Chapter I.--Early life at Eton and Cambridge, and Ministry at Windsor. 1809-1841.
George Augustus Selwyn was born on April 5th, 1809, at Church Row, Hampstead, in the quaint old street that still leads to the ivy-clad church. His father was Mr. William Selwyn, an eminent Queen's Counsel, and his mother Letitia Frances, daughter of Mr. Roger Kynaston, of Witham, Essex. He was one of six children, four sons and two daughters, amongst whom even in the nursery he took the lead; the others--though all possessed of considerable talent and force of character--invariably following wherever he led and carrying out whatever he proposed.
Ealing was the first school to which the young Selwyns were sent; and a letter from an old schoolfellow mentions the popularity of the future Bishop even there. But it was Eton which mainly prepared him for his distinguished career at Cambridge. Mr. Gladstone, his schoolfellow and personal friend, has testified to the fact that from boyhood upwards his actions were noble and generous; and this is confirmed by the [2/3] following characteristic anecdote, communicated by his friend and coadjutor, Bishop Abraham. "We belonged," he says, to the pre-scientific period as regards athleticism as well as studies. Our boats were clumsy and the oars clumsier. In Selwyn's 'long-boat' there were seven oars not very good and one superlatively bad. The boys used to nut up town as hard as they could to Bob Tolladay's and seize upon one of the seven moderately bad ones, and the last comer got the 'puntpole.' Of course he was sulky all the way up to Surly, and the other seven abused him for not pulling his own weight. Every one was out of temper. So George Selwyn determined always to come last. The other fellows chaffed him, but he used to laugh, and at last said ' It's worth my while taking that bad oar: I used to have to pull the weight of the sulky fellow who had it; now you are all in good humour.' This story illustrates his whole after life. He always took the labouring oar in everything." [Eton College Chronicle, June 4th 1878.]
The Bishop of Winchester (the Right Rev. Harold Browne) has also recently told in the Upper House of Convocation how he know him when he was a boy, having been of nearly the same standing with him at Eton. He says, "He was the best boy on the river and nearly the first boy in learning. I remember his spirited speeches at the Eton debating society and some of his Greek compositions. I believe he was the greatest diver at Eton or anywhere else. * * * * He was always first in everything, and no one ever knew him without admiring and loving him." There is a bush at Eton called "Selwyn's bush," standing on a high bank of the Thames, to which he used to run up, take a spring, go over it with a perfectly straight body, and corning into the water head foremost at an angle [3/4] of forty-five, pass under the surface of the water and rise again directly. When asked how to do it, he used to say "fancy yourself a dart."
He left Eton in the Upper Division and went to Cambridge where he was first a Scholar and afterwards Fellow of S. John's College. "In 1829 a proposal for an inter-university boat race was started by Oxford, made (it is believed) by the present Bishop of S. Andrews. Cambridge warmly accepted the challenge, and the 7th oar in the boat was pulled by George Selwyn. All his life he was an enthusiastic advocate for rowing, and in a letter which appears in Dr. de Morgan's book on University oarsmen he says, 'Many of us were also great pedestrians: Bishop Tyrrell and I walked from Cambridge to London in thirteen hours without stopping: many were also 'Psychrolutes,' bathing in winter in all states of the river; and my advice to all young men is, in two sentences, 'Be temperate in all things,' and 'Incumbite remis' (Bend to your oars).'" [Saturday Review, April 20th, 1878.] Towards the end of his undergraduate life, he observed once on returning home that his parents had put down their carriage. He asked the reason, and learnt that the expense of keeping two sons at Cambridge and two at Eton was beyond their means. From that day he determined to gain his own livelihood, and did so as a Private Tutor and Fellow of S. John's.
