Project Canterbury

Life of Edward Bouverie Pusey
by Henry Parry Liddon, D.D.

London: Longmans, 1894
volume three

Transcribed by The Revd R D Hacking
AD 2002






                                                               'Be it mine

One law to cherish, and to track one line,

Straight on towards heaven to press with single bent,

To know and love my God, and then to die content.’

NEWMAN’S Occasional Verses, cix.


A SLIGHT anticipation of the chronological order of events was for obvious reasons necessary in the concluding pages of the last volume. But as a matter of fact the building of St. Saviour’s, Leeds, was far from being the only great practical scheme which occupied Pusey’s thoughts the dark days of 1845. Simultaneously with this, his thoughtful interest was enlisted in another kind of work, which, although it did not at the moment attract so much attention, was yet destined to have very wide and deep results on the life of the English Church. On March 26, 1845, at Park Village West, Regent’s Park, under Pusey’s guidance, there was inaugurated the first attempt to revive Sisterhood life in the English Church.

Several influences would appear to have combined to guide Pusey’s mind in this direction. The first call for such institutions was found in the condition of the great cities, and especially of the East End of London, which for many years had occupied so large a place in Pusey’s thoughts and charities. He was satisfied that unless the hands of the clergy were strengthened by the disciplined love of Christians, not of necessity in holy orders, but led by Divine grace to give themselves up to a life of sacrifice, little could be done to recover masses of population which had outgrown all the existing machinery of the Church. Influencing him also in the same direction were the considerations suggested by conversations which he had often heard in his early years, in which the difficulty of finding suitable employment for many unmarried women had been much insisted on. Indeed, this had been a traditional source of uneasiness among the gentry and middle classes in England ever since the Reformation. Such ideas were, so to speak, in the air. An able writer, with even violent prejudices against the Church of Rome, regrets that  'in the wholesale extirpation of monastic institutions the nunneries were swept away. The good which would have resulted from con–verting them into Protestant establishments is so obvious, that few persons can have regarded the present state of society in these kingdoms, as it affects women, without regretting that an opportunity for alleviating so much evil should have been neglected’.

Another consideration was suggested to Pusey by his studies. It was impossible to read the Catholic Fathers, especially St. Augustine and St. Jerome--writers who, for different reasons, profoundly influenced him--without ob–serving the stress which they laid on the single life, whether of men or women, when consecrated to the service of God. This side of their teaching had been lost sight of by that section of Anglican divines which regarded antiquity not as a guide in faith or morals, but merely as a storehouse of polemical weapons against the Church of Rome. But the nobler minds in the English Church had never altogether forgotten this element of early Christian belief and feeling. Hooker, though a married man, yet held that a single life is a thing  'more angelical and divine.’ Bishop Andrewes, in his well-known  'Devotions,’ gives thanks for  'the Virgins, flowers of purity, celestial gems, brides of the Immaculate Lamb’; and it is recorded of him on his tomb in St. Saviour’s, Southwark, that  'coelebs migravit ad aureolam coelestem.’ Bishop Montague insisted on the distinction between precepts of morality and counsels of Christian perfection; Laud declared that, in disposing of ecclesias–tical promotions, he should prefer the single man before the married; Jeremy Taylor says that  'Virginity’ of the  'chosen and voluntary’ kind is  'a life of angels, the enamel of the soul, the huge advantage of religion, the great opportunity for the retirements of devotion.’ Thorndike maintains that  'in the profession of monastic life there is ground for presuming that those who live in it come nearer what our baptism professeth, by the means thereof, than others can do’. It was this conviction which had led to the memorable effort of Nicholas Ferrar to establish a religious community at Little Gidding in the time of Charles I. ; and, in the next century, the deepest motive for such institutions is stated in a noble passage of Law’s  'Serious Call’:--

 'If the religion of Christians is founded upon the infinite humilia–tions, the cruel mockings and scourgings, the prodigious sufferings, the poor persecuted life and painful death of a crucified Son of God; what wonder is it if many humble adorers of this profound mystery--many affectionate lovers of a crucified Lord--should renounce their  'share of worldly pleasures and give themselves up to a continual course of mortification and self-denial; that thus suffering with Christ here, they may reign with Him hereafter?

 'If truth itself hath assured us that there is but one thing needful, what wonder is it, that there should be some amongst Christians so  'IWI of faith as to believe this in the highest sense of the words, and to desire such a separation from the world, that their care and attention to the one thing needful may not be interrupted? If our Blessed Lord hath said, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come and follow Me;--what wonder is it that there should be some such zealous followers of Christ, so intent upon heavenly treasure, so desirous of perfection, that they should renounce the enjoyment of their estates, choose a voluntary poverty, and relieve all the poor they are able? If the great Apostle, St. Paul, hath said,  " He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord;" and that  " there is this difference also between a wife and a virgin;-- the unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit;”--what wonder is it, if the purity and perfection of the virgin state bath been the praise and the glory of the Church in its first and purest ages?’

But the Puritan feeling of the seventeenth century had set strongly in an opposite direction to that of Christian antiquity and the best English divines. The average Puritan divine regarded the married state as a kind of certificate of Protestant orthodoxy. The  'Evangelical Revival’ which had honourably distinguished itself by insisting on a Christian’s renunciation of the worldly life, could not, in this particular, disentangle itself from the fetters of the Puritan tradition; and’ thus, in the early years of this century, Puritan zeal combined with worldly indifference to depreciate the single life consecrated to the service of God; and the language of the Fathers, which seemed so much a matter of course to the early and undivided Church, had almost the character of a new revelation to the student-minds of the Oxford Movement.

This consideration weighed with Pusey all the more from causes nearer home. The disposition and intentions of his daughter Lucy seemed to him to have about them a Providential character. As a very young child she appears to have expressed her desire to lead a single life, devoted to God’s set-vice: and her father, it need not be said, was not likely to check this. Such a desire specially recom–mended itself to his sympathy, because after his great sorrow in May, 1839, Pusey considered that henceforth a single life had been ordered for himself by Divine Providence: and sorrow made entire self-consecration to God easy, and, if the expression might be used, natural. Then, too, he saw around him religious zeal which threatened to waste itself in irregular efforts. He knew something about hearts, sick of this world, whose very energy threatened to become disease, and to prey upon itself if not guided by some outward rule. Might they not drift into extravagances, or even away from the English Church, if the warmth of their religious feelings was uncontrolled? Thus on December 18, 1839 he writes to Keble:--

 'N [ewman] and I have separately come to think it necessary to have some  " Soeurs de Charité" in the Anglo-Catholic [Church]. He is going to have an article on it in the B[ritish] C[ritic]. If no one else writes it, he will do it himself. I have named it since to very different sorts of persons, and all are taken with it exceedingly, (except B. H[arrison], who (as Archbishop’s Chaplain) is half afraid of it,) and think that there would be numbers of people who are yearning to be employed that way. My notion was that it might begin by regular employment as nurses, in hospitals and lunatic asylums, in which last Christian nursing is so sadly missed. B. H. says that in Guy’s the nurses are called still  " Sister Agnes,"  " Sister Mary," &c’.

