. Harper was to fall under the spell of their earnestness, but during his undergraduate life he found no one to help him. If we may trust the recollections of his later years, he "wasted and misused his time and money." He was an adept at swimming, rowing, and running, but undoubtedly was rather neglectful of his books. He gained his degree in 1826 with Third Class Honours in literis humanioribus, but those who knew his powers felt that he ought to have taken a higher place.

His college life was ended: what was his future career to be? He himself would apparently have chosen some occupation which had nothing to do with books, perhaps some active employment abroad. But those who knew him best were not disposed to take him at his own modest estimate. His old Headmaster, the Rev. Charles Eichards, offered him a mastership at Hyde Abbey, and with some reluctance he went back to the old school. This decision he always looked upon in after years as one of those turning-points of his life in whicft the guidance of Divine Providence was signally manifest. For he had not been long at Ms master's deskwhen the Headmaster approached him with a new offer. A tutor was wanted for some boys in Ireland--the sons of Sir Charles Coote. Would he care to go? This was another turning-point. The offer was accepted, and the young man set off for Ireland. The work there was much to his taste, for he was beginning to realise his powers. And it proved the stepping-stone to a higher position still, for the Coote boys were not intended to finish their education at home. They were destined for Eton, the greatest school in the kingdom, and when in 1828 their preparatory course was over, the tutor was sent with them to the new school to continue there his superintendence of their studies.

Again, therefore, without any seeking on his own part, Mr. Harper found himself in the world of school. But how different were the surroundings from those of Hyde Abbey. With its ancient traditions, its stately buildings, its connection with royalty and with the noble houses of the land, Eton held--as it still holds--a unique position in English life. The Thames alone divides it from Windsor, and the royal castle on its proud eminence almost overshadows the buildings and playing-fields of the school. To come at the age of twenty-four, an entire stranger, into such an exclusive society must surely have been a test of no ordinary kind. Mr. Harper had not even the status of an assistant-master; he was only a private tutor whose business it was to see that his own particular charges behaved themselves out of school and did their lessons properly. Yet from this outside position he was destined to acquire and exert an influence which worked nothing short of a revolution in the great College of Eton.

He was not long in making good his footing. It was winter when he arrived, and on a snowy day while crossing the quadrangle with books under his arms, he was met by a number of small boys who threw some snowballs and knocked off his hat. Depositing his books on the ground, he quickly turned the tables upon his tormentors, and his balls flew so straight and hard that they were soon suing for mercy. One of these boys afterwards rose to be Provost of the College, and in telling the tale he used to say that he and his companions were so much impressed with the good temper of the new tutor that they voted him "a real trump." This little incident was the beginning of his popularity in the school.

In the following year "without any forecast of the possible consequences and difficulties" he took a step which may well have seemed a somewhat rash one--he married. His wife--Emily Wooldridge--belonged to Winchester, and the acquaintance must have been begun during the short period of his mastership at Hyde Abbey. Her father, Charles Wooldridge, was a solicitor of the city of Winchester, and also Registrar of the diocese, as his ancestors had been for several generations. The marriage was solemnised in the parish church of St. Maurice, Winchester, on December 12th, 1829. The young couple settled down in Eton High Street, but afterwards removed to a house called Willowbrook, just outside the playing-fields. In 1830 the happiness of the home was increased by the arrival of an infant daughter, the forerunner of a numerous offspring. In fact no less than fifteen children were born to the future bishop before he left England--nine sons and six daughters.

The moral condition of the college at the time of Mr. Harper's arrival was very far from being what it ought to be. The chapel services also were carried on in a careless and irreverent manner. There were two "Conducts" or chaplains, and the chief aim of each was to rush through the prayers at a more rapid pace than the other. Some of the authorities were alive to the evil of this scandalous state of things, and when one of the conductships became vacant in 1831, they looked about for a man who should fill the place more worthily. Passing over all who had been trained under the old system, they selected the tutor who had so recently come among them, and offered the position to Mr. Harper. He had no expectation of such a call, but he accepted it when made, and was ordained deacon on April 10th, by Bishop Murray of Rochester in his private chapel at Bromley in Kent. In the following year he received priest's orders from the Bishop of Lincoln (Dr. Kaye) at the parish church of Buckden in Huntingdonshire (June 17th 1832).

Now at last he had found his vocation. The of the office were no formality to him. reading of the service, while simple and , was earnest and devout. His consistent supported the effect of his public ministrations. He has been described as "the first Conduct who did justice to the post," but those who came after him followed in his steps. It was said by those who had the right to speak that "he did more than perhaps any other man to raise the tone of the Eton services."