On leaving Cambridge he returned to Eton as private tutor to Lord Powis's sons; and having been ordained on his College-title he at first helped the Vicar of Windsor by providing an Evening Service in the Church, and after a time became Curate of the Parish. [The late Rev Isaac Gossett.] The Vicar left matters very much in the young Curate's hands; and when, in public or in private, [4/5] praise was expressed at the admirable order with which every thing was arranged, he always acknowledged the fact that success was entirely due to his Curate, and would take none of the credit to himself. "It is all Selwyn's doing," he would say, "he is the moving-spring here."
A friend writes, "His whole residence in Eton was marked by kindly co-operation, cordiality and zeal. If there were any misunderstandings amongst friends, he could not rest till they were reconciled; if pecuniary difficulties fell upon anyone he would make every effort to extricate him; if his friends were ill he was their nurse and companion; if they lost relations or fell under sorrow he was with them at any hour to console and uphold them. Whether it were in spiritual work or active exercises or ordinary amusements, 'whatsoever his hand found to do he did it with his might.' [Guardian. April 24th, 1875.] How this description comes home to all who have known the Bishop during his life at Lichfield, where he was ever the comforter of those in trouble, the supporter of the weak, the guide in all difficulty to those who needed help!
While he was Tutor at Eton, he persuaded Dr. Hawtrey to let him undertake the management of the water arrangements for the boys. Hitherto the river had been ' out of bounds:' so there were no rules or regulations for the boating and bathing, as there was no recognition of either on the part of the authorities. The young Tutor knew well the mischief of this state of things, and represented to Dr. Hawtrey how wrong it was to treat boys as criminals requiring to be imprisoned. "Let them have freedom," he pleaded, "and force them to learn swimming before going on the water." This was accordingly carried out; and since that year (1839) not a [5/6] single fatal accident has happened, although the school has doubled its numbers, while before that time at least one death had occurred annually. One of his projects while Curate at Windsor was--long before the days of cooking schools and lectures--the establishment of a parish kitchen. This was graphically described by himself at Wolverhampton in 1868, in his address to Churchwardens. "There is another point in parochial economy which I value very much indeed and which has been very much in place in my past experience in New Zealand. Travelling across a wild country, it has often happened to me that I have had to cook my own food; and the knowledge of cookery that I possess I acquired in my own parish-kitchen at Windsor, an institution which I found of the most beneficial kind for the relief of the poor, and also for the education of the children in a kind of knowledge which they needed very much--a knowledge of cooking. Before the kitchen was started there was a relief committee, to whom our district-visitors used to bring reports of various sick persons who required medical comforts and necessaries; and the committee issued orders for so many pounds of bread and mutton to be sent to them. If the Curate followed the material to its destination, he would go into miserable places where there were only a few pieces of coal in the grate with a small black pot upon them; and in that pot would be a sort of fluid, black and greasy, with a hard lump like a cricket ball floating in the middle, which would be the very pound of meat for which the committee had paid 8d. to make broth for a sick person. Why I might as well have told them to make broth out of stones! So the kitchen was started: a cook was engaged: a district visitor attended in the morning to act as housekeeper: they made all kinds of delicacies for the sick according to their [6/7] wants: and at twelve o'clock the school-children carried them to the various houses, bringing back the basins and plates when they returned to school. This was found to be a great saving on the old plan. For sixpenny-worth of well-cooked food did more good than a shillingsworth of raw material in unskilled hands. I contend that every poor person when sick ought to be ministered to in the same way as the highest in the land: and nothing went out of our kitchen that was not fit for any person to partake of." At this time there was a. large Church debt which was the cause of constant contention between various parties, each accusing the other of haring incurred it. To remove this subject of dissension he gave up his own stipend as a foundation for paying off the debt, and enlisted some helpers to go with him from house to house until they had succeeded in raising the necessary amount. He also kept the accounts of the Penny Bank and other parochial institutions, when he was a Curate, thus acquiring habits of business and method which were invaluable to him all his life.
So varied was the training and discipline by which the unseen hand of God was fitting him for the career which soon afterwards most unexpectedly opened before him.