Another correspondent to whom Pusey applied was the Rev. W. Perceval Ward, Rector of Compton Valence. Mr. Ward had resided much abroad, and had interested himself in the Sisterhood of St. Vincent de Paul, as well as other forms of the community life on the continent. He pressed upon Pusey that unless the English Church could produce some–thing which should emulate the work of those beneficent associations, the population of our large towns would be lost to religion altogether, or would become Roman Catholic.


Feb. 24, 1840.

Certainly our undisciplined minds, our internal differences, and our external separation, seem to present insurmountable difficulties. But yet I do not see that a doubtful success should deter you from so plain a duty. The simple truth, from which we cannot escape, is that thousands of souls, the care of the Church of England, are, year by year, allowed to perish, because we dare not make ventures beyond our old and, for these times, inefficient machinery. Surely at such a time everything but principle is to be risked.

Newman’s thoughts on the subject at this moment are given in a letter to his friend Bowden:--

Feb. 21, 1840.

Pusey is at present very eager about setting up Sisters of Mercy. I feel sure that such institutions are the only means of saving some of our best members from turning Roman Catholics; and yet I despair of such societies being made externally. They must be the expression of an inward principle. All one can do is to offer the opportunity. I am sceptical, too, whether they can be set up without a quasi-vow.’…

Somewhat earlier Pusey had written still more fully to the friend whose great practical ability would have made his opinion and co-operation especially valuable.


Christ Church, Dec., 1839.

I want very much to have one or more societies of  'Soeurs de la Charité" formed: I think them desirable (1) in themselves as belonging to and fostering a high tone in the Church, (2) as giving a holy employment to many who yearn for something, (3) as directing zeal, which will otherwise often go off in some irregular way, or go over to Rome. The Romanists are making great use of them to entice over our people; and I fear we may lose those whom one can least spare; but this is secondary. I think the other two primary, and that they are calculated to draw a blessing upon the Church in which they are found, as the Fathers always speak of the virgins. It seemed best that at first they should not be so discursive as those of the Romish Church in Ireland, but be employed in hospitals, lunatic asylums, prisons, among the females. Do you know of any who would engage in it on a small  'scale, quietly, or one who would be a Mother Superior, i. e. one fitted to guide it?

Ever your very affectionate friend,

                                          E. B. PUSEY.

Hook does not appear to have answered Pusey’s earlier letters on the subject: his hands were too full. But in June, 1840, he wrote at some length his hopes of what was possible.


Vicarage, Leeds, June 9, 1840.

I perfectly agree with you in thinking it to be most important to have a class of persons acting under us and answering to the Sisters of Charity in some foreign Churches. But there will be great diffi–culties in the way. Although we shall obtain the co-operation of the really pious of all classes ultimately, there will be much opposition from those  'Evangelical’ ladies who at present control the visiting societies, and employ the clergy as their agents: and we all know that the Record spirit in such persons will hurry them into all kind of calumnies in which they will be joined by the profane. This in itself ought not to be cared for; but it would be important to avert the storm until we have been able to obtain a fair hearing from those of their followers who are really pious. I am always an advocate for exhibiting works before principles. Let the good be done before we tell people why and how it is done. What I should like to have done is this: for you to train an elderly matron, full of zeal and discretion, and thoroughly imbued with right principles, and for her to come here and take lodgings with two or three other females. Let their object be known to none but myself, and I would speak of them merely as well-disposed persons willing to assist my curates and myself, as other persons do, in visiting the sick. We should attend to their principles, but draw up no rules, except such as might be absolutely necessary for the guidance of the household, and there should be no distinction of dress. You should lay down for them some plan for their guidance in visiting the sick: I mean, how far they may read and pray under my sanction as priest of the parish. Let this go on for twelve months at least. We could then have a meeting of our friends prepared to support this establishment, and we could consult with the matron as well as with my curates, and at that time, with experience gained, draw up rules, such as would be adapted to the circumstances of English society, and we could at that time also decide on the dress to be worn--which ought to be just sufficient to distinguish them and yet not sufficient to subject them to remark...

Believe me to be most affectionately yours,

                                                             W. F. HOOK.

Hook, who hoped that his own sister would take up this life, characteristically suggested that Pusey should adopt  'Greek terms and forms rather than Latin ones; as less-likely to give unnecessary offence.’  'Remember,’ he wrote,  'you are in advance of the age: deal tenderly with the babes.’

While Pusey was corresponding with Hook on the subject, he was also communicating with an English physician, Mr. W. Greenhill, who was studying medicine in Paris. Mr. Greenhill undertook to obtain for him the rules of the Sisters of the Order of St. Augustine, and also those of St. Vincent de Paul. Besides assisting Pusey materially by his inquiries and letters, among other things he proposed to translate a German Protestant pamphlet on the subject. Pusey, after criticizing the pamphlet on other grounds, observed that--

[Sept. 20, 1840.]

It seems to go no further than we have got already, forming volun–tary associations among persons in the midst of domestic duties, and with very little notion of discipline, or of their acting under the direc–tions of the spiritual pastor. They are; at most, allies, not troops under his command. It is even curious, how he finds himself in a difficulty, that the plan which he proposes would fail in some respects because the parties had domestic duties, and yet that it does not occur to him that there might be found those who had no con–straining domestic duties, and so might give themselves wholly to this work. It is deficient in recommending self-devotion.

It would do us harm, too, that he speaks so strongly against vows, as of something inferior. We, who are admitted to the priesthood, are under vows; we devote ourselves for a whole life: why should not women also for their offices? It seems to me a more religious way of devoting themselves to their office, than if they reserved to themselves the power to draw back. Our very word  'devoting himself’ implies a vow. Only, of course, they should have proved themselves, before they venture to make it. We must be very slow about making vows, because in the state of things around us, there are so many temp–tations to break them; but still I should be sorry for anything to be published against them in the abstract.

There is also a certain indefiniteness in his way of speaking (which Germans are so apt to fall into) about the  'rule of love,’  'of free love’; as though love were less free because under rule. I do not think it would suit us, whose great difficulty it is to be brought under rule. Then, too, there is a vagueness of speech, religiously, which I think would be bad for us…

Meanwhile, the desire to attempt some form of disciplined life devoted to prayer and good works received a reinforce–ment from an .unexpected quarter. The Society of Friends has always been distinguished for its combination of philanthropic effort with attempts to cultivate the Christian life as understood by its founders; and some of its members at this juncture made a proposal to supply the wards of Guy’s Hospital with nurses who should pursue their work in the spirit of Sisters of Charity. This proposal was sub–mitted to Mr. Harrison (the father of the Archbishop’s Chaplain), who then controlled the affairs of the hospital; and he drew up a few rules to be adopted by the applicants. These rules included, among other things, attendance at the daily and Sunday services in the Chapel--an obligation which it seems the Quakers were willing to accept, but which, Mr. Harrison thought, would give a Church-like direction to the effort. Mr. B. Harrison reported this to Pusey, and asked whether he knew any ladies who would devote themselves to such an object. Pusey bethought him of Dr. Hook’s sister. He sent her the paper which described the Quaker project, observing that it  'contained an open–ing for something better.’ Yet he was bound to say that he could not discover in the plan, as proposed, those moral features which alone command success in such enterprises. It only contemplated so much self-denial as was essential for a nurse’s work.

