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A Sketch of the Life of the Right Reverend George Augustus Selwyn, Late Bishop of Lichfield, and Formerly Bishop and Metropolitan of New Zealand.

By Mrs. G. Herbert Curteis

London: J. Parker and Co., and Newcastle: G. Hickson, 1878.

Chapter V.--Life and work in the Diocese of Lichfield: First Visit to America: Death of Bishop Patteson. 1868-1871.

The Synod in New Zealand had deputed Bishop Selwyn to select a successor in England for the Diocese of Auckland,--for from this time the title of "Bishop of New Zealand" was a thing of the past, Bishop Selwyn having been the first and only Bishop of the whole colony. Accordingly, when he arrived in England, just six months from the time he went out, he offered the appointment to the Rev. W. C. Cowie, Vicar of S. Mary's, Stafford, who accepted it and soon afterwards went out to Auckland.

During the Bishop's absence, the Diocese had been in charge of Bishop Trower, who had carried on the work faithfully and had left no arrears of duty undone. But the palace was still in a state of confusion and discomfort when the Bishop came to Lichfield; many of the alterations being incomplete. He established himself and his family however in a portion of the building, arranging things as well [42/43] as he could under the circumstances; and hammering and painting went on with redoubled vigour under his surveillance. Much had been done to the old house; its aspect having been completely changed by the addition of a chapel and of two large wings in front of the main building One of these wings contained offices for the Bishop's secretary and clerks, with bedrooms above for the ordination candidates, who would thus in the future be always boarded and lodged at the palace, instead of being obliged to provide their own accommodation at the inns and lodgings about the town. The opposite wing consisted of a large hall for the ordination examinations, for lectures to the students at the college, and for meetings of various kinds. A Missionary Working Party had been started, before the Bishop's farewell visit to New Zealand, with Mrs. Selwyn as president, who told anecdotes of her experiences and adventures in the southern seas, and read letters from Melanesia, while garments were made for the scholars at Norfolk Island. This too found a place at the palace, the Bishop calling it his "Stitchery." What a centre of diocesan and social life that hall has been during the last ten years! The hospitable long tables spread there at all the Diocesan Festivals, where tired wayfarers were refreshed with simple viands and cheered by kindly words and attentions, must be fresh in the memory of all. Missionary meetings--prizes for the Sunday school children of the diocese, distributed by the Bishop himself with a hearty shake of the hand to each recipient--the entertainment of the workhouse children every Christmas, with a social gathering of friends and neighbours afterwards,--it would seem as if the great hall could not possibly have been dispensed with. It had become, as it were, the "parish-room" of the Diocese.

[44] While the Bishop was absent in New Zealand, a change had taken place at the Cathedral, owing to the death of the Dean, the Very Rev. the Hon. Henry Howard. His successor, the Rev. William Weldon Champneys, when Rector of Whitechapel, had taken an active part in helping forward the New Zealand mission, by penny contributions from the scholars of his vast schools, whose interest was excited by an address from Bishop Selwyn, in 1864. In memory of this, when the Bishop and Dean found themselves still more closely connected together, side by side in the Palace and Deanery at Lichfield, a window was placed in the chapel looking towards the Deanery, in which was pictured the design of the medal which had been sent out by the Dean to be worn by the New Zealand children,--a map of the world, with England to the north and New Zealand to the south, and on a scroll joining them together the motto written: "Both one in Christ." The other windows in the Chapel were presented by the officers and men who had served in New Zealand during the war, in token of their gratitude for the Bishop's attention to their bodily and spiritual welfare in that campaign.

One of the first changes made by the Bishop in the diocesan arrangements was to hold Confirmations annually instead of triennially. With the assistance of his two coadjutors (Bishop Hobhouse and Bishop Abraham) he was enabled to carry out this arduous undertaking. And in his Pastoral letter to the Clergy of the Diocese in 1869, he says, "I venture to hope, in submission to Him without whom we can do nothing, that I shall be able to administer the rite of Confirmation annually in all the larger parishes once in two or three years, by a cycle so arranged that the confirmation may be held in each parish in turn. I hope it may thus be found possible to induce the [44/45] parents and sponsors of the children to attend as witnesses of their confirmation. Upon this plan, no formal. notice will he necessary to call upon you to collect your candidates. * * * The impulse will not be lost, nor will the dead weight have to be heaved afresh by a new effort; as the Bishop's invitation to' hold a confirmation and the clergyman's continued work in preparing his candidates will be assumed as a matter of course." His words later on, at a diocesan conference, on the same subject were;--"Religious education comes to its point in the apostolical ordinance of confirmation. In that, the Holy Spirit seals and blesses the efforts of pastors, parents and sponsors, teachers of schools, masters and mistresses of families, to teach the young committed to their charge all things which. a Christian ought to know and believe to his soul's health. With the aid of my coadjutor Bishops, I have been enabled to carry this holy ordinance into almost every parish in the diocese. The Confirmations have been held annually, in order that the work of pastoral instruction may never cease, and that the harvest may be gathered in at the exact period of maturity. I desire the united prayers of the clergy, the constant teaching of the yearly class, the influence of the newly confirmed on the younger children who are next in succession."