But his labours were very far from being confined to the chapel. When the Cootes left school he took a number of other boys into his house, and there prepared them for their school career. One of these, J. F. Hornby, afterwards rose to be Provost of Eton itself, and though he only stayed at Willowbrook for six months, he stated more than fifty years later that he had still a lively recollection of his first tutor's kind and careful supervision, his strictness in discipline, and his quickness in gauging his pupil's capacity. "There was an indescribable charm in his manner, the outcome, no doubt, of his very manly, simple, honest nature, showing itself in frankness, trustfulness and consideration for the boys, and a delightful freshness and geniality in his intercourse with them. These qualities, combined with a devout, earnest and consistent life, sufficiently explain the effect which he produced."

Good and thorough, however, as his work as a tutor was, it was far from engrossing all his energies or explaining the whole secret of his influence. Soon after his ordination there came to Eton a brilliant man, five years younger than himself, who was destined to become his life-long friend and to be associated with him in matters of the utmost moment both in England and New Zealand. This was George Augustus Selwyn, who brought from Cambridge high ideals of what the church should be, and of what he and his young contemporaries might effect in the political world. Selwyn came of a family of eminent lawyers, and was himself looking forward to the law as a profession, but he was influenced to such an extent by his new friend that he changed the object of his ambition, sought ordination in the church, and was appointed to the curacy of Windsor, just across the bridge. England thus lost a future judge, but New Zealand gained a future bishop, and the Anglican Church an apostolic leader.

Selwyn's brother William, Eichard Durnford, afterwards Bishop of Chichester, Charles Dalton, John Hodgson, and George Langshaw were also among the remarkable galaxy of private tutors who formed the circle in which Henry Harper moved during his Eton days. All helped to make Eton better, but all felt that they themselves owed much to the lessons and example of the unostentatious chaplain.

This, surely, was no ordinary achievement for one to have effected in the conservative atmosphere of Eton, who came to it as an outsider. It was not the influence of a recluse, for Mr. Harper joined with the younger men in their athletic exercises, and helped in founding the swimming-school for the boys. It is true that on cold winter mornings, when Selwyn came round to Willowbrook and threw stones at the chaplain's window to rouse him from his bed, Mrs. Harper would generally succeed in holding back her husband from going to the river until the weather should be warmer, yet there was no shrinking on his part, as New Zealand rivers could prove in years to come. But what really told on the men of his day was the self-sacrificing way in which the chaplain carried out that part of his duty which lay outside the school--the pastoral care of the town and parish.

So closely was Eton bound up with its great school that the cathedral-like college chapel was also the parish church, and the conducts were its parish clergy. It is not hard to imagine how the pastoral work had hitherto fared under this arrangement. To Mr. Harper the visitation of the sick was a matter involving the most anxious care. What it meant to him can be best learnt from a passage in the private diary in which he was accustomed to write down his secret thoughts. It is connected with the mortal illness of a poor woman who had apparently not led a good life.

"How awful are the duties of the parish priest, who is set to watch for the souls of men as one, too, who shall give account to Him who weigheth the spirits, and who has noted down in His book of remembrance all neglects of duty; all misperformances of duty arising from want of due preparation, or from wilful ignorance; all self-seeking and self-dependence in the execution of duty; all undue exercise of authority; and all remissness in the exercise of authority. I am this day come from a woman who to all appearance is dying. During her illness I have visited her with very tolerable regularity, and have endeavoured to direct her to Him whose name alone bringeth salvation. If I have failed in my object, can I gay that the fault does not lie at my door? Have I not reason to condemn myself for coldness and stiffness in my visits? for hastiness and obscureness in my manner of instruction! for impatience towards her because she did not feel or express herself exactly in the way in which I judged that she ought to feel and to express herself? Have I not neglected to prepare for her such fitting instruction as might be to her, a babe, milk nourishing and strengthening her in her efforts to live after God? Have I not often imparted to her that instruction which suggested itself at the moment f and lastly, have not I neglected prayer with her and for her and for myself--'for myself that I might teach aright, and that my word might be with power, 'for her,' that she might hear with faith and be saved by the word, 'with her,' that a blessing might be upon her endeavours to learn and mine to teach? O Gracious Lord! if I, blind and ignorant as I am, can see in my ministry with one individual sinner so much to "condemn, so much that needs forgiveness, what a mass of error, folly, neglect, presumptuous self-sufficiency, self-dependence, uncharitableness, must have met Thy searching aye! O deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O Lord. Let not this woman perish through any fault of me, O God. Lay not her sins to my charge, but blot them all out for Thy mercies' sake, blot out mine also, and save me together with her, through Jesus Christ our Lord--both hers and mine. Amen."

Such a passage is also a revelation of the writer's inner life. It was not intended to meet any eye but his own, and there are others like it in the book from which it is taken. That book has been torn and cut in many places, evidently by the writer himself, and it may seem something of a sacrilege to quote from it at all. But it is the only record that remains of the inner life of a particularly genuine and devout Character, and it is surely permissible to draw from it whatever it may contribute for the help and stimulus of future generations.