 'Its error,’ he observed,  'seems to be the prevailing error of the day, that money will produce everything. Persons of Christian temper, self-devotion, self-denial, are to start up at the touch of this golden wand, instead of being raised up as God’s blessing and gift to His Church.’

In August, 1840, Hook replied:--

 'My sister would do well for one of the Sisters of Charity: but she must devote herself at present to my mother. It is a great thing to find the first movement made by the Quakers. It will smooth the way before us.’

In October, Miss Hook had made up her mind, and her brother was roused.

 'I have received a letter,’ he wrote to Pusey,  'from my sister, who has determined never to marry and to become a Sister of Charity, if she survives my mother.... What I wish you very earnestly to do is to … warn her that her very first duty is to devote herself entirely to my mother. To my mother both myself and my sister are indebted for all our early impressions of religion.’

Miss Hook was indeed far from being the only person who was being silently drawn towards a devoted single life. Already rumours were abroad of such an institution having been already set on foot.


Nov. 4, 1840.

What you hear about a convent is a mere mistake. I know nothing of it. But I am very glad to hear that such ideas are spreading; and talking is the first step to doing. Several places are in agitation for establishing Sisters of Mercy, whether for hospitals or for parochial visiting; but I expect nothing of them yet. It is a great thing if persons communicate to each other their ideas and wishes. No one can begin solitarily, but the feeling that there are others like-minded gives at once confidence and opportunity. . . . Women (no, nor men still less) would not live together without quarrelling, as things are among us. A very strong religious principle and a tight discipline would be necessary. But it is a very good thing for people to be thinking about. Nothing would need more counting the cost.

But there was at least one very decided approach to a dedicated life.


Christ Church, Trinity Sunday [June 5], 1841.


A young lady, who is very grateful for your teaching, is pur–posing to-day to take a vow of holy celibacy. She has difficulties and anxieties in her position. She has attended St. Mary’s since she has been in Oxford, and hopes to receive the Holy Communion there to-day, as also being part of her self-devotion. It was wished that you should know it and remember her. You will know her by her being dressed in white with an ivory cross. .

Yours ever gratefully and affectionately,

                                                      E. B. PUSEY.

The lady referred to in this letter was Miss Marian Hughes, who has lived to become the revered Superior of the Convent of the Holy Trinity, Woodstock Road, Oxford. Near her, knelt Lucy Pusey, to receive her first Communion, and to consecrate to God the short life which was to end within three years. Newman celebrated, and Pusey was present among the congregation.

Shortly after her self-dedication Miss Hughes went to Normandy with the Rev. C. and Mrs. Seager, in order to study, so far as might be possible, the  'religious’ life among women in France. At Bayeux they made the acquaintance of the Bishop, and of the Abbé Thomine,

Canon of the Cathedral and Archdeacon of Caen. M. Tho–mine was the director of fifteen convents, and he allowed Miss Hughes to go as a visitor to the Hotel Dieu in Bayeux, which was served by a community of White Augustines or Ursulines. She was received with great cordiality, and was allowed to ask as many questions as she liked. She found the nuns as fervent and simple-hearted as could be wished; perfect harmony reigned between the different grades of Sisters, and the hospital and schools under their management were admirably conducted. The Rule of this House had not been published; but Miss Hughes was allowed by M. Thomine to learn much of it. She afterwards visited the Convent of the Visitation at Caen, which was, of course, under the published Rule of St. Francis de Sales. Pusey was much interested in these details, and in such information as Mr. Seager could collect about the conditions under which temporary vows were allowed in the French Church. In the regulations of the first English community of Sisters it is not difficult to trace the influence of the information thus conveyed. Indeed the Rule first adopted was largely taken from that of St. Francis de Sales, though it was modified after a few years of practical experience.

It will be remembered that Pusey had intended to visit Ireland in 1840 in order to make inquiries respecting the working of the Roman Catholic Sisterhoods in that country. He carried out this project in 1841, but although he visited some convents, and witnessed the reception of a Sister, there is no evidence of his having gathered from this quarter much experience or information which could be turned to account in his projects for Anglican Sisterhoods.

Naturally the realization of his plans and hopes with regard to the  'religious’ life of women in England, as of all great projects of real and permanent value, was attained but slowly. Even before the troubles of 1843 arising out of the sermon on the Eucharist, there was much that was unfavourable to any further prosecution of such plans. But Pusey had already seen in such delay the hand of God’s Providence: time was needed to discipline and ripen characters before anything could be attempted with good hope of success.


[Christ Church], Feb. 9, 1843.

A longing for a life more given up to devotion and charity is being put into the minds of persons of both sexes. I have heard of much of this sort since I last saw you. The time is not lost, but rather gained, which passes before any formal institution is made. It is too great a work to be brought about readily and yet solidly. It might easily degenerate. The difficulties which people have to go through before they enter upon it are a means of disciplining them to enter upon it aright; and they, meantime, may be disciplining themselves by learning to give up more readily their own wills, bearing contra–diction cheerfully, as well as growing continually in the grace and love and fear of God. The great dangers in beginning any such institu–tion would be, that people would not be sufficiently ready to give up their own ways (each wishing to do good in their own), or not have command of temper, so as to bear the ways of those who might be strangers to them, or excited and wayward; or, again, others with a general notion of wishing to devote themselves to God’s service, might still not have a standard sufficiently high. I doubt not, then, that while such institutions are for the time withheld, people are being prepared both to enter them in a deeper spirit, and to welcome them more gratefully. Yet there must be continued prayer for them.

God bless you.

               Yours very faithfully,

                                  E. B. PUSEY.

When, on April !2Z, 1844, Lucy Pusey died, it might have seemed that her father’s hopes of restoring the consecrated single life for women were still very far from realization. But, as Pusey afterwards said, he had charged her, as she lay dying, to pray in the presence of her Redeemer for the  'institutions to which she had hoped to belong’.’ He felt it might have been in answer to her prayers, that on the day of her funeral two letters were written to him which not only told him how many other eminent Churchmen shared his desire for the establishment of Sisterhoods, but also gave him great hopes that their foundation was much nearer than had seemed probable. One of these letters was from Mr. (afterwards Sir T. D.) Acland, giving an account of two meetings which had been held in London to consider the subject. At the first meeting a letter was read from Bishop Blomfield. The subject was occupying the Bishop’s earnest thoughts. The Bishop had consulted the Primate; and although he could not pledge himself beforehand to accept any particular plan, he was ready to consider any matured suggestions. The second meeting was held on the day of Lucy Pusey’s funeral: it was attended by Lord Lyttelton, Lord Clive, Lord Camden, Lord John Manners, Mr. Dickinson, Mr. Watts-Russell, Mr. Acland, besides Rev. W. Dodsworth and Dr. Hook. Mr. Gladstone, who was absent, wrote in warm sympathy with the object of the meeting.

The second letter to Pusey on that day was from Lord John Manners (now Duke of Rutland), officially communi–cating the result of the deliberations of this meeting. Dr. Hook had urged that a Lady Superior must first of all be found, since the initiative scheme and plan of pro–ceeding must come from her who was to work it; and Lord John Manners bad been instructed by the meeting to ask Pusey whether he knew of any person who was qualified for such a post. When doing so, he informed him that the meeting

 'had resolved to take preliminary steps for the establishment and permanent maintenance of a Sisterhood living under a religious Rule and engaged in some work of mercy such as

 '1. Visiting the poor or the sick in their own homes.

