WHEN in 1860 the broken condition of Mr. King's health, and the prolonged leave of absence given him by the Bishop, made it necessary for him to seek an entire change of scene, the opportunity presented itself for the fulfilment of one of his long-cherished hopes. Ever since reading Longfellow's Belfry of Bruges, he had felt a strong attraction to that quaint and charming old town, and a strong desire to reside there. As soon as it was decided that he must remove to some quiet spot to recover his shattered health, his neighbour, the Rev. R. Lee, Rector of Stepney, went to him and said, "Now King, take my advice and go and live in quiet Bruges where I spent six happy months. Let me write to a person there who lets furnished houses. I will give you introductions to some of the English residents there, who, I am sure, will show you and yours every kindness." This was so thoroughly in accordance with Mr. King's inclination that within a fortnight of the utterance of those words he was with his family in residence in that city. Nothing could probably [140/141] have done more to heal his wounded spirit; for the antiquarian and mediaeval associations of Bruges appealed in a very special way to just that part of his character which had found least scope for its development at St. George's-in-the-East, and been so rudely outraged by all the recent occurrences there, his highly artistic temperament, which fairly revelled in the picturesque charms of the old Flemish city. The comradeship of the English colony too, which is so often a pleasing characteristic of people living as neighbours in a foreign country, but nowhere more than in Bruges, was welcome to one who, although his natural reserve had, through his being misunderstood, been intensified almost to shyness, was at the same time one of the most warm-hearted and companionable of men. In this connection an amusing incident took place at the English Reading Room, where two Englishmen--Mr. Tyndale, who had been at Wadham College, Oxford, and had been called to the Bar, but who had lived for several years in Bruges, and Mr. Allan, a Roman Catholic, whose family had resided in Belgium for some years,--met one morning about the time that Mr. King went to Bruges. Mr. Tyndale took up an English newspaper with the remark that he wondered what that fellow Bryan King had been about last Sunday. The words were scarcely out of his mouth when the attendant entered the room and handed a note to each of the gentlemen, which turned out in each case to be from Mr. Lee introducing [141/142] Mr. King. Mr. Tyndale said to Mr. Allan: "This is indeed a joke; you a Roman Catholic and I an extreme Protestant! What are we to do? I suppose we must call on the family when they come." The result was that the Kings became most intimate friends with both families, and continued on terms of the closest intimacy with them after they returned to England. As in many other cases the recalcitrant Ritualist, misunderstood by those who could not, and misrepresented by those who would not understand his motives as an altogether unreasonable and impossible person, turned out on acquaintance to be so genial and companionable that the strongest prejudices were broken down.
It is important to notice that in the quiet retirement of Bruges Mr. King never thought that he had been mistaken in his general line of action, or that he had been fighting about trifles, because the ostensible ground of dispute was about questions of externals in worship. Far from that, when he compared the irreligion so prevalent in England, and especially the general neglect at that time of all religious observances by the poor, with the devotion of the poor in Belgium, and when he considered that, whereas the Church on the Continent is specially objective in its genius and in the character of its services, in England the services in his time appealed almost exclusively to the intellect, he was confirmed in the belief that to neglect the appeal to man through his senses is a [142/143] most fatal mistake in religion; and years afterwards he left on record his conviction that "Father Lowder's success in bringing the poor of his district to habits of earnest religion was owing to the fact that the one purchase of their redemption and of all their blessings for time and eternity was set before their faith and their eyes in the Memorial Sacrifice and Sacrament of the Altar." At the same time, he expressed the belief that there is in the English character a strong innate feeling of reverence. This belief has been justified by the way in which the English people have accepted Catholic faith and practice when they have been simply, clearly, and fully put before them, a fact which filled him, as it does others, with strong hope for the future.
More than one incident in Mr. King's residence at Bruges give proof of the existence even then of that desire for the reunion of Christendom, and of that wish for a better understanding between members of the different parts of the divided Church, which recently, through the exertions of Lord Halifax and the Abbé Portal, led to the inquiry at Rome into the question of the validity of Anglican orders, which might have marked an important step in the progress towards a better understanding but for the unscrupulous intrigues of Anglo-Roman ecclesiastics whose raison d'être would be gone if our Lord's Prayer for the unity of His people were accomplished. On the occasion of the funeral of a Roman Catholic friend of [143/144] Mr. King's at Bruges, when Mass was being sung at the High Altar, he was placed with priests and monks in a place of honour by the coffin, whilst the chief mourners were in an adjoining chapel where Mass was being simultaneously celebrated. We hear of this kind of honour being conferred occasionally on Anglicans with a view to expediting their conversion, but there was nothing of the kind contemplated in this case, for the chief mourner, in conversation with Mr. King, inveighed in no measured terms against the folly of those English churchmen who had been induced to leave their Communion for his own, and from him Mr. King heard more than he had ever dreamed of in regard to those disputes and differences amongst Anglo-Roman ecclesiastics, which used then to be kept tolerably secret, but are now fast becoming notorious. It was not only lay people at Bruges who were thus well disposed towards Anglicans as such, for, at a later period, after Mr. King had become Vicar of Avebury, on the occasion of two young Roman Catholic ladies from Bruges going to stay at Avebury Vicarage, when they told their director, a Bruges priest, that there was no Roman Catholic chapel near Avebury, he said that they might attend Avebury Church. Such instances of Roman Catholics abroad showing themselves well disposed towards the English Church constantly recur, and although the outward manifestation of this feeling may be temporarily suppressed by [144/145] authority at the instigation of those to whom it appears inconvenient, men's thoughts cannot be controlled by any external discipline, and as the Catholicity of the English Church is made more manifest, the feeling will grow, and perhaps in God's Providence even the suppression of its manifestation will only be an instrument for hastening its growth.
Three happy years were spent at Bruges in these congenial surroundings, when Mr. King's restored health made it necessary for him to return to work. As has been narrated in a former chapter, an exchange had been effected with the Vicar of Avebury, and it was in this Wiltshire village that Mr. King resumed work on his return to England.
A touching incident, forming another link that bound Mr. King to his friends at Bruges, occurred at the close of his residence there. Near the house occupied by Mr. King and his family in the Place des Orientaux was a convent of nursing sisters called from their habit "the Black Nuns," one of whom had nursed a member of Mr. King's family in a critical illness. They had shown a lively interest in Mr. King's children, and he had been in the habit of sending them small donations at Christmas or Easter. On leaving Bruges Mr. King and his family embarked for London on a steamer at Ostend on a very stormy evening. The passage was a dangerous one, occupying twenty-seven hours, and some of the steamer's bulwarks were carried away. When the [145/146] Black Nuns became aware of the violence of the storm, in the middle of the night they rose from their beds, and betook themselves to their chapel to pray for the safety of the family with which they had been on such friendly terms. Acts of charity of this kind are surely more effectual in drawing together members of separated parts of the Church than the selfish efforts of Anglo-Roman clergy can be to perpetuate schism.
It was significant of the peaceful state of mind induced by his surroundings in the old Belgian city that Mr. King's youngest daughter, born during his sojourn in Bruges, was named Beatrice.