The ten years of Mr. Harper's life at Eton were a period of intense excitement in the political and religious worlds. But such events as the Reform Bill and the Abolition of Slavery do not seem to have affected him much. His mind was working in a different direction. The secret diary shows that he distrusted the advancing liberalism of the day. "Human knowledge is the help and handmaid of religion: but human knowledge without religion is worse than useless. It is dangerous. Religion without knowledge is still valuable; it is the pearl of great price torn from its setting." '' The very cultivation of the mind, if it proceed from selfish motives, however good and beneficial in its consequences, far from being a good work, may actually partake of the nature of sin--I could almost say as much as adultery or gluttony." "The philosopher in his study, even when employed on the sublimest sciences--and the most beneficial in their tendency to the welfare of man--may be as far from God as the drunkard in his hall of feasting and revelry."

In such sentiments we can see at once the influence of the Oxford leaders, whose tracts were now rousing the land. Yet Mr. Harper was not one to allow himself to be carried off his feet by the opinions of abler men than himself. How significant is this entry in the diary, under the date, November 5th, 1837:--

"During the last fortnight my views have undergone a considerable change, or rather, modification, and this chiefly with regard to baptismal regeneration. Hitherto I have felt great repugnance to admit this doctrine. I could not bring myself to believe that it was the doctrine of Scripture, at least, not so clearly laid down as to warrant one's asserting it as absolutely proved. I admitted that there were many striking passages which might be alleged in support of it, but I explained these as applicable to the times only in which they were uttered, considering them as addressed to those who had been baptised in riper years--in fact, as far as I can judge, it was my secret wish to make out from Scripture and the writings of the Fathers and other theologians that the new birth does not necessarily take place at the time of baptism, and that no one could justly be considered as born again until he was bringing forth in his life the fruits of the Spirit. These, I think, were my views and wishes. But, now I must confess that, not only my views are changed and opinions of an opposite description forced upon my mind, but what to me is more extraordinary, my wish is changed also. The arguments which prevail with me now are the same as those which I heard before and heard in unbelief; these now find a ready acceptance with me, and seem to come home to me in demonstration of the Spirit and with power. I am, in short, anxious to find that my former opinions were erroneous, and to prove more and more that every baptised person--baptised in his infancy (when, as far as we can see, no obstacle would be presented by him to the receipt of grace) is regenerated by the Holy Spirit, and made really and spiritually God's child by adoption, a member of Christ, and inheritor of the kingdom of heaven. Is it presumption to think that this change of view is from above! I have indeed prayed for direction on the subject, but how weak, how cold, how careless have my prayers been, how wholly undeserving a gracious answer. Oh, if I am in error, may God in His mercy guide me into truth, that I may not deceive myself or those committed to my care. Lord, that which I know not that teach Thou me. Lord, open Thou mine eyes that I may see the wondrous things of Thy law, and if it is Thy good pleasure that I should still be and remain in error on this point, convert my error into good, make it an instrument of increasing in me true piety and virtue to the honour and glory of Thy Holy Name through Jesus Christ my Lord."

The baptismal controversy was the crucial controversy of the first half of the nineteenth century, and such a change of view as that recorded in the above extract would inevitably carry with it a certain change of attitude on many other points. But it only deepened his inner life and increased his ministerial activity. "The Wednesday self-mortification (he writes) I will endeavour to associate with reflection on the 'iniquities of my holy things,' the Friday self-mortification shall be chiefly devoted to the general consideration of my past and still besetting sins."

His pupils he had already given up that he might devote himself more entirely to his pastoral work, and he endeavoured to make this more effective by providing additional services in a chapel-of-ease which had been built in the town.

When the time came--as it did in 1840--for their chaplain's removal to an independent sphere of labour, both town and school poured forth warm expressions of gratitude and goodwill. He was presented with various pieces of massive silver plate by the parishioners, the masters, the oppidans, and the collegers, and also with an address in which they all united.

"We cannot forget" (runs one of its paragraphs) "that during your conductship the wish of some of the parishioners has been gratified by the establishment of an evening service. The consequent increase of your congregation having rendered the enlargement of the chapel necessary, this want was quickly satisfied by the noble liberality of the college. Thus, under these happy circumstances, many a wanderer has been recalled into the paths of salvation--the weak in faith have been strengthened--the lukewarm roused from their perilous slumbers." Perhaps, however, the strongest testimony came in a private letter from one of the fellows of the college, the Rev. G. Plumptre, a man of a bluff and unconventional nature. "My dear Harper,--Salt is good: you have been the salt of this place."

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