 '2. Visiting hospitals, workhouses, or prisons.

 '3. Feeding, clothing, and instructing destitute children.

 '4. Assisting in burying the dead.’

What a solace these letters were to Pusey can easily be imagined. But for the moment he could make no useful suggestion to the London Committee. Many names suggested themselves, but nobody was exactly ready for a part which implied, besides great gifts of character, much special preparation both of heart and life and experience. As Pusey said, in writing to his brother William at this time,  'The more anxious I am for these institutions, the more anxious I must be that they should be begun in a holy way.’

Pusey’s feeling is further illustrated by his correspondence with the father of a young lady who was anxious to become a Sister. This was the Rev. H. T. Ellacombe, Vicar of Bitton, in Gloucestershire, and afterwards Rector of Clyst St. George, near Topsham; so well known in the later years of his life as a leading authority on the subject of Church Bells. Mr. Ellacombe was a man whose knowledge and sympathy made him acquainted with all kinds of subjects and all kinds of people. He had been educated at Oriel under Provost Eveleigh, who held so high a place in the affectionate respect of Keble. He was an intimate friend too of Newman’s.

Mr. Ellacombe wrote to ask Pusey whether he could not find for his daughter some situation as a governess where she would enjoy religious advantages and have full occupa–tion. After regretting that he could at the moment make no practical suggestion, Pusey added


June 9, 1844.

It is perhaps going beyond what your letter would strictly entitle me, but if, as a father, I may write to a father, I would venture to suggest what I would do myself, were she my child. I cannot doubt myself that this drawing of people’s minds towards a more devoted life, giving themselves to His service, and the ministering to His poor, is, in the main, of God. It has been growing wonderfully during the last years; the minds in which it has been awakened have been the sort of minds which one should expect God would draw onwards: some of those who have been led that way (whom I myself know) have been brought to it remarkable there has, too, I know, been for some years prayer that Go would give us these institutions. It will still be the question whether any individual mind is prepared for it. . .

Were I her father, I should certainly not, in any case, abruptly check the feeling which she has so strongly, nor even attempt to divert it, only try its steadfastness. It seems to me to want guidance and discipline, and, this she herself wishes for. A time of probation might be imposed, during which she might be living, in your house, and among your poor, something of the sort of life she wishes for hereafter. But I cannot help the feeling that a mind so energetic, and so strongly penetrated with this longing, might become something which might give you deep pleasure and be a source of blessing to others. I have myself seen something of the life of  'Sisters of Charity’ and of themselves: and certainly I cannot but deeply long for something of this kind among ourselves, free from that which pains me in the Roman system. Such an institution is actually contemplated in London (as you have seen probably in the papers) which Lord J. Manners has set on foot: he has the conditional appro–bation of the Bishop: and some years ago a plan of the same sort was sanctioned by the Archbishop of Canterbury (although not carried out because the individuals did not then come forward). This gives a sort of substance to it. Our authorities permit that the trial should be made. It is nothing Utopian, nor the conception of individuals merely. .

The subject has been very near my heart for some years: the daughter whom it pleased God lately to take to Himself, had     chosen that life and was preparing for it: and I saw in her the healthful influence of looking forward to it. To our Church I am sure it would be a great blessing. We have deep needs, which Sisters of Charity alone can meet, and which as far as they are met now, being relieved by Roman Catholic institutions, the remedy instead of attaching, is withdrawing our poor from us. To our own educated ranks, I am sure, it would be often an exceeding relief, while to many ardent minds, like your daughter’s, it will remove many sore tempta–tions away from our Church, and develop high energies...

Yours very faithfully,

                        E. B. PUSEY.

Mr. Ellacombe naturally wished to know how, if his daughter could not be a governess, she was to spend the time which might elapse before the formation of a Sisterhood.


Christ Church, June 14, 1844.

What one should next wish for your daughter would be, for her o prepare herself in calmness and self-command for that great employment to which she wishes to give her life. The natural place seems to be your own house and among your own poor, and if you had Daily Services, I think she might be put upon a plan, which would be beneficial and calming for her at present, and prepare her anything more hereafter, if God gives it. But a good deal would depend on what sort of co-operation she might find at home, whether any of her sisters would like the same sort of domestic life--I mean, a life distributed between devotion, charity, and family recreation. . .

As the plans of the London Committee slowly took shape, Pusey wrote again to Mr. Ellacombe:--

 'Ilfracombe, Feast of St. James, 1844.

 'I have just heard that it is arranged that a house should be taken for Sisters in London, whenever God should make it clear that any are called to it. But at present there is only one ready, and I think that the intervening time will be really a gain in that the individuals will be preparing themselves and understand better how great a pre–paration of heart is necessary.’

The difficulty which confronted the earnest minds which were bent on this work of reviving Sisterhoods was to find a Superior. How could a Superior be forthcoming who had not been trained in the life which she was to form in others? Clearly, she must be a person of very exceptional qualifications and graces. There would be no lack of ladies with a vocation to a Sister’s life: but a ready-made Superior was what was wanted. The em–barrassment was serious; and it ended in a course which had been considered impossible. The institution at starting had for the moment to dispense with any Superior at all.

A small but fairly suitable house was secured for the purpose of the Sisterhood by the Committee of laymen who had made themselves for the time responsible for the expense of this new venture. To those who are familiar with the spacious buildings and beautiful chapels of some of the Sisterhoods of the present day, it may be not without interest to describe the poorness and cramped surroundings of these first beginnings of revived religious houses in England. The house in which the Sisters were to take up their quarters was a small detached house not many minutes walk from Albany Street, Regent’s Park. It has long since disappeared. It contained on the ground floor a parlour, a recreation room, and a small oratory leading into each other. The upper rooms were partitioned into six cells, and there were four attics. The kitchen served as the refectory. The house was throughout plainly furnished. The oratory had a small altar-table with a black cross and scarlet cover and a lamp. A picture of Christ crucified, copied from Albert Dürer by Mrs. Dodsworth, and some red baize on the walls and windows, completed the decorations.

 'The mone,’ wrote Pusey to Keble on March 1, 1845,  'is to be opened in Easter week with two Sisters. There may be four more before Trinity Sunday.’ Accordingly on Wednes–day in Easter week, March 26, 1845, two ladies arrived at 17 Park Village West. Their names were Miss Jane Ella–combe, known in the community as Sister Anne, or later as Sister Jane, and Miss Mary Bruce, known as Sister Mary. Neither, unfortunately, was in strong health: the younger, Sister Mary, soon required all the attention that could be given her.

After a few weeks they were joined by Miss Terrot, a daughter of the Bishop of Edinburgh. The father was, as he told Pusey,  'very far from those tendencies which commonly go by the name of Tractarian’; but his daughters had  'a desire for greater usefulness, and for more intimate communion with persons whom they could look to as real followers of Christ’ than was afforded by their northern home. So the Bishop,  'despairing of their viewing their present position more favourably,’ gave  'not a reluctant consent’ to their wish to enter a Sisterhood.