A sudden interruption however occurred about this time in the cycle of work which the Bishop had thus marked out for himself, proving the truth of the old adage "man proposes, but God disposes." In the autumn of 1869, in Derbyshire, whilst busily employed in labours for the Church and ministrations to her "little ones," the Bishop was suddenly disabled by an attack of nervous prostration, ensuing closely upon a great family loss, the painful death of his brother, the Lord [45/46] Justice Selwyn, to whose deathbed he was summoned from the midst of very pressing diocesan engagements.

After an entire rest of two months, and a further period of partial work, he returned to his old activity, which never again knew abatement till the end of his life.

In 1870 the Bishop issued an appeal to the Diocese for money to buy an important piece of property on the south side of the Cathedral, which he wished to be occupied by the Theological College. Before that time the students had lived in lodgings scattered about the city, and only came to the Principal's house for lectures, and to the Cathedral for service every day. By the new plan the College would be provided with a home of its own, and with accommodation not only for the Principal but also for the Students, who would thereby obtain the benefit of collegiate order and discipline--an element hitherto absent from their training. In connection with the College the Bishop also set on foot a system by means of which he would be able to draw recruits for the ministry from different ranks in society. To explain the working of this system, some extracts from a paper read by the Principal at the Stoke Congress, in 1875, will be useful. Speaking of the increasing number of young men who are anxious to take Holy Orders, but who have not the means to support themselves at college, he said:

"Should such workers be discouraged because they are poor? That would be strangely forgetful of the first principles of the Christian Church. In this dilemma a certain Bishop, whom we have heard called a first-rate General or Admiral spoiled, was not wanting to the occasion. He invented a scheme, something like the Oxford and Cambridge local examinations, which secured several good objects [46/47] at once. In the first place, his own Cathedral Chapter was induced to take a lively interest in the matter and to appoint an examining board, which should meet twice a year to test the 'probationers' who might present themselves. And next, the parochial clergy have been turned into the most able and effective recruiting sergeants all over the country. Suppose, for instance, a young man in a parish in Lichfield, or in any other diocese, displays--as member of the choir, or Sunday school teacher,--some remarkable gifts suitable for clerical life, the clergyman of the parish would naturally talk to such a man, would encourage him and try his knowledge. If satisfied, his next step would be to write to Lichfield, to recommend the young man for probation, the clergyman undertaking to direct him in his studies, to employ him in parish work and to certify every half-year his diligence and good conduct. And then at the end of two years, if each stage during that time has been passed without failure, he would be admitted to the Theological College for one year's final training, in which he would have financial assistance (if necessary) by means of Exhibitions supplied from the annual surplus of the college fees. This is the 'probationer system,'--which we are by no means anxious to keep to ourselves; but we desire to submit to this Congress the question whether some such scheme is not demanded by the necessities of our time; whether we may not, by such a plan, draw gradually under training for the ministry a large number of earnest able men whose services would otherwise be lost; whether the clergy far and wide would not thereby be interested in recruiting their own order; whether the central influences of the Cathedral, with its staff of highly educated dignitaries, might not thus be made to vibrate in the bank parlours, counting-houses, [47/48] schoolrooms, and even workshops, throughout the land ; and above all, whether the true ideal of the Christian ministry, as instituted by Christ himself, would not be by this means strikingly represented, each class of society being allowed to offer its sons for His service, and finding in the Church a common interest and a common field of labour. The Bishop eventually secured the house in question for the diocese, to be held in trust by the Diocesan Council, from whom the Theological College now rents the building for its own use. The new collegiate life began in January, 1871; and a gathering of students at the end of the summer term this year was attended by a goodly number of the former members, who came to see the new home of their College. A celebration of the Holy Communion took place in the Cathedral at eleven o'clock; after which all assembled at luncheon at the College House. In the afternoon a garden party was held at which the Bishop was present, bringing with him the Derbyshire Rural Deans, who happened then to be assembled at the Palace; and at a crowded Evening Service afterwards in the Lady Chapel he gave an interesting address. He always took great pleasure in visiting the college, and was especially gratified when he found the young men occupied in the garden, whether mowing the grass, or trimming the borders, or watering the flowers. Any man seemed instantly to acquire a claim to his respect who did what he could for himself, instead of making use of the services of other people: and he often related how the Maoris in New Zealand used to say,--"Gentleman-gentleman does not mind what he does; but pig-gentleman is very particular." Once when a colonist of rank, desiring to have his children baptized, wished the ceremony to be performed in his house, on the plea that there was no [48/49] [48/49] road by which to drive them to church, the difficulty was promptly met by the Bishop, who offered to carry two, if the father would carry the third.