It was not until some few weeks later that the young institution had a Superior. The lady who was chosen to preside over it was Miss Langston. She was ten years elder than any of her companions: and seems to have been a person of  'strong understanding, fervent piety, extreme simplicity of manners.’ Pusey certainly impressed by her fervid desire to engage in a more devoted service of God and in works destined to relieve the poor and afflicted, and still more by the anxious self–-distrust which is apparent in her correspondence. She never spared herself: she worked harder than any one else. This is certainly true, though no doubt she may not ye possessed the ideal qualities of a Superior, fully able to guide a Sisterhood in those anxious days. In fact, no one the Church of England, whether directors or Sisters, had at that time any practical experience of the requirements such a life.

Miss Langston’s arrival was speedily followed by that of others: two were introduced by Mr. Dodsworth, of Christ Church, Albany Street, in whose parish the Sisters’ house was situated, and two more by Mr. Upton Richards. Pusey was  'regarded as the founder, and his office was that of spiritual .superintendent’; and he was assisted in his work by Mr. Dodsworth.

So unobtrusive was the inauguration of it, that amid the graver anxieties which during the spring of 1845 centred in Littlemore and Oxford, Pusey forgot even to inform Keble of the opening of the house in Park Village.


35 Grosvenor Square, Easter Friday [March 28], 1845.

I am vexed that I forgot that you did not know upon what day the little Sisterhood was to commence. Two Sisters entered their home on Easter Wednesday, one [is] Miss E[llacombe]. They are very promising; a third we expect on Friday week. We, i. e. Dods–worth and myself, had a little Service with them on Wednesday: they were in floods of tears, but of joy, in the prayers for them. On Sunday at a quarter to 8 is to be their first Communion subsequent to their, solemn entrance. Will you remember them then?

In 1845 any such enterprise as we are describing would have been impossible, had it not been for the generous support of the body of laymen, whose liberality and activity have been already mentioned. They regarded it however from a point of view very different from Pusey’s. To them it was less an effort once more to restore the consecrated single life than an attempt to relieve the misery and ignorance of the great towns, and as a tribute to the wisdom. and forethought of Robert Southey. A quotation from his  'Colloquies’ was placed at the head of the remarkable Paper which they issued shortly after the first Sisterhood was opened, and which deserves to be preserved in its entirety, as recording the intimate relation of some of the best laymen to the most important practical religious effort of that day..



 'There is .. . in such associations, nothing but what is righteous. and holy: nothing but what properly belongs to that therskeia, that religious service which the Apostle James, the brother of our Lord, has told us is pure and undefiled before God and the Father. They who shall see such societies instituted and flourishing here, may have a better hope that it may please the Almighty to continue His manifold mercies to this island, notwithstanding the errors which endanger it, and the offences which cry to Heaven.’--Southey’s  'Colloquies,’ vol. ii. p. 330.


It has long been a matter of regret to many, that the Church of England possesses no institution similar to that of the Sisters of Mercy.

For many years the internal condition of our great towns, and the intensity of accumulated misery, side by side with our luxury, or comfort, or wealth, have weighed very heavily upon the minds of those who are in any degree acquainted with the state of our poor. Each fresh disclosure, one rapidly succeeding another, has seemed to convey some glimpse only into a world of wretchedness, appalling to every feeling of humanity, but more frightful yet in a Christian nation, where the poor are more especially committed to our care, as members and representatives of Him,  'Who, being rich, for our sakes became poor.’

Yet the evil manifestly could not be met by any ordinary remedies. Amid such fearful extent of distress any unsystematic efforts would necessarily avail little. The very extremity also of the misery rendered it for the most part inaccessible to the efforts of individual charity.

These convictions have, for some time, impressed upon thoughtful minds the necessity of some more organized system. And foremost of all, the late Mr. Southey, deeply impressed with the value of some of the religious orders whose active charity he had witnessed abroad, advocated, with the wonted energy of his powerful mind, the formation of such among ourselves.  'Thirty years hence,’ he said in 1829,  'this other reproach may also be effaced, and England may have its Béguines, and its Sisters of Charity. It is grievously in need of them’.

The feeling which, under God’s good Providence, this earnest and deservedly popular writer widely communicated, has been strengthened by the increased opportunities of witnessing the tranquil and gentle charities of different religious orders on the continent devoted to Works mercy.

The establishment of Protestant Deaconesses in France and Ger–many testify the same conviction, and the mode in which it is there thought the necessity may be met.

At the same time a longing to be employed in such offices has in this country been silently growing up in the mind of persons, who under favourable circumstances would be enabled to give themselves to them.

Certainly, for a length of time, earnest and continual prayer has been made to  'the Giver of all good gifts,’ that He would bestow upon us similar societies, adapted to our condition, if He saw it to be good for our Church: whence we may the rather hope that the feeling which has of late so wonderfully increased, has been of His gift, Who alone disposeth the hearts of men.

Yet even thus, there were intervening difficulties to be removed. Especially, women, although trusting that they are called by the leading and grace of God to a life of devotion and charity, and desirous of giving themselves to it, seem to need the outward pro–tection of an institution through which. they might enjoy mutual help and comfort, and the sympathy and respect of their fellow Christians.

The removal of such difficulties seemed to fall within the provinces of lay members of the Church. Some of those whose names are subscribed to the annexed engagement have accordingly from time to time consulted together, and agreed  'to take the preliminary steps for facilitating the establishment and permanent maintenance of a Sisterhood living under a religious Rule, and engaged in relieving distress wherever it may be found.

 'The works of mercy contemplated are such as--

 '1. Visiting the poor or the sick at their own houses.

 '2. Visiting hospitals, workhouses, or prisons.

 '3. Feeding, clothing, and instructing destitute children.

 '4. Giving shelter to distressed women of good character.

 '5. Assisting in the burial of the dead.’

They did not take any active steps without ascertaining (at least to their own satisfaction) that the general object which they have in view is neither in opposition to the principles of the Church of which they are members, nor to the opinions of its chief rulers. While at the same time they think it right to avow distinctly, that no explicit sanction has been given from persons in authority to a plan which is unavoidably in some sense experimental: but it has been thought right to resort to the advice of private clergymen, who had for some years considered the subject.

The present institution has commenced in the parochial district of Christ Church, St. Pancras, in which is a large population of destitute poor.

The incumbent will undertake the direction of its active duties; which in the first instance will be to visit the poor and sick, to discover uncomplaining misery, and to instruct poor children. These duties may be enlarged hereafter in many ways, as the numbers and resources of the institution increase. It is proposed that six hours in each day shall be given to active works of mercy. The members of the Institution will only visit under the direction or sanction of the parochial clergy.

Out of various persons who have expressed a desire to join the institution, three have already entered upon their new mode of life. Two more will join the institution about Whitsuntide.

A detached house has been engaged for three years, and furnished with suitable simplicity.

After careful consideration, it has been estimated that an annual sum of £300 a year (assuming the number of Sisters not greatly to exceed six at first), and a further sum of £200 for furniture will be required.

Two ladies have kindly undertaken to collect the fund for the furniture among their female friends.

The following engagement has been entered into in reference to the annual support of the Sisterhood

 'We the undersigned, having contributed, or intending to contribute, to the maintenance, for the term of three years, of the House about to be opened in the district of Christ Church, St. Pancras, for the reception of Sisters of Mercy, hereby express our intention of using our best endeavours at the close of that term, if the experience obtained in the interval shall justify the expectation of the permanent con–tinuance of the institution, to place its resources upon the footing which may be requisite for its regular support.’

          JOHN MANNERS.               W. E. GLADSTONE.   CLIVE.            R. M. MILNE

                  CAMDEN.                    F. H. DICKINSON.LYTTELTON.      J. D. WATTS RUSSELL. 

  JOHN HANMER.                T. D. ACLAND, JUN.  ADARE.

F. A. M’GEACHY.         W. MONSELL.                     A. J. B. HOPE.

Subscriptions in aid of the above-mentioned object are received by Messrs. Drummond, Charing Cross, under the name of  'Fund for Sisters of Mercy.’

Like many great institutions, a Sisterhood  'is not made, it grows.’ The simple dedicatory service at Park Village West on Easter Wednesday, 1845, was not the inaugura–tion of the first permanent Sisterhood; it was the beginning of a series of experiments which resulted in many Sisterhoods. Almost everything characteristic to such institutions had yet to be determined; and could only be determined finally in the light of experience. There was for some time abundant occupation for unsympathetic or discon–tented critics of this new venture. Only by degrees could its novel relationships and duties be rightly understood.

The first requisite for a Sisterhood is a Rule of Life. Without a Rule of some kind, religious enthusiasm is of little avail, whether for the sanctification of the soul or for purposes of philanthropy. Enthusiasm is the raw material of the life of a Sisterhood, but if it is to be a lasting and a fertilizing force, it must be controlled and directed by a Rule.

Three years later, in a letter to Mr. A. J. B. Hope, about the early days of the Park Village community, Pusey wrote:--

 'Quinquagesima, 1848.

 'We naturally went by experience. Lord John Manners procured us the rules of the Sisters of Charity at Birmingham. I had some rules by me, used by different bodies in England and on the continent. We took as our basis St. Augustine’s rule, as extant in an Epistle of his to some  " Sanctimoniales," whom he had brought together; think–ing it most in accordance with our Church to take rules from one of the Fathers of the Church. On this we engrafted others; always bearing in mind the character of English churchwomen. When it was done, Dodsworth and myself looked over it, with a view to what the Bishop of London would think; and several little points were altered (language chiefly) on his saying,  " The Bishop would not like that." This was kept to be shown to the Bishop, whenever trial enough had been made of the institution, for him to be ready to take it up. We could not bring it before him sooner, without asking him to do the very thing which he naturally did not wish to do yet. For if he saw the rules and sanctioned them, the Sisterhood would have been at once under his sanction. This we wished, but could not ask for. When we had thus reviewed the rules, we showed them to J. Keble.’

Pusey was as far as possible from criticizing Bishop Blomfield on the score of his caution. In dealing with new religious experiments, Church authority has been always, and rightly, cautious. The founders of great orders in the Middle Ages had to wait some time for the approval of the highest authority; and it by no means followed that any form of enthusiasm was at once sanctioned and made useful. Macaulay thinks that the Popes would at once have welcomed Wesley and Joanna Southcote whom the Church of England bishops left out in the cold; but there is every reason from history to think that the Popes would have at’ least waited to see what these enthusiastic people were likely to be, or to effect, before doing so. As soon as Bishop Blomfield was willing to see the Rules, Pusey was delighted to submit them to him. If they were not shewn to him at first, this was out of consideration for the Bishop’s natural unwillingness to be prematurely com–mitted to the details of a plan which had not yet stood the test of experience. Mr. Dodsworth’s letters to Pusey bear abundant witness to their mutual desire that the Bishop’s wishes should be anticipated as far as might be. While the details of the Rule were under discussion, Mr. Dodsworth writes:--

April 28, 1845.

 'The Bishop seems as favourably disposed as I could have expected. We must try to strike out of the rules what would offend him, so that no essential point is sacrificed.’

The Rule of the Sisterhood consisted, in its complete form, of thirty-three chapters, which are not so much a dry code of directions as a series of spiritual exhortations. The object of the Sisterhood is there stated to be  'to afford opportunities for persons apart from the world and its distractions to perfect holiness in the fear of God, and to grow in the love of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, especially by cherishing and showing forth love to Him in His poor and afflicted brethren.’ Then the various Christian graces of humility, charity, modesty and purity, voluntary poverty, and obedience are insisted on, and practical directions are given for the cultivation of them. There follow the various elements of the devotional side of the .Christian life: attendance at the offices of the Church, Holy Communion, the practice of self-examination, con–fession, meditation or mental prayer, and mortification or fasting. The daily life of a Sister is next provided for by rules for the intentions or purpose with which she is to perform the successive actions of the day; for silence at certain hours, as befitting souls which have fixed their gaze on God; for the management of thoughts during silent employments; for the avoidance of inquisitiveness or meddlesomeness; for intercourse with persons outside the Sisterhood; and for times of recreation. Directions are also given for admitting new Sisters; for the conduct of the Superior, and for the life of the lay Sisters, thus providing for the religious organization of the society. The rest of the Rule may be described as a series of appendices, con–cerned with the details of daily life and work. The last portion is devoted to the works of mercy which the Sisterhood was to undertake; visiting the sick, teaching in schools, the admission of distressed women to a temporary home, and the distribution of time among these several occupations.

As this is the first beginning of the revived organization of the Sisterhood life, it may be interesting to describe how the day at Park Village was spent.

5                                           Rise.

5.20--6.15 . .         . Breviary offices of Matins and Lauds.

6.15--6.45 . .         . Private devotions.

6.45--7 .    . .         . Make beds and clean up rooms.

7--7.30 .    . .         . Prime.

7.30--8.30  . .         . Service in Church.

8.30--8.55  . .         . Breakfast.

8.55--9.10 . .         . Terce.

9.10-12.30  .          . Visiting the poor.

12.30--I.    . .         . Repose.

1--1.20 .    . .         . Sext and self-examination.

1.20--3 .    . .         . Dinner and recreation.

3--5                         Nones and visiting the poor.

5--6                          Service in Church.

6--7                         Vespers and devotions on the Holy Communion.

7--8                         Supper and recreation.

8--9            . . . . .                 Reading religious books.

9--10         . . . .      Compline, self-examination, and private devo–tions.

10                             Retire to rest.

It will be observed that besides the Morning and Evening Service of the Church of England, the Sisters said daily in their private chapel the seven Hours of the Breviary. But it was the Breviary not only translated but altered and adapted with the omission of all legendary matter, invocations of saints, and all other features deemed inconsistent with the doctrine of the English Church. The morning and evening offices of the Church did not take up so much time in associated devotion as was needed by the members of a Society entirely devoted to the service of God: and the older formularies, from which the Prayer-book itself had been taken, yielded the material which was wanting to supply the deficiency. Pusey explained the principle on which he had arranged these devotions in the following letter

E. B. P. TO MR. A. J. B. HOPE.

Quinquagesima, 1848.

We knew of no resource but to go to the same source from which our English Prayer-book is taken, and to give them such devotions as we felt sure we could ourselves use in the Bishop’s presence. The devotions consist chiefly of the Psalms (which some one calls the Prayer-book of the Church) which are said in the course of each week, and the 119th and some few others every day. But the use of the Psalms alone would hardly keep the attention probably. There are also Hymns, from the same source and of the same character as the Veni Creator, readings from Holy Scripture and from the Fathers in the morning, responses of the same character strictly as those in the English Prayer-book, but not the same, else it would be simple repetition.