Indeed in England, no less than in New Zealand, two sorts of "gentlemen" came frequently before Bishop Selwyn's notice and were easily discriminated by his searching glance. The pretentious, the conceited, the self-indulgent never found the least respect or sympathy from him; and he may even have erred sometimes in giving hasty expression to the impatience he felt towards characters of this shallow type. For he was little tolerant of sloth or self-indulgence. If a student lay in bed when he should have been at chapel and pleaded "a cold," the Bishop's reply would be "That is no excuse at all: you are seeking to be a clergyman, and if you care for such things as that, you will be saying, when you are knocked up at three in the morning to visit a sick man or baptize a dying infant, that it is too cold to go out." And, if a candidate for Holy Orders urged "his own experience," or, "his deliberate opinion," or "the result of his own researches," as an argument against following the customs or teaching the plain doctrines of the Church, it is not surprising that he sometimes found himself a mark for the Bishop's trenchant sarcasms or humiliated by his searching rebuke. On the other hand, for a true "nature's gentleman"--under whatever disguise of threadbare clothing or imperfect education--Bishop Selwyn felt the instinctive attraction of a manly and Christian sympathy. Even from the plough or from the forge, such were ever welcome to all that he could give them and all that he could do for them. And among those to whose ordination he often referred with the most genial and hearty satisfaction [49/50] were several men of this stamp, "gentlemen" in the truest and highest sense of the word.

In the autumn the Bishop resolved to visit the United States, accompanied by his second son and some other Clergy of the Diocese. [They sailed in the Java; and in crossing the Atlantic, in both voyages (1871 and 1574) his tact and judgment were very remarkable, as seen in providing for the due order of the Sunday and week-day services for the passengers on board. As soon as possible after the vessel got under weigh and after consultation with the Captain, arrangements were made for prayer. At the exact minute axed for morning prayers the Bishop was at the head of the table in the end of the saloon, where a congregation of from ten to thirty passengers (according to the state of the weather) quickly gathered round and joined in the Prayers and Psalms and Hymns. On one Sunday on board the Nova Scotia, 1874, under the Bishop's arrangement all were provided for thus: There was the full morning and evening service in the saloon, a separate service conducted by the Bishop for the firemen and others in the engine room below, whilst in the forecastle a score of Cornish workmen were confided to a Wesleyan Minister, and a Roman Catholic Priest took charge of the passengers of his own creed.] He was an honoured guest at the General Convention at Baltimore, not only for his own sake, but as being the first of the Home Episcopate who had visited the daughter Church in the United States. He afterwards made a short tour through the Dominion of Canada; and, as occasion offered, spoke at missionary meetings, addressed the young people of either sex in their colleges, or preached sermons to overflowing congregations. The enthusiasm which he awakened in the United States was so great that the American Church determined to commemorate this visit by the gift of a magnificent silver alms-bason, to be presented to the Archbishop of Canterbury by the hands of Bishop Selwyn, and to be kept for ever as a visible emblem of the love of the sister-church. [See Appendix.] The presentation accordingly took place in S. Paul's Cathedral, at the anniversary service of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in 1872; and the ceremony was afterwards described by the Bishop, at a subsequent visit to the General Convention in 1874, in the following words: "It was my happiness to present that alms-bason to the Archbishop of Canterbury in concert with one whose loss [50/51] we all lament, who is now with God in his rest, Bishop McIlvaine of Ohio; who, hand in hand with me, each of us holding it by one hand and on bended knee, presented that alms-bason for the Lord's Table in S. Paul's Cathedral, July 3rd, 1872."

In compliance with a resolution of both houses of Convocation, the words of the Archbishop were to be "synodically communicated to the Bishops, Clergy, and Laity of the sister church." So Bishop Selwyn at once despatched a telegram to Bishop Potter of New York, after the presentation, with these words: "July 4: Alms-bason presented in S. Paul's Cathedral. Independence is not dis-union." This last sentence alludes to the well-known fact that the 4th of July is the anniversary of the declaration of American independence. Bishop Potter in publishing the message observes, "It was a kindly and graceful impulse on their part to give such dignity to the reception of our offering of love, and to send us such a message on such a day. And I am sure it will be warmly appreciated by all the members of our communion on this side of the water."

When the Bishop returned from America in the autumn of 1871, he was welcomed with a display of fireworks by the students of the Theological College, who had also prepared a torch-light procession to meet him in the Close, whilst the Cathedral bells were to ring out a joyful peal. But unfortunately the Bishop reached Lichfield by a later train than was expected, and drove up quietly in his one-horse vehicle, the only one he possessed, commonly known as his "baker's cart."

The close of this year was saddened by the tidings of the death of Bishop Patteson, who was murdered by the natives of one of the Melanesian islands near Santa Cruz, and was buried at sea on S. Matthew's day, 1871. The grief felt by the [51/52] Bishop on this occasion was very deep; and at first he seemed quite bowed down with the great calamity which had come upon him in the death of this much-loved son in the faith. He requested the Cathedral organist to play the "Dead March" after service every afternoon for several days in succession; and when at early Communion he was reading the Prayer for the Church Militant, his voice trembled audibly, and he paused for some seconds at the words "we also bless Thy Holy Name for all Thy servants departed this life in Thy faith and fear,"--then slowly added, "especially for John Coleridge Patteson." The Bishop looked ten years older after this trial had passed over him. He felt it most keenly, not only on his own account, but also for his beloved Melanesian mission, which had sustained such an irreparable loss.

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