I would say further what there is not. There is, of course, nothing discountenanced or only half-countenanced by the Church of England. There are not even prayers for the departed, nor any legends, much less any mention of the intercession of the saints, nor the Black-letter clays in the calendar: there is nothing but what is framed on the service of the Church of England: there is no passage read from a Father which I could not myself preach in a sermon before the Bishop, nor any prayer which the Bishop himself might not use. Nor is there anything to draw people off from the English Prayer-book.

It would, then, not be true to say that it is the Breviary translated which they use. It is in no other sense the Breviary than our English Prayer-book is the Breviary. The compilers of our Prayer-book took as much as they could without making the service too long for the people. Some think it too long, as it is. We have only taken more of the same sort, with the addition of passages from the Fathers, the same Fathers of whom our Homilies speak so highly, and Hymns.

It is to be noticed that in drawing up these devotions nothing was admitted which the English Church had not sanctioned expressly or in principle. Pusey refrained from acting even on the principle of his editions of Avrillon and other foreign devotional works adapted to the use of the English Church. In these works he had admitted everything which he believed to be true, and which the English Church had not condemned in terms.

 'I know and have regretted,’ Pusey continues,  'that the Bishop of London disapproved of my  " adaptation" of Roman books. I would have altered anything which I knew his Lordship to disapprove of; as departing, if he so thought, from the English Church. But in these adaptations I admitted whatever I believed to be true, believing it also not to be contrary to the teaching of the Church of England: in the Devotions of the Sisters there is nothing but what is counten–anced and sanctioned in principle by the Church of England. There is nothing to which any objection could be made by any one, unless it were that it is taken from the Roman Breviary, and that our English Prayer-book has in common. It surely cannot be made an objection to a thing, in itself wholly unobjectionable, that it is used by a body of other Christians. One of Doddridge’s hymns is printed in very many of our Prayer-books.’

Thus, with regard both to the rule and the devotions of the Sisterhood, Pusey was acting on the principles of the English Church when claiming, as the best Anglican writers had claimed, that the spiritual endowments of the whole Catholic Body belong to the English portion of it no less than to the rest.

The Sisters wore a distinctive dress. Nowadays no one thinks more of it than of a clergyman’s black coat or a soldier’s uniform. But fifty years ago it was a novelty, and was regarded, even by some sensible people, with dislike and apprehension. Pusey had seriously to defend this practice. Six months after the opening of the Sisterhood, in Nov. 1845, there was a temporary revulsion of feeling among the poor in the neighbourhood against the Sisters. They began to regard Mr. Dodsworth and the Sisters as  'dis–guised Roman Catholics.’ They gave up attendance at the services at Christ Church. Mr. Dodsworth was alarmed, and set himself to consider how the rising prejudice could be best disarmed. He thought that it was partly due to the dress worn by the Sisters and suggested modifications. Pusey did not welcome the suggestion. He thought it would be a pity to sacrifice to mere prejudice a regula–tion which had so much in reason to recommend it, and to  'put the Sisters into a disguise.’ In the end the Sisters’ dress was very slightly altered.

The practice of the Sisterhood with respect to matters bearing more immediately on bodily health is described by Pusey to Mr. Hope as of  'extreme simplicity.’

 'They have all which is necessary, good food, warm clothing, firing; and as Holy Scripture says,  " having food and raiment, are therewith content." Some of them, you know, although of the rank of clergy–men’s daughters, had nothing of their own: and, being themselves supported by others, they could not wish to have mere superfluities. But real care is taken of their health. They keep the Fasts of the Church: but their mode of keeping them is regulated by a physician, and is not so strict as that of some was before they went there. There is nothing distinctive, except great simplicity; but their general diet was regulated by the same kind physician.

There was of course a real danger that, in their ardour and in the general inexperience of ascetic life, the Sisters might attempt to practise mortifications to which their bodily strength was unequal. Pusey’s moral sympathy with all forms of self-sacrifice may have made him, at the early date to which we refer, less alive than he afterwards became to the necessity of checking ascetic excesses in the Sisters. Writing many years afterwards to a Sister on the subject, Pusey observes,  'Formerly we had to learn our experience about the effect of fasting; physicians too.’ But it is quite clear that from the beginning Pusey at any rate was not unaware of the danger arising from unwise excesses in the direction of asceticism. He was not a rigorist at Park Village: indeed Mr. Dodsworth questioned whether the rules were not too much relaxed.

The following sketch of the ordinary daily routine of this, the first Sisterhood, is interesting. The institution had not been open for three weeks when one of its members, Sister Anne, whom we have before met with as Miss Jane Ellacombe, described her life to her father as follows:--

17 Park Village West, April 11, 1845.

I am now, thank God, getting very well and strong again, and we are very happy--we three. Our district is in the worst part of Mr. Dodsworth’s district--where there are a great many low Irish people. They give away a great deal here to the poor, but there is such a great deal of misery and excessive poverty amongst our people. I call that our district, for it has no other regular visitors except the clergy, but wherever there is any distress made known to us we are to go, though, while few, Fitzroy Place will suffice us I think for some time. The people are all very glad and thankful at our coming to them--and we have not met with anything like a word of rudeness. We go to them to relieve their bodily wants, but principally our office lies in religious instruction and guidance as far as God gives us help. We do not find (though you will say we have not had a long trial) that we have too long a time for visiting; it is about a quarter of an hour’s walk from home, besides which we have plenty of exercise in going up and down stairs to the different floors. We are out from 9 till 1, and again after dinner from, a little after 3 till 5. The recreation hours are from a quarter to 2 till 3, and from 7 till 8. Except then, unless for some urgent cause and after leave given, of course we do not see any one who might kindly come to the Home. Mr. Dodsworth is very kind. He orders us all about our visiting: we do not know any one else but Mrs. Dodsworth and one other lady, beside Dr. Crawford. Would you be so kind as to send me my  'Pearson on the Creed,’ which I left behind me to be sent afterwards, and please not to direct to me by any name, but only  '7 Park Village West. Everything of that sort is common property, of books I mean; and of course we are no longer known as Miss this or Miss that; the number of the house is quite enough for any direction; it will be easy enough to know who it is for. We live in a very quiet place; the house does not join any other; and there is very little passing.

Now, my dearest papa, I must say good-bye. With my best love to dear mama and my dear brothers and sisters, and love to Mary and all kind friends,

Believe me to remain,

                    Your very thankful and affectionate child,

                                                                 J. J. ELLACOMBE.

The work in which the Sisters were to engage had been sketched by the Committee. They began as we have seen to visit the poor in the neighbourhood of the Regent’s Park. They went from house to house and from room to room in the most crowded parts of the thickly-populated dis–tricts of that part of London. But after a time they gave up house-to-house visiting, as it was generally known among the poor that they would gladly go wherever they were wanted. They were too few to do more; their whole time was filled up by attendance on the sick poor, and in visiting those to whom they were sent by the parochial clergy. Soon  'even rough hard-looking men recognized them as  " sisters of mercy”’; and they were called in to cases of sorrow or distress. One poor person sent them to another; and they had to economize their scanty resources--to lend linen when they would gladly have given it, and to lend much less than was needed for efficient relief.

Besides visiting the poor the Sisters set on foot a Ragged School, for those children who were too poor or too dirty to be taken into the National School at Christ Church.

 'The Ragged School,’ wrote Pusey, reviewing the work after two years’ experience,  " has been a great blessing. I must have told you of the case in which, on beginning the Prayers, a little boy stood up and said,  " Father told me never to kneel." Their father was an infidel; the child was made a Christian. There have been other cases, in which unbaptized children, growing up, were prepared for Baptism, and gave proofs afterwards in their life, of Baptismal grace. Their  " Ragged School," you know, consists of children not fit to be received into the National School...These children, taken often from bad and careless families, when they were fitted to go to the National School, have been remarked on by teachers there, as the best children. I told you perhaps a story which shows how much the Sisters are loved. Lately an arch of the house gave way. No harm happened: the house was propped up. But in their district, the report was that  " the house had given way, and they must all have been killed, but that they were such good people." But, indeed, one hears abundantly how much they are beloved.’

One effect of the Ragged School was the improvement that became visible in the families where the children attended it. The Sisters gradually won the hearts of the parents through their kindness to the children, and thus the school was a missionary power in the older generation as well as a source of instruction and civilization to the younger.

During Pusey’s visits to London he did what he could to strengthen the hands of the Sisters, by taking part, as far as he could, in their work. But he felt that for such a work, they required all the spiritual comfort and strength which a well tested Rule and life of devotion could give; and that what this Rule and life should ultimately be, was a most anxious question only to be determined after much prayer, study, and experience.

The establishment of the Sisterhood, in its inchoate and tentative form, provoked, as Pusey had anticipated, much discussion on the part of young Churchwomen and their parents respecting the claims of such a life, the nature of a vocation to it, and the circumstances in which other duties might or might not be set aside in order to accept it.

One of the many letters which Pusey had to write may here be given as illustrating his view of the subject.


Vigil of the Ascension, 1845.

The Sisterhood of Mercy . . . will both awaken the desire to join it in some, and meet the desire already existing in others. And there will often be difficulty between seemingly conflicting duties. I think, however, that it will be as much on the part of parents as of children; the difficulty is (the whole subject being so new to us) to see whether any individuals have a real call to a more devoted life, as we hope we have to enter into Holy Orders. We should not oppose a son, who, after some preparation of mind, felt himself drawn to go as a missionary, although it perhaps involves parting with him for life; we think nothing of a daughter’s marrying, although it breaks all ties; indeed parents, with some sorrow at the parting, still think it a subject of congratulation that their daughter is settled, so as to be happy. The real difficulty (I have felt for years) will be for parents to be convinced that their children will be happy so, while it is thus untried. And yet it is a very happy life; those whom I have seen looked very peaceful and had a holy calm about them, and the little Oratory of the little Sisterhood in London I could well think the most peaceful place in the whole of London. Those who are there (Jane Ellacombe among them) are happier than they ever were before. Jane E. is very happy and calm. She is a very superior person...I should think too that parents might feel in some cases that their daughters would not be likely or would not wish to marry, and so would be glad that after their departure they should have so happy a home. The widow of a Scotch Bishop told me this of her daughters: they had long wished for this life, and she was glad that they should have hereafter so peaceful a home. The difficulty, as you say, will be in the lifetime of parents, and this again will be different according to the number of children, the age of parents, occupations, &c., how much they would be missed, &c. For it very seldom happens that a family like Miss --’s remain together. Sons go into professions and leave home; daughters are married. I do not see that there can be any general rule. Again, in many families, e. g. where they live much in London, a daughter is compelled to live a miserably useless life, which drives them to marriage, and so they leave their parents’ home at last. I heard lately of a young person, engaged to be married, but who said that had she known of an actual Sisterhood in our Church she should never have made the engagement. I know one whose married life is not a happy one, and whose early longings were to be a Sister of Charity, had there been any opening. I hear of others.

Now, especially, there is a great drawing of minds that way, so that I cannot doubt that it is of God: it has sprung up in different minds, apart from each other. One cannot doubt from past history that individuals are so drawn as God calleth, one this way, another that.

What, then, I should think the best in every such case would be for parent and child to pray to know what is God’s will. If a longing were to last for some time steadily, and the person so drawn were to improve during that time, so that it should seem that, in other respects she were led by the grace of God, then a parent might the rather think that this too was given by him. It is sometimes very difficult to say. In one case, I have been for two or three years restraining a young person, a clergyman’s daughter, where the father is in advanced years, and she the only child remaining at home; and yet the mother being there too, I can hardly satisfy myself that this exceedingly strong drawing ought not to be followed; i.e. that it would not be better if the father gave his consent and blessing. One of the three in London is (between ourselves) a Bishop’s daughter (not English), who has given his consent, as being the best for his daughter.

I should think that the best way, generally speaking, would be to wait and pray, and see how God’s Providence seemed to lead things. I. am quite sure that these institutions would be a great blessing both to individuals and to the Church; that there is an ardent spirit rising up in our Church which needs them; that it will be best regulated in them (I feel sure that Mr. E[llacombe] hereafter will be very thankful that his daughter has entered one); and that ardent minds will so be kept most safely in our Church. I know minds whose great temptation to leave our Church for that of Rome has been, that we have not these institutions, and are stayed and quieted by the prospect of them. This is a long explanation, but your note seemed to invite it. The subject has been in my mind these many years; indeed, five years ago, my dear Lucy learnt from me the desire to be, in the language of the Fathers,  'Sponsa Christi’; it was her one most animating wish, and now what she longed for, she has found. May we all find Him by Whom we have been sought and found.

           Yours affectionately,

                                        E. B. P.

The experiment at Park Village led, as was natural, to attempts at imitating it. More than one clergyman thought that he might  'start a Sisterhood’ just as he would institute a coal-club, with a view to better carrying out his own duties to his parishioners; and Pusey was asked for counsel and assistance. His experience had taught him that the foundation and growth of a Sister–hood must be a matter of much prayer, study, toil, and time; that it is mainly due to a higher than human agency; that a clergyman may be an excellent parish priest, and yet entirely without the knowledge or characteristics which would enable him to promote the foundation of such an institution. He was inclined to discourage entirely the tendency to multiply small local Sisterhoods; and of late years the wisdom of this advice has been generally recog–nized.


Oxford, Dec. 1, 1855

I think that the plan of clergy  'forming Sisterhoods’ is an amiable mistake. Of course the clergy can help. . . . Many can carry on a work: few can begin it. Sisters can only be trained in a Sisterhood: and, if God gives the increase, future Superiors would come best from the training in existing Sisterhoods. . .. I believe that our best way, if God gives us the ability, would be ourselves to go into the streets and lanes of the city, and compel them to come in, Then we should understand better what the life of a Sister of Mercy is. But especially we should train ourselves, if we would know how to train others.

People would not so readily find fault with rules or with people, if they had felt the difficulties for which those rules are framed.

If I had had no duties here, and had fluency, I would long ago have asked leave to preach in the alleys of London, where the Gospel is as unknown as in Thibet.

               God be with you.

                         Yours most faithfully,

                                        E. B. P.

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